With Savard likely out at least a month, and Sturm down checked until probably December, the race for roster spots has gotten even more interesting. I went to the second rookie game against the Islanders and was treated to more hustle and grit from some players than I had expected.

Jamie Arniel was relentless about chasing the puck in his own zone and turned in a very solid two way game. I’ve seen him play before and his speed is no surprise, but his tenacity and work ethic are reminicient of P.J. Axellson.

Ryan Spooner, if there’s any of the picks from this years draft who have just jumped on the ice determined to make every GM who passed him over look silly, it’s this guy. Fast, quick release, solid shot and did better than certain other centers in the faceoff circle tonight against Montreal.  He even picked up a point against the defense that shut down Semin and Green last spring.

Jordan “I’m a first round pick too” Caron had a hat trick in the first game against the Islanders rookies, and delivered three in the Bell Centre tonight. On a team starved for size (Bergeron at 194 lbs was their largest center last year.) his now two hundred plus pound frame might leverage out the slighter men. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a versatile player comfortable at both wing and center. Of note was his penalty kill time against Montreal. He was the only rookie forward to get any PK time, and was just behind Seguin in powerplay time for rookies.

Maxime Suave. It’s hard to believe this guy had a pin removed from his ankle just a few weeks back. His speed is top shelf, and like Arniel his two way play came as a pleasant surprise. This is of course in addition to his release which will remind Bruins fans of a young Glen Murray. Add in his passing ability and you’ve got a lethal combination. During the second rookie game he peeled around the back if the Islanders net, zoomed towards the blueline and made a tape to tape backhand saucer pass to a waiting Spooner who fed it into the goal mouth.

Joe Colborne despite the nose they feared was broken he’s somehow flown under the radar, despite having a solid camp. I suspect he’ll get more of a look this year than he might have if Savard were healthy. He’s packed on a lot of muscle since he was drafted, but still has yet to play an 82 game schedule and was we saw with Blake Wheeler, and other college players this can add some hiccups the already rough transition from other levels of hockey to the NHL.

Michael Hutchinson. While this is probably the least interesting position for the Bruins this year, I got to see this young goalie do some impressive things. He’s very sound positionally, and uses both glove and stick effectively.

Ryan Button. My level of whelm has climbed greatly since prospect camp. I’m not prepared to rewrite the Bruins top 7 depth chart to include him, but I don’t wince when I hear his name.

Matt Bartowski is another of the new boys with his aims set on a top six defense spot. I’m liking what I’m seeing so far, but with defensemen it is so hard to tell.

Yury Alexandrov. I liked his game a lot against the Islanders, his speed and positioning are more than just sound, and he clearly has a “game speed” that is a step or more above his “practice” and “scrimmage” levels. I wonder if he’s doing enough in practice to snatch a roster spot, but I don’t think it matter Julien is pretty conservative overall and he at least knows what he’s gonna get from the seven guys who played defense last year for the Bruins.

These guys will almost certainly be the last half dozen cut with one or two making the squad. Others with an outside shot include Jeremy Reich, Zach Hamill, Jared Knight, and Brad Marchand.

With very few changes in the roster, the Bruins opening night lineup is pretty easy to nail down. For the sake of discussion the guys in bold are going to be playing unless injured. The guys in italics are the guys on the bubble who have camp to prove they deserve the spot and the guys underlined are the most likely trade candidates.

Milan Lucic – Marc Savard – Nathan Horton

Tyler Seguin – Patrice Bergeron – Mark Recchi

Blake Wheeler – David Krejci – Michael Ryder

Daniel Paille – Greg Campbell – Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara – Denis Siedenberg

Mark Stuart – Johnny Boychuck

Andrew FerenceMatt Hunwick

The bubble players are where I expect to see the most interesting battles. For forwards its almost a given that Brad Marchand will be held in Boston very late, and may even make the roster. Jeremy Reich is another guy who could be that thirteenth forward quite easily, he’s a veteran with a lot of leadership abilities and no one questions his toughness or willingness to put himself on the line for the team. Jordan Caron, Maxime Suave, Joe Colborne are probably the three who will push hardest for Michael Ryder’s roster spot. The Bruin are in need of an offensive renaissance and if Ryder doesn’t come out of the gate firing on all cylinders he may find himself on the injured reserve or assigned to Providence in favor of one of these youngsters. Not to be forgotten is the seventh or potentially sixth defense spot if Ference or Hunwick are found lacking or sent elsewhere.  McQuaid has the inside line, but Alexandrov is quite likely to push hard as well. Delahey has similar size and physicality.

The next tier of players is even more intriguing. As high as Caron and Colborne were drafted no one would find it a huge surprise if one of them snatched a roster spot from a veterans hands. Despite his off seasons surgery, Suave was one of the very last players sent packing from Bruins camp last fall and has a wicked shot, so even he wouldn’t be a huge shock. Jamie Arniel, Jared Knight, Yannick Rinedeau, Jeff Penner and Zach Hamill all have various things to prove. Hamill’s whole NHL career probably comes down to this camp. He was drafted in the first round of a truly weak draft class in 2007, he’s proved to be slightly less unspectacular than most of his year mates. That draft has to date produced only six players who have played more than 100 NHL games, the 2008 draft has produced five. Hamill has to jump over guys who are bigger, more physical and already have Julien’s trust and respect and I’m not sure he’s going to do that while at the same time going around Caron, Colborne and the rest in the first tier of prospects. If he can’t make the roster, he may want to ask for a trade anywhere he’ll be on the roster.  Jared Knight has to prove he can translate the skills that make this jaw dropping highlight reel to the NHL level and handle the physical play and speed of full grown men.

