First year pro: Mark Stuart

By Janine Pilkington

Mark Stuart was Boston’s top pick (1st round, 21st overall) in the 2003 NHL entry draft. The 21-year-old attended his first camp with the Bruins this September after signing a rookie contract over the summer. Stuart begins his professional career in Providence, the AHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins.

“I didn’t really know what to expect coming in — first camp, and coming out of college, but it’s definitely been some new experiences, and I had to adapt to some new things right away,” Stuart admitted. “The guys here have been great, everyone’s treated me real well, and everyone’s been real nice, supportive and helpful.”

Stuart played three seasons with Colorado College and served as team captain in his junior year. He recorded 19 points and 94 penalty minutes in 43 games during his final season, but his on-ice presence is something that cannot be measured fully in stats. Stuart plays a punishing, often relentless game, driving hard against his opponents and he’s known as a tireless worker. The rookie defenseman missed out on some playing time during camp because of injury, but has been working hard and was ready for opening night with Providence.

“It’s been good to start adapting to the pro game and the pace and stuff, playing with some real good players,” Stuart said. “It was tough, I’ve got some injuries, which you never want to do, especially in first camp, but it’s been okay. I guess it’s better now than later in the season and missing games.”

Stuart is part of a young defense that includes a balance of quick skating offensive defensemen such as 19-year-old 2005 draftee Jonathan Sigalet and tough, physical defenders. While the potential is there, head coach Scott Gordon says there is still a lot of work to be done, and hopes to get his defense on the right track. With some of the rule changes leaning in favor of quick-skating, finesse type players, the big, physical players like Stuart have had the most difficulty adjusting.

“We’re still a work in progress,” Gordon admitted. “Where we’re at with defense right now and where we’ll be in two months, hopefully we’ll get a higher level.”

He was also quick to point out the difficulty for some of his players.

“To the credit of the guys that play physical, it’s a lot harder to break away from that than to go the opposite way.”

Mark Stuart begins the season with Providence as part of the starting lineup. He brings with him a strong work ethic, and is confident that it will work out over time.

“It’s all just learning to break the old habits and get used to the new game,” he said prior to opening night. “I think at the beginning it’s been hard just because I’ve been playing a certain way for so long, but I think once we start playing and start getting used to it, it won’t be that big of a deal.”

As comfortable as Stuart appears with adjusting his game, he acknowledges the amount of work and expectations that go along with being a top draft pick.

“When they picked me, they obviously saw something in me, so I feel like I need to play well, and prove to them that they did a good job in picking me. I’m just going to keep working, hopefully continue to get better, and prove that I am a good first pick.”

It was a tough decision to leave his school and teammates, but Stuart is where he wants to be. As a rookie, he’s in the position of having to prove himself all over again. He played a pivotal role on Colorado College’s defense, winning numerous awards for his play, including WCHA defensive player of the year for the 2004-05 season. When asked how he felt about starting all over again, Stuart accepted that there would be some difficulty along the way, but kept a positive attitude.

“It’s humbling and it’s exciting and it’s a new challenge,” he said. “I’m excited about it. Moving to a new city is always difficult. You have to find a new place to live and a bunch of that kind of stuff. It’s good, it’s a new challenge and I just want to make the best of it, play good and win some games.”

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