Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA TODAY Sports

Reid Boucher’s Earned More Playing Time

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.

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.

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.

Reid Boucher event rates since joining the Canucks on January 6th and where they rank among Canucks skaters with 10 or more games.

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.

    • TheRealRusty

      @ HockeyTrither69. Taking into account the amount of cap space Eriksson uses up as well as the projected decline in his performance over time, my vote is yes.

  • Len

    Just noticed something interesting in my NHL Guide and Record book – in the 1990 first round of the draft, the Canucks took the great and wonderful Shawn Antoski at 18. Guess who Winnipeg took at 19? If you guessed Keith Tkachuk, you are right. Anyone else see the parallel?

  • Dirty30

    It’s not like the Canucks have to sit McJesus to play Boucher. It’s not like five other players who have a better chance of scoring are sitting in Utica wasting their skills. It’s not like the guys getting more ice time are creating better chances to score or scoring themselves.

    WD is just a poor Coach at letting players play to their strengths. If the whole point of hockey is to score more goals than the other team, you do need someone to score those goals. WD’s overemphasis on defensive systems ignores the fact that simply because none of the forwards are scoring enough, the team needs the D to score — that means pinching instead of defending and then you get turnovers and odd man breakaways.

    Here’s a thought, put the guys who can score out there to score and let the D defend. I know — what a radical concept! But maybe try it some time. Seems to work for other teams that aren’t in the basement.

    • janmoh

      I don’t know what games you’re watching but I rarely see the d-men pinching or creating a 4 on 3. I feel the defensive breakdowns happen mostly in their own zone. I’d like to see more d-men rushing up to make it a 4 on 3. I know Biega and Hutton do it sometimes. I agree with you about Boucher. He could be a really good player for us next year if Coach D plays him 15-18 minutes a game. Confidence matters too and this could give Boucher the confidence for next year in a top 9 role.

  • DJ_44

    Is there any way to know if you have been transported to an alternate universe? I find myself agreeing with 2 articles JD has penned: his take on Larsen and now on Boucher.

    I really like Boucher because, although he may be grouped in with the “smallish sniper” types (Baertschi, Goldobin), his style of play is different (I haven’t seen Goldobin enough to really know, to be honest). More direct, shot the puck, early and often. Just what the Canucks need. I like him better than Baertschi. My suggestion is to split up the Sedins. Given them a fresh perspective. Play Boucher with Hank. Put Daniel with Sutter. Missing Eriksson really is noticeable, but I would put him with Hank as well.

    Please play Larsen. He has way more to offer. Like a first pass out of the zone.

  • Naslund

    Boucher does seem to have great hands, but I did notice that he seems really slow on the backcheck, like he’s carrying an extra fifty pound pack on his back, but he doesn’t seem so slow when there’s a scoring chance. If they can somehow get him to lose a few lbs and care a little more about his own end, he could be a keeper.

  • Holly Wood

    If Canucks have Baertschi, Sutter, Boucher playing in their top 6, they are going no where. Ask your self if any of them belong in the top 12 on a good club like Chicago

    • janmoh

      It’s really silly comparing this version of the Canucks to Chicago. They have foundational pieces in Kane , Toews , Seabrook and Keith. Baertschi and Sutter would definitely play well on the bottom 6 there. Hopefully our foundational pieces will be Horvath , Boesser , our Top 5 pick this year. I feel it was ownership hampering Benning and now he’s allowed to rebuild this team. Others have said this before me but the more bullets Benning can get through trades and draft picks the better our future will be.

  • bobdaley44

    Boucher is slow afoot, week defensively, and small. Reason Camarossa plays more is because he plays harder and skates better and is more reliable defensively. You want Boucher to trade chances with other teams top six? I don’t think so. There’s a reason he was put on wavers and to compare him to Eriksson is absolutely ridiculous. A veteran thirty goal man who plays smart on both sides of the puck and a fringer AHL’er. J.D. is the guy whose never played the game outside of road hockey so he throws a few analytics out there to make a point. Brutal.

    • I am Ted

      Well said. The one drawback about the internet is anyone can use it. Butthole Burke et al provide some good numbers but there are a number of confounding factors to stats they put up.

      44, I agree with a lot of what you said but I doubt Butthole has even played road hockey. I just saw a picture of the weasel. He has to run around the shower in order to get wet.

  • I am Ted

    Boucher does seem like a goal scorer but I am assuming Willie isn’t a fan of his all around game. I am also guessing Willie isn’t going to reward someone who isn’t hustling and playing a 200 foot game. If Boucher isn’t doing that, he’d be a disaster on the Sedin line since the Sedins are much slower these days.

    What shocks me is Willie refusing to experiment with the Sedins by breaking them up from time to time. What does he have to lose? Canucks are at the bottom of almost all offensive categories. Sedins could benefit from younger linemates…why not try it out.