VANCOUVER – As memorable Vancouver Canucks debuts go, it wasn’t exactly Pavel Bure versus the Winnipeg Jets in 1991. No, Elias Pettersson actually recorded a point on Tuesday.
In this embryonic stage for Pettersson in the National Hockey League, you can compare him to Bure – the two most exciting Canucks prospects of the last 30 years. But you can’t really compare their first games. Technically, Tuesday’s pre-season opener doesn’t even count as a game played for Pettersson. Bure, by contrast, made his NHL debut amid the full intensity – and rosters – of a regular-season game in November.
But Pettersson’s flashes of brilliance against the Edmonton Oilers were enough to excite everyone on the West Coast, even if the score did not. Without their top players, the Oilers were better than Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson, whose nightmare last season still echoed in his dodgy performance Tuesday.
Edmonton won 4-2 at Rogers Arena despite being outshot 37-28. But the crowd still crackled over Pettersson, the fifth-overall draft pick from 2017 who as a teenager won scoring and MVP titles in the Swedish Hockey League last season.
Pettersson collected a second assist on Nikolay Goldobin’s third-period, power-play goal for Vancouver. But the Swede, expected to drive the Canucks’ second line this season as a rookie, was more impressive on another handful of plays that illustrated his slick hands and impressive poise.
He looks, at age 19, like an NHL scorer.
“I had a lot of opportunities to score,” Pettersson said. “The more chances I missed, the more I wanted to score. Hopefully I save them for another game.
“I got more confident during the game. I was a little nervous before the game. As soon as the puck dropped and I had my first shift, I felt good. It’s good for me that I know I can create chances out there. First game in the pre-season, I think the team played good but we just didn’t score.”
Oilers goalie Cam Talbot robbed Goldobin in the first period after a no-look drop pass across the slot by Pettersson. The centre later dangled veteran penalty-killer Ryan Strome to the ice, split the Edmonton defence to take Ben Hutton’s breakaway pass, only to be stuffed by Talbot, and calmly skated inside stick-less defenceman Matt Benning on another point-blank chance.
Pettersson looked most dangerous on the power play, where he set up for left-shot one-timers above the right-wing circle.
“He created a lot,” teammate Sven Baertschi said. “He played with a lot of poise. He always seemed to find the right play.”
Ty Rattie scored twice for Edmonton, while Bo Horvat assisted on Vancouver goals by Baertschi and Goldobin. Pettersson finished with one assist, three shots on net on six attempts, a 4-for-4 faceoff record and 7:47 of power-play time in his total ice time of 16:24.
Asked what went through his mind on his first shift, Pettersson said: “To be honest, I was thinking of when I was younger and playing video games of the NHL and I was dreaming to play here. To play my first game here in Vancouver, it was a dream come true.”
The Oilers, who visited Vancouver without Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, among others, improved to 2-0 in the pre-season. The 0-1 Canucks play the Calgary Flames’ split-squad Wednesday at Rogers Arena.