Peverley knocking on door
It’s a new season, full of questions and calculations, which is true of all new seasons. Even as defending Cup champs, the Bruins wonder who will fill certain roles, and especially who among their younger players will experience the growth spurts that take kids from promise to production, and in rare cases to stardom.
Perhaps Tyler Seguin will be the real deal, a top draft pick who becomes an elite player, capable of a point-per-game or more. Maybe Brad Marchand not only looks like Pat Verbeek but will score like him, too. Adam McQuaid looks as if he’ll live the life of a stay-at-home defenseman, but then he unloads a nice wrister as he did in the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Garden last night, and suddenly people think he’s got more in his tool kit.
“He jumped into the play there,’’ noted coach Claude Julien. “We’d like to see more of that from him.’’
And then there’s Rich Peverley, 29 years old and only some eight months removed from the hockey wasteland that was Atlanta (see: Winnipeg witness protection program). Never drafted, Peverley finished four years at St. Lawrence in the spring of 2004 and didn’t sign an NHL contract until January 2007. That’s right, five minor league towns after St. Lawrence, and no guarantee of anything but long bus rides, he landed in the show with Nashville.
“Yeah, it took me a little longer to get here,’’ Peverley said last night after scoring two of the four goals that buried the Bolts. “But it is really only my fourth year in the league.’’
Two games, two goals, and one comfortable fit on Boston’s second line, riding with linemates Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. That’s Peverley’s life right now and he looks amazingly comfortable, a perfect fit. He looks and acts like a top-six forward, an easy answer at the right wing spot, which last year was filled most of the time by veteran Mark Recchi, now retired.
So what’s Peverley’s upside? Well, it’s a good bet, with two goals banked and 80 games to go, he is going to come up considerably shy of 80 goals. But can he pot 20? Sure, because he knocked in 22 with the hapless Thrashers in 2009-10, which in part led Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli to bring him here at last season’s trading deadline. Could he score 30? Possibly. He has the legs and the shot. In fact, given his skills and how they interface with Marchand and Bergeron, he might even be able to toy with 35 goals.
“I’ve been trying to work on staying around the net a little more,’’ said Peverley, who sat next to Recchi in the dressing room last season and heard the wise old owl note the importance of being near the cage. “Some guys make a living off of that.’’
Last night, Peverley was one of those guys. He potted his first, good for a 1-0 lead, with an easy knock in near the right post after Marchand let one go from the left side that banged off two of the net’s three pipes. His second came in the third period, this time for the 4-1 jawbreaker, and again he made it look easy, a short knock at the right post after a Bergeron attempt from the left side caromed to his stick.
Both strikes looked simple, but simplicity is typically the residue of knowing where to be, and when to be there. In both cases, Peverley anticipated his linemates’ moves, and in both cases that drew him to goalie Mathieu Garon’s doorstep. Longtime Bruins fans may remember Glen Murray, though successful in ripping shots from the circle, endlessly failed to cash in similar golden opportunities. Bad hands. Or, fans with grayer beards may remember the velvet touch of Rick Middleton, constantly making a lot out of a little. Peverley is far more like Nifty, though few have duplicated Middleton’s magical touch. If Peverley could land in the middle of those two ex-Boston wingers, then in today’s NHL maybe he’s a 55-60 point guy able to make a steady living among the top six forwards.
“I figure I can continue to improve a lot,’’ he said, “as long as I keep working hard.’’
What will help, too, is that the focus is almost everywhere but on Peverley. It is a young man’s game, and although 29 isn’t old, it’s old enough that at this stage - fairly or unfairly - Peverley may already have been cast as a journeyman. Playing for the anonymous likes of Nashville and Atlanta didn’t help his image. He certainly outperformed that status during the playoffs, when he contributed 4 goals and 12 points in 25 games. But it’s the teenagers and 20-somethings who draw the attention, start conjuring images and comparisons of franchise players and Hall of Famers.
But right now, with his name on the Cup - a trophy that doesn’t denote what roles people played or how many points they scored - Peverley is fitting in perfectly. He has been given a chance and he’s making the most of it. He took six shots last night, landed five on net, and put two of those over the goal line.
How high up is up? There is no answer to that question, and with no one asking, Peverley has the luxury of being able to answer it for himself.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at GlobeKPD.