Editor's Note: Over the next few weeks, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be taking an in-depth look at one Bruins player each day, analyzing that player's performance last season and outlook heading into the 2011-12 campaign.
It was a rocky year at times for Johnny Boychuk in the regular season, as he took a step back from his breakthrough rookie campaign while suffering a broken arm and a handful of healthy scratches. But Boychuk rallied late, delivering a strong effort in the playoffs as he contributed to the Bruins' first Stanley Cup victory in 39 years.
2010-11 stats: 69 games, 3-13-16, plus-15, 45 PIMs
Playoffs: 25 games, 3-6-9, plus-12, 12 PIMs
Contract status: Signed through 2011-12, $1.875 million cap hit
Preseason expectations: After finally earning a full-time job in the NHL in his sixth pro season in 2009-10, Boychuk was rewarded with a two-year deal last summer. He started that season as the seventh defenseman, but finished the playoffs alongside Zdeno Chara on the top pairing. He was expected to continue that development and provide physical play and a little offense while maintaining a top-four role.
Regular-season evaluation: Boychuk suffered through an inconsistent regular-season campaign. He started strong with three assists and a plus-3 rating through six games, but then was sidelined for 10 games with a fracture in his left forearm after being slashed by Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky on Oct. 23. When he returned a month later, he endured a few rough patches with some costly mistakes in his own end and a frustrating drought offensively.
He didn't score his first goal of the year until his 36th game, and was a healthy scratch three times later in the season. He finished with two fewer goals and just one more point than in his rookie season despite playing 18 more games and averaging 20:30 of ice time. One thing that didn't waver was his physical play, as Boychuk was sixth on the team with 117 hits, third with 115 blocked shots and added three fighting majors. Boychuk picked up his play late in the regular season, posting 2-3-5 totals and a plus-7 in his final nine games.
Playoff evaluation: Boychuk maintained that momentum from his late-season surge in the playoffs, especially after being paired with Andrew Ference in the third game of the opening series against Montreal. While the combination of Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the top pairing was the biggest key to Boston's strong defensive showing the rest of the way, the solid work of Boychuk and Ference on the second pair enabled Claude Julien to keep his top two defenders together.
Boychuk was still prone to the occasional mistake, such as a rough outing early in the Tampa series and a misplay on Vancouver's last-minute goal for a 1-0 win in Game 1 of the Final, but overall he was a steady performer and key contributor to Boston's Cup run. He averaged 20:38 in ice time and continued to play physically, as he was second on the team with 62 hits and third with 34 blocked shots while also chipping in some timely offense. He matched his regular-season total with three goals, including the game-winner in Game 4 to complete the sweep of the Flyers in the second round.
2011-12 outlook: Boychuk is entering the final year of his contract, and with a number of promising young defensemen coming up through the Bruins' system, he'll need to show more consistency and production to earn a new deal to stay in Boston beyond this season. He's certainly capable of doing that. He just needs to find the balance of remaining physical and contributing to the attack without being overly aggressive and getting caught out of position going for a big hit or pinching in at an inopportune time. Having a steady partner like Ference will help cover for the occasional lapse, and another full season and playoffs' worth of experience should reduce the frequency of those lapses.
Coming Friday, August 5: Adam McQuaid
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