When he was traded to the Boston Bruins by the Colorado Avalanche last summer, defenseman Johnny Boychuk had no idea which direction his career would head.
All he knew was that he’d been miscast with the Avs’ organization (mostly with their AHL affiliate at Lake Erie) as a part-time forward, and that if the Bruins were willing to let him play defense full-time he could prove to be a productive player. Well, that’s exactly what has happened for the 25-year-old Boychuk, who has spent almost the entire season with Boston’s farm club (other than one game with Boston) at Providence. And the results speak for themselves.
Entering the P-Bruins’ final three games of the season, Boychuk — a right-handed shot — leads his team and all AHL defenseman with 64 points and his 20 goals are second among Providence skaters and tops among the league’s blueliners. Last week, Boychuk’s efforts were rewarded when it was announced he won the 2008-09 Eddie Shore Award as the top defenseman in the AHL.
“It’s great. Who can say that they’ve been named the best defenseman of the whole league, let alone the team? It’s a great honor to be named the best defenseman or even be in that category,” Boychuk recently told TheBruinsBlog.net. “There’s no chance I’d be there if I didn’t have a team like I have here. Playing with obviously some great players here … even the third- and fourth-line guys can produce when they get called on.”
Boychuk, the first P-Bruins defenseman to win the Eddie Shore Award since Jeff Serowik in 1995, totaled just 26 points (eight goals) in 60 games with Lake Erie last season. But part of that was due to his playing out of position — a role he even filled during a brief stint with the Avs. Coming to the Boston organization, he knew he could at least double those numbers. But he had no idea he could excel as much as he has.
“I was expecting to come in and maybe get 45 points. I knew I was going to have a great season. But with the start that I did have, I was like, ‘maybe I could reach higher goals, set my goals higher than I did before the season.’ I’ve achieved those goals and my goal now is to get this team hopefully back into first place if it’s not too late,” said Boychuk.
“They put a lot of confidence in me, the Bruins organization,” he continued. “Even being on the power play full-time, it helps out a lot. It gives you confidence. Even though it’s not going great right now, it still gives you confidence. We have that one play where we push-pass and I just put it on net as hard as I can. Guys go to the net …”
The P-Bruins trail Hartford by two points for first place in the Atlantic Division with three games to play. Even if the P-Bruins don’t catch the Wolf Pack, they’re guaranteed no worse than a second seed and the home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs that comes with that finish in the standings. An unrestricted free agent after this season, Boychuk knows he has had perfect timing for his breakout season individually. But lofty team achievements would be a perfect capper to his resumé.
“For anybody, your goal from the beginning of the season – if you’re either in the NHL or the AHL — you want to win. Who wants to lose every game? It’s not fun at all. … We have a good enough team here to go all the way and hopefully we do,” Boychuk concluded.