, the Hurricanes' first choice in their most recent draft (14th overall), made a suprise appearance at this morning's Group A practice after being medically cleared only 90 minutes earlier.
Boychuk fractured his wrist during last season's WHL playoffs with Lethbridge and wasn't expected to participate in full practices at all this training camp. Although he won't be cleared for contact until a few weeks from now, he was able to stickhandle and shoot at full strength, and looked awfully good in the process.
“I wasn’t expected to be even stickhandling until the beginning of October for sure, so this is definitely a couple of weeks in advance, which is nice," said Boychuk.
Despite not being able to work on his shot at all since his July 15 surgery, Boychuk was picking corners during the entire practice, showing the great hands and accuracy that helped make him a first-round pick. If that's what his shot looks like when it's rusty...
“It’s been really strong," he said. "I’m wearing a brace underneath it that gives me a bit of support. Out there I felt really good, good stickhandling and a pretty decent shot for not shooting for two months.”
Boychuk met with the doctor around 10:30 this morning and said his doctor couldn't believe how fast his bone had healed. He receieved clearance to practice right then and had to rush to be on the ice for the 12 p.m. skate.
”I was pretty excited, I was pretty much running downstairs trying to make it down here as quick as I could," he said.
There's no question Boychuk has the skills to compete with the rest of the players in camp, but as an undersized forward (although exceptionally strong for his 5'10" frame), the team's coaches would likely need to see how he responds to NHL-level contact before getting a good idea of how ready he is to take the next step towards the NHL.
He has a chance to be cleared for contact before the team's last preseason game against Nashville on October 5, but junior players aren't typically kept around for that long. However, if Boychuk continues to look as good as he did in this morning's skate, the coaches may hang on to him just to see what he can do in game action.
He's not counting on that though, with competition from Brandon Sutter, Jeff O'Neill and Drayson Bowman, among others, for the Hurricanes' open spots at forward.
"If I do end up sticking around long enough to make an impression and get into a game and show them what I can do, there could be a chance that I could be sticking around for a while, maybe even the rest of the season," he said. "But chances are I’ll probably go back to Lethbridge and play for the World Juniors this year, which is another great option I’m looking forward to as well.”