By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston

DETROIT (CBS) – Jordan Caron might leave the Bruins as a restricted free agent this summer as a 23-year-old and a question mark.

Circumstances with injuries slowed his development early in his pro career and the Bruins’ depth as a perennial championship contender has blocked his path toward a chance at a lengthy audition for full-time work in the NHL. We still won’t know what he’s capable of accomplishing if he played every night in the NHL.

All we know is that Caron was the Bruins’ 2009 first-round draft pick and many won’t ever let him live that down. It might’ve been a reach for the Bruins to pick Caron 25th overall, but that was something he couldn’t control. And obviously his career was on an upward trend, as he won a silver medal that following winter with Canada at the World Junior Championship.

First-round picks typically are expected to develop into top-six guys. Maybe it’s time to lower the bar for Caron.

The Bruins have gotten a glimpse at what Caron can do as a fourth-liner in their Eastern Conference first round series with Detroit. And on Tuesday night, Caron scored his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal in a 3-0 Game 3 win at Joe Louis Arena. The Bruins now lead the best-of-7 series, which continues on Thursday at The Joe, 2-1.

“It was nice. You know I’ve been working really hard the first two games, and finishing your hits and stuff like that,” said Caron, who has been filling in for the injured Daniel Paille on the Merlot Line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. “So it’s good to get the first one under your belt.”

Caron’s been pulled in a lot of different directions throughout his career. He’s always been a responsible player and he shows the skill of, at least, a top-nine forward in practices. That’s why the Bruins asked him to be more aggressive offensively. Of course, once Caron didn’t earn a top-12 job in training camp, he was asked to cool his jets until a spot opened up. He was scratched 43 times and scored once in 35 games played.

Coach Claude Julien didn’t lose faith in Caron or his ability to be ready when called upon.

“When a player doesn’t play for a long time, you know you can’t expect him to be at the top speed, I guess,” Julien said. “But he’s really done a good job as far as he continues to do all the stuff we ask him to do. He’s strong and he’s smart with the puck. He doesn’t turn pucks over in a reckless manner. And he’s trying to generate some offense … so he’s done a good job of stepping in. We always say it’s not an easy job.”

It can’t be overlooked that his Game 3 goal was a plumber’s goal, as he crashed the net and cashed in on a rebound of Thornton’s shot on the rush. He really shouldn’t try to score any other way, despite the flashy hands he often shows in practice. His best bet, whether he’s with the Bruins or somewhere else in the future, is to go blue-collar.

He already has the work ethic necessary to be a grinder. Just ask Thornton.

“Well he’s worked hard all year,” the veteran right winger said. “Being in and out of the lineup’s not easy. I’ve been there. I think these last three games he’s played very, very well for us. I think he’s been a good fit on our line. He’s battled hard, he’s getting pucks to the net, getting to the net, finishing a lot of checks and creating energy. So it’s been fun to play with him.”

There’s no shame in being a fourth-liner if you’re in the right program. Thornton is basically the honorary mayor of Charlestown. There’s no lack of respect in Boston or around the league for Paille and Campbell. And as Paille has shown, playing on the fourth line doesn’t mean you have to repress your skill. You just have to simplify things until there’s an opening to something a little more entertaining.

Caron maturely accepted his role as the 13th forward this season. He didn’t gripe, he did extra work and proved ready to produce at the most important time of year. That will make him appealing to another franchise.

The Bruins or another club, though, would be wise to expect a little less of a guy who was a first-round pick and they might be pleasantly surprised by what he can do when used more but in a lesser role.

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


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