Given the highlight reel Elias Pettersson has put together over the course of his freshman campaign, one might have expected a little razzle-dazzle in the build up to the point that set a new high-water mark for scoring by a Canucks rookie. Instead, the point that pushed Pettersson past Pavel Bure and into sole possession of the highest scoring rookie season in Vancouver’s franchise history was rather ho-hum.
Pettersson’s record-setting 61st point came midway through the second frame of the Canucks’ Tuesday contest against the Chicago Blackhawks. Pulling up inside the blueline after gaining the offensive zone, Pettersson slipped a short pass through to Brock Boeser, who then cut to the middle and fired a low wrister that was stopped by Corey Crawford only for Markus Granlund to follow the rebound and whack it home. And that was it. A simple secondary assist. Told you it wasn’t much to write home about.
Flashy or not, though, that Pettersson has surpassed Bure’s rookie mark is nothing to shake a stick at, even less so given that Vancouver’s newest Swedish sensation managed to best the ‘Russian Rocket,’ one of the most gifted and natural scorers in modern NHL history, in fewer games and at a younger age. Bure was a couple weeks past his 21st birthday and skating in his 65th game when he fired home his 60th point back in 1991-92. Pettersson, on the other hand, won’t be legal age south of the 49th parallel for nearly eight months and his 61st point of the campaign came on the night he skated in his 62nd game. And Pettersson isn’t done yet.
Indeed, with just shy of three weeks remaining in the season and nine games remaining on the slate for the Canucks, Pettersson has time left to further his lead as the highest scoring rookie in franchise history, and at his current pace, he’d manage two more feats before the year is up. First and foremost, with 27 goals to his name already, Pettersson is in line to join Bure and Trevor Linden as the only Canucks rookies to score 30 goals in a season. If he keeps finding the scoresheet at the same rate, too, Pettersson can become the first 70-point rookie in franchise history and Vancouver’s first 70-point skater since Henrik and Daniel Sedin each hit the mark back in 2014-15.
All of this is to further highlight what we already know: Pettersson has been phenomenal, and there’s no question as to who will be taking home the Calder Trophy this season.
However, there may be one question that can be asked of Pettersson’s campaign, and that’s whether he can become the second player in NHL history to clean sweep rookie of the year voting.
The only other time the Calder has gone uncontested, with the winner earning every single first-place vote, was all the way back in 1992-93. That season, the Winnipeg Jets’ Teemu Selanne made an immediate mark on the NHL, smashing the rookie goal record by lighting the lamp 76 times and registering a mammoth 132 points. Despite an excellent 32-goal, 102-point season by Boston Bruins pivot Joe Juneau, Selanne swept the vote. He was atop every single ballot that season. In the years since, the feat has not been replicated. But that doesn’t mean others haven’t come close.
Take last season, for instance, when Mat Barzal became only the fourth rookie in the post-lockout era to eclipse the 80-point plateau, joining a class that includes Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Despite that, when it came time to decide the Calder winner, a trio of voters strayed from the obvious path; two first-place votes went to Boeser, one was given to the Arizona Coyotes’ Clayton Keller. The end result? Barzal received a whopping 99.2 percent of the vote. Not bad, right? Well, that mark was actually bettered by Auston Matthews the year prior. The Toronto Maple Leafs standout earned 164 first-place nods in 2016-17, but three voters went against the grain and ranked Jets sniper Patrik Laine as the top rookie. Thus, Matthews had to settle for winning the Calder with 99.5 percent of the vote. Surely he was devastated.
There’s reason to believe Pettersson can get 100 percent of the vote, though, and become the first Calder winner to do so since Selanne, and the primary reason is competition.
Admittedly, neither Barzal or Matthews should have really had competition for top spot in voting, but one could at least see the arguments those who voted otherwise could have used. (Except for that Keller vote. That was…strange.) During Barzal’s Calder campaign, it was roundly acknowledged that it was a race against Boeser, and the Canucks rookie’s near 40-goal pace had him front and center in the conversation before injury derailed his season. The reasoning then could have been that Boeser was the better of the two when healthy, and removing the 20-game difference, one can maybe kind of see that point of view. A similar debate could be had regarding Matthews’ top competition, Laine, who scored at a higher per-game rate and would have likely matched Matthews’ 40 goals were it not for the Jets rookie spending nine games on the sideline.
By comparison, the competition Pettersson is facing isn’t in the same category. Say what you will for Rasmus Dahlin, who has been brilliant for the Buffalo Sabres and grown leaps and bounds from the beginning of the season to present, but has he for a second truly been more than a fringe Calder contender this season? He is excelling at one of the toughest positions for young players and piling up the points, but that hardly seems enough for him to steal votes from Pettersson, who is leading his team’s attack and reinvigorating an entire fan base. The same goes for Dallas Stars rookie Miro Heiskanen, who has been exceptional and should be in the conversation, but as a runner-up and nothing more.
And after that, who else would possibly threaten to take a first-place vote from Pettersson? Senators freshmen Brady Tkachuk or Colin White, both of whom are roughly four-tenths of a point per game back of Pettersson’s scoring rate? The Carolina Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov, whose scoring rate is being more than double by Pettersson? Even if you dig deep and make your best arguments for each, counterarguments can be made for Pettersson to clean sweep the vote.
Thus, when it comes to Pettersson, there’s no question he’s going to win the Calder. Really, the only question is by what margin.