LOS ANGELES — Johnny Boychuk knew there might be a chance he was heading right back to the worst part of being a hockey player. If his left ankle swelled immediately when he took off his skate, Boychuk knew it likely meant a broken bone. Which meant watching hockey, not playing it.
Instead, Boychuk, 34, was right back in the lineup on Thursday night as the Islanders faced the Kings at Staples Center.
The night before, Boychuk took a hard shot off the inside of his skate in the second period of a 4-1 loss at Anaheim and had to be helped to the dressing room — where he demanded that his skate be removed so he could learn the severity of the problem — before returning just before the second intermission.
“Tough man, Johnny Boychuk,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Johnny is a little bit old-school. He chewed on one right on the foot there and he’s walking around fine. You’re either hurt or you’re injured. He was hurt [Wednesday] night and he fought through that. That’s what you want. You want guys not to baby it when they don’t have to.”
There were times last season when Boychuk simply could not play. He was limited to 58 games because of a lingering injury that required offseason surgery that he would not elaborate on.
And that led to the watching, the most frustrating part of being a hockey player.
“That was painful,” Boychuk said. “Because, at that time, we were doing pretty good and you have to watch for a little while and wait for your legs to get better and to watch your team lose, that was the most painful part.”
Boychuk, in the fourth season of a seven-year, $42-million deal and the last season in the contract with a full no-movement clause, had one assist in the Islanders’ first five games this season.
He said being healthy is an adjustment. Boychuk, never known as the fleetest skater, still is getting used to being able to stride and power himself properly.
“You have to get used to using both legs,” Boychuk said. “You weren’t able to do it all last year. To get back into it, it’s a little bit different, but it feels a lot better. To play through pain for the whole season, it was pretty brutal. At the end of the year, I got it cleaned up and it made me feel better. Even when I was able to skate for the first time in August, it made a huge difference. But you still have to get used to using them.”
Despite last season’s frustration, teammates say Boychuk never let it affect his upbeat demeanor.
“He’s a personable guy, a really happy guy,” defenseman Adam Pelech said. “It always stinks being injured because it feels like you’re not really part of the team. But he’s a guy that’s always got a smile on his face. He really didn’t let it show that he was frustrated.”
At the same time, Boychuk said proving he still can be an effective player in the NHL is motivating him.
“If you don’t [feel like that], you shouldn’t be in the league anymore,” Boychuk said. “It might take a while because you have to get used to certain motions. But you want to be the best you can be.”