The 2017 USHL preseason schedule begins today, and with marquee 2018 draft-eligible names including Andrei Svechnikov, Brady Tkachuk and Quinton Hughes departing for the OHL and NCAA there are a few prospects that appear primed to take a big step and assume some of that upper-echelon USHL status. One of them is new Muskegon Lumberjack Mathias Emilio Pettersen, acquired from the Omaha Lancers this offseason and a 2018-19 University of Denver commit.
While last year’s stats don’t indicate it with 10 goals, 17 assists, and an ugly minus-32 in 57 Lancer contests, as a 16-year-old the Norwegian left wing trailed only Svechnikov in scoring among the league’s 2000-born prospects. That includes a late January through mid-March 14-point, 15-game run with an Omaha squad ultimately earning just one more point (51) in the standings than the Tri-City Storm’s league-worst total. After season’s Pettersen added four goals and eight assists in five contests with Norway’s U18 World Junior Championship D1A squad.
Listed at 5-10, 170 the left-shot pivot who can also play wing has room and time to grow. But he boasts surprising strength and a knack for making wicked accurate passes, powerful wrist shots and elusive, quick bursts particularly when storming the net. Muskegon GM John Vanbiesbrouck lauds his work ethic, competitive drive and versatility.
Here’s a taste, featuring some nice stick and skate work on Pettersen’s first two USHL goals:
Projected as perhaps an heir to Mats Zuccarello’s Norwegian NHL career scoring title, Pettersen left Scandinavia at age 14, acclimating to the North American game for three campaigns in the US Premier Hockey League with Connecticut’s Selects Hockey Academy. Participating here in National U16 and Midget play he registered 53 goals and 142 points in 89 contests against competition including later US Developmental Program standouts Evan Barratt and David Farrance, and with teammates Joel Farabee and Greg Printz. His University of Denver commitment took place shortly thereafter at age 15.
Pettersen was lauded as his new club’s best player on the ice out of more than 100 that attended Muskegon Lumberjacks’ late May three-day prospect camp, self-reportedly working on bettering his defensive game and overall performance in all zones. The son of former Get Ligaen forward Flemming Pettersen who racked up 43 goals and 75 assists in 134 Manglerud mid-1990s contests while also considered undersized at 5-09, 183 pounds, he hails from a hockey family and has proven highly coachable.
After spending his draft year maturing and honing his game he could be the first Norwegian prospect drafted in the first round come next June, or at least go earlier than the nation’s thus far highest selection, wing Marius Holtet taken by Dallas 42nd overall in 2002. Despite a 255-game AHL career Holtet never cracked an NHL roster, ultimately settling in the Swedish Hockey League for six years with Farjestad BK.
The most optimistic early projections peg Pettersen a top-five pick, while most see him going in the late first or early second round. We shall see what impact his performance this year has upon his ranking.