Opening night for the Boston Bruins is still over a month away, but that won’t stop fans from filling out their own projected lineup for the 2013-14 season. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of mystery when it comes to Boston’s top two forwards lines. Newly acquired free agent Jarome Iginla is expected to play alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and Loui Eriksson seems like a lock to line up with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. It’s highly unlikely the Bruins would want to break up Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, and Shawn Thornton, who made up arguably the best fourth line in the league last season. Boston is also expected to play alternate captain Chris Kelly with last year’s late addition Carl Soderberg, and that means there’s really only one spot up for grabs for forwards on this Bruins roster. A little competition is a great thing, and Boston has no shortage of options for that coveted third line spot.
Acquired in the Tyler Seguin trade, Reilly Smith looks NHL ready in the offensive zone, though his production is inconsistent at this point in his career. Last year, Smith split time between the Dallas Stars and their minor league affiliate, the Texas Stars, before settling in the AHL until the end of the season. He tallied 14 goals and 21 assists through his final 45 games for Texas, showing some much needed consistency. The scouting report, however, says that Smith’s deficiencies show up in his defensive end. For a club reliant on team defense like the Boston Bruins, that’s a big deal. Smith might be a better candidate for this spot next year, after he’s sharpened his defensive skills in the Bruins’ system down in Providence.
Ryan Spooner is a little undersized, but he was the most impressive player at the Bruins development camp last year, and he’s poised to make another splash with Bruins management in 2013. Spooner led the Bruin’s AHL affiliate Providence Bruins in scoring, racking up 17 goals and 40 assists in his first full season in the minors. He’s also shown the kind of playmaking ability that the Bruins have been missing from their third line since Krejci took over the top line for the injured Marc Savard. The Providence Bruins had the best record in the AHL last year, and Spooner was a big reason why. If he can improve on his defensive game, he has a good chance to start the season in Boston.
At 6’ 2”, 204 pounds, Matt Fraser certainly looks like a Boston Bruin. Coming over in the Seguin trade along with Eriksson and Smith, Fraser has looked great offensively for the AHL’s Texas Stars, scoring 33 goals (and 46 points total) in 62 games. Like Smith, Fraser’s weaknesses are in his defensive game, though he’s further along than Smith. While the Bruins would love to see Fraser and his big frame playing at a high level for Boston, it’s more likely that he’ll be working on his defensive game alongside Smith in Providence.
After being the Bruins’ third line option in the 2011-12 playoffs, Jordan Caron was leapfrogged by Carl Soderberg, Jay Pandolfo, and Chris Bourque during last year’s cup run. It’s never good news when you’re passed on the depth chart by a 38-year-old and a player with only seven games of NHL experience. Caron has shown flashes of the player he could be, but he needs to be more consistent at the NHL level to be a permanent fixture on the big club (though showing some touch around the net certainly wouldn’t hurt). After taking a pay cut to stay within the organization, it’s not hard to read between the lines: this is a ‘sink or swim’ training camp for Caron, and he needs to hit the ground running.
Jared Knight might not have the raw talent of Spooner, and he’s definitely a long shot to make the team out of camp. That being said, Knight has arguably the brightest future of all the prospects in the Bruins organization. Knight’s game seems tailor-made for the Bruins third line, and he’s been described as a two-way player that will relentlessly attack the net in the offensive zone. While Knight lacks experience at the NHL level (not to mention his noted lack of creativity with the puck), he plays with the kind of grit that the Bruins love. He could very well start the year in Providence, but if the Bruins are looking to fill that third line spot around midseason, Knight could be the best fit.
Also fighting for a place with the Boston Bruins is Anthony Camara, whose recent offensive explosion in the OHL (36 goals and 24 assists) will garner some attention in camp. The Bruins could also ask two prominent Providence Bruins players from last year, Carter Camper and Craig Cunningham, to step and fill the void, though both might not be NHL ready quite yet. It might be too early to predict who will be wearing the Spoked B on October 3rd against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but we know one thing for sure: whoever wants that spot will have to earn it.