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Pettersson success impressing fellow Swedes in NHL

Strong start putting Canucks rookie forward in record book

by @NHLdotcom

Elias Pettersson's success has not come as a complete surprise to many of his NHL peers from Sweden.

The 19-year-old Vancouver Canucks forward leads NHL rookies with 10 goals and 16 points. He is the fifth player since the inaugural NHL season of 1917-18 to have at least 10 goals in his first 10 games, and the first since Rob Gaudreau of the San Jose Sharks and Dimitri Kvartalnov of the Boston Bruins did it in the 1992-93 season.

Pettersson is the 17th player in NHL history with at least 16 points in his first 10 games and the first since Kvartalnov (17 points) and Nikolai Borschevsky of the Toronto Maple Leafs (16 points) in 1992-93.


[RELATED: Facts and Figures: Pettersson excelling]


"He's obviously very skilled," said Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who saw Pettersson in person during a charity game in Gavle, Sweden, on Aug. 17. "He's a talented kid and I think it's very impressive he's accomplished this much at the beginning of his NHL career. So I'm happy for him. I don't know him that well but it's fun for him. He looks like a good kid too."

Pettersson may be a good kid, but he can get mad too, said Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg, who played with Pettersson for Sweden at the 2018 IIHF World Championship. Klingberg believes that drive to win is fueling the record-setting start to Pettersson's NHL career.

"I think what's making him so good, and what's making everyone so good, playing in the NHL, I mean, the best players are the ones that really want to be the best players every day, and if they lose they're grumpy," Klingberg said. "I'm the same way. I would say that's why. He hates losing."

Klingberg, who had 67 points (eight goals, 59 assists) last season and finished sixth in voting for the Norris Trophy, says Pettersson (6-foot-2, 176 pounds) has learned different skills to overcome a weight disadvantage. Klingberg (6-2, 180) says he had to learn many of the same difficult lessons upon entering the NHL.

"I see myself (in him)," Klingberg said. "I see what he did is what I have to do as well. We're not the biggest guys. We're kind of thin. Never been the big guy when we were growing up either, so we had to learn to play hockey other ways. Be smart, protect the puck, and obviously that's where his game is really good too."

Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund also mentioned Pettersson's size, but pointed to a different area in which it surprisingly manifests itself.

"For me he's not a big guy, but his shot is pretty heavy," Backlund said. "It's a pretty heavy shot, that wrister. There's not a lot of guys out there that can shoot like him. For being that young and that skinny, it's impressive."

Video: VAN@DET: Pettersson beats Howard over the glove

Flames forward Elias Lindholm said hockey IQ is the most impressive part of Pettersson's transition to the NHL.

"Some stuff he does, the small plays; you can always talk about toe drags and stuff like that, but I'm more watching his overall game and all the small plays that he does to create time for his teammates," Lindholm said. "It's more of that that I'm looking for. Those highlight plays you'll see all over the place anyway. When you watch him up close, it's the small plays he does."

So what does the fast start and the skill mean for Pettersson?

Klingberg says there is no reason Pettersson can't average at least 1.0 point per game, which has been accomplished five times since 1995-96 by rookies who've played in at least 41 games: Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (1.31, 2005-06), Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (1.26, 2005-06), Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (1.09, 2006-07), Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (1.07, 2015-16), and New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (1.04, 2017-18).

Backstrom didn't even want to put a cap on the number of points Pettersson could have.

"He can go as high as he can this year, and he's going to get even better and better," Backstrom said. "So it's fun to see him do well here, and it seems like they're on a good roll there in Vancouver too, so that's good for them."

The Canucks, who play the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NESN, SNP, NHL.TV), entered play Wednesday third in the Pacific Division (9-6-1); their 19 points are the same as the first-place Flames.

Pettersson, the No. 5 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, gave a sneak preview to his potential last season with Vaxjo of the Swedish Hockey League. He had a league-high 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists) in 44 games and was named the most valuable player in the SHL. He then helped Vaxjo to the league championship with an SHL-best 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 13 games, and was named playoff MVP.

Being able to carry his SHL success to the NHL is the latest testimony to the growth of hockey in Sweden.

"Obviously it's a good sign for the [Swedish Hockey League]," Lindholm said. "He was dominating that one and proved now that he can be a dominant player here too. It's a good sign for the Swedish league and for Swedish players as well. It's fun to see so many young guys coming up. They're ready to go. It's just fun to watch."

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