NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. Matt Bartkowski knows that he hasnt been able to put his best foot forward at the NHL level.
The Bruins defensemen prospect has made it through the entirety of training camp with Boston in each of the last two years, and actually started the year with the Bs last season when Adam McQuaid fell ill before the season began. Hes played in nine scoreless games with Boston over the last two seasons with a minus-4 rating and four penalty minutes, and has suffered breakdowns in his own zone against bigger, stronger, faster NHL attackers.
The key for him is to improve his skating speed, pay attention to detail in his own end, and factor in the rapid decision-making necessary at the NHL level.
"I just need to prepare myself for what they want me to do and how they want me to play," Bartkowski said. "My goal is to win a spot in Boston when the lockout is over. My stints in Boston have all been short and I havent played as well as I think I can play. I know that.
"I want to show the coaches and certain people that I can play well defensively, and once I do that I think everything else will take care of itself. If I can play hard in the D zone, not get beat, and be hard to play against then Im playing my game."
The 24-year-old also suffered a concussion last season while still managing to put up 22 points in 50 games for Providence, and improving his plusminus rating from minus-7 in his rookie season to even last year. Thats exactly the kind of on-ice performance that Bartkowski is looking to show the watchful eyes of the Bs front office and coaching staff while theyre watching P-Bruins camp.
The Bs staff instructed Bartkowski to watch tapes of defenseman Dennis Seidenberg over the summer and attempt to absorb things from his game particularly in the defensive end while working himself into a capable sixthseventh defenseman. Thats the plan to start, anyway.
The Bs staff told me to watch certain D in Boston and watch how they play not necessarily to emulate them but to learn from them, said Bartkowski. It was Seidenberg mainly. Id love to be as good as him someday, and they think I could develop into that kind of player. As long as I keep progressing and watch him play with his determination, hes solid on every play.
Theres also the issue of greater competition. Bartkowski has been one of the more highly regarded defensemen prospects over each of the last two seasons, but now hes watching as other young defensemen like Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug are rising through the Black and Gold organization.
Bartkowski also knows hes in the last year of his entry-level deal with the Bruins. So its time to show improvement in his game and that hes ready to take the next step after proving hes a capable AHL defenseman.
Its absolutely competition. Hamilton and Krug are really good players and really good defensemen. We have different skill sets and play a different kind of game, so its not the same in that sense, Bartkowski said. But as a sixseven all the way up to whatever its definitely competition. It makes me want to elevate my game and play better.
Bartkowski expects to be invited to the shortened NHL training camp once the lockout is finally over, and that will give him a chance to show he wont become the forgotten man along the Bs blue line anytime soon.