BOSTON -- Walking into the Boston Bruins' locker room and seeing a bunch of kids sitting at the stalls of some legendary players is a strange sight.
These teenagers and young adults with little or no facial hair were only babies when the likes of Cam Neely and Ray Bourque were delivering teeth-shattering body checks and blistering slap shots.Looking around the Bruins' room Thursday morning, in advance of their 2-1 overtime win over the New York Islanders' rookies, one wondered who will be the next Bruins superstar. But before these prospects can even dream about the Hall of Fame, they're more concerned with training camp.
At this point, their boyish appearances mean absolutely nothing. Their skills mean everything.
"I haven't seen the assemblance of skill since I've been here that we have," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. "It's nice, and I feel good about that. I feel good that we have the young 18-year-olds with the skills. It's nice to know we have some good young depth in the pipeline. Now we turn the page, and main camp is a whole different story."
Of course there's Tyler Seguin. The arrival of the Bruins' 18-year-old top selection (second overall) in the 2010 draft has sparked a lot of interest in the youth movement the organization has done a solid job creating.
But, there's a lot more to the Bruins than just Seguin.
Fellow prospects Jordan Caron, Joe Colborne, Jared Knight, Ryan Spooner, Max Sauve, Jamie Arniel and Steven Kampfer are all highly touted, talented players who showcased their skills during back-to-back wins against the Islanders at TD Garden on Wednesday and Thursday. With the exception of Kampfer, whom the Bruins received in a trade last March, all the aforementioned players are under 20.
Spooner scored both of the Bruins' goals Thursday night, and Sauve assisted on both.
"There is very good talent here, and we play very good," Sauve said. "We work very hard. We have a good future."
We've already seen the Bruins draft and develop talent in recent years, including Patrice Bergeron, Mark Stuart, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Zach Hamill, all of whom have made significant contributions to the organization.
Sure, management, scouting and coaching staffs have changed within the past decade, but the philosophy league-wide to develop homegrown talent has soared -- and the Bruins have a clear understanding, and the resources, to make it work.
Seguin is the talent ringleader. He's polished, articulate and aware of what it means to wear a Bruins sweater. It also didn't take him long to realize he's surrounded by talented players and the future looks bright for the organization.
"We saw at development camp [in July] how much talent there is in this room and in the Boston Bruins' system," Seguin said. "It shows the depth of this organization and it's such a great team."
As in so many other professional sports organizations, hockey has become a year-round sport for the players. Their offseason is brief, especially for prospects. In July, the Bruins hold development camp, and the unofficial start of training camp is when the rookies arrive.
It's clear the members of this year's group are already firing on all cylinders, almost as if they've been a team for years instead of months.
"Development camp really helped us," Seguin said. "It was the first stepping-stone of the introductions to the Boston Bruins' system and what to expect in training camp. Now that we've had rookie games under our belt, going into training camp next week, I think everyone is a lot more comfortable."
Rob Murray leads Boston's AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, and he's been in charge of both the development and rookie camps for the Bruins.
"Going into the prospects camp in the summer, just the overall skill level of the whole group was so much higher, on an average," Murray said. "As a group, I don't think I've seen, since I've been here, a group of guys that the talent level is all-out skill level that we have in the organization now."
There was a time when a coaching staff would look at the organization's depth chart and find only a handful of players with above-average skill set. But the game has changed, and so have the players.
"Now we've got a whole group of guys, albeit guys not turning pro yet, but in the pipeline," Murray said. "It shows the direction not only the Bruins are going in, but you see a lot of teams now looking for that speed and skill."
Murray's job during the regular season is to help hone the skills of the prospects with hopes they'll be ready when called upon by the parent club, either on an emergency basis or for full-time action. It's not about wins and losses in the AHL; it's about getting players ready for the NHL.
"You can teach skill," explained Murray. "Guys can get better. But obviously if you have that baseline, it's already there. You can see [Wednesday] night, all in all it was a pretty fair game, but you got that sense when Seguin had the puck or Caron had the puck -- even Spooner coming through the neutral zone -- you felt like something was going to happen. Whereas, if you had a bunch of Rob Murrays out there, you'd know there would be a good dump and get a change."
Murray was a hard-nosed player during his career and he's well-respected in the hockey world. This will be his seventh season as a coach for the Providence Bruins (he spent four as an assistant) and he has seen the game evolve into what it is today -- a game with more speed, better-conditioned players and specialized more than ever before.
"Perhaps it's an overload at times, but we're here to develop these guys and you want them to succeed," Murray said.
Caron, who notched a hat trick in Wednesday's game against the Islanders' rookie squad, was Boston's first-round pick (25th overall) in the 2009 NHL entry draft. The 19-year-old forward spent the past four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and suffered a broken collarbone last summer that kept him off the ice during last year's rookie camp.
He deemed himself 100 percent healthy prior to Thursday's game, and like the other players in the room, he just wants to make an impression.
"There's a lot of talent, a lot of good players," Caron said. "You never know what's going to happen in the future, but I think the Bruins have very good prospects here."
Kampfer, a 21-year-old defenseman, has impressed in his short time in the organization since the Bruins acquired him in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks last March. He's the elder statesman of the rookie group, and there's a reason why he's been wearing the "C" on his sweater during this two-game set against the Islanders.
Still, he's not about to completely focus on his personal goals. Instead, he sees the big picture and realizes the Bruins have a good thing going.
"You look around and see guys like Joe [Colborne] and Tyler [Seguin] and Jordan [Caron], guys who are great players, and it's good to be in the same room with them," Kampfer said. "Obviously, once next week hits, if you're at main camp then you really see what it's like with all the older guys in here, and seeing what they do on a daily basis and what keeps them here year after year."
Of course, it's likely some of these prospects might not be here in the future, as they could be part of a trade. Either way, they're showcasing their skills in the Bruins' organization now, and most will be in Providence in the upcoming regular season.
For the second consecutive night, Bruins fans came out in droves to watch what the future holds for the Black and Gold. Even the prospects were impressed with the turnout.
"It's phenomenal," Seguin said. "It shows the fan base that the Boston Bruins have and just to come out and support rookies is something pretty special."
Some of these rookies will have a chance to reciprocate in the near future.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.