BOYLE CLIMBS RANKS AMONG NHL DEFENSEMEN
Halfway through his eighth NHL season, Dan Boyle already has nine goals and 23 assists and is on pace for a career year. His offensive numbers are pretty good considering Boyle's first job is defense.
Although Boyle has shown consistent improvement throughout his NHL career it hasn't come without hard work and a few timely opportunities. Those chances started back in 1998 after he finished his college career. After four years at the University of Miami-Ohio, Boyle signed as a free agent with the Florida Panthers. Despite going un-drafted, he had plenty of potential to bring to the table.
By the time Boyle left the college ranks, he had set the school record for most assists by a defenseman (107), also good for second in the school's history. As a senior he was nominated as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top U.S. collegiate player. There were First-Team All-CCHA awards and, maybe least surprisingly, the distinction as the CCHA's Best Offensive Defenseman.
With those and other honors under his belt, Boyle began his NHL career with the Panthers. Through his first three years with Florida his points were respectable, but not what the Panthers had hoped for. Instead of waiting to see how his career would develop, Florida opted to let go of Boyle when they found a willing trade partner in the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For the Lightning and Boyle, the trade worked out better than expected.
Jumping into the lineup for Tampa Bay, Boyle began his seemingly regular pace of a point roughly every two games. Through his first 41 contests with the Lightning Boyle posted five goals and 15 assists, which was notable for a defenseman being introduced to Tampa Bay's system. The following season he recorded 53 points (13 goals, 40 assists) in 77 games. He was starting to show his potential and develop into the offensive defenseman the team had hoped for.
As Boyle continued to improve from year to year, he eventually matched his career-high of 53 points during the 2005-06 season while setting a career high for goals with 15. Through maturity and a willingness to accept guidance Boyle has improved upon that pace this season and solidified himself as one of the top offensive-defenseman in the NHL.
"I'm just reading situations better, who I'm playing against, who I'm playing with - little things like that," Boyle said. "I'm just trying to read the game more."
In learning how to identify the flow of the game and get a better understanding of his opponents, Boyle has started to get a better feeling for his own game. Earning a reputation as a power play specialist, Boyle led the Lightning in points with the man advantage (22) through the first half of the season. His 18 power play assists were eight more than anyone else on the club - including Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.
Riding the success he experienced in the first half of the season, Boyle understands that the key to keeping up his scoring pace and being a top contributor on the team comes from maintaining his focus and efforts.
"Just keep playing the same way, just playing hard," Boyle said of the second half of the season. "I'm not going to play a great game every night, but you at least want the effort to be there. One thing I've got to do is just shoot the puck - kind of shoot a little bit more this year than I have in the past and hopefully get some rebound goals from our forwards."
While his 23 assists ranked third on the Lightning, that doesn't mean Boyle hasn't been scoring goals of his own this season.
On pace for a career-high 18 goals, Boyle netted his first career hat-trick on December 23, 2006 against the New York Rangers. Although he had scored twice in a game on four separate occasions, netting the hat-trick was something special for Boyle. In addition to being the first Lightning defenseman since Doug Crossman (November, 1992) to score three times in a game, Boyle spearheaded a three-goal comeback victory against the Rangers.
"It's a great feeling, especially winning that game too," Boyle said. "It's just one of those things as a player you want to get, and it's just nice to accomplish that. I had one in college, but you know - college and NHL - it was great in college but we're in the best league in the world here so it's a lot more special."
In addition to scoring the hat-trick, Boyle dished out an assist in the contest against the Rangers to set a career high with four points in a game. With every point he inches closer to overtaking Pavel Kubina as the highest scoring defenseman in franchise history, an accomplishment that appears to be well within reach.
Although the milestone and personal bests are all within sight Boyle's main goal is still to improve and get better within the team and helping the Lightning find consistent success. In doing that, Boyle focuses on keeping his own game as strong as possible.
"You know, it's not giving up," Boyle said of his game. "Just keep working hard, trying to get better all the time."