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After a slow start to the season, it’s only natural that the Vancouver Canucks have started to be the target of trade rumours. It’s already been reported that other organizations around the NHL have been calling the Canucks and inquiring about a variety of players on the team.
One of the players whose name has been in the rumour mill is Nils Höglander. The 21-year-old Swedish forward has had a tough time finding a spot in this year’s lineup after the Canucks made some acquisitions this offseason.
Bringing in wingers like Ilya Mikheyev, Andrei Kuzmenko, and even players like Dakota Joshua, has forced Höglander outside of the top-12. While he’s been able to get some minutes during the early part of the season due to injuries, it’s not clear if there is a permanent spot in the lineup for him.
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With so many NHL-quality forwards but a defence corps that is well below average — especially when missing Quinn Hughes to injury — it’s logical the Canucks would explore trading a forward for a defenceman. One name that has come up quite often has been Ethan Bear, a player who has also lost his permanent NHL spot in Carolina.
“[Höglander]’s name is popping up in the Ethan Bear talks,” reported Rick Dhaliwal earlier this week.
While it might be tempting for the Canucks to include Höglander in a package for Bear or another right-handed defenceman, giving up on the forward at this point would be a huge mistake. Despite not being granted many opportunities, Höglander has forced himself into being a bright, young piece for this team and has the potential to explode if given more of a chance to succeed.
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Höglander’s impressive rookie season

 Canucks fans will remember Höglander bursting onto the scene during the 2020 training camp. From the moment he touched the ice, he looked a step ahead of everyone and his impressive performance earned him a spot on the NHL roster at just 19 years old.
He would never relinquish that spot, finishing the season with 13 goals and 14 assists in 56 games played. Perhaps more impressive than his raw stat totals were Höglander’s seemingly never-ending motor and advanced analytics that jumped off the page.
Höglander led the Canucks in Corsi For %, was second behind Elias Pettersson in expected goals %, and was on the ice for the second most Canucks goals at 5-on-5. In short, the Canucks did very well while Höglander was on the ice at 5-on-5 as they controlled the majority of shot attempts and scoring chances.
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This meant that many people pencilled in Höglander as a future core piece for the Canucks. He was a popular breakout candidate for his second season but had a tough time replicating the success from his rookie year. Of course, it was difficult for any Canucks player to succeed in the environment last season, but things went from bad to worse for Höglander when the team made a mid-season coaching change.

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Boudreau’s reluctance to give Höglander good opportunities

Every coach has a playstyle that they like and unfortunately for Höglander, his hasn’t meshed perfectly with the vision of the new coach and new management. Listed at just 5’9”, he’s not a physically imposing player and while creative, he does have a tendency to attack opponents horizontally.
With an incredible ability to handle the puck and a powerful lower body, Höglander can go around bigger defenders but when his moves fail, he can also be caught out of position. In a way, he has a similar playstyle to Conor Garland, another player that isn’t atop the list of management’s favourites.
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However, both Garland and Höglander are some of the best on the team at establishing possession for the Canucks and directing play toward the offensive zone. While management may prefer big bodies that can wear opposing teams down, it’s important to have players that keep the ice tilted the Canucks’ way.
As a 21-year-old winger, Höglander can also suffer from lapses in judgment in his own zone. When a coach is coaching for his job and every game matters, as Boudreau is at the moment, he’s not going to take any risks with a creative yet turnover-prone player. However, while he’s not an incredible defensive player in the traditional sense of the word, Höglander’s possession metrics help the Canucks keep the puck while he’s on the ice. Without the puck and no Loui Eriksson, the opposing team cannot score.
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Höglander’s contract situation

Because this is Höglander’s third season in Vancouver, it can be easy to forget how young he is.  The typical development path for a second-round pick might have Höglander breaking into the NHL this season but instead, he has already amassed over 100 games. In addition to his NHL experience, he also played professional games in Sweden as a teenager.
Höglander’s entry-level contract is expiring this offseason and he will need to be re-signed. Barring a massive breakout this season, his contract will not require a significant financial commitment from the Canucks. Having a player of Höglander’s quality at a cheap cap hit would be nice for a Canucks team that is looking to maximize every dollar.
In short, Höglander has shown plenty of potential, skill, and on-ice results throughout his short career thus far. While he’s currently being pushed out of the lineup by players like Tanner Pearson, Garland, Kuzmenko and Mikheyev, that’s not a good reason to rush a trade. In two years’ time, the Canucks could be without at least Pearson and Kuzmenko and Höglander will be ready to fill in.
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