We'll be examining each spot in turn in the coming days, starting with the club's greatest strength: its deep corps of talented centers.
The Bruins will have one of the best collections of centers around with Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, but there are some questions with the group heading into camp.
Savard will have to show he's fully recovered from the severe concussion he suffered in March and also overcome any lingering resentment from his name being circulated in trade rumors all summer. He led the Bruins in scoring in each of his first three seasons in Boston, averaging more than 87 points a year, but he managed just 33 points in 41 games last season.
Bergeron showed last season that he was completely recovered from the serious concussion he suffered in 2007 as he tied for the team lead with 52 points and reestablished himself as Boston's top all-around forward. Krejci tied Bergeron with 52 points and added eight more points in nine playoff games before a wrist injury ended his postseason. That was one injury the Bruins couldn't overcome, as they lost the final four games without him. Krejci needs to show he's recovered from that injury and return to his late-season form to solidify the Bruins' strength down the middle.
Fourth-line center Steve Begin was not re-signed and hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent. He remains unsigned and may have to earn a contract somewhere in camp. Vladimir Sobotka, who also spent much of the season on the fourth line, was dealt to St. Louis at the draft. Trent Whitfield is still under contract after spending last season shuttling between Boston and Providence, but he's expected to miss the entire year after suffering a ruptured Achilles' this summer. Winger Jeremy Reich could take over his role as the veteran utilityman called up to fill in for short-term injuries, while Drew Larman, who appeared in four games without a point last year in Boston but spent most of the season down in the AHL, also remains unsigned on the free-agent market.
Gregory Campbell was acquired from Florida along with winger Nathan Horton in a June trade for defenseman Dennis Wideman. Campbell will take over Begin's spot centering the fourth line and also be a mainstay on the penalty kill. He led the Panthers in hits in each of the last three seasons, including 158 last year despite missing 22 games due to injuries. His point production slipped to 2-15-17, but he did have 13-19-32 totals as recently as 2008-09. The biggest new name in the middle could be rookie Tyler Seguin, but even though he played center last year in the OHL, he's expected to begin his pro career at wing due to the Bruins' depth down the middle.
In the System
That depth will also make it tough for recent first-round picks Joe Colborne (16th overall in 2008) and Zach Hamill (eighth overall in 2007) to crack the lineup, though Colborne does have experience playing the wing in college and could be poised to make a run at a roster spot there. Hamill showed some improvement last year in Providence (44 points in 75 games) and impressed in a one-game cameo with the big club at the end of the regular season, but still has plenty to prove. Jamie Arniel will also get more time in Providence to develop, while enigmatic playmaker Carl Soderberg remains in semi-seclusion in his native Sweden, unlikely to ever test his skills against NHL competition in Boston.
Two of the other centers to watch in camp are Max Sauve and Ryan Spooner, who are both capable of playing the wing as well. Sauve impressed in exhibition play last fall (three points in three preseason games) and had two goals in six games after joining Providence following the conclusion of his junior season. Spooner was a second-round pick this June and was impressive at July's development camp.
Further down the ranks are late-round picks Levi Nelson, who is entering his third pro season with 10-10-20 totals in 103 games the last two years in Providence, and Mark Goggin (Dartmouth), Ben Sexton (Clarkson) and Nick Tremblay (Clarkson), who will continue to hone their skills in the NCAA ranks. Tremblay has the best chance of that group to eventually emerge thanks to his exceptional skating ability.
Barring any deals or injuries, there shouldn't be a lot a drama in the decisions at this spot in camp. Savard, Bergeron and Krejci have the top three spots locked down, and Campbell has a similarly tight grip on the fourth-line job. Seguin is close to a lock as well, albeit likely with a switch to the wing, where Colborne could also force himself into the mix. At worse, Colborne and Hamill will have a chance to earn some time with the big club on call-ups during the season if injuries strike, though their bonus-heavy entry-level deals could complicate that with Boston's precarious cap situation.
NESN.com will analyze a different position on the Bruins roster every day this week.
Thursday, Sept. 2: Right wing
Thursday, Sept. 2: Right wing
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