We are continuing our analysis of the Hurricanes season that was by going down the roster and today's subject is the team's first round pick from 2008, Zach Boychuk. I am sure that I'm not the only one who was hoping that this would be the season that Boychuk would blossom into a full-time NHL-er. With Erik Cole leaving and roster spots open, he had a good chance of at least making the team out of camp or being being called up sometime later in the season. Alas, played only 16 games with the Hurricanes this year and there are questions on whether or not he will be qualified next month or be granted RFA status.
There isn't a lot to write about what Boychuk did with the Hurricanes this season because his time in Raleigh was shorter than some of Joni Pitkanen's shifts, but there is plenty of talk about in regards to Boychuk's future with the organization. At 22, he is still growing as a player and had another solid season in Charlotte, but the fans and front office's patience with him is beginning to wear thin. After the jump, we will discuss what Boychuk did this year, what the future holds for him and whether or not it will be with the Hurricanes.
#11 / Left Wing / Carolina Hurricanes
Oct 4, 1989
|2011 - Zach Boychuk
Boychuk may have been completely held off the scoresheet, but one positive thing about his performance this year is that both possession and scoring chances were going in Carolina's favor when he was on the ice. Boychuk actually had the highest Corsi relative rating on the team, which is a stat that measures how many shot attempts a player is creating and preventing at even strength compared to his teammates. This is something the Hurricanes have had trouble with the past couple of years and Boychuk was improving Carolina's territorial game whenever he was on the ice. Granted, this is with a very small sample size but Boychuk was able to at least get the offensive zone and keep it there for most of the time. In addition to that, he was also helping produce scoring chances when he was used in the top-six early in the year.
Boychuk also had another solid season with the Charlotte Checkers, as he led the team in goals with 21 and was third on the team in points with 44. This was a pretty big drop-off from last season but still a solid overall campaign. Those who watch the Checkers have gotten a first hand look at his play-making and goal-scoring skills and know what he can bring to the table, but the fact that he still hasn't been able to take that next step to the NHL has to be frustrating for a lot of people.
Having solid possession metrics are always a good thing but when you don't have any goals to show for it, then they don't mean that much. That is especially true for someone who is more known as a goal-scorer than an energy line-type player. In addition to that, Boychuk received some of the softest minutes on the team. He was regularly deployed in the offensive zone against other teams fourth lines, which is a product of him seeing limited ice-time during his first call-up.
The biggest disappointment with Boychuk this year was that he played in only 16 games with Carolina. His ELC expires after this season and he just turned 22, so this looked like it would be a pretty important year for him. Unfortunately, things didn't turn out as planned and it was just more of the same of him not being able to make an impact at the NHL level. You can make the argument that Boychuk never got much of a chance this year because when Paul Maurice was coach, Boychuk was glued to the fourth line and played more than 10 minutes in only two games. Boychuk's first look under Kirk Muller came in late February and he got to play in only three games before he was abruptly benched and sent back to Charlotte.
I looked at Boychuk's shifts during the game where he was benched and noted a few problems. The first being that Boychuk was being knocked off the puck way too easily, especially when he was up against bigger opponents. Size was always Boychuk's biggest red flag in junior hockey and it has proven to be an issue with him in the NHL. He also tended to drone off and freelance whenever he didn't have the puck, which probably didn't sit well with Muller. My guess is that Muller let's players have more freedom when they have the puck, but when they don't, they have to stick to the system or they don't play. That could be the case with Boychuk. It leaves a lot of questions for this off-season about Boychuk's future with the organization.
Boychuk is in the final year of his entry-level contract which had a cap hit of $1,195,833, but his salary was $787,500 in the NHL and $65,00 in the AHL. The Hurricanes will have the option to qualify him or sign him to a new contract before July 1st if they want to keep him. His cap hit is pretty high for an ELC, but that's largely because of signing bonuses. His cap hit probably won't go north of $1 mil. next season when he gets a new contract. He hasn't produced enough at the NHL level to justify that kind of deal.
The Final Word:
I think GM Jim Rutherford is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to re-signing Boychuk. Muller benching him after three games isn't a good sign but you also have to consider that Boychuk was not familiar with Muller's system at the time and might need a training camp to learn it. The problem is that Boychuk needs to play in the top-six to succeed in the NHL and we don't know if he can be guaranteed that with the Hurricanes. Muller isn't going to play him as a third or fourth liner because that doesn't fit his strengths at all. Then you have all of the other questions surrounding Boychuk regarding his size, whether or not he can play in the top-six with Carolina and if the organization is running out of patience with him. I am sure these questions will be answered soon and personally, I am glad that I don't have to make the decision.
How would you rate Boychuk's performance this year? If he blew away your expectations, give him an A. If he met them and nothing more, give him a C. If he completely let you down, give him an F. Also give us your opinions on what you would like to see the organization do with him. Would you like to see him get more of a chance next year or do you think that he's had his opportunity already?