State of the Devils: Boucher Earning His Spot

It’s been some time since a young rookie hit the top line.  The last time the Devils saw a rookie on the top line was Adam Henrique centering Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise (a story he reprised for last week’s Throwback Thursday).  Now, 20-year old Reid Boucher is playing on the top line with legend Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac (who appeared in his 500th career NHL game on Saturday night).

Boucher hasn’t completely earned a regular spot on the Devils yet.  Coach Pete DeBoer said he would take it day by day to decide whether Boucher deserved to remain on that top line.

The young Michigan native made his first appearance in the Devils lineup on December 4th against the Montreal Canadiens where he collected his first NHL point on an assist on Michael Ryder’s goal at 9:50 in the third period.  With the game going to sudden death, the Devils put Boucher out first to shake up their shoddy record in the shootout.  He was the only Devils player to score on Peter Budaj in the 4-3 loss to Montreal, as well as the first and only Devil to score in the shootout this season.

“[He was] good,” Patrik Elias said of Boucher after the Canadiens loss.  “First two periods I played with him.  He’s good.  He holds onto the puck.  He doesn’t panic with it.  He’s pretty fast.  He’s got a good shot, obviously, and not afraid to make plays.”

“[I felt] very good,” Boucher said after his first game.  “[I was] very excited, a lot of adrenaline going.  I thought it was a good first game.”

He came in the night before the game.  Was he able to get any rest?

“Not too much.  I just kept thinking about it, thinking about it.  I was so excited lying in bed.  I never really got to [sleep].”

“Very surprising,” he said of being selected to go first in the shootout.  “I just wanted to make the very best of my opportunity.  That was my go-to move, a little fake shot and then a quick shot after.”

Each night is a battle for rookies to stay in the lineup.

“I don’t think you can be comfortable up here, especially on the edge like I am.  You’ve got to earn your spot every day.

“Elias was telling me in pre-game skate to always be talking out there.  It helps out everything.  It really worked out tonight.”

What did Lou Lamoriello tell him?

“Right when I got here this morning, he told me to remember there’s two zones out there.”

For his first game, he said he was very excited and nervous, especially heading out for that first shift.  He wasn’t sentimental enough to keep the puck from his first goal as a New Jersey Devil…that is the goal from the shootout.

For Boucher, he is not only trying to prove his worth offensively, but he is also contributing in other ways like blocking shots and delivering hits. Unfortunately, one hit left New York Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal concussed after Saturday’s Devils overtime win at Madison Square Garden.  Staal took a shoulder to the chin at 6:41 in the third period of the contest.  He is being treated for ‘neck issues.’

As for being on the top line with Jagr and Zajac, Boucher seems to be coming along well.  He appears to be completely in sync with the 41-year old winger.

Boucher and Kelly Zajac have been ‘lighting it up’ in the AHL, according to Travis Zajac.  So it was only a natural progression for Boucher to wind up on the same line with the elder Zajac.  He seems to be fitting in just fine.

Janssen to the Rescue

Another player looking to earn and keep their spot in the lineup is none other than Cam Janssen.

He has been known for his antics in the past…as in being an enforcer or a goon.  This season, he decided to turn a new leaf and focus on being a hockey player first, and being an enforcer last.  Gone are the days of saying this guy can’t play hockey.  Apparently, he can play and he’s filling in that role David Clarkson left behind.

In Saturday’s contest against the Rangers, Justin Falk and Patrik Elias were getting into each other’s face.  Elias, who is not a fighter, but can get a little rowdy with opponents, seemed to be getting a little too tied up with Falk to the point Janssen had to come out and do something.

Elias went to the bench, Janssen jumped onto the ice, made a small play (which he likes to point out), and then skated over to Falk who was coming off his shift.  He had a few words with him then went back to the bench.  This lasted all of 10 seconds.

“We don’t send players out,” Pete DeBoer responded when asked if he sent Janssen out to deal with Falk.

“He was all over Patty,” Janssen said.  “Way, way over the line.  He hit him in the back of the head.  Patty brings on some stuff himself, don’t get me wrong, but pick and choose.  You’re 6’4”…you know who to talk to if you want to get into that.

“I’m not gonna jump the kid.  If I would have dropped my gloves and jumped him, he would have been down. Who knows what kind of [pill] he would have gave me?  But I needed to call him out and let him know that’s not going to happen.  If he wants to do it, he knows where to look.

“Don’t get me wrong, the kid’s just battling.  But Patty’s the superstar on our team.  You know he’s not going to drop the gloves.  You can only do so much, just don’t cross the line.  He started to cross the line there.  I needed to let him know.”

“I didn’t go straight for him.  The puck was right there.  I stopped on the puck, and then I went.  I didn’t go right at him.”

After Janssen’s confrontation with Falk, he hit the ice again for his shift less than a minute later, and ended up scoring a goal on the blade of his skate.  While he claims he blacked out again when he scored the goal (something he says he does on every goal), this goal took a lot of thought to make.

“I remember getting over to the boards,” Janssen said of his goal.  “After that…really…nothing.”

But really…

“Marty [Brodeur]’s just a launch sauce, which is absolutely ridiculous,” he said.  “I don’t know how he does it.  And then Timmy [Sestito] just blasted a shot.  I just stopped and over-exaggerated the stop.  I wanted to make sure I didn’t have too much of a kicking motion.  I knew I couldn’t get my stick down there.  I knew maybe I’d have a chance if I just stopped.  It just kind of hit my blade and went in.  I got pretty lucky, but I knew if I tried to have a kicking motion into it then they would have called it back.  But if I was just stopping, then…pffft…it’s not my fault, I don’t want to run into the net.  It all worked out.”

Not only was he able to master making this smart hockey play, but the goal actually counted, making the whole Janssen incident turn into a Ha Ha. In your face! moment to the Rangers.

He’s starting to remind me a lot of Clarkson, but smarter.  Who knew Janssen had this in him?

“He’s been doing a good job for us,” DeBoer said of Janssen.  “That’s why we’ve kept him in the lineup.  We scratched some pretty good players to keep him in there.  He’s earning his ice time.”

Notes

Saturday’s win against marked the third win in a row this season against the Rangers.  They meet the Rangers two more times, including the Stadium Series game at Yankees Stadium.

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