To say that Tyler Boucher has struggled with injuries and other misfortunes over the last three years would be an understatement: the Ottawa Senators’ first round pick in 2021 has played a total of 62 games in the two seasons since he was drafted after only suiting up for five games in his draft year, and yesterday Jean-Francois Plante reported that Boucher’s season is likely done thanks to a recurring shoulder injury. According to Plante’s report, Boucher was evaluated by Sens’ doctors who came to the conclusion that his issues were similar to those of Josh Norris — that is to say that surgery was necessary to fully repair the problem joint and avoid further injury. The hope is that Boucher might be ready to start next season. For a guy that desperately wanted, and needed, a breakout season, the news had to be devastating.
Boucher’s place in the organization has been the source of a not-inconsiderable amount of angst for the fanbase. The Sens’ amateur scouting staff have gone against consensus in the draft before, but never to the degree that they did when they spent the 10th overall selection on the young forward. The burden of expectations has followed Boucher ever since.
When his time with Boston University in the NCAA went about as poorly as it could, he amassed a meagre three points in 17 games while mostly playing in the team’s bottom six, the pressure only increased. Since transferring to the Ottawa 67’s midway through last season, Boucher has shown a bit more offensive flash, but he has struggled to stay on the ice — be it due to the aforementioned injuries, or to a rash of suspensions. There are bits of good news here and there if you look for them: his coaches and teammates speak highly of him, he’s proven that he has an absolute cannon of a shot, and there have never been any suggestions he is anything other than hardworking.
That brings us to the central question: what comes next for the prospect? The first part of the answer to that question is Boucher will almost certainly play next season in the AHL with the Belleville Senators, where the hope is that his style of play will be more valuable. There’s no mystery there. The issue is that two seasons after Boucher was drafted, we are really no closer to knowing if he can eventually contribute at an NHL level. I cannot remember the last time a top Sens’ prospect played so little hockey in the immediate years after being selected. Usually some of the mystery has been removed by this stage: the giddiness of draft day is behind us, but, if we’re lucky, the player in question has grown their game in some of the areas that will help them to succeed in the NHL. Maybe they’ve filled out their previously lanky frame with a bit more muscle, maybe they’ve been focusing on some aspect of their defensive play. With Boucher, almost everything remains in the hypothetical. He’s got a laser bream of a shot, but he’s only scored 19 goals in two seasons because he’s had so few occasions to use it. He’s strong as an ox and hits like a tonne of bricks but he’s been injured so often that we are left to wonder if his particular style of play will be tenable at the highest level.
As virtually all of Ottawa’s top prospects from the rebuild (Tim Stützle, Jake Sanderson, Shane Pinto, heck even Ridly Greig) have carved out their roles on the team, Boucher is still in limbo. It strikes me as more sad than anything else, but all that we can do is wait. Boucher is a first-round pick, one who the club would appear to still value highly, and someone for whom they have made a not-insignificant investment; he will get at least a couple more chances to prove that he belongs on one of the league’s most exciting young teams. But the seemingly limitless possibilities that accompany a high profile selection on their draft day are slowly fading from view.
Boucher is at least partly to blame for the games missed due to suspension, but you cannot fault a player for being injured. Pro hockey isn’t always fair, though. What’s next for Tyler Boucher? Hopefully for him, and the organization, a chance to really show what he’s capable of.