Boychuk bid covers everything from A to Z
QUEBEC CITY - The Bruins’ dressing room is a place of interchangeable nameplates these days, with no formal indication what the Opening Night roster will look like a week from Thursday with the Capitals in town. But with less than a week to go now in the exhibition season, following last night’s matchup here at Le Colisee between the Bruins and Canadiens, Johnny Boychuk’s name is still in the mix, along with other varsity wannabes such as fellow defenseman Matt Hunwick, forwards Vladimir Sobotka and Byron Bitz, and goalie Dany Sabourin.
In the early practice sessions, the 25-year-old Boychuk was paired with team captain Zdeno Chara. Nothing like being matched up with the game’s reigning Norris Trophy winner to get a foot up in the audition process.
“Just listen to him,’’ said Boychuk, when asked what “Big Z’’ has asked of him. “You know, if he calls for it, give him the puck, I guess you’d say. He reminded me of that a couple of times. If I’m in the corner, say, and he calls for the puck, I can’t look or wait, I’ve just got to get it to him then. Otherwise, you wait and it’s too late. Hey, you’ve got to trust your partner, right? He even said to me, ‘We have to build trust as partners.’ ’’
Faith has been built into Boychuk’s game since turning pro with Hershey (AHL) this time five years ago. Other than his four games with Colorado in 2007-08, the 6-foot-2-inch Boychuk never got a sniff of the NHL before getting dealt to Boston in June of ’08. He suited up for only one game with Boston last season, but otherwise spent the year in Providence, where he earned the league’s top defenseman honors (Eddie Shore Award) with a breakthrough season of 20 goals and 46 assists.
For two of the four games Boychuk played for the Avalanche, he dressed as a forward, not exactly the way a lifelong defenseman would choose to break into the big time. If his first real shot comes now, there is no question it will be along the blue line, whether he’s paired with Chara or one of the other Boston regulars.
“This is kind of my first real shot in six years,’’ noted Boychuk, who now has played in two exhibition games, picking up one assist. “So I guess I’m a little more nervous than normal. You know, you’re in an organization for a long time like I was with Colorado, you figure you’ll get your chance, and then it turns out to be at forward and not defense. Kinda crazy. But this is where I want to play. They say they are going to give me a chance to prove myself.’’
Chara, Derek Morris, Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart, and Dennis Wideman are all guaranteed spots, leaving the No. 6 blue line position either to Hunwick or Boychuk. If coach Claude Julien opts to keep a seventh D-man - a likely scenario based on his defensive bent - then they’re both good to go for 2009-10.
The one caveat is that Boychuk’s $500,000 salary is a steep drop from Hunwick’s $1.45 million cap figure. If the Bruins are in need of cap space for, say, a free agent pickup or trade, then that $945,000 difference could mean a return trip to the minors for Hunwick, whose youth and lack of NHL experience make him eligible to be demoted without going through waivers.
Don Sweeney, the ex-defensive stalwart who is now the Bruins’ director of player development, has lauded Boychuk for his speed, all the while reminding him to be vigilant about his reads in the defensive zone - standard stuff. Boychuk piled up the points in the AHL and it’s his offensive skills that the front office find truly intriguing. If he sticks, he could be another valuable wrinkle to work into the power play.
“I did get a lot of power-play points,’’ he said, “but I got my fair share at five-on-five, too. Either way, getting the puck by the first guy is the key.’’
Ryder, after picking up a puck high in the slot that squibbed off Wideman’s stick, did some fancy stickhandling to about 35 feet out and nailed a wrister past Jaroslav Halak with 4:12 gone in the first.
Kobasew’s strike, with 6:07 remaining in regulation, was a result of his digging to the top of the crease as Max Sauve shoveled off a 25-foot wrister off the rush. Kobasew and Mark Recchi converged on net and the ex-Boston College forward made the short-range pot.
Rask, all but assured the backup spot to Tim Thomas this season, was 19 for 19 through the first two periods. The Habs broke Rask’s shutout bid with their first shot of the third period, defenseman Josh Gorges connecting with a wrister from just inside the blue line on a power play.
With Blake Wheeler in the box for high sticking, the Habs knocked home the tying goal at 15:32 of the third, only to see Brian Gionta’s strike immediately waved off because of an offsides call. The Habs outshot the Bruins, 28-22.
The Bruins are 3-1 in the exhibition season, which ends Saturday night with the Blue Jackets on Causeway Street.
“I found it really sloppy out there, they really took it to us in the third period [when the Bruins landed only two shots],’’ said Julien. “It’s almost like we’ve got the mid-training camp blues, almost like we’ve gotta catch our second wind.’’
Julien said of Rask, “He’s played extremely well. Very impressive. Tonight he was solid as can be.’’
Rask said, “I feel good, really good out there. I feel like I’m on top of my game.’’
Of the goal that got by him, he said, “I saw it, but I thought Hunwick was gonna catch it, to tell you the truth, and it got by him. I lost it and I looked stupid.’’
Four players, Adam Courchaine, Matt Dalton, Jordan Knackstedt, and Matt Marquardt, were assigned to Providence.
A pair of players on tryout agreements, Scott Fletcher and Rob Kwiet, also were returned to Providence.
Alain Goulet and Lane MacDermid, both of whom remain unsigned draft picks, for now will skate solely with the AHL roster.
Four juniors, Ryan Button, Jordan Caron, Michael Hutchinson, and Tyler Randell, were returned to their junior clubs.
Caron, Boston’s top pick in the June draft, hopped aboard the early-afternoon charter flight here from Logan Airport and met his parents after the game for the three-hour drive to Rimouski. Caron, hindered by a fractured collarbone, came to camp but couldn’t participate much.
“I started to skate last week,’’ said Caron, sitting on the Boston bench inside a quiet Le Colisee three hours before faceoff. “I’m stickhandling a little, but the doctors have told me not to shoot . . . no contact.’’
It will be another month, Caron figures, before he can resume hitting and shooting.
“For sure, it was disappointing, my first NHL camp,’’ said Caron. “But I learned a lot just being in camp. It was still a great experience and I think I’m going to be ready for next year.’’