Elias Pettersson is making a case for serious Hart, Lindsay, and Selke Trophy votes at the three-quarter mark of the season
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
This coming Monday, the Vancouver Canucks will play their 60th game of the 2022/23 season, which is about as close as one can come to a true three-quarter mark on an 82-game schedule without getting into fractions.
And nobody wants to get into fractions.
But what we do want to get into is factions. As in the growing faction of people around the league making noise about Elias Pettersson and the likelihood of him receiving serious votes for multiple major NHL trophies at the end of the season.
That faction is growing because it is correct.
Our own Chris Faber stated on Canucks Conversation that Pettersson would be in the running for the Hart Trophy if only his team were competing for the playoffs.
We’re not here to disagree with Faber. He’s right that players on non-playoff rosters are rarely nominated for the Hart, with the basic reasoning seeming to be that a player can’t be judged “Most Valuable” to their team if their team didn’t really accomplish anything.
No, we’re here to disagree with that tradition, because we really don’t think that the Canucks’ lack of success takes away from Pettersson’s, or from the preposterous amount of value he has given to his team this season.
Look, we know that Connor McDavid is going to win the Hart this season. As of this writing, he’s at 109 points and is 22 points up on the next leading scorer, who just so happens to be his teammate, Leon Draisaitl. That’s a simply dominant performance, and well worthy of League MVP recognition.
But consider that Pettersson, at 75 points, is currently 21 points ahead of his next-highest scoring teammate, and that said teammate is JT Miller with 54 points.
One way of looking at it is that a 21-point lead on teammates is probably more significant on a Vancouver roster with 195 total goals than a 22-point lead is on an Edmonton roster with 225 total goals, most in the league.
Sure, McDavid’s gap is still one point greater. But whereas McDavid clearly benefits heavily from having Draisaitl around, that’s certainly less true of Pettersson and Miller. A full half of McDavid’s points come on the power play, where he consistently plays alongside Draisaitl.
Pettersson, conversely, only plays with Miller on the power play, where he was racked up less than a quarter of his total points.
So, is McDavid really the MVP here, or is it the Edmonton power play as a whole?
Consider that it is Pettersson, not McDavid, who leads all NHL forwards in even-strength production. Pettersson’s 53 EV points trails only Erik Karlsson and his 57.
Highest-scoring forward at even-strength? That sounds like an MVP to us. But, again, we’re not actually predicting that Pettersson will win the Hart, just that there’s an argument to be made for it. We know it’s going to McDavid, barring a final quarter collapse. Perhaps Pettersson can edge McDavid out for the Ted Lindsay, an award for Most Outstanding Player as voted by the players themselves, but even that seems unlikely. McDavid’s raw point totals will be too overwhelming.
And that’s why we’re going to focus instead on Pettersson’s Selke Trophy campaign for the remainder of the article. Because Top Defensive Forward is an award that we think he can actually win.
For the Selke discussion, we have to go back to those point totals, oddly enough. For whatever reason, forwards just can’t seem to win the Selke without simultaneously posting strong offensive numbers. The only player to win it in the past two decades without scoring like a top line centre was Kris Draper in 2003/04. Argue with that trend all you want, it’s reality.
So, Pettersson’s points obviously matter here, and we’d suggest that his even-strength point totals matter most. After all, there’s not much defensive skill required while playing on the power play.
The forward with the most even-strength points is probably the forward who most controls play while they’re on the ice at even-strength, and that certainly rings true for Pettersson. Is not the best way to not get scored on to have control of the puck most of the time?
Sticking with even-strength, we’ll look at goals for and against. Pettersson has been on the ice for 63 goals for and 53 goals against, a differential of +10. That might not sound overly impressive, but of those forwards to have scored at least 60 points by now (and are thus scoring enough to be considered for the Selke), only 13 have a better differential than Pettersson. Those 14 are David Pastrnak, Jason Robertson, Nathan MacKinnon, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Matthew Tkachuk, Mika Zibanejad, Jack Hughes, Tage Thompson, Steve Stamkos, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, and Alex Tuch.
With the exception of Tkachuk, all of those players are currently on teams in a playoff position and all of them are on teams with overall positive goal differentials.
How about Pettersson? His Canucks are sitting at a -35 rating on the whole. Suffice it to say that Petterson has had to work a lot harder for his differential than most or all of the players ranked above him.
That’s probably why those statisticians who measure Wins Above Replacement have consistently noted Pettersson as one of the players with the highest WARs in the entire league throughout 2022/23.
Pettersson consistently matches up against opposing top lines and top-sixes. Despite this, he continues to post positive results in Corsi, expected goals, overall shot and chance control, and control of high-danger shots.
And here’s the kicker: Pettersson does all this despite suffering from an even-strength on-ice save percentage of just 86.45%, second-lowest amongst regular Canucks. If Pettersson’s goalies even approached the league average while he was on the ice, his numbers would presumably be astronomical.
As it is, they’re only Selke-worthy.
Then there’s all the little things that go into being considered defensively elite. Pettersson’s faceoffs have improved a little, and his physicality has improved a lot. He’s become arguably the Canucks’ best penalty killer, with his power-play-goals-against-per-60 of 10.65 easily the lowest of any go-to PKer. And he’s definitely their most dangerous shorthanded threat. Leaguewide, only Sam Lafferty and Scott Laughton have scored more shorthanded goals than Pettersson’s three.
It all adds up to a Selke Trophy resume, at least to our eyes. Will the Professional Hockey Writers Association feel the same way?
The unfortunate answer is “probably not.” Going back to tradition, the Selke Trophy is typically a bit of a reputation award. Forwards seem to have to put up a good, long run of Selke-worthy play before they’re even considered. The only players to win the trophy at Pettersson’s current age of 24 over the past three decades have been Jonathan Toews, Jere Lehtinen, and Michael Peca.
But that doesn’t mean that Pettersson’s 2022/23 performance doesn’t matter. Put together a few of these sorts of seasons in a row, and then Pettersson should be considered a shoe-in for the Selke. This is just the start of building that reputation.
Then again, the NHL is going through a time of great change. Maybe that will extend to Selke Trophy voters, and maybe they’ll start handing the award out to the forward who truly most deserves it each season, regardless of past reputation.
And maybe this year, that’s Elias Pettersson.
And maybe this year, that’s Elias Pettersson.
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