BostonBruins.com - Talk to any player after his first year pro, and he'll tell you that he feels more confident and comfortable. He'll say he began to find his identity, and make the adjustment to the faster, stronger level of play.
It's not easy; he never expects it to be. But with time, practices and games, as the season progresses, he'll improve and start to gain more opportunities to prove himself.
Such was the case for a pair of Bruins prospects, forward Matt Lindblad and defenseman Chris Casto, who around this time last summer, had just four AHL games in their repertories after joining Providence following college careers.
Lindblad, now 24 years old, opted to leave Dartmouth College after his junior year, and Casto, now 22, went pro after two seasons at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Together with the rest of their young P-Bruins teammates, they grew into their roles throughout the 2013-14 season, becoming a team along the way.
Linblad finished his first season in Providence with eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points through 55 games. He put up seven points in the Calder Cup Playoffs off three goals and four assists as the P-Bruins were eliminated in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal. In that game, they fought back from a 5-0 deficit before falling 5-4.
It was indicative of the way they had battled throughout the season, especially in their final push to make the playoffs, overcoming adversity and injuries in the process.
"It was a wild finish, and I think it kind of speaks to the character of our team and just everyone contributing," said Lindblad.
"We learned a lot over the course of the year, and it did feel like every game, whether it was regular season or playoffs, was a one-goal game, and that kind of speaks to how competitive the league is and the type of team we are. You know, we hate to lose in Providence. No team likes to lose, but we just kept fighting till the end."
Casto put up three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 52 games in 2013-14 with 23 penalty minutes and a plus-eight rating. He played in all 12 playoff games, recording two assists and 13 penalty minutes.
"I think that's really evidence of team character - we wanted to win, even if it wasn't easy road, because all year wasn't really easy for us, being a young team," said Casto.
"I think we we were a little bit disjointed to start the year and our first months kind of wasn't what we expected of ourselves, and what the program expected from us, but as the season went on, we became more of a team, came together," he added.
"I think we were peaking at the right time, because we became a team, we were playing really good hockey at the end there."
Linblad and Casto encountered different circumstances during the season. Linblad was one of the final cuts from Boston's training camp, and eventually made his NHL debut on March 15, 2014 against Carolina. He worked hard, and proved he could compete in the NHL.
"All over the course of the year, you get a sense of - whether it was from your first couple of weeks to the last couple of weeks - where you are in terms of being comfortable and confident in yourself," said Lindblad.
"You're with all of these great players every night. And the feeling I had coming into playoffs, it was a lot more aggressive than at the beginning of the year, and I guess that's just the confidence I had in myself and the other guys had in me."
Casto may not have gotten a shot up with the big club, but he saw his game gradually improve once he was tasked with a bigger role on the back end. His opportunity came because Kevan Miller made the jump to the NHL after Dennis Seidenberg's season-ending ACL/MCL injury.
"The first half was tougher. You know, it's hard to get into so many things when you're not playing as much or you're just not used to the speed of the game, a lot of the guys are bigger, so I mean, it was a challenge the first half," said Casto.
"And when you start getting opportunities, it becomes easier and I think I got into the swing of things by the end."
Casto, whose strength rests in his speed and skating, became more consistent as the season went on, and began to understand how the coaching staff wanted him to play.
"A lot of learning and molding happened in the first half. I mean, they have a certain way they want you to play and they need it to be that way, because that's how teams are successful, is making that identity," said the blueliner.
"I think I'm still working on having an identity and finding out what that is, but they've kind of helped me find it along the way."
Ask him to try and explain a Bruin similar to him, and he'll immediately site tough-as-nails defenseman Johnny Boychuk. Now, I don't have time to see many Providence Bruins games, but I saw an OT win in March where Casto laid out to block a shot and then stayed on for the rest of the penalty kill shift.
"I think that [he's] good for me to see and to look up to as I learn the game," said Casto.
As the P-Bruins look to forward to next season, they'll take their lessons from season No. 1 and work towards training camp in the Fall. They'll also take what they heard from their coaches and Bruins' management in exit interviews.
"I felt like I was on the same page with our coaches and staff and what I need to work on, and for me to take my game to the next level, I need to get a little stronger and I need to work on my shot, and those are two areas that I definitely can work on and improve, especially in the summer," said Lindblad, who will also find time to spend with his family's new puppy at his home in Illinois.
Lindblad was set on testing him limits, whether it's "shooting an extra 100 pucks or being at the gym, and pushing that extra mile."
"So I'm really excited this summer to really get things going and ramp things up, and to prove not only to management, but to myself, that I'm ready for the next level."
Casto wasn't going to let himself off the hook, either.
Spending the summer in Stillwater, Minnesota at his family's home, he'll be training in St. Paul with the likes of NHL players Justin Faulk, Zach Parise and Chris Porter.
Like Lindblad, he'll be working on his strength.
"Being a younger guy, there are guys that are eight years older than me that are obviously bigger, and more versed in how to handle their own bodies… I need to learn to handle myself while being light," said Casto. "That's my biggest weakness right now, and I'm going to work on that."
With both P-Bruins making strides this past season, it looks like they're well on their way to pushing for more opportunities to prove themselves in 2014-15.