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Photo Credit: Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Brock Boeser Needs to Play, Dammit

Developing young players is hard.

When we look back at a player’s career, we often treat their success (or lack thereof) as an inevitability. The truth is much more complicated. There are so many variables to consider that go beyond talent or even hard work, and analytics haven’t come close to cracking the code beyond simply looking at which statistical profiles have been conducive to player success in the past. Player development is the great unknown, and until more research is conducted on the topic, it feels unwise to question the wisdom of coaches and executives, at least in most cases.

That’s why, up until recently, the way the Canucks have handled their young players has made sense, at least on the surface. The team signed a high volume of low-risk veterans this offseason to create competition, and only gifted roster spots to the players that earned them. It’s far from exciting, but it’s allowed the team to be selective about who makes the roster. While most fans would love to get a closer look at some of the team’s prospects, it’s good for the team to not be backed into a corner and forced to play youngsters that aren’t ready for the grind of an NHL season.

It’s a model that’s worked in the past, too. The 2015-16 Leafs iced a veteran-heavy roster to keep the kids in the AHL, where many learned to compete as a group. The popular opinion was that it was wise to keep the young players away from a losing environment, and while the importance of a “winning culture” is up for debate, there’s no arguing with the results.

That’s why I wasn’t upset when Nikolay Goldobin was assigned to the Comets, or when Jonathan Dahlen returned to Europe. Let them develop, whatever that means.

Brock Boeser is a different story, though. We’ll get to why that is in a minute, but first, let’s get the obvious out of the way.

Yes, it’s only been two games. Boeser could play the next 80, in which case none of this hand-wringing will matter.

Yes, it’s possible he’s not at 100%, in which case sitting him is the right thing to do.

And yes, there are other reasons why Boeser sitting every once in awhile might make sense. He’s not used to a full schedule. Maybe Travis Green wants to give him favourable matchups. Hell, maybe he just couldn’t justify taking anyone out of the lineup after a decent showing in the home opener. Some fans have pointed out that Boeser struggled as teams began to ice fuller lineups towards the end of the preseason, and rightfully so.

But when I heard Boeser would be sitting again against the Senators, my mind went back to something Shane Malloy said about development in an interview with our own Ryan Biech on the Game Time Decision podcast. He was talking about Casey Mittelstadt, but I think the concerns he expresses are applicable to many other players looking to make the jump to the NHL:

“The concern I have is his lack of games played against elite-level talent. When you look at development models, games played matters…. If you add up the two years that he’ll play in college before making the jump, even if he plays international competition, he might only have 120 games before he turns pro against elite-level competition. That’s a really low number; and my concern is not that he doesn’t have the skill, it’s that he won’t have enough development games played before he turns pro; and will that impact him? Will that push him from being a number one centre to a number two centre because he didn’t get the time he needs? … Some guys are outliers and don’t require that, but historical[ly], if you look over the last 12 years, games played matters.”

This brings us to the heart of the issue with Boeser sitting in the press box. For a kid who had 5 points in 9 games to end the season last year, he’s surprisingly green.

Since 2013-14, Boeser has played 65 USHL games, 74 NCAA games, 9 NHL games, and 7 games at the WJC. That makes a grand total of 155 games played against what Malloy would call “elite-level competition”. It’s higher than the 120 he was concerned about with Mittelstadt, but it still qualifies as limited experience.

It’s entirely possible that this is all part of some master plan to develop Boeser in the best manner imaginable, but I think there’s a recent historical precedent for the Canucks handling their young players poorly. In their rookie years, you could argue none of Jared McCann, Jake Virtanen, or even Bo Horvat really should have been on the roster, and you’d have a strong case. The team has consistently wanted to be seen integrating young players into the lineup, but they’ve rarely been willing to accept the ups and downs that come with it. What’s different this year is that they finally have the depth to keep young players out of the lineup if they desire.

