Bruins

Surplus of 'qualified candidates' means a good Bruins player may be cut

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Surplus of 'qualified candidates' means a good Bruins player may be cut

BRIGHTON, Mass. – With the majority of Bruins players still healthy and rookies Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork appearing ready to handle frontline NHL duty, it is going to be a fascinating battle for forward spots at the end of camp. 

The Bruins have a boatload of forwards on one-way contracts and clearly not enough spots. That reality set in as the training camp group has settled into one massive practice unit at Warrior Ice Arena.

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Bruce Cassidy prefers to work in pairs with his forwards to find chemistry and combinations and it certainly looks as if Riley Nash and Noel Acciari are locked in as a fourth-line combo while Ryan Spooner and David Backes would seem like an inevitable third-line combo based on their skill and respective NHL resumes.

That leaves a number of players, including Frank Vatrano, Matt Beleskey, Sean Kuraly, Kenny Agostino, Teddy Purcell, Tim Schaller, Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen battling for three final roster spots, a pair of wing spots in the bottom-six and a reserve spot for the 13th forward. The third and fourth lines Wednesday at practice were Kuraly/Spooner/Backes and Beleskey/Nash/Acciari. That gave everyone an indication of which players had the upper hand for NHL jobs with just two preseason games (tonight in Philly, Saturday in Chicago) before the Oct 5 season opener against Nashville at TD Garden. 

Cassidy recognizes that there’s a surplus of “qualified candidates” for NHL jobs still skating around in training camp and that was something done by design in the offseason.

“We feel like there’s a lot of, for lack of a better term, qualified candidates for those [bottom-six] spots,” said Cassidy. “Some of that was by design when Donnie [Sweeney] was building the roster in the offseason. We talked about working in some of these younger players, but there needs to be a margin for error there if it wasn’t going to work,” said Cassidy. “[The surplus of forwards] is for that reason and to build up our organizational depth up was another reason. We saw it last year in the playoffs with our defensemen, so we’re trying to guard against that and make sure we’ve got quality people if it becomes a ‘next man up’ situation.’

“So far, so good. We’ve had good efforts from guys that all realize that the competition is there, and that should make your team better. You might have one lineup on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean another player can’t push their way into the lineup the week later. Sometimes you get locked into the opening night roster, but there are a lot of hockey games [in a regular season]. So there is that to consider as well.”

One really interesting thing that could play into all of this is the game-to-game needs of the team and the way that the Bruins coaching staff could tailor their game-day lineups based on matchups. If they want a big, heavy fore-checking line they can put Kuraly and Backes together, or if they think the penalty kill will be a big factor then Kuraly and Schaller could be bigger factors. If the coaching staff is looking to boost the offense then Vatrano paired with Spooner would be the right combination.

The special teams’ ability, in particular, might help Schaller and Kuraly, who can kill penalties, and could hurt Agostino, who hasn’t been pegged for much special-teams duty in the preseason.

“We’re going to get a little bit of everything, particularly if you’ve got Spooner at center with his speed and Backes at one of the wings. He’s a heavier guy that likes to cycle pucks, and then if you’ve got Kuraly there he’s got some speed and likes to play the cycle game,” said Cassidy. “Or you’ve got a high-end rush sort of line if you throw in an offensive rush guy like Vatrano. At the end of the day it depends who those guys are for what kind of line it is, but regardless it’s going to be something of a mixed bag.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a situation where there’s going to be a 13th guy, and the other 12 guys are clearly up above him. It’s not shaping up that way right now. Certain nights early on how many penalties are going to be called? Early in the preseason, you’ve needed a boatload of [penalty] killers, and it will be paramount early in the year if there’s a lot of penalties called. It could slant more towards that early on.”

The best guess here is that Beleskey, Kuraly and Vatrano end up as the final three to make the squad, which could leave Agostino and Schaller open to being claimed by any of the other 30 NHL teams in the waiver process. Still, it should also be a signal to Bruins veterans such as Vatrano and Schaller that protecting their NHL roster spots could come down to their performance in the final two preseason games and could also be predicated on which players aren’t yet subject to the waiver process. 
 

