Torey Krug, however, is not in the middle of it — not in the traditional sense, at least. Nobody’s spot on this roster is guaranteed, but over the last two-plus seasons, Krug’s hockey sense, offensive touch and speed have proven critical to Boston’s success on the back end.
He isn’t necessarily battling anyone else for a spot on the roster. But even so, he still finds himself constantly trying to prove his worth.
“Other teams circle my name on the board and say, ‘Let’s take advantage of this guy,’” Krug said following Monday’s first on-ice training camp session at TD Garden. “Those are all challenges that fuel my motivation, and I’ll be able to use that and keep going. I’ve always done it to this point; there’s no reason that’s going to change.”
That — in addition to what he does on the ice — is what makes Krug so valuable to the Bruins. He gets it. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, but it fuels him rather than distracts him. He understands the importance of character, how it can affect who you are on the ice as well as off. He has the kind of work ethic Boston’s coaching staff wants to see in all of its young players.
And Krug takes that part of his game seriously. It matters to him.
“Off the ice, seeing what kind of person you are is important with the Bruins,” Krug said. “They like to bring in good people and quality character, so it’s definitely an important part of it.”
As he enters his third full season with the Bruins, Krug is ready for an increased role. That role doesn’t have to be dictated by the minutes he plays or the guy he pairs with.
Still, the fact that Krug continues to want more — more minutes, more responsibility — impresses his coach.
“He’s getting better every year, and for him to want to be a top-four [defenseman] is great to hear,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “It shows that the guy has got some ambitions, and he’s not just satisfied with what he’s got or where he is.
“For me, a top four is, I guess, just a number; I think it’s more about minutes played. So whether he plays on the third pair but he ends up at the end of the night with 20 minutes, I think that’s top-four minutes. Right now, I’ve seen a guy in camp that’s skating well and has got great confidence and [is] in great shape, but we’ll see where that goes.”
Krug’s role will also be dictated by the impact he has on the ice in game situations, and given the recent offensive-minded tweaks the coaching staff has made to the defensive approach, he knows his impact can be huge.
“It’s something that, on an individual level, I’ve been trying to do ever since I’ve been here — to join the rush at the right times, to be part of the breakout,” he said. “Any time you’re breaking the puck out and playing with the puck, it means you’re not playing defense, so that’s the way that I like to play the game, and I think it definitely falls right into my style.
“We’ve been called a defensive team that doesn’t like to take chances offensively, so we’re trying to change that. If you look at the teams that played in the [Stanley Cup] Finals last year, everybody’s trying to mimic each other in the way that we play. I think Chicago is a great team that’s had a lot of success, and you look at the way that their D plays — it’s about imitating that and adding a little flavor to it because we have some pieces in here that are very valuable on the D side of things.”
Scoring touch aside, there is another big reason Krug is expected to take on a more prominent role on the blueline this season. During the summer, there were personnel changes in Boston. Dougie Hamilton will no longer anchor this defensive corps alongside Zdeno Chara. Someone needs to step in and fill his void.
But in Krug’s eyes, no single player can do that. Instead, the blueline will work as a team to compensate for the loss of one of its top two defensemen.
“[Hamilton] could grind out those tough minutes,” Krug said. “I’m not just going to step in there and play all those minutes; it’s going to be a combination of guys — [Kevan Miller] is going to step up, [Adam McQuaid]…you can go down the list. We’re going to fill that hole by committee.
“[Hamilton] was a very important player to our team, but by no means does that mean we’re going to take a step back. It means that the guys that are coming in are going to take advantage of those opportunities, and we’re going to take another step forward and we’re going to grow as a D core, for sure.”
Teamwork is the philosophy at the center of Krug’s game. It is evident in the way he carries himself, the things he says, the way he plays on the ice, the way he interacts with his teammates off it.
It only stands to reason that teamwork would serve as the centerpiece of his approach following an offseason of change.
“When we fail like we did last year, there’s going to be those changes,” Krug said. “It’s going to happen. It’s up to us to make sure we go out and we respond to those changes. Otherwise, the seat that we’re in won’t be there for much longer, anyway. So we’ll see how this group responds. I think we have a great leadership group, and the players are used to winning hockey games, and I think we’ll go out there and take care of business.”
Smith Posts Strong First Outing
Sunday night’s preseason opener — a 2-0 shutout of New Jersey — was a resounding success for both of Boston’s goaltenders.
