The team had six regulars returning from last year in Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart and Matt Hunwick, and also re-signed Adam McQuaid after he impressed in 19 regular-season and nine playoff games with the big club.
But as the Bruins prepare to leave for Europe on Wednesday night, they still have nine blueliners in camp, and rookies Steve Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski are making things just a little less clear-cut on defense. And that's not a bad thing.
"I know for a fact that we have pretty good depth this year," said Bruins coach Claude Julien on a conference call on Monday. "If something were to happen [with injuries], I am really comfortable in saying that we have at least nine defenseman I feel very comfortable with."
Still, Julien will have to cut two of those blueliners before the start of the season. With McQuaid having a solid camp of his own and needing to clear waivers to be assigned to Providence, Kampfer and Bartkowski are probably the ones who will be sent down. But that doesn't mean they will have seen the last of Boston this season.
"We'll probably carry seven [defensemen]," said Julien. "Two guys will probably end up in Providence, but if somebody went down, we'd have some quality people coming up."
Bartkowski, 22, a first-year pro out of Ohio State who was acquired along with Seidenberg in a deadline deal last year, impressed in the preseason opener at Montreal, collecting a pair of assists. Kampfer, 22, a Michigan product acquired from Anaheim late last season, answered with a goal against Florida in Rochester and was solid in the rematch with the Panthers at the Garden on Saturday when he was paired with Chara.
"I think he played a very strong game," said Chara in the conference call. "He was handling the puck extremely well. He was making smart plays. For a young guy, he is having great camp. … I think he's a hell of a player and we all are very excited to have him."
Kampfer was paired with Chara on Saturday, but the captain's full-time partner in the regular season is still to be determined. Chara and Seidenberg showed great chemistry when they skated together after Seidenberg joined the team in March, but the Bruins may be better served by splitting that duo and having better balance on their top two pairs.
Boychuk worked well with Chara in the playoffs after Seidenberg was injured, and that is another potential combination this year, which would allow Seidenberg to skate with Ference on a second tandem.
Julien hinted that the Bruins could employ both options depending on the opponent, teaming Chara and Seidenberg against teams that relied primarily on one top line and splitting them against opponents with more balanced attacks.
"I think it's really going to depend on the team we play against," said Julien. "We've talked about putting Seidenberg up with Z and we've had some good success shutting down some top lines in the past. But we may need also a little bit of balance if we're playing teams that have two lines that are offensively dangerous, then we may want to balance things out a little bit. So maybe you see Johnny Boychuk going back with Z in that situation because he did a decent job when he was called upon, and Dennis Seidenberg can have another partner."
Chara stressed that he is comfortable playing with any of the club's defensemen and is excited about the overall depth of the unit, which begins the year healthy after suffering through injuries to Seidenberg, Ference and Stuart last year.
"I think we have a very strong group of guys on the back end," said Chara. "Obviously if you stay healthy it helps you a lot. The last couple of years we've been affected by injuries, but for sure we have a very strong group of defensemen with a lot of experience. Everyone can move the puck. We can use different options in different situations and I think that's a big positive for this team, that depth on the back end is pretty solid."