The crisp autumn chill has hit New England, which generally brings with it the usual seasonal staples: foliage, pumpkin versions of everything and the start of hockey season. This year, though, something is different. Namely the absence of buzz surrounding the Boston Bruins.
As we all wait for the league owners and players to agree on a way to split up an incredibly profitable pie, the reality of this situation is beginning to set in: NHL teams won’t be hitting the ice for quite some time. While the casual fan may turn to football or playoff baseball to pass the time, true addicts will be turning their attention to the alternatives.
Leading the way is the second best hockey league in North America, the American Hockey League.
Usually relegated to a blurb in the sports section, the AHL will be looking to make the most of its upcoming time in the spotlight. For followers of the Boston Bruins, the view will shift down Route 95 to Providence where Boston’s minor league affiliate will open its season this Friday.
Assuming (perhaps unwisely) that the NHL will start up sometime this season, many Providence players will be looking to impress the big club enough to earn a shot at cracking Boston’s roster. Most notably Chris Bourque, Jordan Caron, Carter Camper, Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight are all considered bubble players on the cusp of being called up to The Show.
Bourque was acquired by Boston in an off-season trade with the Washington Capitals which saw Zach Hamill’s overdue departure from the Bruins organization. He was quickly signed to a two-year deal, which switches from a two-way deal to a one-way deal in year two.
In 73 games last season, Bourque put up 27 goals and 66 assists for 93 points with Hershey to become the AHL’s leading scorer. He’ll look to build on that momentum to help Providence reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The 26-year-old will look to escape his hall of fame father Ray’s enormous shadow in the Bruins organization and a strong start could go a long way.
Jordan Caron has split the last two years between Providence and Boston. His level of play has been consistent if not outwardly impressive. This will be the final year of Caron’s entry-level contract and his performance could determine whether or not he has a future with Boston.
Caron had a fast start to his NHL career but his play has tended to slump more often than the team would like. It’s hard to tell whether or not Caron has the ability to become an effective power forward at the pro level or if he’s simply Blake Wheeler Lite.
Camper, Spooner and Knight may have a slightly tougher time cracking Boston’s roster.
Camper had an impressive 2011-2012 season with Providence (48 points in 69 games) and made the most of three games in Boston by scoring his first NHL goal. Spooner has played eight games with Providence and scored seven points in that time. In the OHL, Spooner has enjoyed even more success with 128 points over the last two seasons. Knight has been exceptional in the OHL, establishing himself as a physical point-per-game player. All three of these players could benefit from a full year in the AHL.
See, there are still story-lines which could affect the NHL and don’t include the words “hockey related revenue.” Professional hockey continues despite the lockout. The puck will drop on the new AHL season Friday when Providence takes on Manchester at the unfortunately named Dunkin Donuts Center.