Jordan Caron will hop in his car and point it south out of Quebec City today or tomorrow, returning to New England again to begin his third pro hockey season. Because of highly predictable circumstances — the fait accompli that became the NHL’s third lockout — he’ll stop in Boston for only a few days before wheeling the extra hour, and one significant drop in competition, to join the AHL Bruins in Providence.
“Well, I think I am pretty lucky to have a place to play,’’ said Caron, speaking by phone midweek from Quebec City, where he worked out all summer with a number of NHLers, including Boston teammate Patrice Bergeron. “It’s not the NHL, but it’s a pretty good league and I don’t have to worry about anything else other than playing.
“A lot of the guys don’t have anywhere to go. [They’re] waiting for what’s going to happen. I feel lucky I have a place to play.’’
Caron, who will be 22 Nov. 2, was Boston’s top pick (25th overall) in the 2009 draft. He made his NHL debut just over a year later, in the 2010-11 season opener in Europe, but for the most part he has been a spare part trying to find full-time work in Boston’s talent-heavy offense.
He has the size (6 feet 2 inches, 205 pounds) and game to be in the NHL, but needs to develop his speed, improve his puck control, in general assert himself with greater confidence when in the attack zone.
“For lack of a better word, we’ve wanted him to free-lance more on the offensive side of the blue line,’’ said Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli. “You see it with a lot of young kids, that their game tends to be conservative because they don’t want to make mistakes out there.
“Jordan has good hands, protects the puck, has a good shot, good release, and he makes good plays. Last year, when we sent him down [to Providence], we reminded him to open up his game a little — he’s heard all this from us — and he was better at it when he came back.
“He’s got to keep his feet moving. He’s a good package, and some of those things he doesn’t really have to improve, he just has to do it.’’
If the lockout kills the 2012-13 NHL season, Caron would have the full year with the Wanna-B’s to sharpen his game. That’s very similar to the scenario a then-19-year-old Bergeron faced during the last lockout (2004-05), following his rookie season in Boston in which he played much of the time at wing and produced 39 points.
With a year of incubation in Providence, where he collected 61 points in 68 games, Bergeron returned to the NHL as a more confident and accomplished 20-year-old, and he followed with two seasons in Boston in which he put up a combined 53 goals and 143 points.
Asked if he discussed that one season of AHL refresher work with Bergeron over the summer, Caron said, “A little bit, but nothing too deep. I didn’t really ask him much about it, no.’’
Truth is, two years of the Boston-Providence shuttle have underscored to Caron that it’s all about application now. Virtually all junior players, including Tyler Seguin in his first two years with Boston, need time to adjust to the pro game.
“It’s a lot of little things, actually,’’ noted Caron. “The guys are much stronger on their sticks and battling in front of the net. The quickness of the game is different, too.
“But I think I know what it takes to play in the NHL. I know the difference between the guys who do — the guys who make it and those who don’t. I want to put every chance on my side, be ready when camp starts again. I want to play in the NHL.’’
His five months in Quebec had Caron skating regularly and working out with Bergeron and fellow Quebecers Antoine Vermette and Steve Bernier. Off and on the ice, Caron’s emphasis was on adding foot speed and first-step explosiveness —
He averaged some 25 goals a season his last three years in the Quebec League, the kind of production that led the Bruins to take him ahead of forwards Ryan O’Reilly (33/Colorado) and Kyle Clifford (35/Los Angeles), both of whom have become everyday players with their clubs the past few seasons.
“I feel pretty good right now,’’ said Caron, asked if could measure his progress over the summer. “We have a few NHL guys here, we train together and skate together a couple of times a week. I feel pretty good. I will know more when I play against NHL guys in a real game, in training camp, but I feel pretty good right now.’’
It’s late September, and hundreds of NHLers really feel they should be back in school (apologies, “Maggie Mae”). But with 30 doors locked, scores of NHLers have begun to head to Europe, others wait, and some, like Caron, eye what could be an extended AHL primer.
“I want to be a top guy in the NHL — play in the top three lines,’’ he said. “I was up and down last year, and the year before. It’s a tough lineup to crack.
“It’s going to be my third year, and we saw Brad [Marchand] do it two years ago. It’s a real important year for me, my third year pro, and I really feel real good right now. I am ready for a steady job in the NHL.’’
Bourque will get his shot
Boston’s varsity training camp was slated to open at the Garden Friday, but it was scuttled last Sunday when the NHL imposed its lockout (latest in a series, prior episodes available in a boxed DVD set). The club’s American Leaguers will have their physicals in Providence Thursday and then take to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center ice for their first workouts Friday.
Given that the Garden is dark, was there any thought given to having the JV squad go through their paces on Causeway Street?
“No,’’ mused Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “There’s no ice. That would be an obstacle.’’ Meh, details.
As the lockout rolls on, Chiarelli and his top aides de mission, such as team president Cam Neely and assistant GM Don Sweeney, will make community relations appearances in and around the Hub of Hockey.
Meanwhile, among those assigned to Providence: Boston newbie Chris Bourque, age 26 and recently a dad, who was acquired from Washington in May in a swap for onetime first-round pick Zach Hamill.
Bourque, son of Boston icon Ray Bourque, turned pro after his one season (2004-05) at Boston University and has had limited success (33 games/4 points) at the NHL level. But he has shown true offensive pop in the AHL, including 27 goals and 93 points last season with Hershey.
“Smart player. Good shot. Gritty. A nose for the net,’’ said Chiarelli, ticking off the young Bourque’s assets. “So he’s certainly compatible with the way we like our team to play.
