Last summer Brian Boyle couldn’t be sure there would be a locker stall in Madison Square Garden with his name on it. Making the final roster out of training camp was no given, and how could it be? The former Boston College standout hadn’t exactly made much of an impact in three NHL seasons.
But he was determined.
Boyle had logged just 10 points in two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and spent most of his time with their AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Not exactly what the Kings had in mind when they drafted Boyle 26th overall in the first round in 2003. After being traded to the New York Rangers for a 2010 third-round draft pick, he registered just four goals in 71 games in the 2009-2010 season. Boyle seemed destined to be a career minor leaguer.
This summer was a different story, however, and the continuation of a whole new chapter in Boyle’s career. The towering 6’7’’ center had a breakout season offensively and physically last year.
He scored career highs in goals (21), assists (14), points (35) and power play goals (4). Boyle ranked first on the team and 11th in the NHL with 240 hits and was a leader amongst Ranger forwards with 86 blocked shots. His value on the penalty kill and on an energy line with Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko also cannot be overstated.
Boyle's hard work on his skating with Olympian Barbara Underhill last summer paid off, quite literally. General manager Glen Sather locked up the restricted free agent to a three-year deal worth $5.1 million this summer. The $1.7 million annual salary was a nice raise from his previous $550,000.
Determination and hard work brought Boyle a long way, but can the late blooming success story bring the same swagger this season? The 26-year-old’s offensive production slipped in the second half of the 2010 season, most likely due to the wear and tear of the 82-game grind. His minutes per game went up, especially as role players like Ryan Callahan were injured, which could explain his scoring drought. Boyle's secondary scoring may not be a sure thing, but his locker room presence and on-ice example seem to be.
If the preseason is any indication, Boyle seems poised to make something happen every shift, whether it is defending a teammate, battling in the corner or setting up a goal on the powerplay. Just give a listen to some of what he had to say while mic'd up during a preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers in which he had a goal and an assist. Boyle also netted some key goals during his white team’s training camp scrimmage victories.
Boyle worked with Underhill again this summer and that’s the sign of someone who’s unsatisfied and hungry for more; a good sign for the Garden Faithful. Another 20-goal season is a serious possibility and a goal Boyle should aim for.
Great Expectations: Expect Boyle to thrive under Coach John Tortorella’s blue-collar grinder style once again chipping in with offense, energy and grit. But don’t expect earth shattering, consistent numbers on offense or be disappointed if he falls just short of the 20-goal plateau. Richards, Gaborik and the Dubinsky/Callahan duo should be doing that heavy lifting. Boyle should use his size even more this season and show opponents who’s boss around the crease. Keeping the penalty kill locked down is also a must.
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