Höping för Höglander

By: Brayden Fengler / August 30, 2023  

This is a make-it-or-break-it year for Nils Höglander. He’s in his third year of playing NHL games for the Canucks. Now at 22 years old (23 in December), the Canucks probably hoped that he had a little more to show for his time in the NHL to date.

However, thanks to prolonged development time in Abbotsford last season, Nils will have a strong foundation of improvement to draw from heading into this NHL season, and more importantly this Canucks training camp. Will this be the year that he proves to have staying power?

Höglander’s NHL Performance

Höglander’s best NHL season was his first. During the year of the Canadian Division in 2020-21 Höglander earned 27 points across 56 games played, during the shortened NHL covid season. These points for Nils were split nearly evenly in terms of goals and assists, pointing to the well rounded potential that Höglander held at the time, and fans hope that he still holds.

Since that year however, his overall production has unfortunately not continued to trend upwards, playing 60 games in Vancouver the following season with 9 fewer points to show for it on the year. The year after that, (this past year) Höglander spent only 25 games playing for the big club and in such time he totaled just 9 points.

His overall deployment in regards to time on ice with the Canucks has stayed largely the same across each season, so it’s not as though the club is not trying to give him chances, Höglander to this point just hasn’t been capitalizing on those chances.

Down the Road in Abbotsford

As mentioned, last year Höglander only played 25 games on the season for the main club, meaning that the bulk of his trade was applied in Abbotsford.

Höglander played 45 games for the greener Canucks and through that time he showed up in a big way for the club. He finished the season with an average of .71 points per game resulting in 32 points on the season. To further highlight Höglander’s dominance in the AHL he had the best goal-per-game percentage out of any Abbotsford Canucks forward who played more the 40 games on the season.

Needless to say, Höglander didn’t just blend in in Abbotsford, or regress into an AHL mean. Höglander very much demonstrated that he was an NHL player developing in the AHL. There is a big difference between the players who choose to use their time in the minor leagues as a stepping stone versus those who choose to put their foot down and drag their heels once sent there. Höglander demonstrated that he is the type of player to take an AHL assignment as intended. It’s a chance to slow things down and focus on developing game by game. If you can dominate while doing so as Höglander did, well, all the better.

Höglander was also a point per game in the team’s short-lived journey in the playoffs last season. Höglander finished those six games with an even six goals, leading all Abbotsford players.

The Season to Come.

Being an impressive AHL player is well… impressive but it doesn’t make a quality NHL player just like that. The competitive step up is of course significant, and Höglander needs to use this year to prove that he can manage that step.

Towards the end of last season, Allvin stated to see a lack of “confidence” in Höglander’s presence in the NHL. This along with Höglander nearly playing enough games to have him qualify for waivers, is why the team made the call to send him to the AHL for further development.

With that development, Höglander has put himself in a good position to make the team next year, although he is far from a lock. This will very much be a training camp decision due to younger prospects starting to fight for a chance of their own, and other middle-six talent that was signed over the off-season.

In a recent article, I projected Höglander to narrowly make the team, and start on the fourth line with the likes of Sheldon Dries and Phillip Di Giuseppe on the opposite wing. Höglander often skated with top-line talent during his short stints with the main club last year, often playing with J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Andrie Kuzmenko. Perhaps Höglander would benefit from playing on less high-stakes lines without the pressure of rubbing elbows with players who demand high production every shift. He played with Dries as well towards the end of his time in Vancouver last year, so this potential line wouldn’t be too strange for him.

Has He Planted His Last Potato?

The Canucks recently added Pius Suter; he is predominantly a centre, but has played left wing before and immediately ranks higher on the depth chart than Höglander. This among other additions may put pressure on Nils heading into training camp but I still believe the the organization is hoping that he claims a spot this year. If he has a better camp than Aidan McDonough or Linus Karsson to name a few, this will further help his case and an initial roster spot should be his.

This time next year, however, when the Swedish player is nearly 24 years old, Höglander may not be afforded the same chances and the same support from the organization. Höglander is a young man by life’s standards. But fast approaching his mid-20s with not a lot of NHL production to show over that time usually means a change of scenery in the NHL or further and less optimistic development in the AHL. This is the year for Höglander to stake his claim or earn the Canucks some assets while there is still value in the player.