Brock Boeser heads our top-10 list of Canucks prospects

Goal-hun­gry winger rated the most NHL-ready of Van­cou­ver’s prospects

The Province - - FRONT PAGE - Ja­son Botchford

Brock Boeser is 20 years old and has played nine pro­fes­sional hockey games. In a de­vel­op­men­tal utopia, he’d start next sea­son en­dur­ing rel­a­tive hard­ships in the mi­nors. There, he’d bake, spend­ing months — if not a year or two — prac­tis­ing re­lent­lessly as a pupil in the school of “hey kid, you’re gonna learn to play the right way.” Well, good luck with that. “If he’s not ready (for the NHL), I don’t know who is,” said Craig But­ton, TSN’s prince of prospects.

“He had the wrist in­jury for much of last year and he was still a re­ally good player.

“On a na­tional cham­pi­onship(-cal­i­bre) team, he was one of the best play­ers in the en­tire NCAA. He’s real. He’s a real player.

“If he’s not play­ing in the NHL next year, one of two things have hap- pened.

“He’s ei­ther fallen off the map or the Canucks have got in­cred­i­bly bet­ter with a lot of bet­ter play­ers and they’ve done it re­ally quickly.”

What are the chances ei­ther of those things are hap­pen­ing in the next four months? Yeah, not great. Boeser’s ar­rival may have been im­mod­er­ately hyped but his on-ice per­for­mance was kind of lost at the end of the sea­son, when the Canucks looked as help­less as over­done pota­toes put in a stock pot dur­ing a ful­lon roar­ing boil.

Thing is, Boeser was re­ally good. In nine games, the six-foot, 190-pounder led the Canucks in goals (four), points (five) and was sec­ond in shots (25).

Yes, he is their best prospect. He had a pos­i­tive im­pact on line­mates Bo Hor­vat and Sven Baertschi, a duo who con­trolled an im­pres­sive per­cent­age of shot at­tempts (north of 55 per cent) when play­ing with Boeser at even strength. In those nine games, when the score was close, the Canucks had 54 per cent of the shot at­tempts when Boeser was play­ing.

Small sam­ple, of course, but ex­ceed­ingly en­cour­ag­ing, too.

Boeser was ac­cu­rate with that shot of his, miss­ing the net just three times among his 28 shot at­tempts. Hor­vat, by com­par­i­son, led the team in Boeser’s nine games with 26 shots but missed the net 12 times.

The Canucks don’t think it was a fluke.

“(Boeser’s) big­gest strength is his pa­tience with the puck,” Van­cou­ver GM Jim Ben­ning said. “He’s able to hang on to the puck for a long time to make a good play.

“He finds ar­eas where he can get to and then can shoot it.”

There may be some re­luc­tance from Van­cou­ver’s man­age­ment to push Boeser this fall, be­cause the Canucks think that in hind­sight they rushed both Jared Mc­Cann and Jake Vir­ta­nen.

But this is what one scout said: “The com­par­i­son isn’t even close. Not by a mile. Boeser is so much fur­ther ahead then where those two were at.” And a cou­ple years older, too. The environment sur­round­ing Boeser’s late-sea­son ar­rival wasn’t the most fe­cund. On a strug­gling team check­ing out on the sea­son, it wasn’t an ob­vi­ous spot where the Canucks were set­ting their top prospect up to suc­ceed.

It could have gone side­ways for him. It didn’t. Not even close.

Think about it this way — Boeser thrived while be­ing parachuted into an im­plod­ing team, for a lame-duck coach, with­out time to prac­tise the power play, and with a wrist is­sue that re­quired some rest and re­hab at the end of the sea­son.

Oh, and the Canucks don’t think he was quite in NHL shape.

“The rea­son why we brought him up was we wanted to get him ac­cli­ma­tized to the NHL,” Ben­ning said. “We wanted to get him a taste of the NHL. He still, off the ice, has some work to do this sum­mer to get into the type of shape he’s go­ing to need to be in to last an 82-game sea­son.

“It’s dif­fer­ent when you come from col­lege and it’s a 45-game sched­ule. It was a good ex­pe­ri­ence for him, be­side his pro­duc­tion.

“He got a good idea of the speed and strength of the play­ers. Now, he knows this sum­mer what he needs to do to have a good train­ing camp and give him­self a chance to make the team.”

Ben­ning said the de­ci­sion on where Boeser starts next sea­son will be de­ter­mined in train­ing camp.

“The one thing about these good young play­ers we have is that when they’re ready to play in the NHL, we’re go­ing to make room for them,” Ben­ning said. "But we don’t want to put them in a sit­u­a­tion where they’re go­ing to lose con­fi­dence or they’re not go­ing to keep de­vel­op­ing.

“We’ve talked to him. He knows what it’s go­ing to take and I’m con­fi­dent he’s go­ing to do the work off the ice.”

— GETTY IMAGES FILES

Rookie winger Brock Boeser, sec­ond from right, is con­grat­u­lated by Canucks team­mates. In the nine games he played last sea­son, he scored four goals.

— GETTY IMAGES FILES

The de­ci­sion about where Brock Boeser will play in the 2017-18 NHL sea­son will de­pend on his train­ing camp per­for­mance, says Canucks gen­eral man­ager Jim Ben­ning.

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