Iginla, Eriksson make presence felt early in camp

Iginla, Eriksson make presence felt early in camp
September 12, 2013, 9:30 am
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Day One is in the books for the 2013-14 Boston Bruins, and the new faces have passed their first Black and Gold initiation test.

It didn’t involve a pop quiz about the dearly departed Pooh Bear jerseys, or Claude Julien’s favorite brand of coffee.  

It was the easiest one, of course. It involved 300 meter shuttle runs and conditioning tests on an exercise bike, and then convincing the assembled media they are damned glad to be in Boston. There will be hairier tests that will push the leadership, toughness and commitment of Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson, but both individuals have proven in the past that they’re up to those kinds of challenges.

“It’s actually a privilege and an honor to have these guys. They’re experienced. They’re great players and great personalities. We’re all looking forward to getting to know them better,” said B’s captain Zdeno Chara, acting as the Black and Gold welcoming committee. “Having players of that caliber can always help spread the leadership in the room, and that’s always been the case.

"This is not a one-man show. We’ve always treated this as a leadership group, and always made decisions together. Then those decisions are stronger, and more direct. To have players that have already served [as a team captain] and are leaders can only help.”

Bringing the 27-year-old Eriksson and 36-year-old Iginla into the Bruins fold may take some transition time, but they should be perfect fits. The B’s weren’t on the ice Wednesday morning, but they announced their practice groups including Eriksson in with Patrice Bergeron and Marchand, and Iginla in with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. The Swedish import by way of Dallas will slide into Tyler Seguin’s spot alongside Bergeron and Marchand, and his heady two-way style of play should be a perfect compliment to Boston’s dynamic duo.

Similarly, Iginla is a big, strong, skilled right wing with a deadly shot that boasts many of the same qualities as Nathan Horton did for three years in Boston, but the future Hall of Famer brings them in a much more consistent package.

That’s actually the name of the game in the acquisitions of both Iginla and Eriksson: consistency. Whereas Horton would disappear for long stretches during the regular season despite his playoff feats of strength, Iginla has posted 30-plus goals in each of his last 12 full regular seasons.

Seguin was fast, skilled and explosive, but never put it all together like the Bruins expected from the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Eriksson isn’t flashy and won’t wow anybody with his physical skills, but he plays a smart, productive and consistently mature brand of hockey.

There won’t be long learning curves for either Iginla or Eriksson, and that’s exactly what the Bruins are looking for with the 3-4 years of elite play they can squeeze out of Zdeno Chara. Those 3-4 years represent the window the Bruins organization has to compete for Stanley Cups before they need to reshuffle the decks, so making moves to compete in the short term is exactly what Boston needed to accomplish.

“We’re going to have to prove it again,” said Chara, when asked if he thinks the Bruins can improve on a season that saw them fall just two wins short of another Stanley Cup. “It’s not going to be said before the season starts, ‘Okay, the Boston Bruins are going to be in the Stanley Cup Final again.’ We’re going to have to prove it, and we’re going to have to deserve it.”

Beyond the on-ice qualities of both players, the leadership component is another underrated aspect to Iginla’s addition to the Bruins.

The longtime Calgary Flames captain was relieved he won’t have to wear the ‘C’ in Boston. Clearly that’s Zdeno Chara’s job, and the big defenseman proved his mettle while leading his hockey club to Cup glory three years ago. But the addition of Iginla’s veteran hockey mind and All-Star studded resume brings another respected voice to the Bruins dressing room.

That is something Boston can always utilize given the strong personalities in the Black and Gold dressing room.

“I have been fortunate to be a captain for the Flames organization for some years,” said Iginla. “But it’s kind of fun to come in and just . . . when you’re the captain sometimes the beginning of the year you’re trying to make sure guys are comfortable, see where they’re at and meet with the coaching staff to go over the schedule.

“There are none of those pressures [in Boston]. I can just kind of come in and enjoy it here. I want to just come in and be a part of it. There is obviously great leadership here, and they’ve already proven that. I don’t think it will be a weird, or a different situation. I just plan on being myself. It’s a balance. I don’t want to just be a fly on the wall. I want to be a part of it. But the biggest thing is playing hard, and just wanting to compete.”

The Bruins never really replaced Mark Recchi’s leadership once he rode off into the sunset on top of the hockey world, and there is now very clearly a leadership voice void in the B’s dressing room with the departure of Andrew Ference. None of this is to say that the Bruins will slap an ‘A’ on Iginla’s sweater right off the bat, of course.

But another stabilizing force could be a good thing for a B’s dressing room that had its share of discord last season before pulling it all together in the end.

“I say it often, ‘you don’t need a letter to be a leader.’ There are a lot more leaders in that locker room than you see with letters on their jerseys,” said Claude Julien. “When it comes time to meeting with players as a core group, there are more than just a captain and three assistants, which we had last year.

“There are a lot more than that. The same goes for, as you said, Loui [Eriksson], and obviously Iggy [Jarome Iginla] being a captain for so many years. I’m sure when you get to a certain stage in your career, you don’t really care about that. It might excite certain players; other players don’t care. It doesn’t stop them from doing their jobs.”

Nothing should stop the Bruins from doing their jobs, but some things can make the task of winning much easier. Watching Iginla and Eriksson show up and conduct themselves in a professional manner on the first day of B’s training camp is a positive sign that better things lie dead ahead.

Watching them on the ice starting Thursday should make it a certainty.