Chris Bourque admits that when he was overseas last year playing in Russia and Switzerland, he read box scores from around the NHL, with obvious emphasis on the Capitals. Washington drafted Bourque in the second round of the 2004 draft, and he was part of the organization for almost his entire time in North America, save for a short time with the Penguins after being claimed off waivers.
“I know the coaches, I know all the players,” Bourque said Wednesday. “It’s basically the only thing I know other than that brief stint in Pittsburgh.”
Bourque is back with the Caps now after signing a one-year deal in July, ready to fight an uphill climb for a roster spot. And while the 5-foot-6 forward (listed at 5-8) is back in a comfort zone, it really wasn’t his choice, given contract limitations.
“I didn’t really have an option to go anywhere else — I was restricted and they had my rights, so I had to come back here,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I was very happy with that.”
Bourque might be considered a bust given that he was the 33rd overall pick, not to mention the son of Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque. He played just 33 career NHL games (20 with the Penguins) but is the only guy to be on all three of the Hershey Bears’ recent Calder Cup champion teams.
Last season he took a flier on a contract with Mytishchi Atlant of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. But when the only other North American player on the team, Jeff Hamilton, got “fired,” Bourque couldn’t handle sticking around and after just 2½ months went to play for HC Lugano of National League A in Switzerland.
“Playing in Russia was definitely a culture shock — not too much English,” Bourque said. “I didn’t have any other North Americans on the team, so it was kind of tough — the language barrier really got to me and I made the move to Switzerland, and I really enjoyed myself there.”
Bourque had 14 goals and 19 assists in 39 games with Lugano, but the season ended in mid-February. Tuesday night’s preseason opener was his first game since then – but the 25-year-old has had his eyes on the Caps for a while.
Finally in camp with the Caps, Bourque is competing for a roster spot.
It seems like Bourque would have to crush all competitors in camp to get in the lineup, given that the likes of Cody Eakin, Mattias Sjogren, Christian Hanson and Mathieu Perreault appear to be ahead of him. He admits he has looked at the roster and seen the openings are slim.
But Bourque made the opening night roster in 2009 — only to be placed on waivers very soon after because Washington had a salary cap crunch. The Penguins claimed him, but making the team gave Bourque some source of confidence and some motivation when returning this past summer.
“That’s definitely in the back of my mind,” he said. “I definitely felt comfortable coming in this situation where I knew that they would give me some sort of opportunity, and the rest would be up to me. It’s obviously me that’s going to help myself make the team if I were to.”
Bourque will be in the lineup again Wednesday night at the Blue Jackets, so he’ll get chances to prove why he belongs. And while on paper the diminutive forward seems pegged to wear a Bears jersey in the American Hockey League, he insists he’s playing with his sights set on staying.
“I can always open some eyes — whether you play well in camp, if you get sent down, maybe be the first call-up,” Bourque said. “There’s always going to be injuries, and if you play well enough, maybe they’ll trade someone to give you that roster spot.