Kuzma: College hotshots Boeser, Kerfoot chart different paths to NHL

 

 
 
 
 
Brock Boeser's NHL destiny was never in question.
 
 

Brock Boeser's NHL destiny was never in question.

Photograph by: Mike Ehrmann, The Province

There is always uncertainty before college hotshots burst onto the NHL scene.

When will they sign, how will they handle the pace, the longer season and lofty expectations?

For Brock Boeser, there was always the certainty that he would sign with the Vancouver Canucks after being the 23rd selection in the 2015 draft and after two standout seasons at the University of North Dakota.

For Alex Kerfoot, there was never a certainty he would agree to terms with New Jersey after being selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by the Devils.

The Vancouver native elected to sign a two-year, free-agent deal with the Colorado Avalanche in August after four years at Harvard University and after being wooed by serval suitors, including the Canucks.

For Kerfoot, it was about opportunity. For Boeser, it was about loyalty.

Raised to appreciate everything that has come his way, the humble and hard-working Calder Trophy contender was never going to sway from his ways.

With an NHL-ready game, he wasn’t going to balk at signing with the Canucks after two standout seasons at the University of North Dakota. He wasn’t going to go the free-agent route after four NCAA campaigns and join another organization of his choosing. He’s just not wired that way.

“That was my plan the whole time,” Boeser said Tuesday. “We took it year by year and I never thought about waiting or going to free agency — that never crossed my mind.”

What was always on his mind was making the pro leap as soon as possible because of the demanding environment in North Dakota.

“With the maturity level of college hockey, there are stronger and older guys and I think that helps because of what college hockey offers,” added Boeser. “Most offer great facilities development-wise and that’s huge.”

So is having the skills that can be honed through practising more than playing at the collegiate level.

Boeser led all NHL rookies in goals (24) and power-play goals (eight) and was second in points (43) heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the Avalanche. His ability to produce, handle success and increasing adulation — especially after winning the accuracy competition and being named most valuable player at the All-Star Game on Sunday — is keeping Canucks coach Travis Green in some awe of the 20-year-old winger.

“He’s getting more comfortable in the media and that’s something that’s different for young guys,” said Green. “It can be a lot for a young guy new to it. And he’s learning how to get his body ready to play and into a routine and he understands the importance of it.

“He’s a kid who learns fast and I like that he resets — and that’s important for any athlete.”

By comparison, Kerfoot found a fit with a struggling team even before a major off-season transition.

The Avalanche were coming off a franchise worst 48-point season and the league’s cellar-dwellers were 30th on the power play, 29th on the penalty kill and Matt Duchene wanted to be traded. Today, they have the 11th-ranked power play, the second-rated penalty kill, downsized from eight 30-plus aged players to just two and are in a playoff spot.

They also had a 10-game win streak snapped last week, so it appears the 23-year-old Kerfoot chose wisely.

He grew up watching the Canucks but believes he can grow with the Avalanche. Being a second-line centre and 32 points (12-20) in his first 45 games speaks to that. And knowing Duchene would eventually be dealt didn’t hurt.

“They gave me an opportunity to succeed,” said Kerfoot. “And when I looked at their roster, I thought they had a really good team but just didn’t do as good as they wanted. They are elite players and I was just trying to find a spot where I could play.

“I had a good meeting with the Canucks — Trevor Linden, Travis Green and Jim Benning — and I was impressed. But at the end of the day, Colorado offered more and it was hard to turn down.

“One of the main reasons I was talking to (general manger) Joe Sakic and (coach) Jared Bednar was what they wanted — to be young and fast.

“And it looks like the vision is panning out.”

Part of it is Kerfoot’s ability to process the NHL game quickly. He skates well enough, but his passing and finishing abilities haven’t gone unnoticed.

“You can teach a lot of things except for hockey sense,” said Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon. “If you don’t have it, it’s hard to get it. He’s very level-headed and competitive and thinks the game well.”

Added Bednar: “He’s an intelligent player and puck mover. He’s a threat, plays in the hard areas and doesn’t turn the puck over.”

As for the great debate about college versus junior hockey routes to the NHL, Kerfoot offered this telling summation of Boeser.

“He’s a pretty special player,” said Kerfoot. “He would have had success even if he wasn’t in college.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com

twitter.com/benkuzma

NEXT GAME

Tuesday

Colorado Avalanche vs. Vancouver Canucks

7 p.m., Rogers Arena, SNETP, SNET 650 AM

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Brock Boeser's NHL destiny was never in question.
 

Brock Boeser's NHL destiny was never in question.

Photograph by: Mike Ehrmann, The Province

 
Brock Boeser's NHL destiny was never in question.
All-Star Game MVP Brock Boeser will give the Electric Honda he won to his sister.
Alex Kerfoot of the Colorado Avalanche, left, and Alex Petrovic of the Florida Panthers battle along the boards in Sunrise, Fla.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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