PHILADELPHIA – This wasn’t supposed to happen because Brock Boeser wasn’t supposed to be here.
It’s not like the Vancouver Canucks didn’t want him on their team this season, they just didn’t count on it. There was as much chance as not that Boeser’s first full season in professional hockey would start in the American League rather than the National Hockey League.
The Canucks wanted to send him to the Utica Comets to start his pro development when the winger from Burnsville, Minn., signed his NHL contract last March after leaving the University of North Dakota. But Boeser, eager to finally contribute something to the household so his mom might give up one of her three jobs, pushed for a chance to play in Vancouver last spring.
He scored four goals in nine games in garbage time at the end of the Canucks’ season. But there were enough deficiencies and rawness in his game that, after Boeser chose to attend the Canucks’ prospects camp in July, new coach Travis Green made sure the 20-year-old rookie understood how much work he needed to do to make the NHL team this fall.
Implied, if not spoken, was that Boeser might need to start with the Utica Comets.
“We just talked,” Green recalled again Tuesday. “We talked about his game, talked about expectations, talked about where he was at. I don’t need to get into it any more than that.”
“We had a serious talk,” Boeser said. “He gave me goals I needed to accomplish, things I needed to work on if I wanted to make the team and stay on the team. I knew it was up to me, how hard I worked. It’s been going pretty well but, obviously, I can be better.”
Well, that will be something to behold because when Boeser scored twice Tuesday to drive the Canucks toward a 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, he became the first Vancouver rookie since Jason King in 2003 to score in three consecutive games.
Boeser leads the Canucks with nine goals and 19 points in 18 games, has the best release since Markus Naslund was challenging for NHL scoring titles near the start of this century, and could be the first Vancouver freshman to score 30 since Pavel Bure won the Calder Trophy in 1992.
We all knew Boeser was good, but nobody expected this so soon in his professional career.
“I don’t know if surprised is the word,” Green said. “I’m happy with his game. It seems like we talk about it a lot. It’s not just his goal-scoring that I like. I’ve talked about details away from the puck, his ability to win puck battles, his conditioning, all that. It’s all part of being a pro.”
All part of why Green has given Boeser the chance that the winger has seized.
Nineteen seconds after Daniel Sedin tied Tuesday’s game 1-1 on a breakaway at 9:42 of the first period, Boeser overpowered Michal Neuvirth with a wrist shot from the right wing that blew past the Flyers goalie on the stick side.
And when Daniel feathered a pass to Boeser in the slot during a Canucks power play early in the second, the 2015 first-round pick scored the opposite way, burying a shot over Neuvirth’s catching glove.
Sedin, who joined the Canucks in 2000, said the only former teammates he saw shoot the puck as well as Boeser were Ryan Kesler and Naslund.
“Power play and five-on-five, you know he’s going to score when he gets a decent chance,” Sedin said. “I think it gives the whole unit confidence. If you make good passes and give him good chances, he’s going to make it count. He doesn’t miss much. His shot has a way of finding the back of the net. It doesn’t matter where he is, he’s going to get his shot through and it’s going to be hard.”
The Canucks power play, which looked like it might sink them during their exhausting November schedule, is 5-for-12 since assistant coach Newell Brown blended his two units four games ago in Los Angeles and put Boeser and Horvat out with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
The unit, which includes defenceman Alex Edler, did not practise together before scoring twice in a 3-2 win against the Kings. The new second power play, which features Sven Baertschi with Thomas Vanek and Loui Eriksson, also contributed a goal Tuesday in Philadelphia. Baertschi scored his eighth, tying him with Horvat for second on the Canucks.
“I honestly don’t know,” Boeser said when asked if he has a go-to shot, a preferred target. “Whatever’s open, I shoot at. I love shooting. I like to make sure I get my shot on net.”
Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom was excellent against the Flyers, making 36 saves in a game Vancouver badly needed to start a six-game eastern road trip that includes a test Wednesday against the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
“The confidence and chemistry we have out there is getting better every game,” Horvat, 22, said of his line. “I knew Brock had a great chance (to make the team). He had great games when he came up and played with us at the end of last year. It was his spot to get. He obviously worked hard in the summer and had an amazing pre-season. And he keeps getting better and better.”