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Boychuk Caught in Numbers Game

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes’ assignment of Zach Boychuk to Charlotte on Wednesday had as much to do with who stayed rather than who left.

Although General Manager Jim Rutherford said he would like to see more consistency from Boychuk, his first-round pick in 2008, the belief is that others simply played better over the last few weeks.

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“He certainly shows signs of what we expect and signs that he’ll be an NHL player, but it’s a consistency thing now,” said Rutherford. “It has to be shift after shift after shift, game in and game out. That’s what we’re going to want to see when he’s in Charlotte.”

Entering this year’s camp, Boychuk, 20, seemed to be one of the favorites to earn a regular roster spot due to his 31 games of NHL experience earned last season. However, the strong play of Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe and Jeff Skinner, the signing of Patrick O’Sullivan, and the one-way contract of Jiri Tlusty made things very crowded at the open forward positions.

“I thought he prepared very well for camp and his camp was OK, but when you look at our team it just got to the point where it was numbers,” said Rutherford. “Guys ended up being ahead of him.”

Although he won’t be making the trip to Europe, look for Boychuk to get his share of games with the Hurricanes this season.

With the injured Sergei Samsonov now seeming unlikely to travel to St. Petersburg and Helsinki, it seems that no more roster moves will be necessary between now and the team’s departure on Friday. That means that, unless the Russian winger is deemed fit enough to travel, the aforementioned group of young players will be on the plane and likely in the lineup vs. Minnesota on Oct. 7.

Leading that group to this point has been the 21-year-old Bowman, who earned nine games with the Hurricanes last season but has since taken what Rutherford called “a giant step forward.”

“He looks like an NHL player and not a first-year player,” said the GM. “He really knows the game, he’s a very smart player and his conditioning is so much better. He has a good shot and could have had three or four goals in the preseason if not for some phenomenal saves by the goalie. I’m really excited about Drayson and really happy with how he prepared himself for camp.”

Bowman has been included in the top six forwards at recent practices, skating with Brandon Sutter and Tuomo Ruutu – a grouping that could stick if Bowman continues to play well during the last two preseason games.

Another rookie still in Raleigh is the 20-year-old Dalpe, who could open the season as the team’s fourth-line center. He can also play on the wing, which would allow the Hurricanes to switch him with his potential linemate, the equally versatile Patrick Dwyer, as needed.

As was the case with Sutter during his rookie year in 2008-09, ice time could be a concern for a developing player in a relatively limited fourth-line spot. That being said, a key difference is that the Canes could send Dalpe, who is older now then Sutter was at that point, to the American Hockey League if that ever became a concern. 

Based on his preseason performance, he could just as easily end up getting his share of minutes at the NHL level.

“We’ll have to watch that, but he’s also a guy that could jump up into the top nine and get more ice time,” said Rutherford. “He’s killed some penalties in training camp and has done it pretty well because he’s quick and has good positioning.”

With the Canes seemingly comfortable with Skinner on the third line with Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose, that could potentially leave Tlusty as the odd man out on opening night. The winger, who is recovering from knee surgery and was only recently cleared for full contact, has not yet caught up to his teammates but will have the last two preseason games to do so.

“We’ll see how he handles that,” said Rutherford. “He’s clearly behind everyone else conditioning-wise and as far as the pace of the game, so he’s going to have to really work hard to be ready for the opening game.”

Due to his age and professional experience, the Canes would have to put Tlusty on waivers in order to assign him to Charlotte.

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