With 11 forwards, seven defenseman and two goaltenders signed, Boston is treading the salary cap waters. According to CapGeek.com, as of earlier today, the Bruins are $809,143 over the cap. Obviously, this means those folks who chant the ever annoying "We need a snipah" mantra will just have to wait.
At the team’s recently completed development camp, Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy spoke about the players he and the organization see as contenders for roster spots in Boston this September.
The coach views Ryan Spooner as a center although Boston might want to see how he performs as a winger, seeing as the Bruins have four veteran centers in Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Carl Soderberg and Gregory Campbell.
“He might have played five shifts for us (Providence) in two years on the wing,” Cassidy explained. “So I don’t want to rule that out, you don’t know things until you try a lot of times. That’s not his game, where you’ll come flying down the wing and you know, back a D (defenseman) off there and beat him one on one. He’s more of the middle of the ice, draw people to him, drive wide and then find the open man. And that is part of his game that he’s going to need to do to score some goals. And that is one of the reasons he doesn’t have one and that would come and go in Providence, but it was there at times. And when you see something more than once, you know that it’s there, it’s just, you have to get it out of him. The ball is in his court there.”
Cassidy also went on to say there are other areas of Spooner’s game that need improvement if he is to become an NHL player.
“His shot is not heavy, per se, but he can get it on net, it’s accurate, he’s just got to pick the right time to do it when goalies are not set,” he continued. “And he went to the net more often but it’s an area of his game that he is going to have to continue to build on. He has to get there, doesn’t have to live there, but has to get in and get out.”
The Providence coach turned his attention to Craig Cunningham, who saw action in two games with Boston last season.
“He’s very durable and the thing with Cunny, it’s almost like someone comes along and passes him as a winger, then as a centerman,” Cassidy said. “So he’s just missing that -- he’s good in every area of the game and to be in the NHL, to earn your job, you maybe have to have a particular strength in one area to sort of solidify that spot for yourself and he’s missing a little bit of that. I think Cunny as a winger, it’d have to be the right situation for him. With Thorty [Shawn Thornton] gone, that’s good for him, it gives him an opportunity to maybe start on the fourth line if they don’t address that position with another player like [Shawn] Thornton. Then that’s good for Cunningham.”
The player this writer/long time hockey observer believes would be a good fit for Boston’s fourth line is Bobby Robins.
The 31-year-old winger possesses speed and sound hockey sense, accompanied with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Robins has never been shy of the rough stuff and, although the NHL appears to see fewer fisticuffs each season, he will drop the gloves to stand up for teammates anytime, anywhere.
Cassidy agreed that it may be time for Robins to get a long look at this fall’s training camp.
"I don’t think his age works against him. You almost feel like he’s paid his dues, give him a chance because of his age. So, maybe it could work for him in that regard. Clearly, he’s getting a late start. He knows that but the way the league is going, you’re right, there is less demand, but Bobby [Robins] is a good skater and a good open ice hitter as well so he’d be a guy that would change the momentum in a hurry with body checks as well. He’s not going to sit at the end of the bench and play two minutes, he can play. We need to see, can he handle the puck on the boards clean enough at the NHL level and make the plays into the middle of the ice? And until you see him do that, and get his opportunity – he’s gotten so much better at it. Time will tell, that will determine whether he plays or not because I think the other elements are in place.”
Unexpectedly, the recently drafted David Pastrnak (1st round, 25th overall, 2014 NHL Entry Draft), played his way into consideration at development camp.
Although a bit on the small side (6-foot, 171 pounds), the Czech native exhibited outstanding speed, puck handling abilities, and on ice vision that had him standing out among his peers at the week long camp. His efforts were rewarded with an entry level contract.
According to Chiarelli, Pastrnak has the tools to challenge for NHL employment.
“He’ll end up coming to camp now and he’ll get the experience of a training camp and he’ll get some games,” Chiarelli said. “He had a terrific development camp, and I know everyone’s talking about him. He’s a good young player. He’s just 18 years old and he’s a player -- it’s well-documented that we’re looking for skill and speed and he fits that bill but let’s not put the cart before the horse with David. I think we’re fortunate to get him, where we got him, and he had a terrific camp and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Through strong drafting, free agent signings, and arguably the best coaching in the AHL, the Bruins organization has used the last three to four years to develop players who will be able to make the jump from the minors to the NHL. There was a time that was not the case but last season Boston needed the services of Spooner, Cunningham, Justin Florek, Alex Khokhlachev, Matt Lindblad, Nick Johnson (who recently signed with Vaxjo of the Swedish Hockey League), Matt Fraser, Kevan Miller, David Warsofsky, and Zach Trotman. All filled in admirably and will be given the opportunity to stay with the big club instead of returning to Providence.
The only lock, at this point, is Miller. His performance earned him a two year, one-way contract.
Fraser and Warsofsky are unsigned, restricted free agents along with Torey Krug and Reilly Smith and unless Chiarelli swings a trade or two to free up funds, he will use Marc Savard’s long term injury status, which will add $4.027 million to the coffers, to provide new deals to those four players, but that's a topic for another day.
The future has arrived for the Bruins. We have seen glimpses of who may best handle the next level and with two, maybe three, positions open in September, those who have been teammates over the last few years, will be battling for jobs in Boston.
It is expected here that Fraser, Florek, and Robins, will emerge from training camp with the spoked B on their chests. They have the skill, speed and tenacity that makes them ready for, in the players’ vernacular, The League.
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.