Photo credit:© Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
Why Brock Boeser’s goal scoring is more sustainable than most assume
2 months ago
With 23 goals on the 2023/24 season as of this writing, Brock Boeser sits in a tie for first place in NHL goal-scoring.
And Auston Matthews doesn’t play again until Tuesday night, so there’s a good chance of that sticking.
Technically speaking, Boeser currently takes the tie-breaker on the distinction of having more points on the year, but it’s worth noting that Matthews has played in five fewer games. Either way, the tie itself is a little aside to what we’re here to talk about today.
Matthews’ presence at the top of that chart isn’t much of a surprise. He won consecutive Rocket Richard Trophies in 2021 and 2022, and is generally considered to be among the best, if not the best, goal-scorers of his generation.
Boeser, on the other hand, is a surprise. And with that surprise comes those same old words and phrases that accompany any NHL player who might be temporarily achieving more success than they usually do: “regression,” “unsustainable,” “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” and stuff like that.
Fortunately for the Canucks and for Boeser, all might not be as it appears, and the sustainability of his goal-scoring may be greater than most might assume.
We’re not going to pretend that we don’t understand where those folks are coming from. Boeser is currently rocking a 25.8% shooting percentage. That’s the sixth-highest in the league of any player who has played more than 5 games, and it’s the second-highest in the league of any 10+ goal scorer, behind former Canuck prospect Michael Carcone.
Prior to this season, Boeser has scored on a career average rate of about 13.7% of his shots. Whenever a player is shooting at a much higher percentage than their career average, this is typically seen as evidence of good “puck luck” that will eventually run out, resulting in that player regressing back to their own personal mean.
Right now, Boeser is shooting at nearly double his career average.
But the rule of shooting percentage regression is just a general rule, and it doesn’t always apply to individuals. A deeper dive into how Boeser is shooting and scoring reveals that it’s not quite so simple an equation when it comes to his 2023/24 performance.
Look, no one is going to claim that Boeser is going to continue to score at a 25.8% clip. Nobody does. But something resembling that ballpark?
Since the start of the 2019/20 season, a number of players have maintained relatively high shooting percentages. Leon Draisaitl leads the pack with 19.9%, followed by notables like Brayden Point (18.6%), Mark Scheifele (18.3%), Roope Hintz (17.7%), and Chris Kreider (17.7%).
In other words, the league’s most efficient shooters can and do maintain scoring rates of around 18%.
As we said, Boeser’s career average is about 13.7%. But Canucks fans know well that Boeser has not always been himself in seasons past. As such, his shooting percentage has varied wildly from year-to-year. In his very best years, including his rookie campaign and the 2020/21 season in which he led the team in scoring, Boeser has shot over and above 16%.
It’s not that much of a leap from 16% to 18%. And it’s not that much of a leap to suggest that Boeser was always capable of a little bit more when it came to consistent goal-scoring.
So, a drop in his shooting percentage is inevitable, but a drastic drop is not, nor is a regression back to his career average. It’s entirely feasible for Boeser to keep his shooting success in the upper echelons of the NHL’s best snipers.
There’s also a lot that can be said about how Boeser is taking his shots and scoring his goals.
The NHL introduced their EDGE tracking system this season, and it’s loaded with valuable information about the individual contributions of various players.
What it clearly demonstrates about Boeser is that he has evolved into a truly efficient shooter. Boeser’s shot selection is off the charts this season, and EDGE shows that he’s basically only shooting from mid- and high-danger spaces thus far in 2023/24.
From NHL EDGE
Of Boeser’s 89 shots on goal, 37 of them have come from either the crease itself or the zone immediately in front of it. Another 28 shots have come from the slot, leaving just 24 shots from what is usually considered “the outside.”
Placed under this context, Boeser’s higher-than-ordinary shooting percentage starts to make more sense, and starts to look all the more sustainable.
From NHL EDGE
Simply put, Boeser is scoring on a lot of his shots because a lot of his shots are coming from right in close to the net. He’s not getting lucky, he’s being selective and opportunistic, and those are both things that he can continue to be.
The best of all is that these statistics absolutely match with what the eye-test is saying. It’s hard not to notice that 2023/24 is far more physically engaged out there, forcing his way into difficult areas, battling for space and position, and getting the puck off his stick in a hurry when he gets it.
In other words, Boeser has put in the work to score on more of his shots. These aren’t fortunate bounces and unlikely deflections we’re talking about. These are the measurable gains of extra effort.
The goal-distribution chart really says it all. More than half of Boeser’s goals have come from what is deemed the “high-danger area.”
From NHL EDGE
If he can continue to find his way to that area, and the puck can continue to find its way to him via talented linemates like JT Miller, is it really out of the question to assume that Boeser can continue to put them in at nearly the same rate for the remainder of the season? And beyond?
We’re saying ‘no,’ it isn’t out of the question.
Is a little bit of a slowdown in scoring for Boeser likely? Within this season?
Probably, but not definitely. Andrei Kuzmenko did maintain a 27.3% shooting percentage all last season on route to 39 goals, so it is possible that Boeser just keeps it up throughout.
But yes, a slowdown is likely. Boeser is pacing for 59 goals currently. To see him actually reach that total would be astonishing. A lesser sum is a safe bet.
But what we hope we’ve demonstrated here is that a minor slowing of pace does not have to equate to “regression,” and it certainly doesn’t have to equate to a return to the Boeser of old.
This is a brand-new Boeser. And he might be here to stay.
Recent articles from Stephan Roget