After an eight-goal outburst against the Boston Bruins, the Canucks’ offence has been a little more sparse on their seven-game losing streak. They’re averaging just 2.29 goals per game in that span of games, dragging their season average into the bottom third of the NHL.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the Canucks are missing two top-six forwards: last year’s leading goal-scorer Brock Boeser and playmaking winger Sven Baertschi.
In their absence, the Canucks have tried several other wingers in a top-six role. Tim Schaller, Tyler Motte, and Antoine Roussel have all taken a spin with Bo Horvat recently and it shows. Though Horvat is right behind Elias Pettersson with 11 goals this season, he has just one 5-on-5 goal since Baertschi got injured.
To be fair, Horvat has been a little more focussed on the defensive zone of late and has scored a couple power play goals, but it seems clear that he’s missing the presence of a couple skilled, offensive-minded wingers.
Perhaps one of those wingers could be Reid Boucher.
The Canucks called up Boucher from the Utica Comets on Thursday and it’s not hard to understand why: Boucher has been lights out for the Comets this season and, with 10 goals in 12 games, is second in the AHL in goals per game.
After getting cut by the Canucks this season, Boucher went down to the AHL with something to prove. At 25, he’s aged out of “prospect” status and at a point in his career where he’s in danger of becoming the next Jason Krog or Alexandre Giroux: AHL stars that could never last in the NHL.
The issue for Boucher is that he’s been one-dimensional in the NHL: he has a fantastic shot and can beat goaltenders cleanly with it when he gets the chance, but struggles in other areas. That makes it tough for a head coach to trust him with the types of minutes he would need to use his shot: it’s a classic catch-22.
There’s an argument to be made, however, that Boucher has been better in the NHL than conventional wisdom would suggest. That was the case made by Tyler Shipley in his prescient first article for CanucksArmy on Tuesday, pointing out that when you take into account his ice time, Boucher has produced points at a rate similar to Baertschi and above the likes of Sam Gagner, Markus Granlund, and, in his time with the Canucks, Loui Eriksson.
Shipley also takes aim at one of the main criticisms of Boucher: his footspeed.
Last season, Boucher mostly lined up alongside Nic Dowd and Jake Virtanen on a bottom-six line, but in that role he got some interesting results. That line had a 54.1% corsi together, making them one of the better Canucks lines in terms of puck possession. When you look at Expected Goals Percentage from Corsica, they were fourth behind three lines that featured the Sedins.
That’s from a small sample size, but it at least shows that Boucher can hold his own with the right linemates.
Let’s be clear: Boucher isn’t a game-breaking player. He’s never going to replace someone like Brock Boeser and shouldn’t be expected to score 25 goals in a season. There’s a chance, however, that he could be a solid depth scoring winger that can step up the lineup when injuries occur.
It remains to be seen whether Boucher will get to play with someone like Horvat, but it would seem odd to call up the farm team’s leading scorer then sit him in the press box. An intriguing option would be to add him to Pettersson’s right wing, giving Pettersson a finisher, then sheltering that line to give them more opportunities in the offensive zone.
In order to make room for Boucher, Brendan Gaunce was sent down to the AHL. It’s hard not to feel for Gaunce, who finds himself at a similar crossroads as Boucher: fantastic in the AHL, but struggling to find a place in the NHL.
Gaunce did what he could when he got he call at the end of October, putting up two points against the Blackhawks in his first game, then following up with another point against the Avalanche. That didn’t keep him from being a healthy scratch, however, and he’s played just one game since, getting less than five minutes of ice time against the Canadiens.
It’s hard to make sense of it, in some ways: Gaunce has played well in his minimal minutes this season, but hasn’t been given the opportunity to do more and now finds himself back in Utica.
“This could be a career-changing year, whether I play in the NHL for the rest of my life or I don’t,” said Gaunce before the start of the season. At this point, the needle is leaning towards “don’t.”