Safe to say that Reid Boucher made himself the most touted / anticipated / coveted forward prospect in the Devils organization with his incredible accomplishment of 62 goals for the Sarnia Sting in Junior hockey last season. Just the sheer magnitude of the name of the previous record holder, Steven Stamkos, creates a palpable buzz around young Reid. Not to take anything at all away from Reid, or his accomplishment, but Steven Stamkos is a generational talent who accomplished his feat at the age of 18, and a comparison of the two players, despite their connection in Sarnia Sting history, is neither appropriate nor fair to Boucher as a young player trying to establish an NHL career.
Still, Reid came into Devils camp this season with a shot to make the team, allegedly, although the number of bodies on the premises would tell you otherwise. It quickly became a moot point, however, as Boucher proved to not be NHL ready in his first few exhibition games. However, 20 games in Albany seemed to treat him very well. He started out a bit slow but came on of late as he became better adjusted. Boucher scored 18 points (8 G, 10 A) in those 21 games, and, most impressively, put 69 shots on net, over 3 per game. Although he was finding his game in Albany, I was still quite surprised to hear last week that he got the call up and would be making his Devils debut. I wasn't sure what to expect, and was hopeful, but not really expecting to see that much different a version of the Boucher I saw play just over 2 months ago. I will say, so far I've been pleasantly surprised.
During the pre-season, Boucher's talents were obvious, but there were just too many situations where he looked lost on the ice. That no longer seems to be the case. It appears he has learned quite a lot over the past two months in Albany, and, of course he still has a lot to learn. Is it best for both the Devils success and Boucher's development as a player for this to continue at the NHL Level, or would it make more sense for him to go back to the AHL? Additionally, will roster space considerations require his return to the AHL at some point?
Boucher is getting top line minutes and seems to be generally keeping up with the run of play. He is garnering high praise form the coaching staff. He does not appear physically overmatched, despite being on the smaller side. Boucher is averaging just over 18 shifts a game so far, which is more than about half the people on this list. He also seemed to fit in well on lines with Michael Ryder and Adam Henrique last night, and with Ryder and Loktionov in his debut game. So, Reid is not merely propped up by the incredible talents of Jagr. What's it like to play with such a beast of such Jaromirian proportions? "He’s unbelievable," Boucher said. "He’s just so good. He knows his way around the ice and he’s great to have out there. He talks to you on the bench about plays you could have made. He’s just awesome...Just certain things I didn’t see or certain plays I could have made that I can look for next time." This sounds like a full fledged internship at JagrCorp, a potentially invaluable and irreplaceable experience for any young player of offensive talent. If the run of play generally favors the Devils when Boucher is on the ice, and he can spend about two periods a game interning with Jagr, I see no reason not to continue playing him at the NHL level. With the quick adjustment he made from juniors to the pro game this fall, and learning so much in about 20 games time in the AHL, I'd be very excited to see what he could learn over 20 NHL games. The game still seems to be coming a little bit fast for him at this point at the NHL level, but he doesn't seem out of place. I think there's a good chance things could slow down for him a bit over the next 5 games or so.
So far, Boucher has averaged just a shot a game in his 4 NHL games. Sadly, among this current Devils group of forwards, this rate is roughly as good or better than 9 other names on this list among 18 total players, Reid included. These four shots have come among 7 total shot attempts. Neither of these statistics are particularly overwhelming, but it shows a general deficiency in your forward group when these rates are compared to established NHL players, and less that half the players are better. It would seem there is room for him somewhere in the top 9, whether it be on the first line or the third line. I think we will see him get more rubber on net and towards net as he becomes more comfortable. Ideally, it would be fantastic if his shot rate could approach two per game and his attempt rate could approach three per game. While this may be a lofty goal, increases at all in both these rates would make it very hard to take him out of the lineup.
What about when alleged real person Ryane Clowe returns shortly from injury? Well, Clowe is someone else who typically gets pucks on net at almost 2.5 per game over the course of his career. He will have a place in the top 9 for sure, and if Brunner keeps playing like he has the past two games, so shall he. Regardless, Steve Bernier can and should be dropped to the fourth line in this scenario and Tim Sestito or Janssen returned to Albany. As other injuries heal, and the return of Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter becomes imminent, roster space will once again be at a premium. if necessary, I also wouldn't hesitate at this point to send Mattias Tedenby through waivers to keep Boucher in New Jersey. Reid has more offensive ability and is already less of a liability in his own zone. If he can continue to show improvement over stretches of 5 to 10 games, contribute at above a replacement level, and get acclimated to the NHL game on the fly while playing with world class players like Jagr, and Elias, I see no reason to change that situation.
What do you think about Reid Boucher's immediate future in New Jersey? Should his time in Newark be nothing more than a taste of the big leagues? Should he be returned to Albany where he can play bigger minutes and enjoy success against easier competition? How do you judge his first four games at the NHL level? Does he look out of place to you? If you'd like to see him in New Jersey, what are you looking for him to contirbute on anightly basis to stay in the lineup? Please take a minute to swing by the comments section below and leave your take on Boucher. Thanks for Reid-ing.