In the eyes of Canucks fans, Elias Pettersson can do no wrong.
How could he?
With 45 points in 40 games to begin his NHL career, the 20-year-old rookie has breathed new life into a team that desperately needed it.
Pettersson has stepped into the lineup, quickly becoming the team’s No. 1 centre, displaying brilliant stickhandling, a lethal shot, and incredible vision. He’s good defensively, too.
There’s really only one area in which Pettersson hasn’t excelled: dealing with lame questions from the media.
When Pettersson returned to practice after being concussed by Florida’s Mike Matheson, he was asked if it made him want to go back to Sweden.
That’s when Vancouver was introduced to the death stare.
Pettersson could have laughed the question off or answered it honestly, saying something along the lines of “of course not, my dream is to play in the NHL.”
Instead, he was visibly angered, which is an unusual reaction for an NHL rookie.
The ‘death stare’ has reappeared a few times since, to varying levels, and not always for questions as silly as the first example.
Pettersson: "When I get a dumb question, that's when the death stare is coming." pic.twitter.com/ksbFfrqflu
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) December 16, 2018
For now, fans seem to love it. They love Pettersson and by and large feel like some members of the media deserve the pushback.
The more I hear about Pettersson's "death stare" the more I love him. I've been known to give that face a time or two… Sometimes unknowingly. Sometimes (aka usually) because people are idiots 🤷🏼♀️ #sorryicantcontrolmyface
— Jenn 🤷🏼♀️ (@bosoverbros) February 1, 2019
Pettersson's death stare is one of the best things about him. I don't understand why people are making a big deal over it. Plus, some members of the media deserve it with some the questions they ask.
— Joshua Rey (@JoshuaRey91) February 1, 2019
The thing is 100% of Canucks fans love EP’s death stare and don’t really care if he shows disdain for stupid questions from the media
— Shane🏳️🌈 (@SocialAssassin2) January 27, 2019
The youngster is free to answer questions however he pleases, of course. Fans and media want players to show more personality – and Canucks fans love everything about him right now – but forging a positive relationship with the reporters that cover the team on a regular basis is advisable for any player.
That doesn’t mean he can’t stick up for himself from time to time, but he needs to do it skillfully. Kevin Bieksa was a master at it.
Look, for now, this is all pretty minor. Pettersson has been exceptional in Vancouver and the media – both local and national – have understandably gushed over him.
But if there are conflicts now, even minor ones, what will his relationship with the media look like if (god forbid) he goes through a slump and falls short of expectations?
There’s enough conflict on the ice for a National Hockey League player.
Todd Bertuzzi never got along with the media, but it was ok to be snarly when he was the best power forward in the league. Same thing with Ryan Kesler during his Selke Trophy candidate days.
But when their play dropped off, the media were quicker to bury them.
It’s human nature.
Conversely, Brendan Morrison was a media darling throughout his time with the Canucks, and often escaped criticism.
Pettersson’s not in the Bertuzzi or Kesler realm of fire and brimstone in media scrums, and he’s still learning the English language.
He’s also only 20 years old, so he should be cut some slack.
But he does need to learn how to handle questions he doesn’t like with the same kind of skill and precision that he shows on the ice for the simple reason that it’ll make his life easier.
“He works with our PR people to do better in the interviews, and not do the ‘death stare,’ but I think that’s just part of his intensity,” said GM Jim Benning in a radio interview with TSN 1040’s Mike Halford and Jason Brough. “He’s still a young kid and learning how to do that stuff. I think he’ll get better at it.”
Pettersson doesn’t like dumb questions – nobody does – but unfortunately handling dumb questions is part of the job description.
Pettersson: “it’s not something I want to be known as, the guy that gives death stares. If it happens it happens” #Canucks
— RD (@BuckFoston_) January 26, 2019
“He’s a really intense young man and that’s what makes him good on the ice,” said Benning. “He wants to be the best player in the league and for a 20-year-old kid to come in here and to do the things that he’s done for us this year. I think it’s been fantastic. Now are there still things that he needs to learn? Yeah, there is. He’s a young kid still.”
You’d hate for Pettersson to morph into the second coming of Alex Edler, who never says anything interesting in media scrums, because he’s got great potential to become the best quote on the team.
Pettersson is usually thoughtful in the way he answers questions, rather than simply spewing cliches like so many other NHL players. He’s also shown a dry sense of humour at times, which is impressive for a rookie.
Once Pettersson gets more comfortable expressing himself in the English language, I fully expect him to be the best post-game quote on the team.
Let’s just hope those quotes sound more like Bieksa than Kesler.