Canucks: Elias Pettersson is the star that Vancouver needs right now

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - JANUARY 24: Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks poses for a portrait ahead of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game at Enterprise Center on January 24, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - JANUARY 24: Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks poses for a portrait ahead of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game at Enterprise Center on January 24, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

It’s been quite the journey for the Vancouver Canucks and their star centre.

On June 23rd, 2017, when General Manager Jim Benning went up to the podium and selected Elias Pettersson fifth overall in front of the sold-out United Center crowd in Chicago, there was a sense of surprise in the air.

For many, that was supposed to be Cody Glass, or even Casey Mittlestadt. But the lanky Swede made his way up to the stage and donned the Vancouver blue and green for the very first time and, in that moment, there was a change of the tides for Vancouver.

As the storied careers of Henrik and Daniel Sedin came to an end, fans began to realize that Pettersson’s chapter was just beginning.

Penciled in as the next face of the franchise, Pettersson did not disappoint, notching his first-career goal in his debut against the rival Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena.

Coming down the right-wing on a two-on-one, Pettersson did not flinch as he rifled the puck shortside over Mike Smith’s shoulder at the 6:13 mark of the first period. The camera panned to Pettersson on the bench moments after the goal and, for the first time, we all saw the sinister, soon-to-be trademark smirk on his face that reflected exactly what was on his mind.

“That was pretty easy, huh?”

Fast forward three years and Pettersson, now 22 years of age and onto his second, brand-new contract, is in his fourth NHL season and on the cusp of superstardom.

“Petey”, the nickname given by the Twitterverse, has settled in as the star on a team that features more talent than he’s been used to in his young NHL career. Though he’s off to a slow start with just a single goal and two helpers through six games this season, it’s just a matter of time before Pettersson’s game takes off as he knocks off the rust from missing the majority of training camp.

He even dropped a gem-worthy quote to the media when asked about his recent play.

The clever, sarcastic personality of Pettersson and his uber-confident persona is what equips him with the tools and mental makeup to thrive in a crazed market like Vancouver.

Through the tumultuous contract negotiations between Pettersson’s representatives and Canucks management this past summer, the young Swede made one thing clear: winning is all that matters to him.

There’s no doubt that Pettersson made some noise on Canucks Twitter when that quote surfaced but, at the same time, it was a completely reasonable statement for the former Calder Trophy winner to make.

The Canucks fanbase should be happy that their star player is equipped with a drive to succeed. Pettersson’s playoff performance during the 2020 playoffs opened many eyes in the hockey world, and you can tell that he’s been chomping at the bit to compete for the ultimate prize ever since.

At the end of the day, Pettersson’s interviews shouldn’t create panic and worry in the city; instead, his current mindset and motivation should be a warning and wake-up call to management that his current three-year bridge deal represents a glaring necessity for them to ice a team that can compete for a championship.

When considering all of the established, elite talents that are already garnering the constant national media attention in the league, it’s easy to forget how good Pettersson really is.

He has very few flaws in his game, especially given his young age, which is evident in his strong 5v5 performances, as well as his elite goals/60 and assists/60 ratings. The most impressive statistics came in the 2019-20 season, where his goals above replacement, or GAR, were head and shoulders above any of his teammates, and were even on par with players like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Auston Matthews.

Pettersson has been anointed with several braggadocious nicknames, the most outlandish of them all being “Swedish Gretzky”, but apparently it’s not too far off from being true.

Wayne Gretzky actually spoke his praises and compared the budding star to himself during a radio hit on Sportsnet 650 in 2018, back when Pettersson first entered the league.

"“From my point of view, he’s got a lot of my similarities. His hockey sense and his playmaking ability are as good as anybody right now, and that’s probably where the comparisons come from – much more the playmaking than anything else.”"

Even though Pettersson will never actually reach the dominant offensive prowess of Gretzky, the stylistic comparisons are valid. Pettersson sees the game at an incredibly high level, and his playmaking ability is elite.

Being a star in Vancouver is a challenge in its own right, and Pettersson has definitely faced his fair share of criticism for focusing on matters outside of hockey during the offseason.

That being said, Pettersson has done a tremendous job tuning out the noise and not letting it affect his game. His confident personality, mixed in with his ability to consistently play at an elite level on the ice, is the perfect formula needed for a star to flourish in a market like Vancouver.

He is cementing himself in the conversation as one of the next-generation NHL stars who aren’t afraid to step out of their lane as hockey players, and he is establishing himself as a pioneer to sell the game to the younger fanbase.

His silky smooth and flashy style of play on the ice, mixed in with his stylistic, fashionable drip off the ice, sets him up to be the face of not only the Canucks, but also of the NHL itself.

And, most importantly, Pettersson just wants to win at any cost, something that this market has been desperately craving for over half a century.

At the end of the day, Pettersson is the star that this team needs as the heir-apparent to the Sedin twins. Though he shares their incredible hockey IQ and playmaking ability, his personality is more bold and assertive, and those factors should go a long way in his young NHL career. Pettersson is on the verge of superstardom, and Canucks fans are fortunate to have a  front-row seat as he attempts to lead the team back to contention.