Time is running out for Jordan Caron, who was drafted 25th overall by the Bruins in the first round of the 2009 NHL Draft, to solidify his place in Boston's major league lineup. Despite disappointing fans with just 22 points in his 71 career top-flight games, Caron still has what it takes to become an impact player at the NHL level.
The 22-year-old winger just might be the most underrated player in the Bruins organization, because his skills are rarely represented in the box score.
First of all, Caron is a defense-first winger, failing to fulfill the scoring-based expectations often saddled on first-round forwards. Caron excels in the ugly parts of the game and is thus destined to be an unsung hero.
Chris Chirichiello of Bruins Daily had the following to say about Caron at the end of last season:
Although he only notched seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 48 games played, he blocked dozens of shots and was not afraid to use his body. He had 64 hits and most importantly was a tremendous asset on the Bruins penalty-kill. He is a very scrappy, hard-nosed player who is not afraid to put his body in front of the opposing team’s net to help his team.
Unfortunately, at 6'2" and just a shade over 200 pounds, Caron doesn't fit the grinder archetype the same way the rough-and-tumble Shawn Thornton does. As a result, fans continue to expect goals and assists that Caron will never produce.
His point total in Boston last year was abysmal and his AHL production during the NHL lockout has not shown any improvement. This fall he has just seven points in 19 games.
The important thing to remember is that Caron does not need to be a top-six forward to be an impact player. He can be a checking-line star and an elite penalty-killing monster.
He is also not entirely devoid of offensive upside. He has a long way to go, but has the ability to develop a strong down-low game with his physical style. Bruins Daily's Mark Marino has praised his ability to contribute on the power play by "screening and looking for redirects and chances to jump on loose pucks."
Caron's lack of ideal offensive upside will keep him from becoming a star in Boston, but utilized properly, he can be a spectacular role-player much like Gregory Campbell.
However, Caron's opportunity to establish himself may be fading as other prospects climb the ladder. Providence point leaders Ryan Spooner and Chris Bourque will each battle Caron for a roster spot in Boston.
The 26-year-old Bourque lacks upside but has a proven track record of consistent point production at the AHL level and could finally make his mark in the big leagues.
The much younger Ryan Spooner, who is turning heads in his first full AHL campaign, could supplant Caron with his offensive skills. Though Caron likely has a spot on the Boston roster to lose, Spooner has made a strong case for NHL consideration with 13 points in 18 games for Providence this fall.
With Shawn Thornton aging with each passing day, Caron should be a lock to spend time on Boston's third or fourth line early in the season. If he can manage to produce just enough in the opposing zone, his dynamite defensive game will help him stick around.
If fans can manage their expectations, then they will eventually come to appreciate the valuable role that Caron can play for the Black and Gold.