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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand is the gift that just keeps on giving.
No matter what role coach Claude Julien assigns the 22-year-old rookie, Marchand accepts it, embraces it and contributes in a big way. He's an agitator. He's a playmaker. Suddenly he's a goal scorer.
Most important, he's a team player.
At practice, Marchand usually is one of the first players on the ice and one of the last to leave. Talk to anyone who has coached or played with him, and the first thing they mention is his work ethic and competitiveness.
|With 14 points (eight goals) in his past 14 games, Bruins winger Brad Marchand has been part of plenty of celebrations.|
Prior to his second year with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the team hired a new coach, Ted Nolan.
Nolan played and coached in the NHL, but after serving as coach of the Buffalo Sabres for two seasons (1995-97), he was out of the game for nearly a decade. He was hired as the Wildcats' coach prior to the 2005-06 season, and the first player he met with was Marchand.
Nolan remembers the two had coffee and talked hockey in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
"I had never seen the kid skate at all," Nolan said in a phone conversation. "I could tell right away there was something special about him. He was very polite and well mannered. He comes from a great family.
"When you saw him on the ice, he always competed hard. He worked his tail off on a regular basis in practice and during games. He worked so hard you had to drag him off the ice. Those were my very first impressions of Brad."
Marchand is one of those players you love to have as a teammate but hate to play against. He's generously listed at 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds. He is strong, fast and tough to knock off his skates. Basically, he's a major pain in the butt for the opposition.
"Brad is one of those players who is always there," Nolan said. "He gets under other people's skin, he hits and he's not afraid. People talk about how tough you are, and I think toughness is inside. You don't have to drop your gloves and beat somebody up to prove how tough you are. Brad is tough. He's tough mentally. He competes and plays the game the way it should be played."
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was named to his current post on May 26, 2006, but he officially began working for Boston on July 8 of that year because he was obligated to finish his contract with the Ottawa Senators as that club's assistant GM. Former Bruins assistant GM Jeff Gorton, who now is the assistant director of player personnel for the New York Rangers, was the Bruins' acting GM at that time and was responsible for the 2006 draft.
Gorton also orchestrated the trade that sent goaltender Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs for netminder Tuukka Rask on draft day in 2006 and signed defenseman Zdeno Chara as a free agent on July 1.
But that June's draft proved crucial, and the Bruins are reaping the benefits.
Boston selected Phil Kessel in the first round (fifth overall), and its second-round selections were Yuri Alexandrov (37th overall) and Milan Lucic (50th). The Bruins did not have a pick in the third round but had targeted Marchand. So Gorton traded the Bruins' two fourth-round picks for the New York Islanders' third-round selection.
The plan worked. Boston selected Marchand as the 71st overall pick.
The Bruins had scouted Marchand heavily in the season leading up to the draft. He was playing for Moncton, and registered 29 goals and 37 assists for 66 points in 68 games. He also had 83 penalty minutes.
"He played exactly the way he is now for the Bruins," Gorton said. "He had a great draft year, including a great playoff run. He's the type of player the Bruins hadn't had for a while."
Nolan now is the vice president of hockey operations for the Rochester Americans of the AHL. The year Marchand was drafted, Nolan was named coach of the Islanders, but the new bench boss had no real pull in regards to the draft.
After Marchand put on the black and gold sweater for the first time on draft day in Vancouver, Nolan visited the Bruins' table and told Boston's brass it had acquired a real player.
The man who pushed for Marchand to be a Bruin died in December 2008. Donnie Matheson was a scout for the Bruins and knew Marchand well. Matheson once worked with Nolan as a scout in Moncton.
"He pushed hard for Brad, and rightfully so," Nolan said. "If [Matheson] was working for the Islanders, he would have pushed him over our way."
In addition to Marchand, the 2006 draft has paid other dividends on the current Boston roster.
Kessel was shipped out of Boston on Sept. 18, 2009, in exchange for the Maple Leafs' first- and second-round picks in the 2010 draft. The Bruins selected Tyler Seguin as the No. 2 overall pick last June and chose Jared Knight in the second round. Boston also has Toronto's first-round pick in 2011 as compensation from the Kessel trade.
Lucic and Marchand have proved their worth.
