Bourque taking it up a notch in 2011-12
Newly-signed Blueshirts prospect prepared for challenges of pro hockey
• Your View: Will Bourque Realize His NHL Dream?
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Making the jump from amateur to professional hockey is a big step in any young player's career, but unlike most of his peers, Ryan Bourque already knows all about the pro lifestyle.
It's no secret that Bourque, the Rangers' third-round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, grew up around the NHL while his father, legendary defenseman Ray Bourque, was in the midst of his 21 seasons with the Boston Bruins and career-capping Stanley Cup run with the Colorado Avalanche.
As he prepares for his pro debut after signing his first Rangers contract, Bourque, a talented 20-year-old prospect, has the rare opportunity to chat daily with a Hall of Famer about what he needs to succeed at the next level. That's no small luxury, but in Ryan's view, there might be more to learn about this particular moment in life from a different family member -- his older brother Chris.
Six years ago, Chris left Boston University to turn pro with the Washington Capitals organization. He would go on to spend the next two full seasons with the Caps' American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa., before making his NHL debut during a brief call-up in November 2007. He ended up playing a total of 33 games for Washington and Pittsburgh before leaving North America to pursue a career in Europe last year.
While Ray Bourque was a hockey prodigy -- capable of jumping into the NHL at age 18 and winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie with Boston in 1979-80 -- Chris Bourque's story is far more typical of young pro hockey players. The road to the NHL usually requires development time in the minor leagues, and once players reach the top, they quickly discover just how hard it is to be a full-time player at the game's highest level.
|Ryan Bourque skated on the Rangers' prospects No. 1 line as Derek Stepan's left wing for much of the 2010 Traverse City tournament. Bourque said the event really helped him prepare for last season.|
Ryan has already taken a different path from Chris, opting to play major-junior hockey with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL rather than enter college hockey. A product of the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., Ryan turned down scholarship offers and instead joined his father's former NHL teammate, Patrick Roy, who runs the highly-regarded Remparts program.
"He made a big commitment to forego college and play junior hockey," Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel, said of Bourque. "This was an interesting decision for him to make and one that we liked, because junior is the closest thing to NHL hockey as far as the way the game is played, the style of game, the intensity of each game and the length of the season."
Bourque has no regrets either.
"The two years in Quebec were unbelievable for me both as a player and a person," he said. "I got to play for an organization there that just treats you second to none. I was very fortunate to have the coaches that I had there and the teammates. The city itself was a great place to live, and the hockey made it even more fun. I learned things on and off the ice there that I will never forget, and I think it was a great place for my development as a player."
In two QMJHL seasons, the youngest Bourque posted a total of 45 goals and 102 points in 93 games -- impressive scoring numbers for any prospect, particularly an American playing in Quebec. This past season, he improved on all of his stats, tallying 26 goals, 33 assists, 59 points, and a plus-14 rating. He was also outstanding in the playoffs, notching five goals and 11 assists in 18 games for the Remparts, who fell to Gatineau in Game 7 of the QMJHL semifinals.
"I don't think I accomplished the ultimate goals that I had this year, but in terms of being productive, I think I did a lot more than I did the first year and adjusted pretty well this year to chipping in offensively in every way that I could," said Bourque. “Out of the gates, I was pretty hot with how I started. I think I might have had 20 goals before Christmas. That was a good way to start the year, but I would have liked to have finished it off the second half of the season with a few more goals. But I think I did whatever I could to help my team, and the team's success wasn't really affected from that. I just focused more on other things around the game that could help my team."
Bourque had at least a point in 47 of the 67 combined regular-season and playoff games he appeared in this past season. He had multiple points in 22 games, and ranked among the game's three stars 12 times. This included a season-high four-point performance at Prince Edward Island on Nov. 13, 2010. Bourque had a hand in all four Quebec tallies vs. PEI, setting up the tying goal with 3:29 remaining in the third period and notching his second goal of the game to win it at 4:12 of OT.
|Ryan Bourque will attend his third consecutive Rangers Prospects Development Camp later this month at the MSG Training Center. This will be his first one since turning pro with an NHL contract.|
Rangers scouts noticed this trait in Bourque a long time ago.
"We have always said that if you have a 2-1 lead going into the last two minutes of the game, you will have Ryan Bourque on the ice because he's so good defensively and knowing what to do to get the puck out of your zone or stop a team from coming down the ice and getting into your zone," said Clark.
While there is no doubt Bourque's high-scoring QMJHL totals have raised his stock, he says there were so many other benefits to playing major-junior hockey and feels he made the right decision to go there.
"I think in my all-around game improved, whether it's defensively or offensively," said Bourque. "Offensively, I was just working on skills here and there and working on systems -- learning where to be and how to try to put myself in better scoring areas. I was even learning little things -- just like plays on the wall and little skills that will help you. Defensively in junior, you're learning how to play and learning how to be as effective as you possibly can be in your own zone."
