|Stuart ready to show his strengths on the ice||09.15.09 at 10:10 am ET|
There’s a word to describe just how mighty Mark Stuart is on the ice when he gets his physicality and aggression working for him, and starts intimidating opponents with his seismic body checks and ever-improving Aaron Ward-style forearm shiver.
Stuart, the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and Captain Caveman all have something in common: they are all ”caveman strong.”
So physically strong that sometimes the 25-year-old defenseman momentarily forgets just how much of a physical factor he can be in his own end with each and every shift. Stuart is still considered one of the kids on a young-ish Boston Bruins team, but he’s treated like something of a young veteran because he’s been logging D-man shifts with the B’s since he was a 21-year-old fresh out of Colorado College back in 2005-06.
“You always know what you’re going to get with (Stuart),” said B’s defenseman Dennis Wideman, who has been Stuart’s sometimes ’D' partner over the last two seasons. “He’s going to be working hard, shutting down cycles and punishing people. Then he hopefully gets the puck and you get it going.
“When Stuey gets angry you’d probably want to stay away from him because he’s a strong, strong man. Sometimes I think he doesn’t even know how strong he really is.”
It’s easy to forget some of the names that dotted the lineup for Stuart’s first NHL game on March 11, 2006: Marius Czerkawski, Tom Fitzgerald, Travis Green, Dan LaCouture, Brian Leetch, Marty Reasoner, David Tanabe, and the immortal Pat Leahy. Stuart experienced the post-Thornton trade dark times the Black and Gold went through before Peter Chiarelli and Co. cleaned up the franchise, and that gives him a little bit of perspective in a locker room seeking more leadership with influential players like Aaron Ward, Stephane, Yelle, P.J. Axelsson and Shane Hnidy having moved on to other hockey destinations.
Stuart is eagerly looking forward to taking on that challenge as his role on the ice is likely to expand this season.
“I think I do need to (step into a leadership role). There’s a few guys that need to do that because we lost a few pieces of our leadership, but we still have a pretty good group that’s obviously led by ‘Z’ and Mark Recchi, who has got a lot of experience in this league,” said Stuart. “But some of us that have been here three or four years really need to step up now because we never had to before.
“You’ve got to find a happy medium between being vocal and setting an example. Just be a hard worker. I obviously don’t think I’ll be making too many flashy plays, so I’ll just get it done with hard work. Then I’ll throw a few (verbal) things in there every once in a while.”
Though Stuart has been logging minutes in NHL games for the last four seasons, last year was something of a breakout campaign for the defenseman that played in all 82 games for the second straight season and posted career-highs in nearly every single statistical category. That in and of itself is an accomplishment for Stuart, who isn’t a defenseman that’s ever going to be judged on gaudy conventional statistics. Grime-covered stats like hits and blocked shots will tell some of the tale with Stuart, but many of the skills he brings to the table were honed and perfected while watching the rough-and-tumble Aaron Ward play a very similar style of ‘D’ over the last two seasons.
With Ward now taking defenseman shifts in his adopted home state of North Carolina after a trade to the Carolina Hurricanes, Stuart remains behind as the only pure stay-at-home, physical blueliner capable of riding even the strongest of forwards into the corners and moving bodies around in front of the net. All of these things are clearly a part of Zdeno Chara’s game as well, but he’s clearly more of a hybrid defenseman given his offensive skills and power play responsibilities. That being said, there may be more offensive upside with Stuart after putting together a career-best 17 points last season with 5 goals and 12 assists.
Stuart has always threatened with a booming slap shot from just inside the blue line, but he’ll have to pile up all his points during even strength situations. He said he concentrated on working with his hands over the summer to improve himself a bit offensively, but Stuart isn’t likely to electrify with one-man defenseman rushes up the ice.
With Patrice Bergeron, Derek Morris, Andrew Ference, Dennis Wideman, Zdeno Chara and Matt Hunwick all capable power play point men embroiled in an interesting competition for four point spots on the two power play units during camp, Stuart won’t be seeing much in the way of PP time this season.
“I think this year we’ve got an abundance of guys to choose from to stay on (the power play),” said Wideman. “This year if everybody stays healthy there’ll be a lot of pressure to stay on there, and if you’re not producing then there will be one, two or three guys ready to take your spot. There’ll be some healthy competition for the PP.”
Instead the 6-foot-2, 213-pounder will focus on what’s expected in the D zone, chipping in during the odd offensive moment that presents itself and continue cultivating himself as part of the young leadership group on the hockey club. Stuart should get a lot more playing time than last seasons 15:25 of ice time per game to flash all of those skills among a defensemen corps, where he’s much more one of a kind with his impressive feats of on-ice strength.
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