It’s become a bit of a monthly tradition for me to update y’all on the ongoing heroics of Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson, and thankfully, he’s already made his January worth talking about. In his very first showing of 2019, the 20-year-old Swede carried the Canucks to a 4-3 overtime victory over the Senators, notching his first career hat trick with the game-winner.
The first goal Pettersson scored took advantage of a Sens line change, and it was a bit of brilliant teamwork that he orchestrated and then finished with a deadly wrist shot off a cross-ice Brock Boeser assist. The second was a powerplay one-timer that flew into the top corner. And the third was the game-ender with plenty of space in the slot, which everyone knew was in the net as soon as Boeser delivered the pass. Pettersson’s scored five in his last four games, and he leads all rookies and his entire team with 22 goals and 20 assists so far on the year, despite missing six games with a concussion early on. The prodigious Pettersson was rewarded for these accomplishments with an all-star game selection on Wednesday, and a nice chunk of cash.
It might be juussst a bit of a stretch to call the Canucks a possible playoff threat—they’re in ninth place out in the West right now with 44 points from 43 games, which looks solid until you notice that they’ve played anywhere from two to five games more than their wild card peers. Every forward older than 23-year-old Bo Horvat kind of sucks—particularly the $6-million-a-year veteran winger Loui Eriksson—and the defensemen haven’t played to their full potential. But this team is still ahead of schedule in its plan to become a potent force out in the Pacific.
Some reasons to be optimistic about the Canucks, besides the beautiful burst of enlightenment that is Elias Pettersson, include the goaltenders. Jacob Markstrom was slogging through a mostly mediocre year as the team’s main liability, but in December, he blossomed into an unexpected worldbeater, posting a save percentage of .943. If this improvement lasts for the 28-year-old netminder, the Canucks immediately become terrifying, as their 8-1 record in those Markstrom games last month shows. And even if it’s not, the beginning of the Thatcher Demko era could be on the horizon, as the top goalie prospect should become the back-up after the team traded away Anders Nilsson on Wednesday. Looking ahead to next year, the incoming arrival of first-rounder Quinn Hughes on the blue line could provide a huge boost. And if you want to get really crazy, maybe this offseason they make a run at top free agents like Mark Stone or Artemi Panarin on the wings—or Erik Karlsson if we’re really dreaming. Check back next month for even loftier predictions about the 2021 Stanley Cup–winning Vancouver Canucks.