Starting this Friday, exactly three months to the date of that story, those moves will undergo their first round of tests with the Providence Bruins. Presumptive new faces on the nightly game roster include two ex-Hershey Bears converting to a new ursine crest and a pair of 2010 second-round draft picks fresh off prolific major junior careers.
At least until they get a crack at the parent club if and when the NHL lockout ends, those four figure to be called upon to join a series of returnees and grant Providence a more searing strike force than in recent years. A few others are bound to make their share of trips through the revolving AHL/ECHL door.
Based on the team’s original training camp roster and the first round of reassignments to the South Carolina Stingrays, the 16 P-Bruins forwards likely to see the most action in 2012-13 are evaluated as follows.
The concoction is tough to find any fault with.
With the NHL indefinitely on hold, Bourque is in a league that he has consistently thrived in, reaching a new height as the AHL’s assists and points leader last year. And he has the natural thrill of being on the top farm team for his legendary father’s long-time employer.
Provided he stays grounded, which is not much of a worry considering his relatively mature age for a minor-leaguer, and works with a consistent supporting cast, Bourque’s surname and stats will endear him to the Bruins fanbase.
Especially if and when Providence ventures back into the postseason, the three-time Calder Cup champion and 2010 tournament MVP will be a go-to playmaking pilot.
Last year’s top team playmaker (30 assists) and point-getter (48 points), Camper will have the double benefit of seasoned, certified additives taking off some of his workload and having his first full pro campaign out of the way.
The Miami University product should now be acclimated to the length and quantity of an AHL game schedule and ready to give consistent top-nine performances.
Camper’s primal measuring pole for improvement will be the way he doles out his goals. While his assists spread was consistent enough in 2011-12, he had six separate, protracted goal-less skids lasting five, four, nine, seven, six and seven games.
Although, provided his teammates meet their expectations, Camper can roll up roughly the same final stats this season and be deemed an appreciable contributor to the P-Bruins.
Back in the AHL solely due to the lockout, which is pushing off what would have been his first full season in Boston, Caron’s worst projected enemy is complacency. He should be bent on reaping as much as he can out of this unscheduled extension of time in the development circuit.
Like Camper, Cunningham enters his sophomore campaign on the heels of leading a shallow P-Bruins squad in a key category, having tallied a team-best 20 goals. And he, too, will be relieved of any excess responsibility so long as Bourque and other offseason imports are allied with him on game night.
Regardless, he need not be excused from trying to at least match his rookie output. In addition, after a minus-12 rating tied him for second-worst on the club, Cunningham should be bent on flaunting improved play in his own end.
This time, it counts. If Florek hopes to hold a steady AHL job in 2012-13, he will need to make good on his second chance to follow up on a high-decibel tone-setter.
Unlike his amateur tryout late last season, though, Florek will need to sustain a little more heat in his acetylene twig. Upon joining the P-Bruins fresh out of Northern Michigan University, he amassed a 2-2-4 scoring log in his AHL debut, only to go pointless over seven subsequent appearances.
With 12 fellow forwards boasting at least one full AHL campaign plus the touted Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner coming in, Florek cannot afford a comparable case of frostbite. He will have to earn his minutes using all of his 6”4 posture.
Had he been available for the full length of his first two seasons as a Toronto Marlie, Hanson could have been the team’s top scorer two years running. As it happened, he finished among the top four in both years despite playing only 38 and 58 games in those years.
Last season, his output dipped on an immensely deeper Hershey team piloted by Bourque. But if he is a consistent corporeal and committed presence in Providence, he should be a suitably sound depth contributor.
One half of a touted tandem with Ryan Spooner, Knight recently proclaimed to the parent Boston Bruins’ website that “we have such a good chemistry off the ice and it’s good to finally play on the same ice with him and play on the same team.”
Assuming he is reading himself and his fellow freshman accurately, Knight’s performance in the tone-setting stages of the season could directly impact Spooner’s and vice versa. In turn, they could collectively be either a booster or a bane for the Bruins over the coming campaign.
Coming from and fueling a tradition-laden London Knights team that garnered last year’s OHL playoff crown, Knight need not have any question marks beyond instantly acclimating to competition with a more mature age group.
As always, a player of the MacDermid mold will be leaned upon to pitch in supplementary scoring in addition to physicality and general grunt work. The fact that he is coming off back-to-back 12-assist campaigns is encouraging enough, but a little more could come from him.
