Vancouver Canucks fans have been treated to watching the emergence of a superstar rookie this season. The Calder trophy favourite is currently in the first slump of his NHL career — but what’s causing it?
Elias Pettersson has kept Vancouver Canucks fans watching games this season. The Swedish youngster came into the Canucks’ lineup and immediately made an impact right from opening night when he scored his first career goal.
He was producing at an unbelievable pace for a rookie and was being referred to as one of the best rookies since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin — pretty high praise for someone who was supposed to be too small to play in the NHL.
Both I and the majority of commenters on that article thought it to be highly likely that Pettersson would break the record with ease. I pointed out that Pettersson’s longest number of consecutive games without scoring a goal at the time was only five. At the time of this writing, Pettersson has gone seven games without recording a goal.
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In his last seven games, Pettersson has recorded just two assists, and in those seven games, the Canucks have recorded just one win. This is really the first slump of Pettersson’s NHL career, and while I’m seeing more and more people questioning his abilities due to the slump, I don’t believe that it is a cause for long-term concern — but the question has to be asked, what’s causing this slump?
First, let’s talk about ice time and the effect the Canucks schedule has on players. The Canucks have played the most road games of almost any team in the NHL. Being in the West, they have to travel more than other teams in the league do.
The Canucks travel an approximate total of 72,000km in a season, which is roughly the seventh most of any team in the NHL. Let’s compare that to the travel distance Pettersson was used to in the Swedish Hockey League.
His SHL club, the Vaxjo Lakers, are the team located farthest south in the league. The northernmost city in Sweden with a team in the SHL is Lulea. Vaxjo played Lulea just four times last season, and played a total of just 52 games, as opposed to the 82 played in an NHL season. Keep in mind, there’s also only 14 teams in the SHL.
The schedule Pettersson is used to in the SHL is much easier on players than that of the NHL, now let’s take a look at what kind of ice-time Pettersson was seeing as a member of Vaxjo during his historic season.
The Vaxjo Lakers website (which is written in Swedish) says that Pettersson averaged approximately 16 minutes of ice time per game. Compare that to the NHL, where not only he is playing more games and travelling more, where his average TOI is over 18 minutes.
Now let’s take a look at his TOI in the individual games leading up to and during his current slump. In the Canucks three-game California road trip from February 13th to 16th, Pettersson averaged almost 23 minutes of ice time. The final game of that road trip is the last time Pettersson scored a point before going on his seven-game cold streak.
The game where Pettersson picked up two points during his slump was the 4-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks. His total ice time that game? 16:04. Does less ice time mean more goals for Pettersson?
This isn’t to say head coach Travis Green is deploying Pettersson incorrectly, more than it is to say that Pettersson just seems to be tired due to the combination of increased travel and ice time.
In his last two games, Pettersson played 15:46 and 16:41, respectively. After a day off on Monday, and a month of March where the Canucks play the majority of their games at home, look for Pettersson to break out of his slump and continue to improve his case as to why he deserves to win the Calder trophy.
I don’t think this current slump from Pettersson is much cause for concern. He will get used to the increased travel and minutes seen in the NHL as time goes on. However, I want to hear from you all, do you find Pettersson’s play as of late alarming? Let me know in the comments.