WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Upon the occasion of receiving a four-year contract extension last week, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli threw down the gauntlet.
Not satisfied with one Stanley Cup championship and a second appearance in the Stanley Cup Final during the past three seasons, the GM insisted that he wanted more championships over the course of the next several years. In order to supplement some of his high-priced, big-talent stars in a salary-cap league, Chiarelli said his roster is going to have to get younger.
"We're going to see an influx of young players this year. They're going to get a chance, not just the ones that we have seen last year but the other guys are going to get a chance," Chiarelli said. "We're going to have to make room and find players because to make the commitments that we did to our core, although the cap is going to go up, you have to have flexibility, you have to have the other players coming. So that scenario I would like to improve on."
Many of the players who reported to Ristuccia Arena for rookie camp Wednesday felt like Chiarelli was challenging them personally to make a push for a roster spot this season.
"Obviously, hearing words like that give me a little bit of hope that if I do play well, I could have a chance to start the season or what not," center Ryan Spooner said. "Obviously I know that I have to play well. I know that I'm capable of it. I think for me, it's just settling the nerves a little bit when I get out and play. I think if I do that I should be fine."
Forward Jared Knight said, "Yeah, and it makes you go that much harder because if he wasn't saying that … my mindset is just to go into camp and really play hard. Sometimes I tend to look too far into the future, and you can't do that. You've got to stay in the moment, you've got to think of the rookie game coming up, training camp. You can't think ahead too far."
There's motivation that comes from Chiarelli's words, but Boston's best and brightest prospects know they need to temper their enthusiasm in order to focus on the task at hand. After a double practice session Wednesday, the Bruins rookies will practice one more time Thursday then head to Florida for a weekend tournament against rookie squads representing the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators.
The Bruins' NHL lineup figures to have a couple of openings when camp starts that weren't there the past few years. Boston didn't go outside the organization to replace either Jaromir Jagr among its forwards or Andrew Ference on defense. This means second-year pros Knight and Spooner, along with fellow rookie camp attendees Alexander Khokhlachev and Seth Griffith, should be battling Jordan Caron, Carl Soderberg, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser for a spot up front.
Second-year pro Zach Trotman and free-agent signee Chris Casto, two of the defensemen in rookie camp, could be in the mix for a spot. There's an outside chance a veteran among Boston's 11 established forwards and five defensemen could be pushed out of the lineup.
As two of the more experienced professional players on the Bruins' rookie squad, Spooner and Knight figure to garner much of the attention from organizational brass and spectators alike. But the pair of former Ontario Hockey League standouts and 2010 second-round draft picks had extremely different first years playing for Providence of the American Hockey League.
Spooner had 57 points (17 goals) in 59 games, and played four games with the Bruins. Knight battled a hamstring injury all season, was limited to 10 games, and had one goal and three points.
Knight has lost weight and tried to improve his flexibility in order to stay on the ice and out of the trainer's room this season.
"I really busted my butt this summer. I was really disciplined, worked hard and dropped some weight," Knight said. "Right now I feel the best I've ever felt."
In the summer, Spooner found out how Knight must have felt during the season. He sliced his foot on glass in a hockey rink in early July and needed three weeks to recover, then had to have a cyst in his palm surgically removed in late July. Though Spooner has some discomfort from the surgery he was able to get in his offseason workouts.
"I think it was kind of fortunate because when I injured my foot I was able to do like all my upper-body stuff," Spooner said. "And then as soon as that healed up, I found out the thing with my hand, so I was able to do all like legs and sprinting and even skating and stuff. So it was kind of a blessing in disguise that I was able do that."
Trotman joined Knight on the sidelines a lot in the second half of last season because of concussions. He's healthy again and hoping to return to the form that led Providence coach Bruce Cassidy to describe him as the P-Bruins' best rookie for stretches of the 2012-13 season.
Based on the roles Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski played in the Bruins' drive to the Cup Final, Trotman knows that Boston's trust in young defenseman isn't just lip service. He's focused more on what he can control at this early date in the training-camp process.
"It's definitely a different feel after last season. The lineup was pretty set," said Trotman, who played 48 games and produced 16 points (two goals). "But there's a lot of good guys here, so you can't just think about it. You can use it as motivation, kind of keep it in the back of your head, but you want to just go in and do your best every day."
Krug and Bartkowski were inspirational figures to every AHL player awaiting an NHL chance last spring. But as Cassidy pointed out, even last season's postseason heroes have to come back and prove they're worthy of a NHL job this season. What matters most to the Bruins is there are multiple players competing for jobs and playing time, and they're coming up through the organizational pipeline ready to harness their talents for the good of the team.
"At the end of the day, that's our job. That's our job description down in Providence. We want to develop players in a winning environment. That's kind of our goal every year," Cassidy said. "And last year those two guys [Krug and Bartkowski] came to the forefront maybe more than other guys. This year, whoever it will be, we want to make sure we keep pushing them up through the system and that's kind of the circle of life. That's the way it works, and as long as we can keep doing that, this organization will be strong and so will we."
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