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Canucks: Why chasing Martin Necas would resonate with Elias Pettersson

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Necas had a US$3 million salary cap hit this season. His 24 goals and 53 points should command a big raise and being dangled the play-with-Pettersson carrot in a possible trade would be enticing

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They could have been traded for each other. Now they could be linemates.

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The connection between Martin Necas and Elias Pettersson started as prize picks in the rich 2017 NHL Draft. It continued with a considered swap of the forwards earlier this season and is now at a place that makes the most sense.

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Necas, 25, is a talent-rich and disgruntled third-line restricted free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes. Pettersson, 25, is coming off a roller-coaster season, a nagging and prolonged knee ailment and continued frustration to find chemistry with wingers incapable of functioning in top-six positions.

Hence, the call from Vancouver Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin for a top-six winger to fill that pressing need.

Necas, a centre turned winger, put on a show Saturday in a world hockey championship semifinal stunner to get his native Czechia to a gold medal showdown Sunday against Switzerland.

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He scored once and added three assists in a 7-3 victory over Sweden to set the stage for a 2-0 gold-medal triumph that kept his country in party mode. He teased of what a contented and contributing 6-foot-2, 190 pound player could bring to an NHL roster.

Czech Republic's Martin Necas greets fans after they won the gold medal match against Switzerland at the Ice Hockey World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic, Sunday, May 26, 2024.
Czech Republic’s Martin Necas greets fans after they won the gold medal match against Switzerland at the Ice Hockey World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic, Sunday, May 26, 2024. Photo by Petr David Josek /AP

Necas is fast through the neutral zone. He’s creative. He’s a finisher. Veteran NHL prospects scout Shane Malloy offered this pre-draft assessment of Necas in 2017.

“I like his ability to play in traffic and make plays at speed. He’s not Claude Giroux, but he has a similar style.”

On Sunday, Malloy offered a scouting update on Necas at the NHL level:

“Very good second-line player. He averaged 62 points the last two seasons as a 23 and 24-year-old. He is just starting to enter his prime years.”

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The Canucks could ship RFA defenceman Filip Hronek, 26, to the Hurricanes in exchange for Necas and try to balance the books. Hronek has arbitrations rights and his top-pairing, right-shot resume could convert 48 points into a huge leap from an expiring US$4.4 million cap hit.

Too rich for the Canucks’ blood? Probably.

Filling the defence void wouldn’t be easy, but either is finding a top-six winger. The Canucks were last among playoff teams with an average of just 20.8 shots per game. Necas had a 16.7 per cent conversion rate in the post-season.

Necas also had a $3 million cap hit this season. His 24 goals and 53 points will command more money, but the possibility of being dangled the play-with-Pettersson carrot would be enticing.

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Martin Necas celebrates after a goal during the third period in Game 5 of the Second Round at Madison Square Garden on May 13, 2024 in New York City. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

Carolina also has six RFAs and eight UFAs, including blueliners Brady Skjei, 30, and Brett Pesce, 29, on expiring deals at $5.25 and $4 million salary cap hits, respectively.

They’ll be looking for sizable raises, but the Hurricanes can’t keep everybody.

They have signing priorities in UFAs Jake Guentzel — a productive winger long coveted by the Canucks — and Skjei, knowing they’ll put a big dent into $27 million of projected cap space.

Guentzel immediately meshed with the Hurricanes after leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins. He piled up 25 points after the deal and added nine more (4-5) in 11 playoff games.

As for Necas, it’s not just adding his potential, it’s sending Pettersson a strong support message. Organizational faith that the slick Swede will deliver on a mammoth and front-loaded $92.8 million extension that kicks in next season is vital.

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Pettersson could use good roster news to reignite his fire of desire. It lost intensity with a tendinitis diagnosis in January that wasn’t revealed until his year-end address Thursday. It put so much into perspective.

“It will be nice to get a break from everything,” he admitted. “It’s be a very noisy season in terms of contract and how sh*t I’ve been the last three months. I’m excited to get a break, get on the horse and train hard.”

Pettersson played through recurring pain. His numbers plummeted. Speculation ran wild about possibly being dealt for Necas before he reached an extension. And then there were questions about his health.

Now we know.

Pettersson went on a tear when the Lotto Line was reunited during a six-game road trip in early January. In a four-outing tour or force, he had a pair of four-point outings to highlight nine points, which included five goals and three game-winners.

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Canucks centre Elias Pettersson gets a step on Rangers defenceman K’Andre Miller during Jan. 8 meeting at Madison Square Garden. Pettersson had four points (2-2) in a 6-3 rout. Photo by Frank Franklin II /AP

He was named the NHL’s third star of the week. He had pace, production and sported a big grin. But it all went away.

Pettersson’s production fell and he finished with just six goals in his final 30 regular-season games and just one in his last 13. And in the playoffs, he also had one goal in 13 outings, but looked more engaged and energized in the final stages of the second-round series.

Was that part of the pain diminishing, or pressing on to perform because of the magnitude of the moment?

“The longer it went, the more pain I felt,” said Pettersson. It just needs time to rest and heal.”

Ray Ferraro can relate to playing in pain — especially with a knee ailment and tendinitis — because logging a career 1,258 regular season and 68 playoff games with six teams often meant the centre had to suck it up and soldier on.

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That’s how he scored 408 regular season and 21 playoff goals.

However, in the 1997-98 NHL season with the Los Angeles Kings, Ferraro missed 40 games with a left-knee concern.

“I’m just coming to realize that it is going to bother me the rest of the year,” Ferraro told The Los Angeles Times on Feb. 8, 1998. “I had an MRI and there’s just too much stuff going on. There’s tendinitis, a bone bruise and other different things.

“None of it’s serious enough to where I can’t play. I don’t know how it’s going to be for back-to-back games. The pain is kind of there all of the time. But the knee feels OK right now.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be in a month and I really don’t think the doctors know either. It’s going to be a day-to-day thing the rest of the year.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com

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