Avs remind Boychuk of trade that changed life

Avs remind Boychuk of trade that changed life
October 11, 2013, 10:15 am
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(USA Today Sports Images)

The Colorado Avalanche came to town on Thursday night, and that occasion always makes Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk thankful.

It didn’t have a happy ending for the Black and Gold as they dropped a 2-0 game to the Avs on the strength of a 39-save performance from the ageless Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but the Colorado/Boston story has crafted a happy ending for Boychuk. The 29-year-old defenseman was traded to Boston from Colorado at the crossroads of his career as a player that was just about ready to give up on his dreams of being an NHL player.

“I was a year away from going to Europe when that trade happened,” said Boychuk, who was dealt to Boston in exchange for gritty Nashville Predators forward Matt Hendricks. “I had definitely already had the conversation with my agent, and there was some interest in places like Switzerland. It was at a point where I had to start thinking if I wanted to try to hang around the AHL for ten years, or maybe start doing something else as a career.”

What would Boychuk have done if his hockey career had ended after a couple of years banking some dough while playing in Europe?

“I’d probably have been working on an oil rig out in Edmonton somewhere,” said Boychuk. “That’s the line of work the Boychuk family is in. That’s what my brothers Sam and Dave do for a living now.”

Those are the same Boychuk brothers that routinely, proudly tweet about their baby brother on Twitter, and never miss any Bruins games where a Johnny Rocket might just light up the lamp.

The situation speaks to just how much some NHL players need things to align for them in order to get their shot. Sometimes it’s a positional logjam, or a coach’s system just not vibing with a certain style of player. There are dozens of players in the AHL right now just like Boychuk: capable of flourishing and excelling at the NHL if given a shot in a different organization, but locked into one team either unwilling to give up on a draft pick or happy with their stockpiled depth at a certain position.

“It has been a big change [for Boychuk] and sometimes it’s about being in the right spot at the right time. He really had a good year in Providence, and there’s no doubt we were -- at that time -- looking for a right shot, and a guy that could be big, strong, and could shoot the puck.

“He had that opportunity [with the Bruins]. Just talking to him the other day he even mentioned that at one point Colorado wanted to make him a forward. So that’s how far he’s come to being a solid defenseman with us from almost being pushed out of the league.”

The Colorado Avalanche believed that Boychuk’s future was as a hard-hitting energy forward, and that he didn’t have the skating speed to develop into an NHL defenseman. That kind of role meant Boychuk would have had to drop the gloves on occasion and deal with the Shawn Thornton-types of the NHL world. He played four games with Colorado during the 2007-08 season before being dealt to Boston, and all of them were as a bottom-six forward.

That’s a difficult way to make a living for anybody.

It’s not something Boychuk is sure he would have been capable of doing over the long haul, so he was grateful when the trade landed him with an NHL organization that believed in him as a defenseman. The hard-hitting, hard-shooting blueliner then went out and justified Boston’s belief in him with 20 goals and 65 points in one amazing AHL season for the Providence Bruins. He was named the top D-Man in the AHL that season, and played in one game with Boston before leading the P-Bruins into the playoffs along with some goaltender named Tuukka Rask.

Now Boychuk is an established NHL defenseman, a Stanley Cup champion skating in a pair with one of the best players in the world in Zdeno Chara and a player that’s become part of the established core leadership group in Boston. The happy-go-lucky Boychuk has taken on some of responsibilities Andrew Ference used to have with the Black and Gold, taking young players under his wing and making them feel comfortable within a veteran B’s dressing room.

Off the ice, Boychuk is married and expecting twins in January while smack in the middle of a three-year, $10.1 million contract extension that has set him and his family up for the rest of their lives. That’s a long way away from skating for Swiss Army Knives in Davos, or heading back to an oil rig in Alberta for a life of honest, difficult work through which the Boychuk family makes their living.

“That whole time in my career seems like a long time ago now,” said Boychuk, who has an assist in three games this season while looking to build on some major production during last year’s playoffs. “With the way things have worked out in Boston – with the team and individually – it’s more than I ever could have hoped for.

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking ‘what if” Colorado had never traded me here because I have too many good things going on here. But there’s no doubt things would have gone very differently for me if the Bruins trade never happened.”

There are still challenges for Boychuk, of course.

It’s challenging just to get your foot in the door at the NHL level, and it’s even more challenging to protect your spot there from all challengers. Boychuk is on the Bruins power play now after being off the last couple of years, and he wants to stay on there while adding an offensive dimension to his regular season body of work.

In an honest moment the 29-year-old might even admit it could have been him leaving Boston after last season rather than Andrew Ference if Boychuk hadn’t put together the big goals and bone-jarring hits during last year’s Stanley Cup Final run.

But things are working out for Boychuk and the Bruins as the classic late blooming NHL defenseman where time and experience can turn one team’s coal into another team’s diamond. It’s all possible because Colorado finally dealt him to a Boston organization that valued him for who he is.

Or as the trade is known to Boychuk: one of the best days of the rest of his hockey life.