What to watch for at Bruins camp
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- For the first time in recent seasons, there will be some significant changes for the Boston Bruins.
Coming off a Stanley Cup loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on June 24, the Bruins are built for perennial success with their core intact. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli recently said there would be an influx of younger players helping this season, and even before the puck drops on the first official on-ice session (scheduled for Thursday at TD Garden), there's evidence of some prospects staking their claims during rookie camp.
As rookie camp concluded Tuesday at Ristuccia Arena, the organization's management and coaching staff made it clear there are spots available on the NHL roster.
REPLACING HORTON: When top-line winger Nathan Horton decided to leave Boston and sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent in July, Chiarelli was surprised by the forward's decision. Boston needed a replacement, and it didn't take Chiarelli long to find one in future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla. Forget the fact that Iginla chose the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Bruins at the trade deadline, because now Boston is a better team with Iginla in the mix. He'll likely play the right side along with center David Krejci and left winger Milan Lucic.
COMPLEMENTING BERGY: With a vacancy on the team's second line, it's likely newcomer Loui Eriksson will land on the right side along with centerman Patrice Bergeron and left winger Brad Marchand. Eriksson (along with prospects Matt Fraser, Reilly Smith and Joe Morrow) arrived in Boston from the Dallas Stars in exchange for forwards Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley. Many Western Conference coaches have described Eriksson as one of the most underrated players in the NHL. One opposing coach said Eriksson will fit perfectly into the Bruins' system.
THE BACK END: Andrew Ference left via free agency, but other than that, it appears there will be little or no change on the Boston blue line. Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug likely will be the seven defensemen. It's going to be interesting to see how Hamilton, Bartkowski and Krug start the season since Julien will dress only six blueliners. Also pushing their way up the organizational ladder are Zach Trotman and Tommy Cross, both of whom will give the other 20-somethings a good battle in camp.
BOTTOM TWO: While the core of the team remains intact from its 2011 Stanley Cup title, there are some different faces. The biggest competition to win a spot in the lineup will be on the team's third line. Center Chris Kelly will have new wingers this season, and there's even a possibility he could be on the wing himself. Kelly and fellow forward Carl Soderberg are both natural centermen, while wingers Jordan Caron, Matt Fraser, Craig Cunningham and Reilly Smith all are in the mix.
"It'll be a good competition," Julien said. "There are some spots open, and we've talked about giving some young guys some opportunities. We've also got some new faces we got in those trades, and those guys are going to be looked upon to help keep our team at the top of the league. There are a lot of new things here, new faces, and obviously the situation of how we finished and where we want to be again. All those things give us good reasons to be motivated."
BACKUP GOALIE: Among the few questions as the team heads into camp is who will serve as the backup goaltender for Tuukka Rask.
After the P-Bruins' season was over, the Bruins recalled Svedberg from Providence, and he served as Boston's third goaltender during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Johnson, 27, has 10 games of NHL experience between the New York Rangers and the Phoenix Coyotes. He's 3-2-3 with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. The Bruins signed Johnson to a one-year, one-way contract worth $600,000 in July.
Subban, 19, Boston's first pick (24th overall) in the 2012 entry draft, is beginning his first pro season and is slated to start the season in Providence. Since he's already impressed management during rookie camp, there is an outside chance he could earn a spot on the Bruins' roster. At this point of his development, however, it is more important for him to get the playing time in the AHL rather than sitting on the bench in the NHL.
"A common way of thinking is you need the reps for goaltenders at a young age. Learn the ups and downs out of the bright lights, so to speak, but guys break in sometimes when they're ready," said P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who has been running the rookie camp. "And if he's ready, then he'll have to prove it. I would assume they would want his learning curve to be a little slower, but who knows?"
Since Subban missed out on what should have been his first rookie camp a year ago due to the NHL lockout, he entered rookie camp this September.
"This is my first rookie camp, and I was pretty nervous coming in," Subban said. "I thought I got better as the camp went along, so I thought it went pretty well."
He also participated in the Bruins' captains practices with the organization's veterans on the ice.
"It's pretty overwhelming, at first, to be on the ice with them," Subban said. "After that, I just tried to settle in and play my game. Obviously they're pros and they're really good, so I was just trying to focus as much as I can in practice and try to make as many saves as I can."
Subban also played in two of the three games during the rookie tournament last weekend in Coral Springs, Fla.
"Malcolm made some terrific saves the first game, let a few in that he'd like to have back, but he was very good the second game he played," Cassidy said. "He's very athletic in there and made some big stops, so that was good to see as well."
Adam Morrison, 22, is also in camp. He spent the majority of the 2012-13 season in the ECHL.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: Since Patrice Bergeron earned a spot on the Bruins' roster as an 18-year-old rookie at the start of the 2003-04 season, there has not been a Bruins player who has made a comparable impact out of training camp. Each camp, every NHL team is looking for such a player, and the Bruins are no different this season, especially with a few spots available for the taking. In-house competition will be a healthy aspect of camp.
"It's difficult but there are guys who want to push their way through," Cassidy said. "It's a mentality they have to have."
Cunningham, who turns 23 on Friday, also could be a breakthrough player. He showed promising advancements last season in Providence (25 goals and 21 assists for 46 points in 75 games) and he's not far from the NHL level if he proves he can handle the pace.
Center Ryan Spooner, 21, made his NHL debut in four games with the Bruins last season. He's a dynamic player, but the center position is completely filled in Boston
From a defensive standpoint, keep an eye on Trotman and Cross. Trotman, 23, dealt with injuries last season in Providence, but if he can remain healthy, he could make the Bruins' decision on the back end a little more difficult. Cross, 23, also could have an impact.
Since the core of the Bruins' roster already is in place, younger prospects in camp still need to play their game and show they're capable of competing at the NHL level.
"You want to be respectful of the players you're playing against, but not in awe," Cassidy said. "You've got to go when there's puck-battle drills, one-on-one, two-on-two compete drills, you've got to battle and then live with the consequences, so to speak.
"If you back off out there against every player that has played games in the NHL, they're just going to get pushed around the whole four or five days and then what? So you've got to make your decision that I'm going in there to earn my spot. Be respectful about it, but let people know I'm ready to compete. I think it's encouraging to see that there are names we're thinking of that have a legitimate chance as opposed to, well, these guys are a year or two away."