BOSTON — The Bruins have all but one regular from last year’s defense corps returning this season. But the one blueliner who departed took with him a skillset lacking from the rest of the defense.
The Bruins need to find a new source of offensive production from the blue line with Dennis Wideman having been traded to Florida in the deal that netted Boston Nathan Horton this offseason.
There isn’t an obvious heir to that offensive defenseman role, but coach Claude Julien expects a group effort to fill that void.
“I think, collectively, we can certainly pick up that slack,” said Julien after Sunday’s training camp workouts at the Garden. “We’ve got some guys that can certainly take another step in the right direction, just thinking about a guy like Matt Hunwick who, to me, is such a great skater. If he moves the puck well and his feet are moving, he’s going to give us that offense that everybody thinks that we’ve lost in Dennis Wideman.”
Wideman struggled for much of last season, managing just six goals and 30 points in 76 games. But he is also just one year removed for a 13-goal, 50-point campaign, and rebounded to lead the Bruins with 12 points in 13 playoff games this spring.
“Again, when you lose a player of that caliber, you’ve lost a good player,” said Julien. “There’s no doubt about it. I think we saw him play so well in the playoffs that we realized what we gave up, but we had to in order to get what we got in return. Some guys have to step it up. I think Matt is certainly one of those guys, and, you know, you’ve got to remember that all last year, Andrew Ference was injured. Did he play his best? He never could because he played injured and even when he came back he wasn’t 100 percent. So hopefully [we'll have] a healthy Andrew Ference. You’ve got other guys – [Johnny] Boychuk is in his second year, Dennis Seidenberg, who we really missed also in the latter part, hopefully is healthy. As a group, I think we really can make up for that loss.”
Julien is already working on instilling a more offensive approach in his defense, concluding Sunday’s on-ice session with drills that called for the defensemen to pinch in and join the rush.
“I think when you look around the league, you need to adapt to different things, and the defensive game for most teams now is pretty good,” said Julien. “Once you get into the D zone, teams are actually pretty good, so they don’t give you many opportunities and some of the best opportunities you’re getting is off the rush. In order to get the most out of it, you need the D to activate as well, and try to make it a 4-on-3 as much as you can, and I think we’re going to keep encouraging our D’s to go up the ice and certainly help the attack.”