Simon Gagne is smart enough to know when he is ready both physically and mentally to compete at the NHL level.
Gagne, who is 34 and has dealt with myriad injuries during his last few seasons, is humble enough to admit that trying to make an NHL club after a year’s absence is going to be one of the biggest challenges of his career.
“Last season, right after Christmas, if you asked me if I’m going to come back and play this year, I was not ready to get you an answer,” Gagne said Monday after Bruins practice at Ristuccia Arena.
“Around May, I decided to get back at the gym, see if my body and my head was ready to do it again. The first month went pretty good, and I decided to try and come back.
“You could feel good physically, but if you’re not ready mentally, it doesn’t make sense. For me, having the experience, I know what it takes. Right now I don’t feel I’m 100 percent. It’s getting better every day. I’m smart enough to see where I’m at.”
So for Gagne, who is with the Bruins on a tryout contract, these preseason games present a precious opportunity for him to shake off the rust and prove he is worthy of a roster spot when the Bruins open the regular season Oct. 8.
Gagne played in the first two preseason games and scored an empty net-goal in the waning seconds of a 2-0 win against the Washington Capitals Wednesday at TD Garden.
The goal was nice, but Gagne felt better about getting nearly 19 minutes of ice time, including work on the power-play unit along with Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand.
It was a big improvement from Tuesday night, when Gagne logged 15 minutes of ice time and took two penalties in a 3-2 loss to the Canadiens.
“I felt a huge difference,” Gagne said Wednesday. “Legs were a little bit more stiff maybe from playing back-to-back games, but I think it’s normal from not playing a game in almost a year and a half.
“It’s not quite where I want, but at least it’s getting a little better every game and that’s my goal.”
After the game, coach Claude Julien called it Gagne’s best showing in the preseason thus far.
“It was nice to see, especially on a back-to-back night, again, not knowing what kind of shape he’s in,” Julien said. “But I thought he performed really well, so it was nice to see that.”
Gagne, an unrestricted free agent last summer, believed that the Philadelphia Flyers, with whom he played the first 10 years of his career, were interested in bringing him back, but they were not.
The veteran winger said he received an offer in December from another team but it wasn’t the right fit, so he opted to take the rest of the year off to get better.
“I think I need to take the positive of that,” Gagne said. “The negative was not playing, and it’s harder coming back when you don’t play in a full year. Resting the body with all the injuries I’ve had the past couple of years would help.”
More power to him
Chara’s imposing presence creates a nightmare for opposing goaltenders when he plants his 6-foot-9-inch, 255-pound frame in front of the net.
Last season, the Bruins sparked their power play when they moved Chara from the point to the front of the net, and the captain benefited greatly, scoring a team-leading 10 power-play goals.
Chara was at it again in Wednesday night’s win, scoring the go-ahead power-play goal late in the third period, showing exactly why Julien will keep him there for the foreseeable future.
“To be honest with you, it would be tough to take him out of there,” Julien said after the game. “Why make a strength a weakness? So right now I think our plan is hopefully to leave him where he was.”
Sound in net
In the remaining two weeks of the preseason, the Bruins have holes to patch in the lineup, most notably the right wing position on both the third and fourth lines, as well as a logjam on defense.
One thing Julien won’t have to worry about is the goaltending position and the depth behind Tuukka Rask.
Rask made 14 saves in two periods Wednesday, while 25-year-old Jeremy Smith made 12 in the third period to combine for the shutout. Julien was also pleased with the play of Rask’s backup, Niklas Svedberg, and Malcolm Subban Monday night.
“Both goaltenders played well,” Julien said Wednesday. “You’ve got to try and stay focused. All those goaltenders so far, I think, have played really well. So it’s encouraging for us as an organization to know that you have some depth at that position.”
Ten sent down
General manager Peter Chiarelli announced Thursday the following 10 players have been released from training camp and will report to Providence: Andrew Ammon, Tommy Cross (subject to clearing waivers), Steve Eminger, Rob Flick, Cory Kane, Adam Morrison, Frankie Simonelli, Ethan Werek, Ben Youds, Mike Young.
Anthony Gulizia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gulizia_a