After their first practice with the Predators, waiver pick-ups Zach Boychuk and Bobby Butler are getting acquainted with their new teammates and learning the Predators systems. Here are some observations from Wednesday morning’s intense, high-paced practice.
There is an old saying, “The only thing better than a little competition is a lot of competition,” and that’s exactly what you have in the Predators dressing room right now. With Boychuk and Butler, you have two young, speedy forwards who have proven to be dynamic scorers at every level they’ve played prior to breaking into the NHL.
Boychuk is putting on his third sweater this season after playing one game with Carolina and seven with Pittsburgh. He started the 2012-13 season with Carolina’s primary developmental affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, amassing 32 points (16g-16a) in 37 games. Boychuk, who was selected seven picks after Colin Wilson in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has been nearly a point-per-game player at the AHL level over the past three season, posting 141 points (59g-82a) in 161 outings. In 80 career NHL contests since 2008-09, the Airdrie, Alta., native has 18 points (7g-11a) in 80 career contests with the Penguins and Hurricanes.
At this morning’s practice he lined up on Mike Fisher’s left wing and spent the majority of the practice with Fisher and Patric Hornqvist. The first thing you notice is a fairly polished game for a player who’s dressing for this third team this season. Boychuk is a former first-round draft pick, so he has all the tools necessary to be successful in this League. The second thing you notice about Boychuk is his speed – it set him apart from almost everyone on the ice this morning. Another noticeable trait was his willingness to drive to the front of the net, where, on occasion, he ran into Hornqvist as both jockeyed for position. Boychuk isn’t the biggest of guys, but he has the speed and tenacity – much like Gabriel Bourque – to make an immediate impact with this team.
Butler posted a goal and an assist in 14 games with the Devils this season after starting the season with their AHL affiliate in Albany, amassing 27 points (16g-11a) in 37 games. He saw his first real opportunity in 2010-11 after the Ottawa Senators traded Mike Fisher to Nashville, as he posted 21 points (10g-11a) in 27 games following Fisher’s departure. Butler was also an AHL All-Star and Calder Cup champion with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators in 2010-11. The 25-year old has appeared in 108 NHL contests with Ottawa and New Jersey since signing with the Senators on March 29, 2010, collecting 39 points (17g-22a).
Butler spent the morning with Craig Smith and Martin Erat, while also seeing time with the Preds top power-play unit late in practice. Butler comes as advertised – a hardworking skater, who will go to the hard areas. He also possesses a very good shot.
Every Preds fan knows the road to Nashville leads through Milwaukee, and Victor Bartley has proven to the Predators brass he’s ready to make that trip.
Bartley will provide the Predators with a seventh defenseman as he battles to earn a spot for Friday night’s tilt. He takes pride in his defensive game, can log some difficult minutes on the penalty kill and the power play, and is not afraid to jump into the play to supply a little offense. The pairings were fairly fluid throughout practice, so the defensive group for Friday night is still to be determined.
Prior to being recalled this morning, Bartley led Milwaukee’s defensemen and ranked among the AHL’s Top 20 defensemen in points with 26 (7g-19a) in 54 games. A season ago, the 6-0, 212-pound D-man tied for 10th among American Hockey League defensemen, and was second among AHL rookie defensemen in points (39) in his first season with Milwaukee.
While some may question whether or not these players will provide the offense impact the Preds need right now, many believe President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile did an excellent job of providing the Preds with a low-risk, potentially high-reward situation. Competition is what the Predators front office is looking for, and it seems they have found it by bringing in three players who are eager to make an impact in this League.