Brock Boeser entered Saturday’s matinee against the New York Rangers tied for the lead in goals by a rookie (11, with Arizona’s Clayton Keller) and second in points (22, one behind the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal).
This is with Boeser having played 20 games—thanks to both injury and a now-hilarious decision to scratch him for the first two contests of the season—three less than Barzal, and six fewer than Keller.
Scoring has been up to start the season, but rookies humming along at a point-per-game pace is usually left up to the once-in-a-generation players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. In fact, in the two seasons prior to those stars hitting the league, the rookie scoring leaders had 64 and 63 points respectively.
So, regression is almost a certainty for Boeser (and Barzal and Keller). The Canucks rookie is currently scoring at an insane rate of 20 per cent of his shots. And while it’s safe to say Boeser has one of the better shots Canucks fans have ever seen, noted sniper Steven Stamkos currently leads all active players in career shooting percentage with a mark just over 17 per cent. (The league average over the past four years is 8.9.)
So it’s reasonable to expect Boeser’s pace to slow down at least a little. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t win the award.
Rookie of the year, like most honours in the NHL is awarded based on a player’s competition. And while it’s harder to compare players that play different positions, unless there’s a standout performance from a goaltender or defenceman the Calder is usually awarded to the forward who garners the most points.
This year, New Jersey defenceman Will Butcher is starting to emerge as a contender, with an astounding 17 points for a blueliner. If he keeps it up, he’ll definitely be in the conversation.
However, if it becomes a three-way race between Barzal, Keller and Boeser, we like the latter’s chances.
Barzal is a Coquitlam, B.C. native who has spent the last four seasons tearing up the Western Hockey League with the Seattle Thunderbirds. However, it’s easy to see the young forward as a beneficiary of his team. The Islanders are one of the highest scoring teams in the league right now, and though Barzal plays centre, the toughest forward position, he does so behind John Tavares. Barzal, former Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd and former Edmonton Oilers star Jordan Eberle usually play on the team’s second line against inferior competition.
Boeser is often forced to take on other teams’ best players, and though Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi are definitely talented, they don’t have multiple years of putting up 50-plus points on their resumes like Ladd and Eberle.
The situation is different in Arizona, where Keller plays on the NHL’s worst team and often sees first-line minutes against the best that others teams have to offer. Fair or not, Keller’s candidacy will likely be hurt by his plus/minus rating, which currently sits at minus-15 (Boeser is at plus-2).
But the main difference between the two is ice time. Currently, Keller is clocking in at 19:26 minutes per game, while Boeser registers 16:12 on average. While Keller will get some credit for logging almost 20 minutes a night (quite rare for a rookie forward), it’s likely that the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, which decides the award, will take the ice time for both players into consideration. That’ll be good news for Boeser.
While Boeser’s scoring will undoubtedly slow, we think that, unless Butcher continues to be among the leaders in points by defencemen, the Canucks rookie will be collecting some hardware at season’s end.