Bruins 2008-09 rookie review

By Jonathan Szczur

Seven Bruins rookies suited up this season. Blake Wheeler played the whole year while Matt Hunwick and Byron Bitz contributed considerable time in Boston. Tuukka Rask continued to impress and three others pulled on the Boston ‘B’ for the first time.

Blake Wheeler, RW
6’5, 208 lbs
Acquired as a free agent in July 2008

Unsure of his place in the organization at the beginning of the season, Wheeler would not let himself get cut. He stayed. He was never sent down to Providence. In fact, he dressed for every Bruins game but one.

Wheeler scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game at Colorado on Oct. 9. On Nov. 6 he switched from wearing number 42 to 26 and scored his first NHL hat trick in his first game with the new number. In his 81 games, he scored 21 goals and recorded 24 assists for 45 points. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher finished fifth in rookie goals scored, he tied for sixth in rookie assists and was seventh in overall rookie points. His +36 rating was second overall in the entire league and was the best plus/minus among all NHL rookies. He was named MVP of the YoungStars game with four goals and one assist as the rookies beat the sophomores. He finished the season with 11 multiple-point games and went four for seven in OT shootout attempts. His 21 goals were the most by any Bruins rookie since Brad Boyes tallied 26 in 2005-06.

Through his first eight playoff games with the Bruins he has yet to record his first NHL playoff point.  

Matt Hunwick, D 
5’11, 193 lbs
7th round (224th overall), 2004

Hunwick began the season in Providence but was recalled less than a week after opening day. It took him just over a month to record his first NHL goal on Nov. 17 in Toronto. He scored six goals and had 21 assists in his 53 games with Boston, five of which coach Claude Julien played him at forward.

In November, Hunwick managed a six-game point streak that tied Ray Bourque’s record for the longest point steak by a Bruins rookie defenseman. He also had six multiple-point games that included two games with three assists. He fit in well on the third defensive pairing for Boston, but at times was forced to sit to make room for a steadier veteran presence. Hunwick played his first NHL playoff game against Montreal on Apr 16 but was injured during a collision in the second period. He was found to have a ruptured spleen that required surgery. Hunwick may return to the Boston lineup at some point during the playoffs depending on timing.  

Byron Bitz, RW
6’5, 215 lbs
4th round (107th overall), 2003

Ten days into January, Bitz played in the first game of his NHL career against Carolina. He had his first NHL assist in that game. On Feb. 7, he scored his first NHL goal against the Flyers. He stayed in Boston for the rest of the season. Bitz scored four goals and had three assists for seven points in 35 games. His height and his ability to use his body against the boards contributed to his impressive performance with Boston. The Cornell graduate fit in well with the hard-working Bruins system and provided additional grit when needed. He received an assist in his first playoff game against Montreal and has played well during his limited NHL playoff time.

Martin St. Pierre, C
5’9, 185 lbs
Acquired as a free agent in November 2005

St. Pierre played 14 games for Boston this season. He was recalled three times from Providence and scored his first goal during his first recall stint on Dec. 30. The undersized center only had two goals for Boston but his first was shorthanded and his second was a game-winner, Jan. 15 on Long Island. St. Pierre fit in well as a solid fourth-line center for Shawn Thornton. Based on his play this season, he should continue to get more time in Boston next year.

Tuukka Rask, G
6’2, 171 lbs
1st round (21st overall), 2005

Recalled on three different occasions, Rask dressed as backup five times, but his play was limited to only one NHL game during the 2008-09 season. In that one game he made the most of his opportunity by posting a 35-save shutout against the New York Rangers on Jan. 31. When he is on his game, he has the coverage and quickness to shut down any opponent like he did against the Rangers. If Boston moves Manny Fernandez in the offseason, Rask could be wearing the jersey of the parent Bruins. 

Johnny Boychuk, D
6’2, 225 lbs
Acquired from Colorado for Matt Hendricks in June 2008

The offensive defenseman only played one NHL game for Boston during the regular season. Four days after his Dec 1. recall he was united with fellow recall Matt Lashoff as the third defensive pairing. Boychuk skated almost 15 minutes and was a flawless fit into the Boston back line. Two days later he was returned to Providence for the remainder of the season. His speed and his skill suggest he will be back in Boston for much longer next season. 

Mikko Lehtonen, RW
6’5, 203 lbs
3rd round (83rd overall), 2005

Lehtonen played in his first NHL game on Apr. 11 in Buffalo after a foot injury kept Patrice Bergeron out of the lineup. He skated on the right wing with Milan Lucic on the left, and was centered by David Krejci in his debut. He managed just one shot on goal and finished even for the day in his NHL debut. Lehtonen appeared comfortable and able to keep up with the level of play. While Boston played one of their worst games of the year, Lehtonen showed good speed and poise despite the poor game.