Stuart/By S. Bradley

There were high hopes that Mark Stuart’s third full year in the NHL would be the season he ascended to the Bruins’ top four on the back end and assumed a major leadership position.

The injury bug had other ideas.

After never missing a game through his first two full seasons, and parts of the previous two campaigns, Stuart was on the sidelines for 26 regular-season games and then eight postseason contests. While there were hints of the player he could develop into over the course of his healthy stretches, there just wasn’t enough of a sample to really get a read on Stuart’s development.

A solid stay-at-home blueliner with a deceptively strong shot (when he uses it), Stuart made a couple cameos in the top four and didn’t look out of place. Whether the Bruins consider him someone they can build around will be determined this summer when they attempt to re-sign the restricted free agent.

Stats: 56 GP, 2-5-7, 80 PIM, plus-1

Season highlight: It was becoming painfully obvious by March 11 that the Bruins were going to be in a dogfight over the season’s last month for a playoff berth. That night in Philadelphia, Stuart made sure the Flyers didn’t sidetrack Boston’s plans by standing up to, fighting and beating two of the toughest Broad Street Bullies — Daniel Carcillo and Ian Laperriere. He was also plus-1 in an emotional 5-1 victory.

Season low-light: Stuart’s decision to twice drop the gloves against Philly proved that he was mostly over the injury he suffered in a similar circumstance against Los Angeles Jan. 30. Stuart broke his pinky finger on Simmonds helmet and missed the next seven games. After the Olympic break, he returned to action but then contracted an infection that sent him to the sidelines again in early April.

Final grade: B-minus
When healthy in the regular season, Stuart was probably playing his best hockey of his career. He struggled, however, after returning from a long layoff in the playoffs. Going forward, he has to get more aggressive on offense.

The crystal ball says … Stuart will be back with the Bruins as a key part of their back end, and maybe even a top-four defensemen, attempting to erase memories of his nightmare 2009-10 campaign.