By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins will continue to weigh the positives and negatives about their trip to China as they see how it will end up affecting the rest of their training camp and the start to their season.
But one player in Bruins training camp has already benefited from one half of the roster traveling to the other side of the world: forward Daniel Winnik.
As a veteran in camp on a professional tryout, Winnik needs every opportunity to show the Bruins what he can do if he’s going to earn a contract. So far the Bruins have leaned heavily on the 33-year-old, who has played in all three of Boston’s North American preseason games. He took extra advantage of the opportunity by scoring a third-period goal, as the Bruins rallied to force overtime before losing 4-3 in Detroit on Saturday.
“When you’re on a PTO, you want to play as many games as possible,” Winnik said after practice Sunday at Warrior Ice Arena. “I don’t think I’m going to complain about playing three and hopefully maybe four in a row [Monday]. I think it just gives you greater opportunity to showcase how you’re doing.”
Aside from the playing time he’s received in preseason games, Winnik owes his mere presence in this camp to the Bruins’ China trip. With half their squad playing in Asia, the Bruins knew that an inevitable rash of injuries could leave them short of minimum veteran requirements for games. Winnik, Lee Stempniak and defenseman Mark Fayne were brought into camp as much for their experience as their ability to provide competition.
Fayne has been assigned to Providence’s training camp and Stempniak has had a slow go after being hampered by a minor injury early in camp. But Winnik’s been flying in his second straight training camp playing on a tryout deal. Last season Winnik earned a job with the Minnesota Wild as a tryout and then went on to get 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 81 games.
His experience from last season helps him deal with tryout life, living in a hotel and competing without having a contract.
“I think just maybe the uncertainty of whether you’re going to get a contract or you’re going to stick with the team your with. But I mean it’s not much different than the position a lot of the guys in this camp are in,” he said. “You’ve got younger guys trying to make the team and they don’t know if they’re going to be up with the Bruins or down in Providence. So I don’t think it’s really any different preparation than any other camp I’ve been in.”
The Bruins’ injury list is lengthy with a week and a half until the start of the regular season. Forwards Patrice Bergeron, Sean Kuraly, Ryan Fitzgerald, Martin Bakos and Jakub Lauko are all at different stages of recovery. Anders Bjork has been in and out of practices while recovering from his shoulder injury. Although coach Bruce Cassidy gave the younger players who’ve been competing for forward spots in this camp passing grades, not all of them are going to be able to play in the top six or top nine, and they’re probably not suited to be on Boston’s fourth line.
That’s where someone like Winnik could come in handy.
“Consistency, strong on the puck. … We don’t have [puck management] issues with a guy like that. A guy that knows when to hang on to it, knows when to get it deep,” Cassidy said. “That’s what I’ve seen, and a guy that’s chipped in, played that down in the lineup, understands the role, what’s required there. Sometimes there’s sitting involved and then you’ve got to find the energy level after sitting on the bench for five, six, seven minutes. That’s the part where he brings a level of professionalism.”
There are healthy players (Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom) with NHL contracts that could still keep Winnik from sticking with the Bruins. If his play continues to impress the Bruins brass, though, Winnik’s presence on the opening night roster could be a gift from the China trip.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.