|10.07.10 at 12:53 pm ET|
PRAGUE — With the preseason over and the roster pretty much set (Brian McGrattan is still a few days away from officially being on the team), all of the predictions made in the offseason can either be repeated with a bit more confidence, or they can just be adjusted. Here’s a quick rundown of five things assumed with the team two short days from opening the regular season.
Nathan Horton is the real deal
Both fans and some members on the media alike had a few questions when the team traded the 15th overall pick, Dennis Wideman, and a third-rounder in 2011 to the Panthers for someone, who at face value, was a top-three pick who had amounted to being just an above-average forward in the NHL. Horton had a reputation in Florida for being inconsistent, and there was no sample of him playing in a big market to gauge how he could deal with playing in Boston.
So far, Horton has made every preconceived notion look positively incorrect. He’s been happy as a clam since getting out of Florida and on the ice appears to be the scorer the team needed following the Phil Kessel trade. Horton’s size and toughness allow him to get from point A to point B however he wants, and once his skate touches even a tiny bit of a hashmark, it’s over. Twice so far this preseason he’s fired wristshots from the hashmarks to beat the opposing goaltender. Even if he doesn’t become the 40-goal scorer many people feel he can be, he’s a safe bet for at least 30 a season after Marco Sturm led the team with 22.
Blake Wheeler will be better
Maybe it’s the Boston in Boston fans, but a sophomore slump is not an uncommon occurrence when it comes to younger players. After a promising rookie season in which he scored 21 goals, Wheeler took a step back with 18 last year. As his development furthers and he approaches the prime years of his career, Wheeler will be helped mightily by being Patrice Bergeron’s left wing and skating with Mark Recchi.
One thing Wheeler took pride in was toughening up and using his size more to his advantage. Such has been apparent in the offseason, as he’s finishing his checks and seems to be taking to the ice with a renewed intensity.
At the very least, Tyler Seguin will score
The second overall pick in June’s draft is not yet the all-galaxy NHL player that he is expected to one day be, but there is no question that he is among the most talented young goal-scorers in the league. He scored four goals in the preseason, and though he displayed some hesitance at times and had some hiccups in the defensive zone, it’s not unfathomable to think that he can be a 20-goal-scorer or better as a rookie.
A lot of Seguin’s success will depend on his linemates. He’s centered the third line for the majority of training camp, with the wings recently changing up. After skating with Michael Ryder and Wheeler earlier on, Wheeler was moved to the second line, with Jordan Caron and Daniel Paille entering the battle for playing time on the wing. If Ryder has the bounceback season he and the Bruins are hoping he’ll have, the third line could flash more offensive output than one would expect. If Caron ends up sticking on the line, it could be a work in progress, with the two rookies having to adjust to a new level at the same time.
Patrice Bergeron is going to explode
…And just in time for free agency if the two sides can’t reach a deal to keep him in Boston long-term. Bergeron’s skill set is unquestioned, and between his chemistry with Recchi and numerous signs that he’s officially in the prime of an already productive career (the most recent indication being his five-point outburst against Liberec HC on Tuesday).
Bergeron is coming off a 2009-10 season in which he totaled 52 points in 73 games before adding 11 more in 13 postseason games. He has yet to top the 73 points he picked up in his second season in the NHL, but it seems quite clear that if healthy, Bergeron should easily pass that mark and could establish himself among the league’s elite centers. Bergeron is coming off a five-year, $23.75 million deal signed back in 2006.
The goaltending tandem will be productive for as long as it lasts
Tim Thomas appears ready to go after coming off hip surgery in the offseason, and Tuukka Rask enters the season a bit heavier and with the confidence of leading the league in both save percentage and goals against average a season ago. Rask is definitely the no. 1 guy for the Bruins, and it should be interesting to see how he handles getting the majority of the starts.
The biggest question — which could very well not even be a factor — is whether the tandem lasts throughout the season. If the Bruins can get something in return for Thomas, they could consider moving him in order to get his $5 million cap hit off the books as they try to keep Bergeron and fellow free agent to be Zdeno Chara in the fold.
|10.07.10 at 12:08 pm ET|
PRAGUE — Joe Thornton was named captain of the Sharks on Thursday, a distinction he once held as a 23-year-old while a member of the Bruins. Thornton gets the C after the offseason retirement of Rob Blake.
Dan Boyle is set to be the first alternate captain, with Patrick Marleau wearing the A for home games and Ryan Clowe wearing it on the road. Marleau had previously captained the team but lost his captaincy in the summer of 2009.
