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Boychuk Wants a Spot

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Zach Boychuk’s odds of making the team out of training camp took a hit after the Hurricanes’ busy summer. His confidence did not.

Paul Branecky
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Despite the team’s collection of veteran forwards, Boychuk is determined to stick around in Raleigh this year. If his goal-per-game showing at last week’s NHL Prospects Tournament is any indication of what’s to come during the preseason, he might just do it.

”I don’t know if there are any spots open right now, so I’m going to have to make my own spot,” he said. “I’m going to have to take out a veteran guy or something along those lines. I’m going to come in here and play as hard as I can to get a spot on this team.”

Now that his junior career is over, Boychuk, who is now sporting the number 11 sweater previously worn by Justin Williams, will be playing his first full professional season either in Carolina or Albany of the AHL. In leaner times he would already be penciled into the Carolina lineup, but the team’s unprecedented amount of depth allows the team the luxury of not having to rush its first-round pick from 2008. In fact, the cases of Eric Staal and Cam Ward during the 2004-05 lockout year show that a year of development in the minor leagues can do a world of good in the long run.

However, General Manager Jim Rutherford never closes the door completely on anyone. As in years past, he’s said that he’ll make room for anyone who has an exceptional camp and demonstrates that they belong, which is exactly what Boychuk is aiming to do.

“I had a good experience last year coming to training camp and getting to do the stuff that I did, but this year is a different year,” said Boychuk, who earned his first two NHL games last season based on his practice performances alone. “This year it’s a huge goal of mine to be an impact player on this team and try to crack a roster spot.”

In addition to those two NHL games last October, Boychuk also suited up for Albany at the conclusion of his junior season, picking up one assist in two games. Rather than finding the adjustment from the junior to pro ranks difficult, he said he actually found that it helped to play with more experienced players. Going head-to-head with bigger opponents didn’t bother him either, as Boychuk possesses enough strength to compensate for his modest 5-foot-10, 180 pound frame.

“I think everybody looks at me and thinks I’m a smaller guy and doubts that I can make it, but I’ve basically tried to prove that I can be successful at any level,” he said. “My confidence is high.”

He’ll need that confidence to earn a spot, as he won’t just be competing with the Hurricanes’ established veterans. Drayson Bowman and Brandon Sutter, who are in a similar position and are one year older, also have their eyes on a stall in the team’s locker room.

“It’s a deep team and there are a lot of great prospects here that have a great chance to make this team,” said Boychuk. “It’s definitely going to be a battle and I’m looking forward to it.”

Even if he doesn’t make the team out of camp, one has to figure that he would be among the first players considered as a call-up if injuries were to necessitate such a move during the season. His versatility could help him there, as he can play all three forward positions, although he’s most comfortable on the wing. While it’s hard to envision the Hurricanes bringing him up to play limited minutes in a checking role, he can do that too, having previously played on the fourth line for Canada in international play.

All of that will depend on a variety of circumstances. Whether he plays for the Hurricanes sooner, on October 2, for instance, depends on him.

One quick note for those of you hoping to catch a glimpse of Boychuk and the rest of the Canes at Monday’s practices: the two groups have swapped times for tomorrow, meaning that Group A (veterans) will skate at 10, followed by Group B at 12:30.

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