Seeing as most of the likely candidates for the Wings to draft with their 6th overall pick have been covered already, today I’d like to cover a player who I think could realistically end up an early 2nd round pick that I could see garnering some interest from the Red Wings scouts in Europe.
Nils Höglander is, in my opinion, one of the more underappreciated forward prospects in this talent pool. The diminutive winger played for Rögle BK in the SHL this season, scoring 7 goals and 7 assists through 50 games. Rögle BK was one of the weaker teams in the SHL this past season, but he led all first-time draft eligible skaters in the SHL in points, finishing 5th in U19 scoring, and 7th in U19 P/GP. Whether he’s a late first round pick, or a second round pick is up for debate, but if there’s one reason that he could fall into the second round, it’s because he stands at only about 5’9”. Höglander’s ability to impact the game, however, can’t be reduced down to his height, and in this article, I’m going to get into why that is, and why scouts speak so highly of him.
Name: Nils Höglander
Birthplace: Bockträsk, Sweden
Weight: 185 lbs
NHL Comparable: Brendan Gallagher
Future Considerations: 29th
McKeen’s Hockey: 41st
NHL Central Scouting (EU Skaters): 11th
Corey Pronman: 18th
I often like to compare Höglander’s playing style and demeanor on the ice to that of a honey badger. While small in stature, Höglander is pound-for-pound one of the most athletic prospects of the 2019 draft class (see his combine results here as evidence), plays with an infectious hungriness and tenacity, and demonstrates an unexpected physical edge to his game. He is dialed in on the puck on a very consistent basis, and he does not hesitate to get into the mix along the boards/corners or in front of the net and battle for it against larger, physically imposing defensemen.
Höglander is a quick, and extremely agile skater, and has one of the best motors on any player in the draft class. He’s remarkably slippery and difficult to contain even in confined regions of the ice, like when he’s trying to stickhandle with the puck through traffic or when maneuvering along the boards under pressure. His turn radius is sharp, and his change of direction abrupt enough that he can retrieve the puck while escaping from pockets of intense defensive pressure effectively. This is evident along the boards when he retrieves the puck, as he’s quick to change direction to slip checks and open up space.
He’s explosive when accelerating laterally, giving him the ability to weave in and out of lanes and evade defenders. His quick stops and starts also let him shake defenders with cutback moves and gives himself time and space to work with. He handles physical challenges from opponents surprisingly well, largely because he’s constantly keeping his feet moving, is strong on his edges, and is more difficult to knock off of balance in stride. Being the size that he is, he may still have some issues with bigger stronger opponents, but his game mostly centers from using his agility to outmaneuver his opposition and gain positional leverage on them.
On the forecheck, he doesn’t hesitate to apply direct pressure on defenders before they can turn the play up ice, and uses his speed to close the gaps quickly and win races to the puck. Once he closes that gap with the puck or puck-carrier, Höglander possesses an active stick and is good at using it to pressure and impede opponents as they are trying to set up the breakout. Höglander also shows a willingness to challenge puck-carriers physically, and can catch opponents by surprise with how he can line them up for hits, even in open ice. Taken together, he’s effective at forcing mistakes and turnovers, which can turn into sustained zone time for his team.
With the puck, Höglander has very dynamic stick skills. In his review of the top 107 prospects, in fact, Corey Pronman opined that Höglander has the best hands in the draft class. His stickhandling is effortless, creative, quick, and when combined with his dynamic skating abilities and agility, he constantly keeps defenders second guessing. Höglander is very patient with the puck, and is good at outwaiting defenders and getting them to bite before exploiting the holes that this creates in defensive coverage, which is when his other skills can take over on the play. Namely, Höglander is a creative playmaker, great at breaking down defensive coverage and opening up passing lanes to quality scoring areas. He’s good at getting his passes on the tape through very tight spaces. Höglander is also a capable finisher, and finds success because he has a quick, heavy wrist shot that requires little time to get off, and will get himself into scoring spots. He has very good hand-eye co-ordination, able to get his stick on shots to redirect them on net. Even if he hasn’t completely escaped pressure from defenders, his quick hands and release still make him a dangerous threat from these areas. And even when he doesn’t have a clear shot on net, he’s been known to have a few tricks up his sleeve:
Video Credit: Filip Persson - YouTube
While not exactly a stalwart defensively, Höglander will still help below the faceoff circle, is good at winning races to the pucks in his own zone and initiating the quick transition, and is generally good at anticipating passing lanes that puck carriers could exploit and finding the area in coverage that he needs to get to. He plays with grit and will battle for possession, but even with how athletic he is, his lack of size can be an issue when trying to prevent opponents’ forechecks from setting up. The amount of effort and intensity that he displays can also vacillate on the backcheck, and there are times where he will be guilty of not engaging in battles below his dots and instead waiting for the play to come his way. For a winger his age, however, if he can learn to sustain the same intensity he shows on a more consistent basis in his own zone, the work ethic and willingness to get his hands dirty bodes well for his future development on the defensive side of the puck.
Overall, if you look past how small he is, Höglander has so many tools that show promise in translating to the next level. A heart-and-soul type of player who marries a high level of skill and athleticism to passion and intensity, he is a loaded pistol that fans of the team that drafts him will fall in love with very quickly. While his size may hold him back from being taken in the first round, I would peg him as a shoe-in for the top 40. While there are definitely questions you can ask about how he will make the jump and sustain this style of play against larger, stronger forwards, his play in the SHL this season is very encouraging.
Video Credit: NHL Prospects - YouTube
Höglander at No. 35?
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