This fight epitomizes Blake Wheelers season as a Bruin.
He tried hard, he meant well but the results just weren’t there. Despite seeing his TOI go from a respectable rookie average of 13:41 to a solid 15:47. he scored less, assisted less, and went from rookie sensation to a hairs breadth away from team scapegoat. Fortunately for Wheeler, Wideman, Ryder and other seemed to fail far more spectacularly far more often. While many have called his season “disastrous” that’s far from true. Despite spending the early part of the season with both the rushed back Krejci and Michael Ryder weighing him down he scored only three less goals. The seven less assists are clearly more indicative of the effort of his linemates last season. The one thing no one could accuse Wheeler of last season was giving up. He played with effort as he adjusted to the bulk he packed onto his frame.
Next season, assuming he follows in the footsteps of other college players turned NHL regulars, he’ll exceed either of his first two seasons. More than a few former college players have taken until their third season to adjust to the heavier, longer schedule, the more physical game and the quality of competition. My hope is a 32-35-67 line for Blake Wheeler this year, but I’ll be satisfied with anything over twenty-five goals.
Johnny Boychuck on the other hand did to fan, and team expectations what he did to the opposition in this hit.
Going from seventh defenseman to top pairing in the course of season takes a lot of things, Boychuck seemed to have all of them working for him this year. Having started the year in the pressbox after winning the award for the best defenseman in the AHL, Boychuck had to wonder how much ice time he was going to get with the return of Chara, Wideman, Stuart, Ference, and Hunwick and the addition of veteran Derek Morris. He played just three games in October, and none at all in November. With injuries attacking the Bruins blueline, December was to be his coming out party. Potting his first two goals in the eleven game span and playing as much as 24:14 he took the jump from the AHL to the NHL and ended the question as to if he’d end up back in Providence. Playing with Mark Stuart brought out the best in both players and several nights they were the best paring on the ice. Physical play, reasonable skating and a howitizer of a shot make Boychuck a creditable NHL defenseman, an even keel, willingness to play tough and work hard make him a must keep Bruin. By the time the playoffs rolled around with Stuart & Seidenberg on the shelf, no one had any doubt he was a go to player as he topped thirty minutes three times in the second season and looked competent and confident doing so.
For the next campaign Boychuck must fine tune his game to take better advantage of his defensive partner, and make smarter outlet passes. He’ll not only be playing for a top four position, which he deserves, he’ll be playing for his next contract. With Sturm, Recchi, and Ryder likely gone at the end of this year there will be some money available. With both Chara and Bergeron also in contract years, and with Knight, Suave, Caron, Colborne, Alexandrov and some guy named Seguin in the mix that money is going to have to be hard earned.
Lucic’s season can be summed up in this clip.
After getting hit hard by one thing, he’d battle back and get knocked down by something else. Fourteen games were lost to a broken finger almost before the season started, and another eighteen came off the table to a high ankle sprain that didn’t seem to fully heal until the playoffs. With these injuries plaguing the bruising winger, the center he works best with off the ice twice, and last years opposite winger now on another team it’s hard to saw how much of Lucic’s failure to thrive his his third season is his fault. He was visibly slower after the ankle injury for a long time, but I’m not sure he came into training camp with the same fire as he had the two precious seasons. By the end of the season he had turned the corner and took a four game point scoring streak into the playoffs.
Lucic’s challenges for his fourth season, in which a hefty contract kicks in are simple. One is stay healthy, two is provide the grit and aggression that makes him feared when his gloves are on his hands or the ice, and third adjust to whomever he plays with quickly. He is a huge fan favorite, but that could change. With Wideman out of town, and Ryder potentially demoted, bought out or traded the position of team scapegoat is wide open and disappointing fans is as quick a path to the outhouse as just being a bad player.