In the last five seasons, just one player has managed to score 50 goals in a season: Alexander Ovechkin. He hasn’t done it since the 2015-16 season, but came just one goal short last year.
That means, for the last two seasons, no player has scored 50 goals. That hasn’t happened since the 1964-65 season. Will anyone crack the 50-goal barrier in 2018-19? There are some obvious candidates, such as Ovechkin himself, but also the likes of Patrik Laine, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, and Nikita Kucherov.
But don’t count out Brock Boeser.
Let’s face it: hockey pundits, analytics experts, and even Canucks fans themselves are all pretty pessimistic about the Canucks’ chances next season. The Hockey News predicts a dead-last finish in the Pacific Division in their 2018-19 Yearbook, projections from statistical models suggest another season in the basement, and Vegas oddsmakers have the Canucks at 125-to-1 to win the 2019 Stanley Cup.
So it seems like it’s time for some wild optimism about at least one part of the Canucks’ upcoming season.
Is there any way that Brock Boeser can blow past the projections and score 50 goals next season? Does he have it in him to win a Rocket Richard trophy in just his second season in the league?
Let’s start with the basics: Boeser had 29 goals in 62 games before his season was ended by injury. That is a 38-goal pace over a full 82-game season. Boeser finished the season 16th in goals per game and first among rookies.
Can he sustain that scoring pace in his sophomore season? It’s not out of the question. Fantasy projections from The Hockey News suggest a 35-goal season is in the cards for Boeser, while my own projections landed on 34 goals. That came as a result of regressing Boeser’s shooting percentage toward league average, assuming that he wouldn’t quite be able to keep up his well-above average shooting percentage.
This is generally a safe assumption: most players can’t sustain an above-average shooting percentage year-after-year. Boeser’s 16.2% certainly qualifies. League average for forwards is closer to 11%. You might expect that the average shooting percentage would be significantly higher for a sniper, but even one of the greatest goalscorers of all time — Ovechkin — has a career shooting percentage of just 12.4%.
According to Hockey-Reference, the best career shooting percentage among active players (minimum 800 shots) belongs to Steven Stamkos at 16.67%. In order to believe that Boeser can sustain his shooting percentage, you basically need to believe that he’s in the same tier as Stamkos.
But maybe he is.
Boeser’s rookie season bore a strong similarity to another young sniper: Patrik Laine. The Jets’ star had 36 goals in 73 games as a rookie with a 17.6% shooting percentage. You might have expected Laine’s shooting percentage to regress in his second season, but instead it improved to 18.3% as he scored 44 goals in 82 games.
At 5-on-5 last season, Boeser and Laine were remarkably similar. They both averaged an identical 1.26 goals per 60 minutes and had a similar rate of shots, chances, and points. In fact, Boeser even had a higher shooting percentage than Laine at 5-on-5.
The biggest difference between Boeser and Laine last season came on the power play, where Laine led the league with 20 power play goals. Boeser had half that many, with 10.
With all this in mind, we can start to see the shape of a 50-goal season for Boeser.
Let’s start at 5-on-5. Boeser had 18 goals at 5-on-5 last season, with a shooting percentage of 15.38% on 117 shots. That was a 24-goal pace over 82 games. In order for a 50-goal season to be plausible, Boeser will need around 30 goals at 5-on-5. If he stays healthy, that’s just 6 more goals than he was on-pace for last season.
While his 5-on-5 shooting percentage was above average, it wasn’t wildly so. Still, a better bet than sustaining his shooting percentage would be for Boeser to get more shots. That may come with more ice time, as Boeser was actually at the low-end in 5-on-5 ice time last season when it came to first-line forwards.
Boeser averaged 13:51 per game at 5-on-5, which was 70th among NHL forwards. If Travis Green can find a way to get Boeser and his linemates a little more ice time at 5-on-5, Boeser should be able to improve on his shot totals.
Honestly, 25-30 goals at 5-on-5 doesn’t seem outrageous for Boeser, but that’s just the start.
Boeser didn’t have any empty-net goals last season, but there are a couple good reasons for that. One is that the Canucks just didn’t have a lead late in the game too many times last season, but another is that other players were more likely to be on the ice defending the lead than Boeser.
So, while we could hope for a couple empty-net goals to pad Boeser’s totals next season, we’ll likely need to look elsewhere. Such as, for instance, overtime.
Boeser didn’t get a single overtime goal last season. To be fair, the Canucks as a whole didn’t get many overtime goals; they scored five overtime game winners all season. But Boeser may get more opportunities next season.
The Canucks’ leaders in 3-on-3 ice time was Henrik Sedin, followed by Bo Horvat, Daniel Sedin, then Brock Boeser. With the Sedins retired, Horvat and Boeser are likely to be the go-to guys in overtime, and will likely get a boost in 3-on-3 ice time. With Boeser’s sniping ability, it seems reasonable to believe he could get a couple overtime gamewinners.
So, let’s say 28 goals at 5-on-5, a couple goals — let’s say 3 — at 4-on-4, and 3 overtime goals at 3-on-3: that gives Boeser 34 goals. That leaves 16 goals on the power play to reach 50.
It seems strange to think that Boeser only had 10 power play goals last season. Sure, that ties for the most power play goals scored by a Canuck since Daniel Sedin scored 18 in 2010-11, but it sure seemed like Boeser scored a lot more with the man advantage.
Part of the issue is that Boeser wasn’t properly used on the first power play unit until over a month into the season against the Los Angeles Kings on November 14th. Prior to that point, Boeser had just one power play goal in 15 games. While he didn’t score right away, he was immediately a threat and improved the power play as a result.
Over the rest of the season, Boeser had 9 power play goals in 47 games, a pace of 16 goals over 82 games. Conveniently enough, that’s exactly how many goals we’re looking for.
That gets Boeser to 50 goals last season without expecting an increase in his shooting percentage at either 5-on-5 or the power play. Boeser shot 17.24% on the power play last season, which is high, but not outrageously so. Witness Patrik Laine’s absurd 27.4% shooting percentage on the power play last season, for instance.
In fact, Boeser’s shooting percentage wasn’t that far above average. Last season, the average shooting percentage on the power play among forwards with at least 50 minutes played was 15.16%. For a player like Boeser, who has a great one-timer and accurate wrist shot, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that he could sustain a shooting percentage a couple points higher than that.
So, without demanding a boost in good luck for Boeser apart from staying healthy all season, 50 goals doesn’t seem out of reach. If Boeser has some good luck in the shooting percentage department, particularly on the power play, that will make things a lot easier.
The wild card on the power play, however, is the absence of the Sedins. Without Daniel and Henrik making plays on the right half-boards, will that make things better or worse for Boeser? He’ll arguably get more touches of the puck with the Sedins gone, but penalty kills will also be able to key in on Boeser as the primary scoring threat.
Ultimately, the Canucks will need another scoring option apart from Boeser on the first power play unit. The obvious option is Elias Pettersson at the right faceoff circle, which means a quest for Boeser to get 50 goals likely depends on Pettersson immediately emerging as a power play threat in his rookie season.
What do you think? Can Boeser reach 50 goals in 2018-19?