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The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is less than one week away.
The Vancouver Canucks don’t have a pick until the third round this year. As they prepare for the draft, we’re evaluating the top 10 prospects in their system. Today, at No. 2, is Nils Hoglander.
The Canucks have hit home runs in the draft’s first round in recent years. You have to find NHLers with your top pick, but the true gauge of a system’s depth is how your team drafts after the first round.
When the Canucks nabbed Hoglander in the second round in 2019, general manager Jim Benning and director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett were notably giddy at being able to add him to the top end of the team’s depth chart.
There is plenty of reason to be excited about this diminutive winger from northern Sweden. He has a creative set of hands and superb playmaking vision. He’s feisty and not shy about putting his body on the line. He attacks loose pucks and is an explosive skater in tight quarters.
But he’s not that tall and up against the bigger defenders who dominate the NHL, especially the modern versions who can skate and pivot with minimum effort, his biggest challenge is going to be getting to the net and not being boxed out by the bigger bodies.
(Prospect No. 2)
Height: 5-9. Weight: 175 pounds
Draft year: Second round, 2019
Current team: Rögle BK (SHL)
Outlook : Second-line winger
From the start, Hoglander’s desire and energy to get on the puck has impressed scouts nearly as much as his outstanding puck skills.
“He’s slippery. He can turn on a dime to escape pressure,” Canucks GM Jim Benning said this week about Hoglander. “He’s strong on the puck, too.”
And then he gets to the net. The teen pulled off a “Michigan” lacrosse-style goal during an SHL game last season, no mean feat for anyone, let alone in an actual professional game.
At the 2019 summer development camp, he impressed many with his deceptive shot.
“His hands are elite. Serious good,” said Dobber Prospects’ Cam Robinson. “His vision is fine, he can assess options, distribute through folds, his shot is good. Passing and shooting can always be bumped up, but they’re good. The speed needs to ramp up. I’d say the thing he needs to work on most is adding more explosive two-step quickness.”
The winger is an atypical creator of scoring chances: rather than being a traditional puck distributor, he disrupts defences in tight spaces with quick stickhandling and deft puck control, opening up holes both for himself and his linemates to get quality shots off.
He doesn’t turn 20 until December, but this is already Hoglander’s fourth season as a professional. He played 24 games as a 16 year old for AIK in the Allsvenskan, the Swedish second division, in 2016-17, along with a smattering of games for AIK’s junior squads.
He played 34 games for AIK in 2017-18 and again made regular appearances for AIK’s junior teams.
In 2018-19, his draft year, he was a full-time professional, scoring seven goals in 50 games while skating alongside men.
It’s fair to say spending all this time competing against much older and stronger players will have taught him plenty about how to survive and thrive as a smaller player, and his aggressive nature down low speaks to that.
He was punished twice last season for some brutal incidents. There was the elbow in a league game last October, which drew a five-game suspension.
And then there was the elbow he threw at the World Juniors.
Despite all this, Robinson sees a player who needs to increase and improve his physical play.
“He has the mean streak, but he could stand to use his body more in regular situations — down low, in front, etc. Especially as the rink shrinks when he comes over (to North America),” he said.
Other than the ugly elbowing incident at last winter’s World Juniors, Hoglander was a true star. He scored five goals and added six assists in seven games.
He’s on the right track. If he continues to ramp up his skills, he’s going to be a fun addition to the Canucks’ lineup in a year or two.
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