The Vancouver Canucks will take on the Minnesota Wild in the play-in round ahead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in under two weeks. A few players have a lot to prove, but one, in particular, has come into training camp determined to step up. Brock Boeser will have his first chance to play in the playoffs if the Canucks win their qualifying series.
A Return to Hockey
Boeser felt he played great early on in the season but stopped trusting his scoring abilities. His shooting percentage has dropped from 16.2 in 2017-18, to 12.4 in 2018-19 to 9.5 this season. He missed 12 games with a rib cartilage fracture and played one game before the season came to a stop. Before the stoppage, Boeser was on a five-game pointless streak and a 12-game goalless drought, his last goal came on Jan. 11. He finished the regular season with a career-low of 16 goals and 45 points in 57 games.
“I think it’s a confidence thing. If you’re going well and then you get injured, it’s kind of like starting from scratch. It definitely can play some mind games with you, especially this last injury” Boeser said to Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre. “I was having a tough stretch of games before I got injured. I just took that time off and thought deeply about how I can be better and how I can improve and get out of that little slump I was in.”
Best Player at Training Camp
Luckily, every player is starting from scratch after the 4.5-month stoppage of play. The 23-year-old has looked great in training camp so far, and he has been dominant since the start of training camp. According to Thomas Drance and Harman Dayal of The Athletic, Boeser has been all over the offensive zone and has done a great job of finding space and time to release his shot (from ‘Sunday scrimmage: 5 key observations from the Canucks’ second game simulation,’ The Athletic, 07/19/2020).
Boeser feeds off of his confidence and he has been playing with confidence throughout training camp. His playmaking improved this season and has also been highlighted during camp. He is heading into the play-in round healthy and looks like the player who started the 2019-20 season, which means he should return to his scoring ways.
Addition of Toffoli Changes His Role
After the Canucks traded for Tyler Toffoli at the trade deadline, it was obvious Boeser’s playing time would be affected. He is no longer on the Lotto line with Elias Pettersson and J.T Miller and in the play-in round, he will flank Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson.
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He is prepared to play with Horvat since his goal-scoring struggles forced him to focus on his two-way game a lot more this season. However, the two have struggled to produce over the past two seasons with the addition of Petterson, but in 2017-18, the two scored at an electric rate (from ‘Canucks Phase 3 training camp: ‘Unfit to play’ and the Brock Boeser dunkfest,’ The Athletic, 07/13/2020).
The Horvat line now has increased defensive responsibility, which is perfect since Boeser has improved that aspect of his game this season. Adding him to the Horvat line could also make them an offensive threat if the two can recapture their chemistry and pin the Wild’s top line in the defensive zone. Dropping to the second line means that Boeser will play against the second defensive unit, which could also lead to easier scoring chances from time to time.
Boeser Trade Rumours
Last week, reports surfaced that the Canucks were exploring trade options for Boeser. Whether those rumours were true or not, he showed up to camp with a chip on his shoulder. The forward was upset with the media when the reports came out as he felt the rumours were unfair since the trade deadline already passed.
It was further reported that the Canucks value Toffoli higher than Boeser and they’ve explored trading the American to keep the pending free agent since they’re tight on cap space (from ‘Phase 3 Canucks training camp: The travelling party and the Brock Boeser thing,’ The Athletic, 06/13/2020). The team believes they’ve given up too much to let Toffoli walk.
Toffoli has had one 50-plus point season, while Boeser has had two and was on a pace for another in his third season, all while missing a significant number of games. On top of all that, the 23-year-old is on a team-friendly contract, based on his value, while Toffoli is a pending UFA.
Boeser’s first game in the NHL was against his hometown team and future play-in round opponents, the Wild. Minnesota skipped over him at the 2015 NHL Draft and selected Joel Eriksson Ek with the 20th-overall pick. The Canucks selected Boeser with the 23rd-overall pick.
There’s a rivalry between the right-winger and his home state as Michael Russo from The Athletic points out. Boeser chose to play for the border rival, the University of North Dakota where he won a national championship, instead of the University of Minnesota or the University of Minnesota-Duluth (from ‘Back in Minnesota, Brock Boeser ready for a very personal Canucks-Wild series,’ The Athletic, 05/28/2020). He now has the opportunity to beat his hometown team to play in the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Boeser was only six years old when the two teams last met in the playoffs. The Canucks blew a 3-1 series lead against the Wild in the 2003 NHL Western Conference Semifinals.
Boeser Primed to Lead the Canucks to Playoffs
Boeser returned from injury to play one game before the NHL season came to a sudden halt. Four and a half months later, he is completely healed and has shown shades of his former self. After a hot start to the season, he lost confidence after his injuries, but he now seems to have regained that confidence.
Although general manager Jim Benning denied the trade rumours, Boeser has the opportunity to show why the thought of trading him would be foolish. If the Canucks beat the Wild in the play-in round, they will play in the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.