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Boychuk, Small Forwards and Development

         I was stunned at the start of the pre-season as it began to look like Boychuk was increasingly likely to be sent down to the AHL. It was absolutely not because Bowman or Dalpe or O'Sullivan didn't deserve their roster spot. As to Bowman, I have liked him since he was drafted. As I watched him play, and particularly in the AHL, there was an inner fire that seemed to drive Bowman to a degree somewhat higher than his very competitive peers. Bowman struck me as a person who has a deep, unwavering commitment to being an NHL player. So when Bowman came to pre-camp virtually in season opener shape and when he became Ruutu, Jr. in terms of hitting anything that moved, I was pleased for him, but not at all surprised.

 

       Similarly, Dalpe I felt from prior to his draft year and continuing from the time he was selected, is one of those special players who excel with an ease and grace like Staal and Sutter. As Dalpe has gotten bigger and stronger, I was more and more convinced he was going to be an impact player. I think the Hurricanes have only touched the surface of Dalpe's talent. Skinner, too, seems to be one of those uniquely gifted athletes who excel at whatever level of play they are at. I knew Luke DeCock was predicting Skinner to be the Hurricanes pick, but I really under-estimated Skinner's upper end based on the scouting reports I was reading. The more I saw video of Skinner, the more I liked him; but what sealed the deal for me personally was seeing him at pre-camp. Skinner carries an inner energy that only a few athletes possess. I, at least, can't define it, but I know it when I see it. It's a quality that transcends any one particular sport. Yet, when the Hurricanes organization signaled they felt Boychuk needed more seasoning in the AHL, I was disappointed for him.

      I personally felt badly for Boychuk and worried he would feel like he was a failure. I have followed the Hurricanes for years and have seen players I liked come and seen them go; but somehow Boychuk's being sent back to the AHL seemed personal to me. It may have been to make myself feel better about the situation, or hopefully it was to see if I had any factual basis for feeling uneasy for Boychuk's future with the Hurricanes, I went to www.nhl.com and looked at the forwards taken in the first round from 2006 through 2010. I fully expected to find that Boychuk was an outlier and that his peers were all performing great feats for the NHL teams. I was really shocked that so few 2008 and 2009 first round forward draft choices were excelling in the NHL; and that so many were still finding their games in the AHL.

 

     I then happened on a story about Kadri and Bozak, arguing that small forwards need time in the AHL in order to develop their defensive skills. http://bit.ly/cbbr0q I had thought the smaller forwards had an advantage in terms of tending to have the adult coordination developed; but the article makes a very reasonable point that in order to play in the NHL, smallish forwards have to learn how to develop their NHL-ready defensive play. Given the talent on the Hurricanes team most of the forwards will be facing the most intense competition of their hockey lives. The good news is that the cream will ultimately rise to the top and the competition will make all the Hurricanes players better. As for Boychuk, I think he will master the art of constant and consistent 150% effort. I also think Brind'Amour will help him become much more instinctual in his defensive and offensive play. Time will certainly tell.

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