Pettersson’s injury revelation a reminder he has more room to grow

Vancouver Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin talks to the media about how he thinks Elias Pettersson will respond to his poor second-half performance in the 2023-24 season and whether he will meet the high expectations of his new contract.

VANCOUVER — Of all the Vancouver Canucks who were given the chance Thursday to disclose a playoff injury not already in the public domain, Elias Pettersson was the only one who took the opportunity to confess.

News that he had suffered a knee injury in January that became worse over time — coach Rick Tocchet later described it as tendinitis — was greeted with relief in Canucks Nation because at least there is a sensible, unthreatening explanation why the franchise’s $92.8-million-US star floundered through a month of the Stanley Cup tournament and exited his first real National Hockey League playoffs with just one goal and six points in 13 games.

It’s a shame that Pettersson was unable to be at his best. But his injury revelation was also a reminder how much the 25-year-old needs to learn about playoff hockey. 

His honesty during the Canucks’ year-end press conferences was not the problem; we’re in the truth business and, in a sense, it was brave of Pettersson to expose his vulnerability.

We don’t know details of the tendinitis, but do know he went to the All-Star Game at the end of January, played every regular-season game and over many weeks missed only a few practices or non-optional morning skates.

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“We worked with the doctors and the trainers and felt he could keep going,” Tocchet explained at his own press conference a couple of hours later. “So no, we didn’t feel like we had to shut him down.”

Here’s something else we know: by the second round of the playoffs, 90-plus games into the NHL endurance test, many players are working through various degrees of injury. Word out of Edmonton after the Oilers beat the Canucks in Game 7 on Monday is that both Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid were playing hurt. They probably still are, having opened the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.

Canuck defenceman Filip Hronek, who was seen often with a wrap on his forearm during the final weeks of the season, vehemently denied being hurt. Agitated, he had to deny it twice because a reporter was unhappy with the player’s original answer.

“What do you want me to say, like, on an injury?” Hronek said. “If I didn’t have an injury, what do you want me to say? I said no.”

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Veteran defenceman Ian Cole, who reporters were told required medical treatment after games while struggling against the Oilers, said Thursday: “We don’t need to get into it. It’s not really important at this point. Obviously, we didn’t win the series. And you know as a team, we didn’t get the job done. No excuses. Didn’t get it done.”

Even Canucks captain Quinn Hughes, who at 24 is a year younger than Pettersson, refused to use the physical battering he absorbed in the opening round against the Nashville Predators as a reason for his modest production against the Oilers.

“Everyone’s feeling tired or has something going on or a little soreness,” Hughes said. “But for me, I felt good — good enough to play at my best and that’s what I tried to do. 

“As far as the physical abuse, I think that’s just something that everyone’s going to have to deal with. And for me, I think that’s just: continue to be mentally tough, and learn about yourself in these situations and grow from them.”

And, really, that is all that Pettersson needs to do.

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Bombing in your first appearance on the massive, debilitating stage that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Canada, is not uncommon. The real failure would be not learning from it in order to be better next time.

Let’s remember, for Pettersson, Hughes, Hronek, Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, Conor Garland and a half-dozen other Canucks, these were their first real NHL playoff games.

Pettersson is not Mitch Marner. The Canuck has had one poor playoffs. Marner has lost first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven of the last eight years and failed to meet expectations in most of them.

There is no reason to think that Marner will now suddenly become a grittier, more robust and dependable playoff performer. But there is every chance that Pettersson will.

His year included 89 regular-season points, the knee injury, playoff criticism, contract brinkmanship and that whopping new extension that begins next season and carries an awful lot of expectations.

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“It will be nice to get a break from everything,” Pettersson said Thursday. “Obviously, it’s been a very noisy season in terms of contract and how (crappy) I’ve been the last three months. I’m just excited to get a little break here and then get back on the horse again and train hard and come in the best shape possible for next season.”

He said his knee “just needs time to heal” and expressed no concern about long-term ramifications.

He sounded highly-motivated.

“It definitely has made me hungry to get back into playoffs,” Pettersson said. “We have something good building here. But just, like on a personal level. . . I feel I can be better. I’ll take those (playoff experiences) into my summer training, and talk to my trainers. Try to become an even better player for next year.”

And the next time the Canucks are in the Stanley Cup tournament.

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After Boeser followed his breakthrough 40-goal regular season with a superb playoff run in which he was one of the best Canucks, the senior skatesman in Vancouver admitted he was “crushed” to miss Game 7 with a blood clot in his lower leg.

The longest-tenured Canuck, Boeser explained to reporters that he was struck by a puck in Game 1 against Edmonton, but pain in his calf increased over the next week before a medical scan revealed a clot “in one of my small veins, which wasn’t an issue.” As he continued playing, however, he said his leg felt worse in Games 5 and 6 before a second scan revealed a more dangerous clot and Boeser was pulled from the lineup.

The 27-year-old said he is on blood thinners, but will be able to begin his off-season training as usual as long as he is careful about not cutting himself or bumping his head. 

Could Boeser have made the difference in Game 7, when the Canucks lost 3-2?

“Yeah, of course, I feel I can make a difference,” he said. “I’m crushed. I wish I could have been out there with the guys. Obviously, a one-goal game. . . of course, I’m sitting there and saying, ‘Yeah, I could have scored in this game.’ You never know what would have happened if I played. I would have done anything to be out there. I asked if I could play and tried to push them, but obviously the risks are too big. I had to protect my future; I don’t want health issues moving forward.”

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After Demko was injured in the playoff-opener, veteran backup Casey DeSmith started two games in goal for the Canucks and was outstanding in a 29-save, 2-1 win in Nashville in Game 3 that gave Vancouver the series lead for good. But after straining his groin making a late save, DeSmith was held out of Game 4 and never played again after Tocchet and goaltending coach Ian Clark decided to stick with Canuck prospect Arturs Silovs.

There have been rumblings about how suddenly DeSmith seemed to fall out of favour, but the goalie made it clear on Thursday it wasn’t his call to come out of the lineup.

“I wanted to play through it,” the 32-year-old told reporters. “But since we were already down Demmer, you know, they decided to go with Arty, and obviously Arty played great and we came back and won. . . Game 4. Then I was good enough to back up and practise through the rest of the playoffs.”

But DeSmith never got back in the net as Silovs, 23, started the final 10 playoff games for Vancouver.

Now DeSmith is headed to free agency, the Canucks almost certain to use a Demko-Silovs combination next season. DeSmith was an excellent, reliable backup for the Canucks this season. It is a thankless but important job. He’ll be good for someone else next year.

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