|Five things to take from the preseason||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.
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