A young National Hockey League defenseman may have just painted a giant target on his back.
One of the most exciting aspects of the 2018 - 2019 NHL regular season thus far has been the exceptional play of a number of rookies around the league. Players like Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and Vancouver Canucks Elias Pettersson have all cemented themselves as some of the very best players on their respective rosters and as some of the very best young players in the entire league after just a few short games.
Pettersson in particular has looked like an early favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year with an absolutely shocking performance through the first 5 games of his NHL career. The young Canuck plays one of the most important, and most difficult, positions in the entire league as a center but in spite of that has displayed nothing short of sheer dominance through the first few games of the season. In his first 5 games Pettersson has recorded a whopping 5 goals while adding an additional 3 assists for a total of 8 points over 5 games. You don't need me to tell you that, although it is admittedly a very limited sample size, those are outstanding numbers and the excitement that has suddenly infected the Canucks fan base is evidence of that fact.
Unfortunately a lot of that excitement came to a screeching halt on Saturday night when the rookie sensation was the victim of a a questionable hit from Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson and although Pettersson was the worst for ware in the moment the long term consequences for Matheson may prove to be significantly more unpleasant. Matheson, a 24 year old blue liner not known for being a dirty player, found himself a little embarrassed on Saturday when a dangle for the young Pettersson left him looking silly in his own end, and he decided to take it out the on the 19 year old Canucks' forward with some physical play.
After being beat by Pettersson, Matheson began to track the young forward on the ice and as soon as the puck was back on Pettersson's stick Matheson delivered a big hit to the rookie along the boards in the Panthers' zone. The hit itself looked like a relatively clean body check but it also had the added effect of knocking Pettersson off balance, and that's when many feel Matheson crossed the line and took some liberties with Pettersson's health. As Pettersson was falling back to the ice Matheson could clearly be seen shifting his body weight and deliberately driving Pettersson down to the ice in a slamming motion, something that proved to be very effective.
Pettersson was driven to the ice hard by Matheson and as a result the back of his head bounced off the ice hard as he was slammed into the playing surface by Matheson. The young forward was obviously in bad shape after the slam and it took him several moments to get back to his feet, and even then he immediately headed to the locker room once he was able to do so.
Surprisingly no one from the Canucks responded to their rookie getting roughed up on the ice, but veteran enforcer Antoine Roussel has now vowed revenge on Matheson. Roussel, who was just added to the Canucks' roster during the offseason, said that he "absolutely" will seek to retaliate against Matheson but stated that he will do so in front of their home crowd at Rogers Arena when the two teams face off again in January.