Penguins' Bourque is emerging from father's shadow

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Chris Bourque doesn't play his father's position, and doesn't have his size.

He is a 5-foot-8, 178-pound winger, not a 6-0, 219-pound defenseman.

He doesn't possess his dad's remarkable gifts for the game, either.

At 23, Chris Bourque is still trying to carve out a niche in pro hockey. By the time the elder Bourque reached that age, he had won a Calder Trophy and had the first few hundred of what would become 1,612 NHL games on his resume.

Now, there's no shame in coming out on the low end of any comparison to Raymond Bourque -- darned near everyone who ever pulled on a pair of hockey skates does -- but laboring in the shadows cast by a parent who is such a legend would seem to have the potential to cause some particular problems.

Like, say, those inevitable, and sometimes incessant, comparisons.

But not so, says Chris Bourque, whom the Penguins claimed off waivers from Washington last week. If there was a downside to having Ray Bourque sitting at the head of the dining-room table while he was growing up, he never noticed it.

"I don't ever see the minus side [of having such an accomplished father]," Bourque said. "I've always looked at the positive side. I get to learn from one of the best players who ever played the game.

"I've been trying to use that to my advantage. Anytime I have a question about something or there's something going on, he's been through it all. He played this game for 22 years and he's seen every single thing this game has to offer."

Something he hasn't seen yet, but might in the near future, is his son wearing a Penguins sweater.

Chris Bourque was a healthy scratch for the Penguins' season-opening victories against the New York Rangers and New York Islanders this weekend, but it's conceivable that he could get a chance to play when Phoenix visits Mellon Arena at 7:38 p.m. Wednesday.

The Penguins, after all, didn't bring him in simply because they wanted to pad the payroll.

"I think he's a guy who can slot in up and down the lineup," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "He has good skill, can really shoot the puck.

"He's a hard-working kid who sticks his nose in there, especially for his size. He's a guy who might be able to play [on the] second power play. He'll get an opportunity there."

Although Shero talks of being able to plug Bourque into any number of spots, it seems unlikely that the Penguins would break up the Matt Cooke-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy line to accommodate him and, grit aside, he doesn't have physicality of fourth-line wingers Mike Rupp and Eric Godard.

Bourque could, however, be an intriguing candidate to play on Evgeni Malkin's line if coach Dan Bylsma decides at some point that Pascal Dupuis, now playing with Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko, or Max Talbot, who worked there in the playoffs, doesn't provide the fit he's seeking.

Bourque has shown a decent scoring touch -- he averaged about one goal every three games in the past three seasons with Washington's minor league team in Hershey -- and believes he is capable of filling a top-six role.

"That's the kind of player I am," he said. "To finally get an opportunity to try to show that ... once the opportunity comes, I'm definitely going to try to take advantage of it."

Bylsma, as well as several of Bourque's new teammates, have first-hand knowledge of what he can do. They watched him on the other side of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-Hershey rivalry, which Bourque described as "definitely the biggest rivalry we had."

Those games produced plenty of bad feelings and bitterness -- much as the ones between the parent clubs do -- but Bourque said that won't affect his relationship with guys he faced in the American Hockey League who are now his teammates.

"I've definitely played against a few of these guys, but that's hockey," he said. "That stuff happens. I don't mind being on the other side of that rivalry. It's always a good game when the two teams play. Same with Washington and Pittsburgh."

By the time the Penguins and Capitals meet for the first time this season, Jan. 21 at Mellon Arena, it might be clear whether Bourque will have a chance to become a significant figure in that rivalry -- as his dad was when Boston and the Penguins collided in the Wales Conference final in 1991 and '92 -- or whether he'll be little more than a minor footnote in franchise history.

"There's a little bit of upside and minimal risk," Shero said. "We'll see how it goes."


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


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