They also have a history of being out of step with their coach. The times the team acquired players for a specific purpose only to see their desires ignored by Willie Desjardins are too numerous to count, and it’s possible the front office and Green may already be at odds about Boeser’s readiness.

There are only a few ways to make sense of the Boeser situation, and none conclude with him sitting in the press box. Either he’s an elite player, a rare outlier who doesn’t need to worry about getting reps in, in which case his skill level should necessitate him being in the lineup. Or he’s not ready, and he needs to get acclimatized to the grind of an 82-game pro season, in which case he should be in Utica, waiting to earn a call-up. Sure, maybe they’re trying to mitigate fatigue, but why do that against NHL competition? He’s going to have to get used to the 82-game season at some point, wouldn’t it be better to lighten the load if he isn’t ready?

That’s the real issue. When fans become fixated on a young player’s inability to crack a lineup, the focus is so often on that player’s upside compared to someone else on the roster. That’s not really the problem here. The team has been okay through the first two games, and maybe Boeser just isn’t ready. But he needs to play, if not here then in the AHL, for the reasons Malloy stated above. Games played matters, and Boeser needs to get his reps in.  Most fans are very eager to see Boeser in an NHL uniform this year, but they’d also probably agree that he’s better off getting top-six minutes in Utica than rot in the press box in the NHL. There’s only so much a player can learn from watching.

  • Dan-gles

    I think we can take his sitting with a grain of salt so far. If say he hasn’t got five games in by the ten game mark I’ll lead the charge with the other heathens on this board, pitch forks and all. Good article though stoke the 🔥.

  • apr

    Holy smokes this is too early. Dylan Strome is in the AHL. The new players are still getting adjusted to each other – and Brock will play. Did we not learn anything from burning out Virtanan and McCann? Nothing? Brock will play – he’s not going to be Frank Corrado’d. He’s accustomed to long layoffs, so him not playing 3-4 times a week is normal. This has the stench of just put Subban out there and see what happens. I’m more worried about how terrible Stecher and Hutton are.

    • truthseeker

      nonsense. Boeser is not a 4th round pick. He’s considered one of the top rookies in this year’s field. He’s not a kid with any “confidence” issues like Jake. He’s not a whiner like McCann.

      He should be in the lineup. I’ll cut green some slack for “matching up” vs the Oilers, and “keeping the winning team together” against the sens……but if it goes too much farther, then it’s a mistake on the team’s part.

      He doesn’t need the AHL. He needs regular NHL playing time. Like Liane, Matthews, McDavid, Linden, Bure….etc…like they all got.

  • Esa Tikkanen

    I totally agree with Green’s strategy (which is two-fold)
    He needs to pull someone off the current roster based on evidence (lack of merit), after the Ottawa game he can take his pick from a few names.
    Also, Boeser is used to playing 40 NCAA games a year. Conditioning is a huge part of the decision to sit him. Playing him in 50-60 NHL caliber games this year will be a big enough leap as-is. No sense in burning him out early, or worse yet injuring him unnecessarily.

    • Rodeobill

      Also, whatever his reason for not putting him in, you can probably believe it goes against the business side of it. For all we know, part of it is to show the team that regardless if your butt sells seats, no one is gifted a spot. I doubt that was his main reason, but possibly an extra consideration. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw BB come in for the next game. I am more worried if Pouiot gets Corrado’ed.

    • FireGillis

      But then he doesn’t get the caulder. You have to realize that this is the only caulder candidate Vancouver has had in my lifetime, and in a down year like this, there’s a good chance boeser will win… but.. he.. has.. to… play.. to… win. Thanks green 👎 (If he truly was hurt then it was a good decision to not play him, but I don’t buy new a second). He did everything possible to make the team, and they scratch their best player? I mean that’s how people bust out.

  • wojohowitz

    Boeser has holes in his game that need work. His foot speed is average. He doesn`t forecheck much and he doesn`t win puck battles. His fundamentals are good re: he doesn`t look lost but if he plays one in three he will learn.

