The Vancouver Canucks have exploded out of the starting gates and are currently 12-5-1, second in the Western Conference and only three points back of the league-leading Boston Bruins. They also boast a three-headed monster at the top of the NHL’s leaderboard as Elias Pettersson, JT Miller and Quinn Hughes are all tied with 28 points apiece. I think it’s safe to say that 18 games into the 2023-24 season, no Canucks fan expected their team to be this good. Everyone wanted them to get off to a better start than last season, but this is beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
But, despite the relative success of the offence, defence, powerplay, and goaltending, the Canucks still have concerns that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Ever since Carson Soucy went down to injury on Nov. 12, their blue line has not looked as strong or structured as lesser defenders like Noah Juulsen, Mark Friedman and Tyler Myers have been elevated into bigger roles. That begs the question, should the Canucks go out and aggressively look for more help on defence? Soucy won’t be available until late December (at the earliest), and while they have built up a good cushion with their strong start, that could all come crashing down with an extended losing streak.
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To potentially avoid that, general manager Patrik Allvin could scour the trade market, which he has seemingly done already with rumours of the Canucks pursuing both Nikita Zadorov and Chris Tanev from the Calgary Flames. Unfortunately, nearly every trade requires something going the other way, and the latest has Nils Hoglander as the speculated piece that could be on the move. But as much as the Canucks would benefit from the addition of a defenceman like Zadorov or Tanev, trading a promising young player like Hoglander would be a mistake.
Hoglander Has Been a Valuable Member of the Bottom Six
Despite being a healthy scratch twice this season, Hoglander has five goals and seven points in 16 games – the most out of any bottom-six forward. He is also a plus-7 and has a game-winning goal, all while averaging only 10:32 of ice time. His trademark forechecking and work ethic have been evident all season long as he’s played mostly fourth-line minutes with Sam Lafferty and Anthony Beauvillier.
Hoglander has long been criticized for his lack of defensive game, but by the eye test, he’s been pretty good in that department this season. Yes, his Corsi for percentage (CF%) is below 50 at 47.3, but he hasn’t been a liability in his own zone and he provides a lot more versatility than a guy like Beauvillier, who I believe is a bit miscast in a bottom-six role. He’s akin to a Jannik Hansen, someone who has enough skill to play in the top-six when needed and doesn’t disappear when he’s moved back to his usual spot at the bottom of the lineup. Hansen was a valuable piece of the Canucks’ elite teams of the 2010s and Hoglander could be that same type of player for the team today and in the foreseeable future.
Hoglander Is Young & Full of Long-Term Potential
Hoglander is still only 22 years old and has yet to his prime in the NHL. The former second-round pick from 2019 definitely hit a snag in his development after his impressive rookie season in 2020-21, but he has seemingly bounced back from that with a solid American Hockey League (AHL) stint in 2022-23 and a promising start to 2023-24. Sent down to the Abbotsford Canucks before Christmas last season and never called back up after that, he finished with 14 goals and 32 points in 45 games and six points in the playoffs. He never complained about being in the AHL, he just put his head down and continued to work hard.
“It helped a lot to play down there…I want to play in the NHL, but sometimes it’s good to go down and learn and get more confidence, and it looks good now because I feel a lot better. I felt I had the puck a lot more, and when I do, I learned the game more. And I played more minutes, so it means everything.”
– Nils Hoglander (from ‘Canucks: How a lost Nils Hoglander found challenging path back to the NHL’, The Province, 10/3/23)
With a new contract in hand, Hoglander eventually earned his way back into the NHL and made the roster out of training camp ahead of first-round pick Vasily Podkolzin. He also gained the admiration of new head coach Rick Tocchet after being put in the dog house by former coach Bruce Boudreau.
“…He’s first on the ice. He’s in the gym, and he has come here in great shape. I have an affection for guys who work hard.”
– Rick Tocchet on Hoglander’s training camp
Hoglander is growing into a more well-rounded player with the ability to turn a game on its head with a high-energy shift or intense battle along the boards. He’s very much like Phil Di Giuseppe, who has found a home on the second line with JT Miller and Brock Boeser. He has a lot more offensive potential than him too, as I still believe he can score 20-25 goals in the right situation. He may not be as flashy as Andrei Kuzmenko, but he has a skill set that could help boost the games of players like Elias Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev – even if it’s just for a shift or two.
Basically, Hoglander is too valuable to give up in a trade for guys who are older and could prove to be only rentals. Zadorov and Tanev are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, while Hoglander is signed for one more season under a manageable cap hit of $1.1 million. His long-term value and impact are also a lot higher, especially if the Canucks are hoping to be playoff contenders (maybe even Stanley Cup contenders) for the foreseeable future. In the end, it would be a mistake to give up on Hoglander so soon, even if it does improve the team in the short term.
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