Vancouver Canucks: Say goodbye to Vegas-bound Boucher

Mar 25, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Vancouver Canucks forward Reid Boucher (24) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Canucks defeated the Wild 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 25, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Vancouver Canucks forward Reid Boucher (24) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Canucks defeated the Wild 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

A close look at the expansion draft protected list for the Vancouver Canucks suggests that the Vegas Golden Knights’ best available option will be forward Reid Boucher.

Jim Benning’s list of Vancouver Canucks players exposed to the expansion draft did not include centre Brandon Sutter, much to my (and many others’) dismay. But, realistically, few of us believed Benning would move a player he called “foundational” when he was acquired.

Would the Vegas Golden Knights even have wanted such an albatross contract? I doubt there are many teams in the NHL looking to dump $4.5 million a year for the next four years on a third-line centre who hasn’t scored more than 26 goals in any league since AAA-bantam. Plus, Vegas would have inherited Sutter’s no trade clause, making the weight of that contract even heavier.

It is, nevertheless, time to let the #exposesutter movement die. It is a point as moot as #firewillie or #shirseysfortryamkin and all the hashtags in the world will not change Sutter’s status as a Canuck any more than Adidas is changing the Vancouver Canucks’ jerseys next season.

Cards on the Table

Now that Vegas has seen Vancouver’s hand, what will they do? The Canucks’ list, for those who haven’t been glued to this news since it broke, looks like this:

Slim pickings, let’s be honest.

Most of the players on that list would not represent a significant loss for the Canucks, which is one of the few silver linings that can be taken from the team’s current status. Nevertheless, Reid Boucher is a diamond in that rough and Vegas would be smart to seize an opportunity to grab him. The other likely options are defenceman Luca Sbisa or forward Brendon Gaunce, and outlying but slim possibilities include D-man Andrey Pedan and wingers Derek Dorsett and Jack Skille.

Vegas Odds

A lot will come down to the Golden Knights’ needs. It is reasonable to assume that their selection from Vancouver will not be a central piece of their plan, so once the basic framework for their draft is set they will likely decide whether to take a forward or defender from the Canucks.

More from The Canuck Way

If they need a third-pairing defender to log ice time in the lean early years, Luca Sbisa is the guy. Sbisa is not as bad as many Vancouver Canucks fans believe — a belief rooted perhaps in the high-expectations upon his arrival in the Ryan Kesler trade — and he comes with experience and durability. As a serviceable placeholder for defensive prospects in the Knights’ new system, Sbisa would do just fine.

That being said, Canucks’ fans are ready to part with Sbisa, who has no place in the rebuild. I join my colleague Alex Hoegler in hoping Sbisa becomes a Golden Knight.

There is an outside chance that Vegas GM George McPhee will decide to roll the dice on defensive prospect Andrey Pedan, but it would be an odd choice. Pedan is unproven and has shown less in his time with the Canucks than Nikita Tryamkin did, before his jump to the KHL. Pedan may not even crack Vancouver’s lineup, so betting on him would be a gamble indeed.

Gaunce a Goner?

If Vegas doesn’t need a bottom-pairing defender, then the smart money is on Reid Boucher.

Dorsett and Skille are effective fourth-line grinders with enough skill to help bring offense to the bottom six. If McPhee finds himself desperate for some toughness in his lineup, then maybe one of them gets the nod (Dorsett if they are trying to reach cap floor and/or need a player under contract, Skille if they have flexibility to sign a cheaper free agent). But this is an unlikely scenario.

What Boucher offers is potential, and lots of it.

Related Story: Luca Sbisa is the most likely expansion pick

To be fair, Gaunce has potential too. His starkly poor numbers with the Canucks are arguably due for some correction. He was a first round draft pick who put up two 30-goal seasons in junior and has performed well enough in the AHL. His inability to score at the highest level — manifest as just 1 goal and 6 points in 77 games with the Canucks — may just be a matter of inexperience.

Nevertheless, at 23 years old, it is reasonable to expect that Gaunce should be further along than he is. He played a lot of fourth-line minutes this past season and while he always worked hard, he never stood out. No single aspect of his game drew any particular attention, which means that for him to emerge as an NHL player, he will need to improve on several aspects of his game.

Vegas is probably taking a careful look at Gaunce right now. But their eyes should be on Boucher.

The Mighty Boosh

Most of the hockey world seems to think it comes down to Sbisa or Gaunce. But Reid Boucher is also 23 years old, and his numbers are far better than Gaunce’s. While Gaunce has been given a relatively steady and comfortable opportunity to develop, Boucher has played better despite dealing with adversity and uncertainty.

Last season was particularly odd for Boucher, split between three NHL teams, and interspersed with time in the AHL and as a healthy scratch. But he still managed to score 6 goals in 27 games with often very limited ice time, especially under Vancouver Canucks’ former head coach Willie Desjardins. In fact, he was one of the better Canucks in the last few months of last season, generating shots and scoring chances.

Indeed, he has a phenomenal and deceptive shot, as many of his teammates have noted, and while he isn’t the fastest skater, he is quick and capable of finding open ice.

His critics often point to his being on the waiver wire as a strike against him, but I don’t see it. Yes, he was waived, but in every case he was acquired. And, everywhere he went, he scored. Not every players fits a team’s needs. Boucher was waived by Nashville after one goal in three games, but it should be evident to everyone now that Nashville had the team in place that they needed.

Again, it comes down to potential. He wasn’t going to help Nashville win the Stanley Cup this year, but he may yet help Vancouver or Vegas build a contender over the next decade. Notably, Boucher’s youth is peppered with huge numbers. 79 goals and 120 points as a 15 year old in Lansing is an eye-popper but most notable is his 62 goal, 95 point season in OHL Sarnia.

His linemate that season was Vancouver Canucks’ prospect Nikolay Goldobin, who put up 30 goals for 68 points. Together, they tore up the OHL, and Boucher won the scoring title.

That Benning would risk losing an opportunity to re-unite them is troubling.

Bye Bye Boucher

His mistake might prove costly. Unless the Knights’ draft leaves them with gaps on defense or a need for grit, Reid Boucher should be the obvious choice. My colleague Jeff Godley has previously sung his praises in The Canuck Way: Boucher’s ceiling may yet be very high. He could well end up being a key piece of the Canucks’ — or the Knights’ — development.

One possible hitch in the plan is that both Boucher and Gaunce are entering free agency, and Vegas must select a minimum of 20 players who are under contract next season. Depending on the selections they make from other teams, they may find themselves needing to choose players who are already signed into next season. If so, then the Canucks will dodge a bullet, holding onto both Boucher and Gaunce and likely losing Sbisa.

Next: Canucks should trade Tanev for 3rd pick

But if I were George McPhee, I would leave myself the option of selecting Reid Boucher. As a Canucks’ fan, I’m publishing this article in the (fairly confident) hopes that McPhee will neither read nor heed this blogger’s advice.