Nils Höglander just went into the all-star break as a healthy scratch for the first time in his young career.

He had played in all of his possible 101 NHL games before the scratch against the Nashville Predators this past Tuesday. No injury or COVID protocol could keep Höglander off the ice, the first time he found himself on the outside looking in was due to the healthy scratch from Boudreau.

There have been some defensive deficiencies in Höglander’s game through his short NHL career but one thing is for certain, he knows how to generate offence when he is on the ice. Höglander is a five-on-five star when it comes to creating offence. At five-on-five, he is first in goals, shots on net, individual expected goals, and individual scoring chances since joining the team last year.

Advertisement
Ad

Defensively, there are some worries, specifically under the watchful eye of Boudreau. At five-on-five, under Boudreau, Nils Höglander is second-worst on the team in on-ice expected goals against per minute as well as second-worst on the team in scoring chances against per minute. Höglander is not doing himself any favours with his defensive play and that is a likely reason why Boudreau decided to bench Höglander for the first time in his career.

Boudreau’s comments on Höglander a couple of weeks ago were very clear about what Höglander needs to work on moving forward.

“He needs to learn how to play the game,” said Boudreau. “He has skill and he might score 40 someday, but if you’re going to hover around the 20-goal mark you better learn to play at both ends of the ice.”

Advertisement
Ad

The most successful line combination that Höglander has been a part of this season is when he is playing with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. This trio has only spent 12:07 together in the 21 games since Boudreau took over as head coach. This is a bit tricky because due to COVID protocol and a healthy scratch, the trio has only played in 13 games where all three of them have been in the lineup.

In the 25 games under Travis Green this season, that trio spent 90:34 together, and had a 3.28% on-ice shooting percentage — Showing a horrible amount of puck luck for a trio that was a rare bright light of the Canucks’ 2020-21 season.

Here’s the most simple way I can explain Nils Höglander’s value.

Höglander is a player who plays high-event hockey and if you believe you have high-end talent on your roster, they make sense to play with Höglander, who forces events to happen.

Advertisement
Ad

Not only does he create high-event hockey, but Höglander creates high-event hockey that gives the Canucks more opportunities to score than being scored against.

When on the ice at five-on-five this season, Höglander has a positive control of Corsi, shot share, goal share, expected goal share, scoring chances share, and high danger scoring chances share.

He is creating more than he is giving up and if he can improve his defensive awareness and skill, he will be an even more valuable piece to the Canucks moving forward.

I’m not suggesting he should be riding shotgun on the top line, I’m not even saying he should be in the top-six. Höglander makes so much sense on a bottom-six line where he can take his positive turn of play that he has shown against top-tier competition over the first 101 games of his career and turn that skill on to other teams’ bottom-six lines. Giving Höglander a third or fourth line matchup against other team’s bottom-six lines will give him even more space to use his speed and create offensive chances.

Advertisement
Ad

This is where the Canucks need to find a third-line centre who can bring some form of offence. Whether it be a shooter or a playmaker, the Canucks have two young players in Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin that have shown the ability to score at even-strength. With bottom-six matchups and an offensive-minded centre between them, they could easily find a lot of success over the next few years in a role where they stay out of the Canucks’ top-six but do so much for the team with their ability to solve the depth scoring problem that has hung over this team for what feels like 10 years.

Advertisement
Ad

Young players can have a healthy scratch once in a while and I’m sure Bruce Boudreau knows what he is doing when it comes to the development with Nils Höglander. There is a motor in Höglander’s game that could be a great defender if coached the right way.

Höglander worked on his defensive game throughout his second SHL season and wanted that to be the part where he focused on the most. He made huge leaps that year but did not see offensive growth between his rookie and sophomore SHL seasons. He worked on his defensive game a ton with the coaching staff and this sophomore year in the NHL may be something similar.

This could be good news because Höglander’s production took a massive jump in his third SHL season. He went from being a career 0.33 points per game in the SHL to a 0.61 points per game player in his third professional year. Here’s to hoping that Höglander can find similar success here in North America with the right coaching.

Advertisement
Ad