There wasn’t quite the same buzz in the building as there was for Pavel Bure’s Canucks debut, but you could still feel the anticipation in the air. It’s been a long time since the Canucks have had a prospect as exciting as Elias Pettersson and he did not disappoint.
Sure, Pettersson didn’t score a goal, but hey, neither did Bure. When the puck was on Pettersson’s stick, however, it seemed like anything could happen. It wasn’t just his play with the puck that impressed, however, as he did all the right things away from the puck as well. He defended effectively down low and even turned that into chances for his teammates, sending Sven Baertschi on a breakaway with a bank pass from below his own goal line.
It may just be preseason and the Edmonton Oilers didn’t ice the strongest lineup, but Pettersson still showed why he’s been so highly touted. Most importantly, he showed that his game translates from Sweden to the smaller ice surfaces and tougher competition of the NHL. It was hard to watch anyone else when I watched this game.
- The real highlight of this game actually happened before puck drop. John Garrett shaved his moustache this off-season. Seeing his bare upper lip was shocking enough, but John Shorthouse added to the fun by donning a fake moustache of his own. The two did the entire game intro completely straight-faced and deadpan, without a single comment on the fake follicles. It was delightful.
So this is happening pic.twitter.com/yTWzIh5gHl— Mike Halford (@HalfordTSN) September 19, 2018
- On the ice, however, it was all about Elias Pettersson. It felt like he could have had half-a-dozen points with a little better puck luck. Instead, he wound up with just the one assist, and a secondary one at that. That doesn’t reflect his game, as he was more primary than red, blue, and yellow.
- The best moment of the game came late in the first period when Pettersson deked Ryan Strome’s soul right out of his body. You could see a cartoon ghost with a halo, harp, and wings levitate out of Strome’s body as he slid along the ice.
- Pettersson looked most comfortable on the power play, where he let loose a couple booming one-timers that regrettably missed the net. Following up his evisceration of Strome, he whiffed on a one-timer and fell comically to the ice, but when you’re trying to hammer the puck as hard as Pettersson is, you’re going to look a little silly when you miss. It’s like when Thor tries to hit Loki with Mjolnir, but it’s just an illusion. It looks goofy, but you can respect the force behind the blow.
- The power play as a whole looked promising, at least the first unit. Pettersson was the quarterback on the right half-boards, with Ben Hutton at the point, Nikolay Goldobin at the left faceoff circle, Bo Horvat in front, and Sven Baertschi in the slot. They were buzzing like a hockey prospect’s phone on draft day and created multiple scoring chances.
- This was not Anders Nilsson’s night. He allowed 4 goals on 28 shots, with the first goal making him look worst of the bunch. Jesse Puljujarvi managed to create a little space against Chris Tanev with quick cut back, but his shot was weaker than a week-old tea bag and had no business beating Nilsson five-hole. But it did.
- The other goals on Nilsson were much more forgivable, though bailing out his teammates with one more stop seemed within reach. The chaos of preseason hockey makes for some tough puck-tracking challenges, so no one should read too much into his shaky first game.
- It didn’t help that the Canucks’ top pairing of Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev had two gaffes that led directly to goals against. On the third Oilers goal, Tanev knocked Nilsson’s stick right out of his hands, which made it tough for Nilsson to seal up his five-hole against Caleb Jones. On the fourth, Hutton tried to intercept an aerial pass and drop it to his stick, but had his pocket picked by Ty Rattie, who again beat Nilsson five-hole. The Oilers were going through the legs like a Russell Westbrook pass.
- It’s too bad, really, as I thought Hutton had a strong game apart from that gaffe. He was moving the puck effectively and looked especially comfortable on the power play, where he held the line well and used his lateral skating to create passing and shooting lanes.
- After Puljujarvi opened the scoring, Nikolay Goldobin nearly tied things up on a slick setup by Pettersson. The puck hit Pettersson in front of the net and he sent a blind backhand pass to Goldobin at the back door. Cam Talbot somehow stretched back with his glove to snag Goldobin’s shot out of mid-air, as opposed to low-air or high-air, which no one ever seems to say.
- All eyes may have been on Pettersson, but Sven Baertschi stole a few with his second-period goal. Bo Horvat sent a spinning pass in front to Baertschi, who had to take the pass with his back towards the goal. Instead of spinning himself, Baertschi caught Talbot off-guard by sending the puck back between his own legs, beating Talbot five-hole. That goal was cheekier than a certain picture of Jake Virtanen that everyone is carefully not mentioning.
- The Canucks’ really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking power play came through with a goal in the third period. Pettersson fed a hard pass down low to Horvat, who swung out front and hit the post for the second time of the night. This time, however, Goldobin was there to pounce on the rebound like a kitten on a ball of yarn and send it flying into the back of the net.
- While Pettersson, Goldobin, and Baertschi soared, Jonathan Dahlen sputtered in his preseason debut. His line with Horvat and Loui Eriksson wasn’t able to create much and he was at fault on the Oilers’ third goal; although Tanev knocked Nilsson’s stick out of his hands, the goalscorer, Jones, was Dahlen’s check, as he failed to follow him in from the blue line. That’s the type of thing that gets you in Travis Green’s dog house in a hurry.
A few other players with strong games: Jake Virtanen had multiple shots and hit a crossbar; Tyler Motte created some turnovers and kept the puck moving in the right direction, although he doesn’t have much touch in the offensive zone; Troy Stecher was solid defensively and surprisingly physical with a game-high six hits.
A couple final numbers: Elias Pettersson was 4-for-8 on faceoffs; Sven Baertschi had a game-high six shots on goal; Ben Hutton played over 26 minutes, though over 8 of those minutes came on the power play. I guess Green wasn’t joking when he said Hutton would play.