Nils Höglander was the talk of the village for all the wrong reasons on day one of Vancouver Canucks training camp.
Just a day after head coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters that he’d be trying to ice potential opening night line combinations during training camp, Höglander found himself skating alongside two AHLers.
These were the Canucks’ line rushes through the first two days of training camp:
Tanner Pearson – J.T. Miller – Brock Boeser
Conor Garland – Bo Horvat – Vasily Podkolzin
Andrey Kuzmenko – Elias Pettersson – Ilya Mikheyev
Dakota Joshua – Jason Dickinson – Curtis Lazar
Nils Höglander – Nils Åman – Linus Karlsson.
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Clearly, one of these is not like the other.
This led fans and media alike to begin wondering if an AHL demotion was potentially in the cards for the now two-year NHL pro Höglander.
At the very least, Höglander’s line positioning gave the impression that he’d have to work extremely hard to prove to the coaching staff that he belongs in the NHL top nine forward group rather than Abbotsford’s first line.
And so far, so good.
“Let me talk about Högs,” Boudreau said to reporters Friday afternoon. “He looks like the best player on the ice right now. He looks so much faster than he did last year. He’s definitely ready, and I think last year was a setback for him, and he doesn’t want it to happen again.”
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Boudreau’s declaration certainly suggests that Höglander may find himself playing with one of the Canucks’ “big three” NHL centres at some point in the preseason, even if he’s not there in training camp.
Boudreau was brutally honest about Höglander’s game last season, when the Canucks coach said that while he loves the young winger’s potential, he still needs to “learn to play the game.”
“He’s got some scoring potential, but he needs to learn how to play the game,” Boudreau said back in March. “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.
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“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.”
Höglander’s training camp linemates are obviously a product of the Canucks’ improved forward depth, but could also be some tough love from Boudreau and a classic case of a coach sending a message to a young player and making it crystal clear that he’s going to need to be truly great to earn his spot in the NHL lineup.
But in classic Boudreau fashion, that tough love was followed by some warranted strong praise shortly thereafter.
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