Ten players whose struggles could cost them this summer

    Kristen Shilton is a national NHL reporter for ESPN.

Brock Boeser has been on a journey this season. One that started poorly.

The Vancouver Canucks top-line winger kicked off his contract year by scoring just nine points in 21 games, looking a long way off from the near point-per-game player he was eight months earlier.

It was barely mid-November, Vancouver was in a tailspin and Boeser’s poor totals resulted in talk of him possibly being dealt. None of it was sitting well.

“I personally don’t think I’m going to get traded,” Boeser said at the time. “I think [the rumors] are just people looking for an answer out in the social media world with the team struggling. I feel like I’m part of the core here and a big piece. It’s been a tough stretch for me personally, and for the team. I set high expectations for myself to go out there and produce and help the team win. Lately, it’s been tough. I just have to make sure I’m competing hard and get out of this funk.”

Something had to change for Boeser and the Canucks. By early December, the long-anticipated coaching change came to fruition. Travis Green was out, Bruce Boudreau was in. And Boeser began to thrive, reeling off 11 goals and 20 points in his next 27 games. He’s also benefitted greatly from power-play time, scoring 13 of his 30 points this season when Vancouver had the man advantage.

That’s been all well and good for Boeser, whose career leading into this season had been strong despite injury issues slowing him down periodically. The native Minnesotan was a 20-plus goal scorer in three of the past four seasons. He leads the Canucks in goals (109) and points (235) since his first full campaign in 2017-18.

However, Jim Rutherford, Patrik Allvin and company can’t totally discount Boeser’s early struggles this year, not when he’s a pending restricted free agent owed a $7.5 million qualifying offer or a potentially expensive long-term extension. Can the club rely on Boeser to be worth the investment in a flat cap world, particularly when it comes to his 5-on-5 play? Will Boeser become the elite offensive catalyst the Canucks would require to funnel a sizeable chunk of their money into his future?

Those are the sorts of questions lingering around the 25-year-old, especially as the NHL inches closer to the March 21 trade deadline. Unless the Canucks are confident Boeser will be a lynchpin of the team for at least a few years to come, now would be the time to move on. Finding a suitable trade partner might not be easy, though, given the amount of Boeser’s qualifying offer and the lack of clarity on what structure — in terms or dollars — he’ll be commanding on that next deal.

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