Kampfer excited for his second go-round with the Bruins

Kampfer excited for his second go-round with the Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- These days Steve Kampfer definitely looks a little bigger, a little stronger and a little older than the last time he suited up for the Black and Gold back in 2012.

That makes perfect sense, given that he’s about to turn 30 years old rather than the 20-something fresh out of the University of Michigan that he was during his last go-round with the B’s. But clearly, the Bruins liked enough about his game that they opted to snag him as the returning NHL-caliber defenseman in the Adam McQuaid deal with the Rangers just ahead of training camp.

Barring any injuries, the 5-foot-11, 192-pound Kampfer isn’t likely to start the season in Boston. It will be difficult for him to displace any of the D-men already earmarked for the Bruins roster, but he will provide some excellent organizational depth when the inevitable attrition arrives this season. Over the last six seasons Kampfer has racked up games of NHL experience for the Bruins, Wild, Panthers and Rangers, but actually had his best NHL season in Boston in 2010-11, when he totaled five goals and 10 points in 38 games for a team that eventually won the Stanley Cup.

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Since then, injuries have taken a bite out of his game and his stints with other NHL teams, so he’s looking for a nice, healthy stint with the Bruins organization.

“[I’ve had] a lot of injuries…a lot of injuries in between stops. I’ve had both knees done and I’ve had a few concussions, and I broke my hand last season, so I’ve spent a lot of time rehabbing and figuring out how to get my game back,” said Kampfer. “So it’s going to be nice to be healthy for once going into a season and hopefully that gets me out on the right foot.”

Injuries aside, Kampfer said he was just happy to be back in Boston among familiar faces, in an organization that saw something in him when they initially traded for him as a prospect of the Anaheim Ducks.

“It was a shock, but it was exciting at the same time,” said Kampfer, who came back to Boston with a 2019 fourth round pick and a conditional seventh-round pick in exchange for McQuaid. “To be able to come back to a place I’ve been before and where I’ve had some success, hopefully it’s the same thing this time around.

“It’s nice to walk into a room and pick up on relationships that you’ve had before and build on those, and it also makes it easier when you get on the ice since you know how other guys like to play.”

The puck-moving Kampfer will more than likely start the season in Providence barring something extraordinary happening with the NHL roster, but it stands to reason that he’s going to factor in wins and losses for the Bruins at some point this season.   

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Bergeron (back spasms) makes first on-ice appearance at Bruins camp

Bergeron (back spasms) makes first on-ice appearance at Bruins camp

BRIGHTON, Mass – A welcome sight for the Bruins finally arrived Friday morning as Patrice Bergeron hopped on the ice for the first time in training camp. Bergeron had been out with back spasms suffered in the days leading up to the opening of camp as he worked his way back from groin surgery. He's just started getting back onto the ice the past couple of days testing out a back that he admits still feels “a little stiff.”

Bergeron left the ice when practice with the team got going, and he continued to be absent from the camp sessions along with Jakub Lauko (undisclosed), Sean Kuraly (lower body) and Ryan Fitzgerald (lower body).

Still, the fact Bergeron, 33, is slowly ramping things up is a good sign as the Bruins center still points toward the Oct. 3 season opener as the ultimate day when he really needs to be back to 100 percent.

“It felt great to be back on the ice and just slowly ramping it up. It’s always good to be touching the ice for sure,” said Bergeron, who said his preference continues to be getting into a preseason game if possible. “The goal is to be ready for game one. Hopefully, we get an exhibition game in at the end, but we’re going to play it by ear at that point. We’re not going to push for it, so we’ll see how it goes. The timeline hasn’t changed.

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“Time is on our side and that’s not always the case during the season. So we’re trying to use that to our advantage.”

Bergeron’s absence certainly left a void on the ice given his importance to the team, but these camp sessions with the reunited team after the China trip are when the importance steps up a bit. Given some of the injury issues Bergeron has suffered in camp the past few seasons, it’s a wise move to bring him along slowly.

Provided he can get on the ice for a full practice in the next week or so, there’s really no danger of No. 37 not being ready for when the Bruins open against the Capitals in DC Oct. 3 and that’s really the only timetable that matters.  

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