Boychuk more than healed up

By Scott Mitchell

It has been a whirlwind six months for Zach Boychuk. After leading the Lethbridge Hurricanes to the WHL final in the spring, Boychuk has been up and down and back again.

He was drafted in the first round of the NHL entry draft, found out he played with a broken wrist for the majority of the playoffs, had surgery to repair the wrist, signed his first NHL contract on his 19th birthday, made his NHL debut and then found himself on a flight back to Alberta after he was reassigned to Lethbridge for his final junior season.

All this in less than six months. It was even a bit of a surprise to Boychuk himself.

"Originally, they told me I was going to go down there [Carolina] and get checked out by the doctor and only be there for about a week but once I got down there the doctor cleared me to play," he said upon returning to Lethbridge. "I got back to shooting and stickhandling and passing and that. It was good to get into some practices and they decided to keep me around and sign me to an NHL contract and see what I could do in a couple games."

Boychuk suited up in two games on Carolina’s western swing against Los Angeles and Anaheim. After seeing the ice for less than 10 minutes against the Kings, he found himself just shy of 15 minutes in Orange County.

He was hoping for a longer look.

"They didn’t really tell me much," he said. "All I knew was that I was going to play the first game against Los Angeles and I didn’t even know if I was going to play the next game. I thought there was a chance that I could stay for a few more games.

"It’s too bad because I felt like my game was starting to come back after those first two games. It was pretty tough to go five months without a game. They basically said it was a numbers thing and that I’d be going back to Lethbridge."

In the end, the look-see benefited both Carolina and Boychuk as the long-term ramifications of some advice he received early in the summer could have been devastating. Doctors in Calgary had originally told Boychuk that he could wait a year before having surgery on his injured wrist. But Carolina thought different.

"Went I went down to Carolina they decided it was broken and that I should get surgery on it," Boychuk said. "When I was in Calgary I saw some doctors and they recommended that I could wait a year but in Carolina I saw two doctors and they recommended to get it done (right away)."

The wrist didn’t seem put a damper on his playoff run as he scored 13 goals and added eight assists in 18 playoff games, many of which were played with the broken wing that he suffered in the second round.

"It was hurting pretty bad when it first happened and I missed one game," he revealed. "I just battled through it but I was still in quite a bit of pain. It was tough to shoot but I just tried to contribute and by the fourth series it was feeling pretty good."

After a summer that included two surgical procedures to implant and then remove a pin, Boychuk is ready to go.

"It feels great," he said of the wrist. "I got my strength back and my shot is back. Now all I have to do is get my hands back and my timing is starting to come back. It’s going to take a little while."

After working on his lower body strength and skating, which didn’t need any work as he was one of the fastest players on the draft board, he is excited at the prospect of leading a solid Lethbridge squad.

"We’ve got a lot of guys coming back from last year," he said. "It should be good for my development and hopefully next year I can make the big club."

Always a team-first guy, Boychuk has set lofty personal goals this season.

"I like to set my goals high," he said. "After getting sent back from Carolina I want to be a huge contributor to Lethbridge and be a big leader on this team.

"I want to be the best player on the team, as well as in the league. I need to do what I do best and use my speed and I guess point production, that’s the main thing. I want to be one of the leading scorers in the league."

After six games he is slowly working himself back into a groove with three goals and two assists.

He knows exactly what Carolina brass thinks of him and expects in the future after spending the majority of his training camp in a sweat suit with the coaches and trainers.

"They see me as a skilled player, a player who is going to play on the first or second line," he said. "That’s probably why I didn’t make it this year, but next year I’m going to have to prove I can play on one of the top two lines to stick there."

Boychuk roomed with childhood friend and fellow former Canadian junior gold medalist Brandon Sutter while in Carolina. He caught Sutter’s first goal on SportsCenter.

"I saw the goal," he laughed. "The defenseman kind of coughed it up right to him and he goes in on a breakaway and it looked like he’s been sniping for quite a while with that backhander.

"I had fun with him during training camp and I lived with him at his condo for about a week. We’ve been good friends for quite a while and hopefully I can play with him next year."