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Several statistical signs point to Elias Pettersson’s 100-point production being sustainable

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
9 months ago
Chances are good that we won’t stop talking about the season Elias Pettersson just had for a good, long while.
In his fourth NHL campaign, Pettersson put up 102 points in 80 games, something we’ve already deemed as one of the greatest offensive seasons in Vancouver Canucks franchise history. Though he didn’t receive any actual nominations, Pettersson at least put himself in the conversation for several NHL Awards, including the Selke and maybe even the Hart. Best of all, this dominant performance came at a time when Canucks fans were at their most desperate for reasons to hope, and Pettersson delivered that in spades.
About the only thing that could get us to stop talking about Pettersson’s 102-point campaign would be him putting up another similar season next year, at which point we’d start talking about that set of 100+ points.
Well, the good news, then, is that all indications are that Pettersson is set to (at least) repeat his performance in 2023/24.
Sustainability is a tricky thing to figure out in most walks of life, but it’s generally fairly simple in the world of hockey. There are certain statistical signs that point to the key differences between a temporary uptick in scoring — the proverbial “career year” — and a more genuine, long-term breakout into a higher level of play.
Nothing, of course, is ever guaranteed or set in stone. Yet, when we look at what most of those indicators say about Pettersson, they’re all pointing in the direction of him continuing to produce at this same level for several seasons running.
They’re all pointing at more 100+-point campaigns to come.
The Lowest Shooting Percentage of his Career
This is the standard measure of “good hockey” versus “good luck.” The basic idea goes that, once a player has been in the league for a while, their raw scoring ability is unlikely to change all that much, and so their shooting percentage tends to settle down into a nice career average.
When a player experiences a major uptick in scoring at the same time as a major uptick in shooting percentage, it’s generally seen as an indication that puck-luck is on their side as much as anything.
Even two perfectly equal shots released from the same player’s stick might have two drastically different outcomes. A lucky bounce, a deflection, or a bit of bad goaltending can all turn a non-quality shot into a goal, and over a long enough period, enough of those occurrences result in a player scoring more than they usually do, but also posting a higher shooting percentage than they normally do.
Which is why it’s particularly good news that Pettersson just posted the lowest shooting percentage of his career in 2022/23.
Pettersson came into the year with a career shooting percentage of almost 17%, with his previous high being the 19.4% he shot in his rookie season, and his previous low being 15.9% in 2020/21.
Make no mistake, that’s the career shooting percentage of a sniper. And the 15.2% Pettersson posted in 2022/23 is still higher than most NHLers’.
But it’s low for Pettersson, and that means, if anything, he experienced a bit of bad puck-luck this past year.
Just returning to his previous career percentage should ensure that Pettersson’s goal-scoring numbers remain high, and perhaps suggest that’s even more that he could give.
Reduced Power Play Production
The Edmonton Oilers just learned the hard way that regular season production that relies heavily on the power play does not necessarily translate to the playoffs, where penalties are a lot harder to come by and penalty killers are encouraged to cheat.
Even-strength production is generally thought to be far more sustainable in all situations.
Pettersson racked up 68 even-strength points this past season, good enough for a tie for sixth in the entire league. That alone points to his sustainability.
But where things get really exciting is how little Pettersson produced on the power play.
To be clear, Pettersson still had 25 points on the man advantage, third-most on the Canucks and the second-highest total of his career. But the portion of Pettersson’s scoring that came from the power play was greatly reduced, as were his power play points-per-game and points-per-60.
The season prior, Pettersson had 27 PP points in 80 games, and in his sophomore season he had 24 in just 68 games.
This information works in Pettersson’s favour a few ways. On the one hand, if Pettersson’s 5v5 scoring were to dip in years to come, this suggests that a return to his usual rate of power play production would cover the loss of production. Should his 5v5 rate remain the same and his power play production increase, suddenly we’re looking at an even more impressive campaign.
And if Pettersson can maintain his even-strength production while experiencing a genuine uptick in power play effectiveness — something that seems well within his wheelhouse? Well, then we’ve got a truly special season on our hands.
The Canucks’ power play will continue to work through Pettersson, and the points will come. This feels less like a question of sustainability and more a question of inevitability.
Leaguewide Factors Unimpactful
Sometimes, everybody seems to score more.
Between the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons, NHL average team scoring jumped from 2.94 goals-per-game to 3.14 goals-per-game. The league, as a whole, started scoring more goals.
That’s one of the reasons why folks were nervous about, for example, JT Miller’s 99-point campaign in 2021/22 being sustainable, with the idea being that at least a portion of that extra production came as a result of the leaguewide trend.
Had NHL production seem a similar leap between 2021/22 and 2022/23, perhaps the same claims could be made about Pettersson’s breakout year. But that was not the case. Scoring did increase a little, but only from 3.14 to 3.18 goals-per-team-per-game.
The Canucks’ own per-game production did increase from 3.00 to 3.29 over that same period, but Pettersson himself had a direct hand in that.
In other words, he didn’t ride a wave to higher production this past season, he made waves.
Other Important Factors
The idea of a hockey player’s prime or peak is a contentious one, and there’s no real consensus available as to when such a time might be, but most agree that a forward’s production tends to peak between the ages of about 24 and 29.
Pettersson turns 25 a month into next season.
Consistency of linemates is another important factor that often affects the sustainability of production. Pettersson can count on continuing to be stapled to Andrei Kuzmenko, and will have options of Anthony Beauvillier, Ilya Mikheyev, and maybe Brock Boeser on that other wing. Chemistry will not be an issue.
If there’s one part of Pettersson’s production that strikes us as potentially unsustainable, it’s those nine shorthanded points. That’s a lot for any NHLer to get in any one season, never mind to post with consistency.
But the Canucks continue to be short on penalty killers, and Pettersson continues to look like their best option shorthanded, so he’ll continue to get those same opportunities, and he’ll probably continue to make the most of them.
Really, our message here is as consistent as Pettersson was last season.
It’s that all indications are that Pettersson’s 102-point campaign was a genuine breakout, and not an anomaly, and that it set a new standard of production that Pettersson can now reasonably be expected to replicate.
In fact, if one wishes, there are indicators to be found that the best is yet to come as far as Pettersson’s production goes.
Now wouldn’t that be something.

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