Canucks fans have become accustomed to seeing their prospects quickly ascend the pipeline and into the Calder Trophy discussion within a year or two. It’s been a heck of a ride that is likely to end this coming season. But that does not mean the club is void of young talent on the way.
Nils Hoglander is the next forward who will raise eyebrows and expectations at training camp next month. He’ll do so on the back of elite puck skills and a confidence that is seldom seen from young players playing against men.
It’s difficult not to notice the 19-year-old. His skill has popped off of the page in each of his three SHL seasons. That’s what happens when you’re the owner of back-to-back SHL goal-of-the-year awards with his Michigan renditions, and regular attempts at others.
Nils Höglander IS Zorro pic.twitter.com/u3BInW0Fid
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) December 16, 2020
The 2019 second-round selection has witnessed his production steadily increase over those three professional seasons. But perhaps more importantly, he’s shown incremental improvements in the defensive side of things and massive leaps in his play-driving ability.
Hoglander’s 14 points in 23 games this season sit fifth on his club and third for U21 skaters league-wide. Additionally, his 57.4 percent Corsi numbers are indicative of a player who thrives in transition and pushing the needle.
There's been a narrative that Nils Höglander has plateaued during his three seasons in the SHL. I'm here to dismiss that notion.
He's better defensively. He's stronger. He's still just 19 years old. #Canucks
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) December 8, 2020
There are justifiable knocks in his game.
He’s prone to playing one-on-one hockey too often which can lead to poor turnovers. His release remains very much a work in progress. And for a smaller player, his speed is just okay.
Yet, what is seldom talked about with the 5-foot-9 190-pound forward is his unwillingness to shrink under pressure. In fact, this is a player who will strike first rather than letting an opponent get the better of him.
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) October 3, 2019
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) January 4, 2020
Here’s a look at a similar elbow Höglander threw earlier this season.
I don’t think he’s got the whole “reverse hit” thing down yet.
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) October 4, 2019
At his height, being able to handle pressure and physicality down low will be the key ingredient to a successful NHL career.
There have been plenty of skilled 5-foot-9 forwards who have failed to transfer their abilities to the highest league in the land. The ones that do not only handle the jam, but they also spread it on the toast themselves.
First NHL camp
As his loan in Sweden has come to an end, Hoglander will be travelling to Vancouver this weekend to begin his quarantine period ahead of the Canucks main camp.
This will be a highly unique situation as the club will be permitted to bring an expanded roster and a taxi squad into the season. This is in order to mitigate any potential injury or illness that could strip the team of a host of skaters in a hurry.
However, Hoglander will be coming in cold. The coaching staff has yet to see him up close and personal. The camp will be short. There will be no exhibition games to set himself apart from the other youngster vying for a spot. And finally, there are a host of unmovable winger contracts on the books that will be extremely difficult to supplement.
If he is not stealing a top-nine job, will the club want him to be skating as a Black Ace rather than developing in-game situations? The likely answer is no. And that’s okay.
Hoglander will turn 20 on Sunday. He has plenty of time remaining to plough ahead into an NHL job. However, the real question is where is his remaining development is going to be best served, back in Sweden or in Utica?
Return to Sweden might make sense
The pandemic has added enough wrinkles in our lives to start investing in ironing board companies. One of those wrinkles is whether or not the American Hockey League will even run this season.
That further complicates Hoglander’s situation.
He’s already accrued 115 games in the SHL. In a perfect world, he’d be adjusting to the small ice and tighter checking North American game when the inevitable cut from camp occurs. However, thanks to COVID, a return to Rogle — who sits atop the standings this season, is more likely.
The best estimates see Hoglander flash his all-world puck skills at camp, hopefully, make a strong impression with the coaching staff and then head home to complete the 2020-21 campaign with Rogle. Full migration to North America for the beginning of 2021-22 — when the forward ranks thin out a bit — will offer a better opportunity to secure an NHL spot, with the AHL as a nice fallback.
Not all players race off of the draft floor and into the Calder conversation yet still find success in the best league in the world. Hoglander and Canucks fans are hoping he can do the same.