For all the focus on the New York Islanders young and blossoming blue line, it's easy to overlook to contributions of its senior statesman.
Johnny Boychuk is quietly having a productive start to the season for the Islanders, second among the team's defensemen with seven points (1G, 6A) in 13 games. That's two points shy of Devon Toews for the point lead among defensemen, and Boychuk's six assists are one back of the overall team lead.
"Just being healthy is number one," Boychuk said of his solid start to the season. "It's pretty tough to start a year if you're coming off of surgery or a big injury like I have in the last couple of years. It's nice to have a fresh start and feel good and contributing as well."
On the one hand, Boychuk's overall contributions have seemingly flown under the radar, like his 200th career point vs Ottawa on Oct. 25, but not to his teammates, who appreciate his big play and big personality. Boychuk may be the oldest player on the team, but is young at heart and he brings levity and energy to the Islanders room.
"Anyone that knows Johnny knows that 35 is definitely not his age," captain Anders Lee said. "He's a kid at heart, but a man within the room and we all have a tremendous amount of respect for him."
Video: NYI@CAR: Boychuk blisters a slap shot past Mrazek
Boychuk is almost always talking in the locker room after practice, yelling across the collection of laundry and hockey bags to other players, PR staff, media members, whoever really, and the topics are almost always a mixed bag of movies, music, chirps, etc. The defenseman even found a way to bring up the bands Good Charlotte and Goldfinger - of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater fame - as media entered the room a couple weeks ago.
It's also common for him to chime in during his teammate's media interviews, testing their resolve and focus in front of the camera. Scott Mayfield can attest that there are some hazards when sitting two stalls down from Boychuk.
"He keeps a light mood, always happy, always talkative, making jokes, and he's a bit of a prankster," Mayfield said.
There are more reasons Boychuk's teammates love what he brings to the room. He started the Isles player of the game token with the old leather jacket, he spearheaded the team's initiative to buy tickets for soldiers on Military Appreciation Night and on Tuesday night, he's the one who skated down to the retrieve the puck after Cole Bardreau's first NHL goal.
That's what makes him a popular guy, but his play on the ice is what earns him respect.
Playing below a 100 percent intensity is a foreign concept to Boychuk, who is all in with his work ethic every game. His style of play isn't always pretty, but Boychuk finds a way to get the job done on the ice for the Islanders.
"Sometimes it doesn't look pretty, but at the end of the day how many people could you imagine battle as hard?" Head Coach Barry Trotz said of Boychuk. "How many people are committed at blocking shots? How many people give you every ounce of what they have to get something done? It doesn't always look pretty, but it gets something done."
Go back to the Isles dramatic 3-2 comeback win over St. Louis. It was Boychuk's keep-in and at the blue line that led to Mathew Barzal's last-minute, game-tying goal. In that same game, Boychuk was caught in the defensive zone without a stick for a minute and a half, was dropped by a Justin Faulk shot off the ankle and yet kept pushing bodies in front of the net, before eventually kicking the puck down the ice to get a change.
"That's where analytics doesn't give him as much credit," Trotz said after the game. "You can't really put a number to it. That's something that he brings. That's why he's been in the league for so long. That's why he's got such great character."
(Boychuk insisted that while he was a little winded after the long shift vs St. Louis, he wasn't tired. "Good job this summer," he joked.)
There's no questioning the compete level, which is a good reason Boychuk has taken on a mentoring role for Noah Dobson.
Boychuk sits next to Dobson in the Islanders locker room, pairing the oldest Islander with the second-youngest, and the two have played the past two games together with Nick Leddy out with a lower-body injury. Dobson's emergence inherently puts what Trotz calls "backpressure" on the veterans and Boychuk came out of the lineup for the rookie on Oct. 8.
While some veterans would get territorial with a highly-touted up-and-comer, Boychuk is helping lift Dobson up. Boychuk even drives Dobson, who doesn't have a car, to the rink on a daily basis.
"It's just being a teammate. That's your job," Boychuk said. "The number one thing is to come to practice and work hard and learn. For me, it's to teach as well, some things I can pass down to other players that are just coming in like Noah. I hope that one day I'm watching and see him on the ice make a play, or something that I showed him. That would give me satisfaction."
A pause from Boychuk.
"Later on," he said with a sly smile. "Very far away from now."
And why not. Even two months shy of turning 36, Boychuk is still showing his worth on the Isles blue line.