The whole little ditty I wrote for the Hockey Wanderlüst international newsletter Thursday morning about the Vancouver Canucks 3 Swedes … this was prior to the game in Colorado. Mildly prophetic in one case. Wanderlüst comes out Thursdays and Sundays.
As of Thursday, 81 Swedish hockey players are actively participating in the National Hockey League.
Since I’m in this market, that would be Vancouver, British Columbia, I figured I would give European ice hockey fans, Swedes in particular, a little update on three of their exports. Or imports, depending on where you’re sitting, and from where I’m sitting, they look pretty good.
It’s been a slow start for the Vancouver Canucks young star centre Elias Pettersson, but even then he’s managed nine points in thirteen games thus far. Most of the struggles for the 22-year-old and his mates come from a top power play unit that’s been playing without any of that first part … power. The Canucks went through a 1-for-20 stretch on the man advantage during their recent seven game homestand. They finally broke out against the Dallas Stars this past Sunday with the first unit clicking three times in a 6-3 victory.
Vancouver is always a critical market with a media that leans to the negative side of things. There’s a little extra heat on “Petey” this season because he and star puck-moving defenceman Quinn Hughes skipped training camp and a good hunk of the preseason while waiting to sign new contracts. Both were coming out of entry-level deals: Pettersson signed for three years at $7.350-million per and Hughes went longer term at six years for $7.850-million per season.
That puts extra pressure on key young players on a team who’s coach Travis Green and General Manager Jim Benning already appear to be under make-the-playoffs-or-else kind of pressure.
Starting a three-game road trip at 5-6-and-2 coming out of a 2-4-1 homestand hasn’t quieted the critics.
Pettersson for the most part has been too much hands and not enough feet. He’s forcing it a bit, stickhandling a bit too much, holding on to pucks, as players are apt to do when they’re trying to pick up the offensive pace. The Vancouver Canucks are averaging 2.62 goals per game while giving up slightly more than that.
They’ve actually been dominate at five-on-five much of the season, but they’ve been killed by those special teams. Especially a penalty kill that’s ranked 30th in the NHL, but Petey has nothing to do with that.
Pettersson has nothing to do with face-offs either. Although he plays centre, on face-offs he’s been relegated to “observer status”. JT Miller usually takes Petey’s draws for him. His 30% or so win percentage wasn’t getting it done and he’ll need to work hard on it.
The other Swedish forward playing for the BC boys is Nils Höglander. I refer to him as a “maniac”. The reason: his boundless energy. While summer acquisition Conor Garland gets a lot of credit for being a catalyst for the Canucks, it would be fair to describe Höglander as at least that. He’s the European version of Garland, without the chirpy mouth, as far as I know.
Höglander is quick, he’s fast, he wins puck battles, and he exhibits great skill. The 20-year-old second-year player, who had 27 points in 56 games his rookie season, has tremendous upside. He’s been playing on his off-wing at times with centre Bo Horvat, the Canucks captain, and Tanner Pearson.
Höglander has a goal and three assists thus far through 13 games. There are youthful mistakes. His time-on-ice has varied dramatically this season from a low of 12:11 to a high of 17:51. Coach Green isn’t afraid to juggle lines early and often when he feels things aren’t working, or to sit guys who aren’t producing.
Those minutes would definitely go up if Höglander was given a look on the PK. Why not? Green tends to lean toward veterans in that situation, but the Swede would bring focused tenacity.
The third and final Vancouver Canucks Swede came to town with Garland in a deal back on July 23rd from the Arizona Coyotes. Yes, veteran defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (OEL) escaped hockey’s purgatory in a trade that sent lots of old contracts the other way. It was an excellent deal by Benning.
Upon hearing the news, the media immediately seized on the fact that OEL was coming off a couple of down years, not thinking through the fact necessarily that the player had been awaiting a trade for about a year, was playing through Covid bubble seasons on a team that had no hopes, again, of going anywhere in the regular season or playoffs. It was time to go, and fortunately for Ekman-Larsson, he went.
He’s a veteran leader, a former captain in the desert, and he possesses an infectious personality.
More importantly for fans, he’s been his old steady self. He’s calm in the decision making processes, makes accurate breakout passes and he has the uncanny ability of getting shots through traffic. He leads the Canucks with 44 shots on goal. The 30-year-old would love to add to his modest three points this early season. He works both the PK and the second PP unit.
Level-headed would be a great way to describe him. In fact, all three guys never seem to get too high or too low regardless of the situation.
Oh yeah, they’re Swedish.
(Editor’s note: Risto Pakarinen will have an update on the other 78 Swedes in the NHL next week. Ha ha. Just kidding Risto)