The Vancouver Canucks need to utilize Nils Höglander better this season if they want him to have success. Bouncing him from line to line while also limiting his ice time could hinder his development. It is early in the season, but his usage so far is concerning.
Season So Far
Although the season is only three games in, Höglander is already showing that last year was not a fluke. He has a 53.3% Corsi, 57.14 shots for percentage at even strength, and has created seven individual scoring chances. There has also been some increased time on the power play compared to last season, as well as opportunities in overtime.
Despite the visual improvements to his game, the coaching staff still seems hesitant to give him chances. On record, coach Travis Green has even said that the team wants to keep Höglander between 14 and 18 minutes despite his ability to create opportunities. So far this season, he has 15:55, 16:46 and 17:51. If a team has a player who can jump-start line and create chances, why not play them closer to that 19-minute mark? The young Swede has shown he can play in the NHL consistently and should be given more opportunities and minutes.
No Stable Linemates
The biggest issue with how the Canucks are deploying Höglander is that they constantly move him throughout the lineup. This can prevent him from gaining chemistry with his linemates throughout a game. The good news is that Höglander is skilled enough to play with anyone in the lineup, but having chemistry with your linemates leads to more success long term.
Through his first seven games, Höglander has played on at least five different line combinations. The most successful trio he has been a part of is with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. It is great that he is having success with the first line, but with Brock Boeser set to return, it means coach Green will have to find a new place for him in the lineup.
One way to get him some extra ice time is on the penalty kill. So far through three games, the Canucks penalty kill has a 57.1% efficiency rate. The penalty kill cost them a regulation win in Philadelphia and resulted in the game-winning goal versus Detroit. Add in the fact that Boeser’s return may force a penalty killer like Matthew Highmore or Justin Dowling out of the lineup, and you have the perfect opportunity to try out Höglander shorthanded.
Some may view Höglander on the penalty kill as a non-starter, but his defensive positioning leads to believe he could be successful while shorthanded. The Canucks game plan is to have one forward as a rover near the puck handler applying pressure to the puck carrier. That is precisely the type of play that Höglander has exhibited through his first 59 NHL games. He is not afraid to block shots and could even force turnovers leading to scoring chances. The penalty kill needs a shakeup, and he could be precisely the player required.
A good case study for Höglander on the penalty kill is Andrew Mangiapane. He is a smaller player who doesn’t throw a lot of hits or block a ton of shots yet is successful while shorthanded. In 77 minutes of penalty kill time, he was only on the ice for eight goals against and even scored a goal himself. He also created five individual high danger scoring chances.
Putting offensive-minded players who have strong defensive positioning can lead to success while shorthanded. At this point, trying Höglander out on the penalty kill is worth the risk. If he doesn’t work, you move on to the next player but based on his playstyle, the Canucks could have a player like Mangiapane in their lineup.
Needs More Playing Time
In short, Höglander needs more minutes for this team to be successful throughout the season. He is too good of a player not to be given minutes and has earned them based on his play last season. If the Canucks want him to develop into the best player possible, they need to utilize him better.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.