What will Elias Pettersson’s season look like if he turns it around like he did in 2021/22?

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
5 months ago
It’s getting difficult to find something to complain about when it comes to the Vancouver Canucks.
As of this writing and the holiday break in the schedule, they sit atop the NHL standings. On an individual basis, it’s probably easier to list the players on the team who aren’t excelling. With Andrei Kuzmenko coming off a two-goal performance, it may be genuinely accurate to state that no one on the current roster is playing poorly, and when was the last time that could be said?
Still, if there’s one thing that has been sticking in the craw of the Canucks’ faithful all season long, it’s got to be the performance of Elias Pettersson.
There’s just something…off about him in 2023/24.
Now, as we said at the outset, no one is playing poorly, and that definitely includes Pettersson. His 43 points in 35 games is good for ninth place in the scoring race. Though he’s on pace for slightly fewer points than the 102 he achieved last year, Pettersson’s points-per-60 are exactly the same as they were in 2022/23, when nobody would have ever suggested that he was playing anything less than spectacularly.
So, why has that changed now if Pettersson is scoring just as much?
It’s hard to explain. It’s a notion that relies almost entirely on the eye-test, but thankfully it’s a test that we all seem to be passing together. The issue with Pettersson is akin to Cinnamon Toast Crunch, it that it’s a taste you can see as much as feel.
More than anything, Pettersson has the look of a player who can give more…and as frustrating as that has been at times this season, it’s also an enormously exciting prospect if he ever find that more to give.
And there’s ample reason to believe that he will. Prior to 2022/23, Pettersson had a bit of a reputation as a slow starter, and that was certainly the case in the season that directly preceded it.
Pettersson’s 2021/22 campaign started off with some of the worst hockey of his career. By the end of the season, most were ready to reanoint him as one of the NHL’s elite centers.
What we aim to do here today is measure to what degree Pettersson was able to turn his 2021/22 season around, and then to use that information to determine what the rest of his 2023/24 might look like if he were to turn it around in similar fashion.
This is math we can all get excited about.
The NHL’s holiday break makes for a convenient enough point in time at which to make our analysis.
Pettersson finished the 2021/22 campaign season with 32 goals, 36 assists, and 68 points through 80 regular season games.
But as of December 24, 2021 he was only at six goals and ten assists for 16 points through the first 31 games of the season. That’s a pace of a little more than 40 points.
What happened?
A massive turnaround, obviously.
From there on out, Pettersson played 49 more games in 2021/22 and racked up 26 goals and 26 assists for 52 points.
Let’s chart that for you:
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsPoints Per Game
October to December 24, 202131610160.52
December 25, 2021-April 2022492626521.06
From NHL.com
It doesn’t take a mathematician to see the massive discrepancy in production. From the holiday break onward, Pettersson more than doubled his points-per-game, and tripled his rate of goal-scoring.
And he never really looked back, production-wise.
Now, let’s take a look at a similar chart for Pettersson’s 2023/24 performance thus far:
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsPoints Per Game
October to December 24, 2023351330431.23
From NHL.com
(As an aside, look at how much busier the Canucks have been this season than they were two years ago, with four extra games played by the break. That bodes well for a lighter schedule in 2024!)
Pettersson is clearly at a different level than he was back then, even post-turnaround. Back then, a 1.06 PPG average was a red-hot scorching finish, and now a 1.23 PPG is considered “off.”
But Pettersson ascending to new levels of play is kind of his thing, and at the age of 25, it’s hard to believe he’s truly a finished product…especially not when he looks like someone who has so much more to give.
All of which raises the question of what the rest of this season will look like if it also features a turnaround to the tune of 2021/22.
We won’t make you do the decimal division. In the backside of 2021/22, as demarcated above, Pettersson scored at approximately 2.04 the rate he did for the opening stretch.
Just for fun, let’s apply that multiplier to 2023/24:
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsPoints Per Game
October to December 24, 2023351330431.23
Projected rest of season, at 2.04x471172.51
Potential Total821601.95
Okay, this definitely got a little out of hand. Even the most optimistic Pettersson supporters are probably not expecting him to finish 2023/24 with more points than Connor McDavid has ever earned in a single season.
But that’s just what happens if Pettersson turns his season around to the exact same degree that he did in 2021/22. That’s not really necessary for Pettersson to get “back on track.” Back in 2021/22, he was clearly starting from a lower rung on the developmental ladder than he is currently on right now, and thus had more room to climb.
But what this silly little math exercise does demonstrate is that any form of turnaround, or rebound, or increase in production, or groove-get-back, or whatever, could have some truly eye-popping results when it comes to Pettersson’s statline.
And what this really shows is how sky-high the expectations for Pettersson have reached after his breakout 102-point campaign.
A 1.06 PPG finish used to be considered remarkable. Now a 1.23 PPG is considered pedestrian. Should Pettersson be able to find another gear, as he has so many times in the past, the numbers are going to become more and more spectacular.
Maybe not 160-points-spectacular, but probably still something that will be well worth writing home about.
Roofs have been put on Pettersson’s potential before, and they’ve all been blown through. Don’t make the mistake of thinking his current ceiling is his final one.
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