Canucks: Brock Boeser has gotten better, not worse

Vancouver Canucks fans have been worried about the play of Brock Boeser this season, but he has actually drastically improved his overall game

For much of the 2019-20 season, countless Vancouver Canucks fans were worried about the play of Brock Boeser.

Even though the 23-year-old winger was nearly averaging a point per game before going through a slump in the new year, many people noticed that Boeser didn’t seem to have the same explosive scoring ability that helped him take the league by storm during his rookie year. However, a brief glance at the Minnesota native’s underlying numbers proves that he has actually improved as an all-around player.

When Boeser was on the ice during 5-on-5 situations, the Canucks only allowed 2.35 xG (expected goals against per 60 minutes), which is the lowest number among all Vancouver forwards. However, with Boeser on the bench, the team allowed an atrocious 2.92 xG, which is the third-highest in the league.

Compared to last season, Boeser has drastically improved his defensive game, as the Canucks allowed a higher xG compared to league average when he was on the ice only a year ago:

Boeser hasn’t been playing sheltered minutes, either. This year, he’s spent 31.1 percent of his ice time against elite competition, which is fifth among Vancouver forwards who have played over 30 games. It’s obvious that head coach Travis Green has a lot more faith in the winger’s defensive abilities, as his defensive zone starts have skyrocketed from 30.2 percent last year to 44.6 percent this season.

The fact that Boeser’s point totals have only taken a slight dip even with a massive cut in offensive zone starts means that he is still producing at a high level. More specifically, the 23-year-old’s playmaking has improved dramatically, as his assists per hour have jumped from 1.36 in 2018-19 to 1.64 this season.

I don’t believe that fans should be too worried about Boeser’s reduction in goal scoring either. The forward’s career average shooting percentage is 12.9 percent, which is right in line with many elite snipers in the league such as Vladimir Tarasenko. However, this number dipped to only 9.5 percent in 2019-20, so it’s likely he bounces back in the future which would result in an uptick of goals.

Moreover, it seems like his wrist shot still possesses the velocity it had during his rookie year, as evidenced by this goal against the Rangers where the puck bounced right out of Henrik Lundqvist’s glove and into the net:

Unfortunately, fans are right when they point out that the winger doesn’t seem to shoot as often as before. This year, Boeser has averaged 4.9 shots attempted per game, which is a far cry from the 5.8 he put up just last season. Advanced stats back this up as well, as his xGF/60 (expected goals for per 60 minutes) and CF/60 (Corsi for per 60 minutes) have plummeted:

Both of these stats are driven by shot volume, so it makes sense that Boeser has taken a step back in these regards. On the bright side, the winger is actually becoming a lot more efficient at hitting the net, as he’s still averaging 2.96 (60 percent of his total shot attempts were on net) shots per game, which is only slightly fewer than the 3.03 he had in 2018-19 (52 percent of his total shot attempts were on net).

Although he doesn’t appear as electric as he did during his rookie season, Boeser’s overall game has improved drastically, as the winger is now a reliable defensive forward and proficient playmaker. However, the 23-year-old is taking far fewer shots than in previous seasons, which might be related to a nagging wrist injury that’s been bothering him for years.

A full recovery could allow him to become the consistent 40 goal scorer fans have all envisioned him to be. Even if he doesn’t, Boeser is still a very good first-line winger who’s capable of flirting with point per game production while still being years away from his prime.