By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
With 27 players remaining in Bruins camp, many items have been cleared up when it comes to this years prospective hockey club.
Line combinations, positional battles and job openings are out there for everybody to see, and everyone from baby-faced 20-year-old Jordan Caron to 35-year-old Chris Clark are approaching the last week of camp like its an employment opportunity. With 17 players returning from last years Stanley Cup champion club, the roster battles are few but no less fierce.
Several NHL jobs are on the line given that the Bruins will be able to carry extra forwards and defensemen thanks to their spacious cap situation, and Claude Julien has felt that competitive upswing in camp.
I think it gets pretty obvious at the end who you're battling against for the most part. At the same time it's good competition, said Julien. I dont mind that at all. That doesn't mean that those guys are only fighting for open spots.
They can be taking somebody else's spot if we feel that they're a step ahead of them. We got a chance to see some of those guys in the next couple of games, and hopefully they'll make our decisions as hard as possible.
While its nice in theory that the incumbent Bs are battling for jobs and its always possible if the Bruins decide to trade some of their veterans, its also unlikely any of the nucleus would be jettisoned this early in the process.
So its about a pair of coveted reserve battles that are being waged within the Bruins.
Clark has certainly been to the NHL roster witching hour before as training camp cuts become the cruelest. He understands that its now all about business on the ice, and securing a job.
I was a young guy once that was taking a job away from an older guy, so you know that there is always that competition there whenever youre in camp. You know that young guys are looking to come in and earn that spot, said Clark, who scored the game-winner Monday night against the Habs. The important thing for me has always been to avoid doing things outside of your normal game, and to make sure you dont leave anything on the ice when you do get the chance to show your stuff.
The battle for the 13th forward spot is seemingly an even playing field between Caron and Clark with the Bs head coach admitting the Bruins want to take their time evaluating Benoit Pouliot after an average training camp. So it looks like Pouliot is safe when it comes to final cut day.
Caron has been in the mix up and down the Bs lineup over the last two weeks. The former first round pick has excelled in checking line roles and top line chances, and that versatility in varied spots may end up being the saving grace that gets him on the roster.
There is, however, also the simple fact Caron has options and can be sent to Providence to start the season without any waivers being involved.
The Bruins could then call up the 20-year-old as they see fit once injuries or a trade comes down the pipeline.
Clark has also been quite effective in training camp for the Bs, has played back-to-back games while retaining his gritty effectiveness and has meshed well on ice with his teammates with impressive production. There were health concerns about Clark coming into camp after a lot of hard miles logged in the NHL, but it looks like hes addressed all of those thus far. All that being said, it sounded Wednesday morning like Caron had the inside track on a roster spot with the Bruins with two games to go.
So far Caron has shown he's capable of skating -- even on the top line -- with some skill and speed," Julien said. "I think he's done a great job. I like the way he's gotten to the corners, and used his strength and his body to come out of there with the puck. He's done a great job in front of the net, he's had a lot of great opportunities as well shot-wise and stuff like that.
He's doing a lot of things that has really put him in a real good position. I think right now he's got his foot in the door more than he's got the other one out.
The defensemen spot is a little more difficult to handicap. Steve Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski are the last men standing for the extra blueliner post, and both were the last men standing for the seventh spot last year as well.
Kampfer started out a bit slowly this season, but had a pair of strong games against the Montreal Canadiens over the weekend while Bartkowski has been a steady Eddie throughout training camp.
Julien was asked a question about Bartkowski potentially being in Providence to start the year, and practically bristled at the query after such a strong camp despite six established defensemen ahead of both blueline youngsters.
I think Bartkowski is as good a candidate as anybody else at staying here, said Julien. Right now, there are a couple of guys that are there that are pretty even and each bring a certain element we like. So now it's a matter of them battling for that spot. It's pretty obvious that both those guys were on our radar last year. Either they were call-ups or they were there for part of the season. It's that same battle that happened last year.
Bartkowski is bigger, stronger and looked incredibly poised when the Bruins slotted him into a point position on the power play earlier in camp while Kampfer has flashed the skill set that allowed to play 38 NHL games last year: good skating speed, quick decision-making with the puck and a feisty approach despite his small-ish size for an NHL blueliner.
The first couple of games I dont personally think I could have played as well as I could have," Kampfer said. "But Ive played better and better, and the confidence has been coming back now. Its always competitive. We have a lot of depth and a lot of guys playing well. If you keep playing the right way then you force the Bs front office to do something.
So you just want to keep playing that way," he added. "Its a new year and a new team. I know Ive got to earn my spot and get better every day. It definitely feels like guys are getting ready for the season and want to make an impact on the team. You definitely want to make sure youre in the lineup, and if not then that youre ready to go when things happen."
It may in the end come down to which type of defenseman the Bruins feel they need more as their extra skater.
While Bartkowski was the final player cut from Bs training camp last season, it was Kampfer that ended up making the larger contribution to the team once things got going in the season.
So its easy to see that scenario playing out once again this season.
Advantage: Bartkowski. But its a race thats too close to call right now with many precincts still yet report and two exhibition games left.