It’s been a long, arduous process that’s nearly taken an entire calendar year.
But Elias Pettersson is officially back at his best for the Vancouver Canucks, and the timing couldn’t be better.
The journey began in March of 2021, as Pettersson suffered a wrist injury during the course of a double-header against the Winnipeg Jets. What seemed like a minor ailment at first would go on to keep him out of the Canucks’ final 30 games of the regular season, and kick off an offseason defined by frustration.
Though Pettersson eschewed surgery this time around, his recovery period quickly turned from weeks into months. It took until mid-July for Pettersson to even start shooting pucks again, and he presumably didn’t start doing so with full gusto until a few weeks after that.
All the while, his camp negotiated his next contract extension, a process that would also stretch on far longer than anyone wanted it to.
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By the time Pettersson finally returned to Vancouver, Training Camp 2022 was over — but Pettersson still wasn’t fully repaired.
As he revealed following Monday’s win over the Seattle Kraken, Pettersson had to keep his wrist taped up well into the 2021/22 regular season, and that limited range of motion had a demonstrable impact on his game.
More than that, it seemed to have a demonstrable impact on his confidence.
Early on in the season, Pettersson appeared to be second-guessing himself on nearly every play, which often left him looking lost out on the ice. He’d get the puck and then fumble it or turn it over before he could decide what to do with it, and fans became just as frustrated with the ineffectiveness as he was.
With the revelation of lingering wrist pain, however, it all starts to make a little more sense.
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Pettersson’s game runs through his lethal shot, and the possibility of him unleashing it at a moment’s notice. Having a wrist taped up, and never knowing whether it’s going to respond as he wants it to on any given play, would hamper any player, but especially Pettersson.
Looking back now, it’s hard not to see it.
The puck would come to him, and Pettersson would second-guess his wrist. Then, he’d second-guess himself, and then that was all the time he had for second-guessing and, more times than not, that would be all the time he’d get with the puck.
It wasn’t a recipe for success. It was a recipe for exactly what Pettersson delivered in the opening months of the season. Combine the ongoing wrist issues with the distraction of contract negotiations, the missed training camp, and the clearly detrimental impact of coach Travis Green, and it’s really no wonder why Pettersson struggled at the outset of this regular season.
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But he’s not struggling anymore.
The comforting thing about Pettersson’s season is its steady upward climb. It’s reasonable to assume that, if discomfort has been at the core of his issues, that those issues would begin to dissipate as the season wore on and he became more and more comfortable. Well, that’s exactly what is happening.
Pettersson’s PPG on the season is still well below his career standard, but it’s trending in the right direction. He’s not truly been streaky in 2021/22, but instead got a little bit better on a monthly basis as the wrist has warmed up and the rust has sloughed off.
2021/22
Games
Points
PPG
October
9
4
0.44
November
14
7
0.50
December
10
6
0.60
January
12
7
0.58
February
7
10
1.43
If Pettersson were truly suffering from a loss of talent, drive, vision, or “mojo,” as some had suggested earlier in the year, one wouldn’t expect his inconsistency to appear so…consistent. This doesn’t really read as a slump, and it definitely doesn’t read as a regression.
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Instead, Pettersson’s performance can best be interpreted as a lengthy recovery — and, most encouragingly, a recovery that is now complete. The shot is back, the confidence has returned, and — as one would expect — the scoring has come right along with it.
Is the recovery complete with enough time left on the clock to turn this campaign around into a respectable one?
That remains to be seen.
The Canucks have exactly 30 games left on their regular season schedule as of this writing.
If Pettersson were to maintain his 2021/22 PPG of 0.65 from here on out, he’d finish with about 20 more points and a grand total of 54, which would constitute the worst season of production by far.
If he were to maintain a simple PPG average from here on out, Pettersson would finish with about 64 points — still a ways off his rookie and sophomore performances, but back in line with what one might expect from a first line center.
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And if he were to stay at the rate he’s been scoring at through February thus far? That might be a longshot, but it would give Pettersson about 43 more points and put him somewhere in the range of 77 total, which would shatter his previous career-best and constitute an overall PPG right in line with his sophomore season.
We’re not going to go as far as to call such an outcome likely, or even probable. But it’s an outcome that is suddenly at least possible again, and that’s a testament to how far back Pettersson has come since October — and what he’s had to work through to get here.