Thornton remained captain of the Bruins until he was dealt to the Sharks during the 2005-06 season. In 12 NHL seasons, Thornton has racked up 931 points.
“You grow as you age, and you kind of mature as a player,” Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News. “I think you become more comfortable in your skin. Back then, you maybe let your game speak louder than your words and I think now you consider both. You can stand up and tell guys how it is or just go out and play.”
|10.07.10 at 9:27 am ET|
PRAGUE — Taking to the streets to get reaction to the only thing anybody is talking about … the Randy Moss trade.
|10.07.10 at 8:53 am ET|
PRAGUE — The Bruins did not skate on Thursday, instead resting up and meeting with fans who made the trek from Boston. As such, there’s been some time here and there to take in the city a bit. Here are a few pictures I snapped yesterday. Notice the restaurant does, in fact, have smelly cheese toasts on the menu…
|10.07.10 at 8:31 am ET|
PRAGUE — While taking photos in the bathroom may be the weirdest thing one could do, I had to after coming across this in a restaurant. In the states one considers it swanky if there’s a TV in the bathroom, and in rare cases one can find monitors on the wall above the urinals. Not in Prague though. It’s all the same machine.
|10.07.10 at 7:23 am ET|
PRAGUE — According to a tweet from ESPNBoston’s James Murphy, the Bruins have agreed to terms with forward Brian McGrattan, who has been with the team throughout the preseason on a tryout basis. Murphy is reporting that the deal will not be finalized until Monday.
McGrattan has 395 penalty minutes in parts of five NHL seasons. A draft pick of the Kings, McGrattan has suited up for the Senators, Coyotes, and Flames. He has been skating on the the fourth line, which is centered by Gregory Campbell and has Shawn Thornton and Brad Marchand also vying for time on the wings.
|10.06.10 at 10:33 am ET|
PRAGUE — There’s no hiding how mightily the Bruins struggled in the scoring department in the 2009-10 season. From Blake Wheeler to David Krejci to Michael Ryder, many players saw their point totals take a hit en route to the team finishing with an NHL-worst 2.39 goals per game. After the offseason acquisitions of Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin, both of whom scored in Tuesday’s 7-1 victory over Liberec HC, the team appears — on paper, at least — to be in much better offensive standing than their squad of a season ago. Still, if the team is going to get to the Eastern Conference finals after being eliminated in the second round in two consecutive seasons, they’ll need some of their top scorers, like Ryder to return to form.
Last season wasn’t the first sign of a statistical speedbump from Ryder, who throughout his career has seen his numbers go up and down. In fact, almost amazingly, his points have never increased in consecutive seasons. In his six NHL seasons, his totals have been as follows: 63, 55, 58, 3, 53, and 33, the last two of which were with the Bruins. Though certainly accountable for last season, Ryder has hopes that the team can be more productive offensively. Should that happen, Ryder could be a big part of it.
“It was tough here for everyone,” Ryder said of what needs to change this season. “Even though I didn’t score like I wanted to, I was still third on the team. The whole team struggled to score and it was tough. The one thing we want to work on this year is that we want to produce more goals and try and get our offense going and still keep the defense as solid as it was.”
Ryder has been skating on the third line, centered by Tyler Seguin, with Jordan Caron and Daniel Paille the other wing candidates. The line, formerly made up of Ryder, Seguin and Blake Wheeler before Wheeler was moved to the second line, very much has an x-factor intrigue to it, as Ryder could be either the 27-scorer he was two seasons ago or the 18-goal man who drew the criticism of fans last season.
“We’re still getting adjusted,” Ryder said of his chemistry with the second overall pick. “There are little things we need to work on, like trying to get a feel for where each other’s going to be on the ice. I think that comes with practice. The more we practice and get used to each other, it will come and then after that we can get a little more of a feel for each other and make each other better.”
The 30-year-old winger hasn’t jumped off the page through camp so far, with Peter Chiarelli saying in a conference call last week that he didn’t “mind” Ryder’s preseason performance. Even so, Ryder has been commended by many, including Claude Julien, for looking better prepared and stronger at this point of the process than in seasons past.
Ryder identified strength and bulk as areas in which he aimed to improve over the offseason. As a result, he’s up to 197 pounds and taking a mentality of being more focused on being stronger on the puck. With this season being the last of his contract, he’ll be playing for both his contract and proving to the Bruins that sending him and his $4 million cap hit to Providence should be out of the question once Marco Sturm and Marc Savard return from their respective injuries.
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