BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins may have lost to the Washington Capitals 4-1 Wednesday night in their final NHL exhibition game before heading to Europe, but there was one Bruin who couldn't wipe the smile off his face after the game.
Rookie Jordan Caron, in his first NHL training camp, was headed to Belfast with the Bruins as he made it through the final cuts Wednesday. Caron could still be assigned to Providence after the Bruins return from Belfast and Prague, where they open the regular season against the Phoenix Coyotes Oct. 9 and 10, but all indications are that the 2009 first-round draft pick has a spot on the 2010-11 Bruins roster if he wants it.
"It's amazing," Caron said. "Just to be here with the guys the last couple of weeks has been great. And now to go over there [Europe] is going to be a good experience, and hopefully I stick with the team after that.
"I think I can still get better and be more patient with the puck, but it's been good. Hopefully the next couple of games I'll get even more used to the speed and we'll see how it goes.
"I just tried to take it one day at a time, and I know it is a cliché, but that was my goal so I could make the team," Caron said. "I was confident I could make the team if I followed that plan. It's been a good last few weeks."
"Day-by-day" is a cliché frequently used by pro athletes, but that's exactly how Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and teammate Patrice Bergeron have viewed Caron's progress during training camp.
"He's had a strong camp," Chiarelli said. "We've used the adjective like he's a professional already. He does the little things, he goes about his business, he doesn't complain -- I wouldn't expect that from a 20-year-old anyway -- but he's just unique in that way. He's a good kid and right now he's on the team, so that's a credit to him."
Bergeron, a fellow French-Canadian who also made the Bruins in his first camp (2003), has done his best to be there for Caron. But according to the Bruins' alternate captain, Caron hasn't needed much help because of his maturity.
"I'm trying to help him out as much as I can," Bergeron said. "But he's handling himself really well. I'm happy to see that. He's down to earth, minds his own business and is just going along doing his job. Just really professional."
But Caron's professionalism hasn't held him back from asking for advice when he's felt the need.
"He's been asking some questions about my first year," Bergeron said. "I guess what the transition was like for me from going junior to pro and how I handled it. His English is awesome and I needed a lot more help my first year, so he's steps ahead of me in that matter. But really, I think it's great to see the effort and seriousness that he has put into this. He really wants to succeed and learn whatever he can and that's great to see. The more I know of him, the more I like him. He's humble and a smart kid."
One of the knocks on Caron throughout his time in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was that he didn't skate hard enough. He had the size and skill, but the skates weren't in sync yet. Following a 67-point season in 2008-09 that led to the Bruins drafting the 6-foot-2, 202-pound winger 25th overall in 2009, Caron suffered a broken clavicle at the Team Canada World Junior Championships, missing the beginning of the 2009-10 season with his junior team, the Rimouski Oceanic.
But Caron returned to get 20 points in 20 games with Rimouski before being traded to Rouyn Noranda, with whom he got 33 points in 23 games. He also made the Canadian World Junior team that won a gold medal.
For Caron, it was a turning point in his young career.
"I really had to step up after my injury because everybody thought I wasn't going to make Team Canada at Christmas, and then they thought my season was going to be over," Caron recalled. "People were scared of what was going to happen, but I worked really hard to get back into game shape. It took me at least 15 or 20 games to get in shape, but after that it went great."
That resilience and determination didn't go unnoticed by the Bruins' brass and coaching staff. He's skating harder, and as a result his skills are shining through.
"I think he has been really keeping up with the pace, especially in this camp," coach Claude Julien said. "I think right now if he keeps up with that pace, he's giving himself a real good shot because he's big, he's strong, he protects the puck well and he does a real good job in front of the net as well. He stands there, picks up loose pucks and really he has a lot of things going for him. Right now, I think the biggest question is can he keep that pace up for the whole season."
Bergeron agreed that he's seeing a more confident Caron each day.
"I think the biggest improvement you see is that he is more confident with the puck and uses his size. And when he gets moving, he can get by guys because he's so big," Bergeron said. "He can be a really scary player in this league."
Caron knows he's created some buzz throughout camp and is excited for the opportunity ahead. But for now he just plans on keeping that professional attitude and hopefully staying at the NHL level.
"I try to not think too much of it and just not read too much, but it's hard," Caron said. "You just try to block it out and play. I'm just really excited to still be here and I'm going to make the best of this."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.