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The Tape: How Nils Hoglander’s dynamic playmaking allowed him to dominate at the World Juniors

As one of the last cuts to Sweden’s U20 roster last year, Hoglander came into this year’s tournament using his disappointment as fuel.

His skill, vision, and motor propelled him into third-place in tournament scoring with 5 goals and 6 assists and helped earn his country a Bronze Medal. Hoglander has played predominantly against men in the Swedish Hockey League, so the tournament provided and opportunity to slide into a different role for the Swedish U20 team, where he excelled. Against his peers, the former second-round pick radiated offensive creativity and flair as the team’s top left-winger and established himself as an elite prospect.

As a draft-eligible player, Hoglander’s hands were considered among the best for his age group. As an 18-year-old playing in the SHL, he was known for his shiftiness in tight spaces and utilized his gift to score goals. This tournament showed that not only was this special talent beneficial for creating offense for himself but also for those around him– his linemate Samuel Fagemo led the tournament in goal-scoring thanks in part to Hoglander.

Dynamic puck handler in tight

Hoglander’s elite ability to create space and willingness to hold onto the puck to attract defenders made him a game-breaking playmaker for Sweden. Notice how three Swiss defenders are drawn to Hoglander on this play, leaving Samuel Fagemo wide open in front of the net. It is poor defending on Switzerland’s part but Hoglander’s ability to maintain possession of the puck in traffic and the wherewithal to calmly find Fagemo wide open is a testament to his dynamic puck handling.

Slippery and evasive

Even when one of his escape routes is blocked by the boards, Hoglander is adept at being slippery and evading pressure, turning what seems like a position disadvantage into a strength.

High IQ passer

Hoglander showed that he is a fantastic passer that can thread the puck through small openings between sticks and defenders. The second clip is a prime example of his passing prowess combined with his lightning-quick processing power. He receives the puck at the top of the half-wall with a defender already closing in on him. Before he receives the puck, he has his head on a swivel, calculating his next move. The puck is on and off his stick in an instant, much to the surprise of #23 in blue, and the offensive zone time is kept alive as Hoglander’s pass hits the tape of his teammate in the high slot.

Strong down low

The Swedish forward also showed that he is very capable down low as evidenced by his usage on Sweden’s first power-play unit. He was used as the net-front presence to strong effect scoring 3 of his 5 goals on the power-play, 2 of them from in tight around the net. What is relevant here is the method he  to protect and win back pucks down low. He plays a fearless game and doesn’t shy away from contact.

Using his lower-body, Hoglander is similar to another Swedish Canuck when protecting the puck, Elias Pettersson. Like Pettersson, Hoglander makes up for his weight by using his hips and smooth puck handling to play keep away from defenders. His low center of gravity and core strength allow him to stay on his feet and counter the force felt from behind while also helping him constantly change direction.

The fact that Hoglander has shown that he doesn’t need ample space and time to create offence is a promising sign that he can handle the transition to the smaller North American ice surfaces when the time comes.

Puck management

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One of the low-points of Hoglander’s tournament was this turnover in the Bronze Medal game that directly led to Matias Maccelli’s goal. Breaking out of his own zone, Hoglander receives the puck at the top of the left circle, just before his own blueline, and attempts to force a cross-ice feed. Poor puck management was a noticeable theme throughout Hoglander’s tournament but isn’t grounds for too much criticism.

Along the half-wall, he tried a no-look through the legs pass. Samuel Fagemo (#11 in yellow) is accelerating, high in the defensive zone, looking for an outlet pass off the boards and doesn’t expect the quick one-touch that Hoglander executes. This is partially a communication/chemistry error but Hoglander could stand to mix in the safer play, especially when there are two forecheckers on him.

This time in the neutral zone, Nils Hoglander tries a no-look drop pass which is promptly intercepted by the Finnish player standing right there, resulting in a 3-on-2 for Finland.

Flair and creativity are a staple to Hoglander’s game but recognizing when he needs to make the responsible play with the puck will be the next step in his development. He displayed a tremendous level of skill and confidence from Hoglander at this year’s World Junior Championships and it has cemented him as one of the game’s top prospects. However, a two-week tournament is just another piece to the puzzle and does not equate to NHL stardom. The young Swedish prospect will head back to the SHL and will look to continue his strong play against players much older than he is. Canucks fans will be watching closely.