The Bruins varsity finally hit the ice Thursday for the first day of training camp in Brighton, with 50-plus roster candidates splitting into two groups under the watchful eye of Bruce Cassidy and his coaching staff.
After a frenetic offseason spending spree by general manager Don Sweeney, who secured a handful of free agents in the open market, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for young prospects to crack a deep, experienced lineup.
“It’s tough … frustrating for young guys coming into a camp like this,” noted veteran left winger Brad Marchand. “You know, you feel like you’re ready, feel like you want to be in the NHL — no one wants to go back to junior or college or the minors — you want to make that jump.”
But the challenge can be daunting, as the 33-year-old Marchand pointed out, when the camp is laden with NHL veterans with job security guaranteed in their contracts.
“We’ve got, what, 14 guys with one-ways up front?” he said, referring to contract status that demands players are paid their full NHL wage. “And 7-8 one-ways [on defense] and two or three goalies.”
Marchand, then 20, attended his first varsity camp in the fall of 2008, and he spent a season and a half toiling at AHL Providence before he cracked Claude Julien’s lineup as a fourth-liner.
“If you want to be realistic about it,” said Marchand, “it’s like 97 percent of guys start in the minors.”
A rare exception, of course, was Marchand’s stellar center, Patrice Bergeron, who graduated directly from junior hockey at age 18 to the Boston roster in the fall of 2003 under Mike Sullivan.
What’s a kid to do?
“You’ve got to kind of pick a guy and try to push him out,” Marchand said. “That’s what you do — find a guy you think you can push out, try to lean on him, try to take his spot. The worst thing out of that is that you have a great camp and you’re the next guy that gets called up.
“And you’re kind of hoping for an injury at some point. It’s unfortunate, you don’t want to say that, but that’s how you get in this league.”
In July, Sweeney signed three forwards — Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek — who were unrestricted free agents, all to one-way contracts. He also re-signed UFA forward Taylor Hall and defenseman Mike Reilly. His priciest UFA buy was goalie Linus Ullmark (four years/$20 million).
“You want to leave a good statement,” said Marchand, pondering what a rookie prospect has to think in such situations. “You want them to notice you. Leave your mark, so when it does come time for someone to be called up, you’re that guy.”
Cassidy, when asked about Marchand’s targeted approach to landing work as a young prospect, said, “Good for him for figuring out a path. I am sure there are guys who think like that. I know there is, because I’ve had guys say to me, ‘Well, I think I’m better than this guy on your roster.’ And that may be so, as an individual package, but are you a better fit for the team?”
Veteran netminder Tuukka Rask, who holds the franchise record for wins, has been coming to Warrior Ice Arena for treatment on his surgically repaired hip (torn labrum).
Cassidy agreed with a reporter’s characterization that it could be “sticky” to have the unsigned Rask around the team while Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman are charged with carrying the load in net.
“We’ve talked to both our goalies about our entire goaltending situation and where Tuukka’s at,” noted Cassidy. “I can only go with what Tuukka’s told everyone else, that he’d like to stay and return to Boston.
“Can it get sticky? It could, and if it does get sticky, we have to do right by the guys who have signed here, and we’ll address it if it is. I think Tuukka would acknowledge that. He’s a good pro. He’s a good person. I don’t think he’s here trying to create any issues. I think he’s just trying to get healthy.”
Cassidy broke the large gang, which included 31 forwards, into two groups, each of them practicing for about 90 minutes. The only missing bodies, mostly because of injury, were on defense, including Victor Berglund, Jack Dougherty, J.D. Greenway, and Andrew Peski. Greenway, whose brother Jordan (formerly of Boston University) plays for the Wild, could be the last to get reps. “Upper-body injury in Buffalo,” Cassidy said of Greenway, hurt during the recent rookie tourney in western New York. “So he’s going to miss some time. He won’t be ready for the start of the year.” . . . The line of opening day belonged to, no surprise, Marchand, when asked how much longer he expected to play. “Till they boot me out of the league,” said the Li’l Ball o’Hate, “which, you know, with my history, could be tomorrow.”