There’s a brutal truth to this year’s training camp at Warrior Ice Arena.
With almost zero spots up for grabs, a younger player vying for an NHL gig with these Bruins is essentially left to target a player they view as vulnerable, hope an injury opens a door, or put someone else out of work. Like the late Mosley said, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. And one of the men atop the B’s roster, Brad Marchand, is more than familiar with that approach.
Noting the abundance of one-way contracts both up front and on the backend, Marchand acknowledged this as a potentially ‘frustrating’ camp for the organization’s young guns on the cusp of breaking out of Providence.
But it’s not one without a path, as Marchand, who carved out a full-time role for himself in a similar spot 11 years ago, explained.
“That’s when you gotta kinda pick a guy and push him out,” the 33-year-old Marchand said. “That’s what you do. You find the guy you think you can push out and try to lean on him and try to take his spot. The worst thing that’s gonna come out of that [is] you have a great camp and you’re the next guy that gets called up.
“If you wanna be realistic about it, it’s like 97 percent of guys start in the minors. You’re kind of hoping for an injury at some point. Unfortunately, you don’t wanna say that, but that’s how you get in this league. You go down to the minors, you play well, and you hope for guys to get hurt and get your call-up. That’s how it is.”
It’s a straight-up ruthless approach.
But it’s one that’s necessary when looking at this year’s camp.
“We have a pretty good idea what our lineup is gonna look like. It’s just a where-do-the-pieces-go type of thing,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted following Thursday’s sessions. “It’d be a great problem to have if someone pushes a veteran or older guy out. We want competition from inward sources [and] not necessarily always looking to the outside.”
This year’s class of potential ‘pushers’ is headlined by Jakub Lauko and Jack Studnicka. The former skated with David Pastrnak on Thursday, while the latter centered a line with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith on the wings. They’re not alone, however, as the Bruins could hope for big things from Jesper Froden, Oskar Steen, and even 2021 first-round pick Fabian Lysell. It’d also be nice if the Bruins could see something extra from 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen on the backend.
“You wanna kick down the door when you can, right?” Cassidy said. “I’m sure there’s guys who think like that. And I know there is, because I’ve had players say to me, ‘Well, I feel I’m better than this player on your roster.’ That may be so in terms of your individual package, but are you a better fit for the team? And that’s the conversations you have with a lot of young guys. They feel they’re better. Well, can you go down and do that role? Are you willing to block shots, kill penalties, play against the other team’s top group, start in your end a lot, and change your game to be able to do that?
“Those are the questions that, as a coach, you put back and do you wanna do that to a skill guy [and] take his skill away? Those are some tough conversations, too. It’s not a sell-job either. It’s just reality. Those are ones that are tough for a young guy at 20, 21 years old. It’s not easy to change the way you play when you’ve been the guy. It’s a mental thing as well. That’s why you see some guys slip through the cracks and you see other guys who are willing to change and they survive and play a long time.”
It’s not just on the player. Cassidy made it clear that the Bruins aren’t interested in telling a player knocking on the door that they have ‘no chance’ and that they’ll see ’em in six months. That goes against the very idea of training camp. It’s on the coaching staff as much as it’s on the players, and the first extended training camp and preseason since 2019 should bring about that opportunity for a few pushers.
“No one wants to go back to juniors, college, or the minors,” Marchand said. “You want to make that jump.”
Even if it comes at the expense of your target.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.