    • DJ_44

      Boeser, from what I have seen, has very few holes in his game. He both forechecks and wins battles all over the ice.

      I am not that irritated he did not get in, but he will go on Thursday and will be tough to remove from the lineup after that.

      • Doodly Doot

        Well said DJ. I’ve been impressed with his forechecking and puck battles. Boeser will go on and play most of the year (if healthy) and do astonishing things and all the hand wringing by media after the first two games of the season will long be forgotten. This is just Jackson fluff, dammit.

    • FireGillis

      Tarasenko’s foot speed is average. Malkin’s foot speed is average. Stamkos’ foot speed is average. He has the shot of Danny sedin in his prime; he’s our best player. He needs to play

  • Freud

    Putting young guys in the minors to develop rarely backfires. Putting young guys on the roster and scratching them or playing them under 10 minutes often backfires.

    This will be a meaningless season and this team needs to focus on the future.

    They have the luxury to go for the less risky development route with Boeser and Virtanen.

    If we as fans get past the excitement of having shiny new toys to cheer for and focus on the future, having Boeser and Virtanen in Utica until the trade deadline makes a lot of sense.

    At the same time, giving a guy like Rodin a chance in their place might actually allow the team to create value they could use at the deadline for further assets.

    • truthseeker

      Would you have put Liane in the minors to develop? Some rookies are ready. They don’t need the AHL. Brock has done nothing but show he is one of those kinds of rookies. It makes no sense to treat him as if he’s the kind that needs development.

  • RobG

    Hey Jackson, I am wondering if you have an inside line to the team’s coaching staff and management group? NO? So you honestly have NO IDEA what is going on behind the scenes. There could be any number of reasons why Boeser hasn’t played yet and you, along with the rest of us, don’t have know anything about any of them. Any commentary surrounding this situation is nothing but pure speculation so stop being an armchair coach and let the people who know all the facts make the decisions. Boeser will play when the coach (or a doctor) says he can play. We are two games in, chill out and back away from the ledge.

    • Freud

      It appears you didn’t read the story. The writer says right in the piece he is unsure of the actual issues around Boeser sitting.
      This would be a pretty boring place if the writers never questioned team decisions.

      • Bud Poile

        Following the team closely,Brock was gassed in the final two preseason games.
        Not following or partially following the team results in articles such as this.

        • truthseeker

          He wasn’t “gassed”. He just didn’t play as well as prior. Always looking for management quotes rather than watching the games results in comments like yours.

          • Bud Poile

            Truthseeker,live up to your moniker.
            He’s a college graduate with questionable fitness levels and footspeed.
            It’s hardly a secret and it’s been discussed by everyone but mgmt..
            Throwing an underconditioned potential franchise player into the fray because emotional fans demand it is laughable.

          • truthseeker

            geezus…stop being such a management stooge. It’s OK to admit that not everything they do is perfect you know.

            Funny you never once prior to this indecent mentioned any flaws in Boeser when you were hyping him up against all those troll losers. Now suddenly it’s “questionable fitness and foot speed”…lol

            Where were those comments at the end of last season?

          • Bud Poile

            Try to gather some facts during your next round of bleating and accusations ,’truthseeker’.
            “I thought camp was a grind, but I feel like my legs are back under me. My legs felt a little heavy and maybe that was an issue playing all those games at the end of pre-season. It got tougher as the pre-season went on.” Boeser said.
            “This is the first time for me, but that’s just part of learning,” reasoned the 20-year-old Burnsville, Minn., native. “Obviously, it’s something different for me to take in from a mentality standpoint. But I totally understand where he (coach Travis Green) is coming from. ”

            http://theprovince.com/sports/hockey/nhl/vancouver-canucks/a-better-brock-boeser-looks-poised-for-regular-season-canucks-debut

        • Canucks Realist

          The hypocrite troll strikes again…

          “Last year Marner, Tkachuk, Provorov, Matthews, Nylander, Laine,etc. jumped straight from the draft table into making an impact at the highest level. The Canucks need players that can contribute out of the gate. Hopefully it’s a player that is close to NHL ready come September” – Bud Poile

          Nexttttt

          • johnno

            hahaa classic, this old fooltrips over his own tongue on every post. doesn’t even go to the games yet he is a management superfan? next he will telling us he’s on the beach in Bali! complete fantasist

  • Dirty30

    Wasn’t there just an article decrying the overload of players in Utica? Yes, not a lot of rookies, but an over-abundance of vets.

