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Photo Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Year (So Far) In Review: Brock Boeser Is Becoming More Than Just A Goal-Scorer 

Brock Boeser has had a difficult few years to start his NHL career, both on and off the ice. Yet to play a full 82 game season, Boeser dealt with another injury scare in 2019-20. He played in each of the first 56 games of the season and was on pace to play a full 82 games for the first time in his young career before suffering a fracture to his rib cartilage against the Flames on February 8th. An early prognosis had Boeser out for the remainder of the regular season.

However, in what would turn out to be the final Canucks game before the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a pause to the NHL season, Boeser returned to the lineup after missing 12 games. Boeser’s return gave Canuck nation a first-hand look at what the revamped top six would like, now including coveted pending UFA Tyler Toffoli, whom the Canucks traded for just prior to the deadline.

Just prior to the start of the season, Boeser was one of many high-profile restricted free agents who signed while training camp was underway. The situation caused a lot of hand-wringing among Canucks fans who were concerned that the team wouldn’t get a deal done in time for the season opener, but the extra days at home in Minnesota would ultimately mean a lot to the Boeser family. Brock’s father, Duke, had been battling cancer, and Boeser spent much of that time with his father in the ICU.

In his first year of a three-year contract which carries a cap hit of $5.875 million, Boeser had 16 goals and 29 assists for a total of 45 points. Though Boeser has made a name for himself as a goal-scorer, his goal production was down this year, while his assist rate increased and his two-way game saw significant development.

While Boeser’s ostensible decline and the possibility of trading him for a defenceman or simply for cap relief was a frequent talking point in the Vancouver market, the 22-year-old was on pace for 19 goals and 35 assists which is just  two points shy of his career-high of 56 points. Boeser’s points-per-game total was lower than it had been during the previous two seasons, but it still put him in elite company with forwards like Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin in his statistical cohort.

Seasons PPG
2017-2018 .89
2018-2019 .81
2019-2020 .79

Boeser the playmaker

As I alluded to earlier, the decline in Boeser’s goal totals has coincided with his development into a more complete player, with his playmaking in particular taking a step forward this season. At the 2:47 mark of this video, Boeser chases down the puck and gets possession in the offensive zone. He sees an open Petterson on the far side and passes it across tape-to-tape for the goal.

The 1:23 mark of this video provides another prime example of Boeser’s playmaking abilities and hockey IQ. This is on full display here on the powerplay; instead of taking a low percentage shot, Boeser waits for Petterson to get in front of the net to redirect his pass into the gaping net.

Two-way game

With regards to Boeser’s two-way game, it seems as though on a very young roster, Head Coach Travis Green has faith in his defensive ability. Boeser’s defensive zone faceoff starts have skyrocketed this season.

Season Defensive Zone Starts
2016-2017 37.6%
2017-2018 37.5%
2018-2019 30.2%
2019-2020 44.6%

 

He’s also added a physical dimension to his game. His hit totals increased from 14 to 28 this season, and he’s been visibly harder on pucks, and on the forecheck.

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In his first game back from injury, as described by Harman Dayal of The Athletic, Boeser’s backcheck and foot speed were on full display here.

Obviously, fans would have liked to see more individual goal production from him this season, but Boeser took necessary steps in his development this year that saw him improve on areas in his game that were once considered deficient. If that can continue and his goal totals can return to normal levels, it will go a long way towards silencing his critics and quieting the trade talk that surrounded him this season.