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It’s easy to forget now, but there were some serious concerns about Brock Boeser to start the season.
It began in the preseason, when the Canucks’ young sniper failed to score a goal in five games, a far cry from the four goals in five preseason games he scored heading into his rookie year. While preseason is largely meaningless, something looked a little off about Boeser’s game, particularly the released on his rightly-feared shot.
Then he failed to register a point in the first two games of the regular season, which led to speculation about what might be wrong — perhaps his late season back injury was making him tentative, the missed training time from recuperating was affecting him, or the eight pounds he gained in the summer were slowing him down?
It was all a bit much, an overreaction to a few underwhelming games, and Boeser quickly rattled off a four-game point streak that silenced some of the questions. Still, something didn’t seem quite right. Boeser was slower to loose pucks, lacked some explosiveness in his skating stride, and wasn’t getting shots off with as much speed and power. While he still picked up points, he had just two goals through his first 12 games.
It turned out something was wrong: Boeser had a nagging groin injury that he was playing through. While it was gradually getting better, he suffered a setback after what appeared to a breakout game, when he scored two goals and added two assists against the Colorado Avalanche in early November.
The tweak to his injury might have been the best thing that could have happened to Boeser, as it forced him to sit out and fully recuperate. Now back at 100% — or as close to 100% as professional hockey players ever get — Boeser is playing like the player that captured Canucks fans’ hearts in his rookie season.
After returning, Boeser had 8 goals and 12 points in 10 games and found some burgeoning chemistry with the Canucks’ new superstar rookie, Elias Pettersson. Despite missing 13 games, Boeser is still on pace for 33 goals this season.
Over these last dozen games, Boeser is scoring goals at a higher rate than last season, but the shot totals look pretty similar. It’s fair to say that Boeser is back to where he was in his rookie season, even if he hasn’t taken a big step forward.
There’s been some luck involved in his goal-scoring. For instance, his hat trick against the St. Louis Blues included a goal that banked off the glass behind the net and in off Jake Allen’s pad, as well as a goal that deflected in off a Blues’ player. At the same time, Boeser’s shot looks back to being unstoppable: his one-timer on the power play against the Nashville Predators was a rocket, while he simply overpowered Mikko Koskinen with a wrist shot for his goal against the Edmonton Oilers.
While Boeser admitted that he wasn’t feeling like himself to start the season, he seemed uncertain whether his injury affected his shot. If it did, the change could have been so gradual over time that he didn’t notice.
“It’s hard to say, because I have to shoot like that every day,” he said. “So if I’m sniping in practice, I don’t know if it’s still the same or not. I’m sure it affects it in some way.”
Playing without pain likely has Boeser feeling a lot more confident about himself and his shot. He’s averaging an extra shot attempt per game, which has resulted in more shots on goal. It doesn’t hurt having Pettersson feeding him the puck: 8 of Boeser’s 12 goals this season have been assisted by Pettersson.
With both of the Canucks’ young stars at the top of their games, offence has become the least of the Canucks’ worries.
Stick-taps and Glove-drops
A tap of the stick to Canucks prospects Mike DiPietro and Quinn Hughes for making Team Canada and Team USA for the World Junior tournament. Sure, it was a foregone conclusion for both of them, but they still deserve congratulations. Tyler Madden and Toni Utunen also look they'll be making Team USA, and Team Finland, respectively, so a stick-tap to each of them as well.
I’m dropping the gloves with the Philadelphia Flyers for how they handled firing head coach Dave Hakstol. The writing was on the wall for weeks, but they delayed the decision until a leaked report of his dismissal, which they initially denied before finally letting him go. It was an utter mess and a perfect example of how not to handle that type of situation.