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Canucks’ Top 25 Under 25 (2022 Edition): #6 Nils Höglander’s talent is overshadowed by inconsistency

The 21-year-old could begin the season down the the Abbotsford Canucks

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Tampa Bay Lightning v Vancouver Canucks
Nils Hoglander set the bar high for himself after 2020-21, but got off on the wrong foot with this new coaching staff.
Getty Images

Welcome to the Canucks Top 25 Under 25 Rankings, the series that makes you wish you were under 25 again. The list includes all players born after April 15th, 1998.

About 16 months ago, Nils Höglander looked like he was going to be a top-six player in Vancouver for the next decade.

Now...he could begin the season in the AHL.

It’s been a wild turn of events for young Höglander, who currently ranks fifth among players drafted in 2019 with 116 career NHL games played. The only players who rank ahead of him are the top three picks (Jack Hughes, Kappo Kakko, Kirby Dach), and seventh overall pick, Dylan Cozens.

He’s proven already that he was worthy of a first-round selection, so kudos to Canucks management for snagging him at 40th overall.

While he’s already further ahead than most of his draft class, there’s no doubt that Höglander has moved backward on the Canucks depth chart.

The youngster took advantage of a golden opportunity in 2020-21, when he only had to beat out guys like Jake Virtanen and Loui Eriksson for a spot in the top six.

Now, after losing trust from Bruce Boudreau thanks to his shoddy defensive-zone play, Höglander hasn’t just lost a spot in the top-six, but he might have lost his spot on the 23-man roster.

You can understand the logic in not wanting to pigeonhole Höglander into a fourth-line role. Typical fourth-lines are often defensively responsible, first and foremost, with secondary scoring being, well, a secondary objective.

That being said, Höglander does work his ass off, as his former trainer once described, and could excel in a fourth-line role while playing against softer competition.

Hell, he already proved once that he can score in a top-six role. Who’s saying he can’t do the same against lesser competition in a bottom-six role?

For all the noise about a potential Höglander demotion, the winger wasn’t brutal by any stretch last season. He actually shot the puck more, registered more scoring chances, and had the third-best expected goals-for percentage among all regular Canucks skaters (trailing only Tanner Pearson and Conor Garland).

Heck, even during a three-game road trip in November when everyone on the team was playing like they hadn’t slept in a week, it was Hoglander who scored in three straight losing efforts.

Still, it was his lack of positioning in the defensive zone that got him in trouble. Höglander was often ready to exit the zone before the puck was moving up the ice. At other times, he looked lost in terms of who he was supposed to cover. These are teachable habits, and you could argue that the Canucks coaching staff would benefit by teaching him how to do this at the NHL level, rather than by demoting him to the AHL.

What’s Next for Höglander?

Aside from Michael DiPietro, there isn’t a Canuck under 25 who heads into 2022-23 with as much uncertainty as Höglander.

On day one of training camp, he began on a line with fellow Swedes Nils Aman and Linus Karlsson, who are both destined to begin the season in the AHL.

Those combinations were crafted by a coach who’s already said he’d like to see his lines from day 1 of camp remain the same for the opening night of the regular season.

Unless Höglander bulldozes his way up the depth chart, there’s now a good chance that he could begin the season in the AHL. That seemed unthinkable back in May 2021, when he nearly led the Canucks in even-strength scoring as a 20-year-old rookie.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world for Höglander to go and torch the AHL, but I wouldn’t bet against him forcing his way back onto the NHL roster before the regular season begins.