The calendar flips over and the Vancouver Canucks 2022-23 season opening night draws nearer. And, as always, there are questions all around. Limiting those questions to a three-part series: forward, defence and in goal. Of course, these are things that can shift completely if one single trade happens – because, you know, it’s the Canucks. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Vancouver Canucks Forwards Are The Question Everyone Wants to Answer
Everything can change in a flash. However, the team seems set with their forward group. Except that Alex Chiasson is skating with them. For a player who has a hard time getting any contracts, he’s adhesive. The dude just sticks around. Five of his last six deals have been for a single season, but he has a 10-year NHL career. “Chaisson” is the name fourth-line NHLers don’t want to see on their team’s PTO list.
Now, he’s not officially with the Canucks – or anyone else – but he was on their roster last season. Injuries gave him an opening late in the year and he put in six goals and 10 points in April. That’s half his total scoring in 11 games – but those were the games when he was needed most. Hell of a way to make a good impression. The question up front isn’t about Chiasson – if anything, the right-wing is Vancouver’s strongest position. That leads to the big question among the forwards…
Question number one: what is going to happen to Nils Höglander? He had a brilliant rookie season. The 2019 second-round pick sticking with the team through the 2020-21 season was a happy surprise. His selection was helped along by limited options but he was still a bright spot for the strange, truncated year. His enthusiastic play had some recklessness to it. However, he produced well enough for everyone to overlook it. Höglander did finish the year fifth in team scoring and had an endless motor that fit coach Travis Green‘s style.
Year Two didn’t produce the same results, unfortunately. He had a decent start, production-wise, but started feeling the need to do more as the team stumbled. The 21-year-old was chasing the puck, forcing plays, and making some of the “good” young-player mistakes – but they’re still mistakes. When Bruce Boudreau came in to replace Green, the new coach was considerably less tolerant of Höglander’s play.
What Could Happen in Höglander’s NHL Future
Höglander is probably going to start the Canucks 2022-23 season on the fourth line, which could work out fine. If he joins forces with Curtis Lazar and Tanner Pearson, that makes for a physical, high-pursuit unit. It could be really fun to see and alleviate the lack of foot speed that has haunted the team’s bottom set in recent years. Perhaps an aggravating line rather than a checking one, per se.
However, there could be more in Höglander’s future than that. He worked very well with two other young players last season. In fact, he was part of their best line, judging by scoring opportunities. The Höglander – Elias Pettersson – Vasily Podkolzin line was excellent, if brief. They only played together 14 games, but they had a 70% expected goals rate in those 14 games. With that said, it is astoundingly unlikely that Boudreau will return to that line to start the year. But it is nice to know he has something like it in his back pocket if needed.
Bottom Six is an Option
If Höglander spends the bulk of the season in the bottom six, then the Vancouver Canucks forwards are having a good season. He’s working well with Lazar or Jason Dickinson or whoever centres that line. His occasional gambles can be covered by the more responsible teammates, and either they are a productive unit or they work well to shut down opponents. Either works just fine for the team’s needs. A bit more time with less pressure isn’t a bad thing – even if he’s hearing William Lockwood‘s footsteps on the depth chart.
It also means Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko are working out higher in the lineup. That’s good news for the team who have free money in Kuzmenko but put their necks out slightly with Mikheyev. If a line of Pearson – Lazar – Höglander can get the results of last season’s Juho Lammikko – Tyler Motte – Matthew Highmore that would give fans and coaches one less worry.
Top Line Could Also Work
Should Höglander spend most of the season on the top two lines, on the other hand, the crystal ball is hazy. He could well have discovered his scoring touch! Or someone else crapped out! The team isn’t hoping for the latter, but if Höglander is moved beside Pettersson or Bo Horvat early then something has probably gone very wrong. Boudreau isn’t going to pull out Green’s Blender(TM) every period, but if he feels the need to shake things up, he will.
Then again, maybe not. It could be that Boudreau decided to try the young trio as a regular unit with the future in mind. Not gonna be shy, we’d love to see that. But given the nature of the coach and the additions the team has made, it seems very unlikely.
Magic Eight Ball Says
A third-year player isn’t the obvious choice for a team barometer. The Vancouver Canucks forwards group is big. There are certainly more talented skaters on the team and plenty of different stories. Podkolzin is going to continue being a fun watch. Seeing Brock Boeser come back will make for a great story. How quickly Kuzmenko adapts to the NHL – if he can – will have fans on tenterhooks. But hockey, like all sports, is a game of results. If Nils Höglander delivers, everyone will be able to tell by his ice time – and production.
*Stats from MoneyPuck