Zach Boychuk is a hockey player in limbo.
Boychuk started the NHL season with the Canes and was on the top line with Eric Staal and Alex Semin in the opener against the Florida Panthers. Then he was a healthy scratch the next five games. Then placed on waivers.
Claimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boychuk quickly was thrust into the lineup and initially was on Evgeni Malkin's line. He played the next seven games, but has been a healthy extra the past six games and will sit out again tonight against the Canes.
"It's been kind of a crazy year for me," Boychuk said. "You start with a team, play one game, then sit out a few. Then you get put on waivers and it was pretty exciting to get picked up by Pittsburgh. I've really enjoyed my time here so far. The guys are great. The city has been awesome and Brandon (Sutter) has been good in giving me a place to stay and showing me around the city. It has been fun so far."
Sutter and Boychuk have been friends since their junior hockey days in the Western Hockey League and were first-round draft picks by the Canes -- Sutter in 2007, Boychuk in 2008. The last thing they probably could have imagined would have been becoming teammates in Pittsburgh.
For now, Boychuk wants to rejoin Sutter in the Pens' lineup and said it would have been "awesome but a little weird" to face the Canes tonight. The winger does not have a point and is minus-2 in his seven games.
"I just have to keep working hard and obviously be ready," he said. "I'm just getting some practice time and learning from the good players out there. Just waiting for my opportunity to show them what I can do."
Like Sutter, Boychuk came out by the ice today to watch part of the Canes' skate. He saw several former teammates from the Charlotte Checkers who have been called up by the Canes and caught some chirping from Chad LaRose.
"He was just yelling -- you know how he yells," Boychuk said, smiling.
Boychuk said he has a "group chat" on the phone almost every day with a number of his former teammates from Charlotte. He said a lot of them were able to get together for dinner Wednesday night after the Pens arrived from Florida.
Should Boychuk be waived by the Pens, the Canes would have first claim on him and general manager Jim Rutherford has said they would take him back. That could have him returning to Charlotte and again in the Canes' organization.
Boychuk, 23, isn't sure what the future may hold for him. He can only worry about the present.
"When I got pulled out of the lineup five or six games ago, there really wasn't much said," Boychuk said. "I'm basically just trying to stay ready, trying to stay in shape. If my name gets called to play, if there's an injury or if they want to change things up, I'm going to be ready."