Monday Mailbag: Converting Canucks wingers to centre and some thoughts on Tom Willander

Photo credit:Matthew Henderson
By Faber
1 year ago
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After a busy week at Vancouver Canucks development camp, the team put pen to paper with Nils Höglander on a two-year contract extension.
We certainly appreciate the news drop on a Sunday because it gives us something to use in the intro of our mailbag article.
Höglander improved during his time in the AHL. We saw a more polished finisher as well as him fitting into a defensive system better than he was showing in his time at the NHL level during the 2022-23 season. Jeremy Colliton had his Abbotsford Canucks playing very good hockey as a group and Höglander was probably the best forward in 30-40% of his AHL games. He certainly has the tenacity that Rick Tocchet should like and we see Höglander making the NHL roster out of main camp.
He may be used in a fourth-line role and that’s where we wonder about his fit in the lineup. Höglander might see some time with the second power play unit but we don’t see him getting any time on the penalty kill unless that’s something he has been focusing on adding to his game this offseason. For him to chalk out a role as a fourth-line player, Höglander will need to bring offence in that role. He will need to be able to dominate against bottom-six competition and we believe that is very possible with Höglander’s skillset.
The crowded depth chart on the wings won’t make it easy, and Höglander is far from a lock in the lineup but he should be able to find a role with Tocchet if he can bring enough offence in a fourth-line role while being good enough defensively. We believe his effort level will need to be on full display during his first few games under Tocchet. The Canucks’ head coach really liked what Phil Di Giuseppe did under Tocchet’s system and Vasily Podkolzin as well as veterans like Anthony Beauvillier and potentially Tanner Pearson will be in the mix for bottom-six wing spots.
It’s an uphill battle for Höglander but his past success in the NHL and his high-revving motor will certainly bode well with what Tocchet wants from a player. Höglander will not be able to take shifts off if he wants to remain an NHLer through the season but if he is unable to do so, his $1,100,000 is completely buriable in the AHL.
This contract makes a lot of sense and also makes him a very moveable asset if the Canucks don’t find a spot for him in their NHL lineup.
Now, with the Höglander talk out of the way, we have a great set of questions this week, so, let’s dive right in and see what the wonderful people of #CanucksTwitter had to ask this week.
No more wasted words, let’s go!
It sure would be amazing if Vasily Podkolzin could make that transition but we don’t think it will happen. Podkolzin has the smarts to do it, I’m not a professional player, so I just don’t know how hard it would be — I have to imagine that it would be possible for Podkolzin if he put his mind to it. We’ve seen him take faceoffs in penalty kill situations with Abbotsford in the AHL as well as at times with Russia during some of his international play.
Dakota Joshua has primarily been used as a winger but he certainly can play centre. I’m not so confident that he would be effective in a 3C role but maybe that gets given a shot at some point this season.
I’d be into seeing Brock Boeser try to play the position. He’s made a lot of changes to his game since coming in and being a sniper-only rookie. Boeser seems to be the forward who jumps into the circle quickest after a centre is moved out. He’s actually taken about 300 faceoffs over his seven-year career. Boeser is more of a facilitator now and his defensive numbers have improved a ton over the past few years. Having Boeser be your 3C would solve a lot of problems and make his cap-hit much more valuable.
I don’t see either Podkolzin or Boeser getting a run at centre — that’s a pipedream but can totally see Joshua getting a chance.
I believe that it is going to be an open competition for both the NHL and AHL backup jobs.
Nikita Tolopilo will be the AHL backup unless he is outplayed by Zach Sawchenko. If Sawchenko wins the job, I’d expect Tolopilo to head to the ECHL.
Even with the five pro contracts, I’d bet that Spencer Martin has the inside track to win the NHL backup role. He did enough good things at the end of the AHL season/playoffs and will be given a shot to play behind this new system. He’s not out of strikes just yet as an NHLer but he’s certainly got one or two against him as he steps up to the plate this year.
