Matt Bartkowski played 64 regular season games for the Bruins last year, tied for 4th most among defensemen. He'd like to replicate that role again this year. But with a returning Dennis Seidenberg and no shortage of options on the back end, Bartkowski knows there's plenty of competition.
Reflecting on his '13-'14 campaign, Bartkowski shared the aspect of his game he's working on to achieve a solidified spot on the blue line for the Bruins - consistency.
"I think last year was a good step...but I think going forward, the main thing would be just consistency," said Bartkowski in a conference call with Bruins media. "Along the way, I'd have a stretch of games and then maybe a mix-up here or there, which I think is going to happen to maybe not every player, but every younger player in his career. If I can work on the consistency - if you can show you can play every night - then anybody should have a long career doing that."
Unfortunately for Bartkowski, some of the aforementioned "mix-up[s] here or there" came at inopportune times during the playoffs, directly leading to goals against. They were by no means the cause of the Bruins loss to the Habs, but they were a contributing factor.
As a young player, Bartkowski is working to put those errors behind him. He's working to "forget and fix it" as a part of his ultimate goal of 100% consistency. And after that, maybe scoring a regular season goal.
At 26, Bartkowski doesn't exactly epitomize youth in the traditional sense. But with under 100 games of NHL experience (regular & postseason), Bartkowski believes he's just getting started.
"26 as an age isn't necessarily young...but career-wise if you look at games played and all that, it's still young in the career and I think there is always room to improve, especially for myself being, career wise, younger."
In relief of Seidenberg, Bartkowski formed a duo with Johnny Boychuk that boasted 54.2% of the shot attempts. It's always good to be above that 50% threshold, but compared to his number four defensemen peers, his impact on shot attempts relative to his teammates was subpar.
With Seidenberg back, Bartkowski finds himself in a five horse race for what looks like one open defensive spot. With his second pairing experience and gifted skating ability, it would seem he'd be a shoe-in for the 5/6 role.There's only one problem - he's a left-handed shot...and so is Torey Krug.
Deal breaker? Not so fast.
"You know, personally, I think that given enough time, or I guess enough - it would only take a week or so for anybody really at this level, with the talent of some of the other players, to be able to learn how to play the other side or anything like that."
Bartkowski also noted that playing the opposite side was not a decision that was up to him but he's willing to go where he's asked. The Bruins are notoriously stubborn about left/right pairings, but perhaps Bartkowski's worth straying from the path.
Consider this: in limited time together (24:07 TOI), Bartkowski and Krug combined for a whopping 72.1% of shot attempts. Of course, that's nowhere enough of a sample size to seal the deal, but it should create a degree of curiosity.
But who's to say Bartkowski would even still be in Boston to start the season? It's no secret that the Bruins have a bevy of d men. It's something Bartkowski's well aware of, in fact.
"I think it's very deep, I don't really pay much attention to other teams depth, I guess, defensively. But we have to be up there in depth category...it keeps you pushing everyday to keep your job and earn your spot. So all around it's a great thing to have."
Zach Trotman, David Warsofsky, Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid join Bartkowski in Bruins defensemen who could be elsewhere in October. Comments from Chiarelli have all but guaranteed that.
Bartkowski, who was nearly traded for Jarome Iginla, says he doesn't concern himself with the rumors. And coming as close to being shipped out of town without actually leaving has not tainted his experience with the Bruins which he calls "nothing short of spectacular."
Until his situation is defined, Bartkowski will continue to work towards his goal of 100% consistency. He knows that last year doesn't guarantee him anything.
"You can't assume anything, and when I say I expect to play, that's what I expect out of myself...You have to expect it out of yourself; otherwise there's really - what's your motivation? What are you playing for? You want to be able to help the team every way you can, and I think expecting that of yourself to be able to play and be able to play well, night in, night out, is the best thing you can do."