The Bruins have the bulk of their Cup-winning squad back for the upcoming season. That's good news for the club's hopes of defending that championship, not-so-good news for any newcomers hoping to crack that lineup.
But while the openings may be limited, the Bruins do have a number of prospects close to being ready to make the leap, and Boston has done a good job of making room for worthy youngsters in recent years. In the first four years under Claude Julien, the likes of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Matt Hunwick, Tuukka Rask, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin have all forced their way into prominent roles as rookies.
This year is likely to be no different, as a number of young players will come to camp with legitimate chances of making the roster.
The best bets among the youngsters are a trio of players that have already seen some action in Boston, as forward Jordan Caron and defensemen Steven Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski played a combined 67 games with the Bruins last year.
Kampfer isn't officially a rookie anymore after playing 38 games with the big club in his first professional season, but he also spent much of the season in Providence and will have to hold off several other young defensemen if he wants to secure a spot on the Boston blue line this year.
Kampfer and Bartkowski, who played six games in Boston in his first pro season, have the inside track on the seventh defenseman's role in Boston this year. Neither is likely to start higher than that as the Bruins have their top six set with veterans Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Boychuk and McQuaid all returning and Joe Corvo added from Carolina. But being the seventh defenseman in Boston can still be an important role. In the last two years, Boychuk and McQuaid each began the season in that position and earned regular roles in the top six before the end of the year.
Giving Kampfer and Bartkowski competition will be fellow youngsters Colby Cohen, David Warsofsky, Ryan Button and Yury Alexandrov.
One young defenseman who likely won't be ready to push for a job with the big club is arguably the most talented prospect in the system. Dougie Hamilton, the ninth overall pick in this year's draft, is expected to need at least one more year of junior hockey to build strength and hone his skills
"I'd say he needs a little more development, yeah," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said after the draft. "You never know, but my guess is that he's at least a year away."
The same could be said for two other junior stars up front, but 2010 second-round picks Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight have other ideas. Both impressed last year at their first camps, with Spooner one of the final cuts, and both looked even better at this summer's development camp. But Chiarelli tempered enthusiasm for the two 19-year-olds.
"I don't want to kill any dreams that these kids have, but we have a whole other strata of players like the [Jamie] Arniels, the Carons, the Bartkowskis," Chiarelli said after the conclusion of the development camp. "I mean we have a whole level [of prospects] that are really close. But usually every year there's one or two [players from the junior ranks who make a run at a spot in Boston]. Like last year, Spooner stayed till the very end. Now was it realistic that he was going to make it? Probably not, but he played so well that at least we talked about it. So in that sense there probably will be someone that is there and wows you and you have to talk about it and think about it."
Spooner and Knight plan on giving Julien and Chiarelli plenty to think about this September, and they've got at least one member of the front office believing they're capable of possibly contributing right away.
"There's no reason why those guys shouldn't be encouraged," Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney said. "I mean we've had guys emerge out of our camp the first year and play. And you know, Peter's been very consistent that if a young man is ready to play and help his hockey club and help Claude in the areas that we want and we've identified, then we make room.
"Each of those two guys have things that we're excited about," Sweeney added of Spooner and Knight. "They don't have the experience yet playing, so they'll go through camps, play some exhibition games and see how they continue to react, but there's no reason why each and every one of those guys shouldn't be coming here and saying I don't have to go back to junior."
There are other players who may have something to say about that though. Caron is the best positioned to claim one of the few open spots. He made the team out of camp last year and had 3-4-7 totals in 23 games before being assigned to Providence. Caron came back up for the playoffs and while he did not appear in a postseason game, he did get an up-close look at what it takes to compete in that environment and will look to apply those lessons in his quest for a roster spot this fall.
"By watching the games I can see how different it is from the regular season," Caron said during the Cup Final, when he skated in pre-game warm-ups. "The pace is so high. I'm going to go into this summer wanting to make the team and stay here for the whole season and hopefully get back in the Final next year."
Arniel, who also appeared briefly with in Boston last year, Max Sauve and 2007 first-round pick Zach Hamill will vie for spots in camp as well.
NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be answering one question facing the Bruins this offseason each day until Aug. 8.
Friday, July 29: What games this season should be circled on the calendar?
Sunday, July 31: What impact will the coaching change in Providence have on the organization?