Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien has spent the past couple of days watching prospects at the team's development camp in Wilmington, Mass. He's delighted at the thought of spending game nights watching Tuukka Rask tend goal for the Eastern Conference champs for the foreseeable future.
"The only thing I'm going to say about Tuukka is I'm really happy he's still with us," Julien told the media Thursday, one day after Rask signed an eight-year contract with the Bruins. "I'm happy to have him with us for all these years.
"He's a really down-to-earth kid, but at the same time, he's got that fire. People say he's got a fire in the belly. He's got that competitive nature in him that makes him want to be a great goaltender all the time."
Though Rask will be Boston's No. 1 goaltender again, the cast in front of him will be different from the one that had the Bruins within two victories of the Stanley Cup. General manager Peter Chiarelli brought in veteran forwards Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla, and youngsters Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith could make the team.
Eriksson came as part of a trade that sent 21-year-old Tyler Seguin, the second player taken in the 2010 draft, to the Dallas Stars.
"To me, trades are part of the scheme," Julien said. "As a coach, you've just got to accept it like the player and move on. I'm going to tell you right now, Tyler Seguin is a good hockey player. He's got an opportunity to be a great hockey player too, but we also got Eriksson, Fraser, Smith, who are good players -- Eriksson being the main guy in that trade -- but I think we've got some good players coming in as well.
"For now, it's about putting that puzzle together where our team is going to continue to be competitive and have a chance at the Cup again."
Eriksson, a two-way player with solid offensive numbers, figures to step in as a right wing on one of the top two lines.
"I've talked to people who know him personally, people who've seen him play more. I'm getting the same feedback you guys are," Julien said. "He's going to be a real good player, a good two-way guy probably a little closer to the [Patrice Bergeron] mold than the guy who is more of a good one-way offensive player.
"He'll produce. He's going to hopefully produce even more with us with the people that he's going to be surrounded with, but he's a great all-around player and that's what our team is built on."
The Bruins tried to bring Iginla to Boston from the Calgary Flames at the NHL Trade Deadline, but he opted to go to the Pittsburgh Penguins -- the team the Bruins swept in the Eastern Conference Final to get to the Cup Final. Iginla, who became a free agent after the season, signed a one-year deal last week, and Julien said there are no hard feelings.
"I said it from the get-go, I don't blame the player," Julien said. "It was his right to make that decision. If we're honest and we look at where both teams were at that time, Pittsburgh was playing so well. We struggled at the end of the year with all these games and that stuff. Did he make the decision based on that? Maybe. And if he did, can you blame him? As much as it was disappointing for us at the time, you have to respect that that guy could make his own decision.
"Right now, we've got a pretty good player who's excited about coming here and that's the main thing."
Rask might not be the only Bruins player to get a long-term contract this summer. Chiarelli has said the Bruins are very close to a contract extension with Bergeron, one of the NHL's best two-way players.
"He's such an elite player for what he does," Julien said of Bergeron, "and I don't know that there's too many guys in this League that does what he does as well as him."
Julien said he is glad to see Chiarelli making deals that will keep the Bruins together for the next few years.
"That core is so important to a team," he said. "A lot of teams make changes along the way, so that's part of the business. You have to be ready for that. But any time you're able to keep that core group of guys together that you feel confident will give you a competitive team every year, it's a bonus.
"I think it's where Peter has done a good job at being able to keep that core together."