Following a short yet successful college career, prospect winger Brock Boeser wasted no time before making an impact in the NHL. Scoring in his first NHL game, the 20-year-old finished the 2016-17 season with four goals in nine games with the Vancouver Canucks, impressing both fans and management.
During his Canucks stint, Boeser spent most of his time on right wing, with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi. While that will be an option again next season, new head coach Travis Green will have room for experimentation.
So, how will Boeser fit into the lineup in his first full NHL season?
1. Continue where we left off
Nine games are an incredibly short sample size. Yet, Boeser’s 0.44 goals per game were impressive, and there is reason to believe it wasn’t a fluke. The Baertschi-Horvat-Boeser line is built on speed and skill, which is not only the direction the NHL is moving towards, but also something the Canucks severely lacked last season.
Prorated to a full 82-game season, Boeser’s four goals turn into 36. That number might be slightly unrealistic, but if there’s even the tiniest chance to make it happen, it’s worth exploring.
This is also the kind of line that would bring excitement for a fanbase during what is expected to be an otherwise painful rebuild.
2. Play him with the Sedins
In 2016-17, Henrik and Daniel Sedin combined for 94 points. Just five years ago, Henrik had 81 all by himself, while Daniel added 67. Times have changed, and if the Canucks want to keep the twins around, they must find a way keep them producing.
There were several issues last season that led to their decline — notably their lack of speed and the absence of a proper linemate. The Sedins were never the fastest skaters, but they managed to overcome that with elite smarts and passing ability. But as the NHL is getting even faster, with more and more goals scored off the rush, making opponents dizzy with passing plays has become increasingly difficult.
Rather than giving the Sedins a grinder to work with, Boeser adds speed, skill, and scoring touch. He can take some pressure off the twins while developing alongside one of the NHL’s best playmakers of all time.
At the very least, he’ll work better with them than Jayson Megna.
3. A fresh start
Although Green is going into his first year as the Canucks’ coach, he probably has some line combinations in mind already.
The twins will likely stick together. The same goes for Horvat and Baertschi. But, Green has a list of players he can experiment with, and Boeser is one of them.
One intriguing option would be on a line with recent free-agent signing Sam Gagner. While he may end up playing the wing, Gagner has excellent playmaking tools as a centre, which is tailor-made for a sniper like Boeser.
Moving Gagner to the middle could allow for Brandon Sutter to play the wing, as he did for parts of last season.
Nothing’s more fun than seeing a team’s top prospect blossoming in a big role. Just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs.
However, rushing rookies into major roles can backfire. Despite Boeser’s success in his first weeks as an NHL player, bringing him along slowly won’t hurt.
Furthermore, Boeser is one of the Canucks’ few waiver-exempt forwards. If management wants to ensure they don’t lose assets for nothing, starting Boeser and fellow waiver-exempt youngster Nikolay Goldobin with the AHL Utica Comets would be a smart move. Vancouver is a rebuilding team now, so there is no need to rush prospects.