Last week, former Vancouver Canucks’ prospect Reid Boucher signed a one-year KHL contract in Russia with Avangard Omsk. As TSN’s Rick Dhaliwal tweeted, that contract will be worth $719,000, which is just a bit more than the current NHL minimum. In addition, if Boucher does really well and finishes in the top-three in KHL scoring, he’ll take home a $143,000 bonus.
That signing seems to effectively end the 26-year-old forward’s career with the Canucks who, just this season, came in second in the AHL this season with 33 goals and 67 points in only 53 games. That’s healthy scoring, but for all that skill Boucher simply couldn’t make an impact in the NHL. Furthermore, the Canucks never really gave him a chance to show what he could do in Vancouver.
Boucher Tore It Up in the AHL, But …
Simply said, Boucher was a terror in the AHL. This season, as noted, Boucher was more than a point-a-game player. He also scored when the team needed it, and added seven game-winning goals to his scoring.
But all that scoring prowess isn’t new for Boucher. The 26-year-old winger has been one of the AHL’s highest scorers over the past few seasons, which to me made it interesting that the Canucks didn’t call him up to play on their roster even though he finished second in AHL scoring and had the highest scoring average in the league at 1.26 points per game.
He was almost always on the score sheet. He put together 16 consecutive games scoring and only went two games in a row without scoring only twice during the season.
Boucher’s Successful Background
This season Boucher was selected to the AHL all-star team and was chosen as the Utica Comets Most Valuable Player. He was a good penalty killer, great on the power play, and improved his skating. So, what gives?
He’s had success and had been knocking at the NHL door for almost a decade. He was drafted by the New Jersey Devils during the 4th round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and even had a decent 2015-16 season with the Devils when he scored eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points in 39 games. The Canucks must have seen something in him and claimed him off waivers in January 2017.
With the Comets this season, he played on and led a team that was an offensive powerhouse. But, he saw the writing on the wall and chose to take a chance to see how his talents translated to the KHL after he missed yet again making an NHL roster.
What Kept Boucher from Being a Good NHL player?
Last week in the Canucks Army, Faber explored why Boucher never made it in the NHL even though he shone at the AHL level.
Reason #1: Boucher Didn’t Make Quick On-Ice Decisions
Faber’s take was that Boucher wasn’t a strong decision-maker on the ice, needed an extra second than most solid NHL players. He had that extra time in the AHL, but not in the NHL. The game is just much quicker one level higher.
Reason #2: Boucher Didn’t Play in Top-Six Roles
Because he wasn’t given opportunities to play in top-six roles in the NHL, Boucher consistently played with bottom-six players. As a result, he adjusted his game away from his offensive strengths and wasn’t good enough in the fore-checking roles usually assigned to bottom-six players. He was too small and too slow to earn more time on the top-six. In the AHL, the team built its offense around him, but that was never going to happen with the Canucks.
Reason #3: Boucher Had Too Much Competition with the Canucks
With the Canucks, Boucher couldn’t make the team’s roster was because there was too much depth at training camp. As Faber noted, Justin Bailey, Sven Baertschi, and Zack MacEwen were higher on the organization’s depth chart. Again, that fact was pointed out to Boucher this season every time the organization reached down to recall a winger. His phone never rang.
Reason #4: Boucher’s Skating Speed Was Lacking
Finally, as Faber pointed out, Boucher was quick enough off the mark but lacked the top-end speed to keep up with other NHL players. Hence, players like Tyler Motte and MacEwen were move prized by the organization. Although Boucher was a stronger scorer, he lacked those other aspects of his game.
So Boucher Has Gone to Russia
Reid Boucher has headed to the KHL for a nice pay raise. He might come back to the NHL, but it isn’t likely to be with the Canucks. On the other hand, his one-season contract might have been negotiated simply because he wanted to keep playing and there are rumors that the 2020-21 AHL season was in jeopardy of being canceled – so he didn’t want to sit.
I would love to see him return to the NHL and have a great career. We’ll see how he does in the KHL.
By the way, for any hockey fan who’s interested in what life is like in the KHL, there are plenty of stories. Here’s a link to an article written about two years ago – it’s an interesting read.
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