Vancouver's top scoring prospect may be AHL eligible, but the player and the organization will be better served if he sticks with the big club this year
It is very, very important not to read too much into the results you see in the pre-season, but the early excellence by Vancouver’s Brock Boeser does bode well for a youngster who will be a key part of the Canucks’ future. Should Boeser be a full-time member of the NHL squad this season? Oh, yes.
There have been some rumblings that the addition of free agent veteran Thomas Vanek to the Canucks roster will have an adverse affect on Boeser’s chances of sticking with Vancouver – and GM Jim Benning did say that AHL Utica will be getting some NHL-quality players this fall – but let’s cut that noise out. If Boeser continues to prove that he deserves a spot in the NHL, then he should be in the NHL.
Vancouver is rebuilding right now; we know this. The fact the Canucks brought in players like Vanek, Sam Gagner and Alex Burmistrov should not serve as a smokescreen. If anything, it’s a nice early challenge for youngsters such as Boeser and Jake Virtanen up front. And this is a good thing. You never want a roster spot pre-ordained for a kid, because it sends the wrong message. That’s why professional tryout contracts (PTOs) have become such an interesting tool lately. Sure, you’ll get a Scottie Upshall in St. Louis, where the veteran actually earns a job, but you’ll also get countless others who are essentially stalking horses for other players with higher ceilings.
The Canucks did not bring Boeser to China, where the team will play two exhibition games against the Los Angeles Kings. Instead, the youngster was given the chance to play a lot against Vegas and while the Golden Knights ran up the score on the Canucks 9-4, Boeser had a pair of goals. That came off the heels of his overtime winner against the Kings in his pre-season debut.
Scoring is what Boeser does best and last I checked, that hasn’t gone out of style. During his nine-game stint with the Canucks last season, he was a solid possession player. If you wanted to fudge things (ie ignore the sample size), you could say he was one of the best on the team in that metric.
Of course there will be bumps along the road for the Burnsville, Minn., native and that is to be expected. But he can experience those bumps in the NHL, rather than the AHL. If Vancouver was a contender this season, then perhaps you send Boeser to Utica. But the Canucks don’t get anywhere by trying to keep up with the Edmontons and Calgarys right now. Playing Boeser on a scoring line (with say, Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi, whom he played with last season) would be great for his development. If he makes mistakes, it’s OK. Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs for a good example of this.
Last season, the Leafs broke in an insane amount of rookies, including the super trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. All of them made defensive errors at one point or another and Toronto did lose some games that it should have won. But all those players learned from their mistakes and by the end of the campaign, they were better NHLers (and by continuing to reap the rewards of their offensive excellence, the Leafs also made the playoffs, defying low expectations).
It’s not the end of the world if Boeser is sent to Utica, but it would deprive him a chance to start building a relationship with coach Travis Green and staff, not to mention the positive dressing room influence of the Sedin twins. And he wouldn’t have the same caliber of linemates in the AHL, obviously.
If the Canucks have to trade or waive a Vanek or Burmistrov so that Boeser has a more defined role in his rookie campaign, then so be it. He will be a crucial component of the Canucks once they get their house in order and letting him learn from the tough times will be good for him. There’s no point sheltering such a talent in the AHL in this particular situation.