One game doesn’t tell the story of a season, even if there’s only 56 of them.
Yet, the Nils Hoglander hype feels real. The Swedish forward had a strong training camp, earning a spot and then some.
His debut against the Oilers last night didn’t prove his merit in the NHL for life, but it did go to show the 20-year-old rookie can bring some more life to the Canucks.
“Of course, I was nervous the first few shifts,” he told reporters following his debut. “But I just kept going from there.”
Hoglander entered training camp with no North American hockey experience and stole a top-six forward spot away from top prospect Jake Virtanen.
The 40th overall pick in 2019, Hoglander skated alongside Bo Horvat from the start of training camp and was a natural fit. The Canucks didn’t have much forward depth in the top six, even losing a safe option in Loui Eriksson.
— Constantine Maragos (@CMaragos123) January 14, 2021
His numbers in the SHL don’t jump out, with 14 points in 33 games. There were concerns how his game would translate to the NHL, but the pleasant surprise for the Canucks isn’t something they’re about to question.
“He was really good tonight,” head coach Travis Green told media members postgame. “He was strong at both ends of the rink, strong on the puck and made some nice plays. Very happy with his game. You see a guy in practice and in a scrimmage and you wonder how he’ll react to a regular-season game. I thought he raised his game.”
On Wednesday night, Hoglander set up Horvat’s first goal. Then, he fired in his own, a rebound off a shot from Tanner Pearson, late in the second period to break a 1-1 stalemate.
The way he got the puck to Horvat matters as much as the assist itself. He won a board battle to set up his center, an ability that was questioned given his transition from Europe.
He showed he could play at the NHL level and succeed at the NHL level, on the scoresheet and off.
“I couldn’t believe it when the puck went in,” Hoglander told reporters after the game. “It was a moment and so happy to see it go in and playing against the best players in the world. It feels good because I felt comfortable the whole game and I thought we played a good game. They (Horvat, Pearson) are good players and easy to play with and the goal I scored, I just got the pass and just put it in.”
The numbers off the boxscore were just as solid. Hoglander set up a team-high 11 shots, serving as their best playmaker in his first game.
#Canucks Primary Shot Contributions Vs.Oilers
⭐️ Höglander 59% CF, 69% xGF, 1 G, 16:23
⭐️ ⭐️ Boeser 62% CF, 57% xGF, 2 G, 17:21
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Hughes 60% CF, 49% xGF, 20:53
Shoutout to TG who managed the bench well, including Juolevi’s ice-time and some specialized o-zone deployments pic.twitter.com/GPFyxmGXgF
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) January 14, 2021
The Canucks are already littered with young — and fun — talent. Brock Boeser is 23. Horvat is 25. Quinn Hughes, last season’s Calder runner-up, is 21, and Hart finalist favorite Elias Petterson is just 22 himself.
Hoglander is younger than the rest of them at 20, and he’s in the NHL, serving big minutes, earlier than anticipated.
Playing over 16 minutes, the Canucks were ready to let Hoglander run free; go hog wild, so to speak. They trusted their young player after his camp performance, and it paid off; they saw one of their strongest organizational rookie debuts in recent memory, which says a lot given their abundance of young talent
Nils Hoglander's ice time in his debut vs other high-profile Canucks rookies: pic.twitter.com/dt6ObKGIQW
— 𝗜𝗮𝗻𝘄 🇨🇦 (@ianwcanucks) January 14, 2021
Rookie slumps are a thing, and it’s fair to think Hoglander’s pace won’t be as torrid during the grueling 56-game schedule. The Canucks needed forward depth, especially in their top six, like they need oxygen though. Especially given his low cap hit and their dire salary cap situation, the Canucks could sure use Hoglander to not only fill a spot, but be a reliable option night in and night out.
They’re on the Hoglander hype train now, and there’s no looking back.