Boston Bruins Mark Stuart checks Toronto Maple Leafs Jiri Tlusty. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
With the 2008 NHL Entry Draft behind him, on Tuesday Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli turned his focus to the B’s 2003 first-round draft pick (21st overall) Mark Stuart. The restricted free agent signed a multi-year contract extension with the club, and guaranteed the D-man would be sticking around the Garden for a while longer.
After his first full season in the NHL, no one is happier to finish this deal than Stuart himself.
“Obviously I’m very excited about this, to have it done now, and just to be a Bruin,” he said. “This is where I want to be. I was lucky enough to be a part of the team last year and see us progress. It’s definitely a good future ahead of us, so I’m just happy to be a part of that.”
It is clear that Stuart is stoked to remain a spoke on the Hub of Hockey. And as residents of Titletown, the B’s are ready and willing to do their part in bringing another Stanley Cup to Causeway Street.
Stuart said he hopes to be a part of that process and surely his development as a young blueliner could be a big part in keeping the Black & Gold in contention.
“I think he’s going to continue his maturation process as a shutdown guy who’s able to see the correct paths also,” commented Chiarelli. “Primarily, he will play defensive shutdown, but he’s going to have an offensive bent to his game that we’ve seen bits and pieces of, especially with his shot.
“I think that will continue to develop, but (basically) I think we’re going to see a shutdown guy who really takes care of his own end.”
That should sound like a solid plan to the fans around Boston, who recently have reaffirmed their faith in the motto, “defense wins championships.”
Another big part of the B’s defense is, of course, veteran Aaron Ward.
“I was very happy to see Ward back,” Stuart said. “He’s a huge part of our team, and being an older guy, he definitely helped out me and some of the other younger guys. “He was definitely a leader for us, so it was great to see him signed.”
The two were occasionally paired together on the ice, but they were also locker room neighbors. Stuart, a leadership man himself, was able to learn a lot from the veteran defenseman just by proximity.
As a young player just completing his first full NHL season, Stuart didn’t need to have much of a leadership role on the B’s last year. But he is a man that is used to being a leader on his team, and he got the chance this past season to grow in that role with the USA Hockey team at the 2008 IIHF World Hockey Championships.
Going into the tournament Stuart didn’t expect to wear the ‘A’, but he was excited about it when the letter was sewn into his red, white and blue jersey.
“That was definitely a pleasant surprise,” he said. “I was very honored to have that opportunity. I knew a lot of guys on the team, and I knew they were younger guys, so I expected myself to fill that [leadership] role, but wearing the ‘A’ was a pleasant surprise.
“(My role on the USA team was) a little different (than that on the Bruins) just because of the team we had at the Worlds -- there were a lot of young guys and I can relate to (them). A lot of them played in Ann Arbor and came up through USA Hockey like I did.
“I think it was different because I was one of the older guys on the team and I was wearing the ‘A’ so that put me in a different role right away,” he said.
And, despite its relative youth, Team USA was competitive.
“It definitely made it fun to see some of those young players and how good they are,” said Stuart. “To get a little taste of the future of USA Hockey was pretty special.”
Now, even as a young blueliner, the Bruins expect him to use his experience in a positive way as part of the B’s.
“Mark is a real solid individual,” Chiarelli said. “We got to see him be a little bit more of a leader this year. The way he plays, the way he competes, he leads by example. With what happened in the Worlds and what has happened prior to his professional career as far as letters and leadership, I would anticipate that that would continue to evolve also.
“He’s always going to be a leader, just by the way he plays. That’s one of the outstanding characteristics of his make-up,” he added.
Leader or not, Stuart is happy to know where he will be next season and he is very happy that it is in Boston wearing Black & Gold. But there’s no time to rest on any laurels. It’s already time to start working toward the new season.
“I’m looking at it the same way as I have in the past years,” Stuart said. “Just working really hard this summer, getting better, and going into camp to prove myself again.”