Nils Höglander isn’t the only young right winger competing for a spot in the Vancouver Canucks lineup at training camp.
Sure, Höglander got all the headlines after day one, and deservedly so when he got a chance to play on the second line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. But there are other players battling for spots as well, namely Zack MacEwen.
MacEwen is serving notice that he wants to be in the Canucks’ lineup for good after playing 17 regular season games and six playoff games last year. In one particular 1-on-1 drill on day two, MacEwen got the better of Höglander in a battle, then got a little cheeky as the drill ended and tried to pull off Höglander’s signature lacrosse move from behind the net.
Okay, he didn’t quite pull it off — the puck slipped off his stick as he tried to tuck it in — but it’s telling that he even came close. It was clear that he knew who he was matched up against as well: a player that has become known for scoring exactly that goal over the years, whether in Swedish leagues or the World Juniors.
While Höglander is known primarily for his incredible hands, MacEwen is mainly known for his size. He’s primarily played a grinding role with the Canucks, using his size and skating to get in on the forecheck.
But MacEwen has some fancy moves of his own and played a top-six role in the AHL for the Utica Comets. He even played a few games on Horvat’s wing last season. As much as Höglander is known for his hands, maybe MacEwen should be too.
“It’s not something that I would try in a game or something,” said MacEwen about the lacrosse move. “I like to try to showcase some skill at some points. I know what my game is about and being able to mix in a little bit of that [skill] is going to help give me success. It’s a mix of the two styles.”
MacEwen’s hands haven’t gone unnoticed. Even if Canucks head coach Travis Green missed his cheeky lacrosse attempt, he’s certainly been paying attention to the dimensions MacEwen can bring to his game.
“I think he's got really good hands for a big man,” said Green. “I think he's a guy that last year was close to being a full time NHLer. I know he's worked extremely hard over the summer, which isn't surprising: this guy is a hard worker. He's committed to his conditioning.”
So far in training camp, MacEwen has been skating with Antoine Roussel and Adam Gaudette, which is a positive sign for the 24-year-old winger. That’s a combination that could start the season as the third line and provide a little bit of depth scoring.
“We can play a simple game and get pucks deep and forecheck hard and recover the puck and then use that to generate chances and offense,” said MacEwen of his linemates. “That’s a good skill set that we have and kind of the way we have to play. I think we’re good at that and when we have success with that you can see results.”
Given his time with Horvat last season and the battle on the right wing, MacEwen could see some time further up the lineup as the season progresses.
“I want to be adaptable and be utilized in whatever situation they feel I’m ready for,” said MacEwen. “I want to be able to show them that I'm ready for that and ready to take whatever they want to throw at me.”
As for Höglander, as Chris Faber said in his tweet, he’s still the king of the lacrosse goal, but just like MacEwen has better hands than you might expect for a big man, Höglander is tougher and more physical than you might expect for a smaller player. He’s impressed through the first two days of camp with his grit and he’s been known to get his elbows up in the SHL to protect himself.
For both of the young right-wingers, there’s more than meets the eye.