SASKATOON – Following a seven game preseason that featured the Bruins posting a 6-1 record and some fearsome roster battles, the B’s management and coaching staff should be ready to present a 23-man roster on Saturday.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said following Boston’s 5-0 win over the Jets at the Credit Union Centre that the Bruins were planning to have 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders for their Oct. 1 roster. That would mean all of the current defensemen – including former UVM blueliner Kevan Miller – would be on the B’s roster at the end of training camp, and that the Bruins will decide between Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner, Nick Johnson and Matt Fraser for a highly sought spare forward position.
Both Johnson and Caron potted goals in the Friday night preseason finale in Saskatoon, and it would seem they are the favorites to crack the final roster. Caron provides a big body that’s solid in all zones, can kill penalties and knows how to play Claude Julien’s system to a ‘T.’
Johnson led all Bruins players with four goals during the preseason, is a little more dynamic in the skating and skill department than Caron and showed more veteran grit in the preseason as a 27-year-old player that’s logged more than 100 games of NHL experience.
Chiarelli said all of those things will factor into the final roster decisions, and warned that the decisions were still fluid in his mind.
“We’ll probably get down to our team tonight, and talk to the guys on the plane [back from Saskatoon],” said Chiarelli. “We’re probably going to start with 23 players.”
What we do know about the roster: Carl Soderberg, Chris Kelly and Reilly Smith will be Boston’s third line to start this season, and 20-year-old Dougie Hamilton will stick with the NHL club to start the season.
“The third line looks how I envisioned it, and it’s nice to see the chemistry they were able to develop,” said Chiarelli.
It’s more than likely Chad Johnson will start the season as Tuukka Rask’s backup while Niklas Svedberg continues his development in Providence after a dominant training camp.
There may be a “paper transaction” move where Hamilton or Matt Bartkowski is sent to Providence in order to become cap compliant prior to Oct. 1. But both players will be with the B’s to start the season once Marc Savard’s $4.1 million cap hit is placed on long term injured reserve.
With the top 12 forwards set in stone and Boston committed to eight defensemen on their NHL roster, Johnson and Caron’s roster competition becomes the only real point of interest over the next few days.
“With the thirteenth forward there has to be some versatility. It’s a tough decision because there are three or four guys that have had good camps,” said Chiarelli. “I know you’ve been focusing on Johnson and Caron, and they both played well.
“They need to play defense responsibly, and they both do that. They need size, and they both have that. In experience one has more than the other, and the style of play is a little different. It’s going to be tough. That player doesn’t play often, but with injuries they’ll have to get in there. Versatility [is the key factor] first and foremost.”
Johnson won over his teammates when he stood up against a Capitals player taking liberties with Adam McQuaid, and did an excellent job of showing his potential.
“We’ve had a lot of games,” said Johnson. “I had a good time. Overall it’s gone well. It’s a new team for me, so I did what I could. I just tried to play and do what I could do. As you grow up in your professional career, you always realize that [coaches and management] are watching you. So you never really remove yourself from that in your career.”
In fact Johnson flourished in that environment with his new team while Caron slowly improved through camp while throwing around his body, and he finally shoveled a puck past Al Montoya for his first preseason goal in the second period. It wasn’t a highlight reel score, but Caron was directly in front of the net willing to pay the price to get to the loose puck. The former B’s first round pick did everything he could from an effort perspective while the results lagged behind, but started to feel the urgency toward the end of camp.
“The last few games I feel like I really stepped up and played pretty good,” said Caron. “I’m feeling more confident and we’ll go from there. I think they know that I want this and that I’ve been working really hard for three years now.
This is my fourth and I just hope the chips will fall into place. I’m just working really hard, trying to be good on the fore-check and have a good stick while I’m creating battles down there. That’s my game and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
One thing that might just save Caron is the fact the Bruins could lose him for nothing on waivers if they send him down to the AHL, and that would less than ideal asset management for a first round pick talent.
But at the end of the day Chiarelli and Co. have to make the choices that are best for winning hockey games, and they’ll do that in announcing their final roster cuts on Saturday morning with training camp now over.