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The Dragon

by Grace Heidinger / Pittsburgh Penguins

Growing up in Skelleftea, Sweden, Marcus Pettersson was always surrounded by sports. He played hockey in the winter, soccer in the summer, and basketball for school, which Pettersson described as pretty standard for young kids in his hometown.

While hockey was his main focus in the small, hockey-crazy city, because the now-6-foot-3 defensemen was tall as a kid, his physical education teachers wanted him to give basketball a try. After playing a few tournaments here and there for his school's team, Pettersson landed himself a nickname: The Dragon - which has even followed him to the NHL.  

"A couple of guys still call me that, like Casey (DeSmith) calls me that," Pettersson said with a laugh. "It's something that travels and it's not really a basketball nickname, but it's got a basketball background." 

When he wasn't at a basketball tournament or on the ice, one could usually find Pettersson playing street hockey with some friends. However, they might not easily recognize him because he was playing at a different position, and not as a defenseman. 

"When we played street hockey, I was always a goalie," Petterson said. "I actually played goalie a few times growing up, but I never got a goalie mask, so I just played with my regular one." 

But what made hockey stick for Pettersson and later allow him to make a career out of the sport? Well, some of that credit can be given to his father, Daniel Pettersson, who was a professional hockey player in Sweden for over a decade. 

"Being around the locker room when I was a kid, I remember running around and seeing all the players and stuff like that and being able to be on the ice sometimes after practices," Pettersson said. "It's for sure something that sparked me to want to be a pro hockey player and really be successful, because I loved playing hockey." 

And as someone who was a professional hockey player himself, Daniel stressed the importance of setting goals early in life, which made a lasting impact on his son as Marcus followed in his footsteps. 

"He talked about that a lot," Pettersson said. "If you want to go to the highest level, you can, but you've got to be a pro. You got to play for fun, but you got to put the work in, and that's something I for sure have brought with me this whole way." 

This influential lesson has carried Pettersson throughout his hockey career, from the early stages when he played with Skelleftea Jr. and a few other hometown teams, to when his NHL career began after he was drafted in 2014 by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round (38th overall). 

Pettersson played parts of two seasons in California before joining the Penguins during the 2018-19 season after being acquired via trade that December. He immediately made a good impression on the organization, and the following year, Pettersson was rewarded with a five-year contract extension midway through the 2019-20 campaign.  

"One thing about Marcus, he's a terrific person and he always takes ownership for his own game," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We certainly have so much respect for his maturity, and his approach to his own game." 

Every time he returns home for the summer, Pettersson continues to use the offseason to train and work on his all-around game back in Sweden. That determination to improve was apparent during the first half of the 2021-22 season, which stood out to Pettersson and his head coach. 

The second half didn't go quite as smooth, as Pettersson found himself a healthy scratch on a few different occasions with a healthy competition on Pittsburgh's deep blue line. But he rediscovered his game down the stretch, matching his career best with three points (1G-2A) in the regular-season finale versus Columbus, and carried that strong play into the postseason.

Overall, in 72 games, Pettersson tallied 19 total points, was able to help his team on both sides of the puck, and made some impressive plays with the skill set that he has. 

"I think I'm able to make those plays," Pettersson said. "I think the next step for me is kind of having the confidence to do that stuff. I think I found a good balance where I can make offensive plays, but I don't have to chase them if they're not there. So, take what is given and make those plays when they're there."

In preparation for next season, Pettersson wants to take his performance from the first half of season and build on it. While he was happy with the way his game came together during the playoffs, he knows consistency is the key going forward.

"Being a good defender, using his stick, controlling his gaps, helping us get out of our end, making good decisions with the puck, and taking what the game gives him," Sullivan said. "I think that's the player that Marcus is." 

Now after living in Pittsburgh for a little over three years, the 26-year-old has found a comfortability in the city - but makes sure to carry on some traditions from home. Pettersson is someone who can't live without coffee or an afternoon "fika." 

"When we go out to restaurants with the team on road trips, and we go eat and I have a coffee after dinner, they look at me like I'm crazy," Petterson said. "But that's always something that we do. We have fikas in the afternoon with a coffee and a little sweet. So, after every meal, we have a coffee." 

And for the city itself, the atmosphere and the mentality of Pittsburgh reminds Pettersson of Skelleftea. Even though it's a little colder and darker back home, he has come to realize that both cities are similar in the sense that they're filled with people who work hard for a living. Not to mention sports are a big part of the cultures in both cities, too. 

"They love their sports, like here with football and hockey and baseball, so that's kind of the comparison that I liked," Pettersson said. "You can feel the heat of the whole city being behind you, and I felt that playing at home and even watching growing up and how good the teams were. It's been my experience so far here in Pittsburgh, that it is the same. It's a city that works hard, has an industrial background, and loves their sports. They get so passionate, and it's so fun being a part of." 

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