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Boychuk making teams take notice

by Adam Kimelman

Despite his size (5'10", 175lbs), center Zach Boychuk made use of his speed and quickness to pot 72 points in 61 games with Lethbridge Hurricanes in 2008.
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All the talk regarding the 2008 Entry Draft seems to surround Steven Stamkos and a rich stock of defenseman.

That leaves a talented crop of quality players feeling a little unappreciated.

"They're obviously great players and they deserve to be rated that high," said Zach Boychuk. "I just hope that I can eventually get drafted and create an opportunity for myself to fight for a spot on an NHL team."

It's not a question of if Boychuk gets drafted, it's how early in the first round the Lethbridge Hurricanes center gets taken.

Ranked No. 8 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting -- the No. 3 forward -- Boychuk has all the attributes to excel in today's NHL.

Despite measuring in at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Boychuk has the speed and elusiveness that can leave bigger defensemen flat-footed.

"I think the one thing that really sticks out is his speed," said Tyler Myers, the Kelowna Rockets defenseman who played against Boychuk in the Western Hockey League and is one of the elite draft-eligible defenseman. "He has unbelievable speed. He's one of the fastest guys I've ever played against, and one of the fastest guys in the league."

Boychuk likes to use that speed to attack. He had 33 goals and 72 points in 61 regular-season games, and then led the WHL playoffs with 11 goals, and was second in scoring with 21 points.

"(Boychuk) might be the best two-step quickness guy in all of junior hockey," said NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire. "In two steps he is at top speed and he can hit the brakes and delay the play with the best of them, as well. Zach is an all-around offensive player who sees the ice well and just a treat to watch.

"The question is whether or not his average size is enough to get him through the rough periods and the checking. There are other players in the NHL who have beaten that rap; Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner are two great examples this year. There is no reason why he shouldn't be a top offensive guy in the NHL."

Boychuk says he patterns his game after another smallish NHL player -- Philadelphia's Danny Briere.

"I think we're similar in size (Briere is 5-10, 179)," said Boychuk. "We're both pretty small out there. I feel we both have similar speed and skill set. He's a guy that likes to score the big goals at key times, and that's similar to me, as well.

"He works hard; he's pretty thick for being a small guy. I hope that I can put on some weight this summer and have a similar build as him. I know how hard he competes and I feel that's similar in my game. I certainly love to stand backdoor and wait for those little chip passes. Also, you see how much speed and skill he has; he gets so many breakaways with that. I try to play like him, for sure."

He's also trying to play a more sound defensive game. He was a plus-19 two seasons ago and a plus-26 this past season.

"The past few years I've tried to work on my defensive game," he said. "I know it takes strong defense to win championships. If you can't play defense you probably won't be able to make it to the next level. I definitely have been working on that the past few years and I think it's shown in my game. I've been a lot more aware, and with my team I've gotten a lot more time on the penalty kill, and my plus-minus has been going up and up."

He sets his expectations high, also. Boychuk says there's no reason he should be overlooked for an NHL roster spot as soon as next season.

"I'm a guy that likes to set my goals high," he said. "Anything can happen. It just inspires you to see guys like Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner and all those guys, kind of smaller skill guys similar to myself, who had great rookie seasons in the NHL, and it makes me push that much harder. Once that day comes when I get drafted by a team, I'm going to put all my heart and soul into it and try to give myself an opportunity for a spot."

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