Wednesday marked the official start of training camp for the Boston Bruins for the 2022-23 season. General manager (GM) Don Sweeney and first-year coach Jim Montgomery met with the media and on-ice practices at Warrior Ice Arena are scheduled to begin Thursday. Going into training camp, there are some members of the Black and Gold that have a lot to prove.
There are going to be several players to keep an eye on with camp starting and as the roster for the upcoming season starts to take shape in the next three weeks ahead of the season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 12. Here are three players with something to prove in training camp.
It has not been a productive first two seasons in Boston for Craig Smith as both the player and team would have liked. In five of his first nine seasons in the NHL, the right wing scored 20 goals or more, but he has yet to do it with the Bruins.
In his first season in 2020-21 after signing a three-year, $9.3 million contract, Smith had 13 goals in his first season in Boston and then 16 last season. His numbers are not for a lack of effort either. In 54 games in 2020-21, he had 132 shots on net, while in 74 games last season he had 187. He just has not had a lot of luck putting the puck in the net.
He took off following the 2021 trade acquisition of Taylor Hall from the Buffalo Sabres along with David Krejci, but he could not carry over the consistency he had the previous season last season. Smith bounced around in the top-nine for former coach Bruce Cassidy last season, starting out on the second line, and being bumped up to the first line on Jan. 1 following an overhaul of the lines. He struggled with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron before being dropped to the third line with Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic. He will most likely begin the season on the third line, but prospect Fabian Lysell could make a push for that spot with a good training camp.
When Sweeney went on a free agent spending spree last summer signing three bottom-six forwards, Nick Foligno was one of them with Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek. Foligno signed the biggest contract, two years for $7.8 million and he was arguably the least effective of the three forwards, ending the season on the fourth line.
In 64 games, the former Columbus Blue Jackets captain had two goals and 13 points with a plus/minus of minus-13. Everything was done to help the veteran turn his game around in 2021-22 by putting him on the first power play unit at times, moving him up and down the lineup, and becoming a penalty killer. Nothing worked and now the Bruins are stuck with a fourth-line forward taking up $3.8 million on the books for the upcoming season.
Sweeney could have bought out Foligno this summer, but he held onto him and Montgomery has plans to use the 34-year-old and 28th overall pick by the Ottawa Senators in the 2006 Entry Draft as an energy player to create a spark for the team (from ‘Here’s what Bruins coach Jim Montgomery is thinking for lines and defensive pairings heading into training camp,’ Boston Globe, Aug. 27, 2022). That’s all well and good, however, those types of shifts can be done by younger players looking to crack the NHL roster and they would be cheaper than Foligno. Boston was looking to get younger this season and moving on from Foligno and giving a younger player a chance on the fourth line would have gone a long way in helping them get younger. Now we sit and see what Montgomery has in store for Foligno.
The Bruins have an abundance of left-shot defensemen to begin the season. They are going to need that depth until Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy return from offseason surgeries sometime in November or December, One of the left-shot blueliners that will have a lot of eyes on him in camp and in the preseason games is Mike Reilly.
Reilly was acquired from the Senators at the 2021 trade deadline and supplied the Bruins with an offensive presence on the backend that they had been missing. He played so well that Sweeney brought him back on a three-year, $9 million contract last summer. After taking one step forward late in the 2020-21 season following the trade, he took two steps back last season. He struggled in all three zones, turned the puck over too much, and was on the ice for a lot of key goals against.
The first two months of the season will be big for Reilly and Boston. When they get healthy on defense later in the season, there are just too many left-shot defensemen and someone will have to be traded. Reilly is one of the top options for Sweeney to look to deal as he could bring back the most in return.
Despite most of the positions on the 2022-23 roster set in stone, there are still some players to keep an eye on as training camp begins. Some players have something to prove to Montgomery and the front office or some changes could be coming. The next three weeks are going to be interesting for the Black and Gold.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.