After talking about how hard things had been Elias Pettersson made it look easy.
Pettersson scored his first goal of the season early in the second period of the Vancouver Canucks’ 8-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday night at Rogers Arena. He took a soft pass from Brandon Sutter and put a wrist shot past L.A. goaltender Jonathan Quick, then celebrated by pumping his right fist.
“It was a relief to get a goal,” Pettersson said. “For me to play a good game was the first thing on my mind.
“I think I made a big step from the two previous games.”
Pettersson scored three goals and added three assists in his first three games last year. His scored on his first shot in his first game. He would go on to collect 28 goals and 38 assists in 73 games and win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.
After three games this year Pettersson has one goal and no assists. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played but the 20-year-old Swede is already getting a taste for what to expect in his second season.
If teams were unaware of Pettersson’s talents last year he now has their full attention.
“Now they know who I am, they know what I am capable of,” Pettersson said. “I think maybe they are putting more focus on me. It’s up to me to come up with new ways to beat them. I think I haven’t done that these first games. I have been playing too slow.”
Pettersson is more shifty than fast. He can be deceptive, and like a good chess player, sees two or three moves ahead. In his first 37 games as a rookie he had two five-point nights and a hat trick.
Pettersson admits he may be thinking too much instead of reacting.
“I feel like I’ve been wanting to do too much,” he said. “I want to do the decisive play every time I have the puck these first few games.
“I feel like I lost too many battles. The play has been there but I kind of hold onto the puck for half a second, then the play is gone. I have to start the game easier, play fast.”
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‘Players key in on you’
Centre Bo Horvat, who was named the Canucks 14th captain prior to Wednesday’s game, said many players face challenges in their second year.
“The biggest thing is players key in on you a little bit more,” said Horvat. “You’re going against the top [defensive] pairs, the best shutdown guys. It definitely makes it harder.
“People know who you are and what your skills are all about.”
Against the Kings, Pettersson centred a line with Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller. Boeser said teams will try to cage Pettersson.
“They take your time and space away,” said Boeser, a Calder Trophy finalist in 2018. “Guys are keying on him. He’s going to have to learn. It’s a process.
“He’s a confident kid. He can’t get frustrated because it’s part of the learning curve in the NHL. All the great players go through it, so he’ll learn.”
Canuck head coach Travis Green is preaching patience.
“I think he’s got to get back to basics, just play fast and move the puck,” said Green. “Let the game come to him. Maybe he’s trying to do a little too much.
“Petey is ultra-competitive. He wants to do well. Sometimes less is more for every player.”
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Blazing start to rookie season
Picked fifth overall in the 2017 draft Pettersson had a blazing start to his rookie campaign. He collected 10 goals in his first 10 games, but struggled down the stretch, scoring twice and adding 11 assists in the final 23 games. His goal against the Kings was the first at even strength since Feb. 5.
Pettersson came to camp this fall prepared for the long grind of an NHL season. Over the summer he worked on his conditioning and lifted more weights. He’s still weighs around 175 pounds, but his six-foot-two body looks thicker.
“I felt like at the end of last season I was getting tired a little bit,” he said. “This season I knew what I was preparing for.
“I have more control of my body. I feel more balanced.”
A slow start hasn’t lowered Pettersson’s expectations.
“Play my best hockey every game,” he said. “Points will come when I play good.
“When I focus too much on scoring points, I’m not having a good game. I’m focusing on playing good, helping the team to win, all the small stuff. Then the points will come.”