The Vancouver Canucks second-rounder is already looking like a steal, as he leads the WJC in points heading into the quarterfinal. And his goals aren’t boring, either.
Nils Hoglander|Kevin Light/Getty Images
OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – At last year’s world juniors, Sweden got sunk by a weak offensive attack. This time, that has not been an issue and Nils Hoglander has been a big reason why. The Vancouver Canucks pick was an offensive driver in the team’s quarterfinal win over the host Czechs, tallying two goals and three points in a 5-0 victory.
Hoglander’s first goal saw him celebrate by ‘silencing’ the sell-out crowd by putting his finger to his lips.
“It was fun to play in front of so many people,” he said. “It was a little bad of me, but we had the fans against us.”
With 10 points through five games, Hoglander is leading the tournament in scoring and that offense hasn’t been of the quiet variety. After scoring a lacrosse-style goal with Rogle in the SHL earlier this season, the nifty left winger pulled off the feat again in Trinec against Finland. The Rogle tally seemed to set off an NHL trend, with Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov scoring in that style soon after and numerous others giving it a try. So how did a 19-year-old Swedish kid muster the courage to do it in his nation’s top league?
“I don’t know, I just tried it,” Hoglander said. “I did it before so I trusted myself to do it.”
And Hoglander did not worry about messing it up. While he was uncharacteristically bashful with the press after the Czech win, Hoglander is clearly a confident kid (I assumed he understood the gravity of the situation, with Sweden now two wins away from gold, and didn’t want to get too high). Canucks fans are stoked about his future in Vancouver already and when you see the skill set, the hype is understandable. The fact Vancouver nabbed the kid with a second-round pick in 2019 makes the scenario all the more sweet.
So how was he still around at pick No. 40? During his draft year, some European scouts wondered about his size, while others weren’t sure if he could be a go-to offensive guy or more of a secondary threat. At 5-foot-9, Hoglander towers over no one, but he is pretty strong and weighs in at 190 pounds. As for the offensive upside, he has clearly hit another gear this season. After putting up 14 points in 50 SHL games during his draft year, Hoglander has nine through 19 during this campaign – not to mention his world junior numbers.
“He has really fast hands and a really quick release,” said goaltender Hugo Alnefelt. “It’s kinda hard to read his shot, so he has a lot of good sides to his offensive game.”
While Sweden struggled to find goals last year, Hoglander’s line with Los Angeles Kings prospect Samuel Fagemo and Winnipeg Jets rookie David Gustafsson has led the charge in Trinec and Ostrava. Fagemo is one point behind Hoglander right now, while the heavy Gustafsson was lauded by Hoglander for his faceoff prowess and strength. And naturally, Gustafsson is happy to have such a talented left winger on his side.
“He’s such a skilled player, it’s fun to play with a player like that,” Gustafsson said. “Every time I give him the puck, I just stand by and watch him.”
But the Swedes aren’t just here to have fun. Down to the semifinal, they have an opportunity to earn an elusive gold medal, something the program hasn’t done since Mika Zibanejad’s crew in 2012. Overall, Sweden has only won this tournament twice, with the other victory coming way back in 1981.
Before they get that chance however, the Swedes will have to down tournament-favorite Russia. And while Hoglander is aware of the challenge, he’s not going to shrink from it, either.
“Of course it will be a tough game,” he said. “But we are tough, too.”
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