While the Carolina Hurricanes were on the receiving end of James Reimer’s first career shutout last night at Air Canada Centre, top prospect Zach Boychuk tried his darndest to single-handedly erase the donut on the scoresheet.
Recalled to the big club for the third time this season from the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers, Boychuk posted four shots on net in the 3-0 loss, showing signs of what’s to come from the swift-footed forward.
And while he didn’t score, the 2008 first round draft pick (14th overall) has shown through the course of his career that he has little trouble finding the back of the net.
The 21-year old native of Airdrie, Alta. averaged nearly 28 goals per season (110 total in four seasons) between 2005-06 and 2008-09 playing for the Lethbridge Hurricanes and after splitting time last season between Carolina and the AHL Albany River Rats, Boychuk has tallied 15 goals and 39 points in 33 games for Charlotte this season.
Charlotte Head Coach and General Manager Jeff Daniels, who spent four seasons with the Hurricanes as an assistant coach, helping guide the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2006, told PROSPECT PRESCRIPTION that Boychuk is well on his way to a thriving NHL career and that his most recent callup to Carolina may be his last as he is ready for prime time.
“I think he’s close to sticking up there,” offers Daniels. “Obviously, he’s proven to them that he can play at that level. And he’s earned the coaches’ trust that he can play away from the puck. And that’s what you have to do. Show that you can play well without the puck so that the coach can put you in any and all situations. And lately, when he’s had a chance to go up, he’s had a chance to play with an Eric Staal and an Erik Cole, so he’s capable of playing with that caliber of player. He’s definitely knocking on the door. He’s back up again there again and maybe this is the time that he stays up for good.”
A natural centre, Daniels has been playing Boychuk on right wing to great success.
“He’s been playing mostly on his off wing, on the right side. He creates a lot of offence off the rush because he’s very creative,” explains Daniels. “He likes to cut across and use his quick shot, which catches a lot of goalies by surprise. And while he has that quick release, he also has a nose for the net. So he’s very dangerous off the rush and on the cycle. But most importantly, he’ll get his nose dirty. He’ll go to those tough areas and take the hit to make the play. He’s not a perimeter player.”
And that’s saying something when you consider Boychuk is listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds. Although Daniels says Boychuk may be a little taller than that but his size isn’t a factor because he’s so solid and in very good condition.
“He’s very strong on the puck. He’s well built. And he’s a solid player that not only brings a physical element to the game, but he’s also always in on the forecheck, banging bodies and getting himself in the game. As a result, he’s playing the best hockey that he has as a pro,” says Daniels.
With Jeff Skinner enjoying a Calder Trophy kind of season with the Hurricanes, the 2010 draft pick has leapfrogged Boychuk on Carolina’s forward depth chart. And that may have cost Boychuk a spot on a top scoring line when he finally arrives at least for the immediate future.
“He may not be on the top line, but he’ll definitely be a second, third line guy that can provide that second-tier scoring that all the teams are always looking for,” explains Daniels. “Again, he’s got an NHL caliber shot and release. And he can find net. He’s proven it in junior. And he’s proven it this year at this level and he’s scored a couple of goals up top too. So it’s just a matter of him getting a chance and making the most of it. Just like anything else.”
Boychuk scored three times and chipped in six assists for the Hurricanes in the 31 games last season and has added four goals and three assists in 19 games this season to add to his NHL totals.
E.P.T.A. (ESTIMATED PROSPECT TIME OF ARRIVAL): 2011-12