Brayden Fengler / January 18, 2021
Scoring your first NHL goal in your first NHL game is definitely up there for one of the best ways a Hockey player can start their NHL career. Not every player can be an Auston Matthews and score four goals in their first game, some players have to fight hard just to get one. Fight hard Nils Höglander sure did.
Höglander Knows Where to Be.
Positioning, positioning, positioning. Did I mention Höglander has shown great positioning? This is definitely not one of the sexiest traits for a player to have, but it’s one of the most important. Not having good positioning, is like leaving your house without your phone. Sure, you can still go about your business, but you’ll probably miss out on some opportunities. Thankfully This is not an issue for Höglander. Both offensively and defensively he’s appeared to be a strong contributor for his team so far.
Höglander has shown the ability to make the right decisions under pressure. On multiple occasions in his first three NHL games, he’s been able to keep possession of the puck, while facing heavy opposition pressure. This while still being able to make a pass that doesn’t just put his fellow teammate in an equally tight position, but actually creates opportunity for them.
The 411 on Höglander’s TOI
Hoglander has proved himself to be a valued part of Bo Horvat’s line. Between Höglander and Tanner Pearson, they’ve definitely begun the process of taking the second line from a shutdown group into a squad that can assist with putting much needed secondary scoring on the board.
Travis Green’s faith in Höglander and his linemates to produce for the team is evident in his deployment thus far. Höglander has averaged a total of 18:40 TOI with an average PP TOI of 4:43. This makes Höglander the fourth-highest deployed Canuck forwards so far this season behind, of course, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and at the top, his linemate and captain Bo Horvat.
Höglander saw the most play in game number two against the Edmonton Oilers. Although he couldn’t produce on the score sheet again for his team, it was for no lack of opportunities. Höglander had a whopping 21:45 TOI in game two with 7:57 PP TOI. However, all that special team time amounted to nothing for Höglander and his team as the only Canucks goals in that 5-2 loss came on even strength.
On paper Höglander hasn’t been much to write home about since his debut, but in reality that’s because the team as a whole hasn’t been able to find it’s stride since their victory in game number one. Höglander is not a player that is going to be able to change the tides of a game at this stage in his career, but when things are moving in a good direction for his club, he’s going to be able to ride that wave and put himself in positions to make a difference.
See this clip of Höglander strong board work, as he helps the puck find Pearson, which leads to Bo’s goal in game one:
What Do the Next Few Weeks Look Like for Höglander?
Going forward I see no reason why Höglander’s position in the line up would be drastically changed. Three games into his NHL debut he’s proven that he’s worthy of a spot in the top six and on power play one.
What Höglander does need to work on is trusting himself, and his ability to shoot the puck. He’s completed seven shots on goal so far this season, and with the positions he creates for himself, that number should really be higher.
Höglander’s first and only goal so far was 90% positioning 10% just making sure to contact the puck to send it in the open side:
On a few occasions Höglander favoured to pass the puck rather than try for a shot himself, when perhaps a shot attempt would’ve been the better option.
In this moment photographed below, Höglander was momentarily uncontested, and instead of taking a beat to reposition himself for a shot on Jacob Markstrom, he opted to centre the puck into the slot crowded with Calgary Flames players. Ultimately nothing came of this opportunity. It’s moments like this that we’ll hopefully see Höglander take more control of, as he gets comfortable with his top six position.
Guess Who’s Back?
There is reason to be hopeful, that the Canucks won’t continue down their current losing skid, with J.T. Miller rejoining the team. This will hopefully give the Canucks’ top line a much-needed shot in the arm, and allow the second line to turn the team’s top six into the one-two punch that Green is hoping for.
Miller’s return to the lineup will likely send either Höglander or Boeser down to the second power-play unit. Both players in question have made equally justified cases for themselves, as to why they deserve deployment on the first PP unit.
Green may opt to keep Boeser on PP1 and move Höglander to the second unit. Boeser is a known product at this point, whereas Höglander’s floor and ceiling have yet to be discovered. Boeser also has more proven chemistry between himself and Pettersson, which can always be useful for intense offensive zone cycles on the man advantage.
Höglander definitely turned the most heads in his debut this season. However, he’s continued to make smart plays and subtle choices, that shouldn’t give Canucks fans any reason to question the top six deployment he’s earned. Hopefully, for Canucks fans, the team can start producing on the whole, as they look to avoid a 1-3 record tonight, against the Flames.