There is always learning, and there is always competition. That goes for veterans, rookies and newcomers alike - whether you’re alternate captain Chris Kelly, new blueliner Matt Irwin or second and third year pros Brian Ferlin and Seth Griffith.
“You approach it kind of the same way,” Kelly said on Saturday following the second day of training camp on-ice sessions at TD Garden. “Every year, there’s competition and it pushes everyone, and new systems put in play — and most guys are smart enough to pick up new systems, and if they’re not, then you’re going to be left behind.”
“So I think you come in and you listen and learn and I think that’s the great thing also about this game - you’re always learning, every day. If it’s systems or different things to do off the ice to prepare yourself so you feel good on the ice, there’s all sorts of different things to learn, and I think that’s the approach you take.”
During the first few days of camp, players get back their skating legs, up the physicality and bring themselves up to speed. The Bruins’ first preseason game takes place on just the third day of camp this year (Sunday, Sept. 20), so there’s no time to sit back.
“It’s a learning process — you just kind of want to be a sponge,” said Irwin, signed by the Bruins as a free agent in the offseason. “A lot of new guys, young guys, even returning guys - there’s some adjustments to the system, so everybody’s all ears and just trying to take it all in and work hard in practice and get ready for the games — they’re coming up quick.”
Irwin brings 153 games of NHL experience through the past three seasons with the San Jose Sharks. There has been much talk about the blueliners who have already spent time in the Bruins’ system, like Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow, as well as new addition Colin Miller, who was acquired in the Milan Lucic trade, and Irwin has just as much of a shot at making the Boston roster. The competition will be heated.
“It’s a good group of D, we’ve got a lot of depth — some veteran guys who have won obviously and some younger guys coming in too, so there’s a lot of depth,” Irwin said of the competition on the back end. “And there’s going to be a lot of competition, some opportunity for everybody to step up and fill in a void, fill in a role that will make them successful.”
“So that’s the goal I think for all of us, for sure, is to get into those games and make an impression.”
“I think he has to definitely earn his spot like everybody else, but you know, the reason we did sign him is he’s got some experience,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “You know, being here is one thing; being in the top six is another, so there’s those kinds of competitions, too.”
With the amount of defensemen capable of pushing for jobs, the Bruins could even end up carrying eight defensemen on their roster, come opening night on Oct. 8.
“I know we’re going to end up keeping at least one, probably two, extra Ds,” said Julien. “We’ll decide at the end, but we could end up carrying eight Ds this year. We’ll see how that goes.”
“I’m looking to play every game — that’s my goal,” said Irwin. “I think I can bring a lot to this team. You know, there’s competition and there’s opportunity. I’m hoping to be in the lineup every night and help this team win.”
While there’s plenty of competition and opportunities on defense — which rang true last preseason as well — the forwards are also pushing each other.
Sure, the likes of Matt Beleskey, Brett Connolly and Jimmy Hayes are sure to earn spots in the top nine, but the question marks around them will be more about where they are slotting into the lineup.
There’s a host of other players who are competing to make the team in likely a bottom six role, and prove they’re worth of NHL minutes.
Count Ferlin and Griffith in that mix. Both forwards earned NHL games during the 2014-15 season, with Ferlin suiting up in seven game and Griffith seeing 30 games of NHL action, especially out of the gate, getting a lengthy audition in the top line right winger role alongside David Krejci.
Though Ferlin played mostly a top six role in college at Cornell and in Providence last season during his first year pro, his best shot at making the roster is sliding into a gritty, energy role.
“I pride myself on playing physical and protecting the puck,” said Ferlin. “When you’re playing bottom six, it’s more controlling [the puck] with your linemates and things like that, so I think I can still work on my skill and hopefully climb my way up the ladder — but I think I’ll be just fine in a bottom six role to start.”
The forward is a right-shot, right winger, something the Bruins once had in limited supply. But with the addition of Connolly at the trade deadline and Hayes in the offseason, Ferlin could have been wondering where he would fit in.
Instead, he thought of one thing.
“Competition,” Ferlin stated. “Obviously, you welcome competition and you want to beat out guys, that’s my mindset. They want to have the best team possible, you know? They don’t care if me or whoever else plays the best. They’re going to put the best team together to win and they’re trying to create competition across the board this year.”
