BostonBruins.com — During his senior year at Northern Michigan, the Wildcats’ Justin Florek capped off an terrific college career with a 19-17-36 line in 37 games during the 2011-12 NCAA campaign.
That impressive offensive output capped a four-year stint that saw the forward play in 157 games with 53-63-116 totals.
Fast forward to January 2013, and after 35 AHL games the Boston Bruins 2010 draft pick (5th Round, 135th overall) has a 5-5-10 professional docket over two seasons. But after watching the left wing's steady progression since joining the Providence Bruins at the end of last season, there's plenty of people excited about Florek’s potential.
"We have a better understanding and a little bit more of a broader perspective on it," said Boston Bruins Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney. "Sometimes the kids are trying to take a fast track, and it doesn’t always work that way.
"Everyone takes their own path," continued the former Bruins defenseman, who began his own career with Harvard in the NCAA and also saw time in the AHL.
"A bigger player — as is Justin’s case — can continue to develop, and all of a sudden you make leaps and bounds, and strides at a time when other players are maybe sort of leveling off.
"I think he has the ability to continue to grow as player in all those little areas of the game, and he has taken it to heart. Like all young players, he had some gaps that he needed to fill in on with strength, and continue to grow and mature.
"He’s making strides in all those areas and he’s diligent about it," said Sweeney.
Thankfully for the Bruins organization, those strides keep getting bigger for Florek, who is quickly carving out a role with the resurgent P-Bruins.
"I think a lot of it has to do with confidence, and just being able to play comfortable on the ice," said the 6-foot-4, 194-pound forward. "It’s a really good league this year… and just the transition here was difficult for me at first, but [it's about] just getting comfortable.
"Building chemistry with guys on the team has been really important for me."
Learning patience has been important, as well.
Florek produced plenty while wearing the green and gold of his alma mater in his home state, but the numbers haven't been there as of yet. But it's clear that the message to Florek from the Black & Gold brass has been to stay the course.
"It has been a little difficult, but at the same time it’s part of the transition you have to make," said Florek. "I just have to do whatever I can to help the team win, and that’s the way I look at it.
"Right now, if I’m a third, fourth line guy, as long as I’m helping the team win, killing penalties and scoring the chances that I get, that’s important to me right now. That’s how my career started in college. I was a third or fourth line guy, and then I just continued to work hard and get better every day, and it just started to click.
"Hopefully, throughout this year, next year, I can continue to just get better and better and work my way up the lineup," he said.
One way to do that is to become versatile and Florek has shown an ability to adapt to the pro game on both sides of the puck.
"I really pride myself on my forecheck, and that’s been creating a lot of the chances that my line has been getting, and it’s been helping me out as well," said Florek. "I love penalty killing, and I’ve been trying to do work in the lineup on that.
"You've just get better and better at it, and you start to control the puck, and we’re starting to get chances now, and turning those chances into goals," he said.
That versatility and tenacity could also see Florek return to some familiar territory.
"Using his size and strength in those dirty areas of the ice — along the walls and in front of the net— that are really going to show up at the end of the night, and pay dividends," said Sweeney. "He’ll have opportunities to get back on the power play, and in prime spots that he was probably pretty accustomed to in college but he was also a penalty killer in college and he has filled in nicely in that area at the pro level."
"Overall, if he can identify and play to his strengths… I think he’ll continue to evolve as a player."
And that good attitude — and a healthy dose of patience — is beginning to pay off for Florek.
"I’m still a work in progress," said Florek. "I’ve come a long way from back when I was drafted. I think I’ve come a long way even this year, so I’m going to continue to work hard and just get better every day.
"Create more chances around the net, and put the puck in more, and that’s something I really look forward to doing. Scoring more goals, helping my team win, being a strong penalty killer, and just being a well-rounded player is going to help my team win, and I want to help my team win right now.
"At the same time, [I want to] progress as a player, and hopefully work my way up to the Bruins in Boston, and do the same thing there."