|Top-rated Lethbridge Hurricane forward, Zach Boychuck, is in his third season in the WHL.
While many of his other draft-class competitors have already been knocked out of the Western Hockey League playoff race, Boychuk is leading the Lethbridge Hurricanes into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.
Boychuk has six goals and five assists for 11 points in eight postseason games. He had at least one goal in each of the first five games and finished with eight points in their six-game opening-round series win against Brandon.
It was the Hurricanes' first playoff series win since 1997 when a young defenseman named Chris Phillips was their star performer.
"You hear about all the history and that '96-97 team and how great they did," Boychuk said. "We just made it our goal ever since I've been here to really start creating more success. There's been a playoff drought for quite a while so it's nice to get one under our belt. The fans are really behind us right now. You could tell in the first series. The building was electric. It's good and the guys feel great."
The win didn't come without some drama. The Hurricanes jumped to a 3-0 lead in the series before Brandon bounced back with a couple of wins to force a sixth game. Lethbridge stormed out to a 4-0 win at home in Game 6 to claim the series.
"The keys to round one were pretty simple," Boychuk said. "We just had to play our game. We finished ahead of Brandon in the regular season and I think we knew that we could play a better game than they did and that showed up in the first three games especially. They were really close games, but we just found ways to win."
Boychuk is one of the top-rated forwards for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. He was rated 11th among North American prospects in the mid-term rankings from NHL Central Scouting.
While many of the other top prospects from the WHL will suit up for Canada at the World Under-18 Championships starting next week in Kazan, Russia, Boychuk is happy to continue his season in Canada.
The extended playoff run has capped off an exciting – and busy – season for Boychuk. After playing in the Canada-Russia series in November, Boychuk suited up for Canada at the World Juniors and then played in the CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game in Edmonton in January.
"There is so much going on through the year," Boychuk said. "I'm just trying to have as much fun as I can with it and have a good time."
Boychuk said that the fans in Lethbridge have rallied behind the team during their playoff run. The players say that the Enmax Centre has been noisier in this playoff run than they've ever heard it before.
"I think the fans are really excited that we made it past the first round," said Boychuk, an 18-year-old from Airdrie, Alberta. "That was one huge leap that we had to make; but now we've got to get enough steam to go a lot further. That's our goal."
The Hurricanes are facing Kootenay in the second round of the playoffs.
"We think we've got a good chance against Kootenay and we'll see how it goes," Boychuk said. "They took out a great team in the Medicine Hat Tigers. They are a hard-working and skilled team, that are similar to us. We're going to have to try to battle that much harder. They've got a lot of good veteran guys, so we'll just have to play our best and see what happens."
Boychuk had an outstanding third season with the Hurricanes, scoring 33 goals and 39 assists for 72 points in 61 games. He helped Canada win the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in January and caught fire when he returned to Lethbridge. Boychuk scored his first career hat trick and piled up three four-point games during the month of February.
His offensive production has been a big part of the team's success this year.
"That's been our goal all season against them is to try to put up some goals, especially my line with Mitch Fadden and Colton Sceviour," Boychuk said. "We're going to be looking forward to trying to raise our level on the power play, especially, and just getting pucks on their goaltender."
Boychuk has also played with the added pressure of being a top draft prospects for this June. He said that he hasn't had a lot of time to worry about the NHL Entry Draft later this season, but will start to focus on it more once his season has ended in Lethbridge.
"I try to keep it in the back of my mind as much as I can," Boychuk said. "I know that the draft is coming in June and this is a big year for me, but I just have to focus on playing my best every night."