Vancouver Canucks

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: How a Team Effort Lifted Nils Höglander to New Heights 

January 12, 2024

Izzy Cheung - @izzycheung37

Most of Nils Höglander’s successes this season can be attributed to developing a more well-rounded style of play. The opportunities he’s earned have come out of small defensive plays that won’t be seen on any highlight reels — things that have been refined through his time with the Abbotsford Canucks. 

This ascent from the Baby-Nucks’ first line to being an effective everyday player in Vancouver’s lineup, took effort from more than just ‘Höggy’ himself. Rather, like all great teams in the history of sports, this was the work of a committee.

This time last year, it looked as if Höglander’s sophomore slump had extended into his third season with the big club. Following a 5–1 loss to the St. Louis Blues last December, in which he was a healthy scratch, Höglander was sent down to the Abbotsford Canucks. The goal of the assignment was for Höglander to further his development under the watchful eye of Abbotsford’s Head Coach Jeremy Colliton. Hopefully, by putting the work in, he would push for a roster spot in the coming season. 

After 45 regular season games in the AHL, the speedy forward has made a remarkable return to the NHL. His six-game playoff stint with Abbotsford saw him flourish with an average of a point per game. Now, with 12 goals in 40 games, Höglander has added another level to the way he plays his game — all just after his twenty-third birthday.

“Coach Colliton helped me a lot and got my confidence back,” said Höglander. “He helped with small details on the ice as well.”

“I’ve talked to Jeremy a lot,” Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Rick Tocchet added. “We talk about certain players and Höggy was one where he felt last year, at the start, his hockey IQ got chipped away at but if you watch his defending, he’s getting a little bit better.”

This improvement in defending that Tocchet references include the very “small details” that Höglander took note of. These small acts, such as tying up pucks in corners late in the third or diving out to break up a possible scoring chance for the opposing team, have propelled him to a different level of defensive play.

Since being drafted 40th overall in 2019, a big factor in Höglander’s game has been his compete level and high-motor style of play. With the help of Colliton, he’s been able to mix that with a stronger presence in the defensive zone. 

“You throw the puck in the corner and he’ll probably keep it in there for about 30 seconds,” said Tocchet. “That’s being a good defender to me.”

“I learned a lot from last year in Abbotsford,” Höglander said. “I came back to the confidence I had before I got sent down — that was a big key for me.”

From frequenting optional skates to being out on the ice early for practices, it’s clear that Höglander has taken long strides since his first season. It’s during these practice sessions with the big club that Höglander has been able to consult the wide berth of knowledge that makes up the Canucks’ coaching staff. 

With their names in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Daniel and Henrik Sedin have vastly impacted many lives within the Vancouver Canucks organization. Höglander is no exception. Things such as going over video with them or seeking out their advice during practices indicate the profound effect that the twins have had on him as well.  

“A lot of guys learn from them and they teach each player individually,” Höglander said. “I think that’s a big thing for the whole group and especially for me. I try to work with them every day and see what I can do, like some tips on the ice. That helps a lot when you have those guys.” 

While we are only at the halfway point of the season, stats have been telling the story of a different Nils Höglander. The speedy winger has hovered near the top of the league in five-on-five goals per 60 minutes. He currently sits in sixth in the league with 1.67 goals/60. His previous season high was 0.94, which he logged back in his rookie year. When he’s on the ice, the rate of goals for his team per 60 minutes clocks in at around 3.48 — 0.51 more G/60 than any of his past seasons. 

As Höglander continues his development with the big club, it’s clear that Colliton and the Sedins aren’t the only ones who have become part of his team. By holding frequent one-on-one practice sessions and making an effort to communicate with his players, Tocchet has become a big part of Höggy’s development. 

“I like that he comes up and talks if something is wrong,” Höglander said of his head coach.  “You can see that he’s really into his job.” 

For Höglander, confidence and a newfound focus on the smaller defensive details of the game have paid off in dividends. The tenacious forward has been exposed to more defensive responsibilities. 

“His body position and awareness is something that he’s worked on,” Tocchet said in early December. “Last game, he was in a good spot a couple of times where before, you don’t know what he’s going to do, and I think that’s [attributed to] a lot of reps and him being diligent on his game.” 

With the help of a team made up of Colliton, the Sedins, Tocchet, as well as many of his teammates, Höglander has made significant strides from where he was at this time a year ago. For a high-motor player who hasn’t even reached the mid-point of his twenties, the possibilities are endless.