Bruce Boudreau’s fingerprints are on this electric, entertaining and effective version of the Vancouver Canucks.
The former engaging bench boss reached the franchise’s trinity for hope and happiness — Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and J.T. Miller — on compassionate and competitive levels to steady a ship that was taking on water and listing badly.
It would eventually sink in a sea of struggles, scrutiny, and lead to his coaching demise last January.
However, Boudreau can take something from his father-like relationship with Pettersson that grew into mutual respect and admiration. He knew the slick Swedish centre was something special and challenging him to embrace expanded roles led to a career-high 102 points (39-63) last season and plaudits as an emerging NHL superstar.
Building on that promise should secure a mammoth contract extension at some point. All Pettersson has every wanted is to win, and his current club is well-positioned to make the playoffs and go on a run.
In that respect, Boudreau believes the 25-year-old restricted free agent is worth a long-term commitment and worth every penny. And that is where it’s going to get interesting.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs sign William Nylander, 27, to an eight-year extension that could command above $11 million US in average annual value — he became the fourth player in club history to reach 50 points in 35 or fewer games — then what is Pettersson worth?
“He’s worth everything,” Boudreau said Thursday from Hershey, Penn. “If you have him and J.T. for a minimum of the next six years as your No. 1 and No. 2 centres, you’re pretty well established with two of the best in the league.
“And for what worth? Pettersson is a stubborn guy just like Nylander is. He knows what he’s worth, and Petey knows what he’s worth and isn’t going to back down. I had Nylander’s dad (Michael) in Washington, and he was very obstinate in what he wanted. Petey and William know how good they are and will wait until they get the price that makes them happy.”
Nylander had 51 points (19-32) through 36 games this season, while Pettersson had 45 (15-30) heading into Thursday’s test in St. Louis.
The biggest concern for any club is the one-dimensional, one-year wonder. It’s that player who lights it up and gets the big bucks, but can’t replicate the performance in future seasons at increased cost.
Boudreau is sold on Pettersson’s projection as a consistent point producer and completed player with a 200-foot dedication to the game because of the manner in which he’s wired.
One of Boudreau’s first moves was to have Pettersson and Hughes prop up a pitiful penalty kill.
Pettersson was so adept on the power play that he could read what the opposition was thinking with the man advantage. He not only broke up plays and intercepted passes, he often raced away on shorthanded breakaways. And Hughes could kill the clock by ragging the puck.
Boudreau’s first impression of Pettersson formed a fondness in building a bond that the centreman called “awesome”.
“I just pictured a young player that was shy and I spent a lot of time with him,” stressed Boudreau. “And when he asked me a question, I wouldn’t sluff it off. He really wanted to try penalty killing. And when he did it, his anticipation was the thing, quite frankly, where I realized how good a player he could possibly be.
“His intelligence was great and I would tell him that. And as he got better, he would come up to me and say: ‘I want the challenge.’ That’s what I loved about him. He wants to be the best player all the time.
“He may not have that personality that really jolts you, but his inner drive is just incredible.”
Boudreau referenced a preseason game last year against the Edmonton Oilers in Abbotsford. Pettersson wanted to be matched up against Connor McDavid and his complete game caught the coach off guard. Pettersson scored twice in a 5-4 win, but his play without the puck was more memorable.
“On the first shift, he ran somebody to stop a goal and I just thought, ‘This guy is up for challenges,’” said Boudreau. “It was easy because you didn’t have to scream at him. You could say you really needed him tonight or lead this practice and work your butt off. He would run with it.”
Boudreau compared Pettersson to Nicklas Backstrom, a durable and productive centre, who had a career 101 points for the Washington Capitals in 2009-10 with Boudreau at the helm.
“Two young Swedes who already knew how to play,” recalled Boudreau. “Both struggled in the faceoffs at the beginning, and I don’t think it’s something that Swedes work on when they’re young. But with the rest of their games, I could put them out any time and feel comfortable. Petey is one of those guys.
“That one person, when you put him out, everything is going to be okay. He would wouldn’t turn the puck over at the blueline, even if it looked like he was in trouble. He would find a way. To see him grow into what he is now is pretty impressive.”
But what about the joy?
“There’s a joy,” stressed Boudreau. “There’s no doubt he’s very serious. The (winning) environment puts him in a positive mood, even though he may not look like it by smiling and laughing and having a great time.
“He enjoys coming to the rink because it’s what he loves to do.”
Canucks at Devils
Saturday, 4 p.m., Prudential Center
TV: SNPacific, SN1. Radio: SN650