Boeser's return should provide boost to Pettersson, Canucks offence

The Vancouver Canucks' Elias Pettersson (40) celebrates a goal with teammate Brock Boeser. (Ben Nelms/CP)

The Vancouver Canucks are nearly as surprising as they’ve been exciting.

Who knew that, three wildly-entertaining games into their season, Travis Green would be asking for more goals from the Canucks’ talented forwards but feel secure with the performance of his defence?

The Canucks coach said after this morning’s optional skate in Buffalo and that he hopes forward Brock Boeser, who suffered an undisclosed injury halfway through the pre-season and hasn’t played since, will play tonight against the Sabres.

Boeser should boost the attack and further help the team defence. He was the Canucks’ leading scorer last season, and centre Elias Pettersson, who on Wednesday played his first regular-season game since March 2, has missed Boeser on his wing.

A more potent attack, of course, also means more puck possession and less defending.

Boeser practised Monday in Detroit on a line with Pettersson and Nils Hoglander, which gave Green the freedom to move first-line winger J.T. Miller to the middle of the third line, where he played the entire pre-season.

Although Green stopped short of declaring Boeser in tonight, all indications are the 24-year-old is ready for his season debut.

The Canucks are certainly ready for it.

There have been a lot of positive indications about the team’s overall game during Vancouver’s 1-1-1 start to its six-game road trip. Despite slow starts in all three games – the Canucks have yet to score a first-period goal -- they’ve outshot opponents 77-65 at five-on-five, and their possession metrics are up across the board from last season.

But their top seven forwards have generated just two even-strength goals. Even with a team-high 13 shots, Pettersson has one even-strength point.

“I think our top six still has got another level to go,” Green said. “I think they know that as well. Part of the options that we have with Brock in the lineup is that I can mix it up a little bit.”

Miller practised Monday between rookie winger Vasily Podkolzin and Justin Dowling. Alex Chiasson appears to be coming out of the lineup – he started on the top line but was dislodged by Hoglander – and the trio of Tanner Pearson, Bo Horvat and Conor Garland stayed intact at practice.

Horvat and Pearson have yet to score, combining for just two assists despite 18 shots on target. Garland was the Canucks’ best player in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Red Wings, who were outshot 41-21 by Vancouver.

“I like Garland's game right now,” Green said. “Pre-season, he was one guy that we were shifting around, trying to find him a spot. I like how his game's progressed. Keeping (that line) together. . . I've liked his game and I know what I have with Bo and Pearse.”

Green said Thatcher Demko will be back in goal tonight after backup Jaroslav Halak made his Canucks debut in Detroit.

News Monday that defenceman Travis Hamonic was taking a personal leave, removing his $1.875-million charge from the Canucks salary cap, did not change any plans for their defence. General manager Jim Benning said he was happy with the performance so far of right-side defencemen Tyler Myers, Tucker Poolman and Kyle Burroughs, and that he wasn’t looking to acquire another defenceman now that there is some clarity on Hamonic.

The veteran defenceman has been absent since training camp began due to personal reasons related to COVID restrictions and guidelines during the NHL’s third pandemic season. Re-signed in July to a two-year, $6-million contract, Hamonic was expected to play top-four minutes alongside Quinn Hughes.

Hughes has split time between Myers and Hamonic. The surprising third pairing has been rookie Jack Rathbone with Burroughs, a career minor-leaguer who is getting his first chance as an NHL regular at age 26.

Veterans Brad Hunt and Luke Schenn are the extras.

“I think our D has played well,” Green said. “I'd like to get Hunt and Schenn into the lineup here sooner than later. You might see one of them going tonight. I think both Jack and Burroughs have played solid hockey, and I think Myers and Poolman have as well. I think overall our D, I've been happy with it.”

The Canucks’ road trip continues Thursday in Chicago.

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