A video analysis of Elias Pettersson’s evolving roles on the Canucks’ power play

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Isabella Urbani
1 year ago
Elias Pettersson’s power play scoring was the hallmark of his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season in the NHL.
He had two patented shots: a one-time blast from the top of the circle, and a rising wrist shot. For much of his first season, Pettersson was stationed at the left half wall, opposite Brock Boeser. Pettersson averaged the most ice time out of any Canucks skater on the power play in his debut year in the league and was second to only Horvat in total 5 on 4 power play time. 
Pettersson put up 10 power-play goals and 12 power-play assists to lead the team in power-play production. While he put up two fewer power-play goals the season after, Pettersson continued to improve on his power-play point production, recording an extra two assists that season. Pettersson picked up where he left off in his rookie year by following up a shortened COVID-19 season with another 10-goal power-play season, which was good enough to tie him for power-play goals with Connor McDavid.  
But passing the 10-goal mark has been much harder to do for Pettersson. The forward’s power play production is deceptive. With 13 power play assists to his name this season, you may not have given much thought to how Pettersson’s shot has fared on the man advantage from this year to last. So far this season, Pettersson has just two power-play markers. 
To put into perspective how uncharacteristic Pettersson has been on the power play, Sheldon Dries, who gets half the time Pettersson does on the power play, has the same number of goals.
But this still leaves one question: why are Pettersson’s power play numbers not as good this year? What’s been different for the All-Star in what’s otherwise been his best season yet? We can start with his shooting percentage, which is down this year. Cross-seam one-timers or walk-in wristers aren’t converting at the same rate as they were for Pettersson in his rookie year. 
Instead, Pettersson’s shot at the half-wall was replaced by Horvat’s bumper shot as the go-to Canucks play on the man advantage. With the addition of Kuzmenko on top of that, Pettersson has mostly been tasked with dishing off down low feeds and overseeing the flank.
With the rearranging that will take place on the power play to accommodate for Horvat’s absence, I’ve grabbed Pettersson’s most used power play moves dating back to the 2018-19 season to see where the 30-plus career goal scorer fits best on the Canucks’ power play.  

Exhibit A: October 6, 2018 – Pettersson’s first power play marker  

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You could practically flip a coin to determine whether or not Pettersson scored with a slap shot or a wrister in his rookie year. More often than not, Pettersson was being set up to take a shot. He was almost always positioned on his strong side waiting for a high-low feed from the point or leaning into a cross-ice feed for a one-timer. As a result, he rarely brought the puck in on zone entries. Like in the video, this allowed Pettersson to skate along the sideboards, patiently waiting for a pass to pop out to him with zero threat from defenders. In the video, Pettersson stays undetected on Mike Smith’s glove side, following the play to the top of the circle where he sets up for a shot. Boeser crosses up after he gets the entry into Calgary’s zone, creating the threat of a pass to Horvat driving the lane, while Sven Baertschi has a lane to shoot from the half-wall, or an outlet pass to Horvat at the front of the net.  
A pass to Pettersson may not have been the initial plan on this rush, but because he is still left wide open with Calgary collapsing, it’s a no-brainer for defenceman Alex Edler to send a no-look pass Pettersson’s way. With pressure, Pettersson still has a pretty good chance of finding the back of the net, so with a pass directly on his tape with no one around, it’s pretty much a done deal.  

Exhibit B: Dec 16, 2018 Pettersson’s snapshot from the circle  

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The same Boeser to Pettersson cross-ice pass is in motion; however, this time the pass ends up on Pettersson’s stick with a little help from middle-man Nikolay Goldobin. With a defender converging on him, Pettersson stickhandles the puck once to settle it down. While he does that, his body begins to move forward, picking up enough momentum to launch the puck over the goaltender, much like an airplane picking up speed to lift off the runway.  

2.0: February 14, 2019 Pettersson’s classic catch-and-shoot release  

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Exhibit C: February 7, 2019 – Pettersson’s scoring threat on the left side  

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Chances are you’ll stumble across five more goals that look exactly like this from Pettersson’s rookie year. This is exactly how the forward would want it to be drawn up. The puck gets brought from low-high, moving the goalie side to side. Pettersson gains possession of the puck, gets his touches in, and passes it off to the point. Right away, he’s ready to get the return feed and wire it. He keeps his wind up at hip level until the last second, letting the puck explode from his stick. It’s no wonder he can fire a puck 103.5 mph.  

