If it’s September, Zach Boychuk must be trying to crack the Carolina Hurricanes’ roster. Again. Once again, the numbers are stacked against him.
It’s hard to recall a Hurricanes player who attended this many training camps without moving up or moving on. At 25, Boychuk’s time with the franchise is either starting or ending. There’s no middle ground now.
Since he made the NHL as a 19-year-old only four months after the Hurricanes took him with the 14th pick of the first round in 2008, in a two-game cameo appearance, Boychuk hasn’t had a regular spot on an NHL roster since – not here, and not with the Pittsburgh Penguins or Nashville Predators, teams he joined during a two-month odyssey of waiver claims in the spring of 2013 before landing back with the Hurricanes.
“It’s been up and down, my career so far, looking at it,” Boychuk said. “You want to be the guy that sticks full-time and signs that one-way contract, but I’ve always been on a two-way and still have yet to prove I can play full time. This training camp is going to be huge for me.”
Boychuk has played 127 NHL games, but never more than the 31 he played last season, and with only 12 career goals. Meanwhile, he’s averaging a goal every two games in his AHL career, enough to lead the league every year if he ever played a full season at that level.
Because he hasn’t shown yet in the NHL the goal-scoring ability that made him a first-round pick, nor enough versatility in the rest of his game to earn a spot on the bottom half of the roster, Boychuk has spent his career bouncing from the AHL to the NHL, a call-up here, a fill-in stint there. There were times he was called up, given little ice time and set up to fail. There were other times he was given golden opportunities he failed to grasp – like playing alongside Evgeni Malkin with the Penguins.
“At the beginning, maybe I wasn’t quite ready,” Boychuk said. “As a first-rounder you’re expected to make the team right away and be successful. Some guys can handle that. For me, I needed some more seasoning. I needed more time to get ready by playing some (AHL) games. It took me a few years for that.”
He reaches this crossroad in his career having failed to live up to his draft position but still young enough to have a fruitful NHL career, either as the goal-scoring winger the Hurricanes hoped he would be or by recasting himself as a gritty depth forward, a process that is as much mental as physical for a player his size, at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds.
Just as was the case in his prior Hurricanes training camps, Boychuk faces an uphill battle to make the roster. In the past camps, either he wasn’t ready or the roster was essentially full before camp even began. It looked like there might be one or two openings this year, until the Hurricanes brought in forwards Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom from the Chicago Blackhawks last week.
Versteeg’s arrival gave the Hurricanes 10 forwards on one-way contracts, plus Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm, who aren’t going anywhere. That leaves one forward opening for Boychuk or Nordstrom or someone else, but Nordstrom would have to clear waivers to be sent down, which gives him an inside track.
So Boychuk will have to beat someone out to win a job, most likely Norstrom or Chris Terry, which is only fair. If his time has really finally come, he’ll make it impossible for the Hurricanes to send him down.
And if it hasn’t, his time with the Hurricanes will certainly come to an end. After this season, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent, free to pursue a job with any other team in search of a better fit.
If it doesn’t happen for Boychuk now, it’s never going to happen with the Hurricanes.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
Zach Boychuk career statistics
Season Team Lge GP G A Pts
2008-09 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 2 0 0 0
2008-09 Albany River Rats AHL 2 0 1 1
2009-10 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 31 3 6 9
2009-10 Albany River Rats AHL 52 15 21 36
2010-11 Charlotte Checkers AHL 60 22 43 65
2010-11 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 23 4 3 7
2011-12 Charlotte Checkers AHL 64 21 23 44
2011-12 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 16 0 2 2
2012-13 Charlotte Checkers AHL 49 23 20 43
2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 7 0 0 0
2012-13 Nashville Predators NHL 5 1 1 2
2012-13 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 1 0 0 0
2013-14 Charlotte Checkers AHL 69 36 38 74
2013-14 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 11 1 3 4
2014-15 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 31 3 3 6
2014-15 Charlotte Checkers AHL 39 12 12 24
AHL Totals 335 129 158 287
NHL Totals 127 12 18 30