Exelby waiting for a chance to prove himself with Bruins

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Exelby waiting for a chance to prove himself with Bruins

NORTH SMITHFIELD, RI Garnet Exelby is right out of the veteran pro hockey defenseman handbook.

The 31-year-old has 408 games of NHL experience over seven seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers and Toronto Maple Leafs, and established himself in Atlanta as a sturdy, tough blueliner with the ability to drop the gloves when theres a need for some hockey violence.

Hes seen and done everything at this point in his pro career, and that allows him to be a good veteran influence on a decidedly young P-Bruins defenseman corps in need of some graybeard tutelage. Exelby called that paying it forward after current Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins took him under his wing during the defensemans early NHL days in Atlanta.

I love it. Its a great way to see the other side of things. It wasnt that long ago that I had some great mentors and veteran guys that helped me when I was first breaking in, said Exelby. I really used that to my advantage when I was younger. Anything I can do to help I definitely will. Anything thats going to help the team is going to make us look better individually.

My first D partner in the NHL was Dallas Eakins and I played almost exclusively with him for two years. I just sponged up as much as he could tell me. I was very close with Brad McCrimmon, and Brad told me to stick close to Dallas and listen to what he said. It helped me a lot, so I anytime I can pay it forward with a tip or two Im going to do that.

But Exelby also hasnt been an NHL regular since registering 51 games for a bad Toronto Maple Leafs outfit in 2009-10, and has a deep hunger to get back to The Show after a couple of years in the American Hockey League. The 31-year-old knew that the Bruins were down a veteran defenseman when they didnt resign Greg Zanon in free agency, and that pushed him in the direction of Boston and a three-way battle with Aaron Johnson and rookie Dougie Hamilton for that sixth spot among the Bs blueline crew.

I know that a guy like me fits well with this organization, said Exelby. Last year I was in the Detroit Red Wings organization last year and that was exactly the opposite in regard to being a good fit. I know they lost one D-man to free agency, so there were some holes up there where they might need a veteran guy up in Boston.

Thats always a part of the decision-making, but Im always trying to get back to the NHL. Thats my No. 1 priority and No. 1 goal. Ive played most of my career and I just want another shot to get there again.

Clearly the 19-year-old Hamilton has the inside track given his first round cachet and the dominance hes shown at the junior hockey level, but that also leaves a potential extra defenseman role for Johnson who couldnt report to Providence after ending the season on an NHL roster with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Exelby. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder will happily play the role of veteran defenseman on an AHL team full of young talent, and then wait for a chance to show that hes still NHL-caliber when theres an opening in Boston.

It also doesnt hurt that his particular set of hockey skills meshes nicely with the blue collar mantra of the Bruins organization.

The physical part of the game is a big part of my game as well, said Exelby. The Bruins are a big, gritty team with a lot of tough, physical players. Thats exactly how I like to play and how Ive always played.

If that chance opens up for me in Boston to step and prove myself or re-prove myself I am willing and ready.

Meanwhile Exelby will wait out the NHL lockout like all the other members of the Providence Bruins roster and try make a good impression as the Big Bs brass is watching.

Vatrano takes 'step in the right direction' in return to practice

Vatrano takes 'step in the right direction' in return to practice

BRIGHTON, Mass -- The Bruins lost Matt Beleskey for six weeks to a knee injury this week, and now they’re hoping to get another winger back now that 22-year-old Frank Vatrano has rejoined the Bruins at practice.

Vatrano was wearing a red no-contact jersey at Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, but his presence along with the other players at the team skate means that he’s moving closer toward a return to the B’s lineup. While initial timetables for his recovery from foot surgery had him in the early January range for returning to the Bruins lineup, it appears that he might be at least a couple of weeks ahead of that initial expectation.

Either way Vatrano is happy to be back on the ice with his teammates after the torn ligaments in his foot wiped out his training camp and the first two plus months of the regular season for him.

“It was a big step for me today. It was nice to be out there with the guys for the first time,” said Vatrano, who scored a combined 44 goals last season for Providence and Boston in a breakout season with the B’s organization. “I’ve gone through the rehab and done everything I need to do to get back playing, so now the next step is getting back on the ice with the guys. I felt great, so now it’s just waiting to hear the news when I start playing again.”

