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Hoglander’s team MVP case & 5 other Canucks thoughts after a 4-1 win

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Vancouver Canucks
Nils Hoglander has been the best Canucks story this season.
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

In the preview prior to puck drop, I highlighted three players that deserved some love.

Well, that’s bump that list up to at least four after Nils Hoglander’s performance on Monday night — and throughout the entire season, for that matter.

Here are some postgame thoughts after the Canucks hang on to beat the reeling Winnipeg Jets 4-1 on Monday night.

The MVP case for King Nils

There have been a couple redeeming things about this season, although it’s a very short list...

  • Brock Boeser proved that he can carry a line by himself.
  • Thatcher Demko is a number one NHL goaltender.
  • Rathbone looks like a future top-four defenceman.

Of that short list, the emergence of 5’9” rookie Nils Hoglander is the best story of them all.

However, his performance right now is more than just a good story, he’s arguably the team’s MVP.

Consider this. The Canucks have played 14 games since returning from their COVID-19 outbreak. Over that span of games, Hoglander has 10 even-strength points.

No other Canucks player has more than five...and Hoglander has five even-strength goals alone.

He’s looking better with each passing game, and he now leads this team with 25 even-strength points on the season.

You have to wonder, if he was awarded power play time, is there a chance that he could be leading this team in points right now?

I also wonder if anyone else thinks that Hoglander’s a candidate for team MVP. The other candidates are Brock Boeser, whose production has dipped and Thatcher Demko, who’s been a horse for this team despite going 2-7-0 over his last nine games.

I’d be tempted to throw in a vote for Hoglander solely based on his team-leading even-strength production, although overall I’d probably say Demko deserves it most.

Analyzing JT’s drop off

After a season in which he finished 17th in Hart Trophy voting, it was unlikely that J.T. Miller was going to be as dominant in his repeat performance with the Canucks.

You have to wonder though, which season was a mirage for Miller?

Will he return to the player who was 25th in the league with 2.54 points-per-60 at even strength last season, or is he closer to being a forward who scores at a third-line rate (1.58 points-per-60) like he’s done this season?

For his career, Miller has posted 1.65 points-per-60. However, if you exclude the first two years of his NHL career where he was a seldom-used part-time player, that average jumps to 1.91, a solid second-line rate.

If he gets another full season with Elias Pettersson’s, you’d hope that he can find his dominant form from 2019-20. There’s a good chance he does, because he posted 2.61 points-per-60 with Pettersson when they played together this season.

Although there’s intrigue with the idea of having Miller as the third line centre next season, it’s not the most optimal option for this team.

Feeling that Highmore love

All of this Matthew Highmore love has been a little bit puzzling.

During 24 games with Chicago this season, the Halifax native only crested the 10-minute mark twice at even strength.

In 12 games with the Canucks so far, Highmore hasn’t fallen below 10:30 of five-on-five ice time in a single contest.

This feels like an organization giving a player a longer leash to try and justify a trade. Like a clown pulling handkerchiefs out of his shirt, the leash was extended even more last night, as Highmore played a season-high 15:46 at evens.

He has posted two assists in his last three games, but he continues to get lambasted at even-strength in terms of shots against.

I gotta say, I’m all out of Highmore love. In no way is he a long-term fit there, so it’s time to end this ill-fated experiment.

Thatcher stands tall

It’s hard to blame either Canucks goaltender when they finish the night with a sub-.900 save percentage. That’s happened on a number of nights lately.

Even on Saturday night in Edmonton, Demko was forced to make a number of noteworthy saves, but he finished the game with a .882 save percentage.

Against Winnipeg on Monday, Demko was back to his old ways, stopping 39 of 40 shots in a 4-1 win. It’s only his second win in his last nine starts, but he’s deserved better considering all the chances he faces playing behind this defence.

About Rathbone’s ceiling...

With the Canucks seriously lacking quality forwards, Travis Green employed the seldom-used three forward, two defenceman power play unit last night.

That allowed Jack Rathbone to get an opportunity on the first unit.

It was disappointing that the Canucks only had one power play against the Jets last night, but Rathbone was an effective part of the first unit with Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, Miller and Bo Horvat. They had four shots in 1:33 of ice time together, and Rathbone didn’t look out of place.

He also had his moments at even-strength as well, highlighted by his four blocked shots and effective gap control.

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

Although he’s only four games into his NHL career, it’s hard not to think about Rathbone’s ceiling.

He’s such a cerebral player, and the 21-year-old has already shown off his speed, on-ice intelligence and offensive instincts during his first four NHL games.

Rathbone seems to be locked in as a second-pairing, left-shot defenceman in Vancouver for the next decade. However, could his ceiling be that of a top-two defenceman? I wouldn’t rule it out.

Teammate bump

On last night’s episode of Power of the Towel, Nick Bondi and I talked about Rathbone’s potential, my opinion of Travis Green’s future in Vancouver, one intriguing player who could fit with the Canucks top-six next year, and much, much more.

I have to say that I’m so damn proud of everything that Bondi has accomplished since releasing the Power of the Towel podcast back in 2020. He’s had a number of great conversations, noteworthy guests, and he now appears regularly on Sportsnet 650 and other Canucks podcasts.

If you haven’t had the chance to check out Power of the Towel, I highly suggest you do so. Hell, it’ll be more entertaining than watching the Canucks over their final six games.