When the call came Monday afternoon, about 3:30 p.m., Zach Boychuk wasn't sure what it meant.
"I was wondering if there was still a trade pending or if I was being called up," Boychuk said today.
It was Charlotte Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, calling to say Boychuk had been recalled by the Canes. Tonight, he'll be playing his 70th career NHL game and will be doing it under a third NHL head coach.
Boychuk played a couple of games for former Canes coach Peter Laviolette early in the 2008-2009 season before being sent back to junior. Then there was Paul Maurice. Now, it's Kirk Muller.
In his last game this season with the Canes, Nov. 20 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boychuk had 4:23 in ice time. In the 13 games he played for Maurice and the Canes before being reassigned to the Checkers, he was in double-digit minutes just twice, and averaged about eight minutes in TOI.
But tonight against the Nashville Predators, Boychuk will be playing on Jeff Skinner's line along with Jussi Jokinen. No fourth-line duty this time.
"I'm looking forward to it," Boychuk said. "I haven't played with 'Skinny' yet and I know 'Juice' can make plays.
"(Muller) said don't be worried to make a mistake. You've also got to be aware of what time of year it is and where we are in the standings. Every point means a lot and you've got a 50-50 chance at a puck, try and make the defensive play -- that's what he told me. I'll look forward to doing that and trying to be creative down in the offensive zone."
Since being sent down in November, Boychuk has seen Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash, Jerome Samson and Drayson Bowman be called up and play. Now 22, the former first-round draft pick (2008) is in the third year of his entry-level contract and at an important time in his development and career.
An injury to forward Patrick Dwyer resulted in Boychuk being recalled on an emergency basis, but Boychuk said he was never worried that he might be bypassed and not get another chance with the big club this season.
"I was always holding out hope," he said. "You've got to stay positive and you've got to keep battling and try to show them something every game. There's always eyes on you.
"I felt I played pretty well when I got that 13-game stint. For whatever reason the team wasn't winning at that time and they needed to make changes. Now I'm looking forward to that second opportunity and will try to show them what I can do."
Muller got a brief look at Boychuk as coach of the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL). The Admirals faced the Checkers just after Boychuk was sent down and just before Muller was hired by the Canes. But it's a far different scenario now.
"He's got the speed and the skill," Muller said. "Hopefully that will open it up for 'Juice' and 'Skins.'
"I said to him, 'When I came here I hadn't an opportunity to call you up yet. You've been here before. You've got to play hard. ... You've got to play as hard without the puck as with it. You've got to win your battles and compete. And it's up to you what you do with it. You're not coming in on the fourth line, you're on the second. You're playing with two good players. It's up to you what you make from it. Show me the energy, show the enthusiasm, show me the hard work, show me that you can play five-on-five hockey and we'll go from there."