“I think I can compete for a spot. So, definitely, it creates good competition and [you] just control what you need to control.”
Griffith also echoed that refrain.
“There’s a lot of competition going on right now, but I think that’s only going to make me better, going against a lot of good guys at the right wing position, we’re all battling out there,” he said. “So I look at it as you can only get better if you’re going hard every single practice, rather than knowing you have a spot, so you’ve got to look at the positive side of it.”
The first cuts to the 60-player camp roster will likely come within the next few days, with younger players heading back to their junior seasons or getting ready for training camp in Providence.
Whether players stay with Boston or head their different ways as camp moves along, the mindset is the same.
“I think you’ve just got to play your game,” said defenseman Linus Arnesson, set to begin his first pro season after signing with the Bruins out of the Swedish Hockey League. “You can’t wonder what they want to see - you’ve just got to play your game at your best level, so I think that’s the most important thing.”
Frank Vatrano, signed by Boston as a free agent out of UMass-Amherst, is on point with that approach.
“Just stay positive — sometimes things won’t go your way all the time,” said the forward, who impressed at the Bruins’ rookie tournament. “There’s awesome competition out there, so you’re not going to win every battle out there against all those older guys, but you’re going to try to win them, so I think it’s just staying positive and not getting down on yourself.”
After more than a decade in the League, even Kelly still maintains that positive mantra.
“As a player, you just go out and play,” said the vet. “You don’t worry about where you’re slotted or what you’re doing. You go out there and get the job done.”
Defensemen Pushing the Pace
The Bruins have been implementing systematic tweaks early in training camp with breakouts and the defensemen being more aggressive in the attack.
“Those are going to be adjustments, it’s something new but it’s not completely new, so we’ll see how it’s going to be in the game situation but for sure,” said Captain Zdeno Chara. “Tt’s something that we’re all looking forward to use and how it’s going to be evolving.”
From Day One on the job as General Manager, Don Sweeney has wanted this team to get back to being tough to play against and creating anxiety in teams with an in-your-face style of play.
“Well, everything starts with your preparation and focus on the process and I think that we’ve got to bring that energy and fast pace to our game,” said Chara. “ Obviously we all know that passion is the No. 1 priority for our club.”
The Bruins’ defensemen who generally have stayed back in the defensive end have been questioned throughout the past couple of days about the changes to the system. Will they have to make serious adjustments?
None of them are too worried about adapting. After all, this game is constantly evolving and as NHL players, they are adept to learning.
“You know, I think with new systems and new guys, your game evolves,” said Kevan Miller. “I don’t want to get too far out of my zone or anything, I know what kind of player I am, but I think with any guy, with any player, you can evolve and change your game and I think that’s something that’s going to happen this year.”
“There’s no doubt there’s a lot that we’re going to be looking at,” said Julien. “Again, we have got to be careful here because you may get those guys that have better foot speed but they may not be able to do the speed on the other side of the puck, you know. So we’ll say “jeez” you know our offensive game has really improved, now we’re scoring more goals but we’re giving up more, and we’re still in the same spot that we were before.”
“So it’s trying to find that right balance that we do need some guys that can move the puck well, but we do need some guys that can really defend well. We talked about the Zdeno Charas and the [Adam] McQuaids and those guys — they defend well. But you also need guys like Torey Krug to be in our lineup and we’d like to be able to find that right balance.”
Ramping Up with First Preseason Game on Tap
The Bruins quickly jump into their first preseason game on Sunday in Providence at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center against the New Jersey Devils.
The roster will be announced on Sunday morning via BostonBruins.com.
The first two days of skates have showcased plenty of physicality as the players need to get into gear quickly before finding themselves in game situations.
“Personally, I like playing games — games I think get you back in the swing of things,” said Kelly. “You don’t play games all summer… when you get into preseason, you’re able to do that and it gets you ready for the regular season. So I think playing the games right away is good preparation for the season, because it comes quick.”
“It’s about getting back up to speed,” Miller said of the high-speed practices. “We have games right away, so two practices and then a game, so I think it’s more about keeping the practices up-tempo and getting ready for the games.”