Exhibit D: Oct 30, 2019 – Pettersson cashing in on his off side  

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Quite possibly Pettersson’s strongest asset on the power play is his ability to release a shot from anywhere. Pettersson is lined up at his off side, taking part in a nice passing play from all perimeters to start laterally moving goaltender Jonathan Quick. When Pettersson gets the puck back, he breaks the one-touch movement of the play. He holds on to the puck, forcing Quick to come out and challenge. He advances all the way from the top of the circle to the hashmarks. Pettersson sees the time and space in front of him and uses it to walk into the shot, getting more power off from it.  

Exhibit E: Dec 3, 2019 Pettersson takes a whirl downtown  

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Pettersson’s ability to play all aspects of the powerplay begins to present itself. He’s still a few seasons away from working the point, but he’s quickly becoming the team’s number-one guy down low. The whole power play unit shifts positions starting with Pettersson and Miller. While Miller and Boeser connect for a pass, Pettersson takes himself to the net. By Horvat placing himself in the high slot for a redirection, he simultaneously opens up a lane for Pettersson to tip home Boeser’s pass. Really nice adjustments on the fly from all players included.  

Exhibit F: January 12, 2020 – Sophomore Pettersson attacks the net  

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Call Pettersson a teacher’s pet with how close he is to the front of the net. With the addition of J.T. Miller, Pettersson swaps his position on the half-wall to be the Canucks’ net-front man. Because Hughes activated down low in the play earlier, the Wild’s defenders are drawn up the half-wall alongside Hughes who shovels a pass over to Miller. This gives the team more looks as Miller has Pettersson down low for a tip, as well as Quinn Hughes walking the blue line. As soon as Miller passes off the puck to Hughes, Pettersson books it to the net, slipping behind the defenders, who are in the process of moving towards the point to prevent Hughes’ shot from getting through. Pettersson just gets enough on the shot which was going wide to redirect it past Devan Dubnyk.  

Exhibit G: August 14, 2020 – Bubble Pettersson batting pucks home  

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Staying on the theme of net-front presence, Pettersson does a nice job both navigating screens and tips at the front of the net, while making himself available for a pass at the bottom of the circle. He gets to the front of the net as soon as Boeser lets a wrist shot go, looking for a potential rebound. When the puck bounces in front of Pettersson, he does a good job quelling any questions about his strength by holding his position at the front of the crease, locating the puck, and batting it down while it’s on edge.

Exhibit H: November 7, 2021 – Point Pettersson

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Lo and behold, Pettersson has elevated himself to point status. It gives the Canucks’ traditional umbrella formation a modified look. The key to this goal is Pettersson’s confidence in his shot. This time around, he leads the rush, gains entry, and slips out of play. He assumes his positions at the point, covering for Hughes who does a nice job activating down low to receive Horvat’s pass, drawing out defenders, and setting up Pettersson at the point. After dishing off to Hughes, Horvat gets into the high slot, opening himself up for a tip play. While Pettersson elected to shoot, he could have easily passed it off to Hughes at the side of the net. Staring down Pettersson is a mob of bodies, completely blocking off his strong side shot on Anton Khudobin. Instead, he does the harder of the two plays, and takes a shot going against the grain.  

Exhibit I: January 16, 2022 – Pettersson’s hesitation, elevation special  

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A nice change of scenery in this clip. Pettersson is back to the half-wall and capitalizes on a Washington pinch to get the puck out of the zone. Horvat does the honours of setting the puck on a silver platter for Pettersson, but alas, there’s a problem, a one-kneaded foe is gliding across the pond! Pettersson is forced to stop up. He pulls the puck behind him to keep it out of reach of the Washington player, before positioning his stick tight to his body, essentially rocket-launching the puck post and in.  