"Boston has two pretty good young players to carry them for a long time," Nolan said. "Your bloodline is the draft. If you hit one good draft, it can carry your franchise for 10 or 12 years. If you hit two of them, you're winning Stanley Cups. With that draft, Brad specifically, he was just a competitor."
When scouts are evaluating talent, they're looking for skill, skating ability, hockey IQ, character and competitiveness.
"Brad has all of those things," Nolan said. "But his highest is his compete level. He loves to compete."
Marchand started his pro career with Boston's AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, in 2008-09 and was impressive, collecting 18 goals and 41 assists for 59 points in 79 games. Marchand made his NHL debut last season and played 20 games for the Bruins with one assist and 20 penalty minutes.
When he entered training camp this past September, the Bruins already had a plan for the crafty and relentless forward.
Julien had Marchand playing with fellow winger Shawn Thornton and centerman Gregory Campbell. Boston's fourth unit quickly jelled and became the team's energy line for its relentless style of play, which proved crucial for the Bruins at the start of the season.
Despite being in his first full season in the NHL, Marchand has a keen sense in all three zones, especially on the forecheck.
"He's a good player," Campbell said. "It's easy to play with him. He's a guy who wins a lot of his battles. He's always first to the puck and brings a lot of energy to the game. He plays hard. He's a little guy, but he's not intimidated. He'll finish his checks and he's physical."
And he's got a scoring touch.
Entering Friday's game against the Detroit Red Wings, Marchand has 15 goals and 14 assists for 29 points in 51 games. He leads all NHL rookies with a plus-25 rating. He's been extremely productive of late, posting 10 points (five goals) in his past nine games and 14 points (eight goals) in the past 14 games.
"They knew what they were getting when they drafted him, and now you're seeing it," Campbell said.
Boston's energy line was one of its most effective units during the first half of the season, and because Marchand was playing so well, Julien decided to tweak his lines a bit. He moved Marchand to the wing alongside veterans Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron.
"At one point we really felt Bergy needed somebody on the left side to help that line get better," Julien said. "We felt we could put some other guys on that fourth line that could still make it a good line, so we moved Marchand up and it clicked.
"As we move on here, you watch the three of them go and they're in sync. They work well together and they find each other."
Case in point: That line combined for one of the sweetest goals of the season during Boston's 8-6 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Recchi, Bergeron and Marchand used precise tic-tac-toe passing that resulted in Marchand's 15th goal of the season to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 13:16 of the first period.
"It was a goal of beauty," Julien said. "It was done with speed. It was done quickly. It was something any team would have had trouble defending against."
Recchi, who is a surefire future Hall of Famer, has been extremely impressed with the way Marchand has grabbed hold of this opportunity and made the most of it. There's no doubt his play has made the team's second line a scoring machine.
"He plays with energy and he's a very talented kid," Recchi said. "He works his tail off, and it's been a lot of fun to play with him.
"I've got to be honest with you; I didn't know if he had it in him. I'm glad I was wrong. I always thought he was a kid who runs up and down the ice, a great depth guy, but he's a hell of a player. It's nice to see he's playing with confidence. He's very gifted."
It's obvious Marchand is having the time of his life. He's always smiling and joking with his teammates off the ice, and he's serving his team well on the ice.
"I'm having a blast, especially the way we're winning and the way the games are going right now," he said. "Each game is exciting, and you don't know what's going to happen. I'm having a lot of fun being on the ice right now."
At the start of the season, Marchand wanted to get his confidence up, and now it's at an all-time high.
"I got a lot of confidence playing with [Thornton and Campbell]," Marchand said. "Then I started playing with Rex and Bergy, and they're so easy to play with. They're always making a great play and they're always there to support you. They made it very easy to transition over to their line, and we've been clicking pretty well."
Every opportunity Marchand has been given, he's taken full advantage of it, to the point where no one doubts his playing ability. He hasn't been handed anything. He's earned it all.
The Bruins recognized his worth and have rewarded him for his hard work. In return, Marchand has given the Bruins the type of player the organization hasn't had in a long time.
"I want to be an overall player and let them know I can play any role," he said. "Whatever role I'm put in, I'm going to work my hardest to accomplish our goals."
Marchand has completely seized his opportunity with the Bruins.
"I'm not surprised at all," Nolan said.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.