In the first round, the Canucks drafted a power forward that goes through opponents to get to the net. In the second, they got what looks like his polar opposite, a slippery and elusive winger with superb skill, but below-average size: Nils Hoglander.
Here’s the thing: Hoglander is also gritty, playing an in-your-face game that belies his smaller size, elite skating, and soft hands. He doesn’t back down from anyone.
Nils Hoglander was expected to be selected in the first round of the draft according to most public draft rankings. While some had him going in the second round, he was mostly ranked from 18-30, so it was somewhat surprising to see him not just slide out of the first round, but slide all the way to 40th overall.
Once he got there, the Canucks were happy to select him, adding a dynamic and skilled winger to their prospect pool that has serious top-six upside. They proved that any emphasis on size that might have come out of watching the St. Louis Blues bully their way to the Stanley Cup didn’t diminish their desire for elite skill in a smaller package.
It also didn’t diminish their desire for a great name. For the third year in a row, the Canucks have picked a player from my “best names of the draft” rankings: Jack Rathbone in 2017, Jett Woo in 2018, and now Nils Hoglander in 2019.
Hoglander is a delight to watch, as he has so much confidence in his own ability. He scored the goal of the year in the SHL last season (literally, he won an award) when he pulled off the lacrosse move from behind the net, lifting the puck up on his stick and tucking it top corner on a bewildered goaltender.
For a 5’9” 17/18 year old to play 50 games in the SHL is a big deal and a great sign for him having an NHL future. For that same kid to have the confidence to pull off a move that slick is even more impressive.
Hoglander scored 7 goals and 14 points in 50 SHL games, which is solid production for someone his age, and averaged 12:36 per game for Rogle. Seeing an SHL team show that kind of confidence in a teenaged rookie to play him a regular shift speaks volumes of the kind of player Hoglander is.
What kind of player is he? A dynamic, thrilling winger.
“He has the best hands out of any draft eligible forward,” says Hockey Prospect. “His stickhandling can be mesmerizing and he uses this skill through most situations on the ice. There isn’t a deke that he doesn’t seem capable of doing.”
Hoglander emphasized his speed when asked about his style of play, and it stands out on the ice. He has explosive acceleration and fantastic agility that, when combined with his soft hands, makes him a nightmare for defenders off the rush.
“He is lightning quick and can dance through opposing defensemen with quick, darting movements with or without the puck,” says Future Considerations. “His vision is excellent and his decision-making with the puck is impressive.”
When asked what players in the NHL he watched and patterned his game after, Hoglander said, "I watch Kevin Fiala a little bit and Victor Arvidsson."
The one concern for Hoglander, and the likely reason he slipped to the second round, is his size. At just 5’9”, his size could be an issue in puck battles, but he proved it wasn’t a major concern when he played against men in the SHL.
“I trust myself. I know I can play,” said Hoglander. “I know I’m small, so I know how to play.”
For some scouts, his size wasn’t an issue at all.
“Despite his small size, he likes to drive to the net and can get past defenders by stickhandling or outskating them,” says Future Considerations.
Ryan Biech of NextGen Hockey called him “a little tornado on the ice” in his prospect profile, noting, “If [opponents] try to force a play on him, he has a habit of slipping out of their grasp and moving into open space. This aspect of his game is quite helpful in allowing him to overcome the noticeable size difference.”
Most of all, Hoglander is fun. He tries things other players would never consider and, with his slick hands, he can pull those otherworldly moves off more often than not. Given the way the NHL has found more and more room for small, skilled players, it’s easy to watch Hoglander and see a future top-six forward in the NHL.