BostonBruins.com - You get the sense that Torey Krug doesn't just welcome challenges.
He's the guy, halfway up Mount Everest, with his oxygen depleting at 27,000 feet, would somehow power his way to the top, never accepting anything less, while making sure his team of climbers also made it through the often deadly journey.
"Ice in his veins." That's the way Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien had described him during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he weaved his skates through the slot, and dazzled with a laser shot that connected on four goals in his first five NHL postseason games.
His high level of confidence is what's given him the edge he's needed to make it to this level of the game. There are only two other 5-foot-9 blueliners currently on NHL rosters and one who is listed at 5-foot-8. Most league blueliners pass the 6'0" threshold.
It's a confidence that you can hear right through the phone, as I experienced when I recently caught up with Krug, as he continues to train in both Michigan and Connecticut, before traveling back to Boston in a few weeks.
The Training Camp that awaits will be stiff - and healthy - competition this year for Krug and the B's blueliners with Andrew Ference gone. The young trio of Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton all proved themselves in their own ways last season and during the playoffs.
It's a sure bet we'll see them all with the big club throughout the season (whether stepping in for injuries or otherwise), but with Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid locked in, one will be the odd-man out on Opening Night. And I bet new prospect Joe Morrow (acquired in the Dallas trade) won't be too far behind.
Krug is not just welcoming that competitive nature; he's embracing it.
"I think that's important for us individually as players, us three young guys and any other defensemen coming up trying to make the team," Krug told BostonBruins.com.
"It's important to have that healthy competition because if you walk into camp and think they’re going to hand the job to you, you’re not going to get better. You’re not going to become a better hockey player and you’re going to get left behind in the dust."
That mindset has driven the 22-year-old up until this point. He expects it to carry him further.
And he's looking forward to doing that with a group he's become comfortable with, all donned in the Black & Gold.
"I think it's great that we have that competition and I’m looking forward to seeing the other guys," said Krug, on the quickly approaching camp which officially begins on September 11. "We’ve become really close, being the younger guys in the locker room during the playoffs, and then the guys I played with down in Providence, we became really close."
"It’s a close-knit group of guys. Management’s done a great job of bringing in great people and hardworking guys and that's important for us."
His motivation, too, will be fueled by the unfathomable ending in late June. It won't haunt him; it will challenge him and his teammates.
"Anytime you go to battle with a group of guys and you make it that far, you get that little taste of greatness," said Krug. "And then to have it taken away from you, to go through that with a group of guys, definitely brings you closer."
The question many outside the locker room now have when it comes to the defenseman's game, is if his early postseason magic can extend to a consistent NHL regular season. His first professional season was spent almost entirely with Providence in the AHL, where he made the oft difficult transition from the college to the pro game, playing in 63 games and putting up 45 points (13 goals, 32 assists).
So, to toy with the idea of a "sophomore slump" is a bit out of context - but brings up something unique for Krug heading into the 2013-14 season.
When recently talking with the defenseman over the phone, I had his stats pulled up.
"Torey, you've played in a total of three NHL games during the past two regular seasons. You played 15 in the playoffs over the course of two months. Does your experience level seem more than that?," I asked.
"I was laughing to myself because I was thinking about that the other day," he said. "I forget what I was looking at, it might have been a card or something that had my stats on the back, and it was like three games played."
Three NHL games over the past two seasons, with two assists. Fifteen postseason games, with hist first four goals (and two assists).
"I’ve gone through the whole Stanley Cup Playoffs, and I definitely feel that my experience level is way more enhanced than the stat line will show," he added."
"But I think if you don’t take advantage of those things, the experience, going through the playoffs, then, you know, shame on you. Because there’s so much to learn when you go through it and there’s so much that will help you in your development and growing as a player and as a person."
"For me it was important to understand that going through it is pretty rare to do. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot and definitely got a lot of experience out of it."
With that elevated experience, Krug knows he's still not guaranteed a spot on the roster, and that he and his fellow teammates will ramp up the battle level at camp; he's ready to embrace that and we'll be around to watch it unfold.
Even so, he does have the benefit of a higher comfort level around the team. He has talked much before about the ease of the B's room, and how comfortable the transition was for him, even coming in during the second round with the team in the heat of the playoffs.
"I feel even more a part of the team as well now, so I’m keeping in touch with some of the guys throughout the summer. Just everything we went through, I’m definitely a lot more comfortable coming in the locker room, even more so than I already was."
There's also a balance for Krug. Complacency and comfort can't be creeping into his icy veins.
"But at the same time, I have to make sure I’m not too comfortable when I walk in there," he said. "Because I have to make sure I’m taking care of my business, and I’m doing my job, and remaining focused."
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