Canucks: It's time for Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin to step up to the plate

Swede Nils Hoglander has been skating with Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko.

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VICTORIA — To stick as a winger on a top line with J.T. Miller or Elias Pettersson as your centre, Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet has made it very clear: he wants to see energy, recklessness and smarts.

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Step up to the plate, Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin.

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The two young wingers have been skating alongside Pettersson and Miller, respectively, in the first two days of camp and both have been showing well.

To Höglander, the equation for him is simple: forecheck hard, play hard and win lots of puck battles.

“Just play my style,” he said.

It’s a style that got Höglander drafted in 2019 in the first place. Judd Brackett, the Canucks’ director of amateur scouting at the time, said two things excited him about Höglander: his scoring hands and his “motor,” as he called it.

Höglander the prospect never stopped moving, never stopped getting himself right into the action.

In his rookie season, that energy won him an NHL job. But the two seasons since have seen plenty of dips; last season all the way back to the minors.

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To get back from the AHL, his coach has made it clear. When you’re on the puck, be reckless, he said. When you don’t have the puck, know what to do and do it.

Every time.

“Now he’s go to know where to go in certain situations. Who’s his man. In the slot, is that my man or not? That’s the stuff he’s really got to dial up,” Tocchet said. “I think that’s the hardest thing, to play without the puck.”

For Podkolzin, as much as anything, it’s about confidence as much as anything.

“Be more confident with myself and be a little easier on myself,” the 22-year-old Russian said. “Like Hughesy (Quinn Hughes) says, just come to the rink everyday with a smile on my face.”

Podkolzin needs to learn to let go, Tocchet said.

“He’s a great kid, but he takes everything literally though. You tell him something and that’s all he thinks about,” the head coach said.

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Like Höglander, Tocchet wants Podkolzin playing a little reckless, when the time is right.

“When he thinks too much, that’s when he gets into trouble. So that’s on me, to get him to relax. But I’ve liked him so far.”

Miller said he’s always liked the fit of having Podkolzin on his wing — an up-and-down-the-rink winger he called Podkolzin.

“He’s so young but he’s still getting better and better. I think he’s learned a lot the last year,” Miller said.

“We’ve got a great relationship. If I have some problems, I can just call him and … ask about advice or something like that. And yeah, he said to me his history and that’s what I want to learn, like for him it was like a hard and a long way,” Podkolzin said.

Miller can also dole out advice about how to be a good father — Podkolzin and his wife Sasha welcomed their first child in July.

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“Probably the best part of his life,” new dad Podkolzin said, with a smile. “I’m happy.”

Defensive committee

On Friday, Hughes had his second defence partner in two days. On Thursday he was paired with the right-shot Noah Juulsen, who he skated with for a stretch last season.

On Friday he was with left-shot Carson Soucy, who has plenty of experience playing on the right despite his left-handedness.

Tocchet isn’t a big fan of playing a defenceman on his off-side, especially with Hughes, but said he needed to take a few looks at the options in front of him.

“It’s a situation where … especially early, if you want to try things do it now,” he said. “I’m not going to experiment for three weeks.”

Hughes will be playing 23 or 24 minutes per game, so his partner — or maybe it will be a couple of different options in the game — will have to be up to the demands of such a role, as well as having the skill set, Tocchet said.

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“It’s hard to just go here to another … right hand shot that can play 26, 28 minutes. Like it’s hard to find those but we have capable defencemen that can do that by committee,” he said.

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