But with the toll the physical nature of the game takes on defensemen, that spare blue-liner will still see plenty of action, and his ability to step in when needed can be vital to a club?s success.
Last year, no Bruins defenseman played all 82 games, as Boston?s D-men combined for 76 man-games lost to injury in the regular season and another 26 in the playoffs. Johnny Boychuk began the year as the seventh defenseman, but got his shot to play once injuries struck and by the postseason was skating on the top pairing with Zdeno Chara.
The Bruins don?t want to be hit with the injury bug like that again, but they won?t mind it if they are able to groom another top-six defenseman out of their seventh slot as opportunities for playing time arise.
Adam McQuaid, 23, acquitted himself well last year when he got his first taste of NHL action when pressed into duty by the rash of injuries. This year, he has the inside track to claiming that seventh spot from the start of the season and earning a full-time job in the NHL for the first time. But is he ready for such responsibility?
"I think he?s close," said Bruins general manger Peter Chiarelli after re-signing McQuaid to a two-year deal this summer. "He?s shown a real good progression in Providence. [Providence coaches] Rob Murray and Bruce Cassidy have done a real good job with him down there, even [former Providence and current Islanders coach] Scott Gordon before that. He?s maturing as a player. He?s a big strong kid and he?s showed me a lot of compete and he showed me a lot of progress when he was up here and practicing up here, so he?s close."
McQuaid may have to be more than close. Andrew Ference has missed 89 games in the last three years and is coming off offseason groin surgery for the second straight summer. Mark Stuart spent three separate stints on injured reserve last year and Dennis Seidenberg missed the postseason with a lacerated forearm. All three will be healthy for the start of camp, but more injuries will come, and McQuaid will see plenty of action if he holds off the competition from the likes of Yuri Alexandrov, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Jeff Penner and Nathan McIver to retain his spot with the big club.
The Bruins expect big things out of the 6-foot-5, 209-pound McQuaid. But they also couched his new deal in a way that leaves room for further development, if needed. The first year of the contract is a two-way deal, paying him $550,000 if he is in the NHL and $105,000 if he is sent down to the AHL. The second year is a one-way deal, paying him $600,000 regardless of where he plays.
He would still have to clear waivers to be sent down this year, and barring a truly horrendous camp, it?s unlikely he would go unclaimed. So while Chiarelli noted that "we?re projecting a little over the course of the term" with the construct of the deal, it?s likely that McQuaid has seen the last of Providence.
As for projecting McQuaid?s overall development, Chiarelli joked that "in a perfect world he?ll be a top-two shutdown defender."
"To be fair to Adam," he added, "I think he has a chance to be a real regular in that 5-6 pair — but who knows? With this defenseman position, it?s a hard craft to learn now with these new rules. He?s showing me he can learn it, which is very promising. We have him as an NHL player in very short order, and he may progress even from there."
McQuaid brings some intriguing attributes to the Bruins blue line. He adds some size to a unit that outside of Chara is not particularly imposing, especially on the bottom pairings with Ference and Matt Hunwick both checking in at under six-feet tall.
McQuaid uses that size to good effect as well. He provided a physical presence last year with 29 hits in 19 games, but also showed good discipline as he had just three minor penalties. That matched his total of fighting majors, as he is an accomplished scrapper willing to stand up for his teammates when necessary. He also blocked 17 shots and committed just five giveaways while playing a sound positional game. He was a minus-4 in his first four games, but settled down nicely after that and was just a minus-1 in his final 15 and his lone point was a game-winning goal against Montreal.
"I?ve gotten more comfortable as the games have gone along," said McQuaid during last year?s playoffs. "I?m just trying to keep it simple. I think that?s what?s kept me out of trouble for the most part. It?s an exciting time. I?m trying to take it all in, but at the same time be reliable when I?m out there."
McQuaid filled in again in the playoffs, playing nine games with nine hits, nine blocked shots and just two giveaways before a knee injury knocked him out of the Philadelphia series. His playing time was likely coming to an end anyway, as his exit coincided with Stuart?s return from a hand infection. McQuaid did look shaky at times in the playoffs, but overall his first exposure to NHL play showed plenty to be encouraged about.
While injuries could give McQuaid further opportunities to prove himself, he will also have to avoid spending more time on the shelf as well. In addition to his playoff knee injury, he also nearly had his season derailed by a freak accident, suffering a concussion when he tripped over his suitcase getting up in the middle of the night after he was sent back to Providence to play during the Olympic break. McQuaid was out until April, but learned a valuable lesson in luggage handling.
"I take my time now, make sure everything?s cleared out before I go to bed," said McQuaid."If I do have to get up in the middle of the night I make sure I kind of tip-toe around."
If he plays the way he did during his brief stint with the big club last year, McQuaid shouldn?t have to worry about packing his bags for Providence again anytime soon.
NESN.com will answer one Bruins question every day in August.
Sunday, Aug. 22: What will Gregory Campbell bring to the team?
Tuesday, Aug. 24: Who will play on the penalty kill this year?