RALEIGH — Zach Boychuk doesn’t have a contract for the coming season and isn’t sure where he’ll be playing hockey.
He does know where he wants to be playing hockey – in the NHL, for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Boychuk was in town Monday, lacing up the skates and taking part in an informal workout with some of the Canes at Raleigh Center Ice. As for his contract situation, the forward hopes that’s cleared up soon.
“Obviously I want to be in Carolina,” Boychuk said. “That’s why I’m here. I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. I’m still trying to figure that out.”
Boychuk, the Canes’ first-round draft pick in 2008, has spent most of his first four pro seasons in the American Hockey League – the past three with the Charlotte Checkers. He has played 73 career NHL games with the Hurricanes, but never been able to work his way into a full-time position on the big team.
Boychuk, a restricted free agent, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Canes last July. The team made him a qualifying offer this year, but the two sides have not been able to come to an agreement.
Boychuk, 23, likely would accept another one-year, two-way deal. The holdup apparently is over the dollars – last year’s contract was worth $625,000 on the NHL level and $105,000 on the AHL level, based on a full season.
“We’ve offered him a contract and we expect to know something in the new couple of days,” general manager Jim Rutherford said Monday.
Boychuk could decide to go to Europe to play, but that’s an option he doesn’t care to discuss in much detail.
“I think things will work itself out,” Boychuk said. “I’m trying to show that I want to stay in North America. I don’t want to labeled as a career minor-league guy who eventually goes to Europe.”
Nor does he want another season quite like the last one.
Boychuk began the 2012-2013 season with the Checkers as the NHL shut down and struggled through a lengthy lockout. When the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement was finalized and the lockout ended, he made the Canes’ roster and started the season opener at Florida on the top line with Eric Staal and Alex Semin.
And then sat. The one game would be the only one he played for Carolina.
Boychuk was placed on waivers in late January and claimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. After playing seven games for the Pens, he was back on waivers and taken by the Nashville Predators. After five games with the Preds, he was on waivers again and reclaimed by Carolina.
It was back to the Checkers, where he finished with 23 goals and 20 assists in 49 regular-season games, then three goals and three assists in five playoff games.
“I think last year was definitely a pivotal year for me,” he said. “I didn’t perform up to the standards with my NHL games. I’ve got to be better.
“I think I’m really looking forward to this season, to kind of get off on the right foot and prove last year was a crazy year for everybody. It was definitely a crazy year for me. But I had opportunities and wasn’t able to take advantage.”
At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Boychuk isn’t a big-body banger or ultra-physical type. But the Airdrie, Alb., native has some speed, good hands and can produce offensively.
This year, he returned to Raleigh much earlier than usual. He’s ready to work, on and off the ice, and ready to compete in training camp for a forward spot – whether on the first line, fourth line or anywhere else.
“I’m trying to make the NHL,” he said. “I want to be a full-time player. I was a high draft pick and got opportunities at a young age, probably when I wasn’t 100 percent ready and 100 percent mature. Now I feel I have to prove some people wrong and hopefully I can do that this year.”
Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip