Is Nils Höglander a trusted goal scorer or trade bait for the Vancouver Canucks?: Year in review

Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
10 days ago
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For the second time in his young career, Nils Höglander announced his arrival in the National Hockey League. The hope now has to be that the 24 goals he scored this season will serve as a springboard to bigger and better things in the years to come.
The 23-year-old Swede finished the season with 24 goals and 36 points in 80 games. Höglander was seventh on the Canucks in regular season scoring despite being 20th in overall ice time. And all of his goals came at 5-on-5 where he finished tied for 10th in the league and was four better than JT Miller for the Canucks team lead.
Höglander serves as the poster boy for the Canucks player development department. As a raw rookie and a 20-year-old finding his way to the best league on the planet during a global pandemic, Höglander scored 13 goals in his first NHL season in the All-Canadian division in 2021. Despite the offensive prowess he showed, however, Höglander had trouble winning over then-head coach Travis Green, who saw warts in his play away from the puck.
Höglander didn’t fare much better under Green’s replacement, Bruce Boudreau, and was sent to the American Hockey League 25 games into the 2022-23 season. The Canucks believed in the offensive traits and the fierce forechecking that made Höglander a second round draft pick in 2019, however there were concerns about his defensive instincts and his play below the tops of the circles in his own zone..
To his credit, Höglander embraced the demotion to Abbotsford and worked on areas of his game that would allow him to return to the NHL on a full-time basis. And this season, he made the most of his opportunities. 
Starting in a fourth-line role, Höglander scored on 10 of his first 42 shots and had 10 goals in 33 games at Christmas time. It was around then that he earned a promotion to play higher in the line-up and continued to produce for the Canucks.
The two halves of Höglander’s season showed remarkable balance – 12+5=17 in the first half and 12+7=19 in the second – and he scored 10 goals in his final 33 games, just like he had in his first 33. So there was a consistency to Höglander’s production regardless of where he was in the season or where he found himself in the line-up.
And those concerns of past head coaches over Höglander’s defensive deficiencies? The underlying numbers this season show a player that controlled play by almost any metric. His individual Corsi was 53.3%, the Canucks held a 54.5% edge in expected goals and outscored opponents 52-29 with Höglander on the ice at 5-on-5.
It was a highly productive season for Höglander who sits seventh from his 2019 NHL Draft class with 50 goals and is 11th with 90 points in 221 career games.
For all the good and the significant steps forward Höglander took in his first season under Rick Tocchet, the playoffs, unfortunately, were a different story. A spark plug type player with boundless energy when he’s at his best, Höglander didn’t look anything like himself in his first taste of Stanley Cup action. Perhaps the stage was too big for him or maybe it was a case of a young player not wanting to make mistakes in high-stakes hockey games. Whatever the reason, Höglander was a shadow of himself when the puck dropped in the postseason.
He failed to register a point in six games against Nashville and with just one point through his first eight games, Höglander was a healthy scratch in Games 3 and 4 against the Oilers. Responding to the tough love, Höglander scored the Canucks lone goal in a Game 6 loss in Edmonton, but was a non-factor in the Game 7 winner take all showdown which didn’t go Vancouver’s way.
Overall in the playoffs, Höglander finished with one goal and one assist, was twice a healthy scratch, had eight shots on goal and averaged just 10:00 of ice time – down 2:06 from the regular season.
With one year remaining on a remarkable value deal that will pay Höglander $1.1M before he becomes a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, the Canucks need the feisty forward to learn from his playoff shortcomings and build on the terrific regular season he had. 
His name may come up in off-season trade talk as his performance surely caught the attention of other teams around the league. However, with the Canucks seeking more goal-scoring from the wings, it’s hard to imagine them moving Höglander unless the organization feels it would be selling high on a player who cooked with a 20% shooting percentage – well above his career average of 12.5%.
If he’s back, Höglander should slot in as a scoring threat, although expectations of him repeating as a 24-goal scorer may be misguided. But if he plays regularly, there’s no reason to think the club can’t count on him to provide 15-20 goals next season.
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