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Elias Pettersson, the slender rookie who is taking the NHL by storm, could be a big problem for the Winnipeg Jets Monday night.
With 18 points, including 11 goals, in 16 games, the 20-year-old Vancouver Canucks centre has had so many dazzling highlight reel moments that his shifts have become must-see TV.
“Another special young player, we’re still excited about them when they come into the league,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice Sunday. “There just seems to be a bunch of them each year now, right?
“These kids come in at 18 and they can play and make plays.”
In Pettersson’s case, the Canucks use him in a variety of combinations and situations, which puts added pressure on any coach plotting to shut him down.
“Finding him will be a challenge,” said Maurice. “He’s a special young man.”
Winnipeg’s No. 1 goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck, said he hasn’t made any special preparations for the Swedish wunderkind.
“I don’t watch a bunch of video on solo guys,” said Hellebuyck. “It’s a team game and I know what I’m going to expect and I prepare the same way for every guy.”
After a 4-4-1 record with a 3.00 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in October, Hellebuyck has been heating up and is 4-1-0 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in November. It didn’t hurt that Winnipeg went 12-for-13 (92.3 per cent) during the club’s recent four-game home stand.
Petterson was sidelined with a concussion and missed Vancouver’s game in Winnipeg on Oct. 18, a 4-1 Jets victory.
“I haven’t seen much of him, (but) I guess he’s small, pretty skilled player,” said Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot. “Pretty fun guy to watch — someone we’ll adjust to once we get out there and see what he’s trying to do.”
The Jets, who start a four-game Western Conference road trip in Vancouver, will try to roll out a stingy game plan similar to the one that has limited opponents to 16 goals in the last eight regular-season games.
Games follow in Calgary on Wednesday and Minnesota and St. Louis on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“We’ve been good,” said Chiarot. “We been tighter and (having) fewer lapses and keeping shots to the outside. Helly and Laurent (Brossoit) have been doing a great job for us, so we’re pretty happy with where our game is defensively. I think we’re second or third in goals-against and we’re trying to get to the No. 1 spot.
“We’ll keep doing what we’re doing and let Helly and Laurent see those shots.”
Before Sunday’s action, the Jets (11-5-2) were five points behind Central Division-leading Nashville and two points behind second-place Minnesota and have two games in hand on both the Preds and Wild.
Brossoit was on the losing end of a 2-1 shootout decision to the Buffalo Sabres Friday night.
“Especially with the standings right now, if you’re going to separate yourself, this is a good time to do it,” said veteran winger Mathieu Perreault.
Added Chiarot: “Any block of games like this is important. There’s no games, especially in our division and the conference, where you kinda take a week off. You drop four games and you’re on the playoff line again so every game’s important.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.