CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – At his sixth development camp, Travis Boyd entered the coach’s office for the conversation he’d been working toward. Washington’s Barry Trotz sat across from him to offer validation after Boyd’s dazzling season in the American Hockey League. In a part of the meeting that was captured in a behind-the-scenes video by the Monumental Network, Capitals assistant coach Blaine Forsythe told Boyd it was time he start thinking about himself as an NHL player.
“I see you having some impact for us,” Trotz told Boyd in the video.
Boyd has always thought the NHL was a possibility for him, but his stock has never been this high, leading the crop of prospect forwards who will have an opportunity to make their big-league debuts this season, either as the team’s 14th forward or as an injury replacement later in the season. For Boyd, a 2011 sixth-round pick who wasn’t sure he’d make the American Hockey League roster a year ago, it’s the first time the spotlight has shone so brightly on him.
“It’s not [feeling a sense of] ease at all,” Boyd said. “Not that it puts pressure on you, because obviously you don’t want to play with pressure on you, but last year I went in and my main focus was trying to make Hershey. Now, this year, I kind of feel that same type of pressure or whatever to try and make Washington. It just means that every single time I’m on the ice, whether it’s practice or rookie tournament or anything, just try and impress everyone that’s here to watch, you know?”
He’s accomplished that much at the four-team rookie tournament he and other Capitals prospects are competing in at the Florida Panthers’ practice facility in South Florida. Boyd scored a goal and added two assists in Saturday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the best player on the ice, according to Hershey Bears Coach Troy Mann. In Sunday’s game, he added another goal, continuing to make his case in front of Washington scouts before training camp opens on Friday.
WOW! What a move by @Tboyd93 3-2 Caps lead. #SoFlaTourney pic.twitter.com/c4U9x1hM6h— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) September 17, 2016
At this week’s rookie tournament, Mann has played Boyd at center, typically with Jakub Vrana on the left wing, and as a right wing with Zach Sanford as the center. That was a conscious effort by Mann to display Boyd’s versatility at forward for the Capitals’ coaches and management in attendance. Boyd has also been manning the point on the power play.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure on him,” Mann said. “We’re talking about a [sixth-round] pick that came into his own last year in Hershey. You look at the Caps’ lineup and unless there’s an injury, he’s going to start the year in Hershey, but I think he’s very motivated that if there is an injury and they’re calling me for a forward, that he wants his name called.
“I think that’s where he’s at in his career. He wants to get to the NHL and he wants to get that first game in, and we have a glut of players who are looking for that first, which is good because there’s competition there. I played him a little bit on the right wing as well because I wanted the brass to know that he can play center or wing. We did a lot of that last year, when we were looking for a goal or late in the game when I’m down to three lines, Travis Boyd can go to the right side.”
Boyd was Hershey’s fourth-line center to start, but Chandler Stephenson’s early season recall to the Capitals cleared a path for Boyd to move up in the lineup and blossom. He played in 76 games, scoring 21 goals with 32 assists, centering a top line with Vrana and Chris Bourque for most of the second half of the season. Just as Mann had been honest with Boyd about where his game was lacking at the start of the year, he told Boyd that Washington was starting to take notice of his play.
When Boyd arrived to development camp in July, Trotz told him that had there been an injury to a Capitals player at the end of the season, Boyd was considered next in line to be recalled. But with Washington already carrying two extra forwards last season and the lineup mostly healthy after the all-star break, Boyd’s opportunity had to wait.
That some of the Capitals’ top players are expected to be absent for the start of training camp because they’ll still be competing at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto could present Boyd with another opening. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington’s top two centers, are on World Cup teams, meaning that Boyd should see significant playing time in exhibition games, potentially even on the power play.
Unlike last year, he knows he’s on everyone’s radar. Now, it’s just about making the most of that.
“You don’t want to put the pressure on yourself because then a lot of times you don’t really play that well,” Boyd said. “Every time I’m on the ice, [I] just try and be the best that I can and obviously look good and try and stand out. It’s just about making sure you’re ready to go for every little thing, whether it’s practice or this rookie camp or hopefully I get to play a couple exhibition games when I’m up in Washington, too, so just trying to be ready for all of that.”