If not for the repeated emphasis on his summer training regimen, Max Sauvé most likely would not be in this conversation. He would not be rightly considered a candidate for a regular role with the Boston Bruins when and if they commence their 2012-13 campaign.
But for what another AHL training camp and two weekends of minor-league game action are worth, Sauvé has clearly added a crucial ingredient to his formula. He already had a respectable foundation from a couple of injury-shortened years, but now may have the requisite physique to reward his resolve and sustain that foundation for an extended stint in The Show.
Boston’s second-round draft choice from 2008 could have easily entered this season the same way he left that of 2011-12―appearing all but bound for the same path as Zach Hamill.
Hamill, a first-round selection in the 2007 NHL draft, entered the professional ranks in 2008-09 and lingered in Providence for the better part of four seasons. When he did not materialize sufficiently, he was swapped out late last May, closing an unofficial and uneventful five-year development plan.
Given that he missed a total of 56 games in his first two full AHL seasons due to various injuries and one call-up to Boston that ended abruptly with another ailment, Sauvé was in danger of seeing his own development stunted.
The 22-year-old, however, finished strong last spring. Only two weeks after a lower-body wound bumped him out of his NHL debut in Pittsburgh, he rejoined the P-Bruins and tallied a 4-5-9 scoring log over the final nine games.
So far, there is every indication he has and will continue to follow up on that. On the other side of the summer, Sauvé has started this season with the same point-per-game rate, tying linemate Ryan Spooner for the Providence team lead with four points entering this weekend's action.
For as long as the parent league’s lockout goes, Sauvé will be in the company of Jordan Caron, who under more auspicious circumstances would be dressing for Boston on a nightly basis by now. With Marc Savard still dealing with his unfortunate concussions, Caron gives the NHL Bruins a game-time quorum of a dozen forwards.
That inevitably means that whenever the season might begin, one of his current Providence teammates will be needed to take his previously held spot as Boston’s alternate forward for whenever injury or illness strikes one of the top 12.
The only way the Bruins could fill that spare forward role through an external acquisition is by first shedding cap space, most likely that of Savard or Tim Thomas, who will presumably be inactive for the next year.
The more realistic scenario is dipping into a Providence pool stocked with relatively or wholly inexperienced NHL forwards.
Trent Whitfield, the captain of the Baby Bs, does have 194 NHL appearances on his transcript, but only one within the last two years and only 50 since the 2004-05 lockout. At the age of 35, his stock is either static or slipping, as evidenced by the fact that he is not even a top-sixer in the American League.
Other than Caron, Christian Hanson and Chris Bourque are next among active P-Bruins forwards in terms of cumulative NHL seasoning with 42 and 33 games played, respectively. But Hanson, like Whitfield, is currently taking a backseat to the top six.
Bourque, a seven-year professional veteran, could conceivably fill in, although the fact that he has had this much time and played no more than 20 NHL games in a single season gives him a dubious outlook. His best bet may be to stand first in line for whenever an emergency summons is required.
That leaves those forwards who are still hitting their stride and still carrying substantial, albeit still fairly mysterious, NHL stock. In that regard, Sauvé is in the company of Jared Knight and Spooner, both of whom are rookies, prized second-round draft picks from 2010 and prolific OHL producers.
If he establishes consistency in the way of health and performance, Sauvé could have an upper hand on all of the above. The fact that he has skated through the better part of two professional seasons means he is more naturally acclimated to the AHL/NHL age group than the two freshmen out of major junior.
The fact that he has played two professional seasons predominantly at Triple-A, as opposed to seven a la Bourque, suggests he could offer more if brought on to the next level. It also does not hurt that Sauvé sandwiched his first two full AHL seasons by being around the parent club as a Black Ace for both the 2010 and 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Over his first two full AHL campaigns, Sauvé’s production rate has increased slightly from 0.62 to 0.67. By the time 2012-13 has taken substantive shape, he could be somewhere between that and his current point-per-game pace, but what he posts under the games played column could be more decisive.
Since mid-February of last season, Sauve’s conviction has consistently come through on the stats sheet when he has been healthy. As long as his training upgrade fulfills its end of the bargain, he should be the front-runner to be Boston’s next regular call-up.