A month ago, we looked at teams’ top-two centre tandems. This time, less alliteration and one less player. We’re evaluating the Pacific’s top pivots. Once he’s signed, Elias Pettersson, regardless of shuffling due to situations and chemistry, is the Vancouver Canucks top line centre. What’s been called the Lotto Line (do we like that name?) should be intact. Let’s see where he ranks in the Pacific Division. We start with who’s ahead of him, and this is strictly a single season projection.
OK. Connor McDavid. Edmonton Oilers. Check. If this dude figures out his own end of the ice as he’s indicated he will this off-season, look out. GM Ken Holland was around Detroit when Steve Yzerman went through his pure scorer to responsible centre transformation with coach Scotty Bowman. Maybe Ken and Connor have had the conversation. Moving on.
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings. The two-time Stanley Cup champion just turned 34-years-of-age last week, but there’s no reason to call him over the hill. Yes, the team is attempting to put things back together through a rebuild, but Kopitar’s skill set combined with his complete game is something to which Pettersson can aspire. The balance is still there. Contrasting his two Selke Trophy wins as the NHL’s best defensive forward, where he’s always in the conversation, he’s only three seasons removed from his best offensive season ever. Petey will likely pass him by soon enough, but just not yet. Kopitar wins draws and even eats up time on the penalty kill. It’s Slovenian one-stop shopping.
Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames. He doesn’t have “Petey’s” offensive flair but one could have a pretty good argument about the overall value at the moment of these two Swedish countrymen. Same name, righty versus lefty, native of Boden versus Sundsvall, the 5th overall pick in 2013 against the 5th overall pick in 2017. They have similar analytics overall but I’m giving Lindholm the slight edge for one season just based on experience, ice time, and the fact he wins face-offs at a substantially higher rate. Their points per game are very similar. By the way, Lindholm would be considered more of a “country bumpkin”, his hometown is a 440K flight north of Pettersson’s, both along the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia that separates Sweden from Finland. It’s northern Sweden versus central and of course we give the edge to the guy from up north.
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. Pettersson slots here as an individual centre in the Pacific. A year from now he should be sitting second. Stay healthy, win face-offs, continue to work on your own end and it’s continued superstar development in the making. Curious to see how he’s changed or strengthened physically over the off-season. The east coast NHL media bias will always overlook him to some extent because of geography but who cares, recognition isn’t what wins playoff games. Of course the league’s writers did take enough time to study the facts to give him the Calder Trophy in 2019 by a wide margin. Bit of no-brainer at the time.
William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights. This team doesn’t need a star number-one centre as it wins by committee, something the Seattle Kraken will attempt to duplicate without a number-one centre at all. Karlsson edges Chandler Stephenson in points per game, ice time, shots and dramatically in face-off wins at 54%. Many have Stephenson slotted as the number-one but this is clearly a 1A and 1B situation and the subjective pecking order is based on linemates. Stephenson may have the more talented wingers but Karlsson would be number-one in a vacuum. Giving Petey the edge here as an individual.
The situation is the same in San Jose, only different. Two savvy, established veterans make up the 1A and 1B on this rebuilding team with Logan Couture leading the way. This is a perfect example of where comparing the top-two centres and comparing just the one can be very different. This is what I mentioned about the Sharks twosome.
Couture has racked up 577 career points since jumping into the league in the 2009-’10 season. But like the other struggling California teams, this is about re-building, re-constructing, out with the old and in with the new. That said, in the specific 1-2 centre category, Couture’s pal Tomas Hertl is one of the most under-rated players in the league, especially lately. Fans east of Lake Winnipegosis would have a hard time spelling his first or last name. He had 74 points in 77 games in the NHL’s last full season.
Both Couture and Hertl are career Sharks and the captain has been around long enough to have played in the postseason against Vancouver in both 2011 and 2013. These guys bring experience intangibles to the table and in terms of mooshing the Corsi ratings with other algorithms, the two slot efficiently ahead of the Vancouver pairing.
But you know what? They edged out the Canucks as a pair, but as an individual, I’m taking Pettersson over either one of these guys this season.
Pettersson is better than whatever the Anaheim Ducks decide to throw at you. What’s not to like about Ryan Getzlaf that you’d be willing to tell him to his face, other than the fact he’s 36-years-old and getting a bit long in the tooth on yet another California team that’s in a rebuild. The quackers don’t even really know who their top line centre is just yet. 20-year-old Trevor Zegras, the club’s 9th-overall pick in the 2019 draft, is the present favourite to bump Getzlaf down a notch. There are other prospects on the horizon.
Which brings us to the Kraken. I’m not sure if there’s some sort of balance in Seattle’s line-up that will surprise us like Vegas’s did in 2017, but regardless, their lack of a number-one centre leaves today’s argument moot. I like Yanni Gourde as much as the next guy, but he and Alexander Wennberg don’t stack up with Petey. Enough said.
Oh yeah, just one last piece of business before we move on. Pettersson needs a contract.