Matt Kalman’s Bruins Camp Preview: 5 Players To Watch

By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston

Now that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has solved that foolish David Pastrnak negotiation in time to avoid ruining the Bruins’ season, we can look ahead to 2017-18 season.

But on the day training camp begins, it’s apparent more is going to have to happen than just Pastrnak signing for the Bruins to have a chance to be better than last year. If they want to be more than just a bubble team and actually make a run at the Atlantic Division title and win a round or two of playoffs, other players are going to have to step up and improve.

With the Bruins reporting to Boston for physicals Thursday and on-ice sessions beginning Friday, here’s a quick look at five players that will be in the spotlight during training camp.

Brandon Carlo

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Brandon Carlo (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Don’t want to put too much weight on the second-year defenseman’s shoulders, but Carlo has to avoid the sophomore slump in order for the Bruins’ overall plan to continue its forward progress. If Carlo can be relied upon as a regular top-four defenseman, that will give other guys a chance to break in slower and also might push a veteran like Adam McQuaid from the lineup.

Unfortunately a concussion kept Carlo from continuing his development in the playoffs. But he’s symptom-free now and says he’s more confident this year than last. And he could add some offense after contributing just 16 points in 82 games last season.

“I feel like I’ll come in this year and try and have a little bit more confidence with the puck,” Carlo said. “I feel like that will be a big thing for me, especially breaking out and then on the blue line. Nothing too strenuous, I feel like I’m going to try and follow up the puck a little more, get in the play and start to asset myself a little more in that way. Hopefully it works out for me.”

Ryan Spooner

spoon Matt Kalmans Bruins Camp Preview: 5 Players To Watch

Ryan Spooner #51 of the Boston Bruins (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: this is a big year for Ryan Spooner to establish himself as a high-end NHL player. Maybe you haven’t heard it, but I feel like I’ve written it for 20 years. Anyway, this really is a big year because Spooner is on a one-year contract, he hasn’t fulfilled his potential and the Bruins could really use a speedy, skilled third-line center to take some heat off Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Moving David Backes to center could also throw the lineup out of whack.

Spooner added about 10 pounds of weight in an effort to get stronger. Of course, that weight will do him no good if he doesn’t assert himself more. There are no more excuses for Spooner, who should get every chance to play in the preseason and has the type of coach that players of his ilk should thrive under.

“It’s always been kind of a thing with me is that I’ve been a smaller guy and they’ve always kind of been on me about being harder on pucks and all that kind of stuff,” Spooner said. “I think that’s kind of hard to do when you’re 180 pounds. There’s some guys in the league that can get away with it because they’re so skilled. I mean I have some skill but I’m not a top-tier kind of guy, so I thought it would help if I had a little bit of weight behind it too. So that was kind of my plan.”

Anders Bjork/Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson

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(L-R) Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (Photos: Martin Rose/Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

It’s great to leave school, sign a pro contract and create a lot of hype. But now it’s time for these two prospects to prove they can make an instant impact, even if it’s just in a supporting role to begin their careers. Either young forward could be sheltered on a third line, pop in a couple of goals and learn how to play a two-way game at the NHL level. Neither has to challenge for the Calder Trophy. But one of these two guys has to prove that the Bruins are as deep as they think they are in order to avoid the Bruins becoming a two-line team again.

Frank Vatrano

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Frank Vatrano (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

That off-ice leg injury that cost Vatrano a chunk of his season last year probably hindered him more than he’d ever let on. That excuse, even if he didn’t make it himself, is gone now. He’s had a full summer to recuperate and work out and show he wants a spot on the NHL roster. If the aforementioned Bjork and Forsbacka Karlsson don’t pan out at the beginning, there could be more heat on Vatrano. But Vatrano could single-handedly make the Bruins’ top six a set sextet with Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Pastrnak, and David Backes. Vatrano has to show he’s more than just a shooting machine and he can help out in other aspects of the game.

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.

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