Marchand/By S. Bradley

Every season of the Peter Chiarelli/Claude Julien era has featured an impressive rookie class on the Bruins’ roster.

Down the road, this year’s group of Boston first-year NHLers might turn out to be the best group of rookies during that duo’s stint with the Bruins’ brain trust.

Consider that 46 games into this season, the player that was the No. 2 overall pick in last June’s draft – the player with the most superstar potential in the group – might arguably be just the third-best rookie.

Two of Boston’s rookie stars were front and center in the club’s impressive 3-2 road win over Carolina tonight.

Winger Brad Marchand, who has officially graduated from the “Merlot Line” to a prime position in Boston’s top nine, buried a rebound of a Zdeno Chara shot to give Boston a 2-1 lead early in the third period. And then defenseman Steven Kampfer flaunted his excellent wheels on a power-play rush that generated the Bruins’ momentum entering the zone before Milan Lucic’s goal that broke a 2-2 tie with 8:11 to go.

Both key plays were typical of Marchand and Kampfer, who in my book rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, among Bruins rookies to this point of the season. Both have emerged as huge pieces of the Bruins, who are ensconced in the No. 2 slot in the Eastern Conference after sweeping their home-and-home with the Hurricanes.

When you complete Boston’s freshman foursome with highly regarded forward Tyler Seguin and much-improved defenseman Adam McQuaid, you have living proof of Chiarelli’s commitment to building his club through the draft and farm system.

Last season, Tuukka Rask made a run for the Calder Trophy and Johnny Boychuk emerged as a top-four defenseman. In 2008-09 Blake Wheeler made a big NHL splash fresh out of college and Matt Hunwick showed signs of stardom on Boston’s back end. But the standard for first-year phenomenal talent in the Chiarelli/Julien era was set in the head coach’s first season, when Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Vladimir Sobotka and Mark Stuart all cut their teeth at the game’s highest level with their Calder Trophy eligibility still intact.

Obviously, this year’s quartet of rookies has a ways to go to match that 2007-08 group for one-year and long-time production. But with the aid of joining a much deeper team than that ’07-08 squad, this year’s four rookies are leaving their mark on a team that has a chance to do some special things.

After making the roster out of training camp, Marchand figured to continue his role as agitator from the last couple seasons with the Providence (AHL) farm club with Boston. He promptly added prime penalty-killer to his task list and has now found a home on a solid two-way line with future Hall-of-Famer Mark Recchi and Selke Trophy candidate Patrice Bergeron. Tonight Marchand had a rare up-and-down night, as he drew one penalty, was called for a minor, coughed up a couple giveaways and scored that huge goal. He now has 10 goals on the season – a total you would’ve gotten strange looks just for predicting he’d score over the course of the whole season.

Kampfer, in his first pro season, has lived up to his advanced billing as a defenseman that can skate the puck zone to zone and make the type of plays Boston’s other defensemen rarely even attempt. He showed his offensive flair tonight by skating the puck to the Carolina blue line before dishing off to Recchi leading up to Boston’s big goal. Even a broken nose, and the full face shield he has been forced to wear to keep it protected, hasn’t slowed him down. He has totaled eight points (4 goals) in 20 games.

Right now, the only thing that could halt Kampfer’s scintillating start to his NHL career is the salary cap and Boston’s crowded back end. He’s on emergency recall and would have to be assigned back to the P-Bruins, at least on paper, once Andrew Ference is healthy.

After getting his feet wet with 19 NHL regular-season games and nine playoff games last season, McQuaid has gained confidence and the Bruins have accumulated more faith in him. In addition to using his length and bulk to punish puck-carriers, McQuaid’s willingness to drop the gloves has added a new dimension to Boston’s defense corps. Plus, he has even registered three points in his last four games (seven assists in 33 games on the season). Tonight he was point-less but blocked two shots and mixed it up in front of the Boston net a couple times against a Carolina team that made it its life’s mission to crash Tim Thomas.

And then there’s Seguin, who in 10:05 of ice time recorded no points and just one shot on goal. Skating with Lucic and David Krejci should be the speedster’s chance to finally shine offensively in the Bruins mix. However, every time he changes lines Seguin seems to struggle finding chemistry. His best couple games might’ve been when he was skating on the fourth line. The overall speed of the NHL game and the subtleties of each pro contest seem to be a little more advanced for Seguin right now. That doesn’t mean that he’s not going to be the superstar the Bruins are projecting. It just means that right now, with just seven goals in 43 games, Seguin is no better than the third-best rookie in the Bruins’ mix. And that’s great news.

The ’07-08 rookie class is a hard group to top and this year’s four rookies might not be able to match that one’s impact on the Bruins franchise that season or for the long run. If this year’s freshmen keep on pace to challenge that group’s superiority though, it’ll push the Bruins to accomplish things the club only dreamed about in that season three years ago.