BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins boast one of the top defensive units in the NHL. There's no reason to believe that will change in 2013.
Boston's returning blueliners include captain Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid, and this solid core will have some interesting additions in the upcoming shortened season.
The Bruins' top prospect, 19-year-old defenseman Dougie Hamilton, is expected to earn a spot on Boston's roster at the end of minicamp. There are a lot of high expectations for the organization's top pick (No. 9 overall) in the 2011 NHL draft.
If it hadn't been for the lockout, there was a solid chance Hamilton would have made the team out of camp back in September, but since the CBA was not settled, he returned to play junior hockey for the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL. He also played for Team Canada in the recent World Junior Championship.
Since there's already a strong chemistry among current Bruins defensemen, they'll expect Hamilton to fit into their style of play and work ethic.
"I expect him to work as hard as possible and try to adjust to the quickness of the game here, and hopefully he does, because he's a good player," Boychuk said.
It wasn't long ago when Boychuk was the up-and-coming defenseman on the Bruins, learning from the likes of Chara and Seidenberg. Boychuk listened and learned, helping ease his transition to the NHL.
"Just listening to everybody and taking in all the knowledge that I could," Boychuk said of his time breaking in. "Just work hard and try to learn as much as possible from guys on the team, from coaches, and hearing what they had to say, and going over video every day and seeing what you can do to improve."
One question heading into training camp is McQuaid's health. He had surgery in October for thoracic outlet syndrome after a blood clot developed under his collarbone.
McQuaid has been skating with some of his teammates during informal practices at Boston University's Agganis Arena. If he's not ready, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien have options with some younger defensemen playing for the Providence Bruins, including Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug.
The rest of the defensive unit looks healthy and strong. On Tuesday, Chara was scheduled to return to the States from Prague, where he had been playing in the KHL during the lockout. Seidenberg returned on Monday from playing in Germany and was on the ice with some of his teammates Tuesday at BU.
Seidenberg played 26 games for Mannheim and recorded 2 goals and 18 assists for 20 points. He previously had played for the Eagles from 1999 to 2002 before he began his NHL career with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2002-03.
In fact, it was the first time he returned to his native Germany in seven years, and there was an added bonus to the NHL lockout since Seidenberg was able to play with his brother Yanick.
"He was sad," Seidenberg admitted. "It was nice playing with him the last three months. It was longer than I expected, but it was a good time, a good experience being back with him on one team. It was fun."
But now Seidenberg is focused on helping the Bruins win in 2013.
"It was a good time staying busy and having organized practices. Just being in game shape is something that I really enjoyed and I'm grateful for it," he said. "But now it's time to get back, and I'm so excited to be here."
Boychuk also recently returned from overseas, where he played for Salzburg in Austria. He had two goals and six assists for eight points in 15 games.
"I'm ready. I'm ready to go right now," Boychuk said. "It was a perfect situation for me because you had to go there and work hard. Now that the season is starting, I'm glad I went there because it was a good experience, you really had to work hard to stay in shape there."
Seidenberg and Boychuk did not log the type of minutes overseas that they normally do during a regular-season NHL game. But because of the larger international ice surface, there was more skating and less hitting. They're both in shape but admit there will be a transition once NHL games begin because of the talent level.
"A little bit different," Boychuk said. "We rotated a lot and everyone played around the same minutes, but at least we got to play quite a bit."
Boychuk said his goal is to have a big year. This will be his fourth consecutive season with the Bruins, third as a full-time defenseman, and his development has gone well.
"It's been good," he said. "The first year was kind of different for me to sit out a while and get used to the practices and systems. Jumping into the rotation has been quite an accomplishment for myself, and now I just want to step up my game a little bit more. I want to play well defensively and when there's a chance to jump up offensively, I will."
Boston's defensive unit will be only as good as its last line of defense. That will be the job of goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Bruins have faith Rask can take over the No. 1 spot and be successful.
"He's shown in the past that he can do it. He can handle the workload," Seidenberg said of Rask. "I don't know how he played this year in the Czech, but he looked good out there, looked big out there, and I don't see a reason why he won't succeed or be successful as the No. 1 starter."
With training camp expected to start on Sunday, Bruins players will continue to participate in the informal practices at BU.
On his way to Agganis Arena to join his teammates and other local NHLers, Seidenberg drove past TD Garden on Tuesday morning.
"I just got a really good feeling when I passed the Garden, imagining going back out on the ice in front of the fans and being able to play here again," Seidenberg said. "I think everybody feels the same way, and I'm excited about getting going."