Peak Petey: Can Elias Pettersson improve on Calder Trophy season in Year 2?
The NHL Network has started off the month of August by stirring the pot with its list of the NHL's Top 20 centers.
Elias Pettersson is the youngest player on the list, at No. 20.
He did even better on the fan vote, coming in at No. 13. The discrepancies are interesting but don't show much of a pattern: the fans bumped out Scheifele, Malkin, Aho and Eichel in favour of Kopitar, Toews, Larkin and Giroux.
Not long ago, SlightlyOffside messaged me, musing on whether Pettersson would be able to successfully build off his impressive rookie season. He tracked the 11 forwards who have won the Calder since the 2000-01 season and found that "this group of young stars played fewer games (93% of rookie year), had fewer points (87%), fewer goals (91%), lower PPG (94%) but scored more goals (104%)."
According to his sample, only two of the 11 Calder-winning forwards improved in their second seasons—and one was only in a points-per-game measure.
• Evgeni Malkin (2007) went from 33-52-85 in 78 games to 47-59-106 in 82 games
• Auston Matthews (2017) went from 40-29-69 in 82 games (0.84 points per game) to 34-29-63 in 62 games (1.02 PPG)
The other nine Calder-winning forwards: Dany Heatley, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Jeff Skinner, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin and Mat Barzal.
First off, that's an impressive club to be a part of!
Secondly, the data isn't quite that dire.
Heatley, who won in 2002, also took a big step foward in his second season, going from 26-41-67 in 82 games to 41-48-89 in 77 games. From there, he went on to score 50 goals and break 100 points twice before he started a rather rapid decline.
Patrick Kane (2008) also held steady, going from 72 points in 82 games in his rookie season to 70 points in 80 games in Year 2.
Here's the rest of the list:
• Alex Ovechkin (2006) - 106 points in 81 games, then 92 points in 82 games
• Jeff Skinner (2011) - 63 points in 82 games, then 44 points in 64 games
• Gabriel Landeskog (2012) - 52 points in 82 games, then 17 in 36 games (lockout year)
• Jonathan Huberdeau (2013) - 31 points in 48 games (lockout year), then 28 in 69
• Nathan MacKinnon (2014) - 63 points in 82 games, then 38 in 64
• Artemi Panarin (2015) - 77 points in 80 games, followed by 74 in 82
• Mat Barzal (2017) - 85 points in 82 games, followed by 62 in 82
One common thread for almost all of these players—playing close to a full schedule of games in their rookie years. Obviously, that helps in putting up points. It also means the best-case scenario is to stay healthy again in Year 2—something that many of them failed to achieve.
Pettersson's situation is different: he won despite the fact that he played only 71 games. If he is able to simply maintain his level of production (0.93 PPG), he'll improve by 10 points to 76 points next season if he plays all 82 games. If he plays a full schedule, he only needs to score 0.80 points per game to match his 66 points from his rookie year.
Working for him next season, presumably—an improved level of play from the team as a whole, including better offensive support from the back end and more skilled forwards (assuming Brock Boeser is signed before the season begins). Also, Pettersson now has a better idea of what to expect—and what to watch out for—now that he's been all the way around the league.
Working against him? The element of surprise is gone now. He can't just set up in his spot and snipe into the top corner like he did in those early games last year. Also, the long NHL schedule could have taken more of a toll than his 44 regular-season games with Vaxjo in 2017-18, although he has had plenty of time off the ice since the World Championship ended in late May, and he isn't rehabbing an injury like he was with his broken thumb last season.
Generally, everything has to go right for a player to win the Calder Trophy. Pettersson did it even with some adversity along the way.
It's interesting to realize how many players on that list of top centres didn't win the Calder, but still went on to outstanding careers—often starting with improved second seasons.
• Connor McDavid finished third in voting in his rookie year—behind Panarin and Shayne Gostisbehere, but ahead of Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin—after a collarbone injury limited him to 48 points in 45 games. He improved to 100 points in 82 games the following year, and has further increased his point totals in his two subsequent seasons.
• Sidney Crosby suffered the misfortune of debuting in the same year as Alex Ovechkin, so he finished second in Calder voting despite 102 points in 81 games in his rookie year. He hit his career high with 120 points in 79 games in Year 2.
• As an 18-year-old, Aleksander Barkov finished 16th in Calder voting in 2014 after putting up 24 points in 54 games. His improvement has been almost completely linear over his subsequent five seasons, peaking at 96 points in 82 games last year.
• Originally drafted 45th overall, Patrice Bergeron finished eighth in Calder voting in 2004 after putting up 39 points in 71 games as an 18-year-old. He benefitted from having a year away from the NHL to work on his game before coming back with a 73-point season after the lockout in 2005-06—his best offensive season until he put up 32 goals and 79 points in 65 games as a 33-year-old last year!
I could go on...
My takeaway? I'm excited. Judging from these numbers, Petey's well-positioned to improve on his rookie results in his second NHL season this fall.