Canucks' Hoglander sparkling in first bid to earn spot with big club in 2021

Iain MacIntyre and Dan Murphy discuss what stood out after the Vancouver Canucks held their first scrimmage.

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks are three days closer to the National Hockey League season than when training camp began, and so is Swedish rookie Nils Hoglander.

The five-foot-eight dynamo, a just-turned-20-year-old second-round pick who has been playing with Rogle of the Swedish Hockey League, has sparkled in his first attempt to make the Canucks.

Wednesday’s simulated game — three periods at night after full morning skates, NHL officiating — was supposed to be another hurdle to challenge Hoglander. It looked more like a curb. The added speed and intensity of the scrimmage didn’t expose weaknesses in Hoglander’s game, but reinforced his obvious offensive strengths.

Playing with captain Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson, Hoglander set up one goal and scored a beauty himself as his Whites beat the Blues 6-4 at Rogers Arena. He got stronger as the game went on and was probably the most dangerous player on either team in the third period when, in one memorable sequence, he pilfered the puck from Canucks star Elias Pettersson, which is like stealing a painting from the Louvre, only to have his countryman charge back after him.

With a day off Thursday and one final simulated game on Saturday, the Canucks are nearly halfway through their entire preparation to open the 56-game NHL season next Wednesday in Edmonton. Hoglander looks more than halfway there.

GOALIE UNION GRIEVANCE

Skaters would like a couple of exhibition games but, honestly, especially for veteran players, they can get by without them. But the lack of an actual pre-season is incredibly tough for goalies.

Apart from the obvious lack of reps, goaltenders miss NHL game speed and the vital practice of seeing and tracking pucks, which is why every poor goal or five-alarm save they make in a scrimmage feels somehow significant.

Neither Braden Holtby nor Thatcher Demko looked sharp in Wednesday’s 54-minute game and Demko, especially, struggled early as he gave up three quick goals. His body language was telling on a couple of them.

But he surrendered only one goal the rest of the way and Holtby sprinkled in some strong saves throughout. So important was this prep work that each goalie played the entire scrimmage. All they really need is a couple of NHL exhibition games apiece. But all they’re going to get is one more serious scrimmage. Ready or not, here comes the regular season.

OTHER NOTES FROM THE SCRIMMAGE

College-hockey free agent acquisition Marc Michaelis, a 25-year-old rookie who played this fall in his native Germany, made a deft pass to send Sven Baertschi in on a breakaway and continues to show a skilful, nuanced game ... Olli Juolevi, the presumptive sixth defenceman, seems to be getting stronger by the day ... The top blue-line pairing of Alex Edler with Nate Schmidt struggled in their own zone at times ... Quinn Hughes so thoroughly beat Holtby on a penalty shot, he should be a candidate for shootouts this season ... The top line of Pettersson, J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser looks flat-out ready to go.

GROWING ADAM GAUDETTE

No matter how much you try to diet, you do not want Adam Gaudette’s weight-loss program.

For years, the Canucks centre has been trying to add weight to his lanky six-foot-one frame. Diet and exercise often did not do it. The 24-year-old struggled to eat full meals, sometimes struggled to keep the food he had consumed in his stomach. He just wasn’t hungry.

Gaudette figured it was metabolism, just the way he was.

But last fall, as his weight declined again despite Gaudette eating and training as a professional athlete should, the forward from Braintree, Mass., was finally diagnosed with the help of a nutritionist.

“I discovered I had some sort of stomach problem that prevents me from eating full meals,” Gaudette told reporters before the Canucks’ full scrimmage Wednesday night. “I would get sick in the mornings randomly. And this has been going on for years. And it's always been a struggle for me to put weight on. But my nutritionist has caught it. We're attacking it, we're working with the doctors here in Van. I’ve got a great team around me, supporting me right now. And it's going to take a pretty long time to get back on track and get to where I want to be. But we caught this thing now and I'm thrilled about that because I just feel much better.

“The best way to describe it is it’s like a yeast infection in my stomach. It… makes me feel nauseous, sick, not hungry. I've been like this since high school. I just thought I was always a kid who never really liked to eat, would never get hungry, but it turns out I had something wrong with me. It's just such a relief that we figured it out. My whole world has changed for the better.”

Gaudette, who did not name his medical condition, has never missed a game due to his stomach problems. But adding weight to support his increasing strength has always been a problem.

He was listed at 170 pounds when he was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 entry draft, but may have been lighter than that. He got stronger at Northeastern University, where his game blossomed and he became a Hobey Baker winner and U.S. college scoring champion, and in two years of professional hockey had worked his way up to 186 pounds last season.

“(I’m) not as much as I weighed last year, but I definitely got stronger throughout the off-season, quicker,” Gaudette said. “I have the numbers and the weights to prove it in the gym, and I feel it on the ice. But I'm definitely lighter than I want to be.”

Gaudette won an NHL lineup spot last season and had 12 goals and 33 points in 59 games despite modest nightly ice time of 12:23. He is playing at training camp on a line with Antoine Roussel and Zack MacEwen.

MATTHEWS AND MARNER? PFFF

Veteran grinder Roussel, who made the nicest pass of the scrimmage with a behind-the-back set up to Hoglander, often delights reporters with his interesting, sometimes offbeat, views. After the morning skates, he said one of the benefits of the all-Canadian division will be a bigger stage in Eastern Canada for young Canucks stars like Pettersson and Hughes.

“I feel like sometimes like all the attention goes on to (Auston) Matthews, (Mitch) Marner, even (Nick) Suzuki now,” Roussel, who lives in Quebec in the off-season, said in his Zoom call. “It's a big attention. I don't think our guys sometimes get the attention they deserve — like our best players. They could be in a better position to market themselves as the best players in the league.”

Canuck coach Travis Green offered a rebuttal.

“They seem to have a pretty high profile already,” he said of Pettersson and Hughes, Calder Trophy winner and runner-up. “And I don’t think either one of them really cares how high their profile is. They’re both humble guys. They know those type of things come with being a good hockey player, especially in Canada.”

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