Perhaps an overlooked storyline leading up to the Stanley Cup is the return of the often scrutinized, yet beloved big man, Brian Boyle. Wednesday night marks his return to the organization that drafted him 26th overall, in the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft. It has been six years since Boyle wore the black and silver. He returns to Los Angeles a different person, as a player and a man. Gone is the young, naïve 22 year old who tried to make the roster. Now, he is an almost 30 year old man, who has matured and developed his own style of hockey to help the New York Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Brian Boyle grew up in Hingham, MA, a city south of Boston. He played four years for Boston college, where he was named to the All-Hockey East First team for two seasons. He was also named twice to the American Hockey Coaches Association First Team All-American. His greatest offensive season in college was during the 2005-2006 campaign. He was more than a point-per-game player, putting up 22 goals for 52 points in 42 games played.
After his four years of college hockey, he started his professional career with the Los Angeles King’s American Hockey League affiliate, Manchester Monarchs. The 6’7 forward made his debut with the Monarchs during the 2006-2007 season. The following season, Brian Boyle saw his greatest production as a professional. During the 2007-2008 season, he played in 70 games, tallying 62 points with 31 goals. As a result of his efforts, he was named to the American Hockey league All-Rookie Team. More importantly, he saw playing time with the Los Angeles Kings. However, his Kings career was short-lived, as he was never able to reproduce his offensive output from early in his career. A change of scenery was needed.
At the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, he was dealt to the New York Rangers, in exchange for a third round pick. Upon his arrival on Broadway, Brian Boyle remained a fixture in the Rangers lineup. He provided a big body presence and had the potential to do damage. His most offensive season, as a Ranger, so far, was during the 2010-2011 season. He put up 21 goals in his second year as a Blueshirt. It appeared things were looking up. However, in the following years, his numbers declined and criticism came his way. Stone hands, cement blocks for skates, soft bodied, and inability to fight became common phrases to describe Boyle. It got so bad, his name was mentioned as a trade commodity. I included in that discussion. His appearance on the ice, each and every game, was thought of as a waste of space.
Along came head coach Alain Vigneault and things changed. At the beginning of this season, he made the bold move by putting Brian Boyle on the wing instead of his usual center position. Vigneault placed the recently signed veteran Dominic Moore in his place instead, along with the scrappy Derek Dorsett. After some getting used to, the fourth line was formed and started making a name for itself. It appears Boyle has finally found a role on this team. His confidence builds with each passing minute on the ice. During these playoffs, he has contributed with two goals and four assists. But he has been defensive play that has garnered him praise. According NHL.com, Boyle leads the team in hits with 53 and blocked shots with 26. Also, the success of the Rangers penalty kill, these playoffs, has benefitted from his play on the ice.
From prospect to bust to role player, the evolution of Brian Boyle has been nothing short of successful. No longer is he the movable object that has no defined purpose on the ice. Tomorrow night, he returns to the Staples Center with something to prove to his former team and himself.