After paying his dues in the American Hockey League and starting last year in the press box as the Bruins' seventh defenseman, McQuaid had earned a spot in the top six and proved his value during the club's run to the Stanley Cup. It was enough to earn an extension from the Bruins this summer as he prepared to enter the final year of his current deal.
But when the Bruins opened up their title defense on Thursday, McQuaid was out of the lineup again. This time it was due to an illness, which kept him sidelined for several days.
McQuaid was feeling well enough to make his season debut on Saturday, and contributed right away to Boston's first win of the season as the bruins downed Tampa Bay 4-1.
"It felt good," McQuaid said. "It was tough not being able to be a part of Thursday night, so I was happy to be in there today."
As befits his usual upbeat demeanor, McQuaid even found a bright side to missing Thursday's opener, as he was able to participate in the pregame banner-raising ceremony and hoist the Cup on the Garden ice with his teammates.
"The way I felt I didn't even expect to be able to take part in the ceremony," McQuaid said. "It is what it is, you can't really control those things. So I kind of took the positive out of it and was happy I was at least able to be part of the ceremony beforehand."
The Bruins were even more happy to have him back on the blue line on Saturday. He finished a plus-1 in 13:19, chipping in a shot, a hit, a blocked shot and an assist. That helper was initially a goal for the stay-at-home defenseman, but it was later changed when replays showed his shot from the right circle deflected off forward Daniel Paille.
"I was just trying to find a shooting lane and get it past the first guy," McQuaid said. "You never know if someone gets a stick on it or a leg on it or a rebound. I'm just trying to get pucks on net. I think that's everyone's goal. The more pucks you get to the net, the more offensive things you can create. And you never know what can happen when you throw a puck at the net."
More important than the credit for the goal was the growing confidence McQuaid is showing in jumping into the attack when opportunities present themselves. McQuaid will always be first and foremost a physical shutdown defender, but he does possess some offensive ability and the Bruins are looking for him to contribute more in that regard.
"I think it's something we want to see more from all of the guys on the back end, but probably if you had to pick a guy on defense that's probably the least expected to go up, it'd be him," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He's such a defensive-minded defenseman that when you see him supporting the attack, it certainly opens people's eyes or gets the attention of the people watching him.
"We want him to do that more," Julien added. "He's a pretty smart individual. He knows to pick his spots, and he doesn't want to lose that identity of being a good shutdown defenseman, but he also wants to help in regards to other areas of the game. He's got a good shot, and I think he's just getting more comfortable, and has got an understanding that our system requires that our D's jump up whenever the occasion occurs."
McQuaid confirmed that his confidence has grown. He put up 3-13-15 totals in 67 games last season, then added four more assists in the playoffs, including a memorable one when he pinched in deep to start the play that produced Nathan Horton's overtime winner in Game 7 against Montreal.
"I think it comes with experience, knowing that guys will be there to back you up," McQuaid said. "At the same time, you have to take a peek over your shoulder and make sure there is someone there, and know when the right times are to jump up. But when you see the opportunity, try to get up there when you can."
McQuaid expects to continue to be a bigger part of the attack, but first he has to return to full health.
"I felt maybe a little more tired, towards the end of the game, a little more than normal," McQuaid said of Saturday's game. "But I guess that's to be expected. Overall I felt pretty good, so just go forward and get better from there.
"I'm pretty well there," McQuaid added. "It takes a little bit of time. I'll try and get my rest when I can, and make sure I get lots of fluids, and good meals, and just get built back up here for a lot of games so I want to make sure I get over this fully."