WILMINGTON, MA The buzz word of Bruins training camp has to be continuity with five of the six defensemen returning, both goaltenders having logged time with the Black and Gold and 11 returning forwards from last years Northeast Division champion squad.
In fact aside from 19-year-old Dougie Hamiltons ascension into the sixth defensemen spot to round out Bostons backline corps, the only other open position on the Bs roster is that of third line left wing. Chris Kelly signed on to come back as the third line center for the next four years after potting a career-high 20 goals last season, and Rich Peverley provides versatility, speed and the capability of potting 20 himself from the right wing position.
On the left side there was to be an open audition if the Bruins opened with a normal training camp in September, and Jordan Caron was thought to have the inside track on the job. But Caron struggled with only five goals in the entire first half of the AHL season for the Providence Bruins, and came down with an upper body injury that left him unavailable for training camp.
Enter 26-year-old Chris Bourque as the new favorite to crack the Bs lineup against the New York Rangers next weekend as the third line left wing. Hes coming off a season where he led the Hershey Bears with 27 goals and 93 points at the AHL level, and this season he was the leading scorer for Providence with 28 points (8 goals, 20 assists) in 32 games.
The Bruins are bullish enough on Bourque that he even got regular reps with the Bs second power play unit during Mondays practice.
Right now weve got Bourque there, and his skill level and speed are pretty obvious, said Claude Julien. You even saw him working on the power play with us. I really like what hes done for us down in Providence, and the vision that hes got. So were really giving him an opportunity to see if he can blend in with Peverley and Kelly. Right now its an opportunity thats been given and hopefully he takes advantage of it.
Sure youngsters Ryan Spooner and Lane MacDermid are also candidates in the week-long camp, but Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has his eyes on Bourque after netting him from the Washington Capitals this summer in exchange for first round bust Zach Hamill.
The assessment period will probably go beyond this week because of the injury to Jordan Caron, but youve got Chris Bourque. Hes going to be vying for the third line spot, said Chiarelli. He plays a different role in the American League than he does in the NHL, but hes got a terrific shot, he makes good plays in small spaces and hes a left shot.
So hes got some left shot skill that were always looking for. Youve got Lane MacDermid and Daniel Paille as our other left shot wings that may find their way up to that spot. Youve got the ability of Chris Kelly to move over and youve got the ability of Gregory Campbell to play that spot. I dont know if youre going to see all of those options in these six days, but we have a lot of options.
That also gives the Bruins coaching staff options: if theyre looking for a little more offense they go with Bourque and if theyre expecting a throwback Adam Division-style bloodbath then they can tap MacDermid.
Clearly the family pedigree is there as the oldest son of Bs Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, and the 5-foot-8 forward was the best P-Bruins player through the first half of the year while playing every role imaginable for Providence coach Bruce Cassidy.
Bourque has been skating in a gray practice jersey with Kelly and Peverley over the last two days of practice, and is keeping that workmanlike attitude about winning himself a spot in Boston.
In the American League I play on the PK and PP, so Im used to a little bit of everything. When I played in Pittsburgh I was playing the fourth line with grinders mostly against bigger guys where you dont get much ice time, said Bourque. When Im in the American League the only thing I think about is going up the ice and trying to score, and thats what I need to do here.
You need that kind of confidence that you can play in this league. My approach is to grab the opportunity and go with it. Im coming here to make this team and Im trying to make that point every time Im on the ice. Its such a treat to skate with Kelly and Peverley because theyre so good in every zone.
While Bourque speaks with easy eloquence about the pride he talks in wearing the Spoked B after watching his father become a hockey legend in Boston, his teammates have been equally impressed with him in the early going. If things go well with Bourque in his audition and he can show the same kind of player hes been in the AHL, its the kind of third line that boast 20 goal-scoring potential at each forward spot in a normal 82-game regular season.
When you walk in to the Bruins dressing room and your dad is up on there on the wall, thats got to be pretty neat, said Kelly, referencing the row of Bruins Hall of Famers photos that has been added to the home dressing room at TD Garden this season. Its got to be a great thing for Ray, his dad, and obviously for him. But hes grown up with it. This is nothing new to him. Im sure when people see the last name on the Bruins jersey they put two-and-two together.
For the first few days hes handled it well, and if he plays with Rich and I then well be lucky to play with him. He shoots the puck well. I noticed that the very first day. He skates well and you look at his points in the past: hes an offensive guy. I think Rich and I are pretty easy to play with and we do a good job of talking out there. Communication is a big thing when youre playing with somebody new.
No matter who it is that gets the third line gig Kelly and Peverley will be playing with somebody new, but the Bruins appear to banking on a Bourque portraying the home ice in Boston once again.