Why Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Höglander hold the keys to the Canucks’ future
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang9 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks have two young wingers on their roster that have impressed early in their NHL careers. Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin are two of the team’s draft picks from recent years that have made immediate impacts with the big club. While the two players are still young and prone to mistakes, they both clearly have the potential to be impact players for a long time. They also hold the keys to the Canucks’ future.
The Canucks are in a difficult position because the roster clearly needs significant upgrades but they lack the cap space to make those moves happen. This means that they are overreliant on improvements coming from inside the organization, something that seems unlikely to happen considering the weak prospect pool and lack of draft capital.
Success in the NHL comes from getting surplus values out of your players. In other words, having them play above their salary cap number. The Canucks have several players who are almost guaranteed to provide negative value relative to their contract, so they need to have very good deals in other places. J.T. Miller is an example of a player providing a ton of surplus value for the team at the moment.
One way that NHL teams find players to overdeliver on their contract is through young players. Entry-level contracts are capped and thus players signed to those deals have a high chance of overperforming. The two young wingers are going to need to continue to progress and perform at a higher level to provide the type of value the Canucks need. If these two can become legitimate top-six wingers while still on their ELCs, that opens a lot more options for the organization.
Vasily Podkolzin has taken huge strides throughout this season as he becomes more familiar with the Canucks and the NHL. The Russian winger is quickly turning into a fan favourite with his hard-nosed game. He possesses an impressive mixture of physicality and skill that makes him the perfect forward for the modern NHL game. His skillset is also one that the Canucks have been lacking for years and it’s a welcome change watching him drive the net hard.
The strides that Podkolzin has taken over the course of this season have made everyone very excited for his future. He’s much more noticeable on the ice and has been improving at an extremely fast rate, likely due to his superhuman work habits.
“I think he’s probably the guy that we talk about the most in the room. Just his ability, he’s an undercover really fast skater, he’s probably got the hardest shot on our team,” said captain Bo Horvat. “His work ethic is through the roof. He’s in the gym, first guy on the ice at practice and he’s just continuing to keep getting better.”
Podkolzin’s been the target of praise from many of the different team members. It’s clear that his teammates appreciate the difficulty of the situation that he’s had to deal with and are impressed with how the rookie has handled himself.
“You watch him from when he got here in training camp, didn’t speak a whole lot of English. He has been put in an environment where he’s the only Russian part of the team and you talk to him now.,” commented Alex Chiasson. “He’s evolved so much as a person he feels more comfortable and I think that impacts his game on the ice.”
Nils Höglander didn’t have the sophomore campaign that he wanted and hasn’t been a great fit under coach Bruce Boudreau. His 5-on-5 points dropped from 26 to 15 despite playing four more games. While this season was a step backward, Höglander had a very exciting rookie campaign and still oozes potential. He’s extremely skilled and has shown the ability to be a strong possession player when on the ice.
Next season will be extremely important for Höglander. He’s going to be in the final season of his ELC and playing for a new contract. Lots of NHL players struggle to repeat their rookie success in their sophomore season and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Höglander bounce back. Because he doesn’t get a ton of power play time, a successful season for Höglander would mean that he’s a 5-on-5 contributor and a possession beast, in the mold of Conor Garland.
He needs to clean up his defensive play as well as work on his finishing. Improvements in those two areas would go a long way towards Höglander turning in a stronger season.
“He’s got some scoring potential, but he needs to learn to play the game. He’s still a young kid, quite frankly, and I don’t know, someday he might score 40 goals, but if you’re going to hover around the 20-goal mark, you better learn to play both ends of the ice,” said Boudreau earlier this year. “As a guy that played overseas, he’s still learning that game. There’s a lot of things that he could do better, but his natural talent is definitely there.”
While Podkolzin and Höglander are the team’s best young players still on ELCs, there will be more arriving in the near future. Players like Jack Rathbone and Danila Klimovich will hopefully arrive in the next few seasons and their ability to outperform their entry-level contracts will have a significant impact on the team’s success.
Do you think that Podkolzin and Höglander can provide enough surplus value on their contracts to make up for bloated deals on the Canucks? What do you see as these players’ ceilings?
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