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‘He’s vital to this team’: Why Bruce Boudreau had Canucks’ Elias Pettersson at net front on the first power play unit today

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Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
David Quadrelli
11 months ago
Many words were used to describe the Vancouver Canucks’ power play during the early stages of the season.
Abysmal, dreadful, horrendous, ineffective — the list goes on — but one word stuck out most of all.
The Canucks power play was stagnant.
It had little to no movement or flow, and rarely looked like a threat to score at even the best of times.
Under Bruce Boudreau, the Canucks’ special teams as a whole have seen improvement, but today, the 6-0 head coach tried something fans have never seen before.
Elias Pettersson playing net front.
For most of the season, Alex Chiasson has been a staple on the first power play unit at the net front position. He’s been mediocre at best, and fans seem to have seen enough from Chiasson at this point in the season.
But that’s a story for another day.
For clarity’s sake, Chiasson was still getting reps in at the net front during the team’s power play work at practice today, but he was cycling in and out of the position with Tanner Pearson on the second unit.
Pettersson, on the other hand, was stapled at the net front and wasn’t swapping out for anyone else.
This appears as though it’ll be his spot moving forward, and Boudreau’s reasoning for it is rather simple.
“My goal was to get Petey first power play service,” said Boudreau. “For the most part, that’s the group that goes out first and I think he’s too important to give 35 or 40 seconds to on a power play. I want him to get out there more. He can make plays from down low, he stays in front of the net, and he’s got great hands if there’s a rebound in front.”
Ultimately, Pettersson’s positioning on the ice during the power play is almost irrelevant, as Boudreau wants his power play to always be moving around and keeping opposing penalty kills on their toes.
“That’s a very skilled power play when you look at all five that are out there,” said Boudreau. “Any loose pucks, if they work hard, I’ll bet money that we get them if they’re outworking the opposition. When you’ve got those five skilled guys out there, you give them an inch and they’ll be able to score. I think that was one of the reasons we wanted to get [Pettersson] out there, whether it was in front, on the half wall, the bumper position, or even playing the point. I want my skilled players playing in these situations and he just happens to be one of the best.”
The added responsibility and ice time under Boudreau is nothing new for Pettersson, who recently started killing penalties for the first time in his NHL career under the Canucks’ new bench boss.
“It’s great, but also I’ve got to earn it,” said Pettersson when asked what it’s like getting ice time even when he’s not necessarily playing his best. “If you don’t play well and don’t play hard, you shouldn’t get minutes. It’s been great lately, obviously a very good start with Bruce as head coach.”
As for his new role on the power play, Pettersson is excited for the opportunity ahead.
“It’s fun being on the first unit, but I also like to play in front of the net. I’ve had a lot of goals when I’m screening goalies and I think I’m pretty good at tipping pucks.”
For Boudreau, getting Pettersson involved and performing at the top of his game one way or another is the most important thing, because results are almost sure to follow for the rest of the team when that’s the case.
“In the past, for the most part, when he’s playing his best hockey, the Vancouver Canucks are playing their best hockey,” added Boudreau. “The last few games he played before I got here, there was a lot in the 13-minute range, and I think he’s a guy that can play 18, 19, to 20 minutes a game, so we’ve got to find ways to get him on the ice a bit more and power play and penalty kill are two ways.
“I want him to feel important, cause he’s vital to this team.”
Boudreau doesn’t necessarily agree with the philosophy of benching or limiting the ice time of his best players when they’re struggling. In fact, Boudreau’s philosophy is quite literally the opposite.
“I think if you’re one of the better players in the game…By taking ice time away from them — maybe one game to show them ‘hey you’re not working hard enough’ or whatever — you’ve got to play these guys. You’re not going to win without these guys. We need our best players to be our best players on a nightly basis and I classify him as one of the best, so we’ve got to play him, and if he’s not playing as well as he should, he’s got to play his way out of it.”
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