August 13, 2012 12:50 PM
The circumstances may not have been ideal, but Zach Boychuk is hoping that some changes to his summer routine pay off.
Thanks to Charlotte’s disappointing finish, the 22-year-old Checkers forward, who led the team with 21 goals last campaign, is currently in the midst of his longest offseason since 2007. That would be the last time he missed the postseason at any level - his second year of junior hockey.
“It was definitely disappointing,” he said. “To not make the playoffs makes for a long offseason.”
Still, Boychuk has found some ways to take advantage. After taking a few weeks to unwind following the end of the regular season in April, he was able to begin his training much sooner than he’s accustomed to. That includes the previous season, when he helped the Checkers advance to the third round in their inaugural AHL season.
“When you play into June, you only get three months and you miss that beginning stage of your training where you set up the heavy stuff you’ll do later,” he said. “This time, I got to do lots of work early and prepare myself for that heavy lifting, and my testing is the best it’s ever been.”
That goes for other summers he’s spent as he’s spending this one - working out near his home in Calgary among a group of 30 to 40 professional players headlined by NHL All-Stars Duncan Keith, Mike Green and Jordan Eberle.
“I feel like I’m starting to get that old man strength from some of the other guys that are here,” he said with a laugh. “As a group, I can’t believe how much we’re lifting.”
Though well-built for his 5-foot-10 frame, strength was one of the knocks against the Carolina Hurricanes’ first-round draft choice (14th overall) in 2008. It was something Kirk Muller mentioned to him after a brief three-game NHL stint that ended in March – Boychuk’s first experience with the new Carolina coach.
Though otherwise not particularly noteworthy among his 72 NHL games (he didn’t register a point) Boychuk said that particular recall did help him become acquainted with Muller – something he believes will help him going into next season.
“Kirk coming in is a clean slate for me,” said Boychuk, who is set to enter his fourth professional season. “When I was up there I played on the top lines and got 15-17 minutes of ice time, and that gave me some confidence. It was good for me to be there and to learn from him, and I think with a full camp I can really show what I can do and learn even more.”
Of course, making the team won’t be easy. Though Boychuk hopes to be better prepared for the coming season, the same could be said of the Hurricanes. Big-name additions Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal mean that there won’t be a spot there for the taking. Staal’s acquisition even forced Boychuk to give up his familiar No. 11 in favor of the vacant 18, though he plans to keep his old digits with the Checkers should he return to Charlotte.
“Especially for guys like me that are trying to play in the top six or top nine, they don’t leave a lot of spots open there, so you have to earn it,” said Boychuk. “It’s going to take an amazing camp for one of us younger guys to make it. It might be a situation where we stay with the team and have to be a healthy scratch every now and then, but it’s always a process when you’re a young guy.”
For what it’s worth, Boychuk, faced with free agency for the first time this summer, chose to bet on himself. During negotiations with the Hurricanes, he turned down the more immediate security of a two-way, multi-year deal in favor of a single-year pact.
“I want to have a big year and earn a one-way next summer,” he said.
That may be a bit later than he would have hoped, but he’s doing his best to not become discouraged.
“I feel like over the last few years I’ve been developing well, but I’m almost at the point where it’s make it or break it, even though you have guys that don’t make it full time until they’re 25 or 26,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure, but I put a lot of it on myself because I want to be the best in the best league.”