By: Trent Leith / October 7, 2022
Two years ago, Nils Höglander was looked at as one of the budding stars for the Canucks moving forward. Fast forward to this year’s training camp and he’s starting on an AHL line. He found himself on the outside looking in, leaving both fans and media to discuss whether he could crack the Canucks opening night lineup.
Höglander had a strong rookie year, putting up 27 points in a Covid-shortened season of 56 games. Unfortunately, his sophomore season lived up to the dreaded sophomore slump and he eventually fell out of favour with both Travis Green and Bruce Boudreau.
Höglander was one of the only players whose game didn’t improve under the new coach; in fact, he ended up getting scratched in February for the first time in his young career and saw his minutes continue to decrease throughout the season. In March, he was injured during a practice, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.
But now, with hard work – and some misfortune of others – Höglander looks to be all but a lock for the opening night lineup. A challenge was posed to Höglander by putting him in a depth line. Not only did he accept the challenge, he thrived, according to coach Boudreau.
“I was going to say, let me talk about Hogs because I think he’s the best player on the ice right now,” Boudreau told the media after the Canucks second day of training camp in Whistler.
It’s hard to shake the feeling he might be back to his old ways when your coach says “He looks so much faster than he did last year. Determination. He’s definitely, you know, he’s definitely ready. Last year was a little bit of a setback for him and he doesn’t want it to happen again.” This early in training camp, most players are still just trying to shake off the rust, but Höglander was already thriving.
Höglander has scored his only two preseason goals in back-to-back games against a veteran-heavy Oilers team. His first goal came off a no-look pass from Christian Wolanin which Höglander quickly let fly from the right side, opening the scoring for the Canucks. His second goal came on Wednesday night in Abbotsford. As you (probably can’t) see he was relentless in his chasing of the puck and was able to clean up a rebound on an OEL shot from the point. The Canucks would go on to win their first preseason game of the season.
Now, two goals and no assists are nothing to write home about. The fight for ice time on this roster is tougher than in previous years, but his work ethic, speed and skill are enough of a reason to give Höglander a shot in the lineup to start the season. Especially if Brock Boeser and Ilya Mikheyev are both recovering from injury.
Höglander’s talents are better fit for a top-nine role over a fourth-line position based strictly on his defensive play in his own end. The injuries to Mikheyev and Boeser are a blessing for him because it thins out the top-six just enough for him to be able to sneak in and grab a spot on the opening night roster. Giving him the chance to prove that last year’s sophomore slump was only that, a slump.