Since breaking into the NHL during the 2005-06 season, Bruin Mark Stuart has been known as a stay-at-home defenseman. But last season, Stuart showed some potential on the offensive side, amassing a career-high 17 points (five goals and 12 assists).
"Stewie has shown that he can pinch down low and really contribute to the play in the offensive zone," said B's head coach Claude Julien following the playoffs. "We'd like to see more of that. I think he has a great shot there and he just needs to have more confidence offensively."
Stuart recently agreed with that assessment when reached by phone at his home in Minnesota.
"I want to be more of a two-way player for sure," Stuart said. "I've been working on that, playing some three-on-three hockey and trying to focus on my offensive game. I want to be more of a complete player, and I think last year I tried to at times, but maybe I didn't [do it] enough. I've always been a stay-at-home type of D-man, but I know I can do more on offense."
Since GM Peter Chiarelli and Julien took over, they have both stressed the importance of a strong transition game and always making that successful, first outlet pass. With the addition of Derek Morris, the Bruins' blue line has the potential to be one of the better corps in the NHL in this area. And Stuart is ready to do his part.
"We've really got some good puck-movers now in Morris, [Dennis] Wideman and [Matt] Hunwick, so that is obviously going to be a key part of our attack and game out there," Stuart pointed out. "I need to be ready to do my part and know when to pinch or take that shot or make that good first pass. I think I have the ability to do that. I just need to do it more."
Stuart also likes the chemistry of the defense and the different attributes each player can bring to the table.
"Obviously you've got guys like Dennis, Andrew [Ference] and Matt who have developed into really good players on the offensive end and can help on the power play. And you've got a guy like Z [Zdeno Chara] who can do everything and obviously brings physical power, and I can probably help a lot in that respect," Stuart said. "But I think each of us can be more complete players and find our roles in this system. I think we've seen that happen over the last two seasons and you will see us gel even more this coming season."
For now, Stuart will treasure the final days of summer and try to catch some fish on one of the many lakes in Minnesota.
"I've been doing some fishing and trying to enjoy myself," he said. "I'll probably do that and keep skating and working out."
But he is excited to get back on the ice in Boston and erase the memories of the second-round playoff exit at the hands of Carolina.
"I can't wait to get out on the ice and start the season," he said. "That's when we can finally move on from that [loss to Carolina] and hopefully go even deeper in the playoffs next spring."