The Boston Bruins’ attempts to fill in for the injured Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron with Martin St. Pierre and Vladimir Sobotka wasn’t working, so Jan. 10 they called up Byron Bitz and Martins Karsums from Providence (AHL). While Karsums became trade bait at the March 4 deadline, Bitz became a fixture on the NHL roster and stuck for the remainder of the season.
Not as highly touted a prospect as some of his former P-Bruins teammates, Bitz brought an element of size, grit and toughness the Bruins needed to finish first in the Eastern Conference and then go two rounds deep in the playoffs.
Stats: 35 GP, 4-3-7, 18 PIM, even rating regular season; 5 GP, 1-1-2, 2 PIM, plus-1 playoffs.
Contract status: RFA July 1
Season highlight: The Bruins had lost two in a row when they hosted the Florida Panthers Feb. 24 and Bitz held his coming out party. Scoring twice from right in front of the net, the rookie winger proved he could be more than just a fourth-line plugger at the NHL level — an experience that gave him the confidence to produce even when he was given a chance in the playoffs.
Season low light: Except for filling in for a suspended Lucic in Game 3 against Montreal, Bitz didn’t crack the Bruins’ playoff lineup until Game 4 against Carolina. While he kept his head high and came up big the rest of the series with the Hurricanes, Boston missed him and fell too far behind Carolina.
In summation … Bitz emerged as the personification of the type of player the Bruins want to produce — solid in all three zones with a large amount of size and physicality to make the club tougher to play against, even when their third or fourth lines are on the ice.
Grade: B-plus. When he was given a chance to play, Bitz always answered the bell and rarely looked out of place.
The crystal ball says … the Bruins will get a deal done with Bitz with plenty of time to spare and grant the former Cornell standout a fair raise. Having shown late in the playoffs he could be a poor man’s Lucic on a third line, Bitz should have an expanded role 2009-10.