Every attendee knows there are open spots. Every attendee also knows that there are far more hopefuls than there are roster openings.
Last year, Matt Fraser found himself in a similar situation. Back then, he was the new kid, having just arrived via trade from Dallas, and back then, he found himself vying for an open third-line spot that eventually went to Reilly Smith.
This year, Fraser is determined to be the one who is called upon when all is said and done at the end of training camp. And he got off to a good start during his first official preseason game on Wednesday night, a 3-2 loss at Montreal.
Skating with first-line center David Krejci, Fraser took a picture-perfect feed from the right circle on the power play and turned it into a 2-0 advantage, victimizing Habs goaltender Dustin Tokarski.
“Krech made a great play there, and there's not a lot of time in these games,” Fraser said after the game. “You've got to get the puck away as quickly as you can, look for the openings and you've got to make a good shot and try and catch the goalie off guard.
“I think most games and most practices, you're just kind of used to getting back on the ice and used to getting hit again, and I think [Wednesday] was a step forward for myself. The outcome wasn't what we wanted, and there's definitely stuff to work on, but overall, I thought I did more for myself than not. But at the end of the day, you've still got lots to work on.”
While Fraser might have downplayed his heroics, his veteran linemate did no such thing.
“He's got a gift, you know?” Krejci said with a smile. “He's a perfect shooter. He can shoot the puck really well. We can see it in practices and he's done it in the AHL for so many years. He made a great shot, so hopefully he'll be burying those more often and he'll stick around. He's going to have, I think, a pretty successful career.”
Fraser has spent the bulk of the last three seasons in the AHL, and while there, he has established himself as nothing short of a prolific goal-scorer. In 179 games, he totaled 90 goals, tacking on another five in 14 postseason contests.
Of course, nobody will forget the most notable goal of his young career: the overtime game-winner in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last May at the Bell Centre.
Nobody except Fraser, that is.
"It was something neat, it was something exciting, and I'll never forget it," Fraser said earlier this month. "But at the same time, the books are closed on last year. I'm moving on from it. I'm taking what I can learn from it, and what I can gain from it, and moving forward."
Fraser, right now, is locked in. He could still be riding high from last year’s postseason heroics, but he chooses not to be. Where would that get him right now?
The reality of Fraser’s current situation is this: There are a couple open spots up front in the Bruins’ lineup, and he is surrounded by players eager to claim them. Each of those players has stood out at one point or another in the past, but at this stage, that means nothing. If they want to be wearing Black & Gold at TD Garden on October 8, these prospects have to stand out night in and night out, and they have to keep doing it consistently for the next couple of weeks.
Fraser expects more than consistency from himself. At times, it seems that he expects perfection, even in his first preseason game playing with brand-new linemates in Krejci and Loui Eriksson.
“You almost grip your stick so tight that you forget how to play the rest of the game,” he said in Montreal. “You know, it's nice to kind of get [the first goal] out of the way early in preseason and kind of get the ball rolling and generate a little chemistry with Krech and Loui, but at the end of the day, we lost a game and the puck was on my stick at the end there, and I didn't score. Those are things that I pride myself on, and you learn from it, and move forward.”
For Fraser, everything is a learning experience. Last year’s postseason heroics were a learning experience. So was Wednesday’s preseason loss. There is a lesson to be learned every day he steps foot on the ice, and each day, Fraser seems to be internalizing those lessons with the laser-sharp focus of a straight-A student.
Those around him have certainly taken notice.
“Fraser competed hard, and [it was] nice to see him play that way,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien following Wednesday’s loss at Montreal. “That's basically our identity, and we need to be a little harder up front as a team, so those are the kinds of things you like to see from young players.”
Added B’s forward Brad Marchand, “He's definitely one of the hardest shots out here, and he's scored a lot of goals in practice and he gets it off quick. So it's something you really notice when you're watching him.”
Nobody has noticed that shot more than Krejci.
“He kind of made it easy for me,” Krejci said. “I just gave him the puck, he got open and he knows how to do it. He’s a shooter, and those type of players — they find themselves in open areas. And for the players that play with him, it's pretty easy to give him the puck.”
That kind of high praise is doubtlessly nice to hear, especially for a 24-year-old trying to find a spot as a full-time NHLer — but to focus on the praise would interfere with Fraser’s sole objective at this camp.
“Everyone knows what's going on with this team right now, and you've got to take advantage, because these opportunities don't come very often,” he said. “You don't want to be sitting back in 10 or 15 years when you're retired and whatever it may be, and realize that that was your chance and you passed it up.”