We need to talk about Brock Boeser's body. But it's not what you think!
Last season, Boeser scored just 16 goals. It’s not that he had a bad season exactly — he was still a first-line forward on one of the best lines in the NHL — but it was a far cry from the buzz he created as a rookie.
That Brock Boeser looked like he could score 40+ goals in a season. That Brock Boeser looked like a future threat to win the Rocket Richard as the NHL’s leading goalscorer. That Brock Boeser was starting to seem like a distant memory.
A few weeks into the 2020-21 season, that Brock Boeser appears to be back.
After a two-goal performance on Saturday, Boeser jumped into the NHL lead in goalscoring, though Connor McDavid matched him the following night and Tyler Toffoli passed him on Tuesday. At the time, Boeser was on-pace to score 40+ goals, even in a pandemic-shortened 56-game season.
He’ll slow down, of course — he has to. Boeser’s shooting percentage is an absurdly-high 22.2%. Even the NHL's top sharpshooters in their best seasons don’t shoot over 21% and Boeser’s career-high from his rookie season was 16.2%.
Still, the puck is rocketing off his stick in a way it didn’t last year and Boeser had to admit that his shot had suffered in recent seasons.
“I would say not necessarily has [my shot] been there, especially after my back injury, because that gave me a lot of problems after. It was a pretty bad injury,” said Boeser. “Knowing my body now and knowing what I need to feel good, I’m feeling confident and I feel like my shot’s back where it was my first year.”
Boeser’s shot returning to its rookie form is bad news for the goaltenders of the all-Canadian North Division. But what’s intriguing is that Boeser has spoken multiple times about his confidence stemming from knowing his body. Dealing with multiple injuries in his first three seasons in the NHL, including a serious back injury in his rookie year, has forced Boeser to be more mindful of his body.
“Even last year, I think I was still learning stuff about my body from past injuries and different exercises I need to do to prep,” said Boeser after Saturday’s game. “I'm feeling really good right now. I feel like I know what I need to do before each and every practice and game to stay on top of my body and I feel like it's showing on the ice.”
That’s a great lesson for Boeser to learn so early in his career. Young athletes can sometimes feel invulnerable, able to bounce back from minor injuries or take shortcuts on nutrition or training, but the key to longevity in the NHL is knowing what your body needs daily to succeed on the ice.
Consider Jaromir Jagr, who is still playing professional hockey in the Czech Republic at 48. His workout routines became legendary, but much of it stemmed from knowing his body. Towards the end of his NHL career, for instance, he kept a softball on the bench to rub over muscles to keep them loose between shifts. He was notorious for training at odd hours late at night, because he wanted to train when he knew his body was ready.
“I want to do it on my own, not because someone tells me, ‘Oh, let’s practice at 9 o’clock in the morning.’ What if I don’t feel right at 9 o’clock in the morning?” said Jagr. “I do what I need to do when I need to do it.”
Or look at Roberto Luongo, whose stretching and exercise routine prior to practices and games stretched into hours late in his career as he dealt with hip issues. He did what was required to get his body ready to play. Fortunately, the much younger Boeser isn't quite at that stage yet.
For Boeser, focussing on his body prior to games and preparing appropriately has allowed him to forget all about his body during the game and just play. It’s not something he was able to do last season.
“Last year, I've said it a lot, it was a learning experience,” said Boeser. “I think I was in my head the most I've ever been in my head in my hockey career. This year is a fresh start and I just felt like I need to get back to my game — not overthinking things, just playing off instinct.”