    So maybe it’s as simple as that … Green is looking at his roster and how it’s going and Utica is dong the same and JB is working the phones getting things sorted out.

    Dahlen to Sweden … check. Juolevi to Finland … check.

    Lots of other guys who need a look in games and decisions to be made from there.

    Two games seems a bit early to panic about Boeser playing or not.

      • DJ_44

        What, exactly are the roster issues? Having strong competition for positions? Forcing weaker or less established players to Utica? This is exactly what was planned for by the July moves.

        Any roster issues in Utica are not that difficult to address: demotion to Kalamzoo.

        When injury strikes, there will be some depth for replacements.

        • Freud

          Depth is a concern for contending teams. Developing players for the coming years should be the main focus. Sending young guys to play div 2 hockey in Sweden because you signed too many marginal vets is not an issue any other team has encountered this season. If no other team is encountering your problems, you probably did not plan well.

          • Canuck4Life20

            Are you really trying to tell us that not a single other team in the NHL has a prospect that went back to Europe? And that teams should have their rosters set in July? Once again, you show that you are not nearly as smart as your name implies that you think you are.

          • Freud

            No canuck4life . Dahlen was sent to Utica first and then had to scramble to find a place to play because there was no room. I can guarantee you all other teams can find spots for their top 5 prospects on the farm. That’s because their planning started in July and they stuck to their plan.

          • Canuck4Life20

            Here’s the thing Fraud. It’s pretty clear from your posts that you don’t have any real world experience and wouldn’t know the first thing about managing a lemonade stand, let-alone an NHL team.

            Good management is adaptable and changes their plans as the situation dictates. Every training camp has players that exceed expectations and others that don’t live up to them which causes plans to change. You don’t know what the Canucks had planned for Dahlen or anyone else on the roster. Maybe they had an arrangement with another team in Sweden that fell through. Maybe they had him lined up for a top six spot in Utica but his mono set him back. In fact, none of us even know if he is 100% yet or not.

            All you are doing is making assumptions about a situation that you know nothing about. And you are making yourself look like a fool in the process. Of course anyone who is a regular reader on here is used to that by now from you and your many accounts.

          • Silverback

            Freud states “That’s because their planning started in July and they stuck to their plan.”

            Perhaps the canucks should employ the same teller of fortunes so they can have their roster determined in July?

        • tyhee

          I don’t see where demoting someone to Kalamazoo helps the issues with the Comets.

          The two main roster issues in Utica are:

          1. Even though it appears there are good players with the Comets, the coach has to sit some of them out every game because of AHL restrictions on the number of veteran skaters that can play in any one game. Accordingly, the Utica roster is weaker than appears to be the case-they have to sit some of their better players every game. For example, Patrick Wiercioch and Jamie Sifers both sat out the first two games, despite being, at least on paper, among the better Comets’ defencemen.

          I don’t see how “demotion to Kalamazoo” is going to make the Comets stronger. They still will have good players they can’t put in the lineup. (There is also a rule against demoting veteran players on an NHL contract to the ECHL without their consent, so demoting someone like Wiercioch to the Wings, in addition to being absurd, isn’t permitted unless he wants to go there.)

          2. There is a relative weakness at center. Utica has several really skilled wingers, without depth in good AHL centers to feed them the puck.

          Again, demoting someone to Kalamazoo isn’t going to make the Comets stronger at the center position.

          This latter issue might mostly solve itself once Gaunce is healthy, but my guess is it won’t do it in the long term.

