Nils Höglander is working to find his confidence while he moves up and down the Canucks’ lineup
Photo credit:© Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
By Faber1 year ago
“I feel like I can play with more confidence. I don’t really have my confidence. I will have it but sometimes you need to work through that.”
That was what Nils Höglander said when we asked him about the lack of scoring and his effort to regain his form as a creative, ultra-skilled puck handler.
It’s been a rocky start to the 2022-23 campaign for the now 21-year-old.
In his rookie year, the 19-year-old Swedish fire hydrant primarily played alongside Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. He finished that 2020-21 season with 13 goals and 14 assists in 56 games. Höglander was in the lineup every game and was a bright spot on a team that finished last in the funky Canadian division.
This season, Höglander has found himself in many different spots throughout the Canucks’ lineup. He’s seen time with Elias Pettersson, Nils Aman, or Sheldon Dries as his centre and even played a game on the top line with J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat.
Höglander has played a minimum of 10 minutes of five-on-five ice time with 11 different forwards through 14 games.
In comparison, Pettersson has played 10+ minutes with eight different forwards, Miller has played 10+ minutes with nine forwards, Aman has done it with eight, and Kuzmenko with nine.
Nobody has moved around this lineup more than Höglander and it’s been tough for him to build chemistry with any line that he’s gotten an opportunity to play on. Höglander has held a positive control of expected goals when he is playing with Andrei Kuzmenko, Elias Pettersson, Dakota Joshua, J.T. Miller, and Nils Aman.
Still, the bottom line for Höglander has not been very impressive, with only one goal and two assists through 14 games played.
Even with the constant movement through the lineup — and sometimes out of it — Höglander keeps a smile on his face and believes that he can play anywhere in an NHL lineup and that it’s just up to the coach on where to use him.
“If you go up and down a lineup, it’s always a different game out there,” said Höglander. “It’s a little bit hard to go up and down but I feel like I fit in almost everywhere. If it’s the fourth line or the first line, I feel like I can fit in a little bit everywhere.”
A big question going into the season was if Höglander could fit in a fourth-line role.
We asked about how he feels being in a fourth-line role and looking to create more energy than simply producing offence. Höglander likes the idea of being in that energy role but also believes that when he’s there with a combination of Joshua, Aman or Lazar — he can help bring sneaky offence to the team’s bottom of the lineup.
“If I play down there, it’s going to open up scoring chances where if you work and if you win pucks down low it’s going to open up spots where we can score a goal too,” said Höglander. “I don’t really see that I can score more if I play the first line or the fourth line.”
A large topic of discussion around young players is confidence.
And for Höglander, he doesn’t really believe that his confidence is at a level he’s comfortable with just yet.
“Like I said before, it’s hard to go up and down and be a little bit everywhere and not really know where you’re going to fit in,” said Höglander. “I feel like I can play with more confidence. I don’t really have my confidence. I will have it but sometimes you need to work through that.”
When asked about how to build his confidence, he brought up a few different ways.
“You can build your confidence from a good shift,” said Höglander. “It feels like the progress [comes from] needing to work every day and trust yourself every day in practice while you work hard. It’s the simple things.”
This isn’t the first time that Höglander has had to develop confidence in a professional league.
He was scoring some ridiculously skilled goals in the SHL and trying even more exciting moves.
Those types of puck skills made him an extremely interesting prospect and that, along with his high-end motor, was a big reason why we were so excited when the Canucks picked him in the second round of the 2019 NHL draft.
“When you got your confidence, that’s when those things come,” said Höglander when we asked him about being able to be more creative and showcase his puck skills.
“For me, when I feel that I have my confidence, I trust myself to do those things.”
“I haven’t got my highest confidence right now, but I just need to work through it.”
Höglander built his confidence up through three seasons of SHL hockey, where he scored the goal of the year in each of those three seasons. We caught up with his SHL coach Cam Abbott, who is still coaching in the SHL with Rögle.
His former coach mentioned that when he wanted to build up the teenager’s confidence, the two watched film together and focused on all the good things that Höglander was doing in terms of defending and being positionally in the right spots on the ice.
“We would sit down one-on-one and we celebrated the good things because he does so many of them,” said Abbott. “He came in with such a youthful exuberance as a 17-year-old but we wanted him to solidify his spot in the lineup and become an everyday player that could be counted on.”
“During his last season, we had a really good team that we wanted to run four lines with, and Nils was a big part of our machine. He’s got buckets of skills, he’s got some that are filled up and there are other ones that he’s got to keep trying to fill up. Those things that he’s learning now are situational recognition, the patterns that happen in the NHL, and how to be accountable defensively. I’m sure he is working on all those things and trying to fill those buckets up.”
One of the goals of Abbott when developing Höglander was to help him understand how decisions affect not only the current play but the next play to follow, and the play to follow that. Abbott saw the work ethic, the speed, and the surprising strength in Höglander’s game, but knew that there needed to be a focus on evolving and not being known for just scoring the flashy goals and pulling off the Michigan goal from behind the net.
Now, in his third season in the NHL, the kid is still making progress towards rounding out his NHL game. It’s nice to have those elite puck skills, but Höglander is the first to tell you that fancy moves don’t result in wins. It takes commitment to positioning, defence, and filling those other buckets, as his former SHL coach said.
“I still learn a lot every day with positioning where I need to be to play the NHL style more than just going into the game and doing some fancy moves,” said Höglander.
As for what’s next, Höglander is going to continue to try and play with speed because his head coach says that this is the part of his game that he likes while looking to be better in his own zone at disrupting the opposition’s offence.
“That’s my game style, to play with speed and play fast,” said Höglander. “In a game situation right now, we are just trying to talk things out. Get sticks in the lanes and in the right positions and continue to talk it out.”
We’re not sure if Höglander is going to find consistent linemates this season with the Canucks. He clearly has buckets of skill that will help him thrive in the NHL but the question is if he can tie them all together to be an effective player at both ends of the ice on a nightly basis.
There’s no question about the speed.
And there’s no question about his skill.
The question is if he can be good enough in his end of the ice and that has to be hard when you are playing with so many different linemates throughout the season.
Nobody has moved around the lineup as much as Höglander has this season but at the same time, nobody has been given better opportunities and produced less. It seems like Höglander is stuck between a rock and a hard place and something is going to need to shake him out of it.
The other part of the Höglander situation to remember is that this is still a kid in development. He is still just 21 years old and is learning more and more about the NHL game every day. There are going to be mistakes made but one thing we have all come to like and simultaneously expect from Höglander is the high motor that he plays with. He’s not going to lack effort but to be a true top-nine forward with top-six upside, he is going to need to have a bottom line.
Time will tell what will happen to the Canucks’ Swedish fire hydrant, but his upside needs fine-tuning to be reached.
This is a great challenge for development coaches like Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Their presence on the ice means a lot but what the twins did so well was think the game.
Thinking the game is where Höglander needs guidance, and with the correct guidance, it will bring the correct confidence.
That’s what Höglander needs right now.
And maybe a couple of friendly bounces, too.
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