Callups' Impact Offers Silver Lining During Injury Woes
BostonBruins.com - Six players in the Bruins' organization have made their NHL debuts during the 2013-14 season. It marks the most players to suit up in their first NHL games in one season since 2006-07, when David Krejci first wore the Spoked-B.
Justin Florek, Niklas Svedberg, Zach Trotman, Craig Cunningham, David Warsofsky and Kevan Miller make up that list of players called up from the Providence Bruins so far this season, who played their first games in the NHL. All but Miller made their debuts in an injury-marred month of December for Boston.
When a P-Bruin gets the call to the big club in Boston, the good news usually comes from Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney. It's an honor he doesn't take lightly.
"I think admiration and gratification are appropriate words to describe the feeling when you get to call a player for his first NHL opportunity and they make a successful debut," said Sweeney.
While Svedberg earned an overtime win in his debut, Florek, Warsofsky and Miller all notched their first NHL goals not long after joining Boston.
"We all see how hard the players work and at times they can often become discouraged with the process to get to the NHL," said Sweeney. "But it is certainly rewarding for the coaches in Providence and our entire organization when the player goes into the lineup and helps the team win."
In Svedberg's case, the 2012-13 AHL Goalie of the Year earned his opportunity for a debut between the pipes with fairly strong, calm play in Providence.
The patience and "seasoning" that happens in Providence comes to fruition when a player seamlessly slides into the Boston lineup, something that happened with all of the aforementioned. The organization's depth helped get Boston through a challenging time. It brought a fresh energy to the room, too.
"We have faith in our players and the system being played by both Boston and Providence, so I don't think anyone was terribly surprised by the success of all of players that were inserted into our lineup due to injuries," said Sweeney.
"Execution always lies with the players but they are well prepared when they get the call, and they all have distinguishable talents to bring to the rink, so when they are put in familiar roles, they can rise to the challenge."
"However, we do acknowledge that the jump to the NHL is not easy and we are fortunate that the young players did perform well and the team continued to win despite the adversity."
Speed and timing are often sited by players as the biggest challenges transitioning from the AHL. Players close quicker in the NHL. There isn't nearly as much space; you have to create your own, against bigger, tougher bodies.
Once a player gets the call, it's also about instilling confidence and trust. That's a two-way street formed between the coaching staff in Boston and the player himself.
There are varying degrees, and times when a player is ready to make the jump. When defensemen Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski were called upon during the 2013 postseason, they surprised many outside the organization with their skill sets.
Miller's steady play in his first NHL stint also impressed, along with Warsofsky's composure and Trotman being able to slide into his debut, despite a last-minute emergency call-up that saw him arrive in Ottawa halfway through warm-ups after Zdeno Chara was sidelined by injury.
Up front, when Boston had Chris Kelly, Loui Eriksson and Daniel Paille all sidelined with injuries, and Shawn Thornton out of the lineup due to suspension, callups like Cunningham and Florek slotted in on the energy line.
While not making their debuts, more experienced players like Nick Johnson, Matt Fraser and Ryan Spooner also stepped into the lineup. Spooner still remains with the big club, with Kelly still recovering from his broken right fibula.
Every player slotting in is asked to simply "play his role" and "play his game."
For some, it takes longer for the confidence to build and to remain consistent, but if they can showcase those qualities, while executing the game plan and sticking to the Bruins' mentality, they could earn another shot, or even sustained time up with Boston.
And that's the silver lining amidst injury struggles, for any NHL team.
"Injuries are always toughest on the players and the coaches," said Sweeney. "The organization has to look for the silver lining because injuries present an opportunity to further evaluate our young players and the depth of the organization."
"Projection is a big part of the hockey operations and scouting department, and until a player actually plays in NHL games, you never really know how each individual player's skill set translates to an NHL lineup."
"Our coaches prepare the players and the player works on his game to be ready for his opportunity, and then you hope the player takes advantage of the situation."