About halfway through the 2017-18 season, rookie sensation Brock Boeser has been setting the NHL on fire. The 20-year-old is burning a new goalie every night, scoring 22 goals in 41 games so far. Over a full season, this would put him on pace for 44 goals. As a result, Boeser has rightfully earned plenty of media coverage, all-star recognition and is the current Calder Trophy favorite. All of this is awesome for Boeser and Canucks fans as the hype around him grows, but I think there is one major flaw in his game which he needs he needs to fix or his future results are going to seriously underwhelm people. Let’s dive into his results to see what I’m talking about.
The Fatal Flaw
A sky is falling article on Boeser could be really easy to write. Anyone can google “Brock Boeser Shooting Percentage” and find out his play is unsustainable. I don’t think it’s quite that simple though. Sure he is shooting 19.1%, which won’t last forever, but the location of the shots concern me more. Boeser has been a perimeter player so far this season, which I believe is his biggest flaw. To visualize this, here are 2 separate ways to see that he is a perimeter player from hockeyviz.com.
Let’s begin with the photo on the left. This shows us where each of Boeser’s individual shots has come from. The red dots are goals and the blue are not. Looking at the shot locations we see he is a volume shooter who will shoot anywhere. This results in a lot of shots from the upper slot and near the blue line. Although he is clearly willing to try anything, his goals still mainly come from closer to the net (like everyone else). Sadly he has not been as very good at generating shots in tight, and mainly relies on mid-long range shots. It is hard to put these shot locations into context mentally, so we can transition to the chart on the right for help with that.
The heat map on the right helps us see the potential problem with Boeser’s shot locations. Red is where shots have been plentiful and blue represents where the shots aren’t coming from with Boeser on the ice relative to league average. This is a really underwhelming way to view his performance so far. With him on the ice, the Canucks have been great at getting shots from the low danger areas like the left wing upper circle and blue line. In the high danger areas like in front of the net and the slot, there has not been much action. This means Boeser is not only riding a high shooting percentage, but he is also a perimeter player so saying that his shooting percentage is high undersells just how lucky he has been.
So Boeser is a perimeter player, how much does that really matter? Well, to show how lucky he has been we can look at expected goals (XG) from Corsica Hockey. What this does is takes the location of all his shots and weights each one for how often a league average shooter would score that shot. Using this metric in all situations Boeser has a measly 8.88 expected goals. He takes a tone of shots but because he is such a perimeter player this total is quite low. So if Boeser was a league average shooter he would be on pace for just under a 20 goal season. Of course, not everybody is league average, many good shooters consistently outperform that expected goal total and Boeser will probably be one of them. Sadly for Canucks fans, 22 goals on 8.88 expected goals is a ridiculously unsustainable pace. Right now he is scoring about 150% more than expected. That is incredibly luck driven. To show just how unsustainable this pace is, here is how two of the NHL’s best shooters would fair with 8.88 expected goals.
This chart shows how many goals Steven Stamkos and T.J. Oshie would score given the same shots Boeser has taken so far with luck removed from the equation. Let’s start with the best, Steven Stamkos. Over the past 3 seasons, there has been no better shooter than Stamkos, scoring almost 60% more than expected. This means given 8.88 XG Stamkos and his long-term shooting talent would be at 14 goals. Then there is the 25th best shooter of the past 3 seasons, T.J. Oshie. He has scored about 33% more than expected. Meaning given Boeser’s shots Oshie would have about 12 goals right now.
These results show some actually realistic expectations for Boeser. If we assume he is already the best shooter in the entire NHL (equal to Stamkos), and luck was removed Boeser would be on pace for 28 goals right now. I think it would be nuts to just assume he is already the best shooter in the NHL, which is why I included Oshie for some more realistic expectations. Assume Boeser’s true shooting talent is 25th in the NHL, and he is on pace for 24 goals. I think that is a more plausible estimation of the rookie’s true talent.
So with luck removed Boeser would be on pace for roughly 24-28 goals over a full season. This total is probably disappointing to many fans who have incredibly high expectations of him. A season in that range would still be impressive for a 20-year-old, but it’s a far cry from all the hype the 44 goal pace has generated. This means Canucks fans should temper their expectations of Boeser going forward. There is still plenty of time for Boeser to improve and he likely will, but if he continues to primarily be a perimeter player he will not continue to live up to the mass hysteria currently surrounding him.