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 30 of 2011, MacDermid sprinkled eight goals over a span of 58 AHL games-played. He sandwiched that with one goal in the first 30 games of 2010-11 and two strikes over his last 63 appearances in 2011-12.
A five-point, 10-game tear like last October is not going to come consistently, but tinkering on the 10-goal and surpassing the 20-point range will be all MacDermid needs to satisfy the pure hockey portion of his job description.
Other than that, it is all about wearing down key opponents with his physical presence and flexing what he has learned over three straight non-playoff seasons in Providence.
Like Florek, MacKinnon is going to need to keep a tight, delicate grip on his professional foundation to retain his position in Providence. As a first-year professional, he finished fifth on the Baby Bs with 14 goals and was one of only five regulars to retain a positive plus/minus rating.
For MacKinnon, the worst-case scenario at the outset of his sophomore campaign is standing on the threshold of the revolving door in case of injuries or slumps to any of the bigger hype magnets. Like Camper, he is a college product who survived his first ride through a longer, more rigorous professional schedule, which should automatically elevate his advantage in 2012-13.
Staying focused and poised so as not to let that advantage recede and bury him in the ECHL will be his top challenge.
After splitting his final year of OHL eligibility and first year of AHL eligibility between both leagues, the gritty Randell faces an uphill climb as he tries to be an impact player in Providence.
Odds are he will be in line for seasoning in South Carolina sooner or later, which ought to prove beneficial for all parties concerned.
However intentional or unintentional, Robins’ midseason insertion shortly after last Christmas proved to evoke memories of the parent club’s push to become “tougher to play against” circa 2007 with the likes of Andrew Ference, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton.
Besides his overflowing record of extracurricular activity (20 fights), Robins also chipped in a respectable 10 assists and retained a plus-four rating in 32 appearances. By building on that log, like the longer-tenured MacDermid, Robins can be a dependably productive fourth-liner and a trustworthy enforcer.
A Black Ace for Boston in both 2010 and 2012, Sauvé is seeking his first injury-free campaign since entering the Bruins system in the spring of 2010. His brief, but dense history of frightful fragility will garner some scrutiny to start, but the best-case scenario has him building on his 21-goal rookie campaign.
The good news: Sauvé re-emerged two weeks after sustaining an ailment in his NHL debut last March and played each of the P-Bruins last eight games, tallying a 3-5-8 scoring log in that span. Prior to that fateful call-up to Boston, he had bounced back from a concussion and, without delay, scored a 4-8-12 transcript in 10 AHL games.
Barring future speed bumps that result in more injured reserve stints, Sauvé ought not to slow down going forward.
The Bruins’ best prospective left winger in the eyes of Hockey’s Future, Spooner already has three goals and seven points in eight cumulative games over two late-season call-ups to Providence.
His major-junior track record had him pitching in consistently on a variety of teams, always hovering around the point-per-game mark. On the other side of the puck, though, Spooner’s transcript of repeat negative plus/minuses matches the caveat in his Hockey’s Future profile that says he “has shown a tendency to hot dog and lose focus on his defensive assignments.”
How successfully head coach Bruce Cassidy can harness Spooner in that area could be a critical factor into the rookie’s contributions.
Tardif was a power-play boon in spurts last year, tallying seven of his first 11 goals during the man advantage. But he ran dry on special teams after Feb. 4 and then went goal-less altogether in his final 12 appearances before an injury ended his season in the final week of March.
All of those occurrences derailed what could have been a year mirroring his final season in Grand Rapids in 2010-11 and thus justifying his import to Providence. He will get his mulligan in 2012-13, the second half of his contract with the Boston organization.
Another veteran Providence player perpetually plagued by injuries, Whitfield saw his output plummet last season, his third as a Bruin, from the previous year. Before, between and after a concussion and eye ailment in 2011-12, he brooked four pointless skids lasting five games or longer and another two lasting four games apiece.
Over three seasons with this team, all of them Calder Cup playoff no-shows, the 35-year-old captain may have been the quintessential personification of the P-Bruins’ frustrating fortunes. As he goes with the burning preseason questions, so goes the club.
In other words, is this the year Whitfield goes on a smooth ride from start to finish? And will he have enough in him to stoke an assertive run to the top eight in the Eastern Conference?