5 Burning Questions the Boston Bruins Must Answer Early in the 2013 Season

Chris Blanchard@@BlanchardNHLContributor IIIJanuary 25, 2013

5 Burning Questions the Boston Bruins Must Answer Early in the 2013 Season

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    Having confidently claimed five of six available points to start the 2013 season, the Boston Bruins have established themselves among the early Stanley Cup favorites.

    However, a number of questions will continue to surround the club as the season unfolds. 

    Here is a look at five of the most pressing questions that Claude Julien's boys will have to answer over the next few weeks. 

Do the Bruins Have Sufficient Depth in Net?

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    With two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas showing no signs of emerging from his Colorado bunker, the Bruins goal-tending situation will be scrutinized throughout 2013. 

    Replacing a goalie of Thomas' caliber is nearly impossible, but Boston finds itself uniquely capable of plugging the gap with rising star Tuukka Rask. 

    Following a spectacular lockout stint with the Czech Republic's HC Plzen, the 26-year-old Rask has filled his mentor's skates quite nicely. In three starts, he has posted an impressive 1.95 goals against average and .926 save-percentage, while consistently putting the B's in a position to win. 

    So far, the Bruins new No. 1 has done a brilliant job of establishing himself as an elite shot-stopper, but unfortunately, the Bruins will not be able to trot him out every night. 

    In a 48-game sprint to the playoffs, backup goalies will likely see action more frequently than ever, and they will have an increased impact on the final standings. 

    That means that the Bruins will need a number of quality starts from unproven backup Anton Khudobin when Rask needs a breather. With just seven NHL starts under his belt, Khudobin remains a huge question mark for the Bruins. 

    There is cause for optimism, considering Khudobin turned in a 44-save gem to earn a 3-1 victory over Ottawa in his only Boston start. Yet only time will tell if he can deliver when called upon. 

Is Dougie Hamilton a Difference Maker?

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    Few rookies entered the season with as much hype as Dougie Hamilton.

    After being drafted ninth overall by the Bruins in 2011, Hamilton torched the Ontario Hockey League to the tune of 113 points in 82 games, convincing Boston fans that he might be the next in a long line of legendary Bruins defensemen. 

    Although it is not yet time to compare him to the likes of Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque or even Zdeno Chara, the 19-year-old has looked impressive in his first few NHL contests. 

    The 6'5" monster has already established himself as a physical presence, registering six hits in his first three games. But he'll make an even bigger impact if he can finally fix Boston's woeful power play. 

    The puck-moving defenseman has seen quite a bit of special teams time in his first few games, and he earned his first career point with an assist on Boston's only power play-goal of the season. 

    With established veterans Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference on hand to provide guidance and defensive support, Hamilton will be afforded ample opportunity to push forward and rack up points. 

    If he can get on a roll early, especially on the man-advantage, the newest Bruin could be a major factor in Boston's playoff push. 

Can Nathan Horton Stay Healthy and Return to Form?

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    Nearly a year after Philadelphia's Tom Sestito ended his season with a concussion-inducing hit, Nathan Horton has finally returned to the ice. After limiting the winger to just 46 games in 2011-12, Horton's health will remain a hot topic throughout the season. 

    Through the team's first three games, the fiery 27-year-old has looked 100% healthy, and his aggressive style has provided a major boost to linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic. 

    Though Horton has just one goal to his name so far, he has contributed to a number of spectacular chances. 

    After a suspect showing in the 2012 playoffs, the Bruins' offense will rely heavily on Horton to make a major contribution, while also energizing Krejci and Lucic, who struggled in his absence. 

    With free agency looming next summer, Horton will have no shortage of motivation to rack up the points, so a big season could be looming. 

    However, if he cannot escape the shadow of past concussions, it could throw the Bruins' depth chart into disarray once again. 

Will Chris Bourque Finally Stick in the NHL?

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    After years of AHL dominance, Chris Bourque is back in his hometown, where he hopes to finally gain traction on an NHL roster. The son of legendary Bruins' defenseman Ray Bourque has plenty of talent but has so far failed to make it in the big leagues. 

    Acquired from the Washington Capitals in exchange for first-round bust Zach Hamill, Bourque has been given a place on Boston's third line alongside highly efficient veterans Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. Their leadership could help Bourque finally tap into his vast wealth of talent. 

    Nearly eight years after scoring a Beanpot-winning overtime goal for Boston University at the TD Garden, Bourque once again took the ice under his father's retired No. 77 for the Bruins season-opening victory over the New York Rangers

    Since first sporting the spoked-B on January 19, Bourque has looked solid for the Bruins, averaging roughly 13 minutes of ice time per game. He has also seen a number of looks on Boston's struggling power play, which has mustered just one goal in three contests. 

    During the lockout, the winger led the Providence Bruins with 28 points in 32 games. In fact, the 26-year-old has been among the AHL's most lethal threats for a number of years now, with 421 points in 424 career minor league games. 

    After failed stints in both Washington and Pittsburgh, perhaps it is finally time for the former second-rounder to catch on with a NHL club. 

Is Tyler Seguin Ready to Become a Superstar?

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    Selected second overall in the 2010 draft, Tyler Seguin has long been viewed as the future of the Boston franchise. After showing flashes of his elite talent in the 2011 playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup, Seguin blossomed in his second season, leading the Bruins in both goals (29) and points (67). 

    GM Peter Chiarelli rewarded the young gun in the summer with a six-year contract extension worth $34.5 million dollars, according to CapGeek. Seguin made that deal look like highway robbery with an otherworldly lockout stint with Switzerland's EHC Biel. 

    He scored 25 goals in 29 games to claim the league lead, ahead of fellow NHL stars Rick Nash, John Tavares, Jason Spezza and Biel teammate Patrick Kane. In fact, Seguin's goal haul was the largest of any locked-out NHL player in Europe.

    Now expected to lead the way for the Bruins, the 20-year-old Seguin is on track to join the NHL's elite. However, it remains to be seen if the youngster is ready to reach his prime. 

    After three-games, Seguin has yet to light the lamp, but he has produced a number of Boston's best scoring chances, only to be stoned by Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec. 

    Eventually, the winger will find the back of the net, but he'll have to produce consistently to lead the Bruins to another championship.