Höglander is a Silver Lining to Contentious Canucks Start

By: Brayden Fengler / November 1, 2022  

Nothing makes you appreciate two back-to-back wins like seven consecutive losses. The Canucks’ season has been a mixed bag so far, to say the least. On the plus side, Elias Pettersson has been playing at a high level. 

Unfortunately, there have been a few key injuries like Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes keeping this team from icing their ideal roster, and Thatcher Demko has been playing uncharacteristically. This is not to say that Demko has been playing badly, but he hasn’t been playing ungodly either, which we learned last season is one of the only ways the Canucks can afford to have him play.

Even though the blame for this club’s poor performance can be distributed relatively evenly across the team, the same can not be said for the kudos. As mentioned, Elias Pettersson has been playing a respectable game to this point in the season, but another Swede who’s also had a strong start is Nils Höglander.

Höglander Playing Like His Life Depends on it

Sometimes players like Höglander can struggle to play at a different level than their team. So far this season though, despite the Canucks’ ongoing struggle to make themselves look good night in and night out, Höglander has been doing just that. 

The stats aren’t indicative of how well Höglander has been doing this year compared to last. In nine games played, Höglander has earned 1 point (0 goals and 1 assist) compared to his stats during the same time last year where he recorded 3 points in his first nine games of the season. 

In The Eye of the BeHogler

What’s really caught my eye is how Höglander’s play has been represented on the ice itself, excluding how his stats alone have looked so far this season, the eye test has been favourable to the young Canuck. 

Höglander has looked hungry every time his skates have touched the ice. If there were any doubts that Nils had yet to adjust to the North American style of play, those doubts should be all but gone. Höglander has proved that he can more than just play in this league, he can regularly excel at it as well.

Höglander is not the biggest guy out on the ice, but he doesn’t seem to know that himself. Höglander has been grinding out opponents in puck battles, being first to pucks – even when doing so has required him to seriously turn on the jets – and he’s been making the act of eliminating enemy shooting lanes look easy.

Offensively, Höglander has been demonstrating a heightened sense of spacial awareness, putting himself in ideal positions to receive passes and showing that he can be calm and collected in the attacking zone when he is gifted the puck by his teammates.

Even though I’m raving about Höglander doing well this season, it’s not to say he has been a passenger on the Canucks during his previous seasons. He’s still on this team because last year he proved that he’s more than just a passenger, and this year he’s continuing to prove that. 

Höglander not only looks like a player that’s trying his best to prove that he belongs on an NHL team, but he’s playing like a player who believes that he’s good enough to be an NHL regular. Those two things do not always line up as they should for players further down the depth chart like Höglander.

Play to Stay

As mentioned above, Höglander is playing for his life out there, as a Canuck anyway… As a Vancouver Canuck that is. In a weird way this team’s poor performance to start the year, combined with Höglander’s solid performance may have been the perfect storm for Nils and fans hoping that he stays on the main squad. Allvin and Rutherford didn’t make a massive amount of changes over the off-season, but the players they kept and the new ones they brought in, certainly made the competition for middle-six forwards more intense. 

J.T. Miller was extended, and Curtis Lazar, Andre Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikayev were brought on board. Although Höglander is not jockeying for the exact position with all the above-mentioned payers, they are all moves that retain strength and add depth, which could’ve been a personal problem for Höglander if he was not getting his own season off to such a hot start.

If Högs Leaves Rogers Arena

If this team doesn’t soon pull a five-game winning streak out of their backsides, significant shake-ups may be coming to this sooner than anyone, including Canucks management, would’ve likely expected. Even though Högs has been making a case for himself, sometimes radical change in organizations can have a trickle-down effect that can leave depth players out of a job sooner than the team’s top stars, and this isn’t always because the depth player in question necessarily deserves to go down.

If Höglander does start wearing Jonny Canuck as his main attire, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Höglander had a fast-tracked development, simply due to the need that the Canucks had at the time when he joined the team three seasons ago. If the team outgrows that need, it should be seen as a good thing for Vancouver and is not necessarily the end of the world for Högs either.

It would be a shame to send the young kid down when things seem to be clicking for him in the NHL, but gone are the days of banishing a prospect to the east coast. Canucks staff can still work very closely with their players in Abbotsford and a player like Högs would no doubt be sent there with a plan in place for him to develop his game and then return to Vancouver in the event of extremely impressive AHL performance or any NHL level injuries.

May this continue

Höglander has had a great start to his season. I hope that he can continue to show off his improved abilities and comfort at the NHL level. The immediate future may still be a bit cloudy for this team, but as far as Höglander is concerned, whether it will take him to Abbotsford or keep him in Vancouver, the future looks promising, both long-term and short.