BOSTON – The preseason officially ended for the Bruins on Tuesday, with a team-building trip to Vermont.
For Jordan Caron, the earn-a-spot phase of training camp is still going on.
With Carl Soderberg nursing the ankle he injured in the Bruins’ final preseason game, the third line is in something of an ad hoc state, and center Chris Kelly is the only sure thing. On his wings are Caron and Reilly Smith, the former a familiar face who has had cameos of varying lengths since being drafted 25th overall in 2009, and the latter an add-on in the trade that sent Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to Dallas and brought Loui Eriksson to Boston.
Both are trying to prove that they belong in the regular starting lineup even when Soderberg is healthy, and for Caron, that has proven to be the defining question during his four years in the organization. While the Sayabec, Quebec, native played 23 games with the Bruins in 2010-11 and 48 in 2011-12, he suffered a shoulder injury just before the end of the lockout, limiting him to just 17 games with the big club after a decent but unspectacular start to the year with Providence.
This year, Caron is unofficially the 13th forward on the roster; the last name on the list of attackers coach Claude Julien kept at the end of camp. He had made the opening night roster, but until Soderberg’s injury presented more of a problem than a few off days could fix, he was going to be a part of the Bruins’ supporting cast.
After two regular season games, it’s possible he might deserve higher billing. Caron has shined through the first 120 minutes of the season, slotting in well with Kelly and Smith despite being added to their line at the last minute.
“I think at that point we have so many good players you get used to playing with everybody,” Caron said. “It doesn’t matter who you play with, you get used to it pretty quick.”
In the opener against Tampa Bay, he had a goal taken away on an iffy goaltender interference call that Kelly was still saying should have counted two days later. And in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Detroit, he was even better.
First, he nearly set up Kelly for a goal just past the five minute mark of the second period, but Kelly couldn’t redirect Caron’s clever feed into the net. A few minutes later, he cashed in himself, taking a great backhand feed from Smith and whipping it past Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard for a 3-1 Boston lead.
Six and a half minutes into the third, he drew an interference call on Red Wing defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who didn’t have much choice than to step in front of Caron to prevent an odd-man rush as Smith brought the puck up behind him.
“I think you try to take the positive out of every game and know those kind of little things are really big for our team,” Caron said. “Drawing the penalty and stuff like that, I think our line did a really good job on the forecheck, I stayed out a lot but I think that’s really big. It’s got to be a part of our game and that’s what we’ve been doing the last couple games.”
The goal brought the crowd to its feet, but to the centerman on Caron’s line, it’s the young winger’s attention to those little details that has been more impressive.
“The goals are a bonus,” Kelly said. “Everyone sees the goals and the assists – and I look at that too when I’m looking at the stats of other teams – but I think as a line you want to go and do the little things each and every shift. You want to make the right plays, you want to make the simple, easy plays, and Jordy’s doing that, so is Reilly.
“They’re chipping pucks in, chipping pucks out when they need to and then when the plays are there, they’re making the plays, and it’s good to see young guys have that confidence.”
While some would argue he should already have two goals to his credit, Caron’s offensive abilities have been on display through the first two games, giving the third line some spark where there had been question marks before the start of the season.
“He does take pucks to the net now and he scores some goals because of that and I think that’s the biggest thing that we wanted him to do to bring a little bit more to the table,” Julien said. “At the end of the night, as a player you have to tell yourself, ‘What am I bringing to the team?’ If it’s just, ‘Oh I’m reliable but that’s about it,’ that’s not good enough for us.”
As long as Soderberg is spending his evenings watching from the rafters, there’s an opportunity for Caron to show that the left wing spot on the third line should belong to him.
That opportunity is not lost on the 22-year-old who has largely been on the periphery for the Bruins since he was drafted.
“I want to keep that spot and … just keep playing and get the ice time that goes with it,” he said. “Hopefully it’s going to keep going that same way.”
Julien said Saturday night that it’s too early to think about whether Soderberg will slot back in to the lineup when his ankle heals.
“I can give you all the clichés that you want, but I think at the end of the day all you want is to see what kind of decision I’ll make, and I’m certainly not about to make that decision now,” the coach said.
Thanks to the way Caron has started the 2013-14 season, Julien’s decision – whenever he makes it – will be a bit harder than expected.