There is something magical about Elias Pettersson.
Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill could see it on video. Here was this rookie center for the Vancouver Canucks, 6 feet 2, 176 pounds, pulling rabbits out of hats at both ends of the ice with hands, edges and hockey sense.
Pettersson would steal the puck before opponents knew he was there. He’d win battles and play keep-away in tight areas; draw opponents to him and find open teammates; and create space for himself not with pure speed but with deception, changing his pace, making moves.
It reminded Blashill of someone he once coached: the Magic Man, Pavel Datsyuk.
Never before had Blashill compared a player to Datsyuk, let alone one whose NHL career had barely begun. But before the Red Wings played the Canucks at Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday, Blashill warned his players Pettersson was a “skinnier version of Pavel right now.”
“You can’t sit still for a second,” Blashill said. “You never know where that puck’s going.”
The puck went off the inside of the right post and into the net 13:39 into the first period Tuesday after Pettersson took a slap shot on the rush from the top of the left circle. He became the fifth player after the NHL’s inaugural season in 1917-18 to score 10 goals in his first 10 games. But that wasn’t the only trick he pulled.
Late in the first, he had the puck on the rush and the presence of mind to look at the overhead clock to see how many seconds he had to shoot. In the second, he went end to end and slipped the puck through three defenders to set up a chance. In overtime, he came within inches of the winner, hitting the crossbar.
The puck slipped off his stick in the shootout, and Vancouver lost 3-2. But he leads NHL rookies in scoring with 16 points, seven more than anyone else, even though he missed six games with a concussion. He has generated hope and excitement for the future of the Canucks mere months after the retirements of Daniel and Henrik Sedin.