Coaches from South Florida to Vancouver Island are doing everything imaginable to find the kind of scoring depth that can make their team harder to play against.
While this likely will go down as a not-so-forgettable season for 24-year-old Pierre-Marc Bouchard
, there's still time for the 5-foot-10, 170-pound winger from Sherbrooke, Quebec, to continue to make a difference for the Minnesota Wild
Since Jan. 1, the diminutive winger with speed and skill has had 16 of his 32 points -- 4 goals and 12 assists in 14 games. Even more impressive, he had points in each of his first four games after the All-Star break, tallying 3 goals and 6 assists.
"All year I have been trying to work hard, trying to skate, try to get some shots on," Bouchard said. "It just seems that lately (the puck) seems to be going in when I am making plays or when I shoot."
Confidence is a wonderful thing.
Wild coach Jacques Lemaire
had a long talk with Bouchard just after Christmas, telling the sixth-year player how important it was for him to be chipping in offensively.
"The meeting was helpful," Bouchard said. "It was a good reminder of what was expected of me.
"Now, when I'm on the ice, the confidence is growing. That's the difference."
There are no small details when Pierre-Marc Bouchard
is concerned. No fingers are pointed at him because he always has been short and skinny, and yet has succeeded.
Who's small? Those would be fighting words for Bouchard if, uh, he weren't built like a jockey.
"I've heard people say, 'He's too small. He'll never make it at the next level' ... all my life," Bouchard said just before the start of the 2008-09 season. "I just think those people were being small in their thinking."
All Bouchard ever did was make those parents and kids pay with his performance on the ice.
"I remember hearing it the loudest when I was going from peewee to bantam when I was 14, because that's where hitting starts to come into the game," he said. "After that, it was the same every time I was ready to go to the next level. I just used it as motivation.
"My biggest challenge had been ever since I was young that everybody said that I'm too small to go in to the NHL. I was going to prove them wrong. I did it and I still want to prove that I can do well in the NHL."
Obviously, the Minnesota Wild
didn't share the same concerns over Bouchard's size -- or lack thereof.
"I remember going up to Chicoutimi to see him play on the recommendation of our scouting staff," Wild GM Doug Risebrough said. "I didn't notice a size problem. All I noticed was a high-end player with a great skill-set, lots of talent, lots of speed.
"In fact, as the game went on the other team began running him. But that didn't deter him one bit."
Bouchard was 5-9 and 155 pounds when he was picked eighth in the 2002 Entry Draft.
It's only been a few years since that bigger-is-better philosophy permeated the NHL. In fact, former Tampa Bay Lightning
GM Jay Feaster once chided his own scouting staff for their reports on Bouchard, saying, "I told them they can't say he's got Gretzky-like qualities and then bottom-line him with a comment like, 'He doesn't meet our team's size and speed criteria.' That's ridiculous."
He started to grow on Minnesota fans during the lockout, when he had 12 goals and 42 assists in 67 games for Houston of the American Hockey League. He followed that with 17 goals and 42 assists for the Wild in 2005-06, then had 20 goals and 37 assists. Last season he had a career-high 63 points, second on the team to Marian Gaborik
. And now, with veterans Brian Rolston
(59 points) and Pavol Demitra
(54 points) gone via free agency, many expected this would be Bouchard's breakout year.
"I've heard people say, 'He's too small. He'll never make it at the next level' ... all my life. I just think those people were being small in their thinking."
-- Pierre-Marc Bouchard
On opening night, Oct. 11, Bouchard assisted on two of three second-period goals in the Wild's 4-3 victory against Boston. Then he struggled with injuries and a lack of production. He's rediscovered his groove since the calendar flipped to 2009.
"I just don't want to be a player in the League anymore," Bouchard said. "I want to be a good player and have a big role with the team."
"He's fun to watch, he's very skilled, crafty, and what I appreciated about him more than anything is his commitment to the team," San Jose Sharks
coach Todd McLellan
said of Bouchard, whom he coached in Houston.
"If you don't notice the bundle of energy and intensity he brings with him on the ice, you should drop by and see him around the ping-pong table we have at home or on the tennis court or golf course," teammate Stephane Veilleux
said. "He's one of the most focused competitors I've ever met."
Creating offense always has been Bouchard's calling card. He led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 94 assists and 140 points in just 69 games in his last season with Chicoutimi and was selected the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year for the 2001-02 season. His vision, will and determination, plus an extended workout routine this offseason, will take him to that consistently productive level with the Wild this season.
"All I need is consistency," Bouchard smiled. "My dad reminds me of that all the time ... and he's right. I wouldn't be here without the encouragement I've always gotten from my parents."
Denis Bouchard is in sales with a plastics company in Sherbrooke, and his mother, Johanne, was a medical secretary before she needed to spend more time at home taking care of her family.
"I'll never forget my mom and dad telling me not to listen to people who said I couldn't do this or couldn't do that because I was not 6-3, 210 pounds like some of the players I'd have to face," Bouchard said. "But there's no better source of energy and determination than hearing your parents encourage you to do things that most other people don't think you can do."
It may have taken Pierre-Marc Bouchard
longer than expected to get started consistently contributing offense to the Wild. But he's been right in the middle of Minnesota's offense since the beginning of the season.