Counting Down the Days: New-Look Roster, Positional Battles
BostonBruins.com - Training Camp is less than a month away. As I wrote in Part One of "Counting Down the Days," mid-August is one of the toughest months for a hockey fan. It's close enough to ramp up the countdowns until the preseason, home opener, and so forth. But just far enough away to feel like an eternity to the fan waiting for the first glimpse of ice.
Among all of the countdowns, there is one date I look forward to the most - the start of camp. This year, the Bruins' 22-day preseason consisting of a full Training Camp and slate of seven exhibition games, kicks off on Wednesday, September 11.
The previous blog post highlights how the absence of a lockout, and the Black & Gold's clear focus heading into camp this year will help this new-look B's roster (and you as hockey fans) get ready for 2013-14.
I also gave [pretty obvious] reasons why I look forward to camp, and why it's a significant time for the team -- teammates get acclimated into the locker room, different linemates begin to develop chemistry, coaches try various line and defensive pairing combinations to find a player's best fit and healthy competition breaks out among those vying for a spot on the opening night roster.
The team's identity is reinforced, while systems, special teams and distinct plays are all reviewed. A coach gets to know his new players, and gets his team in line and "on the same page" before the season begins.
With that in mind, below are a couple of reasons to get excited for Training Camp that revolve around the additions to the team and the positional battles we'll all be keeping an eye on as camp progresses.
A Healthy Roster?
Before we get into what could be in store for the 2013-14 lineup, an area of concern heading in is the health of Patrice Bergeron and Gregory Campbell. Both are expecting to be skating and ready for camp, but there will be a close watch on their recovery - from coaches, teammates, fans and media alike - to see if they are 100 percent and able to fully participate. If not, that could shift the lineup to begin camp.
As of now, the latest on Bergeron is that his recovery is going well following his laundry list of injuries to end the postseason (broken rib, torn cartilage, separated shoulder, collapsed lung).
"I'd say I'm pretty much 95 percent back to where I'd like to be and I'm feeling pretty good," Bergeron told BostonBruins.com on August 13, as he gave an update from Quebec City.
The center's injuries didn't require surgery; just rest and time for the ribs and shoulder to heal before he got back into his training regiment towards the end of July. Prior to that, he rested for four weeks, only engaging in light workouts to maintain his legs and mostly staying away from core workouts to allow the ribs to heal.
"I’m still shooting for being ready for Training Camp," he said. "I’ve had no setbacks so far and things have gone well and moved along. I feel pretty confident that things will be fine and I’ll be ready for camp."
Meanwhile, Gregory Campbell is still waiting for his leg to fully heal following surgery on June 10 (he broke the leg on June 5). Not long after his surgery, Campbell said he was fully expecting to be 100 percent at camp. Of course, the healing process is sometimes tough to predict.
NHL.com's Matt Kalman wrote on August 16 that Campbell had yet to start skating; the center was scheduled for an X-Ray on August 20 that could give him clearance to get back on the ice. In the mean time, he's been using the stationary bike and elliptical for cardio, combined with weight training. Normally, he'd be skating 4-5 days a week at this point in his training.
"Obviously my training program is going to change," Campbell said following his surgery in June, expecting a much different summer ahead. "That's a big part of my game. But that's just something that I have to deal with and I'll have to work around."
West Comes East: Iginla and Eriksson in the Spoked-B
We've known since July 5 that winger Jarome Iginla, along with Loui Eriksson, will be wearing the Black & Gold. There was much talk about the B's rebuilding their right side during the draft and free agency. It came as a result of Nathan Horton parting ways with the team to sign with Columbus, Jaromir Jagr not being re-signed, and both Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin being traded to Dallas, in exchange for wingers Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser (along with blueliner Joe Morrow).
We know Iginla's illustrious career, we've heard him speak highly about Boston on conference calls, and we've learned about his competitive nature and intense motivation while spending time with him near his summer home in British Columbia.
"I was thrilled when there was an opportunity," Iginla told BostonBruins.com this summer. "Hopefully it’s one that works out and the team’s happy and my family and I love playing there and, hopefully, it can go longer."
But the forward spent his entire career (aside from the few months with Pittsburgh) out West with Calgary, so it will be intriguing to watch him assimilate into Boston's identity.
We also know that Eriksson waived his no-trade clause to come to Boston, has heard only great things about the city, and is known by his peers as one of the most underrated players in the NHL.
"I’m real excited to go there and play…I’m really looking forward to it.," Eriksson said following the trade. "When I got the call it was Boston on the line, it was pretty persuasive for me to say yes to that because I know Boston is a good team and it’s a different chapter to go there and try to win games, try to go far in the playoffs and win the whole Cup."
But we still have much to learn about Eriksson as well.
With Iginla and Eriksson sliding into the top-2 spots on the right wing, their impact on the team will be felt immediately, whether we've gotten to know them yet or not.
Training Camp will give us the first glimpse at the wingers, their work ethic and how they will merge into the lineup.