Exhibit J: March 9, 2022 – Pettersson’s seeing-eye shot  

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As the kids say, “let him cook.” Was it dazzling? Not really. But the ease with which he does it is pretty breathtaking. Pettersson starts off by gaining speed through the neutral zone, and he doesn’t slow down to pick up Miller’s pass. He then proceeds to change gears, deking around the first line of Montreal forwards coming back to defend the rush. After the entry, Pettersson advances on Petry, keeping his stick on the ice, not giving the Montreal defender any indication about where he is going. This gets Petry to shift his weight in the wrong direction, leaving enough space for Pettersson to rifle a shot. 

Exhibit K: January 27, 2023 – Present day Pettersson  

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For as many videos as there are in this article, it’s pretty disappointing that this is the first power-play goal Pettersson has managed to get all season. In this video, Pettersson does a good job of playing decoy, getting the attention of three penalty killers down low. He cycles the puck to the point, forcing the first of three Columbus PKers to give chase. Once drawn all the way up, Hughes passes it off to Miller who picks up speed by skating down the half-wall. With all the defenders out of Pettersson’s hair, Miller finds the forward at the side of the net.  
Here you can see Pettersson doesn’t get all of the puck, which is why it goes low across the ice. This actually helps Pettersson when the puck reaches goaltender Joonas Korpisalo as it’s a softer shot. The shot sneaks past his arm as he tries to close off the gap.  

Exhibit L: February 9, 2023 – A captain’s release?

Do you feel that? Are the scales slowly tipping back to even? This looks like the workings of the Canucks power play that finished in the top 10 of the NHL during the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. Head coach Rick Tocchet made some slight alterations to Boudreau’s top power-play unit, subbing in Miller at the front of the net for Kuzmenko, and situating the newest Canuck Anthony Beauvillier in the slot where Horvat used to be. The play starts with the initial work done on the half-wall by Miller, who leaves the puck for Boeser before taking the eyes away from goaltender Illya Sorokin. Boeser looks across, sees the cross-ice feed for Hughes is open, and makes no mistake of utilizing the open lane. Sorokin drops down to his butterfly, praying the puck gets blocked by the number of bodies in the slot, or miraculously gets a piece of him to stay out of the net. It’s a wonder the Canucks so rarely position Pettersson at the top of the point when he’s proven to have one of, if not the hardest shots on the team, and in the league.
This is exactly the type of urgency the Canucks have been lacking on their power plays as of late. The play develops fast, but it’s done so through efficient passes. Not the typical idling. If there’s an open guy, pass it off. Screens at the net? Bombs away. Best of all, having Boeser at the half-wall to bounce passes off of is going to do miles for his playmaking. Before long, he’ll be looking to send some of his own shots towards the net. Confident Boeser = better Canucks team.

Final Evaluations  

So, what did watching hours of footage prove? Well, it points out that the Canucks aren’t special. These aren’t unique, never before seen plays in the Canucks’ playbook, and that’s great. Execution is what it comes down to. Of course, it isn’t that simple, the Canucks know that. There’s a good reason why power plays normally fire at 20-25%. Believe it or not, playing with an extra man is really hard. As much of an oxymoron as that sounds, being shorthanded or up an attacker is a reality of the game that many teams have adjusted to. Adjustment is the buzzword of this article.
For the Canucks, it’s a matter of switching it up. Replacing Bo with Beau. Utilizing one of the NHL’s hardest shoots more. That means more one-timers and more Pettersson blasts from the point. Horvat hasn’t been gone long, but it didn’t take teams long to blanket Pettersson, basically playing him man-to-man while the  Canucks are up a man. These rotations to Pettersson at the point may open up some more space for him and help the Canucks generate some quality chances.
This also might help Boeser, who tremendously benefited from the duo’s chemistry on the power play during Pettersson’s rookie season. Have Boeser lead zone entries, and don’t be afraid to swap Hughes and Pettersson. With the offensive upside Hughes has, he’s not immune to scoring goals, plus, he can clear up space for Pettersson at the point.  
In the past few seasons, the Canucks’ power play has been a high note for a historically awful penalty kill. Now that Pettersson is wearing the A and is a frontrunner for the captaincy come next year, he’s the guy you want to be the face of your power play, much like he was in his rookie year.  

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