Forget OEL, Brock Boeser is the Canuck most likely to bounce back in 2023/24
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
Earlier in the summer, we wrote a treatise on the possibility of one Oliver Ekman-Larsson bouncing back from a dismal 2022/23 performance into what we all hope is a much better 2023/24.
The jury’s still out on whether that will actually come to pass, and probably will be for a good long while.
Now, given that Ekman-Larsson is on the Vancouver Canucks’ books for another four more years at a $7.26 million cap hit, he’s the member of the team that fans are probably most wishing to have that bounceback campaign.
But is he the most likely to? Perhaps not.
In re-examining the arguments made in favour of OEL bouncing back, we couldn’t help but notice that another player fit the profile of a potential return-to-form much better.
And that player is Brock Boeser.
The Injury Factor
Boeser just doesn’t ever get to start his seasons on the right foot.
As we covered back in October, with Boeser out of the lineup already thanks to a preseason hand injury, early-season injuries are an almost yearly occurrence for him. This injury marked two years in a row with a preseason ailment, and the fifth time in sixth years that Boeser has either started out the year injured or got injured shortly thereafter.
That’s not easy for anyone.
This time around, Boeser returned to the lineup a little early, resulting in his stitches eventually opening back up and him missing even more time.
The time missed was no doubt a factor in Boeser’s less-than-satisfactory season, but so too was the area of the injury itself. Boeser is, if nothing else, a sniper, and snipers need their hands.
Which probably goes a long way toward explaining…
The Shooting Percentage
A player’s shooting percentage is one of the easiest methods through which to measure a player’s luck quotient from year-to-year, as much as that’s ever possible.
Obviously, shots go in for reasons other than luck. But when a player’s been in the league for a while, and their shooting percentage goes wildly above or below their career average for a season, it’s generally a sign of some good or bad puck-luck, and the expectation is generally that they will eventually return toward their average over time.
This one’s a little difficult to track with Boeser, because his shooting percentage has been a little all over the place for his entire career.
Boeser’s shooting percentage has been as high as 16.3% over an entire season, as registered in the 2020/21 season. He came into 2022/23 with a career average in the range of about 13.5%, and then posted a percentage of just 10.1%, the lowest of his career.
That’s not a massive swing down from his average, but it is a noticeable dip. Part of that is no doubt due to the hand issues, but some of it will also be down to bad luck.
Should the injury resolve itself fully, Boeser can be expected to get his shooting percentage back into the mid-teens, and that should naturally get him back in the 20+-goal range, provided he can stay somewhat healthy.
The 5v5 Scoring
It should be noted that Boeser did not receive the usual amount of on-ice opportunity in 2022/23 as he did in previous campaigns, but that he still seemed to make the most of what he got.
In terms of 5v5 scoring-per-60, Boeser was at a 2.11, good enough for fifth amongst Canucks regulars.
Boeser’s 5v5 points-per-60 trailed only Elias Pettersson, Andrei Kuzmenko, Bo Horvat, and Ilya Mikheyev, which means that it was higher (and considerably so) than Conor Garland, Anthony Beauvillier, and JT Miller.
In fact, let’s stop and compare Boeser and Miller’s 5v5 results.
Boeser had 2.11 points-per-60 at fives, and Miller had just 1.68. That’s a fairly notable difference.
So why do people talk as if Boeser struggled to produce this season, and not Miller?
Because of the power play.
The Power Play
Miller got 30 points on the power play this season. He played almost four minutes on the man advantage each game, almost exclusively with the top unit.
Boeser averaged 2:52 on the power play per game, which is still a lot, but he got bumped from the top unit and spent almost all of those minutes with the second unit on the back-half of penalties.
As a result, he got only 16 power play points, easily the lowest rate of PP scoring of his career thus far.
Here, we can’t say with any certainty that Boeser will receive more opportunities moving forward, as the PP1 unit remains fairly crowded.
But it does serve as an explanation of why Boeser’s overall numbers are down, particularly those goal totals, and why that may not equate to him being less productive as an individual.
We’ve talked often about how the Canucks’ goaltending, particularly in the middle stages of the 2022/23 season, really hampered their players.
But nobody felt that more than Boeser.
Of all those who played a mostly full campaign for the Canucks, Boeser suffered the worst on-ice save percentage with a measly 86.94%. That’s something that will shred a player’s defensive metrics, and indeed that appears to be what happened.
It’s a little difficult to parse this subject specifically, because it was obvious to anyone watching that Boeser did struggle a little defensively on the ice, at least compared to his usual effort levels in that field.
But career-worst numbers in possession and control were no doubt dragged down by poor goaltending, and there’s nothing that Boeser could have done about that.
With Thatcher Demko healthy and in fine form again, this will hopefully not be an issue in 2023/24, and Boeser’s metrics should partially rebound on that factor alone.
And not getting scored on as often generally means more chances to score yourself.
The Linemate Inconsistency
It is generally accepted that players need at least some consistency in their linemates in order to achieve consistency in their scoring.
Well, Boeser did not receive that from the Canucks this past season.
Hands up if you knew that Boeser’s most consistent line, by far, was one with Phil Di Giuseppe on it.
Seriously. Boeser spent about 20% of his season on a line with Di Giuseppe and Miller, and did not spend more than 10% of his season with any other line. A little 5% with Conor Garland and Sheldon Dries, a little 5% with Tanner Pearson and Bo Horvat, a little 3% with Nils Aman and Dakota Joshua.
That was the shape of Boeser’s season, and it probably didn’t make it very easy to get on a roll after starting the season off one.
Look, there’s been more than enough literature on Boeser’s various personal tragedies already, and Boeser himself was brave enough to speak openly about the difficulties he felt last season in the wake of the loss of his father.
That alone should be reason, if not to believe in the guy, then at least to root for him.
But combine all that with the factors listed above, and that belief should start to emerge, too.
There were an awful lot of things getting in the way of Boeser playing at his best in 2022/23, on top of it being a season in which the team as a whole mostly did not play their best.
He may not have experienced the Tocchet Turnaround ™ as much as his teammates, but that’s perhaps understandable.
The Boeser Bounceback ™ might have to wait until next year, but we believe it’s coming.
Whether that’s with the Canucks or elsewhere remains to be seen.
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