For 2023-24, the Vancouver Canucks winger situation is thought of in one way: “too many”. We don’t know if that number will change by the start of the season, but the circumstances undoubtedly will.
The Canucks Wingers Who Want to Make Their Mark
Big changes have happened around the Vancouver Canucks already this offseason. Ethan Bear was allowed to walk, Kyle Burroughs went unsigned, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson was famously bought out. It also seems a matter of time before a Tyler Myers deal is completed.
Filip Hronek played all of four games for Vancouver last year, so he can be considered an addition. He comes in alongside Carson Soucy, Ian Cole, and Matt Irwin to start 2023-24. An AHL defenceman will probably round out the unit, with Christian Wolanin or Noah Juulsen the most likely promotions.
After such a complete overhaul of the team’s defence, it’s not unreasonable to suspect changes up front, too. If the rumoured Myers-for-Kevin Labanc rumour is true, then that’s likely it for additions. Labanc and Teddy Blueger will be the big additions among forwards.
While technically true, that’s hardly the full story. Speedster Ilya Mikheyev will be healthy and back, if not that day then soon after. Word is that oft-forgotten Tanner Pearson is aiming to return for season’s opening – though we’ll believe it when witnessed.
Mutt and Jeff will Scratch and Claw
Vasily Podkolzin was famously drafted in Vancouver 10th overall in 2019. While there was a slightly mixed reception – possibly because of fans trying to translate Stan Smyl‘s pronunciation – it’s easy to see why he was chosen.
While his scoring isn’t highlight-reel stuff, he can shoot it HARD. Podkolzin was clearly a high-IQ player and a possession beast. He was known for his dogged pursuit of the puck and his ability to remove opponents from it.
Nils Höglander, on the other hand, is a fireball in the offensive zone.
It was obvious enough what a star Podkolzin could be that his KHL team, SKA St. Petersburgh, put pressure on him to sign with them. He refused, though stayed to play out his original contract. Unfortunately, the KHL isn’t a development league, and he saw his ice time crater.
Podkolzin spent two years getting pulled from the ice for any defensive mistakes, often getting less than five minutes of ice time in a game. Funny thing, though: his coaches overlooked the minor mistakes when the games mattered.
The Podkolzin we’ve seen in North America isn’t the one from Russia – yet. His learned habit of making no mistakes or he’d get pulled remained. It wasn’t entirely helped by Vancouver hiring Bruce Boudreau, who tends to prefer his veterans over his rookies.
While he was decently reliable defensively, Podkolzin has played gun-shy. He contributed just three assists in his first 16 games in 2022-23 before going to Abbotsford. He was called back up to play for new coach Rick Tocchet, but the same habits stuck.
Podkolzin garnered just four goals in 23 games for Tocchet, finishing out the year in Abby. Given his nature – and just how bad the Canucks were at it – it’s surprising he hasn’t been on the penalty kill yet.
On the other hand, the biggest challenge might be to break him from his defence-first mindset. Give the 6’1″ Canucks winger some rope, let him make the occasional mistake, and the team will be handsomely rewarded.
His most productive time so far was in April of 2022. There was a chance at a playoff spot, and Podkolzin stepped up. Like in Russia, when the team needed to score more than they needed perfect defence, he produced. Might be a lesson in there.
Ride the Hog
Nils Höglander is under a different set of expectations. Drafted a year sooner than Podkolzin, he broke into the league immediately. His draft selection was followed with a 13-goal, 27-point rookie year in just 56 games. Not bad for a 40th-overall pick.
Unfortunately, in his second year, he scored just 10 times and had 18 points in 60 games. In year three – this past season – he had three goals and nine points in 25 games before going to Abbotsford.
For entertainment value alone, Vancouver should be doing everything they can to keep Höglander with the big club. The 5’9″ Canucks winger is a blast to watch on the ice. Despite his size, he’s perfectly happy to go into the “dangerous areas” in front of the net, on the boards, or in the corners.
He’s at his best as an agitating, irritating force to be reckoned with. He’s the definition of quick, and for a team desperately in need of quickness that’s music to your ears. His scoring returned while in Abbotsford, with 32 points in 45 games and six in six for the playoffs.
It also looks like Höglander worked on his “irritating” factor, getting nearly a minute per AHL game in penalties. That’s just two fewer than he got in 141 NHL games, for the folks keeping score at home.
There’s still a boatload of talent here. And with his new two-year, one-way contract in hand, it’s past time to see where exactly he can fit. At his worst, Höglander is a fourth-line player with enough skill to move up as needed. At his best, he’s added scoring in the middle six.
That he also happens to be dirt cheap and entertaining as well are just a bonus for the fans.
Main Photo Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports