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Boychuk is next in line on Bruins’ blue line

JOHNNY BOYCHUKAHL’s best in 2008-09 JOHNNY BOYCHUKAHL’s best in 2008-09 (File/Mark Wilson/Globe Staff)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / September 4, 2009

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WILMINGTON - In 2005-06, when all 76 of his AHL appearances were on the blue line, Johnny Boychuk put up a career-best 32 points for Lowell, which was, in all likelihood, not a coincidence.

In every other year, including the 2007-08 season when he made his NHL debut with Colorado, Boychuk’s coaches had shuttled him between forward and defense. During his four-game NHL stint with the Avalanche that year, Boychuk was a defenseman for two matches and a forward for the other two.

“When you’re a defenseman and they move you up to play forward, they might not see you as a defenseman. Or maybe they see something where they think you’re a forward,’’ said Boychuk.

“It’s kind of a weird situation. I’d be playing defense for half a period. Then they’d say, ‘Hey, come play forward.’ So I’d say, ‘OK.’ I’m not going to say, ‘No, Coach, I’m not going to.’ Then with the last 5-10 minutes of a game, they’d move me back to defense and I’d play the last 10 minutes on defense if it was a close game.

“Weird situation for me.’’

Boychuk, acquired by the Bruins from Colorado for Matt Hendricks June 24, 2008, was viewed by the Black-and-Gold bosses as strictly a defenseman with some offensive touch. He proved his new employers correct, as he responded with 20 goals and 45 assists for 65 points in 78 games for Providence last season. For his glittering 2008-09 season, Boychuk earned AHL Defenseman of the Year honors.

“It was a surprise,’’ said Boychuk, who has been present at Ristuccia Arena since Wednesday for informal skates. “My previous high was 32. I was going to shoot for 35 or 40.’’

He also won a crack at something better: a one-way, $500,000 contract for 2009-10 and a chance to become a full-time NHLer.

“I really wanted to be back in Boston,’’ Boychuk said. “Then when they came and said, ‘We’re going to step up and give you a one-way contract,’ I thought this was the best situation for me.

“They actually want me to be here. That’s what I wanted. I did everything I could last year to show that I shouldn’t be playing in the [AHL]. For me, the next level is to be here. That’s where I want to be. I want to be with these guys.’’

The 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound Boychuk, a 25-year-old with a boomer of a righthanded shot, was paired mostly with first-year pro Jeff Penner last season under Rob Murray in Providence. Boychuk was the point man on Providence’s No. 1 power-play unit, and netted 10 man-advantage goals, tied for the team lead with Mikko Lehtonen.

“Being on the power play obviously makes a difference in points, and confidence, too,’’ Boychuk said. “The coaches showed confidence in me. I think I deserved it, because every time we were on, we were doing good on the power play the whole year.’’

Boychuk was recalled for one regular-season game with the Bruins, and was first in line to earn a playoff promotion. With Andrew Ference suffering from a groin tear and Matt Hunwick recovering from a ruptured spleen, the Bruins were in danger of having only five defensemen for Game 6 of their second-round series against Carolina. In the previous game, Aaron Ward was sucker-punched by Scott Walker, and there was concern that the defenseman sustained structural damage to his orbital bone. Boychuk was informed to be on call, but Ward was cleared for action.

While Boychuk didn’t merit a 2008-09 promotion (the knock on him is his skating), he’s projected to serve as Boston’s No. 7 defenseman this season, filling the spot held by Hunwick and Shane Hnidy last year.

Boychuk drew interest from several other clubs, but none offered him a one-way contract. It stands to reason that the Bruins would prefer not to pay Boychuk big-league dollars to dress in Providence, so it’s a good bet that he’ll break camp with the Bruins.

Zdeno Chara, Derek Morris, Dennis Wideman, and Ference most likely will make up the top two pairings. Hunwick and Mark Stuart could be the third. Boychuk would be the spare defenseman, which he understands, although as last season showed, injuries on defense are a given.

“Maybe if I play really well, I can move myself up,’’ Boychuk said.

For now, he has not found a home in the Boston area. He’ll wait to get the green light from his bosses. Things in training camp, which opens a week from tomorrow, don’t always unfold as planned.

The Bruins will hold a press conference this morning at TD Garden, where they are expected to announce a contract extension for Claude Julien. The 49-year-old Julien won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach in 2008-09. Last season, the Bruins went 53-19-10 for 116 points, third-most in franchise history, and finished with the top record in the Eastern Conference. Julien became the third Bruins coach to win the award (Pat Burns and Don Cherry were the others). Julien is entering the third and final year of his current contract.

According to yesterday’s Globe and Mail, one reason for the ouster of Paul Kelly as the NHL Players Association executive director was that he obtained a transcript from a confidential meeting in June between the union’s advisory board and 30-member executive board. In a statement, Kelly denied such actions. “I cannot stand by and allow this false and misleading attack on my character and reputation,’’ Kelly said. “I spent almost 10 years as a federal prosecutor, prosecuting numerous cases pertaining to fraud and dishonesty, including one involving a former NHLPA executive director. My personal ethics and reputation are beyond reproach.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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