While I wouldn’t start worrying, it’s worth acknowledging the lack of recent updates on the status of restricted free agent Reid Boucher. The 22-year old left wing seemed to find strong chemistry on a line with Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac after struggling to break into the Devil’s lineup since turning pro. Nonetheless, Boucher did take a step forward in 2015-2016 where he set single season highs of eight goals, 19 points, and 39 games. Three goals and six of those assists came in Boucher’s last 17 contests, where his point per games during that span (.53) was a considerable improvement from his first 19 matches after he was called up in January (.45), where he recorded six goals and ten points.
Boucher has been one of the Devil’s top forward prospects since his breakout season with the OHL’s Sarnia sting in 2012-2013, when he tallied 62 goals and 95 points. While he hasn’t had the breakout season everyone’s hoped for, he’s made steady progress since turning pro. Although Boucher only had three goals and eight points in his first 34 NHL games, he posted formidable numbers over his first three full AHL seasons, where he had 40 goals and 73 points in 129 games with the Albany Devils. After being sent down three games into last season, Boucher seemed to show that he outgrew the AHL after getting 19 goals and 32 points in 34 contests, before returning to the NHL for good.
While Boucher’s progress is certainly noteworthy, he isn’t eligible for salary arbitration and probably doesn’t have any teams preparing an offer sheet for him. Shero didn’t have the same time and flexibility in getting Boucher settled with fellow restricted free agents like Kyle Palmieri, Jacob Josefson, and Devante Smith-Pelly. Having said that, it’s not to say Boucher’s value to the organization ought to be undermined. Any factors that may be causing discrepancies in contract talks probably have less to do with term or salary, than Boucher’s actual role on next year’s team and getting a one or two-way contract.
The acquisition of Taylor Hall naturally knocked Boucher down a few notches on the Devil’s left wing depth chart. Both Hall and Mike Cammalleri are indisputably ahead of Boucher, and it still remains to be seen whether Patrik Elias will return to New Jersey next season. Boucher will also have fellow left wingers like Joseph Blandisi, Blake Pietila, and versatile forward Sergey Kalinin vying for the same roster spots. The competition will be stiff for Boucher, which is why his side could be pushing for a one-way contract. He does have more NHL experience than the aforementioned young left wings, which will certainly help him, but the security that comes with a one-way contract would distinguish him from that group.
The assurance of having a more defined role will provide Boucher with a stable environment to build on his development and progress at the NHL level. While it’s unlikely he’ll find himself playing left wing on the Devil’s top line to start next season, it wouldn’t make sense for Boucher to play fourth line minutes. Since Taylor Hall will likely start the season with Adam Henrique as his center, Boucher could pick up where he left off with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri, or play with a center like Jacob Josefson or Pavel Zacha on a line with Devante Smith-Pelly or Beau Bennett on the right side. This gives Boucher the opportunity to be the Devil’s second or third line left wing when the season starts if he’s assured a top-nine role pending a strong showing at training camp. Although Boucher has made steady progress since turning pro, he will still have something to prove at training camp this fall. Granted he was largely rendered as a lineup regular in the latter-half of last season, the Devils made considerable improvements up front, which will prompt the Devil’s young up and comers like Boucher to keep on their toes and know they shouldn’t take a spot on next year’s team for granted.