SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Time has become Brock Boeser’s biggest ally.
Unlike a year ago, when the Vancouver Canucks winger didn’t have proper offseason time to train after recovering from a back injury and wonky wrist and laboured through the NHL preseason, he believes time is finally on his side.
He’s fit and focused. He doesn’t have to drop weight or find his stride or worry about pushing too hard and succumbing to an early injury. He’s thoughtful in his responses and methodical on how he approaches a season of so much promise. And that meant way more than the score in a sloppy Saturday affair.
“I feel a lot better than I did a year ago and that was tough,” Boeser said before making his preseason debut against the Los Angeles Kings. “I had a good summer of training and getting the contract out of the way and getting here to get that game feeling back is huge for me.”
Here’s what we learned as Zane McIntyre fought the dark NBA lighting and the puck — allowing three goals on the first seven shots and four on the first 11 — before giving way to Richard Bachman after two periods as the Kings claimed a 7-5 victory:
Boeser didn’t score but he looked quicker, put passes right on to the tape of linemates and beat defenders to pucks. In the first period, he also showed that one-timer slapper from the face-off dot is packing velocity and accuracy. He also got to the net to put a feed over the crossbar in the second period. And he then sent Elias Pettersson in on a partial breakaway that was foiled.
These are good things because he did what he predicted.
“My mindset is to get better as the game goes on and get my legs back under me and just try and keep things simple,” he said. “There are a few games left to prepare and get my confidence back and the timing is huge. You have to make sure you’re doing the little things out there and keep the shifts short and stay fresh.
“If I do that, I should be fine.”
Four games in six nights are more than an on-ice evaluation of Adam Gaudette.
Can the centre handle the physical and mental strain of pushing mind and body in a push for a roster spot? He’s in a tough spot because he doesn’t require waivers to be re-assigned to the Utica Comets and, even if he makes the big club, that would move Brandon Sutter to the wing and create more congestion. But isn’t that what the preseason is all about?
Gaudette scored points with the coach on a first-period power play. He went to the slot and deftly deflected an Alex Edler point shot low to the short side with Tyler Motte screening goalie Jack Campbell. He then capped scoring in the third period.
“I’m just trying to build off every game and thought I was solid last game and I just want to make it a tough decision for them,” said Gaudette, who also scored Thursday in Edmonton. “Hopefully, I can get my offensive mojo going.”
Travis Green said we haven’t seen the last of Gaudette in the preseason because there’s something intriguing about a guy who did the offseason work.
“I want to make sure on him,” said the Canucks coach. “I want to get him into as many games as we can and he might play all of them — I haven’t decided. I want to give him every opportunity.”
You expect a heightened sense of urgency in second week of the preseason. Those on the roster bubble should take a good look at Motte.
He once again came as advertised Saturday. It wasn’t just the screen on the Gaudette goal. It was hounding pucks and blocking shots and nearly scoring with a tip and putting a rocket of a shot off the mask of Campbell.
Nikolay Goldobin, who went quietly into the night, did rip a first-period power-play shot off the stick of Campbell, but that was about it. Jake Virtanen did the chip-and-chase thing and could have been stronger forcing defencemen at the point. And in a game where the Kings iced agitators Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis, Zack MacEwen should have made more of a physical impact.
Tyler Graovac, Tanner Pearson and Josh Leivo had the other Canuck goals.
Ben Hutton had a goal and an assist Saturday and could have stuck it to his former club in a pre-game interview.
He knows the Canucks didn’t qualify him because his minutes would have meant a big salary leap in arbitration. He knows he had his differences with Green, but he also knows he’s better for going through everything in Vancouver.
“They brought me into the league and showed me the ropes and developed me from a young college guy with long hair to a pro,” he said. “Lots of ups and downs, but I was very fortunate to start my career in Vancouver.”