If he were skating for any other organization, Ottawa Senators prospect Brandon Bochenski would probably be a full-time NHL player.
But since this year’s Senators team is stacked with young, talented players -– Jason Spezza, Patrick Eaves, Anton Volchenkov, and Antoine Vermette to name a few — the 6’2, 195-pound winger has logged about an equal amount of ice time this season with the big club and the team’s minor league affiliate in Binghamton, New York.
“It’s been kind of a roller coaster year for me – a lot of up and down, up and down,” the 23-year-old said in evaluating this season. “Plus, I hurt my shoulder too (in December), so I feel like I’ve been all over the place.”
Binghamton has seen its share of struggles this season due to the call-ups of many of its top players from a year ago, as they’re currently fighting to keep their way out the cellar in the Eastern Conference’s East Division with a record of 23-29-3-3. The Blaine, Minnesota native, however, has been an offensive force to be reckoned with while skating for the baby Sens this year, collecting 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 29 games played.
Bochenski really made his mark on the AHL last season, playing for a Binghamton team that dominated the AHL during the regular season, but was upset in a first-round playoff series by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Surrounded by an abundance of talent, Bochenski had a terrific season, putting up 70 points in 75 games.
Playing in the AHL last season afforded Bochenski the opportunity to show what he could do at the professional level, and from an offensive standpoint, he certainly did. With intimidating size and a nose for the net, he is shaping up to be another dangerous weapon in Ottawa’s arsenal if he can use his time in the AHL to become a more complete player.
“I want to work on my all-around game and get better positionally,” he said.
His stellar play last season, along with a strong camp, enabled the second-year forward to crack the Ottawa Senators line-up to open the year, playing on a line with Spezza and Dany Heatley, but he was eventually sent back to Binghamton due to his inconsistent play and lack of production.
A shoulder injury to winger Martin Havlat opened the door for Bochenski again in early December. He drew plenty of attention to himself and his scoring abilities, netting a hat trick against one of the game’s best goalies, Roberto Luongo, in a 6-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Dec. 5. That, however, was before sustaining a shoulder injury of his own later that month, forcing him out of the lineup. When he was healthy enough to play again, it has been in Binghamton that he’s played, for the most part, ever since.
All told, in 20 NHL games this season, Bochenski has scored six goals and seven assists for 13 points.
Prior to his breakout year with Binghamton last season, the skilled winger honed his skills at the University of North Dakota, a decision he feels readied him for what he experienced in the AHL.
“They definitely prepared me well,” he said of the Fighting Sioux staff. “The coaches there were NHL-caliber coaches. In fact, one of them (Dean Blais) is actually in Columbus now as an assistant coach. But that’s probably the best school in the nation to go to in order to prepare yourself for the next level.”
Bochenski left North Dakota after three years and decided to turn pro. He left UND after scoring 154 points (79 goals, 75 assists) in 120 games. His decorated collegiate career saw him win both team and league (WCHA) recognition as the Rookie of the Year his freshman season, and by the time he was finished in 2003-04, he was an All-American candidate, and finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
While he was anxious to get his pro career started, he said the decision to leave North Dakota before his senior season was not an easy one, and in hindsight, a bittersweet one.
“It was tough, but it was time for me to go,” he said. “I couldn’t really do much more in college. It was tough though, because they made the national championship game the next year – the year after I left.”
Bochenski has found success at every level of hockey he’s played so far, and the Senators are hoping that he eventually will play a pivotal role on their NHL club, and become the all-around player and scorer he has the potential to be.
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