What Should the Canucks Do with Boeser?

The Vancouver Canucks have been a pretty entertaining team to watch this season and it’s largely due to the phenomenal play of rookie sensation, Brock Boeser. The 20-year-old Calder Trophy candidate is lighting it up this season and doing so no matter who he’s playing with, which poses a bit of a problem.

With the return of Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi to the Canucks’ lineup, the question is whether or not head coach Travis Green should return Boeser to his old linemates or if he should keep him with his current company.

Brock Boeser Canucks
Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks, Nov. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Last night, against the Winnipeg Jets, Boeser played with his old line but recently, Boeser has primarily been skating with Thomas Vanek and Sam Gagner; a bit of an odd line on paper but they have been effective. On the other hand, Boeser was also lighting it up with Horvat and Baertschi.

Speaking of the team’s injuries, the Canucks have struggled this season and are in a hole that is difficult to climb out of in terms of a playoff run. But, the season is still alive when it comes to the Calder Trophy race for Boeser — a showcase of what is to come for the Canucks faithful.

So, what should the Canucks do with Boeser?

Boeser and the B’s

Boeser, (Bo) Horvat and Baertschi make up the infamous “B’s” line, and they had people buzzing with their high-speed and dynamic offensive game. Unfortunately, December completely dismantled the line with long-term injuries to both Horvat and Baertschi.

The chemistry was already there from last season, as they were the bread and butter of the Canucks’ offence and one of the only watchable aspects of the dismal and forgettable 2016-17 season. On top of the chemistry, they added Boeser, who is leading the team with 22 notches and 41 points in 44 games.

Baertschi Canucks
Sven Baertschi (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The early play of the “B’s” propelled Boeser into the Calder talks and even had him pegged as one of the favourites. Just as the race was heating up, though, Boeser lost his mates and some were worried that the Burnsville, Minnesota product might slip through the fabled Calder-Cracks — patent still pending.

Boeser and the Vets

Enter Gagner and Vanek, two off-season acquisitions that the NHL, for the most part, had shrugged off as ageing has-beens.

To everyone’s confusion, Green tossed Boeser on a line with the two guns-for-hire and sure enough, they’re killing it. The chemistry has been off the charts, particularly between Boeser and Vanek, who happens to be tied for second in team scoring with a lucky 13 goals and 32 points in 47 games.

The fact that all three players are right-handed gives the line an odd advantage on the offensive end — passing and shooting angles are available that would be non-existent if a left-handed player was there. On top of that, the slower and more calculated play of the two veterans, paired with the young flare of Boeser, creates a dynamic that is, generally speaking, uncharted territory for a lot of defencemen.

What to Do with Boeser

As you can see, there is an issue that Green needs to solve. Yes, it’s a great issue to have but I do believe the issue runs a bit deeper than what’s visible on the surface.

Say Green returns Boeser to his former “B’s” line and they get back on track. Sure, that’s all well and good, but what about Gagner and Vanek? Their stellar play and chemistry were created by the young talent and without him, they’re average third line players.

Brock Boeser Canucks
Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Now, say for a minute that Boeser stays with the veterans and they continue to light it up, who jumps onto the Horvat and Baertschi line? Markus Granlund? Nikolay Goldobin? I just don’t see it. However, their line did just fine without Boeser last season, so maybe they would be okay with just a second-tier forward.

The Verdict

I say, return Boeser to his former line… once Horvat is back to 100%. Coming back from a foot fracture, he’s going to have a slow start and probably won’t be carrying the same offensive load that he was prior to being sidelined.

I say this for a few reasons:

  1. The “B’s” line is the future of the Canucks and they should be playing with each other and developing their chemistry as the Canucks roll through their rebuild.
  2. Gagner isn’t a top-line guy. He’s just not. He contributes the most from a bottom-six position where he specializes in face-offs, two-way play and special teams.
  3. Vanek is a mercenary and not a player that generally sticks around too long. He’s on a one-year contract and, more likely than not, he’ll be moving on, either at the deadline or in the off-season. There’s no sense in sticking your best offensive and developing weapon with a player that won’t be around in a few months.

From where I’m sitting, it’s a no-brainer when it comes to returning Boeser to his former mates full-time.