With Bo Horvat down for six weeks, the Vancouver Canucks will need to find scoring. Fortunately, they have a point-per-game player in Utica poised for NHL success in Reid Boucher.
What is it about Reid Boucher that people won’t give the kid a real chance?
Is it the perception that he is slow? (He’s faster than several current Canucks.) Is it the claim that he was ‘out of shape’ when he arrived in Vancouver? (This claim was made about a few players that former coach Willie Desjardins didn’t want to play, including current Canuck Jake Virtanen and the KHL’s best defender Nikita Tryamkin.) Is it that he has been on the waiver wire three times? (There are many paths to NHL success, just ask former Canuck Alex Burrows.)
Whatever the reason, Canucks fans seem to have written off Reid Boucher and the organization hasn’t shown much interest in giving him a real NHL opportunity.
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This is a mistake.
The Vancouver Canucks just lost their second-highest scorer for six weeks. Reid Boucher is in the top twelve in the entire AHL in scoring right now. The solution is obvious.
Mind the gap
Do you want to Canucks to win games now? If so, they’re going to need to fill the offensive gap left by Bo Horvat.
This won’t be easy, because while Bo’s defensive game still needs a lot of work, he brings a lot to the table offensively. His speed has powered the top line with Brock Boeser and Sven Baertschi (and more recently Nikolay Goldobin) and his 10 goals and 20 points have been instrumental in the success Vancouver has achieved this season.
Brandon Sutter’s return won’t do it. Sutter is a proven drag on the team’s overall performance and while he has a decent shot he has been held to six points in 23 games this season. Is Brendan Gaunce going to step up? Come on. I like the kid but he’s scored one career goal in 113 NHL hockey games, that puck bounced in off his body. He has one assist in 12 games this season. He is arguably a defensive upgrade on Sutter, but he is most certainly a downgrade in terms of offence, and that’s not saying much.
Let’s assume that when Sutter comes back, Gaunce is out, so this alters little with respect to Horvat’s absence.
Say it with me again. Without Bo Horvat, the Canucks need to find goals.
So who plays for Bo? Alex Burmistrov had been the healthy scratch lately and was the first to draw into the lineup with Horvat’s injury. I like Burmi’s creativity and I think he can produce, but not even close to Bo’s level. Given a chance to play with offensive-minded wingers, he could certainly go some way to mitigate the problem. But it won’t be enough, and we already know that head coach Travis Green’s leash for Burmi is – justly or not – very short. And he didn’t do himself any favours with a poor game on Thursday against Philadelphia.
What if Burmi finds himself back in the coach’s doghouse? Do we turn to Michael “6 goals in 126 games” Chaput? He may have been a Willie Desjardins favourite, but that doesn’t make him a bonified NHL regular, and certainly not if the team needs offense.
Or maybe the new Chaput, recently-acquired Nic Dowd? Ummmmm. He has one point this season, an assist. His career numbers are Chaput-esque (6 goals in 91 games). While I don’t mind the Vancouver Canucks parting with Jordan Subban (I have noted twice already this season that he has failed to take a step forward), Dowd should be used as AHL depth and nothing more.
Nic Dowd is definitely not going to solve the Vancouver Canucks’ problem.
The Boucher moment
Luckily, the answer to this problem is staring us in the face, atop Utica’s scoring race.
In 20 games this season, Reid Boucher has 11 goals and 22 points. That’s Utica’s best and 12th overall in the AHL. In fact, only six players ahead of him have a better pts/game ratio. He’s playing on the powerplay, setting up in the Alex Ovechkin spot and looking like he owns it. He’s playing on the penalty kill, playing physical, and earning high praise from his coaches, GM, and many of the media who follow the team.
To those who would claim that AHL success doesn’t translate in the NHL, let’s look back at Boucher’s 27 games as a Vancouver Canuck last season. Under Willie Desjardins, Boucher averaged barely 12 minutes per game, and was often expected to play on checking lines with the likes of Michael Chaput and Jayson Megna. He still managed 5 goals for 7 points on a team that was, by that point in the year, an utter disaster.
If you don’t think those numbers are good enough, then say goodbye to Jake Virtanen, because his numbers this season are worse. 25 games, three goals, six points, average time on ice about eleven minutes.
