He was doing whatever he could to make an impression in his first season in the Boston organization during his first call-up.
In his debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre, Fraser found a way to make a huge statement.
Fraser’s game-winning goal in overtime evened the best-of-7 series 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS) at TD Garden. Back home where the Bruins held an optional skate Fraser did not take part in Friday, the 23-year-old wing was his humble self a little more than 12 hours after his heroics.
“You always think about it, but you never think it’ll happen to you. And it was a good play by everyone on the ice. I was just the beneficiary of it,” said Fraser, who’d been summoned to Montreal by Boston assistant general manager Don Sweeney on Wednesday. “You always want to score big goals, but I think for myself I just wanted to be a guy that was contributing, whether that was scoring goals or making sure that I was good in my own zone. I think that was more important.”
Fraser’s performance made coach Claude Julien, who’s normally tight-lipped about lineup changes, break his code of secrecy when it came to whether the 6-foot-1, 204-pound native of Red Deer, Alberta, would get another shot in Game 5.
“I think you will see him in the next game for sure; he is in,” Julien said.
Throughout the season, the Bruins received contributions from players they received from the Dallas Stars in the trade that sent forward Tyler Seguin to Texas. Forward Reilly Smith had a 20-goal regular season and has three in the playoffs. Forward Loui Eriksson battled through an injury-plagued season for 37 points in 61 games. Now Fraser has a chance to prove he was more than a throw-in.
“I’m perfectly fine with just kind of not being in the spotlight and kind of going about my business,” Fraser said.
During training camp, Fraser shared the spotlight with a handful of players who were competing for one open forward spot among the top nine. Smith, veteran returnee Jordan Caron, journeyman Nick Johnson and others battled until Smith won the position. Fraser was demoted to the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, where he spent most of this season.
In 42 games for Providence, Fraser had 18 goals and 28 points. Goal-scoring has never been an issue for Fraser, who scored 70 in 135 games in his first two professional seasons. He had two 30-plus-goal seasons with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, including 36 in 2010-11. That season he signed with the Stars as an undrafted free agent.
The Bruins wanted Fraser to work on the rest of his game so his split-second release on his shot wouldn’t go to waste in a league that can tear apart a one-dimensional player. When the Bruins were hit by injuries and suspensions in December and January, they gave Fraser a look, and he showed off that release and other improvements. He’s since honed his game some more.
“I mean, this is a guy if you give him the opportunity he can certainly put the puck in the net,” Julien said. “He’s gotten stronger and he’s played a bigger game than he had in the past, and those are the improvements you look for in young players. … So he just had to improve in certain areas and when those guys do that, they see the results and they see what it can do for them.
“He has come in here and, for a guy who maybe said he was nervous for the game, he certainly didn’t look like it. He seemed poised out there, and I said he made some good strong plays throughout the whole game.”
The demotion in training camp didn’t demoralize Fraser. Instead he accepted the coaching he needed and continued to prepare for a potential call-up. By the time the Bruins called him up for Game 4, he’d already become an overtime hero with a goal for Providence in its first-round series against the Springfield Falcons.
“I mean, you always want to make the team coming out of camp. I don’t think it was so much frustration, it was just you know that there’s a plan in place and you’ve got to trust that plan,” said Fraser, the first player to score a playoff overtime goal in the AHL and NHL in the same season. “And you know going down to Providence you play with some great players there and there’s good coaching there. And there’s lots of input from up here down there. You’ve just got to trust yourself and trust that there’s a plan in place and let your skill take over.”
Fraser, who will turn 24 on May 20, found firm chemistry with center Carl Soderberg and Eriksson in Game 4. He played with Soderberg and prospect Ryan Spooner during his earlier stint in the NHL. Fraser likely will stick with the Swedes for Game 5 and until Julien feels the need to change things.
The only thing Fraser wants to change is the length of his NHL resume. The goal in Game 4 is at the top, and there’s a lot of room for additions.
“You know, I guess the biggest thing is you don’t want to be a one-hit wonder,” he said. “Again … you always envision scoring those goals, but you never think it’s going to be you. And for myself, you want to be a guy that wants to contribute every night and bring something to the lineup. So during the pregame skate when the coaches are wondering who they should put in, they can look at me and know that I can do my part and get the job done.”
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