Throughout the NHL’s history, all of eight Norwegians have ever suited up for a game. Only two dressed during the 2017-18 season, and only one – Mats Zuccarello – was a regular. The country simply doesn’t produce as much as its Swedish neighbours, and even fellow Scandinavian nation, Denmark, has had more success in generating talent for the sport.
But now, there’s at least one Norwegian the Flames are hoping can break the barrier: Mathias Emilio Pettersen, a 5’10, 170 lb. left-shooting centre the Flames scooped up in the sixth round, 167th overall, with their penultimate pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He comes in at #18 on our top 20 prospects list.
How did we get here?
One of the things that really drives home that Pettersen was born in the year 2000: you can find highlights of his skills, long before he was going to join any developmental leagues, on YouTube. It’s a Gen Z feature we’ll probably see continue to come up over time; for now, though, Pettersen has the distinction of being that kid, dekeing around and through his competition on a dime, who actually got drafted by an NHL team.
He spent his 2013-14 season playing in Norway’s U16 league, scoring 71 points over 20 games played. The next year, he made the jump to North America, kicking off his 14-year-old season playing for the Selects Hockey Academy in the U16 USPHL. In 2014-15 he scored 41 points in 28 games, 20th league-wide; in 2015-16 upped that to 36 points in 21 games, good for ninth and behind players who all played more games than he did.
Also during the 2015-16 season he played in the Midget Division, scoring 65 points over 40 games: tied for 17th league-wide. He also suited up to represent Norway at the Division 1 U18s, during which he scored five points in five games, tied for second on his team and sixth tournament-wide.
Pettersen, having turned 16, joined the USHL for the 2016-17 season, playing for the Omaha Lancers. He scored 27 points in 57 games for them, fourth in team scoring as the Lancers finished sixth in the Western Conference, failing to make the playoffs. He also once again played for Norway at the Division 1 U18s, this time wearing an “A” and upping his scoring to 12 points in five games, leading not just Norway, but the entire tournament in scoring.
For his draft year in 2017-18, Pettersen stayed in the USHL, joining the Muskegon Lumberjacks. He continued to improve, scoring 46 points in 60 games: tied for third in team scoring, and 25th league-wide. The Lumberjacks finished third in the Eastern Conference, but fell in the playoffs; Pettersen failed to score a single point in any of the three games he played. Still, though, he caught the Flames’ eye, and they selected him in the sixth round.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
Pettersen has played two seasons in the USHL (primary and strength numbers via prospect-stats):
|Games played||Goals||Assists||Points||Primary points||5v5 points||5v5 primary|
With a similar number of games played, Pettersen’s numbers jumped up across the board from one season to the next, so there’s reason to be encouraged by his progress to date. In 2016-17, his ratio of 5v5 primary points to total points was .37; that jumped up to .41 the following season.
For a deeper dive into Pettersen’s numbers, revisit Christian Tiberi’s writeup on him here.
Those in the know
Mike Hamilton probably knows more about Pettersen than any of us, considering how he’s the Lumberjacks’ head coach, and has worked with Pettersen over the past season:
Emilio is a focused and driven hockey player. He constantly takes advantage of optional ice and any extra instruction offered. … His hard work and dedication paid dividends individually and in the success of the team. Emilio was a huge part of the Lumberjacks making the playoffs in back to back seasons. Emilio is a very skilled hockey player with a passion for the game. He will be missed in Muskegon, we wish Emilio the best of the luck on the ice and in the classroom at Denver University.
And then there’s Ray Edwards, the Flames’ director of development:
He was a bit of a YouTube sensation a few years ago, so he’s been in the spotlight for a while. I think he’s known what he’s wanted for a while, and he’s been on a path to achieve it. This is just another step in his journey and again, really good program, really excited about where he’s going to be.
On the horizon
Pettersen has consistently improved on a year-to-year basis, but now that he’ll be entering his 18-year-old season, it’s time to go up a level and enter the NCAA. He’ll be playing for the Denver Pioneers, a program with strong showings and a history of success. As a freshman it’ll be interesting to see how much ice time he gets, and just how well he’ll be able to adjust to this new level in his fifth season of North American hockey.
Perhaps even more interesting, though, will be how he responds in his sophomore season, and any and all NCAA seasons he plays thereafter. The growth has been there – where it’ll top out remains a mystery, but hopefully, he’ll continue to improve, as he has consistently done to date.
|#20 – Martin Pospisil||#19 – Demetrios Koumontzis|