There was no way that Elias Pettersson was going to keep his hot start going. The superstar rookie was scoring at an insane rate, on-pace for 76 goals and 122 points after his first 10 games in the NHL.
Pettersson’s scoring pace has slowed, but he’s still scoring a point per game and is leading the rookie scoring race. He’ll have to keep an eye on Brady Tkachuk in his rearview mirror, but Pettersson is still the top rookie in the NHL.
He’s still scoring, just not quite as much, and he’s finding other ways to have an impact for the Canucks. For instance, he’s one of the league leaders in drawing penalties.
Pettersson has drawn 13 penalties so far this season, which leads the Canucks. The next closest Canuck is Antoine Roussel, who has drawn 11 penalties, but he’s also taken 14 minor penalties, a major penalty, and three misconducts. Pettersson, on the other hand, has taken three minor penalties, giving him a plus-10 penalty differential.
That’s ten extra power plays and, with the Canucks 19.5% success rate with the man advantage, approximately equivalent to two extra goals. Over the course of the season, this would add up to nine extra goals for the Canucks, which comes out to about three points in the standings. It’s a small thing, but it can have an impact.
Pettersson is tied with Connor McDavid and Brendan Gallagher for sixth in the NHL in penalties drawn and he moves into fourth when you take into account penalties taken and look at penalty differential.
Incidentally, Aleksander Barkov is crazy: not only does he have 20 points in 22 games, his penalty differential is the equivalent of another 4.61 goals given the Panthers' excellent power play (though some of Barkov’s points are on that power play, so there’s some double-counting happening here). There will likely be a pretty good Lady Byng case to be made for Barkov by the end of the season.
It’s not hard to understand why Pettersson is able to draw so many penalties. The puck is frequently on his stick, he’s constantly moving his feet, and he has tremendous stickhandling skills. That combination inevitably leads to opponent taking him down when they can’t find another way to stop him.
Elias Pettersson with an unreal move to draw a penalty -- Canucks scored on ensuing power play pic.twitter.com/MjBytqoMWL— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) October 7, 2018
It also helps that Pettersson is sometimes allowed to call his own penalties. His arm definitely went up before the ref's on the holding penalty below.
Pettersson is a big reason why the Canucks are among the league leaders in power play opportunities. They’re currently tied for fifth with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Then there’s the flip-side of this statistic: those with a negative penalty differential.
Unsurprisingly, four defencemen have the worst penalty differential on the Canucks: Alex Edler, Derrick Pouliot, Chris Tanev, and Ben Hutton. It’s hardest for a defenceman to avoid penalties, as they try to contain talented forwards. Edler has the lowest at minus-6, just outside the bottom of the NHL.
It’s bad news when a forward shows up on this list: Eric Fehr, what are you doing?
The Canucks have been shorthanded more than any other team in the NHL so far this season: 103 times, compared to their 87 power play opportunities. Roussel has taken the most minor penalties, but Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Jake Virtanen, Bo Horvat, and Derrick Pouliot are not far behind.
Penalty differential is a small thing, but it’s often an indication of a bigger thing: that a player is moving his feet, driving to dangerous areas on the ice, and causing problems for the opposition. Or, alternatively, that a player is standing still, getting beaten, or lacking discipline.
Will Pettersson continue to draw this many penalties throughout the season, while mostly staying out of the box himself? If so, it will be a great sign that he’s still making life difficult for opposing defenders.