Will the Real Brian Boyle Please Stand Up?
There wasn’t much fanfare surrounding Brian Boyle’s arrival on Broadway over three years ago. The hulking forward standing 6’7″ and weighing 244 pounds was by no means a shoe-in for the Rangers opening day roster and was, at best, a depth player who could eat up a few minutes here and there while anchoring a fourth line. However, after a very uneventful debut on Broadway that saw the mammoth center score only 4 goals while registering a total of 6 points in 71 games, Brian Boyle’s game began to take serious strides, quite literally.
Boyle’s size is practically unrivaled but upon his arrival in New York, his skating ability left much to be desired. Boyle’s ability to go from point “A” to point “B” could be described most accurately as clumsy and awkward. While Boyle has ample size and strength he lacked the ability to put himself in position to use it. Two years ago everything changed. After disappointing many during his first year on Broadway, Boyle spent the bulk of the Summer working on his biggest weakness: his skating. The player that arrived in training camp was altogether a different player than he was a year earlier. Boyle’s skating prowess had drastically improved and he became a stalwart for John Tortorella due to his work ethic and dedication to improvement. While Boyle may not throw the body with as much ferocity or frequency as the rabid fans inside The World’s Most Famous Arena may want him to, he was now able to put himself into a position to use his body as a key tool along the boards. With his new found legs, Boyle won one loose puck battle after another. He was the perfect prototype for a fourth line center.
With the use of his legs, Boyle was also able to put himself in position to become a notable penalty killer for John Tortorella. He may not win every defensive zone draw, but he’s strong enough to tie up the opposition in the circle allowing a winger or defenseman to come in and clear the puck. He was also able to laterally shift from left to right much quicker than ever before, making him useful in guarding the points and keeping up with puck movement on the penalty kill. When all else failed, Boyle could rely on his skating ability to put his sizable body in the way of oncoming pipe bombs to block shots.
Boyle’s hard work was eventually rewarded when he began to chip in offensively. During his second season with the Rangers, Boyle had a career year and a serious offensive breakthrough. The Hingham, Massachusetts native scored 21 goals and registered 35 points while spending much of the season centering a Rangers checking line whose key responsibilities included shutting down opposing threats. While Boyle has remained a valuable checking forward and penalty killer in New York, his offense waned last season. Boyle scored just 11 goals and his offensive play seemed to regress along with his skating. Boyle didn’t seem quite as quick on his feet as he did a year earlier and during the postseason it often became frustrating when his lack of speed became more apparent on a nightly basis. Playing against the other clubs best players meant trying to keep up with the likes of Jason Spezza and Alexander Ovechkin and Boyle just couldn’t do it.
The question about which Brian Boyle shows up whenever the NHL resumes remains. With the Rangers acquisition of Rick Nash and the likes of Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan creating the core of the Rangers attack, imagine what could be if an “X” factor such as Boyle can regain his offensive swagger and provide serious secondary scoring when the top players eventually hit an inevitable slide. Boyle has the tools to be a solid contributor when at his best. The Rangers are very top heavy when considering their attack. If either of their first two lines goes into a slump, it’s going to become the same old Rangers struggling in hard fought, low scoring battles. The great teams can score up and down the lineup. Can Brian Boyle help the Rangers reach greatness? We may not even find out this season, but the jury is certainly out on this one.