WILMINGTON, Mass. — In a week, the veterans will return for the start of the Bruins' training camp, and sharing the ice with the reigning Stanley Cup champions will be a daunting proposition for the rookies fortunate enough to be invited to the main camp.
"I guess that's a little bit intimidating," center Ryan Spooner said. "When we get on the ice with them, obviously they're a great team and hopefully I can be a part of it one day."
For the time being, the youngsters have the ice to themselves with the club's rookie camp opening on Friday at Ristuccia Arena, and Spooner and fellow 2010 second-round pick Jared Knight are more the intimidators than the intimidated with the experience they bring compared to many of their fellow rookies.
Both youngsters participated in their first camp last year, and acquitted themselves well enough to not only reach the main camp, but see action in several preseason games with the big club and make it until the last handful of cuts.
This year, they each hope to stick around even longer, though they understand that cracking a championship roster will be no easy feat.
"I'm a lot more confident this year," Knight said. "Last year was a learning experience. Now I know what to expect, so it's a lot better."
Spooner also is more at ease with facing the challenge ahead of him with one pro camp already under his belt.
"I felt a lot more comfortable this time around," Spooner said. "Last year I felt a lot of nerves, but this time around I didn't find there was as many.
"When I came in last year I had no idea what was going to happen," Spooner added. "I had a good camp, and I guess coming in this year I'm just going to take it day by day."
Both Spooner and Knight built off their strong showings at camp with solid seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. Spooner finished with 35-46-81 totals in 64 games split between Peterborough and Kingston, while Knight had 25-45-70 totals in 68 games with London.
They remained linked as they each joined Providence at the end of their junior campaigns, getting their first taste of regular-season pro action with Spooner scoring two goals and an assist in three games and Knight chipping in a pair of assists.
The bond grew even stronger as they were both signed to entry-level deals on July 20. That contract, as much as last year's experience, has helped put Knight at ease and hopeful of making a run at a job with the big club.
"Last year I came in and I wasn't signed," Knight said. "This year I'm signed, so I mean, anything's possible. I just have to work hard.
"Last year I was just the little guy in the background," Knight added. "This year I know some of the guys from playing with them in the exhibition games, so this year I'm going to be a lot more comfortable."
Bruins management is comfortable with how Knight and Spooner have progressed so far, and hasn't ruled out the possibility of either sticking around this season.
"They went through the process last year, so they understand the size and the speed of NHL players and American Hockey League players," Bruins assistant general manager Jim Benning said. "They've shown up in excellent shape, both of them. I'm sure as we go through camp they'll be able to show everything they've got as players because they've given themselves an opportunity to show that coming in here in such good shape."
Both players definitely want to show what they've learned over the past year. For Spooner, who has bulked up a bit to a still modest 5-foot-10, 182 pounds, playing with poise is the most important lesson he learned from last year's camp.
"Just to be confident when you're on the ice," Spooner said. "It's kind of intimidating when you're on the ice when with the guys who play on the actual team, so you have to just believe in yourself and have confidence. Usually if you do that things will work out for you."
For Knight, he learned that he needed to work on his all-around game, and feels that he has improved his play away from the puck while bulking up to 198 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame.
"Last year I was more of an offensive guy," Knight said. "This year my defensive game has come a long ways. I know you're not going to make the team if you're just offensive-minded. You've got to have that other element to your game."
Spooner and Knight have the confidence and improved two-way play to make things interesting in camp. With both players just 19, they will have to go back to their junior clubs if they don't stay in Boston, but neither intends to make sending them back to the OHL an easy decision for the Bruins.
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