Re-signed as a depth option on the eve of training camp after seriously considering options overseas, the 24-year-old led the Checkers with a team-record 74 points, led the AHL with a team-record 36 goals and made the league’s Second All-Star Team.
The totals themselves were noteworthy, though the Carolina Hurricanes would have been hoping for something similar from a projected scorer that they drafted 14th overall six years ago this June. What really separated Boychuk’s season from those prior was the manner in which those numbers came.
- Set career highs and team records with 36 goals and 74 points
- Won the Willie Marshall Award as the AHL’s top goal scorer and ranked second in total points, earning a spot on the league’s Second All-Star Team
- Led the league and set a franchise record with 18 power-play goals
- Won the AHL’s Player of the Month award for March by scoring a team-record 22 points (9g, 13a) in 16 games
- Recorded three hat tricks in a 15-game span from Jan. 24-March 7
- Set a new single-game franchise record with five points (2g, 3a) and picked up a career-high nine penalty minutes, including his second career fight, to earn the Gordie Howe Hat Trick at Iowa on March 26
“This year was a big stepping stone for me,” said Boychuk. “I really grew as a person and as a player and it was really showing out on the ice for me. To play with these guys this year, to make the Second All-Star team and to score the most goals in the whole league feels pretty good. I also got some opportunities up in Carolina and I played well there, so I was really happy with my season this year.”
The silver lining from a 2012-13 campaign that featured unsuccessful stints with three different NHL teams, all of which became willing to part ways with him after a handful of games, and the prolonged search for a place to play over the summer was an increase in focus and motivation. It started upon his return to Charlotte that spring, carried over into his offseason workouts and back into training camp in the fall.
“This year there weren’t that many (NHL) spots, and I was one of the first cuts even though I had the best camp I’ve ever had,” said Boychuk, who is now preparing for his eighth. “Having a training camp like I did definitely put me on the map and started things over for me.”
Even with his rebuilt reputation, Boychuk is in the same situation as he was one year ago, at least in terms of his contract status. Once again, he’s a restricted free agent whose NHL rights are still controlled by Carolina. However, instead of exploring European offers, he has his sights set back to his original goal.
“I feel like I can play in the NHL now,” he said. “With how good of a season I had in the AHL this year I’m just ready. I’m seeing other guys around the league like Colton Sceviour, who signed a two-year, one-way contract after putting up some good numbers this year. It doesn’t always translate into the NHL, but that’s where I want to be and that’s what I’m going to be shooting for this summer with contracts.
“It’ll all depend on if they want to qualify me, and if they decide to qualify me we’ll talk. I’ll still have my arbitration rights too.”
In limited NHL duty – due to a large, veteran-heavy roster and his own waiver situation, Boychuk’s 11 games played were a career low – he chipped in four points (1g, 3a) from the fourth line. He hopes that brief audition, combined with his body of work in Charlotte, will be enough to give him more of a chance entering this year’s camp. He should at least be on the radar as new General Manager Ron Francis readdresses his team and what changes need to be made, although a stated desire to add more size to the lineup wouldn’t necessarily work in Boychuk’s favor (5-foot-10, 185 pounds).
That said, with any number of changes possible up top, his better-late-than-never career season could have been timed just right.
“I definitely feel like this is my time,” said Boychuk. “After five years in this league and bouncing up and down – it’s good to get NHL games, but you want to be a full-time player.”
Daniels, who did not hesitate in calling this the best of the five seasons they’ve spent together, counted Boychuk among those he feels are ready for the next level.
“They’ve proven down here that they’re impact players, and a lot of the guys that are impact players down here usually deserve an opportunity up top,” he said. “Those are guys that have proven what they can do down here and hopefully they get that opportunity.”