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Canucks send Nils Höglander to AHL (but he’ll be back)

With Quinn Hughes a game-time decision, the Vancouver Canucks called up defenceman Noah Juulsen.
Nils Höglander won't be in the lineup for the Vancouver Canucks' home opener.

Ahead of the Vancouver Canucks’ home opener, Nils Höglander has been sent down to the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL.

That’s not ideal for the young winger, who entered training camp needing to battle to make the opening-night roster. It would seem to be an indictment of Höglander’s play that he would be sent down after the team’s five-game losing streak on the road to start the season.

But not so fast. Along with sending Höglander down, the Canucks called up defenceman Noah Juulsen and it was announced that Quinn Hughes will be a game-time decision for the home opener. In addition, the Canucks have several other defencemen who are questionable to play on Saturday: Tucker Poolman didn’t play on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild and Riley Stillman left Thursday’s game after a hit to the head.

With so much uncertainty on defence, the Canucks needed to call up a defenceman to make sure they had six players ready to go on Saturday night. In order to make room for Juulsen under the salary cap, someone had to be sent down and only five Canucks are exempt from waivers: Höglander, Vasily Podkolzin, Andrei Kuzmenko, Nils Åman, and Jack Rathbone.

Podkolzin and Kuzmenko are key parts of the Canucks’ top-six forward group, Åman centres the fourth line and is coming off a two-point game against the Wild, and it would be a bit counter-productive to send down a defenceman like Rathbone to make room for Juulsen.

So, Höglander was the odd man out. 

"It's a paper transaction, basically."

Head coach Bruce Boudreau confirmed on Saturday that Höglander’s “demotion” was just a paper transaction to make room for Juulsen.

“Juulsen’s here just in case,” said Boudreau. “It’s a paper transaction, basically. We’ve got two guys who are eligible to be sent down without waivers to make room for a defenceman, which we may need. To me, it was either him or Podz. You don’t like to do it, it’s just the way the cap and everything else is. I’m sure he’ll be back up as soon as possible.”

Höglander has played a strong puck-possession game, particularly when he has been on a line with Elias Pettersson, with the third-best corsi percentage on the team behind Kuzmenko and Pettersson. Boudreau’s concerns with his game, however, have resurfaced — a lack of finish around the net and some defensive lapses in the defensive zone. 

Despite some great scoring chances, Höglander has yet to score a goal this season, and an Alex Ovechkin goal when the Canucks played the Washington Capitals could be pinned directly on Höglander, who lost track of the Capitals’ sniper as he drove to the net.

Those concerns and his lack of size combined to make him a healthy scratch against the Wild instead of someone like Dakota Joshua, who hadn’t done much to that point in the season either. Joshua then responded with a two-point game, as his fourth line was buzzing around the offensive zone all night. 

"I really like the way he's playing."

Boudreau still had positive things to say about Höglander when he scratched him ahead of Thursday’s game.

“I told Höggy he’s playing pretty good, I really like the way he’s playing and be ready to get back in [the lineup] in a hurry,” said Boudreau. “But sometimes — and I’m not saying with analytics on this part — sometimes you look at your opposition and you see what you need.”

Höglander might not play even one game for the Abbotsford Canucks.

Abbotsford has an away game on Sunday against the Coachella Valley Firebirds, then don’t play again until their home opener on Friday against the San Diego Gulls. If it’s just a paper transaction, the Canucks might not want to send Höglander down to Seattle, where the Firebirds are currently playing their home games, for just one game, especially since he could get called back up before Monday’s Canucks game against the Carolina Hurricanes. 

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