The Difference One Player Can Make
When Elias Pettersson was chosen fifth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, there were very few fans that expected him to become an impact player so quickly. Most people did not expect him to be the center of attention. There were even fewer people that expected him to make the players around him better. But that is what the 21-year-old is doing, making everyone around him better.
I will go out on a limb and suggest that very few people, let alone some management, expected Pettersson to play in the NHL as a 19-year-old. I would even suggest that Judd Brackett, Jim Benning, and Thomas Gradin had no idea that he would become the type of player that can carry a team in his sophomore season weighing in at 176 pounds.
With Petey’s play on the ice, the players around him become better. He creates space by taking one, often two and sometimes three opposition players. This allows his linemates time and space to move on the ice. Ask J.T. Miller how important it is to have Pettersson on his line. Miller is currently on pace for his best season playing on his third team in two years.
Brock Boeser is the third member of the ‘Lotto’ line, named after the 6-40-9 numbers on the jerseys. The jersey worn by number 40 has such a wicked release that goalies are watching him instead of number 6, Boeser, who is on pace for a career year.
Recently named captain of the Canucks, Bo Horvat, wears the ‘C’ for the team, but is no longer the center of attention. In fact, Horvat benefits from the lotto line taking most of the opposition’s top checking lines. This allows him to play against the defensively softer top lines of other teams. He is currently on pace for the most points in a season of his young career.
Horvat’s linemate, Tanner Pearson has won a Stanley Cup as part of the infamous ‘That 70’s Line’ with the Los Angeles Kings. He benefitted from Anze Kopitar taking the heavy defensive pressure, while Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli ran rampant through the playoffs. At 27 and playing for the Canucks, he is currently playing the best hockey, points-wise, of his career.
Secondary scoring causes matchup trouble for teams. More focus falls on the opponents’ top line to play defensive hockey, especially when matched against a high scoring secondary line. With the Horvat line playing well and drawing the attention of top lines, tertiary scoring opens up for the third line. Jake Virtanen, a sixth overall draft pick, is also having a career year. Virtanen seems a lot more motivated to become a player in the NHL and is benefitting from the team in front of him. He has already bested his career-high 25 points with 31 so far in 51 games. Last year, he managed 25 points in 70 games.
Hockey is a team sport. Benning and company have done a great job rebuilding this team. Having a goalie and a rookie defenseman play their way into the All-Star Game helps. A reworked back end, that has been relatively healthy, is a great way to stay competitive. But having Pettersson as the center of attention and putting an NHL team on his back as a 21-year-old is impressive. Especially when that body was only built for 176 pounds.
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