ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland - During Monday's practice at Ristuccia Arena, Andrew Alberts was waved over to the far end of the rink, where a select group of Bruins were working on the power play.
It was unknown territory for Alberts, the defenseman who has one career NHL goal and saw all of 15:38 on the power play last season.
"I was asking Phil [Kessel] what I was doing down there," said Alberts with a grin. "He goes, 'I don't know.' I was looking for a different answer from him. I thought he was going to say, 'I don't know Albs, try it out.' But he's like, 'Yeah, I don't know. You should be out of here.' "
The 26-year-old Alberts may not become an offensive powerhouse this season, but the stay-at-home defenseman is being counted on to provide more pop than in the past.
During his exit interview at the conclusion of the 2006-07 season, Alberts was told by general manager Peter Chiarelli that he needs to shoot more. Last year, Alberts winged a mere 41 shots on net, too few for the Bruins' liking. Chiarelli noted that the 6-foot-4-inch blue liner had to work on spotting shooting lanes and improving his release.
If the Bruins get some production from Alberts - the third-year NHLer has 17 career points - it means he's carrying out the actions expected from his bosses: moving pucks in transition to his forwards, flipping shots on goal from the point, and recording assists when his teammates bury rebounds.
Defense, however, is where Alberts will continue to perform his bread-and-butter duties. He is the team's hardest hitter, and he makes no bones about preferring the black-and-blue style. Zdeno Chara is the No. 1 defenseman, and if Alberts continues to hone his defensive-end play, he could fill the hole behind the captain.
Last season, Alberts averaged 19:40 of ice time per game, including 3:16 on the penalty kill. He ranked third in both hits (156) and blocked shots (112), numbers more significant than goals and assists to him. During the offseason, Alberts signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract, with the Bruins purchasing a season of unrestricted free agency.
"He's got a lot of assets - size, speed," said coach Claude Julien. "He's got great ability for a guy his size. We talk about Z having that. Andrew is one of those guys that as he moves on here in his career, he's just going to keep getting better."
He has a fan in Andrew Ference, who sometimes skated on the same pairing as Alberts last season.
"He's a good partner to play with," Ference said. "That's the ultimate judgment.
"Everybody looks at the game differently, whether you're a coach, in the stands, or if you're a player. Everybody sees things differently and has different judgments. It's the nature of the game. But the true judgment is the guys that are on the ice with you and your partner.
"Your partner is the best judge of what kind of defenseman you are. And he's a good defenseman. He's good with the puck. He's definitely got what people are talking about."
Alberts looked strong at times last season, especially when he was paired with Chara and seeing big-time minutes against top lines. But Alberts also suffered some inconsistent periods - a result, by his own admission, of thinking too much and not making easy plays in his own zone.
Without pointing the blame at former coach Dave Lewis, Alberts acknowledged that he and his fellow defensemen were confused about their responsibilities in certain situations last year. This season, one of Julien's mantras has been to make things black or white. To that end, Julien prefers a basic box-plus-one formation that should simplify assignments for both defensemen and forwards.
Alberts and Julien believe that by keeping things easy, playing the body, and moving the puck, the former Boston College defenseman can become a go-to guy on the blue line.
"To keep out of trouble, sometimes he's got to keep things a little easier," Julien said. "You have the tendency sometimes to hold on to the puck too much and skate in areas where you don't have many options. But this guy here is a physical player as well. He's got so many assets and we've got to take advantage of that."