Once upon a time, Zach Boychuk was the Carolina Hurricanes top prospect. He was selected in the first round of the 2008 NHL draft and was known for having great hands and huge scoring upside that any team would welcome. At the time, he had 82 goals and 214 points in 194 games in the WHL so it's easy to see why he was such a high draft pick. Everyone, myself included, thought that he would be playing in the Hurricanes' top six at this point but he has still yet to find a full-time spot on the roster and was just reassigned to Charlotte again.
Boychuk has shown that he can score at junior and the AHL level but he still has not been able to carry over that success into the NHL. Some say that the reason for this is that he is undersized, which is a valid point because at 5'10" and 185 lbs., he isn't exactly a big player and can get knocked off the puck easier than others. Other say that his game is more suited for a bigger ice sheet but his high scoring rate in the AHL suggests otherwise. Whatever the issue is, he just doesn't seem to fit well with the Hurricanes no matter who the coach is.
In last night's game against the Lightning, Boychuk played about eight minutes and a grand total of two shifts after the first period. When I first watched the game, I didn't notice him make any glaring mistakes and wondered what caused Kirk Muller to pull the plug on him. So, I went back and re-watched all of his shifts and jotted down anything noteworthy that he did when he was on the ice. After I examined his play more closely, I'm still a tad confused but noticed some of the deficiencies in Boychuk's game.
We will take a look at those shifts and examine Boychuk's NHL career a little closer after the jump
Here are all of Boychuk's shifts sorted by time and the events that occurred during then.
- Challenged Eric Brewer at the point, which allowed Brewer to get the puck deep into the Carolina zone.
- Joined Eric Staal on a transition rush and converged on the puck when Staal appeared to lose slight control of it. Freed up Tlusty for a potential tip in chance.
Boychuk retrieves a loose puck in the slot, turns around and fires a shot that misses the net. This was recorded as a scoring chance.
- Boychuk is at the front of the net and Jay Harrison sends a pass his way looking for a tip-in. He is smothered by Eric Brewer and can not do anything to get to the puck.
- Boychuk puts pressure on a Tampa Bay defenseman with the puck which forces a turnover.
- Boychuk coasts into the defensive zone while the Lightning have a transition going.
- Justin Faulk sends a pass to Boychuk along the boards, he tries to advance it into the neutral zone but can not control it.
- Jaro Spacek turns the puck over to Tim Wallace and he scores a goal. Boychuk was kind of standing around in the neutral zone while Wallace retrieved the puck.
- Boychuk attempts to retrieve a puck in the corner, Brewer easily chips it past him.
- Boychuk makes a good breakout pass to Jiri Tlusty through the neutral zone. Leads to a good shift for Carolina.
- Boychuk and Tlusty are both able to force a turnover on Adam Hall.
- Boychuk looses puck battle with TB defenseman Brett Clark, but the puck is not turned over.
- Eric Staal attempts to send a centering pass to Boychuk in the slot, but there are three TB defensemen around him and he can't get to it. Tlusty is able to get it and get a chance on net.
- Boychuk attempts to strip the puck from Bruno Gervais in the defensive zone but Gervais easily dangles his way around him and gets a shot on goal.
- Boychuk retrieves a loose puck in the defensive zone but quickly turns it over to Martin St. Louis, who gets a scoring chance.
- Gains possession of the puck and simply dumps it in.
- Nothing noteworthy occurred
- Boychuk tries to retrieve a pass from Justin Faulk but he can't handle it and turns it over in the neutral zone.
- Boychuk gets the puck in the neutral zone, dumps it in and goes off for a line change.
2nd period: 17:47 (powerplay)
- Boychuk gets puck at the top of the faceoff circle and quickly gets a shot on goal. He is able to get his own rebound and then passes the puck back to Jay Harrison. Canes keep possession in TB's zone.
- Later in the same sequence, Boychuk retrieves an errant pass from Jamie McBain and then makes a quick pass to Jussi Jokinen. This leads to a potential scoring chance but McBain completely missed the net.
- Boychuk is at the front of the net and Jay Harrison shoots the puck his way looking for a tip but he can't get his stick on it.
- Boychuk is able to presure a Tampa Bay defenseman and force a turnover.
He did a lot of good things last night but he also hurt the team in a few ways. That turnover he made which led to St. Louis' chance was pretty bad and Tampa Bay's bigger players like Brewer were able to easily knock him off the puck. I guess this is where his size issue comes into play but he was still able to force a few turnovers and play decently away from the puck. He also had a great shift on the powerplay in the second period where he was able to get a shot on goal and set up a play that led to what could have been a scoring chance. That was one shift before he got benched, too.
I am not sure what Boychuk did to earn his benching but I did notice a lot of reoccurring problems with the way he played tonight. He struggled to maintain control of the puck and his play in the neutral zone was also pretty weak. I also noticed that he would be coasting around a lot more than other players and that probably rubbed Muller the wrong way. Another thing is that Boychuk didn't seem to much of an impact when he was on the first line. Yes, he had a scoring chance but that was the result of Staal's hard work. He also forced a few turnovers but not much came of them. If he is going to be a future top-six player, he needs to do a lot more. Granted, Muller seemed to keep him on a short leash tonight and his miscues may have been more scrutinized than others.
I also noticed that he seemed to chase the puck a lot and it led to him being out of position sometimes and his puck handling was awkward to say the least. Maybe there' some things that he needs to work on in the AHL?
Keep in mind that these are observations from only one game. We need to look at a lot more before jumping to conclusions and Muller seemed to have little patience with him. I was hoping that Muller would give Boychuk a few games on the first line to see how it works out, but apparently he had seen enough of him tonight and it could be the last time we see Boychuk in Raleigh this year. The question now is does Boychuk have a future with the Hurricanes?
All signs are pointing to "no" right now because his contract is up after this season and it doesn't appear that he fits Muller's system. Does this mean that he will never work out in the NHL? Of course not. There are always players who struggle under one coach's system but flourish under another and Boychuk's underlying numbers are pretty good for a guy playing soft minutes. He is only 22 and will still have his chance to break into the league, I just do not think it will be with Carolina.
Definitely looks to me as if Boychuk is not in the Hurricanes' plans. It made no sense to me for the Hurricanes to draft him if they didn't want an offensively gifted player who was not a natural hitter in open ice and who was not going to win the Selke award. Ultimately, Boychuk will do well for some team that wants to let him play to his strengths. It doesn't seem to be the Hurricanes team where he will develop. Benching a young player is more than neon signs flashing.