          Of course, those who consider it doesn’t matter whether veteran players twiddle their thumbs in the minors nor whether the team is good enough to compete (so far they have two losses in two games) won’t worry about whether the Comets are any good nor whether they have players sitting unhappily in an AHL pressbox watching a team they could help lose games unnecessarily.

      • Silverback

        You Can’t plan for injuries and performance. Flexibility, something that wasn’t there last year due to injuries and illness is what has been planned for. Like it or not, this management team has solved any raster issues already. Problem is that many of you think it a travesty to sit a rookie for 2 or 3 days. People need to relax. This team has learned from their previous history.

  • speering major

    It was a smart decision to sit brock vs the oilers. The checking line including Dorsett were stand outs. Virtanen has looked good in both games. There has been no injuries. There is absolutely no reason to sit someone from the Oilers game in the next game.

    Not only will Brock play and get a favorable situation when he does, but this also protects him a bit from inflated expectations or a sense of entitlement. Sportsnet was publishing articles about rookie of the year candidates including brock. We just saw how Virtanens play stagnated when he felt he just owned a roster spot. If brock isn’t playing after 5 games and the Canucks aren’t winning, yeah start complaining. The roster is healthy and it’s been 2 games that I would rate a 4/5 team performance based on expectations. Relax

  • El Kabong

    I see the problem as the team is crying for fan support through the re-build. Fans are OK with a re-build and are excited to see the young talent we have drafted and traded for. Before the season began they were sold a bill of goods about how we have a Calder candidate on our roster which would give the fans something to follow and be proud of. Now he can’t even crack the roster ( I don’t think he’s earned it like JV) and the masses are upset.

    • jaybird43

      Well El Kabong, I don’t think anyone from the team itself has said anything about a Calder trophy for Brock, so I think it’s unfair to saddle “The Canucks” with that.

      • El Kabong

        No but that narrative was pushed and the Canucks didn’t do anything to throw water on it. Plus the Canucks have been talking about the youth the team will inject which gets the fans excited and then they play a bunch of UFA vets. I don’t think its a bad move just trying to explain why the everyday fan is upset.

        • jaybird43

          That’s a tough or odd conversation, I think: “Hey fans we don’t think Brock is good enough for The Calder”. The Canucks are hoping for some buzz around the team; for the first time in years, there’s visibly empty seats in the arena. So us knowledgeable fans have to know enough to be realistic too, ce n’est pa?

  • lmchew

    Number of games aside, articles like this are why I wouldn’t be surprised if Green waits for the first away game to play Boeser. Less pressure and scrutiny. Give him a chance to find his legs and confidence without waking up to a local sports headline featuring his name.

  • Smyl and Snepsts

    The only reason anyone is screaming is because some news outlets had him as a possible Calder trophy contender so they all want to see a shiny trophy. If he was a better option than guys playing he would be in. Green coaches to win and plays players according to merit. See the Sedins limited ice time.

    • truthseeker

      no….not at all. He played amazingly well in real NHL games at the end of last season and he had a damn good training camp this year even included the game at the end where he didn’t do quite as much. He played better than many on the roster in front of him.

      There are valid reasons for wondering why he’s not in yet. He earned the “merit” before the first game was played.

      I don’t disagree with the first game decision if it was based on a match up issue. And I don’t disagree with game 2 if it was because he didn’t want to “break up a winning roster”. But if this goes on too long it will most certainly be unjustified.

  • Due_North83

    Even Boeser is quoted as saying he was a little gassed at end of pre-season & he feels better now (meaning he admits to being either slightly tired/needing rest or slightly hurt). He will get his chance and it sounds like Green has a plan for Boeser.

    Green already says Boeser & Virtanen may play in 50-60 games this season, son they’ll be sitting out 20-30 games so they flame out.

    • Roy

      If there are 30-odd comments that state a clear and I suspect concomitant opinion with proper grammar, clarity, sentence structure, no distinct sense of the commenter having recently been struck in the forehead with an icepick, and no emoticons, “then.now, why?” did you feel the urge to post this drivel?