Arniel’s proved at least to me that the issues that marred his draft year are behind him, now he needs to bury all thought of his being among the players most responsible for last years pathetic AHL Bruins campaign. He’s got the disadvantage of having a few injuries, and a small frame but I think I like his chances better than Hamill’s as he’s got a bit more of an edge.  Yannick Rinedeau lit up Juniors in his final season like he was firebombing them, a series of injuries and the move to the pro-ranks have left his reputation in need of the polish that only a breakout effort in camp and a good early season can provide.  Jeff Penner faces two problems in cracking the lineup, first is a severe shortness of NHL time on a team that lives or dies by its defense, and second is his small size.  With Ference and Hunwick not even close to two hundred pounds, adding the 183lb Penner to the roster in a conference that has Kovalchuck, Ovechkin, Staal, and other large aggressive forwards might be a liability the Bruins can’t afford. Among the positives are good speed, willingness to take a hit, and having made good on his limited playing time in the NHL. In his first NHL game, Penner faced the star studded Washington Capitals and was tossed all the way into the deep end with almost nineteen minutes of playing time.  Particularly telling was his two minutes of penalty kill time, and the fact that he played several shifts with the dealt and unlamented Denis Wideman.

Bruins Prospect Camp opened today. I expect to get to see some of it in person this week.  For several prospects this is possibly more important than their draft year combine. If they fail to make a favorable impression today they may just find themselves moved so far down the totem pole they could be dumped from the system, or traded off before they even get to the main camp once.

As usual the Bruins have brought in some young players unattached to any organization and while they bear watching, there are other players who will overshadow them with good play or bad. For the expected high performers, this is where we they will prove not only that they must be retained but that they are better option than players currently expected to return from last years roster or any potential free agent  or trade acquisition. Here are the five with the most on the line.

5) Tommy Cross. After knee injuries wiped out two years of potential appearances, the 2007 2nd rounder has to prove he’s capable of staying healthy for an extended period. As a big body who can, when healthy, skate well he’s got the potential to replace the as of yet unsigned Mark Stuart. While he’s likely to stay in college another year or two, it would be hard to imagine him saying “later guys” to an invite to the main training camp if it called especially in light of his injury history.

4) Jordan Caron. With his collar bone injury last year at the hands of WJC teammate Caron lost not just a chance to play at the international stage, but the opportunity to truly shine his fourth year in the QMJHL. With Joe Colbourne having left the University of Denver, Caron another of the Legion of Centers in the Boston organization has had his future turned a bit murkier. Even Colbourne’s acquisition is less of a potential stumbling block than the drafting of Tyler Seguin.

3) Maxim Suave.  Like fellow Legionnaires Caron and Colbourne the addition of Seguin plays heavily into his future. Given his modest size on a team trying to get bigger at forward, he will have to make sending him back to Providence a very, very hard decision if it is made at all. While he played six games in the AHL last year, its an open question if he’s ready to make the leap into the NHL ahead of some of the other Bruins prospects. He was one of the final youngsters sent home from camp last year and played in the Bruins preseason. I’d love to see a big push from this guy, he’s got speed, passion and a solid shot.

2) Yuri Alexadrov. This man was the buzz of the Bruins prospect camp last year. Unlike most players at prospect camp he’s been playing against professionals for two seasons. His last two seasons have been spent in the KHL where he lead all defensemen on his team in ice time. As a small, agile, and smooth skating two way defenseman it’s unlikely he’ll get short changed on opportunities to prove he can contribute at the NHL level. However he has more to prove than most with the “Russian Factor” hanging over his head. He did have a contract to playout and faithfully did so, but the KHL is not the NHL, and I doubt the Cherepovets use a system similar to the Bruins. Nor will his team leading ice time translate that well to the NHL, his 19:43 in the KHL was only 1 second higher on average than Andrew Ference. On a team that wasn’t overfilled with talent, only one player had twenty goals, Alexandrov was also second in +/-.

1) Tyler Seguin. Given his exceptional year in the OHL and the thousands of blog posts, news articles, videos, and press conferences that discussed him the prospect camp might seem like a formality. Hell, with the way management has discussed bringing him along similar to how Stamkos (or Thornton) was, the only surprise will be if we don’t see him in camp and on the roster this fall. But this week is more a matter of dealing with the, preliminary, success of having been drafted so highly. He will face some envy and resentment from some of the players who rightfully believe he is a danger to their career. Whether its a part of his personality to do so or not he will be expected to take some sort of leadership role as well. If all the posturing of the draft hype, and his accomplishments in the OHL last year with a rather austere supporting cast are pointing in the right direction he should be the best player in camp.  So on top of all the on ice drills,  off ice workouts, the packs of press, and getting to know a couple score new names and faces, he gets the joy of pulling miracles out of the faceoff circle and delivering a premier performance.