A regular in the Boston Bruins’ lineup for the ’08 playoff series with Montreal, Vladimir Sobotka was relegated to skating for Providence (AHL) for all but 25 games he played in the NHL during the 2008-09 season.

Sobotka, who returned to town this week to skate in informal captains’ practices, helped the P-Bruins reach their conference finals but wasn’t around to aid Boston against Carolina in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Sobotka intends this season to be completely different.

“I worked harder than before,” Sobotka told about his offseason. “Because this is my last year (of my contract). It’s an important year. I want to play in the NHL the whole year.”

Position battle: The competition for Sobotka will be fierce, although there will be more opportunity early in the season while David Krejci recovers from hip surgery and Phil Kessel remains an outsider. Sobotka will be battling the likes of Byron Bitz, Brad Marchand and Mikko Lehtonen for fourth-line time, assuming you count Shawn Thornton and Steve Begin as sure things for the opening night roster.

Projection: Sobotka’s ability to play both center and wing and play with the type of grit the Bruins desire will aid his cause. But consistency in that department has been one of his shortfalls, so he could start the year in Providence if he doesn’t get off to a great start in camp.