The likelihood was not high that either Ryan Spooner or Niklas Svedberg would make the Bruins out of camp. Both have players ahead of them with either more talent or more experience or a more palatable salary cap hit.
But both also inserted themselves into the discussion of the future (or even the present) of the Bruins with impressive camps that bode well for the depth of the organization.
The Bruins made it official Saturday that both players were headed down to Providence of the AHL, along with forwards Matt Lindblad and Matt Fraser. That leaves the team with 24 players on the roster. With general manager Peter Chiarelli saying Friday night that the Bruins would keep 23 players — including surprise pick Kevan Miller, a defenseman — the only fat left to trim is an extra forward, either Jordan Caron or Nick Johnson.
Svedberg seemed to be one of the more difficult decisions for the Bruins, but it came down to the cap and the contract situation of Chad Johnson, who now will be Tuukka Rask’s backup in goal. Johnson was the easier player to keep, with a smaller cap hit ($600,000 to Svedberg’s $1 million). Also, Svedberg could be sent down to Providence without clearing waivers.
“They both had strong camps,” Chiarelli said. “Just on per minute played basis, Nik played better, but Chad played well. That game in Detroit [a shutout], he played well. It gives me comfort that they’ve played well over the course of the camp. We have some depth there.”
Chiarelli had said it would be better for Svedberg’s development to spend more time at the AHL level, splitting time with prospect Malcolm Subban, than playing only 15 to 20 games as Rask’s backup.
As for the 21-year-old Spooner, he was at times the most impressive of the prospects that the Bruins had in camp, raising his level over that of some considered more likely to make the squad. His problem is his position, center, and as the preseason went on it seemed that the team would not consider him at wing.
Ahead of him are David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron as the top-six centers, the place where Spooner’s combination of speed and playmaking would be most appropriate. He was unlikely to unseat Chris Kelly or Gregory Campbell, either, even as coach Claude Julien hinted that sometimes teams have to make room when a player forces their hand.
“He had a real good year last year, he had an average playoff,” Chiarelli said. “I expected more from him in Florida at the rookie tournament, but he had a real good camp here.
“With his pedigree I would have expected it, but it was nice to see it after what I saw in the playoffs and in the rookie tournament.”
That leaves the Caron/Nick Johnson decision as the final one for the Bruins as they race toward the first game of the regular season, Thursday against the Lightning. Both players scored in Friday’s win over Winnipeg at the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“There has to be an element of versatility,” Chiarelli said. “We’ve seen that in a few guys. It’s a tough decision because there’s three or four guys that had good camps. I know there’s two guys that you’ve been focusing on in Johnson and Caron and I think they both played well.
“Defensive responsibility? They both have that. Size? They both have that. Experience? One guy has more than the other. Style of play is a little bit different. So that’s tough. That player doesn’t play often, but with injuries he may have to get in there. Versatility, first and foremost.”
And even with the pair fighting for that final spot on the roster — even teamed on the same line Friday — they’re trying not to let their competition make it difficult to play together.
“It makes it really complicated,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to get past that. I’ve thought the last couple years, you’ve got to make a decision to be a team guy. You just can’t think about that. I’m happy Jordan scored that first goal. You’ve got to work together.
“The competition thing is for [the media] and the GM.”