Canucks have something special in young Brock Boeser

Brock Boeser netted his first hat trick to help the Canucks beat the Penguins 4-2.

VANCOUVER – It’s not true that the Vancouver Canucks do not have a 30- or 40-goal scorer in their lineup. Brock Boeser just hasn’t gotten there yet.

This season or next, he will.

The “Brocket’s” hat trick Saturday in a 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins demonstrated again the special talent the 20-year-old rookie possesses around the net and how he looks destined to develop into the Canucks’ best pure finisher since Markus Naslund.

Sure, Boeser’s triple against the Penguins more than doubled his season total for goals – to five in 10 games. But combined with the winger’s garbage-time audition with the Canucks at the end of last season, the Minnesotan has scored nine times in 19 National Hockey League games.

Over 82 games, Boeser’s pace translates to a 39-goal season.

It’s not just the numbers that impress, but the manner – on and off the ice. Boeser just expects to score. From the moment he first appeared at the Canucks’ summer prospects camp a couple of years ago, he has exuded that “it” factor – part confidence, part cockiness and the belief that nothing coming his way will overwhelm him.

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And now, on the ice, we’re seeing why.

In his first goal against the Penguins, a lucky bounce off the linesman left Boeser with the puck alone in front of goalie Matt Murray. He didn’t rush his shot, but settled the puck, waited for Murray to move left, then reversed the puck and coolly slipped a backhand behind the netminder.

On his second, he skated out from behind the net in time to collect a terrific touch pass sent his way by Sven Baertschi, who was in the slot and froze Murray. From an acute angle, as Murray dived across his net towards Boeser and the near post, the Canuck calmly fired into narrow wedge of net open to him.

Trailing a rush, Boeser completed his hat trick by taking a pass from Bo Horvat and ripping a wrist shot from 35 feet over Murray’s catching glove. He passed up the chance to be the first Canuck in 13 years to score four in a game when, in a shooting position with the Penguins’ net empty, he chose to pass to Chris Tanev. Chris Tanev!

“I could have shot but I wanted to pass it to the D-man there to try to get them a goal,” Boeser said.

He earlier hit the outside of an empty-net post from the Canucks’ side of centre, costing his team an icing.

It was the first hat trick by a Canuck in nearly two years. The team has finished in the NHL’s bottom three in scoring in three of the last four seasons. It’s needed someone who can finish. Actually, it’s needed four or five guys who can finish. Boeser is the first to arrive.

His goals against the Penguins looked easy, routine. Only a goal-scorer can make scoring look this way.

Here’s how Boeser explained his first goal: “(The puck) was bouncing there, so first, I just wanted to make sure I could flatten it out. And then I realized I didn’t really have anywhere to shoot, so my natural instinct took over to bring it to my backhand.”

Whatever those instincts are, they can’t be taught.

Boeser leads the Canucks with 13 points in 10 games – his playmaking has been a surprise; everyone knew he had a major-league shot and release – and he would probably have more except he missed three games. Coach Travis Green still gets questions about why he scratched Boeser for the Canucks’ first two games (he looked tired after fading towards the end of an extended pre-season) and the 23rd-overall pick from the 2015 draft also missed one game with a sore foot after blocking a shot.

Only once in the last six seasons has a Canuck eclipsed 30 goals. Radim Vrbata had 31 playing with Danny and Hank Sedin in 2014-15. Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler were the last Canucks to hit 40, each scoring 41 in the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Final season. No Canuck has scored 50 since Pavel Bure last accomplished it in 1998. Naslund scored 48 in 2003.

“I felt like I’ve gotten chances in past games — not just me but our whole team — and we weren’t bearing down,” Boeser said. “Nights when it goes in, it definitely feels a lot better.”

In Boeser, the future of the Canucks is materializing before our eyes. It is not entirely a coincidence that his first hat trick in the NHL came in the game when the Sedins, who are 37, logged historically-low ice times (8:38 and 8:52) and saw only two shifts in the third period when the Canucks were protecting their lead against a fast, surging Stanley Cup champion.

Until elite prospects Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen come over from Sweden, Kole Lind makes it to the NHL from junior and Adam Gaudette from college, and maybe Nikolay Goldobin gets promoted from the minors, Boeser is the centre of attention – the lightning rod for fans’ hopes and expectations.

He is the promise of better days ahead, although with the Canucks 7-4-2, these are pretty darn good days right now.

“I try and take every day one day at a time and focus on each and every day for our team,” Boeser said. “I’m not worried about personal stats; I’m worried about how our team plays. We’ve got a really good group and I think the way we play is really successful.

“We just have to keep it up.”

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