By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON -- It wasnt how Matt Bartkowski wanted it to go down.
But it certainly looks like the young defenseman will be cracking the Bruins Opening Day roster this time around.
The Bruins were cautiously optimistic about the left knee injury suffered by Steve Kampfer in the third period of their 2-1 loss in the preseason home finale at TD Garden, but the young defenseman is headed for an MRI on Friday morning. Kampfer collided with Ottawa defenseman Jared Cowen in the Senators defensive zone, and did an awkward split on the ice before going down in a heap. Kampfer needed to helped off the ice and never returned to the game with an injury that looked fairly substantial to an eye without any medical training.
Kampfer's knee is the Bruins' first significant injury of the year after enjoying relative health throughout the regular season and playoffs last year. Coach Claude Julien wasnt ready to make any definitive announcements, but things certainly appear to be trending in one direction.
I dont know if Kampfers injury settles the roster battle. Well find out Friday how severe it is, said Julien. Is Kampfer going to be out two months or is he only going to be a few weeks? If he is only out for two weeks, then it can still be a battle going on there.
Credit Julien for walking on the sunny side of the street, but the requirement of an MRI is usually not a good sign.
Its also a shame considering that Kampfer was playing some of his best hockey over the last few preseason contests, and appeared poised to wrap up the roster skirmish for the last defensemen spot out of training camp.
But injuries are certainly a part of hockey, and now Bartkowski may get a chance to get a little more comfortable with the considerable pace and speed of the NHL game. The rapidity of game action seems to leave Bartkowski behind at times, but the young defenseman has had some excellent moments in the preseason against Ottawa and Montreal in particular.
Bartkowski is bigger, stronger and sounder defensively than Kampfer, while also flashing some good vision from the point position, but his puck-moving skills and speed are going to be a work in progress. The only way to improve will be exposure to game action, and that may be limited given the very definition of a seventh defensemen role on a playoff team with six established defensemen.
Two defensemen with disparate skills and strengths, but individuals that can also contribute to the Bs this season when its all said and done.
Bartkowski and Kampfer were both pretty good, said Julien. I thought Kampfer was having a real good night skating and moving the puck, and Bart is still there. There are some things that I think he has to continue to work on.
Hes got good size and hes a solid skater, but every once in a while he gets caught with maybe not moving the puck quickly enough. Those are just little things that he has to continue to work on but having said that I like both their games.
Normally a young player would be ecstatic at a break that opened things up for a NHL job, but Bartkowski knew his shot was likely coming at the expense of another young defenseman hes grown close to over the last couple of years.
Ill be ready if that time does come, but its definitely not the way you want it to happen. You dont want to get an opportunity because another guy is hurt, said Bartkowski, who has a pair of assists in four preseason games. I mean, thats the way it works, but its not like Ill take it anyway I can. But Ill definitely be ready when it happens.
So Bartkowski will likely get the shot with the Bs as a seventh defenseman that he never received last year. Bartkowski looked like he would be that guy while making it all the way to the European trip with the rest of the Bs through Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic, but the blueliner turned into the final camp cut before the regular season.
Then Kampfer passed by him during the season, and Bartkowski appeared in only a handful of games during the regular season before a playoff stint as one of the Black Aces.
Theres no doubting it was a big camp for Bartkowski after growing exponentially as a player, and now the opportunity has been set out in front of him.
The goal is to make the team, so getting to the last round of cuts, said the 6-foot-1, 196-pound Bartkowski. "Its a big step, so its very important. So its good so far. Every second you get more comfortable with this level. Even practicing in the playoffs helps a little bit. Now going through this camp it definitely helps a lot.
Its unfair and its a bit harsh, but injuries happen in professional sports and when they do it usually pries open the door for somebody else to have an opportunity.
A knee injury might just be giving Bartkowski the chance hes worked diligently to earn, and now its on the 23-year-old to make the most of it.