He’s been a stay-at-home defenseman
Above most things, hockey players like to know who they are. Zdeno Chara understands that he is a shutdown defenseman. The Bruins’ coaching staff has informed Patrice Bergeron that he is a two-way center who will be on the ice for every critical situation. Gregory Campbell knows his coaches count on him to provide energy bursts and kill penalties responsibly.
For most of Johnny Boychuk’s short-lived career in Colorado, he didn’t even know whether he was a defenseman or forward. Sometimes in the same game, Boychuk would be asked to play both positions.
“I’d play forward for the first 2 1/2 periods,’’ Boychuk recalled. “Then if it was a close game, they’d put me back on defense.’’
The flipping between fourth-line forward and depth defenseman did little to help Boychuk develop an NHL identity. If anything, it muddled what Boychuk wanted to become. So it was a relief, first and foremost, when the Avalanche traded Boychuk to the Bruins for Matt Hendricks June 24, 2008.
Following the trade, then-director of player development Don Sweeney informed Boychuk that his new employers had no intention of skating him up front. Boychuk would be a defenseman - one who would see big minutes in every situation.
“No, I didn’t like it,’’ Boychuk said of his amorphous identity in Colorado. “But I did whatever they told me to do to make it to the NHL.’’
The club that traded Boychuk to the Bruins will be at TD Garden today. Of the players on the Colorado roster in 2007-08, when Boychuk appeared in four games, only four will be in today’s lineup: Milan Hejduk, Paul Stastny, David Jones, and Cody McLeod. The once-proud organization will be in a fight to earn a postseason berth.
Meanwhile, Boychuk has developed into a top-four defenseman who’s currently skating on the No. 1 pairing alongside Chara. In Saturday’s 4-1 win over Tampa Bay, Lightning coach Guy Boucher sent out a big-dog line of Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, and Martin St. Louis for several shifts.
Bruins coach Claude Julien could have countered with Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, his ace shutdown duo from last year’s postseason. But he kept Chara and Boychuk together. The two helped the Bruins keep the power threesome from exploding.
“At one point, especially at this time of year, you want to give those guys that opportunity and that confidence,’’ Julien said. “It will carry itself through the year. If you never give those guys that opportunity, how can they feel confident? You put them out there and say, ‘Hey, these are their top three guys. You guys go out there and show us you can do the job.’ That’s what players want. They want a challenge. If you have enough confidence in them and give them that challenge, it’s an opportunity for them to get better. It’s an opportunity for us as a team to feel even more confident than ever.’’
In retrospect, the critical season in Boychuk’s development might have been his first in the organization. He appeared in just one NHL game in 2008-09. The rest of the year, Boychuk was logging heavy minutes in Providence. In 78 games, he scored 20 goals and had 46 assists. Then-coach Rob Murray tabbed Boychuk for first-unit duty on the power play and penalty kill. The former fourth-line grinder was so good that he was named AHL Defenseman of the Year.
“It was actually getting a chance just to play defense,’’ Boychuk said. “I was in the minors my first year. But I was playing 27-28 minutes a night. That definitely helped me progress. When you play that much, you continue to develop. Some games, I’d play over 30. Every situation possible. Always first penalty kill, first power play. I was against other teams’ top lines. At the time, I was coming from an organization that wanted me to play forward. Totally, totally different situation.’’
This is a contract year for Boychuk. The 27-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent next July. Dependable defensemen earn big bucks. More than fourth-line forwards. Who knows if Boychuk would be on the brink of a healthy payday had he remained in Colorado.
Turning page After yesterday’s practice at TD Garden, the Bruins shepherded the Stanley Cup to Gillette Stadium. According to Julien, it was the final team activity involving the Cup.
“This should be the last time you see our team going around with the Cup. It’s my wish anyways,’’ Julien said with a smile. “I think this is where we really turn the page.’’
The Bruins’ 100-day stewardship of the trophy ends Oct. 22.
Rask on deck After backing up Tim Thomas for the first two games, Tuukka Rask should get his first shot between the pipes today against the Avalanche. “I see a better Tuukka this year,’’ Julien said. “Whether it’s through maturity, through preparation, or through being hungry to get more ice time and prove he deserves it. I feel confident, and I’ve known it all along, that we’ve got two No. 1 goaltenders. We know what Tim Thomas has accomplished. At the same time, if Tuukka’s on another team, there’s a good chance he’s a No. 1 goalie.’’ . . . The Bruins were 5 for 5 on the penalty kill against the Lightning. “We put a lot of pressure on their guys coming up the ice,’’ forward Brad Marchand said. “We seem to be pretty good when we do that. When we sit back and don’t pressure, they seem to pick us apart and skate through us.’’ . . . Mark Recchi’s stall has been broken down. Recchi’s old space, between Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley, had been put into place for the season opener, complete with nameplate. Nice touch.