While Vatrano is still a young, relatively inexperienced player with just one full year of pro hockey under his belt, the sense from the Bruins is that he’s going to help a team that’s currently ranked 25th in the NHL in offense. Claude Julien was encouraged by seeing him out there in the red, no-contact jersey that his teammates were chirping him about, and said that his level play at last spring’s world championships should give him confidence when he jumps back into a big role with the Black and Gold.

“It’s a step in the right direction for Frank. That’s the best way for him to get to the pace of our game because it’s going to take a while when you’ve been out that long,” said Vatrano. “I think his experience at world championships last year is a real blessing in disguise because he gained a lot of confidence there. I think that’s going to help him a lot more than had he not gone.

“He played against a lot of elite players last year, and he fared really well. I think he’ll be coming in now with some confidence, and we just have to sure coming in that we give him every opportunity to succeed by using him properly, and giving him a chance to find his game.”

That certainly sounds like the Bruins are preparing for a top-6 role and maybe some power play time once the young, sharp-shooting Vatrano is back up to full speed. That should be fun to watch once he’s ready to play, and ready to again unleash that shot and release that rivals anybody else for tops on the Bruins roster. 

Spooner on trade rumors: 'I definitely want to play here'

Spooner on trade rumors: 'I definitely want to play here'

BOSTON -- Ryan Spooner has definitely heard the reports out there that he’s being shopped in trade by the Boston Bruins, and he played like a guy that didn’t want to be moved in Monday’s win over the Florida Panthers at TD Garden.

Spooner had his good skating legs, created chances for his teammates and set up the third period goal that got the B’s into overtime when he flipped a shot at the net that was tipped in by David Backes while camped out around the crease. Spooner finished with an assist and a plus-1 rating along with five shot attempts in his 14:24 of ice time, and looked much more like the energized, creative player that was at the heart of some pretty good offensive things last season.

In other words, Spooner looked much more like the talented young player that finished with 13 goals and 49 points last season while centering the third line.

“I think there were five or six games there where I felt I wasn’t playing a bad game. Then six or seven games there where it was hard to get, I guess, the ice time that I wanted,” said Spooner. “At the end of the day, I’ve been a little bit inconsistent.

“I just have to go out there and use my speed and my skill and I found that in the game here. I thought that I did that and I just need to play with that, and I should be fine.”

Multiple sources have indicated to CSN New England that the Bruins are talking about a possible Ryan Spooner deal with multiple teams including the Carolina Hurricanes, San Jose Sharks and New York Islanders. Part of it is certainly the need for the Bruins to collect a bit more goal-scoring as Monday night’s win was just the eighth time in 26 games this season that Boston’s offense has scored more than two goals.

Part of it is also, however, a challenging season for Spooner where he’s been in and out of Claude Julien’s dog house while getting dropped to the fourth line at times, and even being left off the power play a handful of times as well. He’s played out of position at left wing rather than center and has underachieved to three goals and nine points in 25 games largely played with David Krejci and David Backes.

Whatever the history and the number of potential trade scenarios, Spooner said was “fed up” with all of it in his own words as he headed into Monday night’s game, and one thing remained true above all else: He wants to stick around as a member of the Bruins.

“I try to just put it in the back of my mind. When I was 17, I went through the same thing [in junior hockey]. I definitely want to play here,” said Spooner. “I want to help out and that’s kind of where I’m at now. If I play like I did [against the Panthers], I think I’ll be fine. I just want to go out, I want to help out, and that’s kind of where I’m at right now.”

The Black and Gold are looking for a top-6 forward capable of putting the puck in the net on the trade market in any possible deal involving Spooner, but it would seem that the 23-year can control his own destiny in Boston if he starts generating offense and putting the puck in the net. Spooner did just that on Monday night while setting up a third period goal, and lo and behold the Bruins offense posted four goals after struggling to get more than two for most of the season.

That could turn into the kind of trend that keeps Spooner in Boston if he knocks out the inconsistency in his game, and instead steps on the gas pedal and brings the speed and skill that got him to the NHL in the first place.