As the hockey season draws near, there are many questions that will face the 2017-18 version of the New York Islanders. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, the expectations are still high for the Isles. With an entirely new coaching staff and new blood ready to make an impact, this season could be something special, or the final chapter before major changes is made. Over the next 30 days, our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
Johnny Boychuk has been a stable on the New York Islanders blue line for the last three seasons. But with the changes the Isles defensive corps went through this summer and will go through this season, it seems that Boychuk has sort of gotten lost in the shuffle.
All the talk this off-season about the defense tracks back to the when g.m. Garth Snow protected five of his defensemen in the expansion draft with Boychuk being one of them. Snow then traded longtime d-man Travis Hamonic on the second day of the draft. With Hamonic now gone, the team has three young pups looking to take the number three role. Now that competition has no effect on Boychuk in the short-term. Long-term though, with Boychuk well in his mid-30s, one of those three players who win that spot or earn it could replace him in the near future. But that’s another conversation for another time.
Boychuk is still signed through 2022-23, and the value he continues to bring since he arrived just before the season in 2014 is still very crucial to the Islanders success.
The Edmonton native will be looking to build off a superb season in 2016-17. Boychuk totaled 23 points in 66 games and was plus-11 in the plus-minus category. He blocked 155 shots which was third best of any d-man on the club. His on ice statistics (Corsi) for the stat geeks out there, was better than his numbers in 2015-16. Besides the stats, Boychuk was one of the louder voices in the room when the Isles struggled early in the season and eventually one of the bigger contributors in the teams’ second half push.
2017-18 could be an intriguing campaign for Boychuk.
Yes, he will still be on the first defensive pairing. But at 33-years old, and the rough and tumble style he plays, it will be worth watching if Boychuk’s body begins to break down. Not many 33-year olds around the league are playing over 20 minutes a night. Will that continue for Boychuk with the team looking to depend on the younger D this year? Maybe, maybe not. Sacrificing the body is also a forte of Boychuk. But with head coach Doug Weight employing his defensemen now to allow shooting lanes so goalies can get cleaner looks, Boychuk blocking less pucks to the net will relieve the pain his body experiences over an 82-game season.
His numbers offensively could take a bump this year because of his willingness to throw everything at the net.
Boychuk had 155 shots on goal last season, which was the most of the Isles d-men. With some new tweaks to how the team plays in the o-zone, plus a few more skilled forwards on the team this year, Boychuk should be looking to shoot even more. Boychuk’s lethal shot should still be the weapon that keeps him producing on a consistent basis. It seemed whenever he just let a clapper from the point go last year, it somehow found its way to the back of the net. Look for that to become an even more common occurrence.
It’s hard to predict how a player will perform. But in Boychuk’s case, fans and writers have become so accustomed to how he plays, that it’s easy to predict the kind of numbers he’ll put up. But this season might be more unique for Boychuk.
This year, with a new head coach in Weight, and new assistant coach in Luke Richardson — whose specialty is defense — Boychuk will be leaned on more this season that in the three years he’s been here. And rightfully so. Boychuk is a huge key to the Islanders returning to the playoffs. Both his own play and overall team play.
Prediction: 10 goals, 30 assists for Boychuk