DeCock: Boychuk needs his NHL shot

Staff WriterOctober 26, 2011 

Zach Boychuk had a pretty good seat for the comeback. As the Carolina Hurricanes fought back from two goals down late in the third period on their way to a 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, Boychuk watched from the bench.

Despite being perhaps Carolina's most effective forward five-on-five in a solid first period, Boychuk didn't play in the final 12 minutes of regulation or overtime. Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice played the Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen lines exclusively for more than six minutes in an attempt to turn around a game the Hurricanes were losing badly.

The strategy worked, thanks to a couple of ugly goals in the final five minutes - Tuomo Ruutu turning a near-icing into a fluke goal and a Jeff Skinner power-play deflection - but as the Hurricanes went without a shot for almost 11 minutes to open the third, Boychuk got only one shift.

The Hurricanes called Boychuk up from Charlotte (AHL) on Tuesday, and he played sparingly on the fourth line, as he has for so much of his sporadic NHL career. While Boychuk has played left wing in the NHL before - including brief auditions with Staal and Chad LaRose two years ago and Staal and Erik Cole last season - Maurice now apparently considers him exclusively a right wing.

"Boychuk's taking (Chad) LaRose's position or Ruutu's position," Maurice said. "So I don't have him ahead of those guys."

Even so, LaRose, despite obvious merits, has one goal in nine games this season. So does Jiri Tlusty, who has a total of 18 in 157 career NHL games. It's hard to believe Boychuk couldn't offer a useful change of pace at a time when the Hurricanes were stuck completely in neutral.

At some point, the Hurricanes have to figure out what they have in Boychuk, the 15th overall pick in 2008. They just seem oddly unwilling.

Many of the other first-round picks from 2008 are NHL regulars.

Boychuk has played only 57 games scattered over four seasons. Of the other top-20 picks, only eight have played fewer games than Boychuk, and two of those - Jake Gardiner and Cody Hodgson - are now playing regularly and likely to pass him soon.

The player taken directly behind Boychuk, Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, is already an All-Star. The player taken two picks ahead of Boychuk, Tyler Myers, won the Calder Trophy two years ago.

Boychuk is never going to be the gritty grinder the Hurricanes seem determined to make him. The Hurricanes have too many players in that mold anyway. If he is going to make it in the NHL, it's going to be as a skilled winger playing on a scoring line.

"Obviously you want to make the team out of training camp, but once you get the call-up you want to stick and you want to do everything you can," said Boychuk, who has four goals in seven games for Charlotte.

"I felt like I had some good shifts and a chance to score there in the first period and just missed. It'd be great to stick here full-time."

When Cole left as a free agent, the Hurricanes brought in journeymen Alexei Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart instead of turning to their young forwards. Zac Dalpe made the team, but was on the fourth line until he got hurt.

Having homegrown prospects like Boychuk, Dalpe, Drayson Bowman and Riley Nash in the system all sounds very nice, but it means nothing unless they're given a chance to play.

It's time to give Boychuk a chance and see what he can do. If not Tuesday, with the Hurricanes down two goals and going nowhere, when?

DeCock: 919-829-8947, or luke.decock@newsobserver.com

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