You could excuse Vancouver Canucks fans for being a bit leery when the Canucks selected Minnesota native Brock Boeser in the first round, 23rd overall in last summer's NHL Draft. The Canucks track record at the Draft has not been stellar overall of late, but when it comes to selecting players from Minnesota, it is downright dreadful.
Two of the most infamous picks in their draft struggles this past decade came when they selected Minnesota high schooler Patrick White in the first round of 2007 and Minnesota-born NTDP forward Jordan Schroeder in the first round in 2009. White struggled through two seasons at the University of Minnesota before the Canucks gave up on him, packaging him in a deal for defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. White would end up never playing a professional game in North America. It took Schroeder four years after being drafted to finally make the Canucks roster, and after two meh seasons, the Canucks let him walk in free agency by not giving him a qualifying contract offer.
After those two disasters, the Cancuks only went back to Minnesota once prior to last summer, using a fourth round pick on Joseph LaBate in 2011. But new Canucks general manager Jim Benning, whose nephew Matt played in the USHL before heading to NCAA hockey, did not hesitate to pick Brock Boeser, one of the top prospects out of the USHL last year. Judging by the early returns on Boeser, it looks like the Minnesota nightmare for Canucks fans may be over.
Boeser has 14 points in his first 14 NCAA games--only 40 players averaged a point per game in the low-scoring NCAA last year. I took a closer look at Boeser this past weekend as his North Dakota Fighting Hawks took on St. Cloud State in a weekend series in St. Cloud, Minnesota to see how Boeser is playing and what is making him so effective.
Boeser is currently skating at right wing on North Dakota's first line, with fellow first round NHL Draft pick Nick Schmaltz centering and senior Drake Caggiula on the left wing. Boeser is listed at 6-0 191 lbs., which looks very accurate. He's very physically developed for a player his age. Size won't be an issue for him at the next level because he's so strong.
Boeser's combination of strength, along with his skating ability allow him to do some special things on the ice. His straight line speed is average, but where he really excels is in his acceleration with a powerful first step. This makes him extremely effective in the corners because once he gets possession of the puck, he can spin away quickly and be in position to start attacking before the defender has a chance to pin him against the boards. His ability to stop-and-start or change directions constantly keeps defenders off balance and opens up quality scoring chances for him.
I also really liked his ability to play through traffic. He didn't show any fear taking the puck into tough areas of the ice, and is a strong enough puck-handler that he can make moves in traffic to create chances.
Boeser will be more of a goal-scorer than a set-up man at the next level, though he was held to just two assists this past weekend. It wasn't for lack of effort that he didn't score a goal. He was credited with seven shots on net for the weekend, and his best opportunity came on a 2-on-1 on Friday night in which he kept the puck for a shot, but put it off the glass. Boeser favors his heavy wrist shot, and if he gets any sort of time and space, he's trying to fire it into the upper corner. He just wasn't able to hit his spot this weekend, though he did put one shot off the goalie's mask late on Saturday.
He still made an impact on the scoresheet though with those two assists. Boeser is playing on a line with two experienced, skilled players. that love to make the extra pass, and that is to Boeser's benefit; not just because he gets to shoot more, but some of that mentality rubs off on him too. His assist on Saturday night was a pretty one when Boeser used his speed to gain the blue line on a zone entry. Then he pulled up at the top of the circles and waited to hit a trailing defenseman with a pass for a wide open shot and goal. You can see a highlight of the play here. That's a subtle play to attack the defender along the dots, then pull back towards the boards and create space for himself, and good vision to find the open man for a goal.
On the power play, Boeser plays on North Dakota's top unit. The Fighting Hawks run an overload power play that sets up on the right half boards. Boeser is positioned in the high slot to take advantage of that big shot. He wasn't able to convert, though he did pick up one of his assists when he tipped a puck from that position, and the net front man was able to put his rebound back in.
In all, Boeser is doing everything Canucks fans might have hoped he'd do in his first season at North Dakota. He's playing with talented linemates, but he's definitely doing his part to make that arguably the most dangerous line in all of college hockey right now.
His stay in college will likely be a short one. Because he's so physically mature, and playing so well so early, the Canucks will likely try to sign him as soon as possible. The decision will likely be Boeser's whether he wants to sign this coming summer or return for one more year at North Dakota in hopes of maybe bypassing some extra time in the AHL. Long-term upside for Boeser is as a top six forward. The ceiling of a legit top line guy is there, though far from a guarantee. He'll be a guy that plays a tough two-way game and is a dangerous goal-scoring threat capable of providing 20-25 goals a season.