You know that stale audiovisual narrative trope where a child star since faded from their early fame mounts a comeback?
The teen pop sensation releases a sombre and serious piano record in adulthood, the forgotten math prodigy grows up to publish a pioneering theorem, etc etc.
Well, Calgary Flames prospect Emilio Pettersen mirrors that tired Hollywood mold pretty closely. The Norwegian forward revelled in YouTube stardom as a dangling ten-year-old, receded from the spotlight as a sixth-round NHL pick at the precipice of his teenage years, and renewed some buzz around his name with breakout college performances and a promising first professional stint.
In anticipation of what will likely be an even richer second season with the Stockton Heat, we’re examining what kind of payout our 11th-ranked Flames prospect could bring to the proverbial table.
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Emilio Pettersen
Left-handed forward
Born Apr. 3, 2000 (age 21) in Manglerud, Norway
5’11,” 180 pounds
Drafted in sixth round (167th overall) by CGY in 2018
Mathias Emilio Pettersen reportedly first read his name in a news headline when he was six years old—assuming he could even read back then. Pettersen dominated against his fellow prepubescent brats in the Oslo suburb of Manglerud with his precocious puckhandling, which attracted international attention at an absurdly young age from YouTube compilations uploaded by his family.
His wunderkind history garnered Pettersen invitations to play in North America starting at the age of fourteen. Pettersen scored 1.46 points per game as a fourteen-year-old playing U16AAA for a hockey school in Connecticut, and by sixteen he was lacing his skates in the USHL for the Omaha Lancers. In that hometown of the 2000s indie music heartthrob Conor Oberst—frontman and scribe for the darling folk rock band Bright Eyes—Pettersen fluttered back down to earthen soil a bit, posting under half a point a game. He upped his numbers in the same league during his NHL draft year with the Muskogen Lumberjacks, notching 0.77 points per game, but the overall dip—in the USHL, no less—from his storied dominance dropped his draft stock. And so the Flames snatched him in such a late round.
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As a true freshman for the University of Denver, however, Pettersen shone again. He logged 30 points in 40 games as an eighteen-year-old, finishing second on his entire team in scoring. In the 2019-20 season, Pettersen evaded the wretched sophomore slump by scoring 35 points in 36 games. That total placed him fifth among all junior-aged NCAA hockey players in points—and the leading four were all taken in the first two rounds of their respective NHL drafts. The fluorescent adolescent—a term which doubles as the title of the single greatest Arctic Monkeys song, by the way—was proving to be a bit of a steal.
And so Pettersen entered his first professional season with the Stockton Heat shouldering a few more pounds of promise than your average sixth-round pick. For the Flames affiliate squad, Pettersen posted a respectable professional debut that betrayed a few glimpses of the offensive talent that made him a primary school phenom.
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Example: he flaunted his finesse and hands and acceleration as a breakaway marksman…
Multiple times.
Plus, in key moments, he blended offensive-zone intuition with his subtle, sneaky release to unload sizzling shots from opportune areas.
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Pettersen ultimately scored 6 goals and 14 points in 29 games for the AHL club last year. He finished fifth on the team in points—and at the tender age of 20 he was the youngest of said five—and fourth in assists. Beyond the borders of the scoresheet, Pettersen routinely played with the fearlessness and fire necessary to contend against fully grown adults, too.
Both of our resident Stockton experts at FlamesNation noticed Pettersen for these reasons throughout the season. Mike Gould gushed about his puck skills while identifying some realms ripe for improvement:
Emilio Pettersen is really fun to watch. He carries the puck with speed and loves to have it on his stick when entering the offensive zone. He’s capable of making really impressive moves and distributes the puck with skill. Pettersen’s offensive production as an AHL rookie was solid, if unspectacular (six goals, 14 points in 29 games), and he trailed off as the team struggled down the stretch. He needs to work on his play without the puck in all three zones.
And Paige Siewert emphasized the intangibles Pettersen provides on the bench as well:
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Emilio Pettersen is a highly skilled Norwegian center that really made an impact in his first professional season. Pettersen plays like he’s been in this league for years and brings a natural leadership to the squad. He was a level head among high tension situations in some of the harder runs of games for the Heat this past season. He is a timely goal scorer and also a player that will fit into any role the team needs him to be in on any given night.

Expectations for 2021-22

All signs point towards Pettersen pursuing a meatier role and amplified numbers in Stockton this season. He should be entrusted with a permanent spot in the top-six, though the possible introductions of recent first-rounders Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary in the lineup could complicate that ambition.
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A deciding factor will obviously be whether any of those other prospects otherwise destined for Stockton slot into the opening day roster. Assuming the lineup relatively resembles Pike’s prediction, though, Pettersen will have competition for star billing. But some folks, such as my aforementioned esteemed colleague Mike Gould, think vying for limited prime minutes could flip the ignition on his development:
Stockton looks to be reloading in advance of the 2021–22 season and I expect Pettersen will be asked to play a leading role on the team, potentially as the No. 1 left wing. With more behind him in the way of reinforcements pushing him to be better, Pettersen could take major steps forward. He still has plenty of time to develop in the AHL.
And even if he does not find himself fuelled by intrasquad competition later this season, Paige Siewert is convinced he is already flirting with longer looks.
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He may not be NHL ready right away but continuing on the path he’s on could definitely put him in the conversation for a call-up in the future.
Aside from contending for top responsibilities on Stockton, Pettersen might have the opportunity to represent his country on the hockey world’s sleekest, sexiest stage this winter. The Norwegian national team wanted him on the roster for their upcoming Olympic qualifying tournament, but the Flames reportedly refused to release him overseas so close to camp. Despite his absence at the tournament, the interest in him from team staff and his presence at last year’s World Championships suggest it likely he crack their roster come February.
So, if Norway hypothetically triumphs in their qualifiers this weekend, and if the Flames hypothetically consent to his hypothetical invitation to the hypothetical main event this hypothetical winter… Emilio Pettersen could hypothetically be an Olympian. And that could be a crucial stepping stone in Pettersen enjoying a child star career trajectory more reminiscent of Christian Bale than Macaulay Culkin.
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2021 FlamesNation Prospect Rankings