Max Talbot’s offseason shoulder surgery opened a void at left wing on the Penguins’ second line next to Evgeni Malkin
and Ruslan Fedotenko.
Versatile veteran Pascal Dupuis
will begin the season in this spot, but the Penguins claiming of Chris Bourque on waivers from the Washington Capitals on Wednesday adds another potential ingredient into the mix for head coach Dan Bylsma.
“We are strong with our bottom six guys on our forward unit, but this was a chance to pick up a guy who has been knocking on the door of adding speed and skill to an NHL top-six (line) for a while now,” Bylsma said following practice on Thursday.
If anybody knows what talents Bourque can bring to the Penguins it’s Bylsma, who said he has coached against Bourque roughly 20-plus times the past three years when Bylsma served as both the head and assistant coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League while Bourque was a member of the Hershey Bears.
Despite scoring once and adding an assist in three preseason contests, Bourque was the victim of a numbers game up front in Washington, which boasts a deep forward unit similar to that of the Penguins. Washington hoped to sneak him through waivers, but the Penguins were quick to pounce on Bourque, who Bylsma said had been on the team’s radar for some time.
“It is not the first time we have talked about the name Chris Bourque in the past six months,” Bylsma said. “We talked about him in the summertime when you look at other teams' rosters (and think) there was a chance he might be on waivers.”
Although Bourque said it is “weird and different” for him with this being the first time changing teams as a pro, he is pumped about joining the roster of the defending champs.
I am really excited to be here and it’s awesome to be a Penguin ... It seems like a great group of guys. They like to work hard and have fun. That’s also how I like to play. - Chris Bourque
“I am really excited to be here and it’s awesome to be a Penguin,” Bourque gushed upon the conclusion of his first practice as a Penguin. “Everyone has been so nice to me so far. It seems like a great group of guys. They like to work hard and have fun. That’s also how I like to play.”
Being that he is listed at only 5-foot-8, Bourque’s speed and skill game should fit in nicely with the up-tempo system used by Bylsma.
“I like to get up ice and create havoc in the offensive zone,” Bourque said. “With my size, that is one of the biggest things you have to be – fast – if you are going to be small. I think I fit in pretty well and I hope it’s the start of something good here.”
If Bourque is able to progress like he did while spending the majority of the past four seasons with Hershey, he should have no problem starting something good in Pittsburgh.
Bourque’s point totals went up in each of his four seasons (36 in 2005-06, 58 in ’06-’07, 63 in ’07-’08 and 73 in ’08-’09). He scored 82 goals in the AHL during that period, including a career-high 28 in 2007-08.
A lot of those numbers came by way of big games against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Bylsma. Bourque’s new boss remembered those performances well.
“He is a guy who has given (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) a lot of headaches with his speed, skill and playmaking ability,” Bylsma recalled. “He can shoot the puck. He is a guy who adds speed and skill to your lineup, something we want to be about as a team.”
Bourque’s bloodlines shouldn’t hurt his ability to add skill to a lineup. His father is Hall of Fame and former Boston Bruin and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ray Bourque. While skating in the shadows of one of hockey’s most recognizable names can have its detriments, Bourque sees it as a positive, and wants to build on his father’s legacy.
“I want to represent this name well," Chris said. "It is a good hockey name and I want to add to that legacy of having it as a good hockey name. I have been dealing with this my entire life so this is nothing new for me. I am used to all that stuff.”
Playing with the Penguins’ world-class centers could bring out the best in the 23-year-old winger, and give the Penguins another prime ingredient in the quest to again rise to the top of the NHL.