In addition to another year of growth the Remparts, Bourque's 2010-11 season included a return to the World Junior Championship tournament -- this time on home soil in Buffalo, N.Y. Although the Americans weren't able to repeat their gold-medal success of the previous year, Bourque became part of the first group of U.S. players to win back-to-back medals at World Juniors when Team USA defeated Sweden for bronze on Jan. 5. He assisted on the game-winner that day, one of his three assists in the tournament, where he was used primarily as a defensive forward for the second straight year.
"He's not an elite scorer, but he can score goals. And then there is the defensive side of it," said Clark. "We've always tabbed him as a two-way player with heart and skating ability."
After the World Juniors, Bourque's season hit a bump on Feb. 12, when exited a game at Lewiston with a nagging wrist injury that had limited his productivity for three weeks and then sidelined him for the next few games.
"I took the time that I needed to recover, and when I came back the biggest thing was just to make sure that it (the wrist) was 100 percent," said Bourque. "I didn't want it to be something that could become worse or something that was going to nag me throughout the playoffs or that could get in the way of my performance. That's why I think the medical staff did a great job. I was training while I was out but just trying to stay away from upper-body because my wrist was kind of tender. Once I was available to come back and play, it was perfect and it didn't affect my performance in any way."
|Ryan Bourque competed in his second straight World Junior Championship at Buffalo this past January, taking home a bronze medal to go with the gold he won at Saskatoon one year earlier.
• VIDEO: BOURQUE INTERVIEW AT WJC
"You're not going to get anywhere in life if you don't put in the work and put in the hours and just pushing yourself to the limit every day. That's how you get to the next level, and that's how you maximize your development and performance," he said. "That's something that's inbred in me ever since I was a young kid. I think if you watch me you'll see that I don't really hold anything back and I just go after it every time I have an opportunity to. ... I enjoy being challenged and being the underdog."
Before returning to Quebec for his final junior season last fall, Bourque played a big role for the Blueshirts prospects at the 2010 Traverse City Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., where he averaged a point per game and was one of the team’s top players.
He opened the tournament against Columbus as the left wing on the Rangers' No. 1 line with Derek Stepan at center and Evgeny Grachev on the right side. The trio clicked in a big way, and Bourque ended up screening the goalie -- future Rangers prospect Jason Missiaen -- on Grachev's winning goal.
Seeing how his linemate Stepan got himself going with a big performance at Traverse City last year also helped inspire Bourque, who knows how much momentum can be gained in Traverse City.
"I watch a lot of hockey, and obviously the team that I enjoy watching most is the Rangers because I was drafted by them," said Bourque, who grew up in Boxford, Mass., while his father was starring for the Bruins. "I talk to Derek a lot, too, because we've been friends for the past few years and its fun to see how things are going with him. ... He went directly to the NHL because of how great of a player he is. When you're playing at a level like that, everyone around you is so good that it's almost easier in a way. Everyone can get you the puck and everyone knows where you are. Derek said to just keep working as hard as I can, and hopefully someday I'll get there and we'll be able to play with each other."
Rangers scouts have been excited about Bourque ever since his draft year, when they deemed him one of the hardest-working prospects they had viewed during the course of his season with the U.S. Under-18 team.
"Ryan's a very serious kid, and probably the two biggest reasons we took him are because he's got the huge heart and he can really skate," said Jeff Gorton, the Rangers' Assistant Director, Player Personnel. "The great thing about Ryan is that pretty much wherever he has been, he's been a winner. There were guys in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year who were having success even though they were maybe not the elite players -- players like Sean Bergenheim, who was leading the playoffs in scoring for awhile. Those are the guys with the skating and energy that I think Ryan can bring."
"That's part of the process, and that's part of the game," Bourque said of a possible minor-league stint. "If I start out in Hartford then I'm going to do everything I can to get up (to the Rangers). That's what prospects have to do. It's a great minor-league facility there with a great staff, and I'm going to put 100 percent of my trust in them to get me there."
Clark credits Ray Bourque for helping shape such a professional attitude in Ryan.
"You can't take care of whether your son is going to be a goal-scorer like you or a defenseman like you," said Clark. "But one thing Ray has always told us is that the thing he could do something about was to make sure that both his boys knew that the work-ethic you have to show every game and every shift is going to be the most important thing. That's what he certainly has taught them."
Nothing has changed in that regard, as Bourque remains committed to this principle, eagerly welcoming whatever challenge might arise this fall.
"I'm a player that works really hard and would do anything it takes to get to the ultimate goal that he's trying to reach," said Bourque. "I'm coming in there in a terrific spot in New York. It's a great organization, and whether it takes one year or two or whatever it is, it's obviously my dream to play in the NHL, and I'm going to do everything I can to get there.”