The success the New York Rangers have had this year can be attributed to many different people on the team; both players and management.
Everyone knows about the fantastic performances the Rangers got this season from Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi on the way to winning the Atlantic Division and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. But there are certainly others on this team who deserve a fair share of credit that don’t always get recognize it. Topping that list should be Brian Boyle. In a span of two years the Rangers’ big center has gone from being nearly out of a job to an integral part of the team’s core that prides itself on gritty play and a team-first attitude. Boyle is no offensive dynamo and will never be an offensive leader on this team, but there’s no doubt the work he puts in to be a solid player all three zones is exactly what John Tortorella prides this Rangers team on.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest Brian Boyle fan. I felt all along that the 22 goals he scored last season was a flash in the pan, and I never expected for one second that Boyle would match or exceed last year’s total in goals, and I think most Rangers fans felt the same way. Boyle never was able to match the offensive numbers he put up in college and the minors at the NHL level, which is why the Kings cut ties with him after four seasons.
Nobody will tell you that Brian Boyle has lived up to being a first round draft pick (26th overall) with the Kings back in the 2003 Entry Level Draft, and rightfully so. Before last season, Boyle was a below average NHL player and almost found himself out of the NHL altogether. People forget that Boyle had to fight for a job with the Rangers heading into training camp of 2010. He was never guaranteed a roster spot, and John Tortorella admitted himself that there was a good chance the Rangers would’ve tried to stash him in Hartford, which would’ve meant the Rangers would have risked losing lost him on waivers. Boyle never utilized his size and I remember during his first two seasons as a Ranger I was amazed at how soft he played for someone who’s 6-foot-7, 244 pounds. It was easy to see why the Kings gave up on him, but thankfully the Rangers didn’t.
It’s hard to imagine now where the Rangers would be without Brian Boyle in their lineup, and nobody would’ve imagined them ever saying that a few years ago. Boyle was a classic John Tortorella project where he pushed Boyle as far as he could to see what he really was made of. Not everybody responds to Torts’ tactics, but Boyle sure did. He emerged as one of the top locker room leaders last season and developed into arguably the Rangers’ best penalty killer. Boyle’s ability to block shots and his awareness in the defensive zone is absolutely irreplaceable in the lineup, which is what John Tortorella looks to Boyle for the most. Boyle also finally began to use his size, finishing hard checks on every shift, and working his tail off to become a better skater and add offense to his game. And as a locker room leader, Boyle developed a mean streak to his game when it came to sticking up for teammates. Boyle is far from the best fighter in the NHL – in fact, he might be one of the worst – but he still is willing to drop the gloves and rough guys up after the whistle if the moment is right. That’s what team leaders do, and that’s what Brian Boyle has become.
I also think Boyle has helped turn the careers of Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko around since they’ve come to the Rangers. Both guys were borderline NHL players prior to being acquired by the Rangers, but they, like Boyle, have developed into a core part of the Rangers’ third and fourth lines and have combined to form one of the best shutdown defensive units in the league. Boyle deserves a lot of credit for that, seeing as he’s the center of that line.
I also think that Brian Boyle is the kind of player who’s easy to root for, and is somebody fans want to see do well. With all the hard work and the little things he does away from the puck, it’s been nice to see Boyle finally finding his offensive game at the right time. Boyle’s goal in Game 1 wound up being the game-winner and gave the Rangers some breathing room to sort of put the game out of reach, and his goal in Game 2 was about five minutes away from going down as another game-winner. Not only has Boyle been scoring at an increased pace lately; he’s also had a knack for scoring big goals at the right time.
Boyle is never going to be a top six forward, but he might be one of the best third or fourth line centers in the league when you consider everything he brings to the table. Even after a terrible start to this season from an offensive standpoint, he still posted 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points in 82 games when it was all said and done. They’re certainly not overly impressive numbers, but considering Boyle has scored seven goals in his last 10 games (including the playoffs), I’d say he certainly ended the year on quite an offensive streak. If Boyle can continue to put up 10 to 15 goals a year, I won’t complain at all. I’ll own up to the fact that I’ve screamed and cursed at how many times Boyle has shot a puck directly into a goalie’s chest this season, but as I said, you can’t argue with the results. After all, what more could you ask for from your third line center?
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