By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
WILMINGTON So the million dollar question at the end of development camp is pretty simple.
Do any of the 24 youngsters aged 24 and under some of them way, way under advanced age of camp invitee Brett Olson have a shot at making the Boston Bruins club out of training camp when things get started in September?
Theres been a strong tradition of at least one player surprising each and every season with Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien at the controls of the Black and Gold organization. Four years ago it was Milan Lucic coming straight out of Vancouver Giants as a 19-year-old and hes been a staple in Boston ever since. Three years ago Blake Wheeler jumped right from NCAA hockey into the NHL without even a second of minor league hockey, and that leap might have actually hurt his development a bit in the end.
Two years ago it was Johnny Boychuks turn to impress the Bruins staff and win a job with the Black and Gold, and last season spunky forward Brad Marchand wouldnt take no for an answer when it came to qualifying for the opening day roster in Prague.
Jordan Caron likewise impressed the Bruins enough to crack the opening day roster for Boston even if he wouldnt make it through the entire season, and Ryan Button pushed all the way through training camp until the very last cuts were made.
So it seems as if theres a pattern of at least one young Bs player surprising and seizing a roster spot where it might not have been the original plan.
Chiarelli was a little pessimistic about any of the young crop taking a job away from a Stanley Cup winning squad returning 18 players from the previous seasons championship roster, but stranger things have certainly happened in the game of hockey.
I dont want to kill any dreams that these kids have, but we have a whole other strata of players like the Jamie Arniels, the Jordan Carons, the Matt Bartkowskis. We have a whole level of players that are really close, said Chiarelli. But usually every year theres one or two players that flash. Like last year, Ryan Spooner stayed till the very end.
Now was it realistic that he was going to make it? Probably not, but he played so well that at least we talked about it. So in that sense there probably will be someone that is there and wows you. A player that forces you have to talk about it and think about it.
So who are the players likely to make Chiarelli, Don Sweeney, Jim Benning, Cam Neely, Claude Julien and the rest of the voices talk more about constructing Bostons roster with young talent come September?
There are some prime candidates from this years crop of development camp invitees, though first round pick Dougie Hamilton isnt likely to be one of them. The lanky 6-foot-5 defenseman is about 20 pounds and a year or two away from serious consideration for an NHL roster spot, and thats something pretty clearly understood by management and the player after a pretty solid opening performance in Bs development camp.
But 19-year-old forwards Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner are at the top of the list of players that could surprise if given the opportunity once regular training camp begins in September. Knight has NHL size for a winger at 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds of muscle, and he already skates, hits and shoots like a pro-style players after a couple of years with the OHLs London Knights.
Spooner was asked to get physically stronger after impressing Bs officials last fall throughout training camp, and hes done that while showing dedication and work ethic that Chiarelli, Don Sweeney and the rest of the Bs front office group truly appreciates.
For a guy like Ryan Spooner one of the things we told him at the end of last year, and at development camp and at training camp, was that he had to put the time in to get better, to get stronger, to get bigger, said Chiarelli. And he did. He did do that. All the testing showed that.
Theres still room to improve, but he could tell we take the testing very seriously. Ryan put the time in and you could see it in his play. He had a little more spring in his step with the puck and he had a little more bulk to protect the puck a little bit better. So you see it firsthand.
Knight was good during the development camp and tantalized with his missile of a one-time shot combined with fearless ability when it came to crashing the net and utilizing his NHL-ready body for offensive damage. He was a little more quiet in the two scrimmages once the action quickened up around him, but there is little reason to believe hes going to be anything less than very good once the real Bruins players show up for camp.
Theres no reason why the young guys shouldnt be encouraged," Sweeny said. "Weve had guys emerge out of our camp the first year and play. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has been very consistent that if a young man is ready to play and help his hockey club and help Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien in the areas that we want and weve identified -- then we make room. Blake Wheeler and right down a list of guys that have cracked our club. Knight and Spooner have things that were excited about and have things that they dont have the experience yet playing.
So theyll go through camps, play some exhibition games and see how they continue to react. But theres no reason why each and every one of those guys shouldnt be coming here and saying, I dont have to go back to junior.'
If both Knight and Spooner dont make the Bs, though, they will be going back to junior hockey for next season as 19-year-old prospects unable to play in the American Hockey League. So its Boston or bust for the forwards despite playing three games with the Providence Bruins last season on amateur tryout contracts.
Along the same lines as Spooner and Knight, defensemen Ryan Button and David Warsofsky are right in the mix with Matt Bartkowski and Steve Kampfer as young defensemen capable of impressing for that seventh defensemen post on the Boston roster headed into training camp. Chiarelli was particularly impressed with the way Button played during the second day of scrimmages in the development camp, and he leaves Boston with a pretty good taste in his mouth over the next six weeks.
Its only a temporary taste, however. Button, Warsofsky, Knight, Spooner and the rest of the Baby Bs prospect crew know its going to be an uphill battle to become a member of a Black and Gold tribe thats getting more and more established with each passing hockey season.