On one of those campy pre-draft questionnaires that earnest hockey prospects fill out – they’d sing Madame Butterfly if a team asked them – Elias Pettersson told the National Hockey League that if he could be a superhero he would be The Hulk.
If he were, the skilled centre from Sweden would have been the first player chosen Friday at the NHL Draft in Chicago. But Pettersson, who possesses both the build and mysterious allure of a magic wand, instead went No. 5 to the Vancouver Canucks.
And this was still a surprise.
The rebuilding Canucks were desperate for an offensive defenceman or playmaking centre. Torpedoed again by the NHL Draft Lottery, which sunk the Canucks to fifth from second in the batting order, Vancouver missed out on dynamic defenceman Cale Makar by one pick.
So, Canuck general manager Jim Benning addressed his other priority but chose not higher-ranked Cody Glass nor Casey Mittelstadt, but the lanky Pettersson from Sundsvall, Sweden and that country’s second-division pro league.
Glass, the Portland Winterhawks’ star from Winnipeg, would have been a “safer” pick. Probably a more popular one in Vancouver, where many Canuck fans have traded their umbrellas for pitchforks.
But Pettersson is the guy with the dazzling upside – the centre who amassed 41 points in 43 games for Timra, where he was partnered last season by Canuck prospect Jonathan Dahlen.
Benning was so impressed by Pettersson, whom he couldn’t help notice while watching Dahlen’s development, the GM brought the 18-year-old to Vancouver a month ago after the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo.
During his whirlwind visit to the Canucks and Rogers Arena, Pettersson met Swedish stars Danny and Hank Sedin. Naturally, the 36-year-old twins were working out in the weight room.
It was a small but important glimpse for Pettersson of the greatest scorers in Canuck history. The gym will be almost as important as the ice to Pettersson in the next couple of years as the six-foot-two centre tries to expand and strengthen his 165-pound frame.
Nobody expects him to be The Hulk, but Pettersson needs to get stronger to have a chance to play in the NHL.
He understand this, and knows also that it could be him and Dahlen eventually replacing the Sedins on the top line of the Canucks, who have a long, rich history with Swedish players.
“It’s hard for me to add weight because I’ve always been small,” Pettersson said, meaning “thin,” we think. “But since last summer, I’ve put on 10 or 12 pounds, so I’m slowly getting there.
“I’m sure (the Sedins) always worked hard to become great, and I’d like to take that into my training. Absolutely, I’d like to play with them. I watched them a lot growing up, so to play with them would be very good. To reach what they have reached will be very hard, but me and Jonathan are going to do our best.”
Between them, Pettersson and Dahlen, 19, combined for 44 goals and 85 points for Timra and were point-per-game forwards playing against men in the Allsvenskan. Pettersson moves up to Vaxjo of the Swedish Elite League next season, while Dahlen gets a chance to make the Canucks at training camp and could spend the year in North America.
Pettersson’s 23-year-old brother Emil, a 2013 sixth-round pick of the Nashville Predators, played for Vaxjo last season at 185 pounds – about 15 pounds heavier than when he was drafted.
“We’ve already asked those questions about his brother and how much he weighed and stuff,” Benning said. “Elias is not real heavy right now, but he’s wiry-strong and has good balance on the puck. If he can get to 185 or 190 pounds like his brother, with the balance he has on his skates, he’ll be plenty strong enough.”
Benning didn’t dispute the assertion that Pettersson’s higher offensive ceiling comes with higher risk than some draft picks.
“I think that’s a fair statement,” Benning said. “I don’t want to comment on other teams’ players but with Pettersson, we just feel once he gets his strength up. . . he’s got a chance to be a No. 1 centre and a point producer.
“He’s a highly-skilled player, smart. He makes players that he plays with better. We’ve been following him all year. He played with Jonathan Dahlen this year and there was good chemistry between the two of them. That even went into (our thinking). We know these two guys are real good together.”
Asked about Dahlen, acquired by Benning from the Ottawa Senators last February in a trade for Alex Burrows, Pettersson said: “We played really good together. We use each other on the ice to become better, to score points together. We have good chemistry together.”
One way or another, this could be a defining draft for Benning, who was unable to stop the Canucks from plunging over a cliff after he inherited in 2014 an older, stale team devoid of prospects. The Canucks have two second-round picks in this draft and four selections among the top 64.
Unable to get Makar on Friday, Benning will seek an offensive defenceman in the second day of the draft.
The Canucks are reeling a little from the defection back to Russia of 2014 third-rounder Nikita Tryamkin and the expansion-draft loss, albeit anticipated, of third-pairing defenceman Luca Sbisa.
Pettersson, meanwhile, will attend the Canucks’ rookie camp in Vancouver in two weeks. Imagine the muscle-bound Hulk, then think of the opposite. That will be more like Pettersson.
“I had to fill out that paper fast,” Pettersson explained of the superhero questionnaire.
The Incredible Hulk?
The Canucks will settle for the first half of that name.
“I’m very determined,” Pettersson said. “I’ve always wanted to play in the NHL, and I’m more motivated now with all this. I’m very determined to be the best player I can be.”
We may even like him when he’s angry.