WILMINGTON — The Bruins rookies opened camp at Ristuccia Arena at noon Wednesday. Being rookies, they had to wait their turn for ice time.
Prior to the kids’ session, the veterans hit the sheet for one of their informal pre-camp twirls. Included among the varsity group were David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Dougie Hamilton. They are four of the five home-grown Bruins (Patrice Bergeron is the other) who will be on the 2013-14 roster. Every other projected Bruin arrived in Boston via trade or free agency.
Their in-house reinforcements, to say nothing of replacements, may be a long time in coming.
The top projected impact players in Wednesday’s group were Ryan Spooner, Jared Knight, Alexander Khokhlachev, Zach Trotman, and Malcolm Subban. Spooner and Knight, both Class of 2010, are the closest to NHL-ready. Spooner is a quick, skilled, creative center. Knight, who lost most of his rookie season because of a hamstring injury, shed 15 pounds during summer training in Ottawa.
They may be future top-six NHL forwards, top-four defensemen, and No. 1 goalies. But it’s unlikely they’ll reach those designations this year, and perhaps not next season, either. Spooner, Knight, Khokhlachev, and Trotman are second-year pros. Subban concluded his junior career last season.
The home-grown crew that should have preceded the Spooner group has been slow to arrive.
During general manager Peter Chiarelli’s watch since 2006, the Bruins have reeled off a string of accomplishments. They’ve won one Stanley Cup. They came close to a second last year. Chiarelli has hit on more trades — Florida alone has provided the Bruins with Nathan Horton, Gregory Campbell, Dennis Seidenberg, and Matt Bartkowski — than he’s missed. The coaching staff has been stable since 2007. On the UFA market, they’ve gone literally big (Zdeno Chara) and small (Torey Krug).
They’ve come up short, however, in drafting and development. The last bounty was in 2006, when the haul included Lucic, Marchand, and Phil Kessel. Chiarelli had been hired as GM but remained under Ottawa’s employment for the 2006 draft. Interim GM Jeff Gorton was at the helm, with director of amateur scouting Scott Bradley responsible for managing the draft.
Since then, the Bruins have not accumulated assets in relation to their success. The 2007 draft is close to a complete washout. Zach Hamill, the No. 8 overall pick, is with his fourth NHL organization (Boston, Washington, Florida, Vancouver). Their only remaining prospect is former Boston College defenseman Tommy Cross. Last season, as a first-year pro, Cross didn’t make the Providence roster out of training camp.
Denis Reul, Alain Goulet, Radim Ostrcil, and Jordan Knackstedt are not in the organization.
The 2008 draft hasn’t produced any keepers, either. The Bruins shipped first-round pick Joe Colborne to Toronto in the Tomas Kaberle trade. Without Kaberle, the Bruins might not have won the Cup. Colborne, 23, is fighting for a varsity spot with Toronto.
Their other picks (Max Sauve, Michael Hutchinson, Jamie Arniel, Nicolas Tremblay, and Mark Goggin) are gone.
Their 2009 first-round pick might be facing his final opportunity at a full-time job in Boston. Jordan Caron is entering his fourth pro season. In theory, the 22-year-old should be a primary candidate to fill a third-line role, either on the left or right of Chris Kelly.
Caron plays Bruins-style hockey. He is a smart north-south player who can be strong on the wall, responsible defensively, and heavy on the puck.
Caron should be all the things that coach Claude Julien is seeking for a bottom-six wing. But Caron has repeatedly disappointed the Bruins. Too many times, when auditioning for an opening, Caron’s played passively and without the confidence required of a burly forward.
Unless Caron arrives with more teeth to his game, Carl Soderberg, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Craig Cunningham are some of the candidates who could make the first-rounder irrelevant.
The Bruins’ consistency (seven straight playoff appearances during Julien’s time) underscores that there are different team-building methods. Seidenberg, Campbell, Bartkowski, Kelly, Tuukka Rask, Loui Eriksson, Daniel Paille, Johnny Boychuk, and Adam McQuaid arrived in trades. They prove Chiarelli knows what he’s doing when making deals.
But drafting and developing is the most cost-effective manner in which to assemble a roster. You don’t need to trade assets for desired players. You don’t need to compete with other teams and overspend for a free agent.
Consider Chicago’s track record. Of the 20 players in uniform for Game 6 last year, 11 came through the draft, including their star players: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford.
The drafting exception is one reason the Bruins replaced director of amateur scouting Wayne Smith with Keith Gretzky. They recognized their identification of future Bruins did not meet their other organizational standards.
The concern is not now or next season. The worries begin after 2014-15. By then, Chara will be 38 years old, most likely ready to cede some of his strongman shifts. Krejci, Boychuk, McQuaid, Paille, and Campbell will be eligible for free agency. Krejci is a lock to be re-signed. The fate of the others depends, in part, on whether the Bruins’ next wave will be ready for NHL employment.
By then, Subban might be in Boston as Rask’s partner. The Bruins hope so. Of their last six first-round picks, Subban is one of three still in the organization.
“Every organization loves to see their top picks develop and make it,” said Providence coach Bruce Cassidy, in charge of the rookies on Wednesday, when asked of Subban’s junior-to-pro transition. “It makes everybody look good, from the GM to the scouts to the coaches. Everybody.”