Ultimately, they will be able to patchwork the backup position together fine. You feel confident if having to go to Arturs Silovs becomes a reality from Martin’s play and we’re pretty high on this Tolopilo kid. He played a ton and had great numbers in the Allsvenskan. Tolopilo is about to get coaching that is at a level like he’s never had before in his life. He is raw but if he buys into the Clark-Torenius plan, he will be fine.
Good lasagna beats good spaghetti.
Average spaghetti beats average lasagna.
Bad spaghetti is edible while bad lasagna is not.
It’s likely that he’s going to take some time to grow in the North American game. Filip Johansson will likely begin the season in the AHL and we will not be shocked to see him play a full season in the minors.
Jett Woo, Noah Juulsen, and maybe even Cole McWard are ahead of Johansson on the organizational depth chart of right-shot defencemen. Johansson should get some offensive chances in the AHL like time on a power play unit. If he can find the pace in the AHL, there may be enough to see there to feel some confidence about Johansson playing in the NHL but right now, you just don’t have the confidence in Johansson playing in the NHL.
So, to answer your question, I believe he will play the entire season in the AHL unless there are a few injuries to the defence corps.
The potential to be a top-pairing defenceman is certainly there with Tom Willander’s pure skating ability and size. There’s a ton of ceiling-reaching development that needs to happen for him to be a top-pairing calibre player.
Willander may not have the potential to be a number one defenceman in the NHL but he certainly could fit alongside a number one. That’s what makes the top-pairing vs. top-four debate hard to talk about. As you somewhat mentioned in your question, Quinn Hughes can make a lot of right-shot defencemen into top-pairing defencemen. That’s got to be the hope for Willander. If he can get himself into the conversation of being a top-four defenceman in the NHL, he will certainly be alongside Hughes and that would make Willander a top-pairing defenceman.
If he was thrown onto a random team, you are probably looking at top-four potential but if your team has a strong number one left-shot defenceman, Willander certainly has top-pairing upside. If he can improve his skating while rounding out the rest of his game, he will be the perfect partner for Hughes. We’ve seen Hughes have a lot of partners that work on a pairing but we have not really seen a partner make Hughes even better. That’s the potential that Willander has, so, that being said, I guess you could make the argument that Willander has top-pairing potential because if you have a defenceman make your number one defenceman better, I’d call that a top-pairing defenceman.
Nils Aman, Max Sasson and Tristen Nielsen likely top our as third-line centres. Aatu Räty has second-line centre potential.
Top-four in the pacific division.
There isn’t really a prospect who has a strong chance of making the NHL roster out of camp. Arshdeep Bains, Jett Woo, or Aidan McDonough might have a chance.
In terms of making the biggest leap in development this season, I’d look towards Aatu Räty, Elias Pettersson or Jonathan Lekkerimaki making the biggest jump after what they did last season. Willander will likely see a lot of improvement after he gets used to the NCAA as well.
Give me 33 points for the year. I don’t think Vasily Podkolzin will be an everyday top-six player but I’d bet he sees a decent amount of time there.
The bonus doesn’t affect the cap hit. His cap-hit changes throughout the season though. Many teams will be able to take Tyler Myers at the trade deadline — especially at 50% retained.
I’m not surprised Connor Lockhart didn’t get a contract. His size just wasn’t going to cut it for the Canucks. Lockhart was not at Canucks development camp, I’d assume he gets an AHL deal with another organization.
First-round picks get 10 extra chances to be successful.
Probably between $7,500,000 and $9,500,000 depending on the term.
I can see Bains or Linus Karlsson being a forward call-up and Akito Hirose or Jett Woo being the first defenceman to come up.
Hell yeah. I’d bet he is working on his shot a lot this offseason.
Swiss cheese is just so stretchy and tasty — that’s my pick but Kraft Singles go hard for a grilled cheese if you don’t want to be fancy.
A player try-out is a chance for a player to come into camp and compete to earn a contract. It’s just an opportunity for a player to skate with a team without a contract. Sort of like an invite.
That wraps up another Monday Mailbag here at CanucksArmy. Thanks to everyone who sent in a question and we will do this again next week.
Be well, everyone.

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