It’s official. Vancouver Canucks prospect (some may say super prospect) Elias Pettersson is under contract with the team after signing his entry-level deal on Friday.
Pettersson had a monster season in Sweden’s top league, much of which has been documented here on Sportsnet.ca. He won the regular season scoring title and was named playoff MVP after his Vaxjo team won the championship and he again was the top scorer. No one, not even the Canucks, saw that kind of year coming from the 6-foot-2, 165-pound 19-year-old, whose next stop will likely be Vancouver’s lineup.
“I think he’s ready to play in the NHL,” Canucks GM Jim Benning told Vancouver 650’s The Playbook on Friday. “I think he understands he needs to have a good summer and work out hard and keep getting physically stronger. I expect him to come into training camp and have a good camp and challenge for a spot on the team.”
Coming off this terrific season, the expectations are very high for Pettersson right off the bat. Canucks fans were treated to an excellent rookie season from Brock Boeser this season and with Daniel and Henrik Sedin retired, more minutes and opportunity are opening up.
Pettersson is the next blue chip prospect set to make the jump and the conditions are ripe for him to have an impact right away. Former NHLer Mats Sundin was also on Vancouver 650 Friday and said he believed the youngster had “everything you need to become a superstar.”
What’s not yet clear is where he’ll fit into the lineup. Bo Horvat will take the top-line centre role and Boeser will likely stay on his wing. The Canucks have a need at the second line centre position, and though Pettersson could end up there one day, the plan is to ease him into responsibilities. He could start anywhere from the left wing spot on the top line, to role on the third line out of the gate.
It all depends how his training camp goes and how he acclimates to the NHL’s level of competition when the games count.
“We know for sure he can play all three forward positions,” Benning said. “He played a lot of right wing this year and he was really good on the right side. I’ve seen him play a couple games at centre this year in the European Championship Series games and I thought he was good in the middle too. At some point we envision him long-term being a centre iceman for us. I don’t know when it’ll happen, but there’s a good chance he’ll probably start on the wing and we’ll go from there. And if he can handle playing centre next year, then at some point he’ll play centre.”
For now, the priority for Pettersson is to recover from a hand injury he sustained at the World Championship that he needed to have surgery on. He’ll be out about a month coming back from that and Benning said it would keep Pettersson from participating in this summer’s development camp. Instead, he’ll stay in Sweden and do his workouts there with a focus on adding strength to his frame, but will be ready in time for training camp.
“He’s a driven kid,” Benning said. “He just doesn’t want to play he wants to be one of the best players on the team. And those are qualities he has that we really like and those are the qualities that are going to make him a really good NHL player.”
How good he ends up remains to be seen. But you can bet he’ll be at the top of a lot of Calder Trophy lists next October.