Brock Boeser is fifth in the goal-scoring race and leads all rookies with 18 goals. But more than chasing the Rocket Richard and Calder Trophies, Boeser could be staring down one of the best rookie scoring seasons in league history.
In baseball parlance, it was a no-doubter. Somehow left alone – and we’re talking all alone – in front of the Montreal Canadiens goal, Brock Boeser took a quick pass from Daniel Sedin, settled the puck and had a second to dissect where he wanted to shoot on Carey Price. The decision was high glove and the puck found the back of the net, pinpoint accurate in the top right corner, almost as quickly as Boeser had flicked his wrists.
Just like that, Boeser had his 18th goal of the season. It was a tally that moved him into sole possession of fifth in the Rocket Richard race, put him six clear of the next-best rookie goal-scorers, a 12-goal tie between Clayton Keller and Alex DeBrincat, and, most of all, allowed Boeser to continue on a goal-scoring pace that has him in line to join some very elite company.
Over the past few seasons, the league has seen its share of talented rookie scorers. Last season alone, the NHL watched as Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine duked it out for top spot among rookie scorers with each possessing a gaudy goal total for a first-year sniper. Matthews took the crown — and the Calder — with a 40-goal campaign, while Laine finished second having fired home 36 goals of his own in nine fewer games. The two scorers finished second and seventh, respectively, in the Rocket Richard Trophy race.
Before Matthews and Laine, there was Artemi Panarin and Jack Eichel, a pair of fresh faces who didn’t quite reach the same heights as their year-younger counterparts but wowed with their goal-scoring ability nevertheless. (Oh, and Connor McDavid, too, though he missed nearly half of the 2015-16 season due to injury.) Panarin, the eventual Calder winner, blasted home 30 goals as a freshman. Eichel finished six back with 24 goals to his name. Sam Reinhart and Dylan Larkin weren’t far behind, either, each potting 23 goals on the season.
Other brilliant rookie goal-scorers — and goal-scoring races — have cropped up in the post-lockout NHL, too. Michael Grabner and Logan Couture each registered 30-plus in 2010-11, for instance. Each of Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Dustin Penner and Paul Stastny managed between 28 and 33 goals in their inaugural campaigns back in 2006-07, as well. But be it Matthews or Laine, Panarin or Eichel or even the four-horse race from more than a decade ago, we haven’t quite seen a rookie goal-scorer produce like Boeser in quite some time. The last one, in fact, was Alex Ovechkin.
Some will scoff at the comparison of Boeser to Ovechkin, one of the greatest goal-scorers in league history, and some will likewise believe Boeser’s campaign doesn’t measure up to those of either Matthews or Laine. Fact of the matter is the numbers say otherwise.
Let’s start with the latter, shall we? During their rookie seasons, Matthews and Laine lit the lamp at torrid paces. By the 32nd game of their respective seasons, Laine had the goal-scoring edge with 17 goals to Matthews’ 16. Compared to the year prior, when Panarin and Eichel had matching nine-goal totals through 32 games, it was evident both Laine and Matthews were different beasts when it came to scoring goals, and both drew inevitable comparisons to top goal-scoring rookies of yesteryear. Ovechkin, of course, was among those. It was warranted, too. In 2005-06, through 32 games of his rookie campaign, Ovechkin found twine 19 times. But taking that into consideration, Boeser’s 18 goals in 32 games sits that much closer to Ovechkin’s total than either Laine’s or Matthews’ did.
Boeser’s numbers also stack up if you include his stint at the tail end of last season. From the start of his career to the end of Tuesday’s outing, Boeser has played 41 games and registered 22 goals. At the same mark in their respective careers, Laine had 21 tallies. Matthews, too, had scores 21 times. Ovechkin, on the other hand, comparatively pulled away by scoring his 26th goal in his 41st game. Sidney Crosby, for those wondering, scored 13 times in 32 games, 21 times in 41 games and finished his rookie campaign with 39 goals.
But the most notable thing isn’t where Boeser presently sits in comparison to Matthews, Laine, Ovechkin and Crosby — the four top rookie goal-scorers in the post-lockout NHL — but where the Canucks freshman’s goal-scoring could put him when the season is complete. At his current pace of 0.56 goals per game, Boeser is staring down a potential 44-goal campaign. Only nine other rookies in NHL history have scored 44 or more goals, a list which includes Luc Robitaille, Dale Hawerchuk, Mike Bossy, Teemu Selanne and, yes, Ovechkin. Surpassing the 40-goal plateau, even if by one goal, would make Boeser only the fourth rookie in the past quarter-century to score more than 40 goals.
Undoubtedly, the assertion will be made from some corners that Boeser can’t continue to score as he has given he’s carrying an unsustainable 20.7 shooting percentage. But the same was likely said last season of Laine, whose shooting percentage has somehow risen from 17.6 percent as a rookie to 18.3 percent this season. Likewise, Matthews’ shooting percentage is up two percent from last season. If Boeser maintains his current shot rate of 2.7 per game, though, a drop 1.5 percent drop in his shooting percentage across the final 47 games of the season would still give him 41 goals.
And when Boeser gets open looks like the one against the Canadiens and continues playing on a power play with two of the game’s great playmakers in the Sedins, there’s no reason to believe he can’t keep scoring as he has and make a serious push to put himself among some of the game’s greatest rookie goal-scorers.
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