As of Monday, CapGeek lists Justin Florek among the 12 forwards with a contract on the Boston Bruins NHL payroll. Taking the long-injured Marc Savard out of the equation and assuming the club re-ups Reilly Smith, that basic listing could stick.
Florek, one of six skaters to re-sign with the organization earlier this month, stands out as the only forward under that heading without a full NHL season to his credit. As a second-year professional in 2013-14, he debuted on Jan. 4 and logged 10 combined regular-season and playoff appearances.
Considering the buzz discrepancies with Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Spooner, it is a mild head-scratcher that the latter two remain on CapGeek’s “non-roster.”
At least one, if not both, are logical favorites to give Boston’s offense a quorum of 12 plus a spare striker.
Still, upon renewing his Spoked-B membership, Florek voiced no shortage of poise to Jess Isner of the team’s website. As quoted by Isner in a feature story last week, he said:
Last year was my first NHL training camp, so to kind of just go through that, it was just a great experience and I was happy to be there. But this year, I’m coming back and I kind of know the ropes a little bit. I’m coming back to make the team this year. So I may be more comfortable, but I’m also more confident in myself and hopefully (I’ll) earn a spot.
Given the salary strain that continues to plague the Bruins, Florek’s door to regular NHL action is all but stuck to the adjacent wall. The chief question is how much gridlock there is in the threshold and whether that restricts him to reserve status.
With Savard’s cap hit of $4,027,143 currently reflected on the CapGeek payroll, Boston is $809,143 above the ceiling. Smith and defenseman Torey Krug are both still seeking new deals.
Theoretically, if and when Savard goes on long-term injured reserve, that should render the two restricted free agents affordable. However, a space-clearing trade would be the Bruins’ only means of creating room for an external acquisition.
General manager Peter Chiarelli’s best bet on that front would be to relinquish someone in the range of Chris Kelly ($3 million) or Johnny Boychuk ($3,366,667). Otherwise, he will be leaving it to career-long NHL spare pieces and/or AHL mainstays to supplement the strike force.
That means banking on 10 established, healthy forwards along with three of Jordan Caron, Florek, Khokhlachev and Spooner.
Of those six candidates, four saw action in Providence for the better part of 2013-14. Of those four, Spooner is the only one who has no business returning to the minors at any point.
Spooner saw action in 23 games for Boston in his second professional season, making most of those appearances in bulk over December and January. That protracted promotion yielded plenty of promise as well as a smoother read on the refinement he still needed.
Khokhlachev is almost as hard to envision donning the Spoked-P at any time in the future. He made all-around strides as an AHL rookie and looks to be a key to lending more quickness and pure skill to Boston’s bottom six.
Assuming Khokhlachev and Spooner deliver on their promise, Florek is the current front-runner for the 13th forward slot.
Although the Bruins renewed Caron, the veteran of 123 NHL games in four seasons has virtually exhausted his bids for longevity with the team. Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com even noted that “Caron said after signing for the NHL minimum that he understands if his contract portends a trade to another NHL organization and perhaps a chance to play on a more regular basis.”
Florek, on the other hand, is a fresher specimen of desire on the rise in the Boston system. As The Hockey News is apt to underline, he has the right frame and propensities to fit in on the third or (more likely) fourth line.
Having accrued six of his first 10 NHL games in the playoffs, he has the advantage of a firsthand understanding of The Show’s top-shelf intensity. That, along with the fact that he was swapped out for Fraser early in the second round, ought to be fueling his summer drive for improvement.
Besides building more physical strength, Florek may want to make a point of bringing positional flexibility to training camp. He is a natural left winger, and Khokhlachev, Fraser and Spooner are fellow left-handed shooters.
THN’s Boston depth chart files Florek as the team’s No. 4 left wing. That, however, does not account for the prospect of Kelly, Khokhlachev or Spooner needing to settle for a wing assignment rather than their natural pivot position.
Conversely, the same projection reflects the Bruins’ modicum of quantity and quality on the right side. Fraser and Caron are third and fourth, respectively, in that position. Therefore, developing a measure of comfort on the off wing could give Florek a substantial upper hand.
Generally speaking, being a 13th forward should entail the versatility to line up on either side when any given regular winger is unavailable. That could be an X-factor for Florek.
Pastrnak, too, bears a right curve on his twig, but his shortage of size and strength will likely push off his NHL debut to a later year. Regardless of his position, he should burgeon into a top-sixer, and Loui Eriksson and Smith figure to have the first two right-wing slots in their clutch for the immediate future.
That is unless Chiarelli does spring for a deal that gives him the requisite cap space to upgrade the strike force. That potentiality, along with the Fraser factor, preserves Florek’s worst-case scenario for the 2014-15 season.
A permanent slot in Boston, which could come by simply surpassing Caron, is no sure thing for Florek come October. But if he falls short of that, he ought to be the first AHL forward in line for a promotion when injuries strike the parent club.
His best-case scenario, though, would have him practicing with Boston full-time and filling in as a fourth-line wing in games that call for a hulking body or a body at all. Those scenarios stem from the stripes he has earned and the lessons he has learned since the calendar year began.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.
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