- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- After completing the preseason exhibition schedule on Friday and then having Saturday off, the team returned to the practice ice Sunday to find the regular-season roster set.
When the Bruins host the Tampa Bay Lightning in the season opener on Thursday night at TD Garden, Boston will have 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies on the roster. Earning spots were forwards Jordan Caron, Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg, defenseman Kevan Miller and backup goaltender Chad Johnson.
“This was my goal, obviously, coming into camp to be with this club,” Johnson said. “I’m happy. I’m excited. It was a tough camp. Svedberg played great and had great camp, too. It was obviously a tough decision. We both played well. I’m happy I’m here. It was a tough camp, but it’s kind of like the easy part is over because you’ve got to play well during the season. I’m excited for it and I’ll focus on the day-to-day. It’s a tough league. The best players are here and this is where I want to be.”
“Having good practices and playing those as they’re games, play those situations like they’re game situations,” Johnson said. “[Rask] is going to play a lot and he’s one of the best goalies in the league and he wins a lot of hockey games. I’ll be ready, and when I do get those games I’ll help this team win hockey games.
Coach Claude Julien doesn’t have a set game schedule for his goaltenders. Julien normally decides it on a weekly basis, taking into consideration the amount of games, the travel schedule, and whether Rask needs a rest.
“Sometimes he looks like he’s fresh and other times he may look tired and I’d rather make that decision then, than look too far ahead,” Julien said. “And that’s not to say that during that week I say, ‘Well maybe we can use him for these games and we’ll use the other goaltender for those ones.’ I do those things but I don’t necessarily stick to them as if it’s carved in stone. So I like to make decisions based on what I see and feel and what I think is right.”
Caron on a mission
It was evident a season ago that the Bruins were not happy with Caron’s development path. The talented forward spent the majority of the season with the P-Bruins. When he returned to Boston after the P-Bruins’ playoff run ended, Caron still couldn’t crack the lineup when the Bruins needed reinforcements due to injuries.
Caron admits he lost his confidence last season but believes it has returned, and still being on the roster helps.
“I know I can do it,” he said. “I just need to go out there, play my game, be confident and good things will happen.”
When he arrived at camp, he was noticeably more engaged and focused.
“The last couple of games I thought there was a little bit more urgency in his game, in doing the things we talked about,” Julien said. “His whole camp was what we know about Jordan. He was reliable and doing the things he has to do. But we asked him to do a little bit more.”
Caron worked on the penalty-killing unit. Offensively, he went to the net more and created more chances.
“That has to continue,” Julien said. “He’s 23 years old, he’s still a young player, and he’s a player that an organization doesn’t want to give up on too early. So we feel as coaches that we can help him improve and we’re going to work with him to make him improve in those areas.”
High expectations for Smith
Reilly Smith also impressed during training camp.
From the start, he was working the wing on the third line with center Chris Kelly. As training camp numbers decreased, Julien decided Soderberg, Kelly and Smith could work as the team’s third line.
Smith, who was one of the prospects the Bruins received from Dallas as part of the Tyler Seguin trade last summer, has 42 games of NHL experience with the Stars. The Bruins heavily scouted Dallas last season and were impressed with what they saw in Smith. The one thing Boston’s management wanted to see from Smith was more tenacity and grit, and he’s added that to his game with the Bruins.
As a result, the 22-year-old right wing earned a spot on the roster.
“It’s a great feeling, obviously, to be a part of this group,” Smith said. “But it doesn’t stop here. I’ve got to keep doing the same thing that I was doing to make this team.
“Playing with Kells and Soderberg is great,” added Smith. “There are two real good players and they help me a lot. It’s a competitive atmosphere here, so I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
After Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli rebuilt the team’s roster last summer, the depth in the organization was evident. He knew there would be an influx of youth for the 2013-2014 season. What he and Julien witnessed during training camp was satisfying and the team is ready to drop on puck for real on Thursday.
7dJoe McDonald and Kyle Brasseur
43dKyle Brasseur, Special to ESPNBoston.com