If I had told you coming out of the preseason that, at the All-Star break, Brian Boyle would be leading the Rangers with 18 goals, you would think I have as much hockey sense as a rock.
Well, I’m no pebble and Brian Boyle has done just that. A virtual castoff at the beginning of training camp, the 26-year-old former 1st’round pick made a commitment to himself and the New York Rangers to become a better player.
Part of that commitment was hiring former Olympic skater Barbara Underhill as his personal skating coach. Standing 6 foot 7 inches and 252 pounds, Boyle isn’t exactly the most nimble of skaters. However, under her tutelage, Boyle was able to completely transform his skating ability, including adding more explosiveness to his bruising game; explosiveness that gave Boyle the confidence needed to be more productive.
The offseason changes were necessary for Boyle. His career, not only with the Rangers, but also in the NHL, was on the brink. Head coach John Tortorella said at the outset of training camp that Boyle was on the outside looking in and that he needed to play with more consistency to earn ice-time. In spite of that, Boyle has made his head coach and teammates big time believers.
Back in the summer of 2009, the Rangers quietly traded for the young center in exchange for a 3rd-round draft pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. Originally property of the L.A. Kings, Boyle only appeared in 36 games for them and was considered an afterthought on a King’s team deep with young, offensive talent. The Rangers, needing help down the middle, figured Boyle’s size would be a welcomed addition to the team. Little did they know that in 2011 Boyle would be a crucial cog in their offensive scheme.
In more than half a season, Boyle has emerged as a team leader and as one of Tortorella’s “go to guys.” When the Rangers need a spark or need a penalty killed off in a crucial situation, Boyle is out there. When the Rangers need protection of one of its own from a harasser on the opposition, Boyle is there, backing them up 100%. It’s the team-first attitude that Boyle possesses that fits so well with this young, scrappy Rangers team.
His emergence as a goal scorer could not have come at a more opportune time for New York. Marian Gaborik, derailed nearly a month due to a shoulder injury, isn’t the same player as last year when he netted 42 goals. Vinny Prospal has been sidelined all season with a knee injury. Alex Frolov, a free agent signed out of L.A. to provide secondary goal scoring, could only muster a paltry 7 goals and 9 assists before suffering a season-ending knee injury Jan. 10th. Boyle’s resurgence is a key reason for their successes so far this season.
Boyle’s contract will expire at season’s end, making him a restricted free agent. If the production, leadership, and camaraderie continue throughout the season, the New York Rangers will gladly retain the services of Brian Boyle.