It's been a tough apprenticeship over the last couple of years for Dustin Boyd. More often than not the kid has been stuck with the pluggers or on ill-fated "kid line" experiments (anyone remember that dreadful Boyd-Lombo-Nystrom combo Keenan cobbled together?). He's got some NHL games under his belt, but the truth is he hasn't really had much of an opportunity to develop.
Consider the Edmonton Oilers Andrew Cogliano: he's slightly younger, broke into the NHL in the same year and has already twice scored 15+ goals and 35+ points. Most fans would argue that Cogliano is a superior hockey player to Boyd, who has posted much more modest totals through his first couple of seasons. And that might be true. But the cause has more to do with opportunity than anything else. Consider:
Cogliano's career TOI: 2,301
Cogliano's career PP TOI: 328
Boyd's career TOI: 1,385
Boyd's career PP TOI: 107
In his first season, Cogliano garnered almost as much ice as Boyd has seen in his entire career. He actually played more on the man advantage (161 minutes) during his rookie season than Boyd has period. The funny thing is, despite way more at-bats and probably more time with superior linemates, Coglinano is still getting beat up at ES the same way Boyd tends to. In fact, the two players had similar ES advanced stats last year:
Cogliano: 1.69 ESP, -4.4 corsi
Boyd: 1.50 ESP, +4.2 corsi
The former spent more of the year with Nilsson and Gagner. The latter often played with Nystrom and Roy. In addition, Cogliano started in the offensive zone slightly more than Boyd (+23 versus +18). Given the difference between the Flames and Oilers ability to move the puck forward, that means Cogliano was considered a scoring option by his coach. Boyd, on the other hand, had one of the least attractive zone starts amongst Flames forwards.
My point is not to tear down Cogliano, or to suggest that Boyd is as good (or superior). My points are these:
1.) Dustin Boyd's 132 NHL games are misleading. His exposure (and therefore experience) has been extremely limited thus far.
2.) Nothing can be taken from Boyd's counting stats. He hasn't been put in a situation to succeed, partially because the Flames didn't want to risk the growing pains and (perhaps) the wins that aggressively developing Boyd would cost. Cogliano might be further down the development path, but don't think it hasn't cost his team.
3.) Boyd still has a long way to go. However, at some point the Flames will have to shit or get off the pot - the challenge with rookies (aside from the freaky good ones) is getting them enough ice time in the kind of circumstances that will allow them to grow (ie; allow them to make some mistakes). Calgary didn't do that with Keenan at the helm.
I like almost everything I've seen out of Boyd since the first time I watched him live several years ago: he's fast, he's agile, he has good offensive awareness, he can handle the puck and he has a nose for the net. He also works his ass off. He still struggles with keeping up with the action (thinking wise) and he too often loses physical battles, but those are the struggles of 99% of young players in the NHL. I'm almost certain that, with time and opportunity, the Flames have a legitimate player on their hands. The problem is he's not an "automatic" and it's going to cost a real investment in time and opportunity on the team's part.
This year, there are some gaps in the Flames scoring ranks and Boyd may get a chance to skate in a scoring role, both at ES and on a PP unit. That's good. He's also playing for a coach that elevated him to Team Canada's #1 line in the World Junior Championships. Even better.
Here's hoping that pay cut he took to land a one-way contract is worth it.