Pierre-Marc Bouchard grew into a man in Minnesota.
Just look back at his 2002 draft photo. A junior star at Chicoutimi, Bouchard was a kid — an 18-year-old with a full head of blonde hair — when the Wild snatched him up eighth overall.
Bouchard built a family here, including his daughter, who was born in Minnesota. But after 11 years, 565 games, 347 points and four playoff appearances, Bouchard is finally, with mixed emotions, moving on after signing a one-year, $2 million deal with the Islanders on Friday.
Bouchard, 29, was the last Wild player still on its roster who played on the 2003 club that advanced to the Western Conference finals and captured the hearts of a hockey state.
“I’ll miss Minnesota,” Bouchard said during a telephone interview Sunday. “I really will. Knowing that I’m not coming back to Minny for training camp, it is kind of weird, but at the same time, it’s part of the business, and I’m really looking forward to a fresh start with the Islanders.”
In a lot of ways, he is returning to the scene of the crime. Bouchard was developing into one of the NHL’s best playmakers when the Wild signed him to a five-year, $20.4 million contract just before an arbitration hearing in July 2008.
But on March 25, 2009, Bouchard was run hard in the corner of the Islanders’ Nassau Coliseum.
“That’s true. [Nate] Thompson,” Bouchard said.
Little did anybody know at the time that Bouchard’s career would be turned upside down starting with that check. It was the first in a string of concussions that cost him much of the next four seasons.
Despite being healthy last season (eight goals and 12 assists in 43 games), there were never any contract talks between the Wild and Bouchard this offseason. He met with General Manager Chuck Fletcher after the season and “both of us kind of had an idea it was the end with the Wild.”
It was just time for the parting of ways. Since signing that five-year deal, Bouchard played only 211 of 376 games (56 percent) and wasn’t as productive, scoring 45 goals and 126 points. With youngsters like Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter on the scene, the torch is being passed.
Now he heads to an Islanders team on the rise and hopes to rekindle his game on a one-year contract so he can gain more security next summer on a new deal.
“They’re really young and they’re going in the right direction,” Bouchard said. “They made the playoffs last year. They have a lot of speed, a lot of skill. I think it’s a good fit for my kind of game.”
In Wild history, Bouchard ranks second with 565 games, fourth with 106 goals, second with 241 assists and third with 347 points. It will just be strange without No. 96 in a Wild sweater.
“Eleven years with one team, it was a great run,” Bouchard said. “Just getting drafted by that team in the first round and making the playoffs my first year there, it was a fun run to get to the conference final. We won the division [in 2008]. Every time we made the playoffs, it was always a fun time to play in Minnesota in front of our fans.
“Minnesota will always be a special place for me.”