BOSTON (CBS) – Even with most of the attention of the hockey world focused on Toronto and World Cup of Hockey 2016, NHL training camps open Thursday.
The Bruins will report to Warrior Ice Arena for their off-ice testing and physicals and then begin their training camp without their coach Claude Julien, captain Zdeno Chara, best player Patrice Bergeron, top goal scorer Brad Marchand, biggest offseason addition David Backes, No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask and young future star David Pastrnak. Yes, camp is going to have a different feel for a few days until everyone comes back from Toronto.
With so much at stake for the Bruins at the outset of their season after two years without making the playoffs, and the challenges of being without their coach and all of their best players, this training camp might be the most interesting in years.
Here’s a look at some key issues to be resolved:
1. Chemistry postponed
Gone are the days of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton (or Jarome Iginla) skating together from the first day of training camp and showing the sort of promise that made Julien keep them together for a whole season. Even if the Bruins wanted to start with Backes or Pastrnak on Krejci’s right from the outset, neither will be back in Boston for at least a couple days.
Krejci spoke a couple weeks ago about how chemistry comes easy, but we know that’s not true. Any time Krejci has been thrown together with linemates on short notice, there have been mixed results.
It also won’t help that after offseason hip surgery Krejci might not be 100 percent healthy until later in camp. The Bruins want to be a four-line team but they can’t even be a two-line team without Krejci at full speed and with linemates he can mix with.
As far as the forwards are concerned, this is the biggest issue the Bruins have to address.
2. Kids get really tested
The Bruins’ rookies went 2-0 in their tournament over the weekend against New Jersey and Buffalo. Several individuals stood out, including under-the-radar prospect Peter Cehlarik, Sean Kuraly and 2015 first-round pick Jake DeBrusk. These kids have played well in development camps and rookie camp, but now it’s time to test their mettle against men.
Even in camp drills, where several young players will get more reps because of the absence of the World Cup players, there should be some spirited competition and maybe even some physicality. Then the exhibition games will be a whole other story.
The young defensemen, including Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara, will be particularly tested. But returnees like Colin Miller and Joe Morrow will have to show their improved and deserve to be ahead of some of the rookies in the pecking order.
Although there wasn’t a lot of roster turnover from last season to this, there might be more vulnerable veterans in the camp battles this year than there have been in a while.
3. What’s Mueller got left in the tank?
Overlooked in the hoopla about the kids has been talk about some new veterans that might be able to make an impact, especially if incumbent veterans struggle. Peter Mueller, the No. 8 pick in the 2006 draft, is scheduled to be in camp on a PTO. He once scored 22 goals as a NHL rookie but injuries and other factors slowed his career. Could he be an option for the fourth line, or maybe for a bigger role?
Dominic Moore and Riley Nash are joining the fray to make the Bruins better on the penalty kill and in the grit game. They might also light a fire on some of the younger veterans.
Defenseman John-Michael Liles doesn’t count as a newcomer because he was acquired at the trade deadline last season. But he played decent enough with little time to adjust to his new team. After a full training camp, and with his minutes held to a reasonable amount, he might make strides that will make the Bruins back end more respectable. Anything could happen.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.