You might call Vancouver’s fifth overall pick from the 2017 NHL Draft a “super prospect” and it wouldn’t be a hyperbolic statement.
Elias Pettersson’s season in Sweden’s top professional league has been just that good.
The 19-year-old is currently tied for the scoring lead in the SHL with 35 points in 26 games and his point-per-game average of 1.35 has him on an historic pace. Pettersson is currently scoring at the second-best rate ever for an under-20 player in Sweden, trailing only Kent Nilsson’s 1.47 from 1975-76.
That means, yes, he’s scoring even more than a 19-year-old Peter Forsberg (1.23 points per game) did in 1992-93 — two seasons after he was drafted.
Canucks fans will have a chance to see Pettersson at the World Junior Championship starting Dec. 26, where he’ll actually step down in competition and play against guys his own age, rather than full-formed professionals.
With the way he’s played this season, Pettersson has huge expectations for himself at the WJC.
“I want to dominate every game,” Pettersson said on Sportsnet 650’s Starting Lineup. “I want to be the best player on the ice and create many chances and help the team to win. The long goal in this tournament is of course to win gold.”
Sweden is looking to bounce back from the 2017 WJC, in which they finished fourth following a 2-1 bronze medal game loss to Russia. Pettersson, too, is looking for a better performance as he managed just one assist in six games last year.
At six-foot-two, Pettersson has the height to compete at the highest levels, but as is the case with many young players he needed to add weight before he was really ready for the NHL. Pettersson came into the draft weighing 165 pounds, which he says he’s brought up a little this season.
The Canucks prospect says he hasn’t been in touch with president Trevor Linden or GM Jim Benning since the draft, though trainers and scouts from the team have stopped in to check on his diet and see how he’s living. He says he’s read how excited the team and its fans are about the season he’s having in Sweden, although he hasn’t yet thought about signing with the Canucks and coming to North America next season.
“I’ve seen some stuff on Twitter on some media and it’s really excited for me as well that they believe in me and want me to get over there,” Pettersson said. “So I’m happy with the situation that they’re excited for me.”
The only thing standing in the way of Pettersson and an SHL scoring title may be that he’s too good. After the WJC, Pettersson will return to his Vaxjo team, but he may have to leave again. Without NHLers available, there is speculation that he will be included on Sweden’s Olympic team, which would give him another big-stage event in South Korea in February.
“One year ago I didn’t believe I had any chance, but now that the NHL players can’t play in the Olympics I knew maybe I could have a chance,” he said. “Now things have gone really well for me, I think I have a great chance, but I haven’t put up a goal that I need to be on the Olympic team. But if I make the team it’s going to be a big honour for me.”