BOSTON — You heard the rattling of the boards during one session of the Bruins’ training camp at TD Garden today, and you knew one of two things just happened.
Either Zdeno Chara or Johnny Boychuk just threw the body at an unsuspecting puck-pursuer.
Bruins practices are always physical affairs when those two defensemen are on the ice. And in Boychuk’s case, doling out some punishment is all about proving he’s not complacent despite signing a two-year deal worth $1.875 per season in the summer.
“It’s the same as last year. I’ve still got to make the team; still got to fight for a position,” said Boychuk today about his approach to training camp, which is now three days old. “Nothing’s really changed. I’ve just got to take it the same as I did last year and everything should be fine.”
It took a while even once training camp was over last season for Boychuk to get his chance to shine. He was a healthy scratch for most of the first half until injuries opened up playing time for him. By the time the season ended, he was playing top-four minutes and producing at both ends — he finished with 5-10-15 totals in 51 regular-season games and 2-4-6 totals in 13 postseason contests.
He owed a lot of his progress toward maturing into a legit NHL defenseman to since-departed assistant coach Craig Ramsay, who’s now the head coach in Atlanta.
“He just took me every day – the first half, I had no choice – but even after that, he took me every day and worked on my foot speed, worked on breakouts and all aspects of the defensive game,” said Boychuk. “He was a great teacher. He just helped out tremendously having a guy like that.”
Ramsay’s playing history as a forward helped him work with defensemen and bring a different perspective. One bit of advice in particular aided Boychuk’s cause.
“There was a couple things that he showed me. One was you don’t always have to skate backwards,” said Boychuk. “If you’re skating forward and you have the angle on the guy, you don’t have to turn back. I was just thinking about it, I never heard that before, and it actually made sense.”
Boychuk’s confident that he can continue to improve without Ramsay around. Former NHL defenseman Doug Houda is still on staff, and newcomer Doug Jarvis’ playing career followed a path similar to Ramsay’s as a strong defensive forward. Boychuk might need some more tricks of the trade this season because while a 64-game stint might not guarantee him an NHL job, it’s enough for other teams to be ready for going head-to-head with him.
“It’s not like I’m going to switch my game,” said Boychuk about teams having a book on him. “If they want to switch there’s, then go ahead.”