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Boychuk Gets First-Line Opportunity

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
At this late stage in a difficult season, it’s not surprising that young players will take center stage tonight. Still, it wasn’t exactly the Hurricanes’ intention.

Paul Branecky
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Injuries to a handful of veterans will put Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk and Jamie McBain in key roles for tonight’s game against the high-flying Washington Capitals. It’s a list that reads like a who’s who of the organization’s top prospects at their respective positions, but one that has just 30 games of combined NHL experience thus far.

”I didn’t think that we would have as many young kids,” said coach Paul Maurice. “Based on what is a painful situation, this is the silver lining. We’ve had players that have come in that I think have gone from pencil to pen for our lineup next year, and that’s what you hope for.”

Boychuk, who is the veteran of the group with 24 games played in the senior circuit, will tonight receive his best opportunity yet to make an impact. While he’s been relied upon in an energy role on the team’s third and fourth lines up until this point, averaging 10:42 minutes played per contest, he’ll be on the top line with Eric Staal and Chad LaRose tonight (full lines here).

”It’s pretty amazing, and it’s kind of what I’ve been working for ever since I’ve been up here,” said Boychuk. “Everybody wants to be a top-line guy, but you’ve got to work for it. Hopefully I can take advantage of it tonight.”

Boychuk, 20, said that his role at the NHL level up until now has been somewhat of an adjustment for a player who has been a scorer for his entire career. Still, it has been part of the overall learning experience.

”The guys here are 6-foot-4, 230 pounds on the fourth line, so it’s a big adjustment and I’ve had to play a lot more physical than I usually do,” said the 5-foot-10, 185 pound winger. “That’s kind of made me a better player.”

The key tonight will be to play a similar style, even though he’s been put in a different position. He should get more ice time and more scoring opportunities than he had in previous games, but it won’t get any easier when he lines up against the opposition’s best defenders.

“I think I have to play the same way,” said Boychuk. “Paul Maurice has told me that I don’t have to change my game even though I’m playing with Eric Staal, and don’t be looking to pass to him just because he’s a veteran guy and one of the best players on the team.”

”We want to see that energy and that jump for a longer period of time,” said Maurice.

Bowman will be playing his second NHL game, having made his debut on Jan. 16. In his first professional season, the 21-year-old ranks third among Albany skaters with 17 goals. However, as is typical of most players in their first full pro season, consistency has admittedly been an issue.

”It’s been up and down,” said Bowman, who will start with Patrick Dwyer and Jussi Jokinen tonight. “I’ve played well at times and not so good at other times and my confidence has been up and down. I feel like I was playing pretty well when I came up here, and hopefully I can continue that.”

As was the case in his debut, the Hurricanes are asking that Bowman keep it simple and rely on his shot, which allowed him to score 89 goals over his last two seasons of junior hockey.

”They definitely reiterated that,” said Bowman of his recent conversations with the coaching staff. “Get the puck, take your shot and fire it at the net. I definitely see that as one of my strengths, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to fire it tonight.”

As for McBain, his contributions to this point have been well-noted. Tuesday’s game at Tampa Bay, just his fifth in the NHL, was just the first game in which he has failed to record a point. Thanks to a two-point effort against Pittsburgh week, the defenseman still averages a point-per-game while logging around 24 minutes of ice time per contest.

”We’ve brought these kids in and had them play, and we’ve seen some really good things from them,” said Maurice.

For the second time in two weeks, the Canes will play host to an opponent who played the night before. The Capitals won 4-3 in a shootout over Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, while the Canes enjoyed the luxury of being able to watch from home.

Although that should work in the Canes’ favor tonight, it wasn’t a huge factor against Boston last week. In that similar scenario, Carolina conceded a goal at the 23 second mark of the first period and ultimately lost 5-2.

“We didn’t get to build in that game at all,” said Maurice. “We’ve certainly come home on back-to-back games to play rested teams enough that we have to take advantage of that.”

While it’s Semyon Varlamov’s turn in the rotation, the Capitals could use Jose Theodore for a second consecutive night following a strong performance against the Penguins. Varlamov’s most recent start came in the teams’ last meeting exactly one week ago, during which he allowed four goals on 29 shots, including the overtime winner by Ray Whitney. Theodore has won seven in a row.

The Hurricanes are expected to counter with Manny Legace, who made 24 saves in the overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

Speaking of overtime, Carolina and Washington have needed the extra period to settle three of their five meetings this season. When considering that each team has gone to overtime five times in their last eight games overall, fans could again get their money’s worth tonight.

Washington center Brooks Laich, who has four points in five games against the Hurricanes this season and is one of seven 20-goal scorers for the Caps, is out with a facial injury.  

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