Flashback to the 2007-08 season, when Boychuk made his NHL debut with the Colorado Avalanche: After playing six seasons with five different teams between the WHL and AHL, he took the ice against the New York Islanders on Jan. 5, 2008 as a forward.
Okay, maybe the hard hits were still there, but Boychuk wasn’t patrolling the blueline.
“You know, the first six years I think I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be, either a forward or a D man,” Boychuk said. “Even though I wanted to play defense, I had to play fourth line forward in the minors to grind it out, and then finally make it here.”
So when the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated Boychuk as a candidate for this season's Masterton Trophy, it was a great honor.
“To get nominated for this is pretty special,” Boychuk said.
According to Boychuk, his early professional coaches had a specific plan for him. They wanted a fighter, a grinder and a checker, but Johnny still had the urge to play defense.
“You don’t really have any bargaining power when you’re grinding it out fourth line in the minors,” he said. “So you have to take it and go back do the same thing every year.”
But when Boychuk was traded to the Boston Bruins in 2008, he left his forward's skill set in Colorado and the results were formidable.
In his first season with the P-Bruins, the six-foot, two-inch 225-pound defenseman made his mark with 20 goals and 46 assists (66) to secure the American Hockey League's Eddie Shore award – given each season to the top defenseman as voted by coaches, players and media members.
“It’s fulfilling,” Boychuk said. “You win basically the Norris trophy for the AHL – there aren’t too many guys that can say they did that, especially in the NHL.
"A lot of guys that win that, they probably are a little bit older, played in the AHL for a while but never played in the NHL, but now I’m here.”
Head Coach Claude Julien said that even he thought Boychuk might be one of those guys.
“At one point, it looked like he was going to be that minor leaguer that was All-Star there, and then spend most of his career in that league,” said the B's bench boss..
But after a one game call up during the 2008-09 campaign, Boychuk got his opportunity with the NHL Bruins during the 2009-10 season and played 51 games with five goals and 10 assists.
However, what really caught Julien’s attention was his contribution in the 13 playoff games, where he added two goals and four assists.
“He got an opportunity with us and he took full advantage of it," said Julien. "And remember, he was a healthy scratch for a long time before he even got a chance to become a regular on our hockey club.
“But when he did, because he worked so hard as an extra, he kept himself in real good shape and kept himself as sharp as he could. When that opportunity came, he took full advantage of it.
"In that first playoff with us, he showed a side of himself that I guess really caught our eye and made us like him even more.”
Julien agreed in the utmost recommendation with Boychuk's nomination for the Masterton Trophy, which is given to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
“We knew he had the big shot in the American Hockey League and that he was a big body,” Julien said of the man known as Johnny Rocket. “But his competitive side and the fact that he was capable of playing against top lines as he progressed with us is something we really liked.
"He’s come a long ways. If you ask anybody in our dressing room, they couldn’t be happier for this guy who’s always been a great team player.”--- Anthony Gulizia