With the NHL lockout over and a regular season for the Boston Bruins just around the corner, the chatter naturally turns to roster debates. The third line winger role was one of the few open competition spots on the Boston roster with Jordan Caron, Chris Bourque and Ryan Spooner standing as the three most likely candidates.
Whichever forward makes the Boston club will likely slot in with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly on a third line that’s proven to be vital to the B’s success over the last two years.
While the 21-year-old Caron was long thought to be the favorite to claim that spot after finishing off last year with a flourish in that role, the former first round pick suffered an upper body injury on Friday night skating with the Providence Bruins. According to reports, Caron left the ice holding his left arm gingerly immediately after sustaining the injury.
P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy had indicated that Caron would be out almost three weeks, and that would keep him out of the Boston lineup for at least the first handful of games.
Caron has actually struggled a bit with eight points (6 goals, 2 assists) in 31 games along with a minus-6 rating for Providence, and those numbers look even more tepid when considering the Bruins forward collected three of those goals in one bravura performance against the Manchester Monarchs.
Meanwhile the 26-year-old Bourque, who graduates to a one-way contract with Boston in 2013-14 no matter what happens this season, has 27 points (8 goals, 19 assists) in 31 games for a Providence team that hasn’t exactly been lighting it up offensively.
“Every night he makes a couple of high-end plays," P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "Sometimes [the rest of the guys] aren’t ready for them.
“He does some high-end things that our guys are getting used to. He’ll take some high-risk plays, but they work out a lot more than they don’t when it’s him making them. He’s competitive, he cares, he battles and he wants to be out there all the time.
Clearly the history of the Bourque family in Black and Gold would make him a compelling story off the ice, but he’s also consistently been Providence’s best player on the ice. The 20-year-old Spooner has 19 points (7 goals, 12 assists) in 25 games for Providence during his first full AHL season, and has shown the kind of offensive instincts and playmaking skills that were advertised as a 2010 second round draft pick.
The expectation is that a handful of players – including Bourque, Spooner and perhaps Lane MacDermid and Jamie Tardif among others – will be called up to Boston at the end of next week for a brief NHL training camp prior to a 48-50 game season.
May the best man – or the healthiest, anyway – win the spot.