You can probably put the "which defenseman goes to the AHL?" talk on hold for a little bit.
With three defensemen -- Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton -- battling for two spots in the lineup, the fact that the Bruins only signed depth defenseman Mike Moore would suggest there's a pretty good chance that whoever doesn't get into the top six could stick around as the seventh defenseman, leaving all three players on the team.
Though he may have the lowest profile of the three, the most interesting case is that of Bartkowski. A left shot, he might need to beat out Krug to be in the lineup at the start of the season, but as long as he has a decent camp, he figures to be on the roster. So far, so good on that front.
"I think the first thing I would say is he's come to camp in better shape than he ever has," Claude Julien said. "I think that's part of a player maturing into a good pro. He's obviously figured it out, which every player has to go through. That's a good start for Matt this year.
"I think right now it's basically his job to lose as far as being here with our hockey club. He took it seriously enough to come in in the best shape ever, and right now the confidence that he's gotten from playing with us the last part last year has certainly helped him."
That's both high praise and a lot of information for a coach who usually doesn't like to reveal his plans early on, but then again, the very fact Julien played his projected top two lines together on the first day on the ice Thursday might suggest that he's less concerned with being secretive these days.
B's training camp is nothing new to Bartkowski, who was the team's final cut in its Stanley Cup-winning season in 2010-11. Yet this camp clearly is different given that the usually set-in-stone Bruins blue line has a spot or two available.
"There's a job within reach," Bartkowski said. "A legitimate, actual spot. I'm going in with the mindset that if I'm not playing the first game, it will be a disappointment."
Were it not for Krug's four-goal performance in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, Bartkowski's emergence would have been a main story line entering the season. The former seventh-round pick, acquired from Florida in the Dennis Seidenberg trade, used injuries on Boston's blue line in the playoffs to have his strongest showing at the NHL level, playing bigger minutes than ever before with no issues.
In that postseason, in which he played seven games, Bartkowski was finally able to shake the only thing that seemed to stand in his way of being a solid NHL defensemen in previous stints with the B's: "Jitters," as Claude Julien put it.
It's only natural for a young player to be called up for a game or two at a time and feel that they can't make a mistake. Extra things get added to the thought process, and they get in the way of the player playing their game.
Bartkowski's first three NHL games were against the Penguins, the team he grew up rooting for in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., which probably added pressure back in the 2010-11 season. He had stints up with the Bruins (20 career regular-season games), but the strong-skating blueliner with impressive passing skills often seemed to be replaced by a timid youngster who may have been worrying too much.
So naturally, when he had to jump into the Bruins lineup in Games 5 and 7 against the Maple Leafs, it hardly looked to be a promising sign for the B's. Yet Bartkowski feels that the situation he was in actually helped him bury any concerns. It was the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it was about a lot more than simply showing he belonged. He had to play well if the Bruins were going to be successful, so any and all self-evaluating was put on hold.
With that, the Bartkowski that scouts have talked about showed up, and he handled big minutes for the B's, playing as much as 26:42 in Game 1 against the Rangers.
"I think it was much easier," Bartkowski said. "It was, 'You're playing no matter what. Just go ahead and play, and don't worry about it. Just play your game and have fun.' That's pretty much what I did, and it was much easier. I didn't have to think very much, and I was able to play the game. It was way easier."
Bartkowski had played so well that when Andrew Ference was ready to return for the start of the Eastern Conference finals, it actually came as something of a surprise to many that Julien elected to sit the then-24-year-old. Bartkowski spent the rest of the postseason in the press box with Hamilton, but the experience may end up being critical to his development.
Now, Bartkowski's plan for the camp is pretty simple: "Start off where I left off and build from there and get better."
The 25-year-old's intention clearly is to be in the lineup when the puck is dropped on Oct. 3 (he was actually in the opening night lineup in 2011-12 because Adam McQuaid was sick), but if he needs to begin the season as an extra defenseman, he figures to be developed enough that the team might prefer to have him practicing with the NHL team every day rather than making sure he gets playing time in Providence.
"No doubt, he's in a situation now where we've got at least three young guys that are obviously going to be battling for a regular spot in the lineup," Julien said. "I certainly wouldn't say he's going to be in or out; camp has just started today. It's a matter of -- it could be injuries, there could be all kinds of things. He may play so well that we're not going to want to take him out of the lineup."