Canucks: Nils Höglander finishes eighth in Calder Trophy voting

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 19: Nils Hoglander #36 of the Vancouver Canucks skates with the puck during NHL hockey action against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena on February 19, 2021 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 19: Nils Hoglander #36 of the Vancouver Canucks skates with the puck during NHL hockey action against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena on February 19, 2021 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canucks will have to wait until next year to see if they can land another rookie on the Calder ballot.

On Tuesday evening, the NHL hosted their annual year-end awards, albeit virtually instead in-person. During the show, the league announced the winners of the remaining five regular-season awards, including the Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and Calder Trophy.

As many Canucks fans know, none of their players were actually named a finalist for any of these awards. But that didn’t mean the people of Vancouver were completely disinterested, especially when it came to Nils Höglander and his rookie campaign.

Shortly after the conclusion of the awards show, it was revealed that Höglander finished eight overall in Calder Trophy voting.

Despite not being named a finalist for the Calder, much like teammates Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes were able to achieve during their first year, Höglander still put up a solid rookie performance overall.

The 20-year-old Swede had a decent start to his first season in Vancouver, notching three goals and four assists in his first 15 games, including his first-career NHL goal during the season opener against the Edmonton Oilers.

The offence became a bit more inconsistent after that, with Höglander only hitting the scoresheet during four of the next 15 games. Midway through March, Höglander did find himself tied for fifth in scoring amongst rookies with 12 points, but had already played a handful of more games than his peers. He was also exactly halfway behind Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov who, at the time, was producing at just under a point-per-game pace with 24 points in 26 games, and didn’t appear to be slowing down at all.

In other words, Höglander was officially in the battle to become the second-best rookie of the 2020-21 campaign.

For the latter half of the season, Höglander continued to make a big impact in Vancouver’s top-six forward group. His chemistry with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson on the second line seemed to grow on a nightly basis, and he was even rewarded with some time on the first line with Boeser and J.T. Miller after Pettersson remained sidelines with injury.

No matter where he played, Höglander provided energy, speed, creativity every time he stepped over the boards and onto the ice, and was able to create numerous high-danger scoring chances at both even strength and on the powerplay. Höglander, who was listed as only 5’9″ and 185 pounds entering the season, consistently played beyond his small stature, and wouldn’t shy away from a 50/50 scrums or gritty battles along the boards.

Höglander finished the season fifth in team scoring with 27 points in 56 games, highlighted by four goals and three assists in his last 11 games, and averaged just over 15 minutes of ice time over that span. He was tied for sixth in scoring amongst all rookies in the league, finishing two points behind fellow North division newcomer and umlaut-holder Tim Stützle of the Ottawa Senators. Höglander also finished tied for ninth in takeaways amongst all players in the league with 42, putting him amongst the likes of Brad Marchand, Auston Matthews and Ryan O’Reilly.

Unfortunately, his efforts with the Canucks didn’t translate as strongly in the all-rookie competition.

As a result, Höglander was given one third-place vote, as well as four fourth-place votes and seven fifth-place votes for a total of 24 points in the ballot process. He ended up six points ahead of Stützle, but also one point behind New Jersey Devils’ blueliner Ty Smith for seventh spot. Höglander also received seven nominations for the All-Rookie Forward team, but didn’t end up making the cut.

As expected, Kaprizov walked away with the grand prize, securing 99 first-place votes. The 24-year-old, who played five years in the KHL before joining the Wild this past season, led all rookies in goals (27) and points (51). Dallas Stars’ forward Jason Robertson finished in second place, posting 17 goals and 28 assists in 45 games, including a point-per-game pace in his last 21 contests, to help Dallas come within four points of the fourth and final playoff spot in the Discover Central Division.

Carolina Hurricanes’ netminder Alex Nedeljkovic rounded out the top three, nabbing four second-place votes and 62 third-place votes to go along with his .932 SV% and 1.90 GAA.

Unfortunately, history also wasn’t in Höglander’s favour for this year’s Rookie of the Year competition.

Since 1967, the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) has been tasked with voting on all major year-end awards, including the Calder Trophy. Historically speaking, however, the PHWA have been known to not nominate three forwards as finalists. Of course, the PHWA will put forth a trio of forwards if they represent the best three players amongst rookies, as they should. Take 2017-18, for example, when Boeser was a finalist with Mat Barzal and Clayton Keller, or even 2013-14, when Nathan MacKinnon came out on top over Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.

Given the chance, however, the PHWA will make concerted efforts to include at least one defencemen or goaltender as a finalist, and this past season definitely had its fare share of options to choose from. This list includes the aforementioned Nedeljkovic and Smith, as well as goaltenders Kevin Lankinen and Igor Shesterkin.

And with Robertson essentially locking up the second forward spot in the latter half of the season, it was only a matter of time before the league officially announced the three finalists that would put an end to the Canucks’ successful Calder nominee streak.

It was a tough ask for the young Swede to climb up the rookie ranks at such a demanding pace, especially given the shortened campaign and the team-wide COVID-19 outbreak that sidelined the club for three weeks, and that should be accounted for in his eight place finish.

Nonetheless, Höglander’s rookie campaign should still be marked down as a success. The former 2019 second round pick turned heads right out of training camp, and didn’t look back from there. If he continues to play an exciting, fast-paced style of hockey, as well as build off of his performance from last season and find more ways to put the puck in the back of the net, Canucks fans should be excited for Höglander to make an impact each and every year in Vancouver moving forward.

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What are your thoughts on Höglander’s rookie campaign? Did the PHWA get it right with this year’s Calder Trophy ballots? Let us know if the comments!