Vancouver Canucks

Swedish Connection

...How Nils Höglander and Elias Pettersson helped each other through their early-season struggles

April 8, 2022

Trent Leith - @trentl14

A lot of on-ice chemistry in the National Hockey League is first formed off the ice, and that appears to be the case for Elias Pettersson and Nils Höglander. It seems obvious that the two skilled young Swedish forwards would have a lot in common, but it wasn't until this season that their friendship fully blossomed. 

Both Pettersson and Höglander played in the Swedish Hockey League before making the direct jump to the NHL. Pettersson played one season in the league, while Höglander played three before playing in North America, but they never played together before they arrived in Vancouver.

"Even last year we were good friends but we didn't become that close because he (Pettersson) wasn't in the lineup as much last year because he was injured," Höglander explained. "We've become close this year and hang out a lot. Obviously, we are both Swedish, so that helps."

What also helps is their bond shared over their favourite Call of Duty drop zones.

"We play video games together. A lot of Warzone. I am switching over to (EA's) NHL now," Höglander continued. "We go to Yaletown, hang around there a lot and have dinner."

Höglander has spent more time on the ice with Pettersson this season than any other forward other than Bo Horvat. In Höglander's time on Pettersson's flank, he has slightly elevated Pettersson's Goals For Percentage. The two of them are always talking and trying to make each other better. 

Pettersson was struggling to start the season after a wrist injury that kept him out for 30 games last season and a contract negotiation that saw him miss much of training camp last fall. He was slow to find his high-flying offensive game, struggling both mentally and with his wrist.

"I think he was kind of in his head," Höglander said of Pettersson's start to the 2021-22 season.

His advice for Pettersson?

"Think about something else, have fun, and just go out and play," Höglander would tell him.

Pettersson would eventually find his footing and get back on track. After putting up only 22 points in the first 41 games of the season, he's been averaging more than a point per game ever since.

Höglander wasn't without his fair share of struggles himself this season. He played at a 40-point pace last season (adjusted to 82 games), and this season he hasn't looked like the point producer he was in his rookie year aside from the first few weeks of this season. His game hasn't changed drastically beyond his inability to get on the scoresheet. That's where his fellow countryman Pettersson comes to help. 

"I haven't done the best I can right now," Höglander admitted. "I know that and he's tried to help me out with that. He's come up with some tips and tricks and everything, so it's helped."

While Höglander hasn't put up the offensive numbers that Canucks fans have come to expect of him, he did find the scoresheet in a 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils back on March 15 - his final game before suffering a groin injury that has kept him out of the lineup ever since.

In that game, an eagle-eyed fan caught Höglander wearing Pettersson's gloves on the broadcast.

"I always wear them. I really like them," he told the media postgame. "It's better to wear his than mine." 

The friendship is obviously something that has been noticed around the room. When asked, Horvat was laughing with the media postgame and said: "I don't know what he was doing there. They're pretty good buddies."

The friendships in the room extend beyond just the two Swedes and to some of the other young core players as well. 

"I can say everyone is close," Höglander said. "Huggy and Boes too, it's not like it's just me and Petey, we have a good group. We have fun together. Podkolzin is getting better with English, it's really good to see."

The chemistry between Boeser, Hughes and Pettersson has become evident over the last few seasons. And this season, Vasily Podkolzin, Höglander and Pettersson have shown on-ice chemistry in their limited ice time together. In their brief outings together, they outscored their opponents and controlled 56% of shot attempts, giving the Canucks a clear advantage when that trio is on the ice together.

"Yeah, I mean I think we had really good chemistry in the game we played together. We started there in Nashville and everyone felt really good when we played with each other," Höglander said of playing with Pettersson and Podkolzin in a game in which those three combined to open the scoring and set the tone in a 3-1 victory.

The trio clearly has chemistry and their play styles align well.

"We hang out outside the rink too and we talk about situations and everything so I think that's helped as well," Höglander said of the three in their free time away from Rogers Arena.

Even head coach Bruce Boudreau noticed the trio's newfound friendship.

"Petey gets along with them off the ice," he said. "They're the closest threesome we have off the ice in terms of togetherness."

But of all the young friends on the Canucks, it seems like Höglander and Pettersson are amongst the closest, often sharing their outings together on social media.

The two even spent Christmas in Vancouver together. 

Höglander and Pettersson are still early in their careers and new to being linemates. And with Höglander currently sidelined due to injury, they'll have to wait to rekindle that on-ice connection. But with the foundation laid this season, these two will continue to grow on and off the ice and could one day turn into a skilled duo that opposing teams dread to see step over the boards.