The 2021 Canucks training camp has taught us a few things.
- Nate Schmidt is another offensive dynamo on the backend.
- This is not going to be the year that Loui Eriksson finds his 30-goal form, and...
- The only one that really matters. Nils Höglander has arrived and everyone better watch out because he’s not here to mess around.
Poor Jake Virtanen. The hometown kid was supposed to be able to walk into a top-six role at training camp this season, but instead, a 20-year-old rookie with no North American professional hockey experience has rightfully stolen Virtanen’s thunder.
From day one of training camp, Nils Höglander was given the opportunity to skate alongside Bo Horvat and he's taken full advantage of it. Selected with the 40th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Höglander looks to be ready earlier than expected and that is welcome news for a franchise that saw a top-six winger walk away in free agency before this season.
Filling a Gap in the Forward Group
Prior to Canucks training camp. fans and media were trying to arrange the team’s lines and there were always some gaping holes. Would we have to see Eriksson back in the top-six where he would hamper the trio’s offensive potential? Would Virtanen skate alongside Horvat, forcing the Abbotsford-native to be pushed into defensive roles he might not be ready for?
Thankfully we may never have to find out as if Höglander’s play over the last week or so has been any indication of his talent, he may not relinquish this role. Before arriving in North America, fans only got to see flashes of his immense talent but there were still plenty of concerns over his production in the SHL.
Joel Eriksson Ek and Anton Rodin are both players that Canucks fans may be familiar with who have put up relatively similar numbers in the SHL at similar ages. It’s clear that despite the highlights there was no guarantee that Höglander would be an effective NHL contributor.
However, despite the lower point numbers the experience of playing for Rögle in the SHL was a beneficial one. I spoke to Peter Ekholm, a reporter who covers Rögle and the SHL in Sweden, about how he thought the years spent playing against men while most of his peers were still playing youth hockey affected Höglander’s development.
“I think that helped him a lot. He has developed his game each and every year in Rögle, being more mature and stronger to be able to compete harder on the ice, and I think a lot of that, with him still being young, has come from playing against men.”
Watch Höglander play and his strength and board play stands out for a player of his size, a skill that is necessary when playing more mature competition at a younger age.
How Hoglander Fits in with “The Group”
The Canucks are at an exciting point in their path to the Stanley Cup as they have assembled a talented young core that has shown flashes of elite potential. As they continue to add players to the team, making sure that they are a strong fit off the ice is just as important as the fit on the ice.
According to captain Bo Horvat, Höglander has fit in well in the dressing room thus far and it’s no surprise when you hear what he’s like off the ice.
“He’s very nice guy, always polite and humble, and I really like that, especially his humbleness after scoring those highlight goals,” said Peter Ekholm when asked about Hoglander’s off-ice demeanour. “Off the ice he works really hard which I think reflects his play this season”
Only time will tell how he performs this season for the Canucks but if training camp and a his resume of highlight-reel goals are any indication, Höglander will be a strong player for years to come. The only question that’s left is will Canucks fans see one of Höglander’s patented lacrosse style goals this year?
According to Peter, “The funny thing about Nils is that you never know what will happen when he is on the ice.”