It’s the kids who have attracted most of the attention when it comes to the Panthers forwards this season. It’s understandable because, as the song says, the kids are all right.
But let’s not overlook or underestimate the contributions of veteran Brad Boyes, who has become one of the many steals — Tim Thomas and Tom Gilbert also come to mind — for the Panthers this season.
Remember, this was a proven commodity without a contract as late as mid-September in camp with the Panthers on a professional tryout. Boyes not only performed well enough in camp to earn a contract, he’s gone on to become one of the team’s top offensive performers all season.
Boyes leads the Panthers with 12 goals and he’s part of what has become one of the top lines in the NHL with rookie sensation Aleksander Barkov and veteran Sean Bergenheim.
And then, of course, there’s Boyes’ fantastic production in the shootout, where he’s 6-for-9 this season. Boyes’ six shootout goals are tied with Winnipeg’s Andrew Ladd and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom for second-most in the league behind the seven scored by Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks, who will visit the BB&T Center Thursday night.
No one should be surprised by Boyes’ success in the shootout. After all, he is the NHL’s all-time leader with 37 shootout goals and his career percentage of 46.8 is the second-best among all those with at least 23 shootout goals, topped only by the 53.8 mark of Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders.
Truth is, what Boyes has done offensively all season isn’t really surprising. That’s his game. He’s not the fastest skater in the league, isn’t known as the greatest two-way player, but he’s got great offensive instincts, finds himself in the right place more often than not, can pass and can put the puck in the net.
|SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 4: Brad Boyes #24 of the Florida Panthers celebrates his goal with teammates against the Nashville Predators at the BB&T Center on January 4, 2014 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images) |
Let’s face it, there’s a reason Boyes is playing on the top line, just like there was a reason he was skating with superstar John Tavares when he was a member of the Islanders last season.
“He’s a really smart player,” Tavares said after the Islanders’ morning skate Tuesday. “He always seems to be around the puck, around the net and has got a nose for being in the right place and making some really good plays. He found me a lot last year, so I’m happy to see he’s doing well down here and having some success.”
Tavares added that he was surprised that no team saw fit to sign Boyes until just before the start of the 2013-14 regular season, although the salary cap no doubt played a role in that.
“I thought for sure, whether he was back with us or with any other team, that he would get another opportunity for what he proved last year,” Tavares said. “I’m just happy to see him get that chance and show he’s still a very effective player and can still produce.”
Boyes wasted little chance to produce against his former team Tuesday night, and Tavares just happened to be on the ice to see it first-hand.
After grabbing a loose puck in the neutral zone, Boyes came in on a 2-on-1 with Barkov, and what they produced was pure magic. If you haven’t seen the highlight yet, make it a point to check it out.
It was Boyes on the left side passing to Barkov on the right. Back to Boyes. Back to Barkov, who one-timed it into a wide open net for a Panthers lead just 32 seconds into the game.
Veteran Scottie Upshall was asked the last time he had seen that kind of passing play on a 2-on-1.
“Not since Lemieux and Gretzky were in the league,” Upshall replied. “But these guys, it’s vision, it’s just finishing the play. Those two guys, you look at the chemistry they’ve been building here lately, that line, they’ve got some good things going.”
For his part, Nick Bjugstad called the goal “pretty cool.” He then added this about Barkov and Boyes: “They can move the puck, I can tell you that.”
Indeed, the 18-year-old Barkov and the 31-year-old Boyes look like they’ve been playing together for years. It’s been a great pairing, to be sure.
By now, it’s clear the Panthers made a good choice by selecting Barkov second overall in the 2013 NHL draft. It’s also evident signing Boyes in September was another great move.