BALTIMORE — Standing next to the 6-foot-9-inch, 255-pound Zdeno Chara, almost anyone would be dwarfed. But Zach Trotman, who has been paired with the Bruins top defenseman through the early days of training camp, doesn’t seem so tiny.
Of course, he doesn’t exactly see it that way.
“I feel pretty small next to him,” said Trotman, confirming that he is, as listed, 6-3, 219 pounds.
But he’s doing his best to show Bruins management that he doesn’t play small. While he started training camp seemingly on the outside looking in at the Bruins’ next generation of young defensemen — that would be the trio of Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug, and Dougie Hamilton — the 23-year-old right-shot blue liner has looked as if he, too, could be part of the team’s plans.
He had a goal in his first preseason game Monday in Montreal, serving notice that he’s going to make the decision on which defensemen to keep as difficult as possible for the Bruins.
And being paired in camp with Chara (who didn’t make the trip to Montreal) can only help. It’s something that noticeably benefited Hamilton last season. It’s something that seems to have rubbed off on Trotman thus far.
“There’s no doubt that confidence-wise it’s certainly a big thing, and Zdeno is pretty good at talking to his partner and helping him out,” coach Claude Julien said. “So I think it’s a big advantage for whoever ends up playing with him, and it certainly helps a guy develop.
“I think Dougie was there first-hand to learn that last year. [He played] best when he was with Z, and you can understand why. There’s no doubt somebody that’s with him benefits from his presence. Anybody would like to be his partner, there’s no doubt there.”
Hamilton, awed by the pairing as a 19-year-old in his first training camp, said all the advice from Chara and coaches and teammates has blended together over his first, overwhelming year in the NHL. But he remembers what he thought that first time he realized he’d be skating next to the Bruins captain.
“I think it was a pretty special moment for me, coming into my first camp and seeing my name beside him,” Hamilton said. “Obviously a really good opportunity to learn.’’
The point was to watch, learn, and even emulate him, Hamilton said.
So far, Trotman is soaking up as much as he can from Chara.
“It’s a great learning experience,” Trotman said. “Everybody wants to get to that point at some point in their career, that’s the ideal place to be. It’s been really good for me to be in my first main camp to be able to learn from him, talk with him in between shifts and watch him.”
As for what he’s picked up so far, Trotman said, “Everything. Just positioning, seeing his thought process, how he thinks out there and just little tweaks, little plays that make a big difference.”
Trotman was already playing well this summer, even before getting the call to practice alongside Chara. When the team’s rookies got back from their tournament in Florida, Providence coach Bruce Cassidy first mentioned Trotman when asked who impressed him.
“I thought Zach Trotman was our best defenseman,” said Cassidy.
That’s exactly the reaction the defenseman is trying to elicit.
“I just tried to go out there and play, and I think that kind of allowed me to be assertive, be decisive, which is what I needed to do in order to be an effective player,” Trotman said. “It was great for me to have the rookie showcase leading up to [camp] to get some games under my belt, get in the swing of things.
“I think that really helped transitioning into playing with the NHL guys, the higher speed and everything.’’
Trotman was sidelined by concussions last season in Providence — three in five months — but has demonstrated so far that he’s back from them. Meanwhile, he’s making a strong case for himself, shifting some attention away from that trio of defensemen.
“He’s a strong kid, he’s got an unbelievable shot,” Julien said. “I think he’s improved immensely from where he was at the beginning of last year.
“So those are guys that sometimes are dark horses. They’re late bloomers as far as maybe got overlooked when it was time for the draft, but their game starts coming along.
“Certainly he’s a guy that’s going to get some games and we’ll have a real good look again to see how he handles the next level.”
Trotman wasn’t drafted until the seventh round in 2010, an unheralded player coming out of Lake Superior State. But that doesn’t matter now. All that matters is that there are only four defensemen — Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, and Adam McQuaid — locked into spots in Boston.
The other spots? While thought to be property of Hamilton, Bartkowski, and Krug, it’s possible that might not be the case anymore. Or, at least, the choice might not be so easy.
“There’s indications that there’s spots open,” Trotman said. “Obviously you know that there’s guys that they’re looking at for them, but you want to try to make your own case no matter what the situation, so that’s all I’m trying to do right now is just make them have a tough decision.”