By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
WILMINGTON Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner both got a taste of the professional hockey ranks when they hooked on with the AHLs Providence Bruins at the end of last season and to say they liked it would be an understatement.
The two 2010 second-round picks might always be viewed as intertwining players, given that they were born two weeks apart in January 1992, were selected by the Bruins, and each opened eyes among Bs talent evaluators during last years training camp.
Knight is a great player and its a lot of fun playing with him," said Spooner. "I thought I had a pretty good camp. I was only 18 years old, I was a little nervous and I didnt know quite what to expect. I just came in and tried to do my best, and Im just trying to be even better to build on last year. Physically I think Im stronger and confidence-wise I feel a lot more comfortable and relaxed.
Both players took to the pro experience. The speedy Spooner finished with a pair of goals in three games, and Knight showed off the physicality and pure shot that allowed him to be a 30-goal scorer in the OHL for the London Knights. But they also had their welcome to the AHL moments in very different ways.
I was playing on a line with a guy that had a full beard and two kids at home, cracked Knight with a smile. Thats when I knew I wasnt playing in the OHL any more.
For Spooner it was a bit earlier last season when he experienced his indoctrination to pro hockey. The youngster got the nod to play a preseason game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre last September, and remembered how quickly Dennis Seidenberg pivoted around the back of the net and flipped a pass ahead to him.
Spooner wasnt expecting the puck so quickly, but soon realized thats the kind of play that separates an NHL defenseman from the young blueliners patrolling for the Windsor Spitfires or the Kitchener Rangers.
Last year I remember playing an exhibition game against Montreal and I curled back to the blue line with the puck in our end. I remember Seidenberg made a pass from behind our net in just like one second . . . he didnt even hesitate at all. I got a pass right up the middle. Obviously sometimes you get those passes in juniors, but if you just get open guys will get the puck onto your stick.
Guys are so much bigger and faster, and basically the game is totally different. But I really enjoyed it. It made me push myself even harder and I really enjoyed that.
Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney said the organization will be working closely with the duo on different parts of their games but there is little question that both forwards factor heavily into Boston's future. Part of the thinking in allowing Michael Ryder to walk away via free agency might have been that perhaps Knight or Spooner might be ready to fill that kind of offensive role at some point during the upcoming season.
Both those players have matured, first and foremost. Theyre a year older, but professionally . . . Ive talked to Spooner numerous times during the course of the development role that I play in some areas away from the ice as well as on the ice, said Sweeney. But most importantly away from the ice, and the challenges that the professional ranks will present to him.
Jareds a little more ready-made in terms of his physical stature and what hes going to be as a physical player. The cerebral part of the game for him is something were going to continue to work upon. I think we did that in Providence when they got a snapshot. Got to give those two kids a lot of credit, they came in last year in Providence. Theyre not signed yet, but they wanted to play. We indicated to them theyre a big part of our group going forward, but there are not a lot of players that necessarily do that. Theres a bit of an inherited risk there, obviously. Thats the type of players were trying to identify as part of this organization and thats a big part of why we won this year.
Remember the names Knight and Spooner because you could be hearing a lot about them as soon as this season if things go stunningly right for the pair of 19-year-old blue chip prospects.
The Bruins are looking to get that ideal AHL mix of grizzled veterans capable of filling in if injuries hit the big club during the season, and younger guys traveling along the Bs development path.
The next step of that development path begins for some of the younger players with development camp, which commenced on Thursday. But there are also a grounded stable of veterans expected to play in Providence that provide the Black and Gold with some of the veteran leadership theyre constantly seeking in the room.
Trent Whitfield has enjoyed brief stints with the Bs over the last two seasons, and logged serious miles as a member of the Black Aces during the Stanley Cup playoff run last spring. He also gives Bostons front office exactly what they want in the veteran leadership department.
I think bringing back Trent Whitfield is a big key component. Trents a real good swing guy for the organization because he can play at the National Hockey level if we run into a depth situation, said Sweeney.
Hes a consummate leader at the American League level, hes a captain down there and he pushes kids. Weve brought in two other older players that will challenge for spots and depth up here and push the kids for spots in Josh Hennessy and Jamie Tardif. Our back end is going to be a little young, but thats just sometimes the timing of things when guys collide as to whos coming out of contract, whos leaving college. Thats the case. So well go through those growing pains. But I think were putting together a more balanced team down in Providence. Im hoping the offensive side of our game will be improved because it needed to be.
Ryan Button and Tommy Cross are expected to be the veteran leaders among the crop of rookies, prospects and college players convening at the Bs practice rink for Bostons fifth annual development camp.
Button has inked a three-year deal with the Bruins and could threaten for a roster spot if injuries or ineffectiveness hit the top six or seven defensemen on the depth chart, while Cross enters his senior season skating for the Boston College Eagles in Hockey East. Button and Cross also took the lockers in the corner of the room usually earmarked for Zdeno Chara a sign that both defensemen are expected to fill in with actions and words of leadership when needed.
I would expect Tommy Cross and Ryan Button would be just two guys off the top of my head that would be leaders. Ryan was down in Providence and Tommy exhibited that leadership in the last couple of years, said Sweeney. Hes been facing some challenges, injury-wise, so I think hes been through some trials and tribulations that he can share with some guys.
But I really wanted all of the kids to feel really comfortable. Weve had players make our hockey club coming out of the development camp, and going to the rookie camp and going to the training camp. And I want everybody to get to know the staff and just feel comfortable when they come back for training camp. Theyre part of this organization now.
Cross first time at the development camp actually dates back to Bs youngsters like David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask showing up for the first go-round in 2007. The big defensemen didnt take part in that development camp due to an injury thats nagged at the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder over the years, but hes been a part of Don Sweeneys plan every year since the Bs orientation program began.
Its no coincidence that the Bs have cultivated many of their talented young players during that time, and that the development camp has been pretty much perfected in that time period.
Several of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) players inside the Bs dressing room noted that they had scrapped with each other during junior hockey over the last couple of years. Jared Knight and Tyler Randell were sharing locker stalls next to each other, and slapping each others backs about dropping the gloves against each other during the previous hockey season.
Shawn Thornton-in-training Anthony Camara had also fought Randell during the OHL season, and earned the decision over Randell in a bit of a stumbling, shortened brawl between the two players. Randells fight with Knight last season was the Bs scoring prospects only official fight in the junior ranks last season, so thats a style of play that it looks like the Bs sixth round pick in the 2009 Draft is starting to embrace.
For Camara its more of a lifestyle choice he feels is going to fit in pretty well with the Bruins' way of doing business.
"That's the first thing everybody said to me, 'The Bruins fit you perfectly, your type of game,' " said Camara. "It's just a hard-nosed town and I'm kind of like that, so it should be a good fit."
Carter Camper wasnt among the Bs youngsters invited to development camp as he continues to recover from hip surgery performed at the end of last season.