Monday, August 3, 2009

Introducing Zach Boychuk

Zach Boychuk
(Photo by Jim McNally)

This 5-foot-10, 180-pound multi-skilled forward, selected 14th overall in the first round in 2008, is considered to be one of the top prospects entering professional hockey this season.

Only 19-years-old, Zach Boychuk is best known for his explosive speed, dynamic puck control and instinctive hockey senses.

Boychuk, originally from Airdrie, Alberta, compares his style to that of Sidney Crosby or Daniel Brière. Rats' fans may view him as a slightly larger version of Brian Gionta or Zach Parise, perhaps Patrik Elias with a bit less razzle dazzle. Any comparison, however, does not do the young skater justice.

Boychuk, nick-named "Chucker," is unique in his own right. Spawned from the ice-cold youth rinks of Alberta, he is a natural-born playmaker and goal-scorer. Some may say hockey skills are written into his genetic code.

"I started skating when I was two-years-old. My mom tells me I always had a stick in my hands,” Boychuk said in a 2008 interview. "I just had a passion for hockey. When I was young I was always playing street hockey on the cul-de-sac, and that is pretty much what I'd do all day when I wasn't at school."

Boychuk joined his first ice hockey team when he was only six. Ten years later, at the age of 16, he had earned a spot on the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League.

In four seasons with Lethbridge, Boychuk scored 310 points (130 G, 180 A) in 272 junior career games. Last season, he stacked up 70 points (35 G, 35 A) in just 54 contests, proving to be one of the league's most skilled forwards.

Boychuk also represented his country at several international competitions. Most notably, he helped lead Canada to back-to-back gold medal victories at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2008 and 2009.

At the 2008 World Championship Boychuk played alongside fellow Carolina prospect Brandon Sutter. The two are said to be good friends.

Boychuk skated in two contests with Carolina at the beginning of last season, but was reassigned to juniors for further development.

Zach Boychuk
(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

After finishing the 2008-09 season with Lethbridge, Boychuk joined Albany for the Rats' two final contests. He notched his first professional point in a game against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins on April 10th.

Boychuk, who inked a three-year, entry level deal with Carolina in 2008, will officially kick off his professional career this October. If all things remain equal, a winking River Rat will be sewn to his sweater for most of 2009-10.

Fans in Albany will undoubtedly enjoy his presence. All reports suggest his speed, talent, and drive are extremely fun to watch.

"Zach is a pure athlete," said Boychuk's coach in Lethbridge Mike Dyck. "Everything that we do whether it’s on or off the ice seems to come very easily to him. He’s got unbelievable athletic ability and because of that he’s a great skater, he handles the puck at a high speed, he really does everything at high speed and that’s what separates him from the average player . . . not too many guys can do what he does on a consistent basis."

In 2008, E.J. McGuire, NHL Director of Central Scouting, commented: "Zach is a skilled, see the ice type forward. He quarterbacks the power-play and might be the best two-step quickness guy in all of junior hockey. In two steps he is at top speed and he can hit the brakes and delay the play with the best of them as well. Zach is an all-around offensive player who sees the ice well and is just a treat to watch."

Some scouting reports warn that Boychuk may not have the size to compete professionally, but the Hurricanes disagree.

"He’s a high-energy player with grit and skill, and he knows how to score," said Canes' amateur scouting director
Tony MacDonald. "He’s not a real big guy, but it’s not an issue with him. He plays big. He uses the body well. He hits. He works. He’s a solid two-way hockey player, and an exciting player to boot."

"This kid's a goal-scorer, a sniper," said
MacDonald. "He can put the puck in the net. He'll go to the net and he's elusive and slippery. ... He's a more complete player than a lot of the bigger guys available. He's got a better pedigree."

"When you have a player that size," said Canes' GM
Jim Rutherford, "there are certain things that a player needs to be able to do. He has to have really good hockey sense. He has to be really quick. He passes the test on that. We’re fine with his size."

“He’s a highly-skilled guy," said Rutherford. "He has great speed, great hands, and he should have a great future with us."