While Canucks fans wait for good news on the Brock Boeser front, Jim Benning got three other restricted free agents signed to new contracts.
It was inevitable that Reid Boucher, Brogan Rafferty, and Josh Teves re-signed. Only Boucher had arbitration rights and he didn’t have much of a case for a big raise considering he played just one NHL game last season.
All three players are on two-way contracts, with Rafferty and Teves signed to two-year deals and Boucher signed to a one-year deal. The financial details of the deals were not released, but shouldn’t be significant raises on their previous contracts. Boucher was previously signed to a $725,000 contract with an AHL salary of $300,000, while Rafferty and Teves each had identical deals worth $925,000 for one year, with AHL salaries of $70,000.
Boucher should likely receive a raise on the AHL portion of his contract, considering he had a career-high 31 goals and 62 points in 56 games to lead the Utica Comets in scoring. Only two players had a better points-per-game than Boucher while playing in 40+ AHL games.
At 25, Boucher has seemingly established his ceiling: dominant AHL player, but never able to break through to the NHL on a permanent basis. His primary attribute is his ridiculous shot, with which he can pick corners from a distance and beat a goaltender cleanly.
The issue for Boucher is that he hasn’t been able to find the same opportunities at the NHL level, partly because his skating isn’t quite up to snuff. Without the time and space he’s afforded in the AHL, Boucher has struggled. He’s been better defensively than you might expect, albeit in a depth role, but he hasn’t given coaches enough reasons to put him in a more offensive role.
Boucher will still be a restricted free agent when his one-year deal expires thanks to his September birthday. He won’t turn 27 until September, 2020; if he turned 27 by June 30th, he’d be an unrestricted free agent next year.
Perhaps there’s a chance that injuries result in Boucher getting another chance in the NHL, but at this point it’s far more likely that he anchors the top line in Utica for all of next season.
Of the three signings, Rafferty is the one most likely to get a long look in the NHL next season. The Canucks signed Rafferty out of Quinnipiac University in April and he got a two-game audition at the end of the season.
Rafferty struggled on his first couple shifts, but quickly adjusted to the pace of the NHL and didn’t look the least bit out of place. He played with a physical edge, but also showed that he can skate, stickhandle, and break the puck out of the defensive zone with his passing. His ability with the puck likely comes from playing forward until his senior year of high school.
Beyond quickly finding his comfort level in the NHL, Rafferty has another attribute that will help him get time with the Canucks next season: he’s a right-hand shot.
The addition of Tyler Myers helps the Canucks’ right side, but they still lack quality depth beyond their NHL skaters. At this point, Rafferty likely slots in fifth on the depth chart on the right side, behind Myers, Troy Stecher, Chris Tanev, and Alex Biega. As soon as injuries strike on the right side, Rafferty is likely to get the call up from the Comets ahead of Jalen Chatfield and Mitch Eliot.
If his small sample from last season is any indication, Rafferty has potential as a third-pairing defenceman that can play on the penalty kill and also pinch hit on the power play if need be. That’s a nice find in college free agency.
Rafferty’s fellow free agent signing out of college, Josh Teves, will have a tougher time getting into the Canucks lineup next season. The Canucks signed Teves in March and he got into one NHL game before the end of the season. Teves didn’t seem quite as comfortable as Rafferty in his one game, but you can’t judge a player based on one game.
The trouble for Teves is that the Canucks have more depth on the left side than they do on the right.
At the NHL level, they have Alex Edler, Quinn Hughes, and the newly-signed Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg. After those four, there’s top prospect Olli Juolevi, the reliable Ashton Sautner, and Benning-favourite Guillaume Brisebois.
Teves is going to have to push hard to find a spot on that depth chart. As it stands, he’ll have a tough road even getting ice time in the AHL with the Utica Comets unless he outplays Sautner or Brisebois.
The two-year contracts for Rafferty and Teves will take them to the age of 26, so, like Boucher, they’ll still be restricted free agents when their contracts expire. While Boucher will have to clear waivers when he’s sent down to the AHL, Rafferty and Teves are exempt from waivers, so there’s no chance they’ll be lost to another team. That gives the Canucks time to evaluate both defencemen and see how they fit in their future.