Sports

Brutal Honesty: Summer chat with Travis Green pushed Canucks rookie Brock Boeser

Vancouver Canucks' Brock Boeser, back, celebrates his goal against the Vegas Golden Knights with Sven Baertschi, of Switzerland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday November 16, 2017. Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green pulled Boeser aside after a July development camp for a frank and honest discussion. He told to the rookie winger in no uncertain terms what he needed to work on in order to have a chance of sticking with the club this season.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vancouver Canucks' Brock Boeser, back, celebrates his goal against the Vegas Golden Knights with Sven Baertschi, of Switzerland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday November 16, 2017. Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green pulled Boeser aside after a July development camp for a frank and honest discussion. He told to the rookie winger in no uncertain terms what he needed to work on in order to have a chance of sticking with the club this season.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — Travis Green pulled Brock Boeser aside at the Vancouver Canucks' development camp in early July for a frank and honest discussion.

During the course of that talk, the first-year head coach explained in no uncertain terms what the rookie winger needed to work on in order to have a chance of sticking in the NHL this season.

"I was brutally honest with him," Green recalled.

The owner of a lethal shot — perhaps already the best on the team — there were concerns about the 20-year-old's skating skills, his play away from the puck, and attention to detail.

"We had a serious conversation," said Boeser. "It set the tone for the rest of the summer."

The Burnsville, Minn., native took the constructive criticism as a challenge and hasn't looked back, leading the Canucks in scoring with seven goals and 10 assists despite sitting out three of Vancouver's first 20 games — two as a healthy scratch to open the campaign and another because of injury.

Selected 23rd overall at the 2015 draft, Boeser played two dominant years at the University of North Dakota before joining the Canucks at the tail end of a forgettable 2016-17 season, registering four goals and an assist in nine meaningless games.

But when Green looked at Boeser's performances after taking the Vancouver job, he could see the sniper's natural ability had allowed him to cut corners in college, something that hasn't been the case since he returned for training camp in September.

"Give him credit," said Green. "He's played well away from the puck. That's the sign of a real smart player that understands that for him to play and to play a lot of minutes, he can't just rely on his shot or his play inside the other team's blue line.

"I know he can create offence, but he's been smart and detailed in other areas."

Boeser agreed that consistency in the defensive zone is the one of the main reasons he's been able to stay in the lineup, especially early in the season.

"You have to work on the little things like chipping the puck out and winning your board battles," he said. "Those are some things I've been focusing on."

The latest example of Boeser's maturing skill set came in Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss at home to St. Louis where he opened the scoring and was second only to Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko in shot attempts with nine.

On his goal, Boeser, who also made a strong defensive play on Tarasenko in the third period, won consecutive battles down low before wheeling out of the corner and snapping a quick shot through a screen.

"He's not just going to rely on waiting for scoring chances," said Green. "He's going to have to create scoring chances from other areas of the ice that sometimes you don't think about.

"Smart players know that when they move up a level they've got to make sure they're dialled in."

Boeser sat third in rookie scoring heading into Monday's action, two points back of New York Islanders centre Mathew Barzal, who has played 20 games, and one adrift of Arizona Coyotes centre Clayton Keller, who has played 22.

The most exciting young player to suit up for the Canucks in a long time, Green said Boeser has that "it" factor you can't teach.

"A lot of it's hockey sense," said Green. "Anyone that's offensive, they can pass, they can shoot, but their hockey sense is what separates a lot of people."

Apart from his play on the ice, Boeser — quiet and reserved in front of the media — has also made an impression with teammates away from the rink as Vancouver (9-8-3) prepares to open a six-game road trip Tuesday.

"He works his tail off," said defenceman Michael Del Zotto. "He's got open ears. He's always listening, always comes and asks for advice. He knows he still has to learn."

The Canucks have been careful not to build up expectations for Boeser, but it's hard to keep the lid on the hype machine when a rookie is leading the team in scoring and driving the play on a nightly basis.

"I don't think we've seen his best even though he's played well, and that's exciting," said Green. "He's going to be a better player as we go on.

"My job is to make sure we produce the best Brock Boeser and a winning Brock Boeser, and a guy that down the road leads our team to really good things."

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