VANCOUVER – The National Hockey League never did figure out Pavel Bure. He figured out the league.
In Bure’s first season with the Vancouver Canucks, in 1991-92, the Russian Rocket scored a club rookie record 34 goals in 65 games. Only 12 of the goals came in his first 42 NHL games before he exploded for 22 in his last 23 games. And even then, Bure’s rookie shooting percentage of 12.7 per cent was slightly below the career average of 14.0 that carried him to 437 goals in 702 NHL games.
Current Canucks rookie Brock Boeser is getting frequent comparisons to Bure for his record-pace goal-scoring this season and statements like this one: Boeser is a better finisher than Bure.
Bure was the most dynamic player in franchise history and one of the best one-on-one forwards the NHL has seen. But he needed more chances to score one goal than does Boeser, who has 21 goals in 36 games this season and 25 in 45 in the NHL if you include the Minnesotan’s nine-game cameo after leaving the University of North Dakota last spring.
We understand that the 20-year-old’s rookie shooting percentage of 21 per cent, comparable to Mike Bossy’s 53-goal rookie season in 1977-78 (22.6 per cent) and Teemu Selanne’s unrivalled 76-goal debut in 1992-93 (19.6 per cent) is probably unsustainable. But Boeser’s shot is better than Bure’s.
His release is quicker, his accurate wrist shot heavier. Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin says Boeser is the best pure Canucks finisher in the 17-and-a-half years he has been on the team.
This doesn’t mean Boeser is going to score 60 goals like Bure did twice for the Canucks in a long-gone era, or be a better player than the Hall-of-Famer. But scroll through highlights of Boeser’s goals this season and there’s hardly a clunker or lucky bounce among them. He is lethal around the net.
Now, let’s see how he does in the second half of his rookie season, when everybody knows who Boeser is and he is targeted like he was on Jake Muzzin’s high hit in the third period of the Canucks’ 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
"I don’t think I need to put any pressure on myself," Boeser told Sportsnet on Monday after practising for Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. "It was a good first half, but I just have to keep building on it. I need to stick with structure and keep improving things I can be better it.
"I like to set expectations high (but) I had no idea if I was going to score 20 goals or not. I think that was the main goal – to score 20 goals all year. It’s been a huge learning curve. I think I’ve done well to adjust to it."
Boeser, who hadn’t told anyone that his personal goal was to score 20 as a rookie, hit that threshold two days before Christmas.
With 43 games remaining for the Canucks, whose dimmed playoff hopes after a 2-8-1 slide to end 2017 have only increased the glare on Boeser, can the 2015 first-round pick score another 21 goals or become the only Vancouver player besides Bure to win the Calder Trophy?
Boeser has set a dizzying standard, which has increased everyone’s expectations. If he doesn’t beat Bure’s record of 34 goals as a Canucks rookie, it will seem like a major disappointment.
"I see that stuff but it doesn’t really register for me," Boeser said of comparisons to Bure and others. "When you say it that way, it registers a little bit more. But to look at stuff like that is pretty crazy, pretty surreal. Obviously, I never thought I would do this coming into the NHL.
"I love to score and I want to score in every single game. But if I don’t score, I’ve got to make sure I’m good away from the puck and doing other things to help the team win.
"He’s a quiet personality," Canucks assistant coach Manny Malhotra said. "You don’t see a big change in him like ‘look at me, look at me.’ It’s a very good thing that he remains humble and he understands that he has had a good start but the season is far from over. The challenge for any pro, for any player in this league, is consistency."
Against the Kings, Boeser failed to score for the first time in five games, but led the Canucks with four shots and 23:47 of ice time. He hasn’t gone more than two games without a point this season. His longest goal drought since Remembrance Day is three games.
"The other thing is he’s not creeping up on anyone anymore," Malhotra said. "Everyone’s aware when he’s on the ice; everyone’s aware where he likes to take his shots from. As soon as teams walk in the room, they look at the stat pack. Who’s scoring and who’s not scoring? It’s not a surprise when we go into a building about who Brock Boeser is right now."
Which says how good he has been.