Matt Beleskey did not feel at ease in training camp until he signed his first one-way contract. It was perhaps fitting, then, that Beleskey’s first full NHL season (70 games with Anaheim in 2011-12) corresponded to the start of his second contract: a two-year, $1.475 million, one-way deal.
“It was always hard,” Beleskey said of camp competition. “I think my second year, I played seven or eight exhibition games, too.
“You’re playing lots of games, playing for a spot. You never know what’s going to happen. You’re living out of a hotel for a few years. But that’s the way it is. Obviously it’s nice to get that one-way contract and get settled in.”
Experience, salary, and expected production made camp more of a formality for Beleskey. But an 8-point season in 2016-17 and more left-side options put the heat on the 29-year-old Bruins winger to deliver, both in the summer to slim down and in camp to perform.
Beleskey appears to have done enough.
The fourth line is not an ideal landing spot for a player earning $3.8 million annually through 2020. But it is Beleskey’s likeliest starting point when the season opens Thursday against Nashville.
Part of it is Beleskey’s doing. But the veteran’s position on the depth chart also reflects the measures the Bruins have taken to reinforce a deficiency.
Last year, the Bruins’ top option for a second-line left wing went to Broadway when native son Jimmy Vesey said no to his hometown team. Plan B was scotched when Frank Vatrano hurt his foot before the start of camp.
So the Bruins started 2016-17 with a troublesome solution: not just promoting Ryan Spooner from the third line to the second, but also moving the natural center out of position. It didn’t work.
A year later, coach Bruce Cassidy sits in his Warrior Ice Arena office with more left-side names on his whiteboard than Claude Julien did on his. Jake DeBrusk appears to have secured the No. 2 spot next to David Krejci and David Pastrnak. Sean Kuraly has taken most of the reps as No. 3 left wing. Beleskey appears to be a stride ahead of Tim Schaller on the fourth line. Of the bunch behind Brad Marchand, DeBrusk has shown the most promise, even if he didn’t record a single preseason point.
The Bruins have identified DeBrusk’s greasy game as the best fit next to Krejci and Pastrnak. The second-year pro may not have Vatrano’s speed off the line, but DeBrusk has shown both a willingness and a knack for working the walls and squirming into the net-front area.
Previous second-line templates have included Loui Eriksson and Milan Lucic as Krejci’s left wings. Both, especially Eriksson, could do good things in tight areas.
“If he’s going to play with Krejci and Pastrnak, his role will be to get to that area for those guys,” Cassidy said. “Get to the net, hopefully finish some plays going to the net.
“In practice today, he finished a few. It’s just practice, but that’s going to help his confidence. He’s going to be expected to use his pace.
“We want to be more of a skating team. That’s something he can bring. He has to bring it. If he’s not bringing those elements, then he’s going to have a tough time playing. Because that’s what the job requires.”
Vatrano is without a home. Kenny Agostino, who had 24 goals and 59 assists with Chicago of the AHL last year, is back in the minors. Danton Heinen, a point-per-game playoff performer for Providence last year, is likely to be facing a commute on 95 South. Shoulder surgery limited Peter Cehlarik and will place him in the minors to start.
The thing with rookies like DeBrusk, however, is they are sure to experience valleys. If DeBrusk thought going scoreless in the preseason felt bad, he will feel the screws tighten when, not if, the zeroes accompany his name in real games.
“I think there still is more and I can do better,” DeBrusk said. “I expect a lot out of myself. I know I can get to that next level. I think I did show a lot in those four games.”
So it will be up to others to be available when the lineup requires tinkering. Cassidy has not been slow to change his lines. He may give them more leash at the start. But the Bruins are not in position to let things go sour.
Beleskey, Vatrano, Cehlarik, Agostino, and Heinen will have their hands raised. Unlike last year, the Bruins have some options.
“Butchie’s always a coach that’s played guys that are going and going,” Beleskey said. “If I’m playing well, I’ll see the ice time.”
. . .
The Bruins placed goalie Malcolm Subban on waivers Monday, and he will report to Providence if he clears waivers by Tuesday’s noon deadline. The Bruins were satisfied with the 2012 first-rounder’s camp, but he did not do enough to beat out Anton Khudobin to secure the No. 2 job behind Tuukka Rask. “Dobby came in and looked good right away,” Cassidy said. “He was conditioned and practicing well. He played well. It’s his spot. He earned it.” . . . The Bruins released Teddy Purcell from his professional tryout agree . . . The team also assigned Cehlarik, Heinen, and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson to Providence . . . Austin Czarnik is still sick . . . The Bruins held Kuraly, Patrice Bergeron, and Paul Postma out of practice. Cassidy believed all three would be available for Tuesday’s session.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.