When it comes to resilience, few Bruins players showed more in 2009-10 than Johnny Boychuk.
The 26-year-old defenseman was a healthy scratch for 25 of the Bruins’ first 28 games of the season, but never let his work ethic or enthusiasm wane. It all paid off when head coach Claude Julien decided to juggle his lineup by sitting Matt Hunwick and inserting Boychuk in early December.
By the end of the season, Boychuk’s solid two-way play and ability to level even the bulkiest forward with an open-ice hit made him one of the Bruins’ most vital defensemen, especially when the injury bug put them down three of their top six by the end of the regular season.
His emergence as a legit NHL regular couldn’t have come at a better time, as he’s ticketed for unrestricted free agency if he doesn’t re-sign with Boston by July 1. While he won’t break the bank this summer, Boychuk should receive a healthy raise and guarantee himself a spot at the game’s highest level for years to come.
Stats: 51 GP, 5-10-15, 43 PIM, plus-10
Season highlight: After paying his dues on the practice ice and in the press box, Boychuk replaced a healthy Hunwick in the lineup against Toronto Dec. 5 at TD Garden. His one-timer from the top of the right circle off a pass back by David Krejci wasn’t that huge of a goal — it gave the Bruins a 6-0 lead in a game they won 7-2. But it was Boychuk’s first NHL score and it announced his arrival in the NHL. He didn’t miss a game until a February injury and by the end of the season was manning the spot next to Zdeno Chara on Boston’s top pair.
Season low-light: Sometimes you think it might take a bullet to stop Boychuk’s nightly all-out efforts. Something akin to that fell him Feb. 6 against Vancouver, when a first-period Mikael Samuelsson blast broke Boychuk’s left orbital bone. The injury kept Boychuk out five games. Instead of letting it deter him, however, he increased his body-sacrificing and shot-blocking upon returning.
Final grade: A-minus
With a rocket shot like Boychuk’s, you’d like to see more pucks find the back of the net — especially on the power play. Other than that, you couldn’t ask for much more from a guy that climbed from seventh to second on the depth chart over the course of the season.
The crystal ball says … Boychuk will return to the Bruins with a multi-year deal in hand and be a fixture in their top four and on their power play for the next few seasons.