BOSTON - Cam Neely is regarded as one of the most competitive athletes to ever play in Boston. His passion for winning, combined with his toughness, grit, and dazzling scoring ability made him one of the city's most beloved sports figures during his days donning the Spoked-B at Boston Garden.
Many of those attributes followed him into the front office. His thirst for success was evident each time the camera panned to him watching intently from the press box.
During his first seven years as an executive, winning came frequently, as the Bruins qualified for the postseason each season, twice made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and captured the organization's first title in 39 years in 2011.
But back-to-back seasons without trips to the postseason forced the Bruins president to attain a new quality.
"That's one of the things that I've had to learn, to be honest with you, is patience," said Neely. "It's a lot different going from a player, where you think you can make an impact, whether it's the next shift or the next game, to waiting to see things evolve and develop. I've had to learn patience."
Neely had to realize it would take time to build the team back up to a championship contender, particularly with such a large crop of young players and prospects honing their skills in college, juniors, or the AHL.
Now, the benefits of that patience are beginning to show. Boston qualified for the postseason for the first time in three years this spring, doing so with a bevy of fresh talent. Ten Bruins made their National Hockey League debut in 2016-17 and 11 suited up for their first Stanley Cup Playoffs game.
"It's exciting. It's been challenging. I know how competitive this city is and successful some of the other teams have been - we certainly want to be that successful," Neely said during an end-of-season press conference with Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and CEO Charlie Jacobs Tuesday morning at TD Garden.
"But I knew what we were signing up for. It's hard to, I guess, relay that information to your fan base because they want results now, and I get that. They're coming to watch us play and they're expecting a good performance out of our team, but I knew where we were headed - it just wasn't going to be happening over night."
Video: Charlie Jacobs recaps the 2016-17 season
For Neely and the rest of the Bruins' front office, the 2016-17 season was an exciting glimpse into what beams on the horizon. Among the brightest flashes were Charlie McAvoy, last year's 14th overall pick, making his NHL debut in the playoffs, Brandon Carlo impressing as Zdeno Chara's partner on the first pairing, and David Pastrnak crossing the 30-goal plateau for the first time. All three players are under 21 years old.
"Hockey is a game that evolves constantly," said Jeremy Jacobs. "Youth is part of it. You have to have a constant flow of new talent coming in. We were probably a little stagnant, a little slow, getting that done…they came in and did a much more than credible job."
Charlie Jacobs admitted the team's first-round exit at the hands of the Ottawa Senators was disappointing - as were the substantial amount of injuries that hit the Bruins during the postseason, particularly on the back end - but viewed the emergence of first-year players like McAvoy and Sean Kuraly as an enormous positive.
"We had 11 players - think about that, 11 - play in their first postseason game," said Charlie Jacobs. "To me, that's an incredible number, almost half the roster. That's valuable experience, for them to experience the atmosphere of playoff hockey, the tightness of it, the ferocity.
"The whole experience is a learning one and I think in the long run - while we're not happy to be out in the first round, we're going to be a much better team for it."
Neely left open the possibility for this year's squad to mirror the 2007-08 team, which qualified for the playoffs after a two-year absence and fell to the Montreal Canadiens in a memorable seven-game, first-round series. Just three years later, Boston was hoisting the Stanley Cup.
"It remains to be seen [if this team will follow that path], but I think it's beneficial. I think for players who haven't played in the playoffs before, you really get an understanding of what playoff hockey is all about," said Neely. "It's what you want for your team and that helps the growth of those players, especially younger players.
"I think there are guys like David Pastrnak that really saw a difference in regular season hockey and playoff hockey, and he's going to learn and grow from that."
Video: Mr. Jacobs recaps the 2016-17 season
There are, however, other teams growing, too. The Bruins know they are not the only franchise in the league - or their own division, for that matter - that has young talent dotting their roster. Toronto, for one, boasts a throng of fledgling stars, including Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.
Building a roster around that youth, as well as core players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Torey Krug, that can compete with teams like the Maple Leafs for years to come is the task that now sits in front of Neely and general manager Don Sweeney.
"We can't expect that we're going to get better and no one else is," said Neely. "We recognize what some of the other teams have for younger players and prospects, Toronto this year, for example. We have to take a hard look at our roster and see if we can add - it doesn't necessarily have to be a veteran player, but maybe it's a younger player with some experience, not just throwing in players that have no NHL experience.
"But we do have some guys in Providence that have played at the pro level that we're looking at to see if they can come in and help and contribute at the NHL level.
"I think, now, with some of the players that have stepped in this year, I think they're giving some hope not just to us, but to the fan base, of where we are headed and what the future looks like because of it."
Patience is a virtue. And it's beginning to pay off for the Bruins.