With a healthier Nathan Horton, a more poised Tuukka Rask and a collectively more consistent strike force, the Boston Bruins could have sealed first place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference last year. Or, at the very least, the seven-point gap between themselves and the New York Rangers could have been whittled down to one or two or a virtual tie.
All but one of the members of the 2011 Stanley Cup championship team who came back for last October’s banner night figure to be in Boston attire once again for the next season opener. With barely a couple of offseason roster changes, the sizeable core group will have a do-over in its effort to threaten the likes of the Rangers and Penguins for home ice throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Is that a lofty ambition? You bet your blades it is. But provided the Bruins have all of the brighter elements of 2011-12 working for them in 2012-13 and pick up what was lacking for great portions of last season, it is not an unattainable goal.
With that said, nearly every regular or prospective regular in the lineup will need to reach finger-tipping distance of the ceiling of his potential to ensure Boston’s odds of finishing first.
Prospects Matt Bartkowski, Chris Bourque, Carter Camper, Garnet Exelby, Christian Hanson and Michael Hutchinson may all garner a call-up or two. But realistically, that will only happen for most of them if injuries plague the parent club in a manner similar to the way it did in the thick of last winter or in 2009-10.
In addition, the likes of forwards Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner and defensemen Aaron Johnson and Torey Krug will inevitably get a few looks as the occasional, injury, illness or rest night strikes.
But of the 20 players Boston will most frequently depend on, here is what they can do to ensure the best possible 82-game ride in 2012-13.