Brock Boeser may be fairly new to the NHL, but he’s a veteran of Da Beauty League. The summer showdown in his home state of Minnesota features a gaggle of NHLers, prospects and college kids playing competitive hockey for the right to hoist the John Scott Cup. Yes, that John Scott.
Boeser has played all four years that Da Beauty League has operated – his agent, Ben Hankinson, helped put the DBL together – and last year Boeser’s team took the fun league title. Other big names in the circuit include Jake Guentzel, Ryan McDonagh and Anders Lee. The play is 4-on-4, and money from ticket sales (which are brisk) goes to charity. “It’s pretty well put together,” Boeser said. “You get all those fans packed in during the summer, it’s for a good cause, and it gives us all a chance to get our legs under us for the season.”
And while the compete level isn’t necessarily Stanley Cup-intense, there is a lot of pride on the line. “There’s no real checking unless guys get mad at each other,” Boeser said. “It’s pretty friendly and we try to stay away from whistles, so goalies are given the chance to play the puck instead of freezing it.”
For Boeser, working out the kinks before the NHL season begins is a nice bonus. In his first two full years with the Canucks, he played 62 and 69 games. His rookie campaign was thrown off by a back injury, while his sophomore season was interrupted by a groin issue (which Boeser believes stemmed from the previous back ailment). “Even mentally it was hard to come back from the back injury,” he said. “But I’ve really grown and learned how to take care of my body now.”
Doing so requires a multi-faceted approach. Boeser has improved his nutrition, and he’s more in tune to what his body is telling him. If he’s tired, he needs to acknowledge it. If he’s banged up, he can sit in an ice bath or visit the team’s physical therapist. It’s all part of being a pro.
With a healthy Boeser, Vancouver is harder to play against. His otherworldly release made him a deadly scorer with NCAA North Dakota and USHL Waterloo before that. Despite the missed time his first two NHL seasons, the talented right winger flirted with 30 goals both years, and it would be surprising if he doesn’t shoot past that mark this time around.
And Boeser is far from alone. The rebuilding Canucks have a promising group of youngsters coalescing right now, led by Calder Trophy-winning center Elias Pettersson and veteran-by-comparison Bo Horvat, who skates into his sixth NHL season at the ripe old age of 24. Defenseman Quinn Hughes is expected to play a full-time role after a sizzling five-game preview at the end of last season, and goalie of the future Thatcher Demko will surely get more starts while sharing the crease with Jacob Markstrom.
To support the kids, GM Jim Benning brought in defenseman Tyler Myers as well as top-six wingers J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland, giving the Canucks a nice mixture of veteran savvy and young talent.
“It’s super exciting,” Boeser said. “You can see, from my first year and the Sedin twins retiring to now, we had to get new guys and build the prospect pool, and they’ve done a really good job of that. I was excited by the moves this summer.”
With all these shiny new weapons, the Canucks are looking competitive for 2019-20. Maybe not Stanley Cup contenders just yet, but they should at least vie for a playoff spot – especially in the mediocre Pacific Division – after making the post-season only once in the past six years.
While there is always the internal pressure that hockey players put on themselves to raise the bar, the fans in Vancouver are waiting on a winner. The franchise’s 50th anniversary is approaching, and that elusive Stanley Cup championship has remained out of reach. So now the external pressure begins again.
Benning has already been under the microscope, but ownership rewarded his rebuilding efforts with a three-year contract extension in August, so he’s the guy steering the ship into more bountiful waters – assuming the plan all comes together soon.
For Boeser, team growth is organic and can’t be rushed. “We’re still a young core, and we have to see how we are as a team,” he said. “But we played a lot of competitive games last year, and we know what to expect now. Obviously our main goal is to make the playoffs.”
Rebuilds generally take longer than fan bases realize, and the Canucks are still on the ascent. With a healthy Boeser and continued growth from Pettersson, Vancouver has the high end up front to become scary very soon. And thanks to his ‘Beauty’ duty in the summer, we know Boeser is coming in ready.