Brock Boeser has been one of the most confusing players on the Vancouver Canucks this season.
He entered the year with aspirations of scoring 30 goals. Shortly after, he had hand surgery and later admitted that he probably came back too soon.
Once Boeser returned to the lineup, he stopped scoring goals, kept posting points, meanwhile his usually sturdy two-way game completely fell off of a cliff.
“He’s an interesting guy because I think there’s more. There’s another level,” Tocchet told reporters last weekend.
When asked about his opinion of Boeser’s play, Tocchet gave a fairly blunt assessment.
“How do I like his play? It’s a little inconsistent for me.”
“He’s got good patience with the puck, but there’s other parts of his game where we have to get him going. He’s gotta forecheck a little harder, be a bit better defensively in certain situations.
“This is a big 16-17 games and a big summer for him. I’d really like to get involved in his training and what he does in the summer to prepare. I think our staff can help him and if he can get to another level, it would be huge for the Canucks.”
Despite lack of goals, Canucks’ Boeser setting career highs
Expectations can sometimes be a curse.
Boeser did himself no favours when he told reporters “this is the year,” when asked in September about potentially scoring 30 goals.
However, despite only scoring 12 goals in 58 games so far this season, he has elevated other aspects of his game.
J.T. giving us gifts on his birthday 🎁 pic.twitter.com/Fo3pgNWe53
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) March 15, 2023
Boeser now has a career-high of 33 assists, with 16 games still left in the season. Nearly 75% of his assists (24 of 33) have come at even strength.
While his playmaking has trended upwards, his shot volume has trended in the other direction.
Part of the reason why Boeser isn’t scoring more, is simply because he isn’t shooting the puck as much.
The 26-year-old has registered just 6.7 shots per 60 at even strength. That’s the second-lowest mark during his six full seasons in the NHL. The 6.8 individual scoring chances created per 60 is the lowest mark of his NHL career.
Still, Boeser is back to producing points at a first-line rate at even strength. He has registered 2.38 points per 60, which is actually the highest mark of his NHL career.
That total also ranks an impressive 43rd among NHLers, and fourth on the Canucks behind Elias Pettersson, Andrei Kuzmenko, and Ilya Mikheyev.
Boeser’s defensive play still shoddy under Tocchet
The biggest issue with Boeser’s game his season hasn’t been the lack of goals scored. It’s been the amount of goals-against that he’s been on the ice for.
For most of his career, Boeser’s defensive game has been quietly solid. Although he lacks foot speed and isn’t a tenacious player on the boards, the Minnesota native is usually a smart in-zone defender who’s adept at reading the play.
That hasn’t been the case at all this season.
And unfortunately, the results haven’t been much better under Tocchet.
Under Boudreau, the Canucks allowed 3.19 expected goals per 60 with Boeser on the ice. That was third-worst among all Canucks, ahead of only Tanner Pearson and Riley Stillman.
With Tocchet at the helm, Boeser’s on-ice expected goals-against have marginally improved to 3.07 xGA/60.
However, that’s still the worst total among all Canucks in 20 games under Tocchet.
What’s interesting is that his expected goals differential while playing with his most common linemate this season, J.T. Miller, is a dreadful 37.6%. Both players see that metric improve when they don’t play with each other.
The only player who Boeser has a positive expected goals differential with this season is Pettersson (53.6%).
Is Boeser in the Canucks’ long-term plans?
There was a ton of trade speculation about Boeser prior to the deadline, and Tocchet even touched on that last week.
“All I know is that when I’ve talked to Brock personally, he wants to get his game better,” said Tocchet. “Whether [Boeser] has maybe a change of heart, management has a change of heart, or as collectively as a group we have a change of heart, who knows.
“But, these actions the next 17 games will dictate that.”
Boeser himself told reporters after a three-assist night against the Dallas Stars that he’s talked to Tocchet about where he needs to improve his game.
“We’ve had good conversations about little details… body position, winning those battles. It gives you more space and time when you win those battles and have good body position.”
But, as Tocchet alluded to, the onus is on Boeser to play better. Even though he’s averaging 17:29 per game under Tocchet, nothing is guaranteed.
“There are some guys who are knocking on the door for more minutes,” Tocchet said recently. “It’s a world of competition so he’s gotta make sure he steps it up.”
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