Kuzma: Vanek’s value extends to being right mentor for Canucks’ Boeser


Goal celebrations are becoming the norm for hot-shot rookie Brock Boeser.

Goal celebrations are becoming the norm for hot-shot rookie Brock Boeser.

Photograph by: JONATHAN HAYWARD, The Province

In the State of Hockey, there are no State secrets.

Play well enough from an early age in Minnesota and everybody knows your name and your game.

Thomas Vanek played two seasons at the University of Minnesota and two more with the Wild. He heard about that Brock Boeser kid from nearby Burnsville, who already owned an NHL-calibre shot.

“I heard of him when he was in high school,” Vanek recalled Friday. “Just like Casey Mittelstadt, these are generational players and you hear about guys like Brock. Last summer was the first chance I had to skate with him and see what he’s all about.”

While Mittelstadt, an Eden Prairie, Minn. native, has untapped potential as the eighth overall 2017 draft pick by the Buffalo Sabres, Boeser made a quick impression on Vanek last summer.

“His shot was something that stood out to me and how he can get it off from different angles,” said the Vancouver Canucks’ veteran winger. “It’s like Patrik Laine and how he gets it off and it’s not something you can teach — you either have it or you don’t.”

What Boeser has is the attention of the entire NHL. It’s why Vanek is eager to play mentor to a humble and hard-working 20-year-old rookie who’s a Calder Memorial Trophy contender.

Boeser not only leads all rookies and the Canucks in goals (21) and points (38), only two players under the age of 21 in the last 30 seasons have scored more goals through their first 44 career games.

Alex Ovechkin had 32 goals in 2005-06, Eric Lindros had 28 in 1992-93 and Boeser has 25, including the four he collected last spring.

If that isn’t enough, only three players had more goals that Boeser entering play Friday. Nikita Kucherov and Ovechkin had 24 apiece and Anders Lee 23. Boeser is also first in rookie goals, points, power-play goals and power-play points.

“A guy like Brock, you don’t have to teach him much,” added Vanek. “He’s a sponge and a quick learner. I remember when I first started. I had great leaders in Chris Drury and Mike Grier (Buffalo).

“Playing in the NHL was a dream and once I got there, I wanted to improve. I wanted to see what other guys did — like Chris becoming a Stanley Cup champion (Colorado) — and what it takes and that helped me a lot.

“It’s why it’s fun for me to help the young guys.”

What’s helping Boeser is adding another dimension to his well-rounded game.

In the opening minutes of Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, Boeser drove hard down the right wall. He then stopped quickly, spun and fed a back pass to Ben Hutton in the high slot. The defenceman then spotted an open Vanek and it took an acrobatic Anton Forsberg paddle save to stop the sequence.

Boeser then showed positional smarts by getting to the far post in the second period and put a Sam Gagner feed off the post. And he was almost too pass-happy before starting the sequence on the club’s second goal before initiating the third.

Boeser would add a goal and finish with the second four-point night of his young career.

“It’s only going to get harder for him,” warned Vanek. “People are going to slowly figure out that he’s a good player and shade him a little bit more But he’s going to have that element of pulling up and making that pass across that can be so dangerous because it’s going to find open guys, no matter who plays with him.

“He knows how to get open and where to get open. He’ll be fine. He enjoys the game and he enjoys scoring goals. He can hold his shot for a second or two and even with the goalies in position, he still finds a way to get it by.”

Boeser combined with Vanek and Gagner for 12 points Thursday that was highlighted by Vanek’s third five-point outing of his career.

The 33-year-old Vanek has 12 goals and the pending unrestricted free agent will command interest at the trade deadline. That doesn’t surprise Boeser.

“Since I was a little kid, I remember when he played at UM and I was just six and I watched him growing up,” he said. “Getting to know him in the summer, we just built off that. We’re similar players and he sees that and feels he can help me a lot.

“Both he and Gagner are great playmakers, but it’s also how we communicate and how hard we work. You need to be mentally ready for every game and sometimes guys are tired or mentally just not there. I’m trying to show up every game mentally prepared.”

Striking a versatile offensive balance will make Boeser even more of a threat, but don’t expect him to go away from what got him here — that release — on Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings.

“It depends on the play and what’s open,” he said. “There are times when you can draw guys to you — and Vanek does it so well — and pass to a guy for a wide-open net.

“I’ll still take a shot if I have it, but playmaking can definitely help.”





Los Angeles Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks

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

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Goal celebrations are becoming the norm for hot-shot rookie Brock Boeser.

Goal celebrations are becoming the norm for hot-shot rookie Brock Boeser.

Photograph by: JONATHAN HAYWARD, The Province

Goal celebrations are becoming the norm for hot-shot rookie Brock Boeser.
Brock Boeser has added a playmaking dimension to his evolving game.
Thomas Vanek has been an effective linemate and mentor for Brock Boeser.
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