In the hockey world, the word “enigma” has taken on a negative connotation. Usually, when one describes a player as such, what they really mean is “inconsistent,” referring to those players from whom one never knows what they’re going to get on a nightly basis.
In a sense, that’s also true of Nils Hoglander, though only in the most positive sense. Oxford Languages defines an enigma as “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand,” and that hews a little more closely to the reality of Hoglander, because one can never be too sure that he’s done adding new eye-popping elements to his game. With Hoglander, the puzzling mystery lies not in whether he’ll be an NHL player one day, but in just how good of one he’ll be — and in how multifaceted his skillset will be by the time he gets there.
As such, there are almost too many reasons to list as to why we’ve ranked Hoglander second overall in our CanucksArmy 2020 prospect rankings — but we’re going to do our level best, anyway.
Obviously, the first thing one must talk about when discussing the still-19-year-old Hoglander, selected 40th overall in the 2019 Entry Draft, is his offensive prowess. It’s something that the folks at EliteProspects have summed up rather succinctly, writing that, “Höglander stands out with his exceptional puck skills and hands. Really good stickhandler and he loves getting creative with the puck, scoring spectacular goals at times. Decent skater who accelerates well and works very hard along the boards in the offensive zone.”
After lighting up the J20 SuperElit at 17, Hoglander played the bulk of his draft season in the SHL, where he made the difficult adjustment to playing against men and managed to put up 14 points in 50 games.
The following season didn’t start out as the explosive Draft+1 campaign that spoiled Vancouver fans have come to expect from their draft picks. Hoglander’s production plateaued a bit in the SHL — ultimately leaving him with just nine goals and 16 points in 41 games — though his overall game continued to round out.
Instead, Hoglander saved his big breakout for the World Junior Championships.
With five goals and six assists in just seven games — including a lacrosse goal that will be shown on WJC highlight reels for decades to come — Hoglander finished third overall in tournament scoring and helped Sweden to a bronze medal.
Speaking of that lacrosse goal… let's watch it again. 🇸🇪 pic.twitter.com/EpgRugSV36
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 28, 2019
Finally, the rest of the hockey world was ready to talk about what a second-round coup Jim Benning and Co. appeared to have made. But Hoglander was not anywhere near done developing his enigmatic skillset.
Rogle BK gm Chris Abbott on Nils Hoglander : He is getting more ice time and developing, his shot is way better, the release and quickness and he is super accurate.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) September 14, 2020
The outset of the 2020/21 campaign has seen Hoglander back with Rogle in the SHL — on loan for now, until Canucks camp commences — where he’s finally bringing his trademark production to the pros, and then some.
Our own Chris Faber has been on the Hoglander beat all season long and, as he noted, it did take Hoglander 11 games to pick up his first goal of the year.
Nils Höglander with his first 🚨GOAL🚨 of the season!
He kept it simple on a penalty shot. pic.twitter.com/Dih2iUxBrW
— 𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 Faber 🤙🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) October 27, 2020
But Hoglander has been generous with the helpers all the while — with some of them being truly spectacular to behold — and he’s up to nine points in 13 games as of this writing, which is an impressive rate for a player who is, it bears repeating, still a teenager.
What a play by Nils Höglander!
He gets the primary 🍎assist🍎 on this power play goal after a couple great moves in the offensive zone.
Vancouver Canucks prospects are having a DAY today! pic.twitter.com/1KzklG8LhB
— 𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 Faber 🤙🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) November 12, 2020
And, as Faber noted in an October article, the good news doesn’t stop there. Hoglander has turned into, as Faber puts it, “one of the best two-way players in the SHL this season,” and those advanced stats that are available certainly back that up. Hoglander is currently rocking one of the best Corsi ratings in the entire league, and that suggests he’s still got a lot more to give when it comes to production.
It also means that his defensive abilities are coming along faster than anyone could have anticipated from such a flashy prospect, and that will punch his ticket to NHL ice-time faster than anything.
A statistical map of Hoglander’s three SHL seasons thus far, put together by @betterthanamnky on Twitter, yields some similarly encouraging inferences.
Some excellent tracking of the SHL done by @betterthanamnky.
Here's some cool stuff on Nils Hoglander's three SHL seasons and a heat map of his current season. pic.twitter.com/YhSk9wsMlh
— 𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 Faber 🤙🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) November 5, 2020
Not only does it highlight how dangerous Hoglander is in and around the net, it also shows that his offensive flowering has occurred without an increase in ice-time or secondary points. This suggests that he’s not benefitting from preferential treatment from the coaching staff nor any exceptional greatness on behalf of his teammates; he’s putting up points the hard way.
Combine that with a seriously depressed shooting percentage, and one can’t help but expect a further scoring explosion from Hoglander as the season progresses — unless, of course, he leaves on a permanent trip to Vancouver in the next couple of months.
As training camp approaches, that’s starting to look more likely.
Craig Button recently told TSN1040 that he believed Hoglander “will be more than capable of coming in and contributing to the Vancouver Canucks in the very near future. I think that he could challenge for a spot in the lineup this year. He’s fast, he’s competitive…he’s a catalyst, he makes things happen. He disrupts opponents, he makes life uncomfortable for opponents.”
All of which agrees with the central conclusion we’ve reached in our ranking of Hoglander. He may not be the Canucks’ top prospect, but he’s still top-end, and may just be the most NHL-ready of the bunch.