The Vancouver Canucks finished the 2016-17 season with eight straight regulation losses, matching their streak at the beginning of the season. There were two things that made that losing streak palatable: it gave the Canucks better odds in the draft lottery and it gave fans a glimpse of Brock Boeser in action.
Boeser quite literally went directly from college to the NHL: he played in a double-overtime game on Friday, March 24th, then flew to Minnesota to sign his contract with the Canucks and play in front of his family and friends on Saturday, March 25th. He scored his first goal in his debut, finishing off a Bo Horvat rebound off the rush, then scored three more to finish off the season.
He was the lone bright spot of the final few games of the season and Willie Desjardins, to his credit, actually gave him the opportunities to be that bright spot. Boeser played on what was essentially the first line with Horvat and Sven Baertschi at even-strength and on the first power play unit with the Sedins.
If he gets the same opportunity next season, he could be in the conversation for the Calder Trophy as the 2017-18 rookie of the year.
It may seem premature to be thinking about such things, but last week’s article on NHL.com on rookies to watch in the coming season and the subsequent discussion on the Canucks subreddit got me thinking about it and, when I think about these types of things, those thoughts tend to turn into blogposts.
Ben Zweiman included Boeser in his list of 8 rookies that included Boeser’s University of North Dakota teammate, Tyson Jost. The early favourite for the Calder is Charlie McAvoy, who played big minutes for the Boston Bruins in the playoffs, but other top candidates include Joshua Ho-Sang, Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome, and Kyle Connor.
Beyond those names, there are the dark horses, like Thomas Chabot, who could play on a pairing with Erik Karlsson in Ottawa, Oskar Lindblom, who was just named the SHL MVP, and Joel Eriksson Ek, who boasts an impressively ridiculous name. That’s not to mention Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, fresh off of being picked in the 2017 draft.
Can Boeser outplay all of these top prospects to win rookie of the year? I think there’s a chance he can and here are a few reasons why.
First of all, this upcoming crop of rookies lacks the star power of the last couple season. Last season was a battle between Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine, with Matthews taking the trophy with his 40-goal season. The year before, Artemi Panarin won the Calder with a 77-point season thanks to Connor McDavid missing half the season with an injury, with Jack Eichel in the mix as well.
This coming season doesn’t have a Matthews, Laine, Panarin, McDavid, or even an Eichel. There won’t be any 40-goal or 77-point seasons out of this group, so a more modest offensive year would get the player in the conversation.
Second, Boeser should get the opportunity to put up points. Even with the Canucks’ active first day of free agency, there is still a clear path to the top of the lineup for Boeser. Based on his chemistry with them last season, Boeser should play with Baertschi and Bo, earning the Vancouver-appropriate nickname of the B-Line.
The trio put up a 52.7% corsi in their admittedly small sample size together, which suggests they can hold their own in terms of puck possession, and adding a sniper to complement the playmaking of Baertschi and the net-drive of Horvat makes a lot of sense.
Beyond that, he should get a plethora of power play time as well. Thanks to his right-hand shot and goal-scoring acumen, Boeser is a natural fit to play with the Sedins on the power play, but he could also continue his chemistry with Horvat and Baertschi on another unit.
At North Dakota, Boeser made a home on the Ovi Spot, depositing pucks into the net, not to be confused with an ovipositor, which is used to deposit eggs. With his bomb of a slap shot, excellent wrist shot and backhand, and his quick hands around the net, Boeser should be a goal-scoring threat on the power play no matter which unit he is on.
The Canucks haven’t had a one-shot scoring threat like Boeser for years and they don’t have anyone like him now, so it would behoove them to put him in a position to succeed.
How likely is he to make the most of that opportunity? We can get some idea by using Rob Vollman’s NHL equivalency numbers.
Boeser played in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), which is equivalent in difficulty to playing in the Finnish Liiga or Swiss National League A, according to Vollman’s equivalency translation factors. Essentially, players that made the jump from the NCHC directly to the NHL in the following season put up 0.43 times as many points per game.
Applying that to Boeser’s sophomore year at North Dakota, we end up with a 38-point season for Boeser in 2017-18. It should be noted, however, that Boeser played much of last season with an injured wrist that required surgery in December, which hampered his ability to rack up points, particularly given that his wrist shot is such a key part of his offensive arsenal. Notably, it took him longer to release the puck, with his shots getting blocked with greater frequency, particularly on the power play.
Expanding to his full collegiate career to get a larger sample of his uninjured playing time, Boeser has 43 goals and 94 points in 74 games. Applying the translation factor gives us a projection of 20 goals and 45 points in 82 NHL games in 2017-18.
While 20 goals would be an excellent rookie season for Boeser, it’s not exactly a Calder-like number. Gabriel Landeskog won the Calder in 2011-12 with 22 goals and 52 points, but he had a strong two-way game to go with it. You’d have to go back to 1998-99 and Chris Drury to find a Calder-winning forward with 20 goals and fewer than 50 points.
So, if Boeser wants to be the rookie of the year, he’ll have to outscore those projections. That likely means at least a 30-goal and/or 60-point season, something that no Canuck accomplished last season. Does Boeser have that in him? Can the Canucks put together a strong enough season to support that kind of rookie campaign?