has been consistently productive with the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers all season, but it’s his biggest efforts that have been directly rewarded.
The 21-year-old wing was recalled for the second time this season on Monday morning to replace the injured Patrick Dwyer in the lineup for the Hurricanes’ home game against Toronto. He’s coming off a 4-point performance the day before, which coincidentally was also his most-recent total when the Hurricanes brought him up for his first NHL stint of the season on Dec. 17.
“I guess that’s what I have to do to get called up,” joked Boychuk. “Three points isn’t enough.”
In Sunday’s outing in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Boychuk recorded his first professional hat trick in the wild 9-5 victory, which Boychuk admitted was not a goaltending clinic.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Every shot thrown at the net was going in. I think I had three shots.”
That game continued a strong run for Boychuk, who has recorded at least one goal in each of three AHL games since he re-joined the Checkers on Jan. 19. While Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice still feels there’s some room for improvement in Boychuk’s all-around game, with 11 points in his last four AHL games, his offensive ability is certainly up to par.
“You just have to go down and prove that you’re a star player down there,” said Boychuk. “It’s nice to play in all situations and get that confidence up.”
After the most successful NHL stint of his career over the last month that featured 3 goals and 2 assists in 16 games, Boychuk said that he retained some of that confidence when he went back to the AHL. He also pointed out that the same has been true of Zac Dalpe, who has followed a productive recall of his own with 11 points (2g, 9a) in five games, including back-to-back 4-point outings, since being reassigned on Jan. 14.
Now on a high following his hat trick, Boychuk will attempt to keep that going as he is expected to start on the Hurricanes’ top line with Eric Staal and Erik Cole.
“It felt really good to know that I can finally be a consistent player up here,” he said. “The key to my game was being more physical and I was hitting a lot, and it’s going to be the same thing this time.”
“He had a big night last night, and I liked the way he played here,” said Maurice. “We’ve got some good young players we think can play in our top nine. There are times for them to come in and play on the fourth line, but I just don’t think that for the whole game it makes any sense for us to do that. We’ve got to get our young kids out playing, and we’ve had some success with it.”
It’s unclear as to how long this stint will last, as Dwyer, who suffered a lower-body injury in Pittsburgh Saturday, could return to the lineup as early as the Hurricanes’ Wednesday contest against the New York Islanders. Even if Boychuk plays Wednesday and plays well enough to stay in the lineup, chances are he would still be sent to Charlotte during the NHL’s All-Star break, which does not directly coincide with the AHL’s All-Star Classic.
If that were to occur, Boychuk at least understands that he needs to stay patient.
“You’re a young player, and sometimes that’s the way it goes,” he said.
Toronto is coming off a 4-1 home loss to the Washington Capitals Saturday that saw Alex Ovechkin record a hat trick and rookie goaltender Braden Hotlby make 35 saves to stymie the Leafs.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere will start in goal for Toronto, who is carrying three goalies on its roster, opposite Cam Ward.