TAMPA, Fla. – The only extra weight Brock Boeser feels these days is not scoring.
The Vancouver Canucks’ Rookie of the Year runner-up is adamant his slow first week – at times, literal – of his second National Hockey League season is wholly unconnected to adding about 10 pounds of muscle during the summer.
Only he would know. But Canucks coach Travis Green voiced after Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes what everyone can see: “He’s not sharp right now.”
In 18:17 of ice time in Raleigh, Boeser registered one shot on target, hit the side of the net on another and had one attempt blocked. He did pick up a second assist on Bo Horvat’s power-play goal for his first point of the season, but hasn’t yet scored a goal since training camp began. His last goal was Feb. 28.
There have been only three games that matter for the Canucks, who are 1-2 heading into Thursday’s match with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and ordinarily no one should be concerned about a 21-year-old needing a little time to find his game at the start of his second NHL season.
Three times last season, for instance, Boeser went six games without scoring and he was still the best Canuck.
Two things, however: Boeser had 29 goals in 62 games as a rookie straight out of the University of North Dakota and is anything but ordinary; and he is returning from back and wrist injuries that prevented the winger from training fully until July.
After five goalless pre-season games and the first three of the regular season, Boeser simply looks behind others as he tries to make up for lost training time. He looks like some players do at the start of training camp, working to get his legs under him and trying to rediscover his timing and feel for the puck.
Boeser has three shots on goal and is minus-7 in the first three games.
“I know he’s pressing; he wants to score a goal,” Green told reporters after the Carolina game. “I just don’t think … he’s not sharp right now. He’s a smart kid, though. He’s got to stay with what works. He can’t just start cheating. He’s got to play good at both ends of the rink, and that’s when you usually end up finding a goal that gets you out of a rut.”
“You just have to work through it,” Horvat said of his linemate. “He’s a heckuva player; there’s a reason he scored 29 goals. For him just to find his confidence again is the main thing. Have fun. Have fun playing this awesome game because you don’t know how long your career is going to be. He’s a great player, and I think he’s going to have many more great years to come.”
Horvat, who followed his own strong rookie NHL campaign with an epic 27-game goal drought early in 2015-16, said his sophomore slump was made worse by putting so much pressure on himself that his mind got in the way of his body.
“It’s all mental games, honestly,” Horvat told Sportsnet before the Canucks took Wednesday as a day off. “The more positive you think, the more you have fun and just go and play hockey. If you’re overthinking it and thinking about scoring, that’s exactly what backfired on me. Eventually, when one goes in for him a bunch are going to go in. We have no doubts about Brock, for sure.”
Considering Boeser’s off-season and age, his start is understandable. But it doesn’t make it any easier on the Canucks, whose offence is being driven largely by 19-year-old rookie Elias Pettersson and Vancouver’s power play.
Green split Boeser from Horvat on Tuesday and moved him onto a line with Pettersson and Nikolay Goldobin.
“I’m getting a lot more chances than I did in the pre-season, and that’s a positive,” Boeser said. “It makes me not worry too much because I know once I get one, they will come in bunches.
“Obviously, it was a shorter summer. But that’s what happens when you have a big injury like that. It’s tough, but it’s part of the game. I’m doing everything I can to make sure that I take a step in the right direction each and every game. I can feel that it will be coming soon.”
Boeser, who said in September that his injuries forced him to do “nothing for four months straight,” conceded he hasn’t been skating as well as he would like but that, too, is getting better each game.
“Last year, the games he was scoring goals were not games he was just standing still shooting pucks,” veteran Brandon Sutter said. “He was really good at both ends of the rink. When he’s more engaged, he has that shot that he can get off and score goals. For him, it’s just about playing well. I thought tonight he was much better and I think he felt that, too.”
Canucks general manager Jim Benning said Wednesday there are no issues about Boeser’s size – “it was good weight he added” – or recovery, and that it usually just takes longer for a player to find his game when he has missed as much time as Boeser did.
“He hit a post in Calgary (on Saturday) and if that goes in, we’re probably not having this conversation,” Benning said. “He just needs to concentrate on his two-way game and keep his speed up. He’ll figure it out. It’s just his second year in the league.
“He’s no different than any other player except the expectations are much higher.”