It is no secret that Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning and his cohorts strode into the 2019 NHL Entry Draft with a shopping list jam-packed with needs.
After a disappointing yet optimistic end to the 2018-19 NHL season, the rumour mill started back up again. With talk of trading up in the draft, trading down in the draft and trading the 10th-overall selection altogether, it became apparent that Canucks management had accrued a ton of expectations from fans and media alike. To put it in a way we can all comprehend, it was do or die for Benning. He chose to ‘do,’ and drafted Vasili Podkolzin and Nils Höglander.
Canucks Select Podkolzin at No. 10
The first round of the draft was full of surprises. From the Chicago Blackhawks selecting centre Kirby Dach with the third-overall pick to the Detroit Red Wings selecting German defenseman Mortiz Seider at No. 6, the first round was loaded with surprises. With no shortage of talent, it was commonplace to see top-ranked skaters fall deeper down the draft board. The Montreal Canadiens, for example, were lucky enough to have Cole Caufield, a record-breaking goal scorer from the USNTDP, fall into their laps at number 15, halfway through the first round.
When the Canucks selected the Russian Podkolzin with the 10th-overall pick, Vancouver fans felt an array of emotions. Many were ecstatic to welcome such a highly-touted prospect to the team, while others were visibly upset when the Canucks left other big names on the board. No matter who your personal choice would have been, Benning and co. chose a great player. Podkolzin was widely thought to be one of the top-five talents in the 2019 Draft, but fell to the Canucks at 10 likely because teams were weary of his return to Russia, which Benning said he is OK with.
Swede Selection at No. 40
As if adding Podkolzin to the prospect pool wasn’t enough, Benning smartly selected Höglander at No. 40. How he slid into the mid-second round, nobody knows, but Benning wasn’t going to pass up on the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Swede, who many scouts had ranked as a first-round pick. The only deterrent may have been his size, but when the Anaheim Ducks didn’t select the Rogle BK forward with the 39th pick, Canucks fans probably shouted at their televisions for Benning to select him.
This guy is good. Ignore the fact that he is under 5-foot-10 and focus on the fact that he already weighs 185 pounds. He has an almost unmatched work ethic and some of the smoothest hands in the entire draft. If that isn’t enough to get you excited, he can also juggle while riding a unicycle. Opposing teams should be very, very careful.
Judging by what we’ve seen from the Canucks development camp, Höglander has a crazy compete level and no-quit attitude. His strength on the puck is reminiscent of Brian Gionta and his puck skills give off some Martin St. Louis vibes.
While size can be a good indicator of a player’s physicality at the NHL level, it doesn’t necessarily determine skill. Look no further than the Canucks’ first-round pick from 2017, Elias Pettersson. Despite being 6-foot-2, the Swedish centre only weighed around 160 pounds when he was taken with the fifthoverall pick that year. Pettersson boasts a fantastic elusiveness that helps him avoid bone-crushing checks from opposing players. Hopefully Höglander can do the same when he makes the NHL roster. Check out some of his junior stats from the past few years.
Is Höglander Ready Now?
While the Canucks have definitely improved this offseason with the acquisition of J.T. Miller and the drafting of Podkolzin and Höglander, are they that much better right now? Miller is an established NHL player who will jump into the lineup in September, but the Canucks need more help than that. Podkolzin is poised to spend the next two years in Russia, and Canucks fans can only hope that he will come back to Vancouver sooner than the 2021-22 NHL season. But is Höglander ready now?
It depends on who you ask, but it would feel ridiculous to say no. After watching video of him at Canucks Development Camp at UBC this past week, anyone should find it difficult to deny that he is ready to challenge for a roster spot for the 2019-20 season. Another year in Sweden, however, wouldn’t be a bad thing. Pettersson spent the 2017-18 season playing with Vaxjo HC in the Swedish Hockey League, then he came over to North America and eviscerated the competition. Hopefully Höglander can do the same. We simply can’t wait.
Shane Wilson is a staff writer from Richmond, British Columbia. The former executive editor for Australia-based news outlet Rock Nation covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers and hosts a monthly comedy show in Steveston, B.C.