Elias Pettersson pumped for sophomore year after summer of ‘progress’

Vancouver Canucks superstar Elias Pettersson comments on his rookie season and what he'll have to do to be successful this season.

STOCKHOLM — Don’t pinch Elias Pettersson. He doesn’t want to wake up.

Sitting here in a hotel conference room in the calm of summer, you get the feeling he still doesn’t entirely believe all that’s happened to him. He arrived in North America like a supernova last season and instantly changed the way we view the present and future of the Vancouver Canucks.

Even with some small struggles in the later stages of the year — struggles that have informed Pettersson’s approach to this off-season — he can look back now on his Calder Trophy campaign with awe and wonder.

"I’m living my dream," Pettersson told Sportsnet. "I always worked hard and always believed I would make the NHL, but didn’t really think that I would be the guy. So I’m just living my dream and I’m enjoying every second of it."

Strange as it may sound, Pettersson once wondered if he was practising enough to become a special hockey talent. With the benefit of hindsight, he now sees his childhood routine in rural Ånge, Sweden as the reason why it happened.

He often spent several hours a day on skates.

"I’ve been playing hockey ever since I can remember," Pettersson said during the NHL/NHLPA European Player Media Tour. "I come from a village where 3,000 people live, my dad drove the Zamboni and had a key to every door, so he always dropped me by the rink and cleared the ice and I was there after every school day.

"Got home, ate dinner and then it was practice again. I was on the ice all my childhood and I think that was a big part where I learned stuff earlier than other kids because I had a lot of ice time."

It probably explains the unique style that helped earn Pettersson his label "The Alien." He was given freedom to try things outside of the traditional organized boundaries of the sport.

He’s a player that sees things his peers don’t.

Like this play.

Or this one.

Or this one.

Still, Pettersson freely admits he hit a wall before the end of the Canucks’ 82-game schedule. When it came time to craft his workout plan for this summer, it was built with that fall-off in mind.

"I feel like at the end of the season a lot of teams were making a push to make the playoffs, so definitely they were tougher games at the end of the season," he said. "And also for myself, I felt like I didn’t have 100 per cent energy coming into every game, so that’s been a big thing for me. That I have better conditioning, I have more strength and power in my legs, and just trying to get stronger and faster.

"It was my first year in the league and you just learn from it. Always have it back in your head that you want to play good even when you have a tough day."

A planned visit to teammate Brock Boeser’s off-season home in Minnesota never materialized because of conflicting schedules, so Pettersson ended up spending most of his time around family and friends in Sweden.

He put a lot of focus into his gym sessions.

"For me, I’m not the biggest guy out there, I don’t have the biggest muscles," he said. "So of course it takes a little more time for me to gain all those muscles, but I’m working on it. More conditioning, get better in shape and I made some progress this summer. And, yeah, I can’t wait for the season."

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Remember that some questioned how his six-foot-two, 176-pound frame would hold up last fall. His weight was a major talking point during Canucks training camp and then he rendered those conversations moot by putting up 10 goals and 16 points in his first 10 NHL games.

The 2017 fifth-overall pick finished with .93 points per game and earned a ton of respect from his peers after playing just one full season in the top rung of Swedish hockey. He may have won both the regular season and playoff MVP awards while leading the Vaxjo Lakers to a title in 2018, but there was no guarantee he’d immediately find the success he did in Vancouver.

"He got to the SHL and that year he was ridiculously good," said Nashville Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson. "He carried that team to that championship by himself, basically. He was so good. I didn’t know how it would transfer to the NHL, but he’s been on fire since he got there.

"I’m happy for him. Great player and a great person."

In the last 12 months, life has changed for Pettersson. He’s now viewed as a star on both sides of the Atlantic and acknowledges that there’s "a lot more pressure on me."

He’s tried to counteract that by finding more balance in his life — making sure to carve out space where he takes a break from thinking about hockey.

The long summer afforded him the chance to devote energy to his other major passion: Golf.

He’s played often these last few months and whittled his handicap index down to 6.7 in the process. He counts making the first eagle of his life as the highlight of his play so far and nearly one-upped it with a close call on what would have been his first ever hole-in-one.

"It’s like hockey: You can never master it," Pettersson said of his second-favourite sport. "You can always get better."

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