Much has been made about Swedish teenager Elias Pettersson‘s inevitable arrival in the NHL.
Fresh off one of the most dominant campaigns we’ve seen from an NHL prospect, the 2017 fifth-overall pick has seemingly done everything within his power to convince the Vancouver Canucks he’s worthy of an extended stay in the big leagues next season.
According to general manager Jim Benning, that’s precisely how the team sees it all shaking out. Though the Canucks are expected to practice some patience with their prized forward, Benning said he expects the 19-year-old to be on the roster when his club aims to take the next step in 2018-19.
Speaking with NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger on Monday, the GM was asked whether he sees Pettersson cracking the lineup next season:
“Oh yeah. I think given the retirement of the Sedins, we need skill in our lineup,” Benning told Zeisberger. “He had, quite frankly, an outstanding year this year.”
Pettersson dominated in the Swedish Elite League in 2017-18, leading the league in scoring during both the regular season and playoffs (earning MVP honours for each, as well) en route to a league championship — an unprecedented run of success for a teenaged player in the league. His winning ways didn’t wane on the international circuit either, as Pettersson added a silver at the 2018 World Juniors and helped Sweden claim gold at the 2018 World Championship.
“We’ve never heard of that before. There’s been some great Swedish players, the (Peter) Forsbergs, the Sedins, that have come through that, through the years, haven’t been able to accomplish that,” Benning said. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on Elias but we feel real strong about his ability to make plays and add skill to our team. A lot will be determined when he comes to training camp. We don’t want to put the player into a position he’s not ready for.
“But his accomplishments this year, like at the World Championships (with Sweden), where he didn’t look out of place, we just feel he can come in and prove, like Boeser did last year at training camp, that he belongs and can contribute next year.”
Pettersson looks set to serve as the next piece in an on-the-cusp Canucks core already off to a good start with Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Adam Gaudette, who led the NCAA in scoring last season and snagged the Hobey Baker Award as a result, is vying for membership in that inner circle as well.
That said, Benning said that although he believes the seeds of a new era in Vancouver have been planted, it’ll take time for the young group to lead the Canucks to true contender status. To that end, the club is focused more on giving them what they need to grow into an elite group than banking on their talent right away.
“With the Sedins retiring, for us it’s going to be about that next group of core players we’re going to win with,” he told Zeisberger. “It’s about finding that next group of core players we can win with in the next six, eight, 10 years, and developing them the right way. Look at the playoffs. It’s that age group, from 26-32, that you win with. … It’s about adding pieces that will help push our young guys to develop.
“I don’t know if that’s necessarily making a [free-agency] splash, but surrounding them with pros in and out of the dressing room, guys they can talk to. When I look at the big picture, it’s going to take time but it’s what we’re looking to do.”