Vancouver Canucks star forward Elias Pettersson says he’s stronger and heavier after a summer of intense conditioning and he won’t let his contract status be a “distraction.”
The Swedish sniper, who notched 39 goals and 102 points last season, is in the final year of his three-year, $22-million contract and will become a restricted free agent next year if he doesn’t sign an extension with the Canucks.
Pettersson, 24, said Thursday he wants to focus on the coming hockey season as the Canucks opened training camp in Victoria.
He skated on a line with wingers Andrei Kuzmenko and Nils Hoglander.
“I’ve always tried to work my hardest,” he said following the team’s first on-ice session. “I’m always trying to get better. This summer I had a little more time to train.”
Pettersson said he’s happy to be in Vancouver now and will focus on the coming season, adding it could be the media that turns his contract situation into a distraction.
“It’s not a distraction. You guys make it a distraction,” Pettersson told reporters. “I’m happy now, but I just want to focus on the season.”
Pettersson’s contract situation will likely be on his mind at times during the season, but hockey will be his primary focus, said teammate J.T. Miller.
“If you can just let him play hockey that would be great,” said Miller. “He’s a pretty good player. He’s trained all summer. He’s in really good shape again. I don’t think he’s worried about it. He’s just really focused right now.”
Miller, 30, who scored 32 goals and 50 assists last season, said the Canucks are looking to start the season on a winning note after hitting a losing skid in the first weeks of last year.
“The boys are ready,” he said. “I think we’re itching. It’s a fresh start. We know what to expect now. It seems like a fresh everything.”
Miller said the opening day of training camp focused on defensive and offensive systems, which will help the players immediately understand their roles.
The Canucks missed the playoffs last season, finishing in sixth place in the Pacific Division with 83 points.
Canucks coach Rick Tocchet said he wanted stress defensive zone play and five-on-five situations right from the outset.
“I liked the effort,” he said.
But one day at training camp doesn’t make the season, said Tocchet.
“It’s easy to have one good day,” he said. “You play a great game, but I guess the next level here is can we be consistent, can the guys come out tomorrow and practise hard again. That’s really the message in camp.”
Pettersson said he was pleased defenceman Quinn Hughes was named team captain.
“Fantastic,” said Pettersson, who will be an alternate captain. “I think he’s been taking steps every year. Obviously, this is a big step for him, but I think he’s more than ready.”