“He’s in the mix, no question. And, hey, if he gets his game going in Providence, that could give him a leg up when we get going again.’’
For a power play that has struggled the last few years, Bourque has a chance of supporting third- and fourth-line coverage and possibly chipping in on the man-advantage.
DROPPING THE HAMMER
OHL tough on fighters
Strong move by the Ontario Hockey League, implementing a menu for mandatory suspensions for chronic fighters in 2012-13. Once a player is assessed a 10th fighting major, every fight 11-15 will bring with it a two-game suspension. If the player is charged with instigating the fight, each suspension is doubled to four games.
Beginning with fight No. 16 (is BobArum in the barn?), the offending player is still suspended two or four games, and in addition his club must pay a $1,000 fine.
Last year, no fewer than 25 OHLers exceeded the 10-game plateau. Leader of the punch brigade: Windsor right winger Ty Bilcke, favorite son of Exeter, Ontario, who belted his way through 37 fights in 62 games and rang up a total 221 PIMs.
Idle thought: To underscore the potential damage these players could be doing to themselves and others, perhaps the OHL could mandate MRIs of an offending player’s brain once he has had a 10th fight.
The pictures could serve as a baseline, if the player later has cognitive issues, or they might even curb such behavior. Maybe some of these guys just need to see what’s at risk.
Big dealings in Los Angeles
Big surprise out of Los Angeles last week when 73-year-old Philip Anschutz, owner of the Kings and the Staples Center through his behemoth Anschutz Entertainment Group, put the whole ball of AEG wax up for sale. “Wow, shocker!’’ a longtime NHL executive e-mailed here minutes after the announcement. “No successor,’’ wrote another veteran of an NHL front office, noting that Anschutz wouldn’t be handing it over to family. AEG is a broad, impressive empire, one that has been pushing for a $1.3 billion development project (Farmers Field) to build a downtown football stadium with 72,000 seats as a means of wooing back the NFL. The AEG sale, be it in whole or piecemeal, will bring in billions of dollars. No doubt some bidders will try to chip off just the Cup champion Kings and the Staples Center.
Their money’s worth
A penny’s worth of perspective on the three contracts Peter Chiarelli wrote that secured Messrs. Milan Lucic (average $6 million over three years), Tyler Seguin (average $5.75 million over six years), and Brad Marchand (average $4.5 million over four years) in the days leading up to the lockout. Provided the next CBA doesn’t have something really nutty cooked into it, all those deals begin in October 2013 and the total cost will be $70.5 million for a combined 13 seasons (average payout $5.42 million). Now, none of those guys is Alexander Ovechkin, and none is likely to be AO, although Seguin last season finished with two more points (67 vs. 65) than the biggy-sized Russian superstar. Ovechkin carries a $9.538 million cap hit, having signed, yep, a 13-year contract extension for $124 million in January 2008. AO will be 36 when that deal expires, at which time he may or may not be still interested in chasing the Stanley Cup. At the end of his deal, Marchand will be 28, and Lucic and Seguin will be 27. Three guys, prime age, each of them at an average cap hit for about 50 cents on the dollar compared with Ovechkin.
With the NHL in lockout and no games to dissect from his perch at the NBC desk, ex-Bruin Mr. Everything (defenseman, coach, assistant GM, satirist) Mike Milbury will head to Ireland Sunday with Henry Killian, his father-in-law, who has long had a golfing trip to the Emerald Isle on his “to do’’ list. “Not what I expected to be doing at this time of the year,’’ mused Microphone Mike, who turned 60 at the start of the year. “But I’m looking forward to it, even if I’m no golfer whatsoever. I have every confidence, though, that I can help him find a pub.’’
Bruins season ticket-holders have two options regarding the money they’ve paid for 2012-13 once games begin to fall off the schedule. Option 1: Leave money on account, earn 3 percent APR on the value of each ticket as the games are cancelled, also agree to buy 2013-14 season tickets with prices frozen at this season’s rates; Option 2: Earn 1 percent APR on games that are cancelled, receive monthly refunds as the lockout progresses. Nothing too feel-good in any of that, but then again it’s a lockout, which means feel-good never made its way into the empty arena.
A musical note
Toronto-born Neil Young, soon to turn 67, will play the Garden Nov. 26, which right now stands to be the most intimate connection Boston will have to Canada’s game in 2012-13. My my, hey hey, and won’t someone please take me back to the gold rush.
Cheapskate though I may be, I would pay the equivalent of a third-row loge seat for a pay-per-view debate over CBA talks between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Players Association boss Donald Fehr. Make TSN’s James Duthie the moderator, and I’ll shell out first-row dough to hear how these two gents would go about divvying up $3.3 billion in revenue . . . Jordan Caron and his dad vacationed for a week in Jamaica soon after the NHL season ended. “First time we’ve had a father-son trip,’’ said the Bruins winger. “We spent the whole week on the beach.’’ . . . The NHL last week announced it was rolling back its work force by 20 percent during the lockout, putting everyone on four-day weeks. A harsher, perhaps more pragmatic approach would have been to fire 20 percent of the staff, something that has become de rigueur in the mainstream media business. But not many media enterprises so easily generate $3.3 billion in annual revenue . . . PeterChiarelli said the Bruins have no immediate plans for a reduction in the organization’s work force . . . With the NHL and its union at stalemate, maybe as a means to prime the discourse pump they could discuss what it would take for the NHLPA to buy the Phoenix franchise. Just imagine the shared knowledge in that exercise. Even if it didn’t result in a deal, the amount of shared knowledge would be sensational, certainly worthy of an HBO special.