Canucks: 3 rookies who are playing above expectations this season

The Vancouver Canucks may not have a breakout star within their rookie ranks this year, but Nils Hoglander, Zack MacEwen and Olli Juolevi are all exceeding expectations early on.

Hoglander is all anyone has been talking about since training camp and for good reason. The 20-year-old Swedish winger used his speed, skill and relentless attack of the puck to earn himself a roster spot on a line next to Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. He’s stuck there ever since.

He took what he learned at camp and translated it to an NHL ice surface which led to him being awarded his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. From there, he never slowed down. The points weren’t coming each and every night, but when Hoglander wasn’t producing offensively he was getting it done in the defensive zone.

For a player who likes to stay on the offensive side of things, he surely isn’t getting enough credit for what he’s doing without the puck. Facing tough competition night in and night out as one-third of the Canucks shutdown trio, he’s done a really good job.

Hoglander has suited up for every Canucks game so far this season and he looks more and more like a key member of this hockey club each and every night. The confidence has been climbing and it’s only a matter of time until he tries to pull off his signature lacrosse goal at the NHL level.

Through eight games this year, Hoglander has collected two goals and he’s added two assists. Currently, he sits tied for second in both points and goals by a first-year. Is Calder Trophy contention a possibility? He’s sure making it seem that way. This is what Travis Green had to say about him after their 7-1 win over the Senators on Monday night.

“He’s a smart little player, works extremely hard, isn’t afraid to go to hard places to win a puck battle. You know, he’s going to have games where he might miss a few little details or something within our structure, but that’s going to happen with a young player. You got a lot of time for young guys when they work extremely hard and compete hard and they want to get better. He seems to have those qualities right now.”

Zack MacEwen

This isn’t his first rodeo in the National Hockey League, but MacEwen is still considered a rookie in the eyes of the NHL. The big man up front played 17 games with the Canucks last season and looked more and more like an NHL regular as the year wore on.

Benched for a few games to start this season, MacEwen has made himself noticeable whenever he’s been given the opportunity. Playing in five games now, “Big Mac” hasn’t exactly lit up the scoresheet, but he’s been hard on the puck and very physical inside Vancouver’s bottom-six. In fact, he’s been one of the more energetic play drivers for the team.

According to Natural Stat Trick, MacEwen leads the Canucks in Corsi For (54.79%) — something that jumps off the stat sheet for a bottom-six player who plays most of his minutes with defensive-minded players like Brandon Sutter.

He’s yet to register a point this season but with the way he’s been approaching the game, it’s only a matter of time until he gets rewarded. Until then, MacEwen can keep bringing the hits and dropping the gloves when it matters most.

Olli Juolevi

Say whatever you want about the 22-year-old Finnish defencemen, but you can’t deny how solid Juolevi has been throughout his rookie showing in the NHL. No doubt, it’s been a long and difficult road for Juolevi, but he’s here and it finally appears he’s ready to state his claim as an NHL player.

Through seven games with the Canucks Juolevi has averaged 12:53 of ice time and he’s earned himself a plus 2 rating. Playing the majority of his time next to Tyler Myers, that’s something to be proud of. Better than that though, Juolevi scored his first NHL goal last night en route to a 7-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.

He hasn’t blown the roof off the building in a way like Quinn Hughes did last year, quite the opposite really. But that’s what you want to see out of a guy who plays that more defensive style. Juolevi and Hughes are cut from a different cloth, but it’s Juolevi’s defensive game that the Canucks so desperately crave right now.

Already facing a list of injuries on the back end, it was the rookie who stepped up and played a clean game. When the Canucks needed their veterans to lead the way, it was Juolevi who stayed calm, cool and collected. He wasn’t seen giving up bad turnovers, he hasn’t been making costly mistakes. Juolevi has been doing all of the little things right.

Final thoughts…

The Canucks find themselves in a hole right now but it isn’t the rookies who put them there. Hoglander, MacEwen and Juolevi — all in their own unique way — have helped this team more than they have hurt this team.

The future is bright for the Canucks and it’s unfolding right here, right now, right before our eyes… Keep your eyes on The Canuck Way for more news and updates surrounding the Vancouver Canucks.