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Gameday: Boychuk Gets First Look Under Muller

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
It was 3:30 p.m. on the day of the trade deadline. Zach Boychuk’s phone rang.

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Though the deadline was 30 minutes prior, it’s not uncommon for paperwork to be completed afterward.

“When I got the call, I was wondering if there was still a trade pending or I was getting called up,” he said with a smile.

Safe to say, he was relieved it was the latter.

With forward Patrick Dwyer expected out for about a week, Boychuk was recalled on Monday afternoon for the first time since November. Boychuk had a 13-game stint with the big club from Oct. 25 through Nov. 20. But, things weren’t going well for the team, and changes were made.

“I always look forward to this time,” he said. “I’ve been waiting patiently, and now tonight is my chance to show the new coach what I can do.”

Boychuk said “new” because he hasn’t been recalled since head coach Kirk Muller took over coaching duties at the end of November. A number of forwards have made the trip to and from Charlotte since then.

“If you ask anybody, they’d say it’s ok. But it’s tough and frustrating,” he said of not getting recalled. “It makes you a better player in the end. It makes you battle and appreciate the little things. Now that I’m finally up here, I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunity.”

With this being Boychuk’s first time in the lineup under Muller, assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour gave the 22-year-old forward a crash-course in the system differences during the morning skate: there’s more speed in the neutral zone, and the neutral-zone forecheck is more aggressive, Boychuk said.

Muller also had a conversation with Boychuk prior to the skate.

“He said, ‘Don’t be worried to make a mistake, but you also have to be aware of what time of year it is and where we are in the standings. Every point means a lot. If you’ve got a 50/50 chance at a puck, try to make the defensive play,’” Boychuk said.

Boychuk will be on the left wing with Jeff Skinner centering and Jussi Jokinen opposite. He also might be utilized on the second power play unit. Having never played with Skinner during his time with the Canes, Boychuk said he is looking forward to the opportunity.

The second-ling wing slot certainly speaks to the abilities the Canes’ scouts and front office saw when they drafted him 14th overall in 2008. Though he’s recorded just two assists and averaged just over eight minutes of ice time during his 13 games with the Canes this season, Boychuk is a top-minutes guy in Charlotte. His 32 points (14g, 18a) rank third on the Checkers in scoring.

But Muller said he isn’t looking for Boychuk to have a two-goal night; he wants to see “the energy, the enthusiasm and the hard work,” especially considering the opponent. Nashville likes a grinding game and doesn’t give up a lot of offensive chances.

“He’s got the speed and skill. Hopefully that will open it up for Juice (Jokinen) and Skins (Skinner),” Muller said. “With injuries, it opens up opportunities. I said to him, ‘When I came here, I haven’t had an opportunity to bring you up yet. But, you’ve been here before. You’ve got to play hard without the puck as much as with it.’

“It’s a big step because it’s that time of the year, and we’re playing one of the better teams in the League,” Muller said. “They’re not going to give you much.”

Nashville didn’t give the Canes much – just two goals, to be exact – on Jan. 7 in the teams’ last meeting. Muller pointed to that 5-2 road loss as a wake-up call. Since then, the Canes are 9-4-6.

“I think we’ve kind of used that game as a good lesson of what it takes to compete,” Muller said. “We’ve cost ourselves some points here and there, but not from a lack of effort.”

So, as it turned out, yesterday’s call from Checkers head coach Jeff Daniels wasn’t so bad after all. It was the one Boychuk had been waiting for.

“I was always holding out hope,” he said. “You’ve got to stay positive, keep battling and show them something every game. There are always eyes on you.”

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