  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    “and only gifted roster spots to the players that earned them” referring to the low risk vets signed…you’re trying to tell me that Burmistrov ‘earned’ his spot on this roster in camp and preseason? That Gagner ‘earned’ his spot as well? Loui Eriksson and Thomas Vanek ‘earned’ their spots as well? They must have played amazing in the preseason….oh wait, its cause one of them is signed for 5 more years @ $6M per and is on the wrong side of 30 and the other (s) all what? Earned it? What a joke.

  • Roy

    LOL at the utter collective incomprehension in these comments. I totally agree with this article, and I guarantee not a single person critical of it understands athleticism or athlete development. An athlete needs to be competing. Boeser is an NHL-calibre athlete – proven last season – and he is not competing. Practicing and watching games is not competing. I don’t care if it’s two games, the precedent is bad enough. Playing Dorsett instead of him is like riding a hybrid bike in a road race. Sure, it can take a pothole or two, but it is ridiculously out of place. He also takes stupid penalties and he is too small to be a fighter. It’s actuallyt embarrassing having him on the team.

    Virtanen is only on the team because he was an athlete and he didn’t understand what it means to compete. That was a completely different issue. Now he does.

  • truthseeker

    This is one point on which I think (from my admittedly limited perspective and experience) Benning and Green, are making a mistake. If it continues like this. This kid has done enough to warrant the label of one of the top rookies. They need to stop babying him and this nonsense of “development” needs to go away. You throw him in and let him adjust as you go. Like McDavid. Like Matthews. Like Bure. Like Linden. Like Yzerman. Like Sakic etc…

    He’s not a 4th round pick. He’s ready. You don’t get guys “used to” bag skates to build their conditioning. You bag skate them until their conditioning is better than everyone else. Even if that means they suck at it in the beginning.

    Same with this kind of rookie. He needs to learn to play an 82 game season by just playing an 82 game season. He’ll go through a rut and then he’ll come out of it because his conditioning will get better.

    The kid glove approach with him is stupid in my opinion.

    • jaybird43

      I kind of agree with truthseeker. Brock is more nature than Virtanen, and the Canucks should make it clear that he does need more footspeed, and have him work with a powerskating coach on that during all home game portions of the schedule. He’s young and eager, and with apparent decent maturity, and lots of vets on the team to shield him if he’s not doing great. So, try him every game until it’s evident he either is performing poorly, or is bagged. Then, be clear and transparent with him …

      • truthseeker

        exactly. Just like any top rookie.

        Can you imagine if we were all like “Bure needs to be rested A LOT this season”…..lol

        Nobody ever talked about giving Bure rest in his first year. Or Linden. Or Nedved. They played, because they were considered good prospects.

        This babying approach by these commentators here is just weird.

        If there is a decent reason to have him out then fine…but if it’s only concern that he “might get tired”….lol….that’s just ridiculous.

  • Sandpaper

    wow… the armchair coaches are out in full force on this issue.
    I want too see Boeser in the lineup, but am willing to be PATIENT and wait for the NHL coach to determine the best time to insert him into what hopefully will be a successful season debut.

  • JarkkoRuutu

    During Boeser’s time in the NCAA, he was continually compared to Toews and Oshie respectively, who both made the jump from college hockey to the NHL, playing 64 and 57 games in their first NHL season (no AHL appearances)… What’s wrong with giving a player of that caliber NHL games at more of an AHL season pace, sitting for a couple games periodically in favour of an experienced NHL player? Keeps us all interested, keeps a young player appreciative of being in an NHL lineup, and creates internal competition for spots! Tell me I’m wrong…

  • Beer Can Boyd

    Anyone watch Jersey beat the Leaves last night? 7 kids in the lineup under the age of 22. And they were all contributing. Its a new NHL, and holding on to slugs like Vanek serves no purpose at all.