Without a doubt, the most pleasant surprise on the Vancouver Canucks this season has been Nils Hoglander.
Entering training camp just two weeks after his 20th birthday, it was a surprise that the five-foot-nine Swedish rookie started on a line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. Hoglander hasn’t wasted the opportunity, as he’s turned out to be one of Vancouver’s most reliable players this season.
Fans and media expected his incredible skill level, but I’m not sure most knew just how gritty and tenacious of a player he was. Drawing comparisons from some players like Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen, Hoglander hasn’t shied away from contact — his hit on Jets defenceman Derek Forbort and the ensuing retribution was proof of that.
He's not afraid of you, Winnipeg. pic.twitter.com/SVVsCWpqMF
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) February 20, 2021
He’ll need to hit the scoresheet with more regularity down the stretch to earn a nomination for the Calder Trophy, though certainly, Hoglander is in the conversation right now. He currently ranks fourth in rookie scoring with nine points (3-6-9) in 22 games — four points back of rookie scoring leader Kirill Kaprizov.
SportsBettingDime.com currently lists Hoglander with the fifth-best odds of being named Rookie of the Year. He’s unlikely to win the award this year, but he does have a shot at cracking the top three.
If he earns a Calder nomination, it would mark the fourth straight year the Canucks would have a finalist for the award, with Hoglander joining Brock Boeser (2018), Elias Pettersson (2019), and Quinn Hughes (2020). That would be a new NHL record, as no team has ever produced four-straight Calder finalists since the award was first given out in 1933.
Here’s a look at the top five contenders, in order of the current betting odds:
1. Kirill Kaprizov (Minnesota Wild)
Welcome to the NHL, Kirill Kaprizov!
— NHL (@NHL) January 15, 2021
Position: Left wing
Stats: 15 GP, 4 G, 9 A, 13 PTS
Kirill Kaprizov made an instant impact in the NHL, scoring a spectacular overtime winning goal in his first game. The 2015 fifth-round pick leads all rookies, and his team, in scoring and will be tough to beat in the Calder race.
2. Ty Smith (New Jersey Devils)
Elite BO ➡️ entry sequence here from Ty Smith:
• Controls speed at BO onset to stay flat with his wingers (improves passing optionality)
• Toe caps and head to boards, eyes forward, pass under Lazar’s triangle
• Fills weak side lane in OZ
• Open pivot give & go for goal pic.twitter.com/HHEewP0kml
— Josh Mallory (@JMallory9) January 31, 2021
Stats: 13 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 PTS
Ty Smith made entering the NHL as a 20-year-old defenceman look easy, scoring at least a point in each of his first five games. The top rookie blueliner so far this season, the 2018 first-round pick has seen a huge increase in his ice time this month, playing 22+ minutes in three of his last four games.
3. Kevin Lankinen (Chicago Blackhawks)
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) February 19, 2021
Stats: 13 GP, 7-3-3, .927 SV%
Finnish goaltender Kevin Lankinen has taken over the starter’s role with the Chicago Blackhawks and is a huge reason why they have surprised teams this season.
The 25-year-old is fourth in the NHL in save percentage (.927) among goalies with 10 or more games played. That puts him in the Vezina Trophy conversation also.
4. Tim Stutzle (Ottawa Senators)
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) January 17, 2021
Position: Left wing
Stats: 17 GP, 5 G, 4 A, 9 PTS
Who is Tim Stutzle? Turns out, the 2020 third-overall pick is a pretty good player already. After just one point in his first five games, Stutzle has been much more productive since, scoring eight points in his last 12 games.
5. Nils Hoglander (Vancouver Canucks)
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) January 26, 2021
Position: Left wing
Stats: 22 GP, 3 G, 6 A, 9 PTS
A highly skilled player who played with pace and is quick on the forecheck, Hoglander has secured a spot in the Canucks’ top six forward group this season.