The Canucks roasted the Flames on opening night, scoring the first three goals in a fairly easy 5-2 victory. Neither of these mostly irrelevant Canadian teams—the Canucks in particular, with their startling lack of experienced depth players—should do much to challenge the top squads in the West. But Vancouver’s first two goals gave us a brand new European teen who we should all get excited about: Elias Pettersson.
Pettersson is a 19-year-old Swedish forward whose job it’ll be to replace some of the production lost when Canucks lifers Henrik and Daniel Sedin—Swedish also, but like 20 years older—retired at the end of last season. He came to Vancouver after a triumphant debut season in his home country’s top league, tallying 75 points in just 57 games for the title-winning Växjö Lakers. Though Pettersson arrives almost terrifyingly light—6-foot-2 with only 161 pounds on him—he’s fast, tough to make contact with, and smart with the puck on his stick, which are all the things you need from such a wispy winger.
Fourteen minutes into his NHL debut, Pettersson made his mark, receiving the puck in space at center ice and skating into the attacking zone untouched before firing a laser short side past Flames goalie Mike Smith. Listen to the slow, tangible build of excitement from the Canucks crowd as Pettersson skates in, which explodes in the goal and then leads to an invigorating chant of “Petter-sson! Petter-sson!” when play restarts. Vancouver fans haven’t had a reason to feel this optimistic in quite a while.
Pettersson’s goal stood as the lone score until early in the third, when he got the assist on Nikolay Goldobin’s goal to make it 2-0. This one is less spectacular, but it really does a lot to allay some fears that Pettersson initially won’t be able to keep up with the physicality of the NHL. The kid forced himself into position right in front of net with Calgary’s 205-pound defender Travis Hamonic—who had already been in a fight earlier—on his back. And when the puck found itself in front of him, he made the immediate and perfect decision to toss it over to Goldobin for an easy finish. It was intelligent and assertive, and with the third goal coming moments later, it let the Canucks relax and earn the win.
The Canucks are bad right now, no doubt, but they’re secretly kind of worth your time. This is a very young group with a decent amount of expectations on their shoulders, but they’d still be overjoyed and ahead of schedule if they somehow played their way into an 8-seed this season. Brock Boeser, at just 21 years old, is already the franchise guy and quickly making his name as one of the major offensive talents to enjoy for the next decade-plus. Top long-term center Bo Horvat should continue to improve; and hey, even young afterthought Tyler Motte broke out for a really strong game on Wednesday, capped by an empty-net goal to give the Canucks five different goal-scorers under the age of 25. If Pettersson can sustain, this suddenly becomes a fascinating and very likable hockey team. Let’s all just get on the hype train now so we’re not trying to chase it down next season.