Assuming Bergeron will be 100 percent, Eriksson looks slotted for the right wing spot on the center's line, with Brad Marchand on the left. The defensive-minded winger with a scoring touch would only add to Bergeron's commitment to two-way play. You get the sense that they would find ways to make each other better, and Marchand would benefit from that as well.
Iginla's power forward status positions him to slide into Nathan Horton's role on David Krejci's line with Milan Lucic on the left wing. The 16-season NHL vet is someone who Lucic has said he models his game after; a forward who puts up points, hits, fights and is a great leader. Needless to say, it would be exciting to see the trio form chemistry throughout camp.
Competition Set to Heat Up
Not only will there be focus on Iginla and Eriksson during camp, but we will also be following the hefty dose of competition that will take place for spots on the opening night roster.
"I think it will be a new dynamic. I like the fact that we have guys that are pushing the envelope to play," Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli said in mid-July, about the the youth infusion expected at this year's camp.
Assuming Campbell and Bergeron will both be ready by the time opening night rolls around, the B's top-six and 'Merlot Line' are all but set. Of course, Daniel Paille could certainly garner a role on the third line, alongside Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg, but the Merlot's chemistry could keep them intact. As always, it won't matter where Paille starts the season; B's Head Coach Claude Julien likes to exercise his options when he can, and I'd expect to see tinkering among the bottom six.
If that line stays put, there is still a question as to whether Kelly or Soderberg will be better served at center or on the wing. Julien has spoken of Soderberg's upside the more time he spends in the NHL, so he should be expected as a staple on that third line, leaving one winger spot up for grabs.
And that's where the competition heats up…
Jordan Caron has another chance to prove he can be consistent at the NHL level. Right winger Reilly Smith (acquired in the trade with Dallas) has shown he has vision and slick hands, but is still adjusting to the NHL game (he put up three goals and six assists in 37 games with Dallas last season).
Matt Fraser, who came over in the Stars' trade as well, could also challenge for the third line spot. The winger is more comfortable on the left, but can play either side, and though he will need to adjust at the NHL level, he was the AHL's leading scorer last season.
In addition, young forwards Jared Knight, Ryan Spooner, Anthony Camara and Matthew Lindblad will all come into camp with an eye on that spot (though arguably every player coming in should have the mindset to make the big club).
When looking at the back end, just as there was talk about the young trio on 'D' during the postseason stepping up, the focus will remain on Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski heading into Training Camp as well.
Hamilton received significant playing time during the regular season, playing in 42 of 48 games and putting up 16 points (5 goals, 11 assists) in his rookie campaign. He was a healthy scratch much of the playoffs, playing in seven of the B's 22 postseason games. The young defenseman had been playing hockey nonstop since August, with his international play for Team Canada and junior season with the OHL's Niagara Ice Dogs before joining Boston when the lockout ended. Though it's a short offseason for this team, it will be intriguing to see how three full months of training and non-game action will benefit Hamilton.
Bartkowski hasn't fully solidified himself as a consistent NHL blueliner up with Boston during the season - he played 11 games up with the big club in 2013 and had a combined nine games in the two seasons prior - but emerged during the playoffs in the Rangers series as a strong and confident puck-mover, mostly paired with Johnny Boychuk. The D-man did not make the team out of training camp last season, and served the leading role on the back end in Providence. This year, he'll be looking to show Boston that he's become a more consistent and reliable player at the NHL level.
As for Krug, it's hard to believe that he only played one NHL game with the B's during the 2012-13 regular season, having suited up in 15 playoff games and showcasing his ability to take offensive risks. He all but solidified his spot in the lineup with his postseason play and "ice in his veins" approach to the game, but the focus will be on seeing him translate that into a full NHL regular season.
Bartkowski predominantly plays on the left side, and Hamilton on the right. Krug spent the postseason on the left side paired with Adam McQuaid. Any 'B' in the defense corps will tell you he has to be able to play on both sides, with every blueliner in the locker room. But that could effect Coach Julien's decision.
(Note: A D-man like Dennis Seidenberg I would consider interchangeable - he plays his off side (the right) during the playoffs when paired with Zdeno Chara. But last regular season, he played mostly on the left, paired with Dougie Hamilton - when the back end was healthy - and Zee was often paired with Johnny Boychuk. Andrew Ference was a staple next to McQuaid during the regular season, where Krug has seemingly slid in.)
To a lesser extent, there will also be competition for the B's back-up goalie position behind Rask, after Anton Khudobin signed as an unrestricted free agent with Carolina in the offseason.
Chad Johnson was signed as a free agent to a one-year deal, but besides the 10 NHL games he appeared in for Phoenix and the New York Rangers, we'll have to get to know him better during camp. Chiarelli said during the offseason that Niklas Svedberg is at the point in his development where he will challenge for the role. He was named the AHL's Goalie of the Year last season with the P-Bruins. Malcolm Subban will also be battling at camp, since he and Svedberg will likely be the competitive duo in Providence this season.
Stay tuned to BostonBruins.com as we discuss these topics further heading into Training Camp, and get to know the new-look roster. And, as always, feel free to add your two cents below...