PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Boston Bruins have become perennial Stanley Cup contenders in the last few seasons, and this year is no different.
With the NHL's April 3 trade deadline quickly approaching, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli realizes he has an opportunity to make the team even better. Plus, at this point, health issues are mounting for Boston, with forwards David Krejci and Chris Kelly, along with defensemen Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk all battling injuries.
The Bruins' AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, are also legitimate Calder Cup contenders this season. Because of the team's success and its talented roster, other organizations could be interested in several of their players. If Chiarelli does pull the trigger on a deal -- which he has never been shy about doing -- he wants to add to the current roster and not subtract from it. That means he would have to possibly part ways with the team's first-round pick, along with prospects.
Naturally, prospects in the Bruins organization are wondering whether their address will change soon.
"To say that none of us here read about anything would be false," admitted P-Bruins defenseman Torey Krug. "But if you get caught up in any of that, you're not going to be doing your job and taking care of your end of the business. For me, it's about controlling what I can control, and whatever happens, happens. Right now we're focused on helping the Providence Bruins, and obviously if you get your shot with the Boston Bruins that would be unbelievable, but all the guys in this room aren't focused on that. We think within our room and not outside of it."
Providence coach Bruce Cassidy wants his players to maintain that philosophy, even though that mindset can be difficult to control for a player at this level.
"I don't address it," Cassidy said of trade rumors. "Because now you're putting something in their minds that they don't need. They've all been around and they know, so I don't bring it up."
If Cassidy decides to address it, he'll usually wait until the day before the deadline, but even then he doesn't believe it's necessary, because nothing could happen. He said there are too many other factors within the organization that these players need to worry about.
Case in point: If the Bruins need to recall a defenseman, the P-Bruins have viable candidates, but sometimes players get caught up in what their teammates are doing and it has a negative effect on their game. It's a normal aspect of the development process at this level.
"If you're down in the organization and you're the only player with a shot of going up, you can become complacent and you're not getting better on a daily basis," Krug said. "Here we have great depth and guys are pushing each other daily. One day you come to practice and if you're not doing your job, the next day you could be dropped to a different defensive pairing, or another line. For us, it's important to get better on a daily basis and make sure we're not complacent."
The talent pool is deep and versatile in Providence.
The P-Bruins already sent forward Jordan Caron to Boston this season, and the parent club also recently recalled forward Ryan Spooner and defenseman Matt Bartkowski. Others have proved their worth in Providence, including forwards Carter Camper and Craig Cunningham, defenseman David Warsofsky and Krug. Goaltender Niklas Svedberg has impressed this season, too.
Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney spends countless hours watching practices and games in Providence, and he is satisfied with the development of the organization's top prospects at this level.
"Each and every one of these guys have attributes to be able to play games right now in the National Hockey League," he said. "Whether or not they can stay there, that remains to be seen. We're seeing a nice progression in a lot of our young players and that's a really healthy sign. We're in a winning environment here and it breeds some nice internal competition and challenges to get to the NHL."
The organization's depth is a result of sound scouting, drafting and developing.
"It's fair to say we're developing most of the prospects on the right path," Cassidy said. "Some are a little ahead of the curve, some are a little behind, and some are right on. You just don't want to get 80 percent of your group behind because that would never look good as an American League coach."
It was important this season for the P-Bruins to develop players like Spooner and Krug in case the Bruins needed reinforcements. During his three games with Boston this season, Spooner has handled himself well. He's shown himself to be a good two-way player, and he's still learning which areas of the ice he needs to be better in, in order to excel. It's likely he'll be back in Providence to continue his development once the Bruins return from their current road trip early next week.
Starting his first full season as a professional, Krug did not begin the way he had hoped. He was bothered by an ankle strain and it affected his play.
"My skating wasn't up to par, so the rest of my game dropped a little bit," said Krug, who made his NHL debut last season with the Bruins.
It wasn't until after Christmas that he felt 100 percent healthy, and since then his game has improved. He's been able to move the puck better, and his defensive game has been solid. The one aspect the Bruins organization wanted him to work on was his physical play in front of the net.
"That's the one thing I think I've gotten a little bit better at, and as the year progressed my numbers have gone up, as well, so it's all come full circle and it all started with my skating," he said.
Krug is the type of player who thrives off confidence, and at times earlier this season it was evident he wasn't playing with that self-assurance. He is now. In 54 games for the P-Bruins, he has nine goals and 24 assists for 33 points.
"I'm pretty confident in my game, and it's a big part of my game, for sure," he said.
From a goaltending standpoint, Providence is well-equipped between the pipes. Svedberg is 30-7-2-3 with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.
Svedberg is athletic, a great teammate and has an "outstanding" work ethic according to Cassidy. The question remains whether he can succeed at the NHL level, but that won't be answered until he's given the opportunity to prove it in Boston, or elsewhere. After all, it did work for Tim Thomas. His résumé speaks for itself after he was finally given the chance to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.
"He's a winner," Cassidy said of Svedberg. "He's a guy who will let some goals in where you shake your head, and then all of a sudden the game is on the line, it's crunch time and he comes through. It's what he does. He finds a way to win games -- be it a shootout, be it when he needs to make a big save after we go up 3-2 with under seven minutes to play; you know you're not getting anything by him. He's able to close out games, a lot. He's a good closer."
The Bruins also have Malcolm Subban still playing for his junior team, the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. Boston's first-round pick (24th overall) in the 2012 NHL entry draft should be of interest to other organizations if Chiarelli wants a top-tier player in return.
Boston's GM is doing his due diligence in the days leading up to the deadline, and whether or not the P-Bruins are affected by a possible deal, the organization should be proud of what it has accomplished in Providence.