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For Rookies, Camp Experience Will Pay Dividends Down the Line

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — Forming a 23-man roster for Opening Night is at the forefront of training camp. The immediate future, the start of the 2015-16 Bruins’ season, is just over two weeks away.

There’s an important aspect of main camp, though, that will pay dividends far into the future beyond the upcoming campaign.

Camp is where recent draft picks play alongside NHL veterans and Stanley Cup Champions. It is where rookies put on the Spoked-B in front of fans at TD Garden for the first time. It is where they shoot on Tuukka Rask in practice, go to battle with Zdeno Chara in the corners and face off against Patrice Bergeron on the dot.

They see where they stack up against NHL talent, and they know what they need to hone in on for the future.

In 2010, Ryan Spooner took part in his first training camp before heading back to his junior team. Six years later, he’s now primed to head into his first full-time NHL role.

For players like 2015 first rounders Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn, and second rounder Brandon Carlo, the experience is eye-opening.

“It was a crazy feeling, going out there and seeing the crowd and everybody there and guys across the red line,” the 18-year-old Carlo said of on Sunday night’s 2-0 win over New Jersey in Providence, wearing the Black & Gold in his NHL preseason debut.

“I hadn’t really played against that old of guys yet and that strong, and I felt like I handled myself really well and it was a lot of fun.”

For DeBrusk, the Bruins’ 2015 14th overall pick, side by side with NHLers was an adjustment.

“You watch them all the time on TV and when you’re practicing with them, and against them and seeing them, how fast and strong and quick they are, it’s pretty remarkable,” said DeBrusk. “They’ve been really good to me, the guys I’ve talked to and it’s just been a really cool experience to be here.”

Technically, there’s always the chance that young players like Carlo and DeBrusk could push for spots on the big club — if they’re still at camp, they have an opportunity. But when the time comes for players to return to their junior teams, they will take valuable lessons with them.

“I think it’s important,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “I look at some of our young guys — you know, Jake DeBrusk, when I saw him in Buffalo [at the Prospects Challenge] you could see he was trying to really sort things out and he wasn’t himself. [Sunday] night I think I said it, we know he’s got the skill and stuff like that, but my biggest thing was how would he handle the grunt and the grittiness and the physical aspect of the game. Well I thought he did a great job [Sunday] night in that area.”

“Probably because he started to feel a little bit more confident that he can play some of these guys so those are the kinds of things that you have to do as a general manager, as a coach, as a scout, everybody involved is you have got to understand that this is an 18-year-old.”

“[Brandon] Carlo I thought was real good for us — there’s an 18-year-old defenseman I thought that handled himself really well…a lot of those other guys too, [Jakub] Zboril who we still see him moving the puck well but we know he’s going to need some work without the puck and defending.”

“Those are all things you have to envision further than what you see right now, and I think if you’ve got good people in your organization that can do that, you’re patient with your players and you get rewarded at the end.”

Current Bruins appreciate having been through the process years ago. From their first camp to the second one, there is a considerable jump in comfort level, and knowing what to expect from the club.

“I think for a guy to come in here, especially maybe it’s his first time or second camp, and to be on the ice with the likes of Zdeno Chara, Tuukka, Bergy — you go down the list, it’s definitely intimidating,” said Torey Krug. “I think that the guys that do well are the guys that come in here and they just play their game, and they don’t try to do too much, and they don’t look nervous out there.”

“So it’s important to just make sure they’re coming in, they’re being evaluated for doing the things that they do well. And I thinks some guys come in and they’re rough-and-tumble guys, and they try to be skill guys, they try to score goals and it’s maybe not their thing. So just staying within themselves is a big thing, for sure.”

“That’s the best way to make an impact and to be evaluated. [The Bruins] really see the type of player that you are, and also off the ice, seeing what kind of person you are as well is important with the Bruins. They like to bring in good people and quality character, so it’s definitely an important part of it.”

It helps that the young players have leaders to look up to.

"I’ve been able to learn a lot, which has been huge," said the Bruins’ 2015 15th overall pick Senyshyn. "It’s been a very eye-opening experience but again, I’m just trying to soak up as much as possible, and try and take it all in at once, but just play my game as well and kind of be confident in my abilities and being able to help these guys as well."

Towards the end of every practice, a center-ice stretch wraps up the skate. Someone usually gets summoned to the middle of the Spoked-B to lead the stretch. It’s simple, and there’s really not much to it. But to an on-looker, it speaks volumes when veterans like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron decide to have rookies like DeBrusk and Senyshyn join them in the circle.

Little moments like that stick with the rookies.

“I was sitting beside Jimmy Hayes and Max Talbot in the room [pregame] and that was a really cool experience,” DeBrusk said. “Just hearing what they had to say before games, how they prepared, things like that, and just trying to learn as much as possible. It’s been really exciting.”

Senyshyn has experienced similar moments.

Patrice Bergeron has really helped and [Brad] Marchand as well, they have really helped me along,” he said. “And a lot of vets have come up and talked to me. Adam McQuaid’s been a really great guy to me and I really want to thank those guys as much as possible for really making it a comfortable experience for me.”

The veterans think back to when they were in that position, and the older players who helped them along.

Even if Max Talbot is 13 years older than DeBrusk and the other rookies, he makes a point to get to know them and treat them as teammates.

After the first few days of training camp, Talbot was asked by a reporter, ‘Do you think the future of the organization is in good hands?’

“Yes, definitely,” he said. “I think they will develop also with the good core leadership we’ve got. It starts with a guy like Zee, and Bergy and all of the veterans, that we’re there to kind of show the way to develop themselves.”

“And I think they have very good leaders in front of them that they can look up to and just the way to prepare themselves and to come into camp in shape. I think that’s something — that our core leadership is very strong to show them the good way.”

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