By: Brayden Fengler / April 19, 2022
Barring any Wolverine-esque healing factor, Nils Höglander has played his last game as a Vancouver Canuck this season. Having already had a stand-in fill his shoes during the club’s 2022 team photo taken earlier this week, his absence is clear now if it wasn’t before.
Höglander has indeed skipped town, with no reasonable timeline for return this season. This makes for quite the underwhelming bookend to Höglander’s second season in the NHL.
Nils narrowly appeared in more games this year than he did during last year’s shortened season. with 60 games played this season, to his 56 contests played during the 2020-21 campaign. So with the door closed on the young Swede’s second year, how did he do? and is there anything to worry about before his third NHL campaign?
Injury and Recent Production
It was just over a month ago now that Höglander left Canucks practice with some visual discomfort, and unfortunately, number 21 has not been back in a Canucks uniform since then.
Höglander was dealing with a lower-body muscle injury, with coach Bruce suspecting at the time that it was a grade 2 strain, specifically in his left leg. The timeline for return on an injury such as that is typically just shy of a month at best or pushing a month and a half at worst.
However, with Nils’ injury occurring five weeks ago now, and him just undergoing surgery for the injury, it looks like the best-case scenario was not in the cards. Or even if it was, the Canucks weren’t planning on rushing him back into the fold.
His team isn’t out of the running for a playoff spot just yet, but, the odds are indeed slim enough that the long-term health of the young player is likely to remain more important than the difference he would make by being thrust back into the lineup too soon.
The difference Höglander has been making up until his injury hasn’t been too much to write home about. Höglander earned three points in his last 20 games played for the team, with his average time on ice sitting around 10 minutes per night.
Sometimes he was even being deployed as low as seven minutes on a given night. This recent deployment has been a stark contrast to his utilization last year where the young Swede never even came close to seeing less than 10 minutes of ice time per game. Often times Höglander’s TOI sat between 17-20 minutes on the night, making him as vital a piece of the Canucks puzzle as any of the team’s top talent.
Höglander’s Year-Long Production
This year, Höglander’s game seemed to be the definition of a sophomore slump. He’s had stretches of decent production and a few multi-point contests in the early months of the season, but that trend did not follow Höglander into the later months this year.
Höglander finishes his campaign with 18 points over the course of 60 games. Making his production on the year a drastic downtick from his 27 points in 56 game season that he had during his first year in Vancouver.
Höglander hasn’t looked terrible, and he hadn’t earned the same level of criticism that Elias Pettersson had earlier this year, with some fans even advocating for Pettersson to spend time with the Abbotsford Canucks.
But Höglander is not meant to produce at the same level as Pettersson, so his lack of criticism is warranted. However, what has been made evident by the lack of outcries about Höglander’s performance this year, is that he has almost committed a worse sin than performing poorly, and that’s performing “fine”.
More often than not this year, Höglander’s performance has ranged from okay, to less than ideal, to unnoticeable. The rookie hasn’t been the victim of many plays that lead to opposing goals, but he hasn’t been the driving force of many plays towards the attacking team’s end either. He’s just been kinda… there.
Höglander was at least not shying away from his chances this year though, on the season Höglander has the highest number of shots per average TOI on the team, producing 132 shots on the season. This still puts him at ninth on the Canucks in that category as of today, all while he sits with an average TOI of just 13:07.
Meanwhile, defenceman Quinn Hughes, with 10 more games played than Höglander, has produced 134 shots on the year, with an average TOI of 25:09 minutes-per-game. Now of course Hughes and Höglander play different positions and are different kinds of players altogether, but with Quinn nearly doubling Högs TOI combined with Quinn’s knack for offense, it’s insanely impressive that Höglander has managed to keep pace with #43 this season in terms of shots on net.
His Character is Undeniable
Although Höglander may have been more subtle this year in terms of his on-ice performance, his presence off-ice and throughout the fan base has been well observed this season. Most recently Höglander and Petey’s friendship came to the forefront of the conversation around this team, with the media’s realization that Höglander likes to wear Petey’s gloves, you know, like something a younger brother would do.
This incident also had the added bonus of giving fans a glimpse into the overall strong bond that the team’s young players have with each other. Displayed in full during Trent’s Botchford Project piece, where Höglander not only elaborated on the on and off the ice bond that he has with Pettersson but also on the overall comradery that exists between all players on the team.
Höglander’s candor here should reassure fans of a few things. Namely, despite the team’s up and down performance on the ice this season, the locker room environment is not one of the many things that are in need of fixing with the franchise.
Additionally, in Höglander’s case specifically, having a healthy and friendly team environment will only help the young player break out of his slumping performance faster. When your team has your back, it makes it okay to fail, and okay to ask for help, and clearly Höglander has that support network with the Canucks.
So the main thing here is not to panic, I wrote a piece at the start of this season, posing the very question about what we are dealing with right now. (If Höglander Slumps, How Will The Canucks Manage?).
Well, I said it then and I’ll say it again, don’t worry, a sophomore slump is one of the most well-documented ailments in all of professional hockey. It happens, but when it does, the player needs a healthy environment and guidance to bust out of it. Höglander has that.
Höglander was too good for too long last year, for us to think that that has all gone away after one less than impressive season. Next year Höglander should be back with a vengeance, so long as Petey lets him keep borrowing those magic gloves.