2019 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Nils Hoglander

Nils Hoglander is fast, smart, and handles the puck with the best of them. He checks off a lot of boxes the Dallas Stars tend to look for — well, everything except height.

Name: Nils Hoglander

Team: Rogle BK (SHL)

Position: Left Wing

Stats: 50 games played, 7 goals, 7 assists, 14 points, 22 PIMs, -8 plus/minus rating

NHL Central Scouting ranking: 11th (European Skaters)

Comparable NHL player: Brendan Gallagher

Size and strength are lauded as special abilities in their own right. But why is it that speed and skill can’t contribute to physicality too? That was my thought after watching the 6-foot 19-year-old St. Louis Blue — Robert Thomas — outsmart and outwork the burly 6-foot-2, 230-pound veteran Roman Polak in the corners of the 2018-19 playoffs. Where strength is a static ability that’s useful in limited ways, physicality is an organic component that players of all sizes can broadly apply in a variety of intelligent, and assertive ways.

I mention this because Nils Hoglander is only 5-foot-9, yet he’s one of the most physical players in this draft. He’s fought, hip-checked, and done it all with flying popcorn in the background. Sweden’s junior national team coach has called him “an irrational player” but, you know, in a good way.

Forwards tend to come in types. You have the power forward, the playmaker, the checker, the grinder, and so forth. Hoglander conjures up a new type: the diminutive brute that dangles. When I previewed Dominik Bokk from the 2018 draft I said something I’ll say again: puck-handling is one of the most essential tools an effective forward can have. It’s the one thing an opponent can’t reliably anticipate, and thus can’t defend against consistently. Just look at this particular play:

Here, Hoglander uses elite (and I do mean elite) puck-handling to maintain possession for his team in all the following ways:

  • Protects the puck against the pressure
  • Beats the left-side defenseman
  • Retrieves the puck once it’s lost
  • Displays crackerjack timing: too quick with the pass there at the end, and his teammate isn’t ready for it (or has a worse angle to shoot the puck) — too slow and it’s either the opponent with the puck, or the opponent and Hoglander in a 50/50 battle.   /

These plays don’t just demonstrate Hoglander’s ability to transition from zone to zone. They also demonstrate his ability to dash and bolt into tough areas. Any profile about Hoglander talks about his fearlessness. Not every forward is willing to do this. When scouts talk about “going to the tough areas,” it’s not just a question of toughness.

It’s also about IQ.

It takes vision and smarts to keep the play moving forward after the opponent begins to collapse onto the play. A fearless forward might go to those high-danger areas, but without talent, those areas can’t be exploited for teammates. A talented forward might be able to exploit those areas, but if they’re fearful, those areas won’t open up as consistently. Hoglander exploits those areas consistently because he has the talent, and the superhero’s motto.

If Hoglander were just a puck hog, this would be the end of it. But it’s not. In the two clips above and below, he doesn’t just fearlessly pursue the puck to counter possession, he also has the IQ to make the defensive read to create a turnover.

Again, puck-handling is key. Being able to switch between forehand and backhand is crucial  for more than just making a good-looking play. As Scott Wheeler noted, “by going to it so effortlessly, Hoglander is able to go outside-in to get to dangerous spots instead of being forced to the perimeter on his forehand.”

Hoglander has excellent playmaking instincts (likely projecting as more of a passer). He can finish plays too. He scored one official “Zorro” goal, and nearly pulling off a second. It helps that Hoglander has been playing professional hockey since he was 16 (beginning in the Allsvenskan), and there are no statistical red flags when looking at his production distribution. Moreover, he only scored one point in his last 15 games with Rogle, suggesting he likely got a bit unlucky in the second half of the season. Still, his production was good enough for seventh among junior scoring in the SHL (everyone above him is a year, or nearly a year older).

When you average out all the major rankings, Hoglander is 25th, making him extremely available to Dallas, if not a potential selection in the second round. Why is that?

For Dallas, they’ll have tough decisions when picking at No. 18. Ryan Suzuki is one of the best playmakers in the draft, thanks to being nearly an assist-per-game player in his three seasons in junior. He could be available still. Kaliyev, one of the draft’s best pure goal scorers, could be available. Moritz Seider, a stay-at-home hybrid defenseman genetically engineered to play next to Miro Heiskanen, could be available. Philip Tomasino, who is bigger and quicker (Hoglander is more on the elusive side of the spectrum as opponents tend to catch him), could be available.

I’ll defend Hoglander here and say this. Hoglander is unique (yes, movie nerds, as in, there can be only one). There are slightly quicker guys Dallas could select. There are better shooters, and there are better passers. But when scouts look at a player, the player’s position is a big part. Do they demonstrate a fundamental understanding of how their role is interlinked within the play in relation to others?

For example, you can’t evaluate a center without looking at how they move after a face-off, and if they’re adept at supporting their defensemen. For wingers,  it’s a question of influence and pace. The more lanes they open up, the more influence they have on the team’s offense. And the more pace they play with, the less they can be influenced by different systems and structures that force them to adjust their understanding. A pure shooter who can’t dictate pace might not be as effective on a team that plays a dump-and-chase system. A pure passer who can’t dictate pace might not be as effective on a team that is more forecheck-based. A dependent forward who can’t dictate pace might not be as effective under rush-based systems, or teams that like to reset in the neutral zone (like the Stars under head coach Jim Montgomery).

Hoglander’s pace of play is elite. And his flaws are easily fixable. His ability to open up multiple lanes at once feels right for Dallas’ future forwards like Roope Hintz, Ty Dellandrea, Jason Robertson, and Denis Gurianov —  not to mention a blue line that can crack pucks from the top. He’s not a player that will ever be wasted in the bottom six, since he already plays a scrappy game. I also like that he’s tried eccentric moves like the Zorro goal. It displays a supreme belief, not only in what he can do, but how others can benefit from what he can do. And that’s despite starting the year playing in one of the toughest leagues as a 17-year-old. It also helps that he’s only going to get better.