Don’t misunderstand me; I want Jake on the team. I want the Canucks’ young players to find their NHL game. I just can’t figure out why Virtanen earns praise while Boucher is stuck in Utica, when their output is almost identical.
Finding a place
And let’s remember, Reid Boucher is still only 24 and hasn’t yet hit his ceiling. His youth and junior hockey numbers are eye popping. He notched 79 goals and 120 points as a 15-year old in Lansing. Even more impressive is his 62 goal, 95 point season in OHL Sarnia. Yes, he broke a team record set by Steven Stamkos, and that 62 goals is still the 10th best in OHL history.
Guess who he played with that season? The Vancouver Canucks’ own Nikolay Goldobin, who put up 30 goals for 68 points that year. Their chemistry was apparent in Utica this season, and as Goldy hits his stride in Vancouver, how great would it be if these linemates could light the lamp together?
Boucher is young enough to be part of the Canucks’ youth movement, but he is grounded and mature and has had to deal with some adversity already in his career. He could take on some part of the leadership role that Bo Horvat normally provides for the younger generation of Canucks.
Objections, your honour
“But he’s slow!” He’s not that slow. Why does everyone think this? His speed is middle of the pack in Utica, and he’s faster than several current Canucks. And what he lacks in speed he makes up for with awareness of the ice and quickness. An organization led by the Sedins should understand that straight speed isn’t always the most important thing. Boucher finds open ice, he makes sharp passes, and he has a quick release on his shot. That shot, by the way, drew the awe of his Canucks teammates last season.
“He’s a defensive liability!” He’s been working on that part of his game and it’s gotten much better this season. That fact has been noted by most people watching Utica this season, where Boucher has been playing in all situations, including the penalty kill. He may not be a defensive specialist, but the Canucks are 21st in goals for this season, and losing Bo Horvat exacerbates that problem. We don’t need a defensive specialist, we need a goal scorer.
“If he’s so good why did he get waived so many times?” This argument doesn’t make sense. Turn it around: if he’s so bad, why did he get picked up off the waiver wire so many times? There are a lot of reasons a player gets waived, and especially in Boucher’s case, it was rarely lack of production. For instance, when Boucher was waived in Nashville, it was because the team was stacked and prepping for a Stanley Cup run. Boucher was acquired as a back-up plan that quickly became unnecessary, so he was waived, but not before scoring a goal in his second of three games.
“AHL and junior hockey stats don’t mean anything!” Success in those leagues doesn’t guarantee success in the NHL, but it is a pretty good predictor. If Boucher’s primary competition for a spot on the Canucks roster right now is Brendan Gaunce, well, Boucher’s best season in junior more than doubles Gaunce’s best. And even if you cherry-pick for Gaunce’s best stretch of hockey in Utica, it’s still not as strong as Boucher. Same goes for Chaput, whose career highs in junior and the AHL are similar to Guance and much lower than Boucher.
“But we need to tank!” Ok, that’s one way of looking at it. But there’s still an argument for bringing up Boucher…
Calling all tank commanders
Even if you want the Canucks to tank for a high draft pick, playing Reid Boucher is still the right choice.
He isn’t going to singlehandedly win hockey games for the Canucks, so he won’t threaten the tank. But he could be an important part of the future. He’s got the skill to be a regular middle-six forward and provide secondary scoring in that role. He’s also got a cannon of a shot that can be very effective on a second power play unit.
Remember, Team Tank isn’t filled with people who hate the Canucks. It’s a group of fans whose argument is that the team should be 100% focused on the future.
And Reid Boucher is precisely the sort of player a future contender will need to have around. While far from being a superstar, he can make a significant contribution from a smaller role, while not taking up major cap space. He’s the sort of player that a rebuilding team needs; the supporting cast to its young core, and we don’t have to trade for him. He’s here, waiting for his opportunity.
This is the time to do it. At 24 years old he is still young, but my sense is that if he spends another entire season lighting it up in Utica without a sniff at real NHL minutes, his fire will start to go out and the Canucks will have wasted an opportunity to cultivate a useful and relatively inexpensive piece of their future.
Oh, one last thing. Each of Boucher, Guance, Chaput, and Dowd have played around 100 NHL games. Boucher has more goals than the other three combined. This shouldn’t even be a debate.