Boychuk, Sutter are reunited on Penguins
If you go north on Highway 2 from Calgary, you can't miss the Alberta towns of Red Deer and Airdrie, strong Western Canadian hockey outposts.
As boys, Brandon Sutter of Red Deer and Zach Boychuk of Airdrie got to be friends and eventually played together on Canada's age-group and world junior championship teams. They got drafted in the first round by Carolina one year apart.
Now, they are together again after the Penguins traded for Sutter in June and plucked Boychuk from the Hurricanes Thursday on waivers.
"We've known each other forever. We're from almost the same town," Sutter said after Boychuk practiced with the Penguins for the first time Friday at Consol Energy Center.
Sutter, 23, plans to open his home to Boychuk until the 22-year-old gets settled in Pittsburgh. He'll show the newcomer around, help him out.
But not so much on the ice, where Sutter is fairly well entrenched as the third-line center.
Boychuk practiced at left wing on the second line with center Evgeni Malkin and right winger James Neal, and that on-ice initiation will continue this afternoon when the Penguins play the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center.
"He's not a huge guy, but he's a guy that sticks his nose in there, is effective with his speed and does have some skill," coach Dan Bylsma said in confirming that Boychuk will make his Penguins debut as the latest to audition for a spot alongside Malkin and Neal.
The Penguins already have tried Eric Tangradi, Tyler Kennedy and Dustin Jeffrey in that spot, and the season is only seven games old.
"I feel like I can bring some tenacity" to lines with highly skilled players, Boychuk said. "I've got speed. I can go and get pucks. I can make plays.
"It's exciting to come to a team with a lot of superstars like that, and, hopefully, I can bring something good to the team."
Boychuk has seven goals, 18 points in 73 NHL games.
He spent the NHL lockout with Charlotte of the American Hockey League and, with 16 goals, 32 points in 37 games, played well enough to get another in a long line of looks from the Hurricanes.
For the season opener, he lined up with highly skilled Carolina forwards Eric Staal and Alex Semin, but he had no points or shots in a loss against Florida and was a healthy scratch every subsequent game until the Hurricanes placed him on waivers Wednesday.
Coach Kirk Muller indicated to Boychuk he wasn't typical of players who are exposed to waivers.
It was not that Boychuk underperformed, but rather that he was a victim of the time squeeze caused by an NHL lockout that pushed the start of the season back to mid-January, shortened training camp to a week and allowed for no preseason games.
Boychuk got the impression that Muller did not expect the young forward to clear waivers.
Boychuk learned Thursday via Twitter that he had been claimed, but it wasn't until Penguins general manager Ray Shero called him that he learned which team had picked him up.
After speaking with Sutter, he packed his car and headed north.
After bouncing between the NHL and AHL -- spending a lot more time in the minors -- the past four seasons, Boychuk is grateful for a fresh start.
"It's nice to get a chance," he said. "I want to be a full-time NHL player.
"I feel like I have the skills to do that. Now that Pittsburgh's giving me that opportunity, I hope to take advantage of it.
"Now it's just trying to keep that confidence that I had down in Charlotte and try and bring that consistent forechecking game that I think would be good here."
Boychuk has played against the Penguins several times and seen them many more on TV. He watched the HBO series with the Penguins and Washington Capitals leading up to the 2011 Winter Classic, so some things already were familiar when he arrived.
"I always watched them all the time," he said.
"They're always on TV. They've got a lot of superstars.
"Watching the '24/7' series, seeing the dressing room, it's all pretty cool. It's crazy that I'm here right now."
Most familiar in the locker room is Sutter, who was part of the trade that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina during the June draft.
"It's good to have a familiar face like that," Boychuk said of Sutter.
"We've been friends for a long time, and it will be a nice, easy transition. It's great to be back with him."
Even if it does seem as if Boychuk is following Sutter.
"It's kind of funny how that works out," Sutter said.
Matchup: Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils, 1:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Brodeur for Devils.
Penguins: Are 3-1 inside Atlantic Division. ... Among NHL's best with 33.1 shots per game. ... Are 5-1 at home against New Jersey the past two seasons.
Devils: Have lost in overtime or shootout in past three games but have at least one point in each of their six games. ... David Clarkson has at least one point in each game (4 goals, 8 points). ... Gave up three power-play goals Thursday in 5-4 overtime loss against New York Islanders.
Hidden stat: New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk (27:07) was only forward among top 46 players in NHL in average ice time before Friday.
First Published February 2, 2013 12:00 am