He hadn’t even re-signed with the Bruins yet, but potential unrestricted free agent Johnny Boychuk got a jolt from his team when the Bruins dealt defenseman Dennis Wideman out of town earlier this week.
“Maybe that sent a message to me that you better be ready to be a top-four guy. And even if I’m not, I want to play like I am,” said Boychuk.
The Bruins obviously think Boychuk can at least challenge for a top-four spot this fall after re-signing the 26-year-old to a two-year deal worth a reported total of $3.75 million. Had Boychuk hit the open market, he would’ve been in demand after his breakout 2009-10 campaign, but his love for the city of Boston and the Bruins organization, along with the generous offer, convinced him to stay in the Hub without testing the open market.
We won’t know if Boychuk can crack the top four for the entire length of an NHL season until he hits the ice armed with his new contract and his year of NHL experience this season. Boychuk showed flashes of brilliance both playing alongside Zdeno Chara and in other pairs during the regular season and playoffs in ’09-10. He also endured some hiccups along the way, as any rookie blueliner in the NHL would have to deal with. At least, he proved that even if he’s relegated to third-pair status, he can be a contributor that won’t hurt his club too often and can chip in on the power play with his rocket-hard shot from the point. His shot-blocking late in the year and in the postseason also made him a valuable competitor at full strength and on the penalty kill.
“He showed me the ability to adapt to our system,” said general manager Peter Chiarelli. “He still makes mistakes, as do all the D. He’s shown me so much improvement from the time he started in the American League and he’s got those offensive assets that you can’t teach. But he’s just dialed his game down, dialed his decisions down and that’s what been really good: his hockey sense from experience is growing.”
Those experiences weren’t all about playing at the NHL level. He also had to endure sitting out 23 of 26 games to start the year because of a numbers logjam on the back end. He never hung his head, and instead used the practices to hone his craft and make sure that when he got in the lineup he was prepared. That paid off big time both with valuable minutes once he got in the lineup, and now with this new contract.
“I just wanted to stay positive,” said Boychuk. “I’m always a positive thinker. Sitting on the bench, or not even on the bench, but practicing with the team, just developing myself in practice helped out tremendously. And being patient, well for me at least it paid off.”
Chiarelli might still make a move to upgrade his defense corps, and he said as much Thursday morning in LA. With five D all making north of $1.45 million next year (credit CapGeek.com), and Mark Stuart still unsigned as a restricted free agent (he made $1.3 million last year, and has arbitration rights) you figure something has to give. Dealing one more D for some help up front wouldn’t be the worst idea, especially if Chiarelli can get some cap relief by moving Tim Thomas or Michael Ryder.
But if Chiarelli has to take his six pack (including Stuart) into next season as is, he should be in solid shape. At least he knows Boychuk will be striving for higher accomplishments.
“I haven’t actually thought about it at this point,” said Boychuk when asked about his goals. “Maybe before the season starts I’ll sit down and write a couple goals. I just want to play good defensively, and when I can chip in offensively. Hopefully if there’s a chance to make a nice, big hit, I’m going to.”