The Vancouver Canucks took another step in their rebuilding process by signing forward Elias Pettersson to a three-year NHL entry-level contract Friday.
By signing the 19-year-old Swede, the Canucks hope to add to their stable of young players with a scoring touch.
“I always had a dream I would want to play in the NHL,” Pettersson said in a telephone conference call from Sweden. “Now I’ve signed my first contract, I’m one step closer to it.
“I’m just looking forward to the opportunity. I am going to train really hard to hopefully (play) in the NHL in the first game.”
The Canucks liked what they saw in Pettersson this year.
Playing in his first season with Vaxjo HC, he led the Swedish Hockey League in regular-season scoring with 24 goals and 32 assists for 56 points in 44 games. He also was the playoff scoring leader with 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 13 games. Besides taking his team to the SHL championship, the six-foot-two, 161-pound native of Sundsvall was named rookie of the year, best forward, MVP and playoff MVP.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) May 25, 2018
At the recent world hockey championships Pettersson had three points in five games before breaking his thumb in a game against Switzerland. He also had seven points to help Sweden take silver at the world junior championships.
Pettersson isn’t shy to set high goals for himself and doesn’t expect the thumb injury to impede his training this summer.
“Once that is good I think I can be an impact player,” he said. “I will get a summer of training and be as ready as possible.”
Capable of playing all three forward positions, Pettersson believes he can make the transition to the smaller North American ice surface.
“I know it’s going to take time,” he said. “I played on smaller ice before and I know how it is.
“It didn’t change my game. I felt that I had less time with the puck and needed to protect the puck even more. I will have that in mind when I train this summer.”
The Canucks selected Pettersson fifth overall in the 2017 NHL draft. There had been some speculation he might play another season in Sweden before coming to North America.
“Yes, I thought of it,” Pettersson said. “I only wanted to focus on the season while it lasted.
“After the season I wanted to think about what is best for me and what I wanted to do. I think it was the best time for me to sign today.”
Happy and excited to sign my first NHL-contract. A dream come true! I want to thank everyone who helped me along the way and especially my family. I couldn’t have done it without you. pic.twitter.com/NXTBLO1xBc
— Elias Pettersson (@_EPettersson) May 25, 2018
Pettersson hesitated when asked about the possibility of playing in the American Hockey League this season.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I want to play in the NHL as quickly as possible. If I have to play in the AHL first, I will do that.”
The Canucks, who missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season, have been trying to restock their roster with future stars.
Brock Boeser, an NHL rookie-of-the-year finalist, scored a team-leading 29 goals and added 26 assists in 62 games. The 21-year-old missed the final 16 games of the season with a back injury. He also was the MVP of the 2018 All-Star Game.
Late in the year Vancouver signed centre Adam Gaudette, the 21-year-old Hobey Baker winner who led the NCAA this year with 30 goals and 60 points.
Bo Horvat, 23, completed his fourth NHL season with 22 goals and 44 points in 64 games. The 23-year-old missed almost seven weeks with a knee injury.
Goaltender Thatcher Demko, 22, had a 24-13-6 record with the AHL Utica Comets this season. He also won his first NHL game with the Canucks.
Also on the radar is defenceman Olli Juolevi, picked fifth in the 2016 draft.
The Canucks finished 26th out of the league’s 31 teams with a 31-40-11 record for 73 points this season. Vancouver has missed the playoffs four times in five years.
Asked about Swedish players he admired growing up Pettersson listed Peter Forsberg and Nicklas Backstrom. Two players he didn’t mention were Henrik and Daniel Sedin who have retired after 17 seasons in a Canuck uniform.
Canuck general manager Jim Benning likes the potential Pettersson brings to Vancouver.
“Elias is a talented offensive player with tremendous vision and skill,” Benning said in a release. “Like most Canucks fans we watched with excitement the incredible season he had in Sweden.
“This is an important off-season of training and development for Elias and we expect him to be ready to challenge for a roster spot in training camp.”
The Canadian Press