Reid Boucher sitting out the second game of the Prospects Challenge involving our New Jersey Devils, the Boston Bruins and host Buffalo Sabres wasn't a big deal at first. Sure there were some disappointed fans, but the idea was that some of the more experienced players would sit one game so the team could get a look at how some of the players they see less of were progressing. Tuesday morning changed Reid missing that game into a big deal, as GM Ray Shero announced that after further testing on Monday, Boucher had been diagnosed with a concussion.
With the amount of player and staff turnover from the previous season, Boucher could not have picked a worse time to have any injury, much less one that will keep him out an undetermined amount of time. In addition, while I was typing this article, Tom Gulitti reported that the Devils signed Jiri Tlusty to a one year contract and also invited Tyler Kennedy and Lee Stempniak to camp as Professional Try Outs.
Boucher has yet to earn himself a full time NHL role and part of the reason for that was his previous usage; when he would be called up, he would usually wind up playing in either a limited minutes or bottom 6 role. He averaged just over 11 minutes per game last season, though that number is dragged down by his four games played before the team parted ways with Peter DeBoer. While ice time must be earned at the NHL level, Boucher posted some unimpressive numbers both last season and in his 23 games the prior season. Again, usage is a factor, but for someone who is supposed to be a goal scorer, 8 points (3 goals) in 34 games just isn't cutting it; again, it isn't fair to blame just Boucher for his lack of production as the entire team (for the most part) has stunk worse than old, raw chicken the last few seasons.
I can, however put a bit more blame on him for not producing at a lower level. While his 2013-14 campaign in Albany wasn't bad (22 goals, 38 points), he regressed (15 goals, 30 points) last season while appearing in 6 more games. Again, the argument exists with usage and other players, but again for someone who is expected to put up points, seeing a regression in the minors (especially with his goal total) is a cause for alarm. Bouch has youth working in his favor (he just turned 22 on September 8th) but you want to see a player like him have a goal total closer to Paul Thompson (33 in the AHL) than it is to Jordin Tootoo (10 in the NHL) by season's end.
The reason I ask if the curtain is closing is due to the fact that going in to this season, Reid seemed to have an easier path to the NHL roster; the veterans that were just weighing down the front lines (Dainius Zubrus, Michael Ryder, Martin Havlat) are gone, as well as some older but productive names (Scott Gomez, Steve Bernier, and Ryane Clowe when he was healthy), which left the team with some holes to fill. As he is going to miss at least part of training camp, the Devils are now going to be looking at other players to fill those spots. While they may or may not impress/make the team, eyes will definitely be on the PTO players, as well as guys like Joseph Blandisi who had a good weekend in Buffalo.
The Tlusty signing also cuts Reid's chances of making the team, as he's a player who had better totals in the NHL last year than Bouch did in the AHL last year. To me, the Devils have 10 spots filled up front (Mike Cammalleri, Patrik Elias, Stephen Gionta, Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, Kyle Palmieri, Tuomo Ruutu, Jiri Tlusty, Jordin Tootoo, and Travis Zajac), and a couple of players coming to camp who I think have passed/are better than Boucher (Stempniak and Thompson) at this point; there's also guys like Stefan Matteau and Joe Blandisi looking for NHL jobs.
To take from a novel title, "If Not Now, When?" With his stat regression in the AHL last season combined with new signings and other prospects seemingly passing him (as well as having guys such as Pavel Zacha and John Quenneville growing in the wings) one has to wonder if Boucher will ever be an NHL player. Perhaps he just isn't a fit with the Devils, but there are also players who perform well in juniors that just simply can't transition that success to the pro levels. My personal opinion is that this could be a make or break season for Boucher; he needs to either tear up the AHL, or if he makes the main roster, become at least a decent producer. If he can't put it all together, again it is worth wondering if he ever will.
Now I'd like to hear your thoughts on Reid Boucher; do you think that he will make the main roster? Will he ever be a capable goal scorer in the NHL? Is he just not a fit in New Jersey? Has the concussion derailed what could have been his best chance at an NHL job? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!