With Marc Savard likely to miss the start of the season as he recovers from his post-concussion syndrome symptoms, the most competitive battle in the Bruins' camp this year is for the opening at center his absence has created.
David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron will slide up to the top two center spots, while newcomer Greg Campbell has a firm hold on the fourth-line center position. But there is one big, bright vacancy sign shining in the middle of the third line, and no shortage of potential candidates to fill it.
The Bruins have experimented in camp with moving winger Blake Wheeler to center, the position he played at the University of Minnesota, especially if rookie right wing Jordan Caron makes the team. But it's more likely that one of the talented youngsters still in camp will earn a chance to stay with the big club in that position.
Zach Hamill, Boston's first-round pick in 2007 (8th overall), could finally be ready to emerge. Joe Colborne, the 16th overall pick in 2008, is another option, as is second-year pro Jamie Arniel. Tyler Seguin, the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, could also move back to his natural center position, though he's already developing a nice chemistry with Bergeron and Mark Recchi while playing on the wing on that line.
"Following Savvy's absence, that's been our biggest point of discussion," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli in a conference call Sunday morning. "That spot is open. We're going to look at Wheels in that spot. We're going to have a look at Zach in that spot. There are some other combinations we can look at. Tyler can go back to that spot. There's a hole there right now."
Another option is 2010 second-rounder Ryan Spooner, who has been the most pleasant surprise of camp so far. Spooner is just 18 and at 5-foot-10, 182 pounds, he might not be ready for the physical grind of a full season in the NHL. But his skills and hockey sense already appear NHL-ready, and he's making it very tough for the Bruins to send him back to his junior club in Peterborough (OHL).
"He's making a case too," said Chiarelli. "He's young and it's his first pro camp, but each day, each game he's getting better and he's such a smart player. He might be able to fill in. We're talking about a lot of different combinations right now, but that spot is open."
And Chiarelli has a pretty clear idea of the qualifications he wants in a candidate for that opening.
"We improved our wings, so you want to have someone who can distribute the puck and make plays," said Chiarelli. "Those guys that I mentioned can all do that. We'll have to see, but you'll see some different combinations on that third line."
The one thing that appears certain is that one of these players will get a shot to center Boston's third line. With so many viable candidates in camp, Chiarelli is not exploring options to add a veteran from outside the organization through a trade, waiver pickup or free-agent signing at this point.
"I'm looking internally right now," said Chiarelli. "We have a real promising and good supply of players, whether it's existing NHL players, current pros or even rookies. Our numbers up front are good. I'm happy with that. I'm not looking externally right now and I don't anticipate [doing] that, but that may change."