Rookie Brock Boeser has already reached the 50-game plateau in the NHL, emerging as a fixture in the Canucks lineup and the team’s most dynamic option for offense.
But Boeser still thinks back to Game No. 1.
Not only did he make his debut last March in his home state of Minnesota against the Wild, a day he made even more memorable by scoring his first goal, but the experience was the beginning of a nine-game preview of the NHL that prepared Boeser to have an immediate impact in his first full season with the Canucks.
“It helped a lot, just learning how fast the game is and how much stronger guys are, the little details you need to do right,” Boeser said. “So I think it helped tremendously, and it really helped me go in to the offseason and know what I needed to work on.”
The Burnsville native returned Sunday for his third appearance at Xcel Energy Center as a Calder Trophy front-runner bound for the All-Star Game. He has a league-high 22 goals for rookies through 41 games and a team-best 40 points — this after he chipped in four goals during an abbreviated stint last season after he left the University of North Dakota to turn pro.
Boeser was responsible for 19 percent of Vancouver’s goals entering play against the Wild — only Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin had a better share of his team’s offense at 20.4 percent — and the 20-year-old became the fastest rookie in Canucks history to reach the 20-goal mark.
“It’s been great to watch from afar,” said Wild forward Zach Parise, who skated alongside Boeser in Da Beauty League last year. “He works hard in the summer, but you can just tell he knows the game. He puts himself in good areas to score, and he shoots the puck a lot. He releases it quick, but he puts himself in a good scoring position no matter what.”
Although Boeser had just one goal in his previous six games, he feels his consistency has been vital to his success. And based on the impression he’s made so far, Boeser, drafted 23rd overall in 2015, has the potential to remain a key catalyst for Vancouver.
“I couldn’t have guessed the year was going to go this way,” said Boeser, who anticipated more than 80 family members and friends would be at Sunday’s game. “It’s gone well but with that, on the team side of things, we’d like to play better hockey and I obviously want to produce any way I can for the team.”
Parise has been back in the Wild lineup for almost two weeks. Sunday was his seventh game since returning from surgery on a herniated disk that sidelined him for the first 39 games of the season.
“I think it’s hard to make an assessment until the 10-game point,” coach Bruce Boudreau said recently. “He’s trying hard. He’s had chances to score every game, and I think that half-a-second, quarter-second that he’s off because the layoff is why he hasn’t got two or three goals at this stage.”
Through six games, Parise had managed just one assist, but he’s been given plenty of opportunity — skating in the team’s top-six and averaging 16 minutes, 35 seconds of ice time.
“It’s good that you’re getting the chances,” Parise said. “But it’s frustrating it’s not going in.”
Aside from picking up more points on the road, another second-half improvement key in Boudreau’s eyes is better success in back-to-backs.
Before facing the Canucks, the Wild was 3-4 in Game No. 2 of a back-to-back. It has gone 3-4-1 in the first test.
“I let the players know that these have been a problem for us, and we have to fix it,” Boudreau said. “I think it’s a lot of mental preparation, myself, and the fact that you have some success. Usually on the back-to-back, it’s usually we’ve had success the previous night and we let up and think it’s just going to come to us and we don’t realize that this league is too good for you to think it’s going to be an easy night ever.”
Women stars in action
The National Women’s Hockey League’s All-Star Weekend will be Feb. 10-11 at TRIA Rink, the Wild’s practice facility in downtown St. Paul.
After a skills challenge Feb. 10 at 6:45 p.m., the All-Star Game will be Feb. 11 at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are available at NWHL.zone/tickets.