VANCOUVER -- It's hard to imagine many ways the first year of college could have gone any better than it did for Vancouver Canucks prospect Brock Boeser.
The 19-year-old forward set a freshman record at the University of North Dakota with 27 goals last season, surpassing Zach Parise's 26 of 2002-03. Boeser's 60 points were one shy of Parise's school record for freshmen but ranked ahead of the first-season totals of Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie.
Boeser was third in NCAA scoring, earning All-America first-team honors, and was named to the Frozen Four All-Tournament Team after helping North Dakota win the NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey championship by scoring a goal and five assists in two games, including four points in the final.
With all that already under his belt, it's tempting to wonder why Boeser didn't turn pro and sign with the Canucks. What is left to accomplish by going back to North Dakota?
For Boeser and the Canucks, the answer was easy: Leadership.
Boeser recently was named one of four alternate captains for this season and will be the first sophomore since Toews to wear an "A" at North Dakota. Just as Boeser did during his second time through the annual Canucks development camp, he plans to assume a more active role in leadership duties during his second season of college hockey.
"This year I'm more of a guy some of the kids look up to, so I am kind of a role model and I can set the tone in a way," Boeser said of development camp. "The second-year guys know what to expect, so I think that's something you have to take pride in coming back, and I think that's going to be the different role I have on the team at school this year too. I've always been that way. Even as a kid growing up (in Burnsville, Minn.), I always tried to be a leader and a role model."
The Canucks cited those qualities when they selected Boeser with the 23rd pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and Vancouver director of player development Stan Smyl said he is happy Boeser will keep developing them at North Dakota.
"You think you have leadership qualities, but in your first year you are watching the other guys, learning from them, and now you're put in that situation where you are the leader," said Smyl, who was Canucks captain for eight seasons. "That's something you want all your players to go through. You can already see he's stepped it up at development camp from last year. Once he's comfortable in his surroundings, he's got that in him."
That might help explain how Boeser resisted any temptation to join the Canucks early, even after watching linemates Drake Caggiula (Edmonton Oilers) and Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blackhawks) turn pro. North Dakota defenseman Troy Stetcher left school early to sign as a free agent with the Canucks, but Boeser was more worried about hindering his development then missing out on a chance to cash in on early success.
"Obviously the thought is there, but as soon as our season ended, we were all on the same page," Boeser said. "My family, the North Dakota coaches, the Canucks organization, we all felt another year can benefit me in a big way, just from growing, being more mature and taking on another role.
"I just don't want to screw up my development. It's gone really well and this next year I think I can take another huge step, so not rushing it will help me."
Smyl already sees improvements in Boeser's skating since last season. The college schedule, with weekend games and week-long training time, allowed 6-foot-1 Boeser to add 10 pounds of muscle, putting him at 191. North Dakota's pro-level facilities, which include a shooting room, allowed Boeser to keep working on his greatest asset: a quick-release snap shot that can leave goalies guessing.
"It's the release," said Michael Gartieg, who signed with the Canucks as a free agent after losing to Boeser and North Dakota in the NCAA championship game with Quinnipiac University. "He can kind of hide his release and shoot the puck from anywhere. Even if it's in his feet, he can get it off quick and hard, and he's powerful too, and I think that separates Brock."
The key now will be maintaining, or even increasing, that separation before turning pro.
"Offensively he's got great vision, he goes to the gray areas to score and when he gets there he's got that snap shot, that quick release that surprises a lot of goalies," Smyl said. "Now will he surprise goalies next year in college? They are going to know it's coming. At the next level, everyone is a little better and you have to get it away a little quicker. It gets a little tougher, a little faster, a little stronger. There are still steps, but he'll figure it out."