The Boston Bruins open up their defense of their Stanley Cup on Thursday night, and there is no question that they are the hunted this season, and will have a giant bulls-eye on them each night they step on the ice.
In order to have any shot at being the first repeat Stanley Cup champions since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings, they will need the following 10 players to come up big:
10. The Fourth Line: Sean Thornton and Gregory Campbell provided toughness and a surprising scoring touch in the regular season, and then provided a huge energy lift throughout the playoffs in limited time. Daniel Paille struggled in the regular season, but was huge as a penalty killer and all-around player in the postseason.
9. Rich Peverley: He and Chris Kelly were huge pickups at the trade deadline, and Peverley filled many roles – from first-line scorer to fourth-line grinder and everything in between. Peverley should be even better with a preseason camp with the club.
8. Brad Marchand: The rookie came out of nowhere in camp and became a folk hero with his hard-nosed gritty (or annoying) play and brilliant postseason run. He spent much of his offseason shirtless and maybe spent a bit too time on the party circuit during the first month, but earned a new contract. Now he needs to prove he is not just a one-year wonder.
7. Tuukka Rask: He was brilliant as a rookie and just above average last year. The Bruins need Rask to be like he was in 2009-2010 – one, to spell Thomas and two, to prove he is capable of being a No. 1 in the near future. He needs to play in 32-37 games this season
6. Tyler Seguin: He showed flashes of brilliance at points, especially against Tampa Bay in the playoffs, but he was weak in the neutral
and defensive zones and was physically overmatched. He added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, so that should make a big difference. He needs to make a jump to 20 to 25 goals and be a better overall player in order to meet the expectations that come with being the second overall pick in the draft.
5. Dennis Seidenberg: Partnered with Chara for the postseason, Seidenberg elevated his game to another level. If he can even come close to matching that performance this season, the Bruins will near the top of the list of legitimate Cup contenders.
4. Patrice Bergeron: One of the better all-around centers in the league, Bergeron finally earned some credit as an elite player last year. He was likely Boston’s best overall player in the postseason.
3. David Krejci: Boston’s top-line center was average at best during the regular season, and was invisible through most of the opening round. However, he exploded in round 2 and played great the rest of the postseason, leading the NHL in scoring in the playoffs.
2. Zdeno Chara: The big man has his critics, but was among the best defensemen in the league during the regular season and elevated his game after struggling with the flu/dehydration early in the opening round. One thing he needs to improve upon is his play on the power play.
1. Tim Thomas: The Vezina and Conn Smythe winner was reason No. 1 the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last year, and his continued strong play will be necessary for another Cup run. Regardless of whether or not he is the official No. 1 goalie for the team, Thomas will need to be at the top of his game as everyone is gunning for the Bruins.
(Steve Kendall is a freelance writer who has covered hockey at all levels for various newspapers and websites including The Boston Herald, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, The Hockey Writers, and New England Hockey Journal. Follow him at Twitter @skendallhockey).