The off-season can’t come to an end soon enough for Brad Boyes.
He’s been skating with some of his St. Louis Blues teammates since late August and is now counting down the days until another season begins. With training camps opening a week later than usual, the wait has seemed unusually long. “I’ve been here for about two and a half weeks,” Boyes said Tuesday from St. Louis. “I’m looking forward to (getting started), it’s definitely been a long summer.
“The whole team’s already here. I think not only me, everyone’s kind of itching to get going. We just want to get back at it.”
The impatience is understandable.
Boyes came into his own a year ago while playing his first full season with the Blues. The 26-year-old winger quietly scored a career-best 43 goals – only four NHLers had more – and was rewarded with a US$16-million, four-year contract extension late in the season.
He feels at home in St. Louis now and is ready to assume a leadership role with a young Blues team that has parted ways with veterans Jamal Mayers, Mike Johnson, Ryan Johnson and Bryce Salvador since last season’s trade deadline.
“I’ve always felt comfortable in junior in (a leadership) role and in the minors after a couple years,” said Boyes. “I think that I’m getting to that point now where I’ve learned from some great players and I’ve sat and watched a lot.
“We’ve got our leaders, our head guys, but there’s no reason why I can’t help out too.”
His biggest contribution should come on the ice.
The former first round draft pick is coming off a season where he became the first St. Louis player to score 40 goals since Scott Young in 2000-01. That’s exactly the kind of output the Blues hoped they’d get after acquiring Boyes from Boston at the deadline in 2007.
He doesn’t set specific targets for offensive output each season but believes he’s capable of more.
“I’d loved to score 100 goals, that’s what I want to try and do,” said Boyes. “Realistically, I don’t really sit down and put numbers down. I try to just go out every game and score one, score a couple.
“It’s a game-to-game mindset rather than a whole year.”
One goal he’s not shy about talking about is helping the Blues reach the playoffs for the first time since before the NHL lockout.
He’s appeared in 246 regular season games over his career with San Jose, Boston and St. Louis and is still waiting to play in the post-season for the first time.
“I am getting kind of tired of it,” said Boyes. “You play to play in the playoffs, that’s the most exciting part. Sitting at home watching it the last three years hasn’t been fun.”
It won’t be easy.
The Blues weren’t active players in the free agent market over the summer because of all the young talent they have coming up. Boyes might end up feeling like an old man compared to some of teammates.
“I think with this group of guys I might be forced into it,” he said. “We could have four guys 21 and under on our team. Half the team will be 25, 26 and younger.”
The veterans include Eric Brewer, Keith Tkachuk, Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald and Jay McKee.
One of the toughest challenges facing the Blues is the teams they’ll face seven times this season. St. Louis shares a division with the defending Stanley Cup champions (Detroit) and three squads on the rise (Chicago, Columbus, Nashville).
“There’s no team in our division that’s an easy two points,” said Boyes.
Still, it’s September, a month where every team around the NHL feels a least a little optimistic.
When Boyes looks down his team’s roster he sees no shortage of potential. It’s up to coach Andy Murray and his players to start living up to it after training camp opens next week.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how the group comes together and how well we perform,” said Boyes. “Now we’ve definitely got enough talent. The key is just about jelling together, we’ve got all the right pieces.
“I think if you don’t go in with the mindset that you’re going to be a winner then you’re going in with the wrong mindset.”