It’s August, training camp is still weeks away, and the Boston Bruins have been relatively quiet on the transaction front for, well, pretty much the entire summer.
In other words, the hockey landscape with regards to Bruins news is a barren wasteland — for better or for worse. But if you came to this very website in hopes of seeing the hot-take harpoon get launched over the signing of a defenseman to a professional tryout contract, well you might want to look elsewhere.
The Bruins reportedly have signed veteran blueliner Alex Petrovic to a professional tryout contract. Boston Hockey Now’s Alex Thomas had the news first, and it was confirmed in a couple other places later on.
It was a move that unsurprisingly flew under the radar, but it was prudent nonetheless. The 27-year-old has 263 NHL games to his name and hasn’t played in the minors since the 2014-15 season. If his name sounds familiar to Bruins fans, that’s because it probably is. He spent the entirety of his career with the Florida Panthers up until getting moved to the Edmonton Oilers during this past season.
He’s far from the Torey Krug ilk (his 2-15-17 line in 2015-16 set career bests for him in all three scoring categories), but he’s a stay-at-home defender who still can be an adequate puck mover that gladly uses his 6-foot-4, 216-pound frame to deliver hits (his fight card also is nuts). That said, he found his way into the lineup just nine times for the Oilers upon getting traded to Edmonton on Dec. 30. Part of that was due to a concussion that made him miss most of January, but the rest were all healthy scratches on a bad Oilers team, with the last game he actually dressed coming on Feb. 16. You could look at that as shortcomings on his part, or the Oilers trying to get younger defensemen looks in the NHL. Either way, his inability to crack that lineup is not the best look.
So, why should Bruins fans care he’s coming to training camp?
It is indeed a longshot that Petrovic would make the roster out of camp, but in order to understand his value, you first have to take stock in the state of the Bruins defense.
Restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo still don’t have contracts, and even Cam Neely has acknowledged that the Bruins have to be prepared to start camp without them. Meanwhile, John Moore and Kevan Miller both are injured and will be out well into the start of the upcoming season. Krug, Zdeno Chara, Connor Clifton, Matt Grzelcyk and Steven Kampfer all should be around to start the season, but what happens if a nuclear scenario plays out and all four of McAvoy, Carlo, Moore and Miller aren’t available to begin the season? It’s unlikely, but not totally impossible. That essentially leaves Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon as the prime candidates to fill that sixth spot, but there’s a combined 20 games of NHL experience between the three, 16 of which are from Lauzon.
In such a case, the Bruins wouldn’t have the depth to take chances on the blue line, making a guy like Petrovic more enticing. He has plenty of NHL experience, you know what you’re going to get out of him, and his game emphasizes defense over offense. When it comes to slotting in a defender in a pinch because your depth has been decimated, that’s pretty much what you’re looking for.
Even with that all in mind, it seems doubtful Petrovic makes the roster. However, there is a non-zero chance of the Bruins finding themselves in an aforementioned disastrous scenario on defense to begin the year, and stumbling out of the gate simply isn’t an option. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs will again be among the league’s best, while the Montreal Canadiens and Panthers should be better this season, especially Florida. Even in the Metropolitan Division, teams like the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils, all of whom missed the postseason last campaign, each made big improvements this offseason. In essence, a tough stretch to begin the year for the Bruins, or anyone really, could have big ramifications later in the season.
Because of that, the Bruins covering all their bases makes plenty of sense. So when training camp kicks off, Boston fans shouldn’t totally dismiss Petrovic’s presence, even if the chances of him making the roster, at present, are slim to remote.
Thumbnail photo via Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports Images