Together, Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith kept the Devils off the board despite a scrambly start, a total of eight penalties and plenty of chippiness, particularly around the net.
Both goalies needed to perform like they did. There are seven net minders at Boston’s training camp competing for one spot on the roster, and none of those players is looking to give the coaching staff an excuse to count him out.
“I think I played well,” Smith said on Monday. “It was good to get in the first game and get it under my belt, and I felt comfortable.”
Comfort was not a given for Smith on Sunday night: He replaced Gustavsson midway through the second period, entering the game at the tail end of a penalty kill with Boston clinging to a slim lead.
Though it is not necessarily be ideal to enter the game at the 30-minute mark, Smith said it is something he must prove he can do, particularly if he enters this season as a backup goalie.
“It is a little different to come in as opposed to starting, but it’s something that you have to learn to handle because there’s going to be times where the starting goalie does go down and you do need to go in,” he said. “If the team is in the lead, you need to get that win — those two points are huge. So it is nice to start, but it’s good to get that practice to come in late in the game.”
Gustavsson might have set the tone with his poise, but Smith perpetuated it until the final horn sounded.
“[Gustavsson] played really well, but my mindset coming in was, we’re up 1-0, and I want to keep the lead,” Smith said. “I don’t want to get in there, lose momentum. I think the team was playing well. I think early on, we were kind of stuck in the mud, but after that, we got out of it, and we played well, so I wanted to keep the momentum going.”
Good First Impression for Miller
All it took was a hip check.
Colin Miller was impressive during Boston’s win over New Jersey in Sunday’s preseason opener. He showed off his record-breaking, award-winning shot. He teamed up with AHL veteran Tommy Cross to provide stability and defensive awareness on the blueline.
But it was his second period hip check on Colton White that garnered the most attention.
“It’s fun if it works, but if you miss him, you’re kind of in trouble,” Miller said with a smile. “So no, I just tried to get him there, and it worked out for me.”
Perhaps more impressive than the hit, though, was his shot. Miller — who arrived in Boston via trade on the day of the 2015 NHL Draft — had a few opportunities to let it rip, particularly on the power play. It was easy to see why he set a record for the hardest shot competition at last year’s AHL skills competition.
“I was able to get it off a couple of times there — I got a block there once or twice,” he said. “But like I’ve said so many times, it’s just kind of about getting it through, keeping it low and trying to let the forwards get around that net and bang it in.”
Wherever he ends up at the end of this training camp, that shot figures to be a valuable asset, not only on the man advantage.
And given the recent adjustments to Boston’s defensive system, that shot figures to be even more lethal.
“Hopefully, I can help out that way,” he said. “Last year in Manchester, we were very active leading the D up the ice and having that fourth guy in kind of trying to have him join the play, so I’m pretty used to it in that sense. But I’m obviously going to try and bring that to the table.”
And wherever he ends up, he will be OK with it. Miller is sticking with a tried and true approach at this year’s camp: Don’t try to do too much and stay confident.
“You have to play loose, you have to play calm,” he said. “But there is a lot of competition. There’s a lot of great defensemen on this team and in this organization, so like I said before, just try to keep it simple, just trying to play my game and hope that I have a good camp.”
Monday’s Practice Lineups
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — David Pastrnak
Matt Beleskey — David Krejci — Loui Eriksson
Anton Blidh — Chris Kelly — Zach Senyshyn
Frank Vatrano / Colby Cave — Austin Czarnik — Brian Ferlin
Zdeno Chara — Adam McQuaid
Torey Krug — Kevan Miller
Joe Morrow — Chris Casto
Linus Arnesson — Ben Youds
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Malcolm Subban
Jimmy Hayes — Ryan Spooner — Brett Connolly
Zac Rinaldo — Ben Sexton — Tyler Randell
Jake DeBrusk — Alex Khokhlachev — Justin Hickman/Andrew Cherniwchan
Brandon DeFazio — Joonas Kemppainen — Max Talbot
Anthony Camara — Noel Acciari — Zack Phillips
Tommy Cross — Colin Miller
Matt Irwin — Brandon Carlo
Jakub Zboril — Zach Trotman
Jeremy Lauzon — Chris Breen
Goalies: Zane McIntyre, Jonas Gustavsson, Jeremy Smith
Forwards: Colton Hargrove, Eric Neiley, Jesse Gabrielle
Defensemen: Max Everson, Frankie Simonelli, Max Iafrate
Goalies: Dan Vladar, Matt Ginn