RALEIGH, N.C. – It seemed fitting that the Carolina Hurricanes announced the re-signing of forward Zach Boychuk just as the second day of its prospect camp began on Tuesday.
The team agreed to terms with Boychuk, the team’s top pick (14th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft on a one-year, two-way contract.
“This will be Zach’s eighth season in our organization,” executive vice president and general manager Ron Francis said.
“He’s a reliable depth forward who we know is capable of contributing offensively at either level.”
Likewise, Boychuk was appreciative to return to the organization that originally drafted him.
“When they decided to qualify me, I was really excited to get another chance,” Boychuk said in a phone interview from his home in Calgary.
“We were able to come to terms, and the big thing was just getting it done.”
Following the current prospects’ first day on the ice, much attention and hype surrounded whether the team’s 2015 top pick, defenseman Noah Hanifin, would sign an entry-level contract sooner rather than later.
It seems that Carolina’s high expectations to sign its top pick hasn’t changed much since Boychuk pulled on the team’s jersey on the draft stage seven years ago and went through his first NHL camp.
“I think it opens your eyes quite a bit,” Boychuk said.
“Nowadays, kids are prepared as best they can coming up, playing the under-16s, the under-17s and all those different types of tournaments, you get prepared pretty well, and you’re almost ready for the pro game. If you’re not exposed to those types of programs and you get to an NHL training camp, you realize how much hard work is put into it, and all the little things you need to do, whether it’s nutrition or training hard liftin’ weights and keepin’ your cardio up. It’s definitely an eye-opener for sure.”
Fast forward and the 25-year old, who split the 2014-15 season between the Hurricanes and their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, will again work to earn a regular spot on the Hurricanes roster for an entire season.
It’s a quest that he’s embarked on yearly, and one that Carolina hopes will result to the favor of both the player and the team.
“They basically want me to make the team – there’s spots open and it’s gonna be really competitive goin’ into camp,” Boychuk said.
In 2014-2015, Boychuk scored three goals and added three assists (6 points) in 31 games with Carolina, but was edged out of the lineup while battling a minor lower body injury that also impacted his play in the AHL, finishing with 24 points (12g, 12a) in 39 AHL games with the Checkers,.
He still became Charlotte’s all-time leading goal scorer when he tallied a marker against the Toronto Marlies on Jan. 16.
However, it wasn’t the same as a year earlier when he won the AHL’s Willie Marshall Award as the league’s top goal scorer in 2013-14 with 36 goals.
“For me, that’s kind of the way my seasons have gone – a little bit inconsistent,” he continued.
“You have one good big year here and follow-up with a bad year. It is what it is. You try and realize those patterns and try and become a more consistent player. You definitely learn things when you’re in the NHL and you learn things when you’re down in the AHL as well.”
To date, the five-foot-10-inch, 185-pound winger has appeared in 127 career NHL games with the Hurricanes, Penguins, and Predators, and has totaled 30 points (12g, 18a).
In 335 career AHL games with Albany and Charlotte, he has tallied 287 points (129g, 158a), and is the Checkers’ all-time leader in goals (114) and power-play goals (52), while ranking second in Checkers history in assists (136) and points (250).
“I think you have to learn something every year,” he continued.
“It’s not always gonna be a great year. You’re gonna have your ups and downs. Guys go through different types of spells throughout the season, and you gotta channel it as best you can. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low.”
It’s evident that with the success Boychuk has had in the AHL, one has to wonder whether his development was slowed by being rushed too quickly into the NHL as part of a farm system that wasn’t structured to allow players to learn how to be pros, but rather to fill in gaps with the big club when needed.
“It’s just kind of nice to know where you’re gonna be,” Boychuk said.
“It’s tough goin’ back and forth like that. It’s definitely different than when I started playing. We keep stockpiling young guys and there always seems to be opportunities and chances for guys to make the team. I think early on in my career, there was always 12-13 forwards who were usually veteran guys and the young guys always went down. I think now you’re gonna see young guys start in the minor leagues, unless you’re a superstar, but you play two, three years down in the minor leagues and you know you’re gonna play in the American League – you don’t have to worry about being ready.
“Early on in my career, I was up and down so many times and I just didn’t really know where I was gonna be. And always changin’ your game like that, I don’t think I was quite ready for the NHL. It took me a few years to be ready, and by the fourth or fifth season that I had, it was almost too late to be a first-line guy again. Now, I’m just workin’ to get back that opportunity you normally get as a first-round pick.”
As Boychuk will continue to work out during the summer with other NHLers like Mike Green and Jordan Eberle out West, seeking to eventually earn an available spot on the Hurricanes’ roster, the current crop of prospects who are on the ice in Raleigh will do the same.
“There’s lots of good young players comin’ in and a good mix of older, veteran guys,” Boychuk concluded.
“I think there’s going to be a lot more excitement in the organization come training camp, and hopefully I’m on the right end of it.”