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Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Boeser may be scoring less, but his overall play has improved

In his third season, Brock Boeser’s development has taken an unpredictable turn. As a key to the Canucks offense, Boeser has seen his goal production dip, but has made up for it in other ways. In his third full NHL season, he’s made strides towards becoming a more well-rounded player, and has actually had a more positive impact on his team than he has in past seasons, despite finding the back of the net less often

Even just a cursory glance at his boxcar stats this year compared to the last two would appear to bear that out. As Boeser plays through what could be his first healthy season in Vancouver, his goals per game have decreased. He is still on nearly a 25 goal pace, which is great for a 22-year-old, but scoring 0.17 goals per game fewer compared to his rookie season can’t be ignored. Due to his perception as a natural goal scorer above all, these aren’t the numbers we would have expected as he’s continued to develop, but that doesn’t mean he’s contributing less.

17-18 18-19 19-20
GP 62 69 43
Goals/g 0.47 0.38 0.30
Assists/g 0.42 0.43 0.63

Boeser’s assists per game have skyrocketed to 0.63 from 0.43 and 0.42 in the two previous seasons. His passing isn’t part of his game that’s received much attention this year, but that isn’t because it’s been bad. In fact, his playmaking has been the most improved aspect of his game.

Upon looking at the numbers above only, one could argue that goals are more important than assists and by the looks of it, he’s taken a step back. However, that’s not the case when we look at the underlying numbers that piece together more of the puzzle that is Boeser’s overall contribution.

Beginning with EvolvingWild’s RAPM (regularized adjusted plus minus) charts, we can see Boeser’s individual impact for his three seasons at 5-on-5 when adjusted for his zone starts, quality of competition, and quality of teammates.

Boeser 3 year rapm

There are many takeaways from the year to year RAPM charts when considering his overall game, but let’s compare metrics left to right. It’s become clear that Boeser has the terrific shooting ability to outperform his expected goals-for based on the stark difference between GF/60 (actual goals for per hour) and xGF/60 (expected goals for per hour) rates. However, it’s still pivotal for him to improve hisunderlying offensive stats, like xGF/60 and CF/60 (Corsi for per hour) that increase the likelihood of goals being scored. Unfortunately for Boeser, those numbers have declined.

Where he makes up for that decline is in his defensive metrics (the two bars on the right of each chart). The charts show significant improvement in his xGA/60 (expected goals against per hour) and CA/60 (Corsi against per hour) season to season. It’s natural for young players to gain confidence and structure in the defensive end over their first few seasons, but his turnaround here can’t be understated. He’s gone from producing well below-average defensive results in 2017-18, to nearly the complete opposite less than three years later. While he’s earned his fare share of criticism for his decreased goal output, he hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit for turning things around defensively.

These defensive results are new for the heralded sniper, but his desire to play well in his own end isn’t. In a press conference prior to the summer, Boeser said he “feel[s] like [his] potential is way higher… [he] can produce way more for this team… [and] can be that 200-foot player.”

While it’s nice to have the visuals provided by RAPM charts to see how Boeser has fared in key underlying numbers over his three seasons, it can also be boiled down to one metric. Fortunately for us, EvolvingWild has created their SPAR (standings points above replacement) metric. By their definition, “SPAR is a metric that attempts to assign a total value to each player, which represents how much that player contributed to their team in a single number. This single number is comprised of multiple components that are ratings for each area of play within a given sport.” Simply put, SPAR indicates how many points in the standings a player adds to their team.

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17-18 18-19 19-20
GP 62 69 43
SPAR/60 0.251 0.157 0.258

SPAR rates are shown in the above table over Boeser’s career. The SPAR per hour tells us that Boeser is contributing more with his all-around game than he ever has. He’s really improved from last season and marginally on his rookie campaign. It’s encouraging to remember that he’s putting up a career-high SPAR rate despite a career-low shooting percentage in all strengths and at 5-on-5.

While rates are generally more descriptive, it’s also valuable to look at counts, which is what the EvolvingWild chart below does.

boeser career spar chart

This visual clearly shows that if Boeser can stay healthy, he will pass his previous SPAR high set as a rookie. That rookie season, he nearly added 5 points in the standings on his own. This season, he’s on pace to add roughly 7 points. That’s a significant increase for one player. Especially one that’s on a team fighting for the playoffs.

Boeser is contributing more to the team’s success than he ever has in the past thanks to his improvements defensively, as a passer, and along the boards. Aside from the numbers, it’s easy to see that growth in games.

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In this clip, Boeser shows off solid board play and vision. He shields off TJ Brodie to retrieve a puck down low, then works it up the wall, positioning himself well enough that Brodie’s poke checks don’t stop his possession. He’s able to get his head up and find Myers cross-ice, who eventually scores a goal David Rittich would want back.

In this next clip, Boeser uses his vision and passing ability off the rush to make a difficult pass look easy. He could have simply thrown it to a driving J.T. Miller for a redirection, but instead, he makes a cross-ice pass that results in a higher percentage shot. It takes confidence and the ability to read the play quickly to make that play. It also doesn’t hurt to have a finisher like #40.

 

Whether Boeser’s game is analyzed via video, underlying metrics, or on the scoresheet, we can see that he’s improving on parts of his game that we might not have expected. The sniper is scoring fewer goals, but more than making up for it with his playmaking and defensive play. With little doubt that the goal scoring will return to the rates we’ve seen from Boeser in the past, these new results are welcomed. Canucks fans should be pleased that Boeser, in his third season, is doing what he set out to do and becoming a more complete 200-foot player.