By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Bruins winger Brad Marchand has been among the most lethal goal scorers in the NHL for the past five years. Since the start of the 2015-16 season, only three players — Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, and Nikita Kucherov — have tallied more goals than Brad Marchand, who’s scored 174 goals in 374 regular-season games.

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Despite the success, the Bruins have reason to believe that an even better Brad Marchand may be taking the ice for the 2021 season.

Marchand underwent sports hernia surgery in September, and he’s hoping the procedure frees him up to do things he hasn’t been able to do in years.

“For me, it was a long time coming. It’s been two and a half years it’s been bugging me. It’s affected not only my on-ice but my off-ice training. I haven’t been able to sprint or run in years,” Marchand said this week, as the Bruins opened their abbreviated training camp. “It got to the point where I was only able to play like 80 percent. I mean, I couldn’t take a full stride. A lot of times, I was taking days off. I think in the playoffs, I barely practiced because I needed every day off to recover, because I was in a lot of pain and it bugged me every single day.”

Marchand said the long break between seasons, thanks to the ongoing pandemic, gave him the perfect window to undergo the procedure and recover fully in time for the start of camp.

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“I needed it, big time. And now after going through it, I can’t believe I waited two years to do it. I was hoping it was gonna go away. The last thing any player wants is to have a surgery that’s gonna take four months to recover, but seeing the difference in how I feel on the ice and what was holding me back, it’s night and day. So I’m anxious to be 100 percent and to get out there and play some games again.”

Marchand, 32, said he expects to be ready to go for the season opener on Jan. 14. And it’s that 80 percent assessment that has his coach and teammates excited for what might lie ahead.

“He looked good, felt good, and I’m told he has a chance to be ready opening night,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He’s going to be a 20 percent better player for us then, if that’s the case. I thought he was pretty good for us at 80 percent. And if this gets him quicker recovery or longer stride or whatever the issue was where he lost the 20 percent, then that’s obviously the added benefit for him. … Hopefully he does get a lot closer to 100 percent.”

Patrice Bergeron, Marchand’s All-Star linemate, foresees a frightening prospect for opponents if Marchand is indeed a better player in the upcoming season.

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“I mean he’s so competitive. He’s one of those guys where it doesn’t matter if he’s feeling 80 percent. He always brings everything he’s got, and it’s pretty seamless. So if he was 80 percent, it’s pretty scary, actually, looking forward to what he’s gonna do,” Bergeron said. “I think he’s a huge part of this team. Obviously I can’t say enough about his development over the years and what he’s become now, which is one of the best left wingers in the game. So yeah, I mean, it was hard to to see him go through so much pain and being able to still deliver and play so well for us during that time. It was obviously time for him to take care of his body and making sure he was not going through another full season of pain.”