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Pettersson was floored by Gretzky's praise: 'I didn't think it was real'

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Elias Pettersson was taken aback when Wayne Gretzky spoke glowingly of him last year.

In April 2019, "The Great One" told Swedish publication Expressen that he saw a lot of his own attributes in the Vancouver Canucks phenom.

"That young man in Vancouver has really impressed me," Gretzky said at the time, according to a translation quoted by the Vancouver Courier's Daniel Wagner. "We always compare athletes with each other and if there's anyone who reminds me of myself, it is Elias Pettersson. For several reasons. Firstly, he may not be the best skater or has the hardest shot, and he is not the physically biggest player on the ice but he sees the ice so well. And he has a great understanding of the game.

"But the most important thing is his work ethic. If he loses the puck he immediately tries to win it back. Many young players make an extra turn and take some time to do so, but not Elias. He's right there and is fighting to get the puck back again."

Pettersson was stunned by that comment.

“It's unreal, especially because it's him noticing my game," he told The Athletic's Thomas Drance this week. "It's so unthinkable.

"I never thought I’d become the player I am today, I didn't know I'd have success like this so early in my career. For the greatest of all time to say that about me, I didn't think it was real at first. Just awesome."

Pettersson won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie for 2018-19 after collecting 28 goals and 66 points in 71 games. He matched that point total in three fewer contests of 2019-20 before the league paused the season in March.

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