On the heels of a Game 7 playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Bruins fans will once again have to look towards next season. The ending may be disappointing, but it would be tough to walk away from the 2007-08 season without a sense of optimism. This was a team that defied all odds and predictions, one that battled to the end. Perhaps it would be best to look at it as a preview of years to come, this is, a team that should only get better with age.
Few would have predicted Milan Lucic to make the team out of camp, and some even questioned the decision to keep him there after he did; in hindsight, those thoughts seem almost ridiculous. Lucic was quick to attract attention with his enthusiasm for delivering punishing checks and willingness to drop the gloves. He had a fighting major in his NHL regular season debut and scored his first NHL goal three games later. While he’s made the biggest impression with his physical aspect, there is considerably more potential to Lucic’s game. He’s strong on the puck, he’s got good offensive instincts, and he’s improved in his decision-making over the course of the season. He’s got the size and strength to win one-on-one battles and crash the net. Watching him play, particularly in the latter half of the season, there is a sense that he will become more of a factor offensively as he continues to mature. Already a fan favorite, Lucic has made a tremendous impact for one so early in his NHL career. In 77 regular-season games, he tallied 27 points.
David Krejci, another player who made the team out of camp, took considerably longer to make an impact for Boston. Krejci had been a point per game player at every level he played, and his slow start appeared to eat at his confidence. It would take a brief visit to the AHL to set him back on track, and his return to the ice in Boston in late December signified a turnaround. He appeared to have a boost in confidence, but that first NHL goal still eluded him, and he wouldn’t find the back of the net until a Feb. 26 match against the Ottawa Senators. From that point, Krejci would continue to elevate his game at a rapid pace. When Marc Savard went down to injury late in the season, Krejci would be called upon to center the top line, and it was then his game really exploded. Krejci is a gifted playmaker with excellent vision. In the 56 regular season games he played, Krejci tallied a total 27 points, the majority of which came in the latter half of the season.
Injuries in Boston meant call-ups from Providence, and made rookies who could contribute essential. Vladimir Sobotka, who was originally slated to play the season in the AHL, made a couple trips between Boston and Providence before landing in the NHL for good in January. He spent most of the season centering the fourth line, and would not score his first NHL goal until a Feb. 13 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s shown flashes of offensive skill at the NHL level this season, and while his impact on the scoresheet has not been immediate, Sobotka has been effective nonetheless. A player with exceptional hockey IQ, he adapted quickly to the North American game while speaking little to no English. Sobotka is a smooth skater who excels in his ability to protect the puck. Also impressive is his willingness to play the body, which he does effectively, despite being a relatively small player. His role on offense should increase with experience. Sobotka had a goal and six assists through 48 games.
The Bruins swapped forwards with the Islanders in the off-season, getting Petteri Nokelainen in return for Ben Walter. Nokelainen also began the regular season in Providence, and much like Sobotka, was a point-per-game player there. Ironically, his first goal for Boston came against the team that drafted him, during a Dec. 3 match-up. Nokelainen was not — and may not in the future — be heavily relied upon to produce offense. Where he excels is in his overall defensive responsibility and the energy he brings to the lineup. Nokelainen battles in the corners, hits hard and will not hesitate to block shots. He’s a player who usually makes good decisions and does all of the little things that often go unheralded, but are necessary to win games. Nokelainen tallied 10 points in 57 NHL games.
The Bruins inserted a handful of other prospects into the lineup during the season, but none played a significant number of games. Matt Lashoff had a couple brief recalls from Providence, totaling 18 games and has made huge strides. He appeared much more poised late season and closer to being ready for a full-time position in the NHL. Rookie Matt Hunwick made his debut, appearing in 13 regular-season games with Boston before returning to Providence full-time for more pro experience. Goaltender Tuukka Rask made his debut as well, and appeared in four games in the early half of the season.
Offensive production: The postseason by the numbers
The Bruins scored just 15 goals through seven postseason games, but were able to get positive contributions from their youngest players. Eight of those 15 goals came from players with two or less years NHL experience.