When Canucks general manager Jim Benning speaks publicly about his desire for prioritizing youth and development down the stretch, perhaps no one player stands to benefit more than Reid Boucher.
Jim Benning: "Look at the standings, we're so far back and we can't make it back. Now's the time & we got to play younger players." #Canucks
— Canucks Now (@CanucksNow) March 16, 2017
A waiver wire pickup at the turn of the calendar year, Boucher’s played in just 15 of the Canucks 28 games since joining them. If Thursday night’s game is any indication, that ratio is in line for an upward turn down the stretch and the minutes played should increase accordingly. The 17:24 Boucher skated in the Canucks’ last contest was his second highest mark in blue and green — the highest mark if we’re only counting games that ended in regulation.
In that span, the Canucks scored two goals (one at even strength and with the man advantage) and surrendered another. Boucher was only credited with a point, an assist on the first goal, Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins contested that he played a key role in each play concluding in the back of their opponent’s nets.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) March 17, 2017
Usually, we lean on the unreliability of small samples and the variance therein to try and explain away nights like Thursday. This isn’t blind luck, though.
The two goals Boucher was on the ice for wasn’t far removed from the 1.83 Expected Goals the Canucks should have scored in that span, according to Corsica.Hockey’s game sheet. Conversely, the 0.49 Expected Goals Against with Boucher on the ice indicates Vancouver probably shouldn’t have surrendered the one goal they did.
I’d hardly believe it if I hadn’t seen a performance almost exactly like it over two weeks prior when Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins entrusted him with 18:32 of ice-time in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Boucher scored in that game, and Vancouver controlled 59% of the shot attempts at even strength.
If nothing else, the Canucks have tangible proof that Boucher can contribute offensively when he’s playing often enough and with the right linemates. Were they willing to dig a bit deeper, they might realize he has a fair amount more to contribute yet.
The evidence here is stark. Boucher, even when he’s not producing, is producing the highest rate of individual scoring chances and expected goals at even strength. It stands to reason, then, that Boucher has probably been a more productive forward than the paltry three points he has to his credit thus far in his Canucks career indicates.
Thing is, we’ll never know if Desjardins doesn’t stick to the program. Playing Boucher will mean dealing with growing pains. A 200-foot game has never been among Boucher’s hallmarks, and his time as a Canucks reasserts as much.
For every underlying accolade in Boucher’s favour, there are almost as many areas where the events surrendered mete or wash out what gains he’s making entirely. He’s among the Canucks most permissive regular forwards by scoring chances and goals against, for example.
Boucher is hardly alone in that regard; not on this team, and certainly not relative to members of his age group. A player can pick up the finer elements of defensive zone coverage over time; you can’t teach a player to shoot like Boucher, though.
Finding a way to tap into that shot should be chief among the Canucks’ goals down the stretch. There’s a precedent with Boucher beyond the shots and scoring chances that have buoyed his fifteen game stretch as a Canuck. Just last season, Boucher hit the 19 point mark in 39 games with the New Jersey Devils — prorated over a full season, that’s a 40 point pace. He hit 62 goals with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.
It seems at times that people are quick to write Boucher off, seeing as the Canucks are his third team in a single season, and two of them had their hands on the 23-year-old by way of a waiver claim. Sometimes I wonder if you can count the Canucks’ coaching staff among them — though, for whatever reason, they don’t seem shy about playing Joe Cramarossa.
Mike Hoffman cleared waivers, and has since become one of the league’s premier goal scorers. Anton Stralman was once let go from a professional tryout, and he’s since received Norris Trophy votes. I’m not suggesting Boucher has that level of potential, so much as there are occasionally players that slip through the cracks. It doesn’t hurt to be on the winning end of these market inefficiencies from time to time.
Boucher is young. I have a hard time believing we’ve seen the best from him yet. With 12 games left, the Canucks should do everything in their power to help him prove as much.