Rask

BOSTON — Tonight the Bruins’ Seventh Player Award winner will be announced. The award is voted by the fans to pick the player that has most exceeded expectations. Past winners have included Cam Neely and Bill Guerin, and most recently Milan Lucic and David Krejci.

I don’t envy the fans’ task this season, with the Bruins as a whole underachieving all season. A team once thought to be a Stanley Cup contender is going to barely make the playoffs and will have only a slight chance at even winning a postseason series. The individual numbers are downright ugly, with defenseman Dennis Wideman sporting a minus-15 rating and would-be 30-goal scorer Michael Ryder featuring just 16 goals on his ledger.

So if I had to pick this year’s winner, I would go with rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask. Obviously, there have been lofty expectations on Rask ever since he was drafted by Toronto and then acquired by Boston a year later. He has been billed as the next great goaltender ever since his standout World Junior Championship performance in 2007. But coming into the 2009-10 NHL season it was difficult to predict that he would wind up playing as many as, let alone more games than, incumbent starter Tim Thomas. And he’s earned all his extra playing time, with a 19-11-4 record, 2.02 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

Sometimes fans can be a little off-base in their votes, but I think this time they’ll get it right — if for no other reason than they all are obsessed with “Tuukka Time” for quite some time now.

Other candidates would be Patrice Bergeron, who has re-emerged as a two-way force and proven he’s fully recovered from his concussion problems; and Mark Recchi, who has been forced by injuries and other players’ failures to log many more minutes than expected and has produced 17-24-41 totals in 76 games (without missing one).