Defenseman acquired from Dallas should bolster Penguins' special teams

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It wouldn't be wise for the Penguins to assume Philippe Boucher can be the player he was two seasons ago, when he piled up 19 goals and claimed a spot in the NHL All-Star Game.

But they can't rule out the possibility entirely, either.

Sure, Boucher -- acquired from Dallas for Penguins defenseman Darryl Sydor yesterday -- is 35 years old, and his only points in 16 appearances this season have been three assists. None of that suggests he's likely to have a major impact with the Penguins.

Still, adding an experienced, right-handed shot to their power play certainly can't hurt, and Boucher is responsible enough defensively that he shouldn't be a liability in his own zone, either.

"A guy like him who can move the puck and also shoot the puck well certainly can help us," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "And we can help him."

Just being back at work on a regular basis seems to be helping Boucher quite a bit. He was limited to 38 games last season because of two shoulder injuries, then hurt his hip in the playoffs and missed training camp this fall because of a toe problem.

All that time off seemed to be reflected in his early season production -- he had one point in the Stars' first 12 games -- but Boucher had two assists in his final four appearances with Dallas.

"I've felt much better the last couple of games," he said. "It's not where it was a couple of years ago, obviously, where I was on the first power play for most of the time, but I've felt good.

"My shot is coming and my vision is getting better. I'm more into the swing of things by being in the lineup all the time."

The only game he sat out this season was the Stars' 3-2 victory in Phoenix Saturday, when the trade had been worked out and the Penguins asked that Boucher not dress to avoid any chance of him being injured.

The deal won't have an impact on the Penguins' salary-cap situation because Boucher, like Sydor, carries a $2.5 million hit. Both are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in July.

Boucher and Penguins coach Michel Therrien were together briefly in the early 1990s, when Therrien was an assistant coach to Bob Hartley in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But even though those two know each other, Boucher has yet to be briefed on the details of his role here.

It's virtually certain, though, that he'll be given an audition on one of the power-play units. Boucher not only is a right-handed shot -- Kris Letang is the only other Penguins defenseman who is not a lefty -- but has a history of contributing on both special teams, as well as at even-strength.

With Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney out, long-term, while recovering from operations, the Penguins' usual point men are two young defensemen (Letang and Alex Goligoski) with 106 games of NHL experience between them, center Evgeni Malkin and rugged defenseman Brooks Orpik, whose finesse game remains a bit unrefined.

Adding Boucher to that group should, at the very least, help to reduce the number of short-handed goals the Penguins allow. They have given up five, third-most in the league, in their first 17 games.

Although Boucher is 6 feet 3, 221 pounds, he is not regarded as a punishing hitter. He can, however, use his size effectively.

"He's not a soft guy," Shero said. "That may have been his reputation when he came into the league a long time ago, but he's a big body and will play somewhat physically. He's not a killer or anything like that. He's not going to take over [Orpik's] job, but he gets in the lanes, gets in the way."

Boucher said he did not ask to be traded and had little advance warning that he would be, but wasn't surprised that the Stars made a move, given their disappointing 6-8-3 start.

"Obviously, with a struggling team, something's [going] to happen," he said. "You never know where it's going to come from, but I wasn't surprised."

The Penguins, winners of six consecutive games, had no such urgency to alter their lineup, but Sydor had made it known to management that he wasn't happy about spending so many game nights in street clothes.

He didn't complain publicly, though, and remained a positive presence in the locker room. Sydor's intangibles might well have been a factor in the Stars' decision to bring him back.

"He's honestly one of the most professional guys I've been around," Shero said. "He did a great job here with our kids. ... Going back to familiar surroundings, to people who know him, might be best for him."


Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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