Elias Pettersson: Behind the numbers of a career-defining season

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 year ago
“Five stars.”
At first blush, an assignment like “write a Year-in-Review for Elias Pettersson” sounds like an easy one.
“Gold star.”
But here’s the thing. When someone has as good a season as Pettersson just did for the Vancouver Canucks in 2022/23, there’s actually an enormous amount to talk about, and dozens of necessary variations of “he’s great” that need saying.
It’s a lucky thing that Pettersson is naturally such an exciting player, or otherwise all this praise might get a little boring.
It’s almost too much to fit into one article. Almost…

The Counting Stats

The numbers don’t tell the whole story. But when it comes to Pettersson, they say a lot.
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsPoints-per-Game+/-Avg. TOI
All situations
It doesn’t take much more than raw scoring totals to see why Pettersson impressed so many so much this season. We’ve already covered how his 102 points rates as one of the best offensive campaigns by a Canuck, ever.
It’s a point total that is made all the more significant by how much of a jump it represents from the prior year. Pettersson set a career high in the 2021/22 season, too…with 68 points. This season, he didn’t just crack the PPG ceiling for the first time, he smashed clean through it and never looked back.
If there’s a singular spot of disappointment to be found, it’s that Pettersson failed to achieve the 40-goal plateau by a single marker. But that’s okay, because it sure feels like something he’ll accomplish in the near future.
How good was Pettersson’s season, really? Well, good enough that the 68 points he got at even-strength would have tied his previous career-high…in all situations. That’s right, New Pettersson outscored Old Pettersson without even needing to touch special teams.
It’s a total that leaves Pettersson in a tie with Pavel Bure for the third-most even-strength points in a single season by a Canuck, behind just Henrik Sedin and Alexander Mogilny.
Not bad at all. Dominant, even, one might say.
Power Play
If there’s anywhere at all that Pettersson took a step back in 2022/23, it was in terms of power play production. His power play points-per-60 of 4.9 was actually the second-lowest of his career, and a significant step down from 2021/22’s 6.3.
Even then, it’s hard to feel too disappointed. Pettersson was still third on the team in power play scoring, and still a major part of the top power play unit.
If anything, this is just one area in which he could theoretically improve upon 2022/23’s performance, and thus push his scoring totals to even greater heights in the years to come.
Of course, we can’t go too far without mentioning the just shocking amount of offence Pettersson contributed while shorthanded. He entered the season as a tentative and questionable member of the PK corps. He ended the season tied for the NHL lead (with JT Miller) in shorthanded goals and shorthanded points, with five and nine respectively.
Is there anything this guy can’t do?
Speaking of ranks, that’s another fairly surface-level method of determining Pettersson’s greatness in 2022/23.
His 102 points ranked tenth in NHL scoring. His 1.28 PPG tied him for eighth overall with Mikko Rantanen.
Looking at just even-strength points bumps Pettersson up the list a little. His 68 EV points has him in a tie for sixth overall, with Jack Hughes and Jason Robertson.
A per-60 scoring rate of 3.05 had Pettersson in the seventh overall spot, which it should be noted is significantly ahead of Connor McDavid and his 2.71, 19th-place finish.
In other words, Pettersson was a top-ten offensive player in the NHL this season by virtually any measure, and probably higher up in that top-ten than most would care to admit.

The Fancy Stats

Of course, you can’t get by with just the counting stats anymore. Fortunately, when we cast our gaze towards the fancier of the numbers, Pettersson still continues to shine.
 Corsi %Shot ControlxG%Chance ControlHigh-Danger Chance Control
From NaturalStatTrick, for even-strength play
Like we said, they’re sparkling. In each category, Pettersson has either posted the best numbers of his career, or he’s within a couple percentage points of them. When he’s on the ice, Pettersson and his linemates are in possession and in control a majority of the time, and that goes a long way toward explaining his even-strength dominance in 2022/23.
These numbers are especially impressive, too, given that Pettersson’s deployment and responsibilities changed so much as the season wore on. This was the season in which the Selke Trophy talk started, and in which Pettersson started to be sent out more consistently to match up with opposing top lines and top-sixes. That makes the fact that he was on the ice for 80 EV goals for and only 65 against that much more notable.
Pettersson didn’t feast on fourth liners, he dined on all-stars.
It’s worth noting, too, that these results came on a team that, in general, got scored on far more than it scored. The goaltending in particular seemed determined to submarine Pettersson’s success, with his 88.2% on-ice save-percentage among the lowest enjoyed by any regular Canuck.
And still…
From HockeyViz.com
To say that Pettersson was used as a shutdown center in 2022/23 would be inaccurate. But he did play more of his minutes against opposition scoring lines than the average center, and he did start fewer of his shifts in the offensive zone (54%) than ever. (Previously, his career average for OZ starts had been in the 60s).
If we’re hunting around for reasons why Pettersson enjoyed so much multifaceted success, we’d just simply say that he’s started playing far better than he ever has before. If pressed for an external reason, we’d probably say “consistency of linemates.”
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
From the get-go, Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko had obvious chemistry, and Pettersson would wind up sharing almost 90% of his even-strength minutes with the first-year winger. In fact, the only major disruption was their usual linemate, Ilya Mikheyev, getting injured, and then eventually replaced by Anthony Beauvillier.
Pettersson and Kuzmenko never missed a beat.
Which is not to say that Pettersson relied on Kuzmenko, or Mikheyev, or Beauvillier to score.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
Pettersson scored at about the same rate no matter who he was lined up with, and managed to put up solid point totals alongside Brock Boeser, JT Miller, and even Lane Pederson, too.
It is fair to say, however, that the consistency benefitted Pettersson, and allowed him to get into a groove that he never really got out of.
The Wins-Above-Replacement stat, or WAR, is a tricky one to track down. But whenever those with internal measures shared their results throughout 2022/23, one could be sure to see Pettersson at or near the top of the list.
Which, really, is not something that we need confirmed by math. Anyone watching the games could see plainly that Pettersson was the engine driving the Canucks, and the singular factor fueling most of their on-ice success.
He was, by the numbers, the team’s most valuable player.
And that’s not even the full story.

The Story Behind The Numbers

The real story of Pettersson’s excellence in 2022/23 is of an individual fully self-actualizing, and becoming the player that his potential said he could one day be.
Look, Pettersson has always been enormously talented. That much was obvious the first time he stepped onto the ice for the Canucks, and that talent hasn’t gone anywhere. But it hasn’t been a smooth journey for Pettersson at the NHL level, not exactly.
His struggles with injury during the 2021 offseason are well-documented, and they did result in him having the worst start of his career in 2021/22, even if that campaign ultimately wound up being his (now-previous) career best.
There were doubters out in full force last year. They’ve since disappeared, because anyone watching now can see that Pettersson is an all-new player, and one to whom doubt no longer applies.
Same tools, better toolbox. We’re used to hearing in this market about players who “just need to put it all together.” Well, Pettersson just did put it all together. And the end result is one of the best seasons in franchise history, and Pettersson’s ascension in the upper echelons of all-time Canucks.
That one can look at all those statistics listed above, recognize that they’re among the best in hockey, and still feel as if they don’t fully capture Pettersson’s on-ice greatness is really something.
You read a lot in this article, but we have to imagine that we didn’t tell you much that you didn’t already know.
Anyone who watched Pettersson this season knows how good he is.
He demonstrated it on a nightly basis.

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