BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- Elias Pettersson surprised many during his standout rookie season with the Vancouver Canucks.
Pettersson, a finalist for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year, didn't necessarily expect the success he enjoyed.
"It definitely surprised me," the 20-year-old center said Saturday, one day after he had an assist for Sweden in a 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic on the opening day of play in the 2019 IIHF World Championship. "Playing in the NHL has always been my dream. I didn't know what to expect playing against players I grew up watching. I've worked hard to be the player I am today, and I'm very happy with my season."
Pettersson has plenty of reason to be satisfied.
The 20-year-old led NHL rookies and set a Canucks rookie-record with 66 points (28 goals, 38 assists) in 71 games, passing Pavel Bure (1991-92) and Ivan Hlinka (1981-82), who each had 60 points.
Video: VAN@STL: Pettersson nets PPG to tie it late
He said his adjustment to the NHL was helped by having fellow Sweden-born players on Vancouver's roster, including goalie Jacob Markstrom, forward Loui Eriksson and defenseman Alexander Edler.
"Especially in the beginning of the season when everything was new to me," he said. "I was nervous about almost everything. All the guys on the team, but especially the Swedes made me feel comfortable. If I ever wanted to ask something, I could always asked them."
It's a part of the gig, Markstrom said.
"Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Alex Edler did the same to me when I came in, when I got traded to Vancouver (from the Florida Panthers)," Markstrom said. "They made it feel like home right away. It was kind of my responsibility to carry that torch that Hank and Danny started. We were hanging out with him a lot and making sure he got everything he needed, trying to make it feel like home."
It certainly helped; Petterson also led NHL rookies in power-play goals (10), power-play points (22), game-winning goals (seven) and points per game (0.93).
Video: VAN@CHI: Pettersson sets Canucks rookie scoring mark
"A lot of guys heard about him, but at the same time, you never know until you see them in the big league," said New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, a teammate of Pettersson's with Sweden at the World Championship. "[The NHL] is a different type of league. It's more physical. It's faster.
"When you have a high hockey IQ like Elias, it just makes it even more clear how good he is. The first impression I had is what an incredible shot, but the more you see him play, the more you see how much skill he has … the little things he does to make the players around him a lot better. He's very tricky with his stick. He kind of reminds me a little bit of Pavel Datsyuk the way he uses his stick to lock guys in. He's not a really big guy, but he's still pretty strong with the hands. Overall, a very complete player."
Much of Pettersson's offense during the regular season was of the highlight-reel variety and kept the rebuilding Canucks competitive; ultimately, Vancouver finished 35-36-11, nine points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.
"Most of the stuff I see on the highlights after the game," Markstrom said. "It's great. He helped us win games. You need that in this league. That's why we were so successful coming up to pretty much the [NHL Trade Deadline] when we were a point out or tied for a wild-card spot.
"He helped us win games."
Video: NJD@VAN: Pettersson pulls off phenomenal move in SO
It could help Pettersson win the Calder too. He's a finalist along with St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. The winner will be announced at the 2019 NHL Awards presented by Bridgestone at Mandalay Bay Events Center sports and entertainment complex in Las Vegas on June 19.
The honor would be appreciated, though Pettersson said he's more interested in helping the Canucks end their four-season playoff drought.
"It's always fun when people think good of you," he said. "Of course, personal awards … it's fun when they acknowledge you. It gives you confidence and makes you happy.
"But I'm thinking more about winning games."