Zach Boychuk had a long drive from Pittsburgh to Nashville on Tuesday, which gave the 23-year-old forward time to reflect on what could’ve been with the Hurricanes and Penguins, what could be with the Predators.
Boychuk was claimed off waivers by the Predators and participated in Wednesday’s practice in Nashville less than 24 hours after he was picked up. It’s Boychuk’s third NHL team this season, as he was plucked off waivers by Pittsburgh from Carolina just last month.
“It’s a new opportunity for me,” said Boychuk, who is excited for a fresh start. “David [Poile] said he was looking to shake the team up a bit and hopefully I can come in and create some competition and bring my speed and skill and help the team win.”
The Predators also claimed forward Bobby Butler off waivers from New Jersey on Monday, giving head coach Barry Trotz two new options up front as the team searches for help on offense.
“I’m just getting to know them,” Trotz said of Boychuk and Butler. “Our scouts identified some of their qualities that they may bring to the group. What they bring to the group is competition. We haven’t had a lot of competition in that area and some guys have let their games slip. They’re here for competition and they’re looking to stay in the National Hockey League.”
Boychuk was selected 14th overall by Carolina in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, right in between Nashville’s pair of first-round picks of Colin Wilson and Chet Pickard. Boychuk has struggled to find his game at the NHL level, piling up 16 points in 80 games between Carolina and Pittsburgh.
In a way, though, Boychuk is already a good fit in Nashville. In the past, Poile and Trotz have thrived off picking up unknown or unwanted commodities and turning them into useful NHL players. An energetic and determined Boychuk is also joining a struggling Predators team (2-6-1 in the last nine games) that is desperate for any kind of spark in the second half of the season.
“That’s what Trotz said to me early on – a lot of guys have sparked their careers here and caught a break. That’s what I’m looking to do here,” Boychuk said.
“I feel like I can be a full-time NHL player and a big contributor … I’m a guy that wants to succeed. It’s not easy being put on waivers, but it’s nice that I’m not going back to the minors and I’m getting an opportunity to stay in the NHL. I feel really lucky and I really want to take advantage of it.”
Boychuk later mentioned that Carolina had interest in reacquiring him off waivers this week, but would have tried to send him back down to Charlotte where he started the season back in October. He had 32 points in 37 AHL games prior to the lockout ending, but failed to reach the scoresheet in seven games as a member of the Penguins.
Boychuk learned of the news yesterday around noon in Pittsburgh and said Penguins GM Ray Shero, who was previously an assistant GM in Nashville, put in a good word about him to Poile and the Predators.
“Shero said that I played well with [Evgeni] Malkin and [James] Neal when I was there, and if I would’ve had three or four points in those seven games that they wouldn’t have put me on waivers,” Boychuk said. “I’m looking to show the coaching staff what I can do here.
In Wednesday’s practice, Boychuk was placed on a line with Mike Fisher and Patric Hornqvist, while Butler skated with Martin Erat and Craig Smith. Trotz is looking to put his two new waiver claims in positions to succeed right off the bat.
“We have to change it up because it’s not working right now,” Trotz said. “The group, as it stands right now, is not getting it done the last 10 games. We’re just not. You’re always looking to improve the team and that’s what management is trying to do.”
When asked of his first impression of Boychuk, Fisher said, “He’s a guy that has pretty good skill, great hands, speed, an offensive guy. Hopefully we’ll play well together.”
Predators fans will likely get their first glimpse of the new forwards on Friday night against Edmonton. Boychuk hopes it’s the first of many games in a Predators uniform, as he looks to stick in the NHL with a team desperate to stay in the playoff picture.
“When I went to Pittsburgh there wasn’t a lot of pressure to score goals because we had guys like Malkin, [Sidney] Crosby, [Chris] Kunitz and the list goes on,” he said. “To come here, there are some really solid players and I feel I can add to that mix.”