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Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin aren’t getting much ice time and with a wounded lineup, they should be getting much more

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Faber
By Faber
9 months ago
The Canucks are missing their leading scorer at five-on-five due to Conor Garland being in COVID protocol. Then, the two players tied for second in goals at five-on-five have been averaging the least ice time out of all the forwards over the past nine games.
Yes, Garland has eight goals at five-on-five this season. After him, Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Höglander are tied for second with seven goals apiece. The young duo has been near the bottom of the ice time charts over the last nine games.
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All the while, Höglander and Podkolzin have both been putting up strong analytics when it comes to both possession and expected goals. Each of Höglander and Podkolzin has a Corsi for, shots for, expected goals for and scoring chances for over 52%.
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The duo of Podkolzin and Höglander showed very well when they were tasked with playing alongside Elias Pettersson, posting an 81.77% control of expected goal share in 10:58 of play together.
There have been questions about Höglander’s defensive play this season and that is fair, Höglander does have the worst expected goals against per 60 minutes aside from Justin Bailey. At the same time, Höglander is also second on the team in expected goals for per 60 minutes and is one of the six forwards on the team with a positive expected share of goals. Now, things haven’t looked as good for Höglander of late and if he looks like he’s in a slump, it’s because he is.
Over the last nine games, no player has a worse PDO than Höglander, and to be honest, the second-worst is not even close. Over the past nine games, Höglander is playing in front of 0.860 goaltending at five-on-five and when on the ice the Canucks’ shooting percentage is only 4.92%. The dude is not getting any luck on his side over the past few weeks — unless we’re talking about his work on the riverside.
Then there’s Podkolzin.
He is another one of those six forwards who have a positive expected share of goals as we mentioned earlier.
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Now, Bruce Boudreau has been open with the media about where he feels that Höglander needs to improve but the situation with Podkolzin is a little different. Boudreau seems to say nothing but nice things about Podkolzin yet still had him play under 10 minutes in four of the last seven games.
Podkolzin has shown that he is a trustworthy defensive player in the NHL this season. At five-on-five, he has been on the ice for 17 goals scored and only 11 scored against. That’s a 60.7% control of the goal share. Now, Podkolzin has been gifted with 0.949 goaltending when on the ice at five-on-five this season but that doesn’t completely take away how well he has played defensively in his rookie season. Podkolzin and Conor Garland are the only two Canucks forwards with an expected goals against per 60 that is under 2.3 while also having a positive control of the expected goal share.
Podkolzin has also scored some massive goals at five-on-five this season. On November 2nd, Podkolzin tied the game against the New York Rangers in the third period in a game where the Canucks went on to win in overtime. He scored the game-winning goal against the Dallas Stars on November 7th. And finally, he scored the game-tying goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 14th, the goal that tied the game in a game where the Canucks came back from three goals down and ultimately won it in overtime.
It’s been a good showing for Podkolzin and to play under 10 minutes a night feels like less than he deserves. I understand that the trio of Matthew Highmore, Juho Lammikko, and Tyler Motte has been good but I don’t believe that those players are the type of guys who should be logging second-line minutes at five-on-five. They are a great fourth line if used in that role but their bubble will soon burst if they are continually used in a matchup/second-line role.
I understand that the lineup has been in flux over the past couple of weeks with COVID and everything else going on with the team and it’s been hard to get into a rhythm with a lineup. It just feels like two of your top-scoring players at five-on-five should be given more opportunities to play late in games. After seeing multiple games where either Podkolzin or Höglander are benched throughout the third period, it felt like something I wanted to look into to see how bad these two have actually been defensively.
I think there’s a fair reason why Höglander might be a player who doesn’t get much ice time late in games when you are tied or winning but Podkolzin not playing in the third period feels inexcusable. When he is on his game, Podkolzin is a quality defensive forward who happens to be second on the Canucks in five-on-five scoring. Podkolzin does need to work on his consistency as he develops into an NHL player but this year should still be about developing these young players.
Boudreau is all about boosting confidence in players and it looks like he is beginning to do that with guys like Boeser, Miller and Pettersson but are players like Höglander and Podkolzin not getting as much of a Boudreau bump?
We will likely have to wait and see what happens when this team is back to being fully healthy and Boudreau can get back to four lines that he trusts. Until then, expect to see third periods where Podkolzin or Höglander could only be getting one or two shifts.

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