Canucks: Breaking down Nils Hoglander’s first NHL game

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Vancouver Canucks. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

The Canucks kicked off their season Wednesday night against the Edmonton Oilers, and Nils Hoglander had himself a game.

The Vancouver Canucks started their 2020-21 season with a 5-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, and rookie Nils Hoglander wasted no time properly introducing himself to the NHL.

Despite overwhelming uncertainties surrounding the team before the season, there was an air of excitement heading into the Canucks’ first game, and for good reason.

Hoglander was the star of Canucks training camp, as he impressed coaches, teammates, and fans alike with his quick hands and slick skating. 

The question that remained was how easily it would transition into success in an NHL game. In short, the transition was seamless. The young Swede fit right in at the NHL level, as he looked quite comfortable slotting into the Canucks top-six.

He was another breath of fresh air to the lineup; something Canucks fans have become accustomed to over the past few years. With that said, similar to what you saw for prospect Vasili Podkolzin, this article breaks down Nils Hoglander’s unforgettable first NHL game.

First period: Hoglander adds speed to the Canucks’ second line

Hoglander’s first NHL shift came at puck drop, starting alongside Tanner Pearson & Bo Horvat. You could tell the Swedish rookie was fired up to get on the ice.

When Horvat and Connor McDavid got tied up, Hoglander immediately attacked the faceoff dot. After losing the faceoff, he immediately charged towards defenceman Ethan Bear at the centre-line, forcing a dump-in, where the Canucks reclaimed possession.

Subsequently, one of his first plays in the game saw the rookie latch onto Alex Edler’s clearance at centre-ice, and carry the puck into the zone.

After darting away from Darnell Nurse’s oncoming pressure, Hoglander wired a sharp pass towards the goal. Horvat, the intended recipient, couldn’t connect, but it was an excellent way to start the game.

In the young Swede’s second shift, his line found themselves hemmed into the defensive zone after a failed attempted exit from the rookie. On the same shift, he got into some board battles, but nothing significant arose at either end.

His third shift saw the rookie again in his own zone, where his pressure was good, despite the slightly evident first game jitters.

After a successful neutral zone pinch by Olli Juolevi, Hoglander made another swift transition into the Oiler’s zone, dropping a pass to Pearson for an attempt on goal, which was blocked.

Later in the shift, Hoglander nearly linked up with Pearson again. The rookie picked up a wide shot in the left corner and slid another pass into the slot.

Initially intended for Horvat, Pearson made a sweeping second effort after it slipped through, but the Oilers defence thwarted the attempt.

The first thing you notice about Hoglander is that his effort levels are certainly always high. At the end of his shift, he literally leapt to tap the puck outside the Canucks blueline to allow for a change.

Hoglander’s next appearance began just before a Quinn Hughes icing call, leading to another start in the defensive zone. The Swedish rookie should expect a lot of d-zone starts this season, so long as he’s stapled next to Horvat.

In fact, Hoglander spent a whopping 65.28% of his ice-time against the Oiler’s top two lines, with 48.61% being against McDavid’s line, as per DobberProspects.

On this shift, Hoglander’s positioning in the Canucks zone was a tad relaxed, which led to a shot from his point-side.

As you can see, he gave Slater Koekkoek way too much time and space to shoot. It looked almost as though Hoglander was marking the point on a penalty-kill. Although, he did tighten up his defensive marking as the game went on, so it was more of an anomaly than anything.

After another defensive zone faceoff, the Canucks’ ‘shutdown line’ made another exit, where Hoglander made yet another controlled entry, catching a Pearson pass through the neutral zone smoothly off his skate.

This was Hoglander’s standout play of the game. While attacking Koekkoek, the speedy Swede made a between the legs move to create space, then used some of his patented edge-work to shift the play to the centre of the ice, creating space for a dish to Travis Hamonic, leading to an attempt on goal.

While flashy, the most exciting part about this sequence was how effortless it looked for the rookie. This was by far the best illustration of Hoglander’s talent, and something Canucks fans should expect to see more of as the season progresses.

After a Kailer Yamamoto penalty, Hoglander got his first official audition on the Canucks’ PP1 unit.

In place of the absent J.T. Miller, Hoglander sat at the net-front, mostly stuck to his post in front of Mikko Koskinen, however, he was active in opening up an extra passing lane when necessary.

Hoglander also made a nifty behind-the-back-pass to Horvat to get into the zone and set up the powerplay, another small, enjoyable expression of his game.

Hoglander made a great pass across the slot from behind the net for a golden Elias Pettersson chance, which unfortunately went wide. Shortly after, Hoglander also got a piece of a Hughes shot that ultimately went wide.

Hoglander had an extended break on the bench after the powerplay due to a Jake Virtanen cross-checking penalty & commercial break.

On the following shift, the Swede’s pressure along the boards led to a chip up to Pearson down the line, where he found Horvat for the Canucks’ first goal of the season.

While Hoglander didn’t register a point on the play, his pressure along the boards was tremendous, and it actually does look like the rookie Swede got a piece of the puck.

Over his next two shifts, there was not much to note.

In his second-last appearance of the first, though, Hoglander took a pass from Nate Schmidt in transition but got thwarted shortly after, so he sent it back to the Canucks defence to regroup. It was certainly the smart play.

Overall, it was a good period for Hoglander. He didn’t see too much action on some shifts, but his first period of NHL hockey was undoubtedly a success.

His crafty work along the boards contributed to Horvat’s goal, and he is continuously active while on the ice. He’s shown his quick instincts so far, and while a little skittish at times, he was still making the right plays.

He made a few controlled entries into the zone, which led to some great chances. Hoglander was a bit loose on the defensive end, but he’s quick on his feet and did well to close his gaps otherwise.

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