Captain Patrice Bergeron and newly acquired goalie Linus Ullmark were among the headliners to participate in a Bruins captain’s practice Monday morning in Brighton, the first step in the team’s return to everyday programming since their June 9 exit from the playoffs.
The true start of training camp will be when rookies assemble at Warrior Ice Arena Wednesday, followed a week later (Sept. 22) when veterans officially report, some three weeks ahead of the Oct. 16 season opener vs. the Dallas Stars at the Garden.
“Obviously, we’re excited to do something special,” said right winger Craig Smith, about to embark on his second season with the Bruins, after collecting 32 points across 54 games last season. “If I were sitting here saying we weren’t going to do something special, there’d be something wrong.
“I’m extremely excited with the this group. You can feel the energy in the room.”
More than 20 players, the majority expected to see regular varsity duty, participated in the informal one-hour skate, overseen by skills coach Kim Brandvold, the ex-UMass Lowell defenseman.
Beyond Ullmark, Bergeron, and Smith, some of the more familiar faces included Charlie Coyle, Curtis Lazar, Jakub Zboril, Trent Frederic, Chris Wagner, Jake DeBrusk, Jeremy Swayman, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, Taylor Hall, and free agent signees Nick Foligno, Derek Forbort, and Erik Haula.
With David Krejci having exited for a chance to play in his native Czech Republic, Smith is expected to ride again on the No. 2 line with Taylor Hall at left wing, most likely pivoted by Coyle. Krejci and Smith formed a solid, effective partnership in their one year together, though Smith also logged some frequent reps with Coyle.
“I had fun playing with him [Coyle],” said Smith. “I had some chemistry with him. It was me, him, and Frederic together for a big stint and it was fun. He is an excellent puck protector, creates space, a big body, a jack-of-all-trades guy.”
Smith figures his game won’t change much if Coyle is his regular pivot, but noted that “every year is a little different and you have to kind re-create yourself a little bit.
“The game changes slightly and you have to change with it, make adjustments accordingly. Those adjustments, too, are what’s best for the team sometimes, too, depending how we are feeling going into the season or how things shake out. The plan is to keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing.”
Smith was his line’s most active shooter last season, landing 132 shots on net, No. 4 on the club, behind Bergeron (182), David Pastrnak (176), and Brad Marchand (143).
The Bruins signed Smith away as a free agent from the Predators prior to last season, and he delivered as advertised: an energetic winger eager to shoot from anywhere. Now 32 years old and on the books for this season and next, his role won’t change much, no matter where he lines up, no matter whose charge it is to feed him the puck.
“You get a little older, you want to make sure you’re taking care of your body,” said Smith, asked if he focused on anything in particular with his summer training. “Keep your speed. Make sure the tools in your bag are sharp — the ones that got you here. Make sure your shot is dialed in. Just little tweaks throughout the season.”
Ullmark, the ex-Sabres netminder who arrived from Sweden over the weekend, sported a set of plain white leg pads, which will be trimmed out in flashier colors over the course of training camp. He also wore his new helmet-mask, designed by fellow Swede Dave Gunnarsson, long one of the leading artists in the goalie mask biz . . . Ex-Bruin winger Ryan Donato, dealt away to Minnesota for Coyle at the 2019 trade deadline, signed a one-year/$750,000 deal with the expansion Seattle Kraken. It was a healthy pay cut for the ex-Harvard standout, whose signed a two-year deal worth $1.9 million per annum with the Wild prior to being dealt to the Sharks. The Kraken make their lone visit to the Garden Feb. 1.
Cash for a Czech?
General manager Don Sweeney has only about $1.1 million in wiggle room under the $81.5 million salary cap. Nonetheless, rumors persisted Monday that the Bruins might swing a deal for veteran Czech center Tomas Hertl, about to enter the final year of his San Jose deal that carries a cap hit of $5.625 million . . . Goalies Swayman and Kyle Keyser also handled shots in the workout. Swayman is slated to start the year as Ullmark’s partner. Keyser will report to rookie camp and join the Bruins in Buffalo for a tournament this weekend with Sabres and Devils frosh.