BOSTON — The Bruins have finalized their roster for the 2011-12 season, but not without one last mild surprise.
Veteran forward Chris Clark, who came to camp on a tryout invitation and impressed throughout the preseason, was not signed to a contract and has been released from camp.
Clark played well in preseason action and had the potential to supply some veteran savvy and grit, but the Bruins already have those elements in abundance in their lineup. Still, it appeared that Clark may have earned a spot when he wore an A as one of the team's alternate captains in the preseason finale Saturday in Bridgeport. Clark suffered a broken nose in a fight in that contest, but Wednesday's cut no doubt hurt more.
Clark leaves with some strong praise from coach Claude Julien, so it is possible the Bruins could look at bringing him back if injuries strike and he remains unsigned. But Clark is now free to sign elsewhere if he can find interest from another club.
"He's a guy with experience," Julien said after Wednesday's practice before the final roster was set. "We like that part of him. He's a guy that leads by example. He's been a captain, he grinds it out. There's a lot of things that he can add to the hockey club and basically at the end of the day, there's going to be some decisions made for a lot of things whether it's some surprises or deceptions. I guess that's the challenge that we have at finalizing this stuff."
Clark's loss was rookie Jordan Caron's gain, as the youngster has made the big club out of camp for the second straight year. Caron played just 23 games in Boston last season, spending the bulk of the year in Providence, but that experience appears to have prepared him for a bigger role this season.
"This year he's a lot more comfortable," Julien said. "Being with us during the playoffs and being around the players and so on and so forth, all those things kind of help but to me he's had a real good camp again this year, which he did last year, but there's probably a little bit more confidence. There's probably a little bit more experience in his thinking. He knows what happened last year and he's not going to want that to happen again so that's the way he's thinking right now."
Caron will be competing with newcomer Benoit Pouliot for playing time on the third line. The other lines appear set to start the year with David Krejci remaining between Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton on the top line, Rich Peverley joining Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the second unit and the fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton returning intact. That leaves Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin with either Caron or Pouliot on the third line, with one of those two likely to be a healthy scratch in Thursday's opener against Philadelphia.
With Clark's release and center Marc Savard remaining on injured reserve, the Bruins will have 13 forwards to start the season. Savard will not play this season as he continues to suffer post-concussion symptoms.
Defenseman Steven Kampfer was also placed on injured reserve, though he is expected to miss just 2-4 weeks with a sprained MCL in his left knee. That injury helped rookie Matt Bartkowski secure the seventh and final spot on the blue line. The top six will consist of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and newcomer Joe Corvo.
Julien stated that he will mix and match the pairs based on the opponent and the need to balance the ice time to keep all his defenders fresh after last year's long postseason run and short summer. Bartkowski is expected to start the season as a healthy scratch, but could be pressed into service on Thursday as McQuaid is questionable for the game after missing the last two days of practice with an illness.
Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask remain the tandem in goal, though this year's workload may be more evenly balanced to give Thomas some extra rest after his busy postseason. Fellow netminder Anton Khudobin cleared waivers on Tuesday and has been officially assigned to Providence.
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