Now, for the second straight training camp, a group of defensemen who have been deemed NHL-ready -- nine, this year -- know they will have to compete against one another to prove they deserve to be wearing the Spoked-B come opening night.
According to Kevan Miller, though, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“It breeds competition — healthy competition,” Miller said following Monday’s informal skate at Ristuccia Arena. “I think that brings the best out of guys and certainly will bring the best out of me, and I think it makes our team better. So I think it’s good. Good for the team.”
Last year, Miller had to fight hard for a spot on the Bruins roster. He didn’t quite get there before the end of training camp, but by December — after he had a couple of recalls under his belt — it was clear that he belonged with the big Bruins.
Throughout the second half of the season, Miller emerged as one of the Bruins’ best young D's, and with that emergence came a confidence that he will carry into this year’s camp, set to begin later this week.
“I worked on a number of things over the summer,” Miller said when asked about his mindset heading into 2014 Training Camp. “I always want to get better. You never want to be complacent, so I’m feeling confident coming into camp and ready to get things going.”
Matt Bartkowski is also more than ready to get started on the 2014-15 campaign. The defenseman earned a spot on the roster coming out of last year’s camp, and although he sometimes had to split time with some of his young counterparts, he established himself as a critical component of the Bruins’ blueline by season’s end.
Over the summer, Bartkowski — a restricted free agent — resigned with the Bruins for one year, and with that out of the way, he is excited to put his offseason training to good use and get going once again.
“I’m glad they wanted to sign me, and we could make a deal,” Bartkowski said on Monday. “This is where I want to be. I think we have a chance to win every year, so that’s really all you can ask for.
“It feels like we just left, as always, which is a good thing.”
Though it hasn’t been too long since the Bruins succumbed to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the 2014 playoffs, both Miller and Bartkowski — along with the rest of their teammates — are ready to leave that disappointment behind. Instead, they are looking to leverage last year’s finish into this year’s success by learning from their mistakes and coming back stronger than ever.
“Everybody asks about it during the summer and stuff, so you don’t really think about it,” Bartkowski said. “You don’t want to think about it and have it effect you negatively, but it certainly leaves a bad taste going into this season, which I think is a good thing, and I’m pretty sure everybody in the room has the same feeling on that.”
Miller said that during the offseason, there is plenty of time to mull over what went wrong last year. Now, though, is the time to move on.
“It kind of motivates you during your training and stuff like that, when your season ends sooner than you wanted it to — but there’s got to be a point when you sort of turn the page during the summer and look forward to this season,” he said.
At this point, Boston’s blueline looks very similar to the way it looked at the end of last season, and that is a comfort to both of these young defensemen. They were satisfied with the way the defensive corps responded to adversity last year — the injury bug hit hard in the second half of the season — and now that everyone is back and healthy, they are confident that this team has what it takes to win big.
“We’ve got a great group of guys in here, and everybody looks like they’ve come back in great shape and kind of itching to get back on the ice and get things going,” Miller said. “So I think we’re a competitive group, and it should be a good season.”
There have, of course, been some trade rumors plaguing this team in the offseason, specifically with regards to the blueline. As far as Bartkowski is concerned, though, he and his teammates are better off ignoring the hype.
“It’s not very difficult for me to tune out,” he said. “I don’t really pay attention to the social media stuff, so it’s not difficult for me. At the end of the day, it’s out of your hands, so there’s no reason to worry about it. You just control what you can control.”
One thing he can control: His attitude coming into the 2014-15 campaign. And given what the Bruins have been able to do over the last few seasons he has been here, Bartkowski has reason to be confident that this team can once again make a push to be one of the Eastern Conference leaders.
“Every year I’ve been here, it’s been pretty much the same: You compete every year,” he said. “Just the last few years, we fell a little short, so we just need to keep pushing, keep getting better and maybe just [have] a little more focus.
“There’s just the little things we need to [do to] keep going, and that’s about it.”