"Juniors are in the past and it's everyone's goal to make the NHL and I got a taste of it last year, but this is kind of my year to come in and really show that I can have an impact."
-- Zach Boychuk
That's because after spending the majority of his last four seasons in junior hockey with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, all systems are go for the lightning-quick forward as a full-time professional in 2009-10.
"Juniors are in the past and it's everyone's goal to make the NHL and I got a taste of it last year, but this is kind of my year to come in and really show that I can have an impact," Boychuk told NHL.com during training camp. "If I can show them what I can do, I think I have a good chance of sticking, but if things don't work out the way I plan, then Albany is a great option, too. There are some great players down there and good coaching, so if I can get better and good enough to get a call-up during the season, then that's definitely my goal."
Boychuk, the 14th pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, signed an entry-level contract in October 2008. He recovered from off-season surgery on his left hand to play in the preseason and make his NHL debut in Los Angeles on Oct. 17. He became the first Hurricanes player since Eric Staal in 2003 to make his NHL debut in his draft year.
Following two games in the NHL, however, he was returned to Lethbridge and posted 28 goals, 57 points and a plus-16 rating in 43 games. He shared the team MVP award won the team's plus/minus award. Boychuk concluded his Western Hockey League career with 130 goals, 242 points and 275 penalty minutes in 265 games.
"To play in the NHL following your first training camp was a huge accomplishment for me," Boychuk said. "I was really happy with the way they treated me and am looking forward to even better things this season."
He was one of the club's top two forwards -- linemate Brandon Sutter being the other -- participating in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in September. He led his team with 4 goals (2 on the power play) and was second to Sutter with 15 shots. Albany coach/general manager Jeff Daniels, who had Boychuk on his American League roster for two games last season, is a big fan.
"Zach goes into those tough areas," Daniels told NHL.com. "It's not like he's a perimeter player. He's got good speed and he's solid on his skates; he'll go in and bang bodies and pay the price to score goals, and I think just by watching him out there, the way he's handled every situation, he's a guy who just wants to play."
Daniels had Boychuk at center and right wing during the prospects tournament and he was effective in both areas.
"Every time he's on the ice, he's a threat to score a goal," Daniels said.
Said Hurricanes Vice President and Assistant General Manager Jason Karmanos: "Zach is one of those guys who can pick people out of their seats."
Boychuk played for Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic and was an assistant captain for Canada at the '09 WJC in Ottawa, helping lead his country to a fourth and fifth straight gold medal.
"The past two WJC I participated in were amazing," Boychuk said. "Obviously getting to play on a top-tier line (with Cody Hodgson and Jordan Eberle) in the '09 tournament and becoming an impact player really got my confidence up. It was just great to be a part of it all and helping the country."
"Looking back on the careers of Eric Staal (No. 2 pick, 2003) and Cam Ward (No. 25, '02), they both took advantage of the work stoppage by playing a year in the AHL before joining the team full-time," Rutherford said. "I believe that was an important year in their development. We want to be a little bit careful and make certain these youngsters get the proper development. Detroit is a good example of how to develop players -- they give them a chance to play in the minors a year or two before playing for the big club."
Carolina coach Paul Maurice likes the fact Boychuk, at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, offers no excuses while exhibiting a passion to compete.
"There are certain guys who, when given a choice, rather be at the rink, playing," Maurice said. "Zach is one of those guys. He always looks like he's having fun."
"I'm a smaller guy," said Boychuk, "but I'm just trying to compete hard and show the coaches and scouts that I can be an impact player in the NHL."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org