Where would the Vancouver Canucks be if Elias Petterson was a winger?

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 15: Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks walks out to the ice during their NHL game against the New Jersey Devils at Rogers Arena March 15, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 15: Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks walks out to the ice during their NHL game against the New Jersey Devils at Rogers Arena March 15, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

Elias Petterson has influenced the Canucks in so many ways. What would Vancouver hockey look like if the skilled Swede was not slotted into the centre position from the get-go?

Prior to the 2018-19 NHL season, Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Petterson had yet to play an NHL game.

He was called too small and was expected to be unready for the physical rigors of the National Hockey League.

There were thoughts of starting him on the wing in the NHL, allowing him to adjust to the game and grow from there. These thoughts encapsulated local media and fans alike, which includes discussions about potential linemates which included Bo Horvat and even Brandon Sutter.

The Canucks and head coach Travis Green made a gamble with the young Swede, opting to start him at centre instead of on the wing, and their choice has changed the course of the Vancouver `Canucks franchise as a whole.

How would Petterson have done as a winger? Would he have had the same instant success that he enjoyed as a centreman? How has he affected the Canucks rebuild in the now and going forward? These are all questions and scenarios that could have been different if he had not started in the middle of the ice.

Petterson was a winger on his Swedish Elite League team, the Växjö Lakers. However, the Canucks saw them as a centre in the future plans.  There were many logical reasons why the Canucks could have started him on the wing. He was used to it, and he would not have to take faceoffs or have to battle the physical opposing centres.

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It is hard to predict how he would have done as a winger, but if he had success on the wing, the Canucks may have seen him as a wide player in their future plans.

However, there is also the possibility that Petterson may have struggled on the wing. If that had happened, he may have been demoted to a lower line or even the AHL to get adjusted to the North American game.

Of course, we all know that this was not the case, but can you imagine if Petterson had found himself in Utica last season rather than leading the Canucks to their best season in years? Oh, what a change it could have been.

What can be analyzed much easier is the impact that Petterson has had on the Canucks organization and the rebuild which the team is still currently in. With Petterson as a centre, the Canucks top two middlemen are set in stone for the foreseeable future.

A combination of Horvat and Petterson will anchor the middle of the ice, and this allows the management team to focus on improving the wingers and the defence. Yes, the bottom two lines are still up in the air for the centre position. However, solidifying the top two scoring lines is a key piece to Vancouver’s success going forward.

Vancouver’s moves and draft picks this past offseason came as a direct result of Petterson’s success. The emergence of an All-Star centre signaled that the team is much closer to the playoffs than initially thought. This meant that the areas of focus, as well as the time frame for winning, had to change. The Canucks two biggest moves in the offseason were their draft selections and the trade which led to the acquisition of J.T Miller.

Going in chronological order, I take a look at the first-round selection of the Canuclks. Vasily Podkolzin was not supposed to fall to Vancouver at 10th overall. But he did, and he fits the Canucks needs, which were a winger.

If Petterson were not to have played in the middle, instead of solidifying himself as a wide option, general manager Jim Benning and company could have easily opted to go for a natural centreman to fill the team’s void in that position. The success of Petterson meant that the team could fill a more vital need, and bring themselves better overall player — that being Podklozin.

The second day of the draft divided Canucks fans, as the club traded away a first-round pick to the Tampa Bay lighting for Miller. This was another example of how Petterson has influenced the clubs decisions.

Bringing in Miller cleared up some foggy areas in Vancouver’s plan. It was a clear statement that the club was confident in having Horvat and Petterson as their one-two punch down the middle, and also signified that the time for winning, or playoff contention had come. While the original time frame for success was never made public, this move made it clear that the Canucks were trying to expedite their potential success and make the best of the years they have with the young core’s cheap contracts.

In an interview with TSN 1040, The Athletic’s Thomas Drance spoke about this topic and the way coach Green approached it. Saying “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gutsier move around the league.” He included himself in the mass of people who were skeptical of Petterson’s adjustment, but that the fact he was proven wrong shows that green has the knowledge of how to handle young and skilled players.

The Canucks would be completely different if Petterson had begun on the wing, and who knows? They may be in a better spot than they are now. It was clear from the first game of the preseason last year that he would be able to handle the duties of an NHL centre, and the organization is lucky that their head coach took notice of that. Who knows what the Canucks could have looked like coming into 2019-20 if it weren’t for the emergence of Petterson?

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All I can say is that he changed the course of the Canucks, not only on the ice,  but also in the minds of the fanbase who dedicated their time and money to follow the team.