MIDDLETON — There was talk, at the start of last season, that Daniel Paille could get a promotion. It didn’t happen, with the Merlot line remaining intact. That won’t be the case this coming year, with Shawn Thornton heading to Florida as a free agent.
The question now is whether Paille — who Bruins strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides recently said was the fastest skater on the team — takes over Loui Eriksson’s spot on the third line, or is back on a revamped fourth line.
“I know my role here on the team, and I have no complaints playing fourth line, but if I get to play that third-line role, no complaints there either,” Paille said Monday at Thornton’s “Putts & Punches for Parkinson’s” golf tournament at Ferncroft Country Club. “I think I’m going to try to live up to the challenge if I’m able to do that, but if not I’m going to keep working the way I need to and be prepared for the team.”
There is some excitement, Paille said, at the possibility of change. But there was also comfort in the familiar, in knowing that he would be paired with Thornton and Gregory Campbell each night.
“It’s definitely going to be a big change for both of us this year,” Paille said, referring to Campbell. “We’re really not sure where we’re going to be playing or [who we’re] playing with. But I think we’re all just going to enjoy the moment and kind of embrace it. And if we happen to play with different players, I think we’re just going to enjoy it.”
He knows, too, that he will have to earn any promotion. It won’t just be handed to him. So he’s worked on his mental approach this offseason.
“Mostly just kind of mentally preparing myself a little bit better,” Paille said. “Physically, I feel very strong and very solid and I think you can always do what you can in the gym, but mentally I’ve just been preparing myself for kind of an even-keel thing, not to get too high and not too low.
“In the past, maybe, you kind of think about it too much and now it’s just about playing.”
It also might be about producing more offensively, something he wasn’t really expected to do as much on the fourth line. That line was about energy and grit — things Paille will continue to bring to his game, no matter where he’s slotted. As he said, “I don’t want to change the way I need to play. I know I need to hit and I need to skate. Skating is the big key. I don’t want to change that.”
That could work well on an altered fourth line, one that conforms to the changing NHL view on fourth lines, like those seen in Chicago and Los Angeles. Skill and speed, things that Paille possesses, suddenly are in demand in that role.
“We’ve established ourselves for so long, and now with Shawn not there we’re going to have to reinvent that,” Paille said. “We have the skill and we have the ability to do it.”
Another member of the former Merlot line could be playing a different role this season. General manager Peter Chiarelli said the organization is contemplating moving Campbell from center to wing, perhaps to accommodate Ryan Spooner.
“I don’t know,” said Campbell, who has played on the wing in the past. “I haven’t talked to anybody within the organization, so that’s what I have to wait and see. Claude [Julien’s] the guy that changes the lines, so it’s going to be up to him ultimately.
“But I’m fine with playing wherever I can help out, wherever I can complement my other two linemates.”
Thornton looks ahead
Thornton, who signed with the Panthers, hosted his golf tournament for the fifth year. It’s an event Thornton hopes will continue, even though he no longer plays in Boston.
The enforcer, who spent seven years here, won’t have to wait long to be back — the Panthers visit TD Garden Nov. 4.
“You can’t get away from it here,” Thornton said, of thinking about his return. “It’ll be weird. I never played a game in the Garden until I had the Bruins jersey on, so every game I’ve played in there has been with the spoked-B. It’ll be different. It’ll be weird.”