Brock Boeser made it to age 20 before he heard these words from his hockey coach: “You’re not in the lineup tonight.”
What someone so young and new to disappointment could have imagined also was: “You’re not good enough. Everyone else is better. You’re too slow. You’re too young. You suck.”
But Boeser insisted Wednesday that he did not view being scratched from the Vancouver Canucks’ first two National Hockey League games as an indictment or criticism. He said after practising on the top line beside Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi, ahead of his likely season-debut tonight against the Winnipeg Jets, that he has stayed calm and positive.
If only the Canucks fanbase was so inclined.
But on the West Coast of Canada, the big news the last few days is that the rookie Canuck coach Travis Green scratched from his lineup – twice! – the most promising rookie since Danny and Hank Sedin arrived in Vancouver 17 years ago.
“Whatever the coach thinks is best, I’m keeping a positive attitude,” Boeser assured reporters after Wednesday’s practice at the University of B.C. “Obviously, I want to be in the lineup because I’m a competitive kid and want to help the team win. But if I’m not in the lineup, I’ll still be positive and help the team any way I can.
“I try not to be negative in any way. I try to be positive and a good team guy. Obviously, I want the team to win. That’s the main goal.”
So far, even with Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Canucks have taken three of four points and looked like a different team under Green than it did last season under Willie Desjardins.
Of course, general manager Jim Benning signed six free agents over the summer, so Green has more to work with than Desjardins.
But the Canucks, who are neither tough nor fast, are playing assertive, up-tempo hockey, executing Green’s plan to move the puck quickly and attack in numbers.
They’ve done this without Boeser, a 23rd-overall draft pick from 2015 who in his post-draft season exploded for 60 points in 42 games at the University of North Dakota.
Pending 2017 fifth-overall pick Elias Pettersson’s rookie season in the Swedish Elite League, Boeser is Vancouver’s best prospect and the most immediate source of hope for Canucks fans that the team’s nadir will not last long.
The coach was not very communicative about Boeser on Wednesday – Green does not discuss lineup changes between games – but before Tuesday’s loss said: “I’m not going to get into exactly what I tell the players. But I will tell you this: I’ve talked to Brock and he understands it. He actually agrees with it.
“He’s still confident in his abilities and I’m confident in him. I think he’s going to be a good, young player. Brock Boeser is going to be fine.”
Boeser sure sounded like it after skating with Horvat and Baertschi, the partners he had at the end of last season when Boeser scored four times in nine games after being beamed into the Canuck lineup from college.
Boeser scored four more times in the pre-season, but faded as opposition lineups grew stronger. Green said Boeser looked tired.
Player and coach agree that the extra practice time for Boeser has re-energized him. Eventually, Boeser will need to improve his skating the way Horvat did during his rookie and sophomore seasons.
“The game gets faster and faster,” Boeser said. “I think I can definitely take that next step like Bo did. That’s something I’m going to always be working on to improve.”
It is important to understand that one of Boeser’s strengths is that he has always been able to “slow the game” by controlling the puck and making plays. But no one plays slowly in today’s NHL, which is increasingly about quick puck retrievals and movement.
Boeser said he had never been a healthy scratch in hockey until the Canucks beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 without him on Saturday.
Innumerable players, including first-round draft picks Horvat and Baertschi, experienced the same shock upon their entry to the NHL.
“I don’t think I handled it very well,” Baertschi said. “I was looking to blame (others). I’d go home and get frustrated like, ‘Why aren’t I playing?’ But there wasn’t any big reason. I just wasn’t quite ready to make that big step and be a guy you could rely on every night. That’s something I had to learn
“Guys are checking in with Brock to see how he’s doing. He hasn’t shown any frustration, and that’s the good part. He’s got enough confidence to know once he gets his shot, he’s going to make the best of it and probably stick.”
That would be nice for everyone involved. And not involved.