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Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Blackhawks

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes

Zach Boychuk made the three-hour drive from Charlotte to Raleigh on Tuesday, just hours before the Carolina Hurricanes faced off with the Ottawa Senators.

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In that game, Boychuk logged just 6:39 of ice time on the fourth line, but he made the most of it. The coaching staff took note.

And now, even with Anthony Stewart re-entering the lineup after suffering a lower-body injury, Boychuk has earned another game. It’s a roster decision that will postpone his drive back to Charlotte at least another day, a trip he said he’d be happy never to have to make again.

“When you get that opportunity to get called up, you’ve got make the most of it. I’m trying to do that now,” he said. “Every time I’ve been called up, I’ve wanted to stay, and that hasn’t happened for me yet. It’s definitely my number one goal.”

A first-round pick for the Hurricanes, Boychuk has bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL in his last two seasons. After being drafted, Boychuk began the season on the Canes’ roster and was returned to Lethbridge of the WHL after appearing in two games.

The next season, he split his time between Albany and Carolina, as he saw 31 games in Raleigh and 52 in the AHL. Last season, he appeared in just 23 games for the Hurricanes and spent the majority of the season in Charlotte, where he racked up 65 points (22g, 43a) in 60 games.

Just as he had last year, Boychuk came into another competitive training camp this season. With just a couple of forward slots up for grabs, the 22-year-old forward found himself caught up in a numbers game once again.

“They basically told me that I didn’t show enough to create a decision for them,” he said. “I didn’t have the best camp, and it kind of showed on the ice. The practices were good. The games, for whatever reason, didn’t come together the way I would’ve liked.

“So they told me to go down there and work on getting back to the dynamic player I was last year. Getting to play with Eric Staal on the first line last year, that’s the kind of player that Mo sees me as at times, so he wants me to get back to that.

“Obviously at the beginning of the year, it sucks getting sent down, but you can’t pout,” he said. “You have to go down there and play the best you can.”

So that’s what Boychuk did. In seven games with the Checkers, Boychuk recorded 6 points (4g, 2a). When Stewart went down with a lower-body injury earlier this week, Boychuk got the call.

And even though he’s playing on the fourth line, he wants to make as much as an impression as he can. Now in the third and final year of his entry-level contract, Boychuk will be looking for a new deal at the conclusion of the season.

“The pressure is always the same for me. I put so much pressure on myself to be a contributor and help this team,” he said. “Anything I can do whether I’m down in Charlotte or here is going to help me when my contract ends. So I’m really excited for this year. I know it’s not the end for me yet.”

While that certainly lingers in the future, Boychuk is focused on the present and tonight’s opponent, the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. Playing on the fourth line with Stewart and Tim Brent, Boychuk’s plan is simple.

“We’re going to try to get it in and cycle. kill some time on the clock and kill some time in their zone, get some pucks to the net and see if we can bang one in,” he said. “It’s going to be a big game tonight.”

It is certainly a big game for the Airdrie, Alberta native. Like all other recalls, this is his opportunity to show why he deserves to remain in the Canes’ locker room for the duration of the season.

That hasn’t happened yet in his career, but he’s not letting that slow him down. Now’s as good of a time as any.

“You gotta look at it positively. I’m still a young guy,” he said. “There’s still a lot of time left in my career, and there’s no point in giving up yet. So, I’m looking forward to the remainder of this year, and hopefully I can stay here for the rest of the season.”

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