With general manager Peter Chiarelli bringing back just about the entire gang for another crack at the Cup, there weren’t a whole heck of a lot of battles to look forward to at Bruins’ training camp.
Aside from prized prospect Dougie Hamilton proving whether or not he’d be ready for a role on Boston’s blue line, the only uncertainty was who would fill the void on the third line created by the departure of Benoit Pouliot, who notched a career-high 32 points in his one and only season with the Black and Gold.
Jordan Caron would’ve had his fair share of competitors to grab that open spot on the wing, from reigning AHL scoring champ Chris Bourque (Boxford, Mass.) to recent OHL graduates Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner. But if the battle to stick with the big club was a marathon, Chiarelli gave Caron a 10-mile head start.
“We want to leave some flexibility, space — and that’s not cap space or anything it’s just I call it development space — for (Jordan) Caron to kind of blossom and grow a little bit more as a player,” Chiarelli said in June when asked why he dealt Pouliot to Tampa for essentially squat. “That does this. Now if we add a player down the line the rest of the summer, we still feel had we kept Ben and added another player, it really would’ve boxed out Caron.”
How does Caron feel about knowing that the job is his to lose, if and when the NHL is back in business? He welcomes the high expectations.
“I think it’s good for me,” the Sayabec, Quebec, native said. “It’s a little bit of pressure, but that’s what I want. I want to grab that spot. I want to deserve it and I want to keep it for the whole season. I was looking forward to training camp and now I’ve got to deal with the delay. I’ve got to go down to Providence and play well and make sure I’m ready when the season starts in Boston.”
Caron has certainly flirted with nailing down a permanent spot in Boston during his first two years as a pro. In the fall of 2010, the former QMJHL standout broke camp with the big club and justified his presence in the opening month, scoring three goals in his first seven games and sporting a plus-3 rating.
But after failing to find the back of the net in 12 November contests, the 6-foot-3 winger was assigned to the AHL and spent all but four tilts in Providence during the remainder of the season. Caron enjoyed moderate offensive success, notching 28 points in 47 games while playing major minutes in all situations for Bruce Cassidy’s squad.
When the 2011-12 season commenced, Caron had every opportunity to supplant an ice-cold Pouliot and earn a spot in the lineup, but the big-bodied youngster couldn’t get the job done. After being the odd man out for an extended period, he went on to spend five separate stints back with the Black and Gold’s farm team.
“I don’t think so,” Caron said when asked if it’s hard to get in a rhythm when you’re bouncing back and forth between Providence and Boston. “It keeps you playing. Last year I was scratched up there for a while, so I thought it was good
for me to go down there and play. It’s a little bit different. I’m still pretty young and I need to play games. It’s hard sometimes confidence-wise, but I thought overall it was a good thing for me to play all those games.”
When February rolled around, Caron was back with the big club and started to come around, using his skill set to his advantage. When the calendar turned to March, things finally clicked for the former 25th overall pick. Caron played like a man possessed during a four-game scoring streak, racking up seven points, dishing out hits, putting his size to good use, blocking shots and finally displaying confidence in his own abilities.
“I was just skating well and got a lot of ice time,” Caron said. “And obviously playing a lot of big minutes on the power play and stuff like that gave me a big confidence boost, and I felt pretty good during that streak and for the rest of the season after that.”
While Caron’s overall play improved dramatically after his scoring outburst, his offensive output once again cooled off. He finished the regular season with 15 points in 48 games. Outside of his hot streak in March, the 22-year-old forward had just eight points in 44 contests. He made his NHL playoff debut but played a largely uneventful 13 minutes in the final two games of Boston’s first-round series against Washington.
Like all those that came before him, Caron carries around the unshakeable first-round-pick label, as he was Boston’s top selection in the 2009 draft. With two ho-hum years now in the books, some might say that No. 38 hasn’t lived up to his billing.
Caron doesn’t let any of that weigh on him. “It doesn’t put any more pressure on me,” he said when asked if there’s more pressure being a first-round draft choice. “I put pressure on myself, but I don’t think being drafted in the first round gives me any more pressure than any other guys.”
Due to the fact that the owners and players couldn’t come to terms on a new CBA in a timely fashion, Caron was one of many former first rounders who began the 2012-13 season in the American Hockey League.
“I’m pretty happy, actually, that I’ve got a place to play and I don’t have to worry about anything else,” Caron said back in September when asked about starting the year in Providence. “I know a lot of guys don’t know what they’re going to do, so I feel lucky to go down there and get started for the season.”
He also thinks the influx of talent AHL teams welcomed from their parent clubs should give his development a nice boost.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of guys down there and the league’s going to be better and the games are going to be faster,” Caron said. “It’s going to be good for everybody.”
Caron, who notched his first pro hat trick against Manchester on Oct. 19, is keeping many of the NHL lessons he learned in mind as he continues to hone his skills in the AHL.
“I think you look up to guys like ‘Bergy’ (Patrice Bergeron) and ‘Kells’ (Chris Kelly),” said Caron. “They’re the type of player that I want to become. They’re good defensively and good offensively, too, and that’s the kind of player I want to be.
“With Claude (Julien), he likes those kinds of players and you’ve got to be responsible defensively if you want to play. I think that’s something I’ve learned and I’m still learning. I just want to keep doing that and work on things at both ends of the ice.”
Chiarelli feels as though Caron fully understands what he has to do in order to succeed at the game’s highest level.
“He’s a bigger body. He came on towards the end of last year,” the Bruins GM said. “He’s put some time in the minors. He knows what’s important in his game and what he has to focus on. So you know it’s about the latter stages of development for Jordan and he really knows what we want him to work on and he started doing that. So you see that promise, you see that development, and you know he’s a younger guy and you have to give him a chance.”
Now in the final season of his three-year, entry-level deal, Caron just hopes that chance Chiarelli’s referring to comes and he can do enough to earn a new long-term pact like fellow youngsters Tyler Seguin — his roommate this past season in Boston — and Brad Marchand.
“I want to be in Boston,” he said. “A lot of guys signed in (September) and I want to earn a contract. It’s my last year. I want to have a good year and sign a good deal with the Bruins again.”
Caron is itching for the chance to seize the opportunity that the work stoppage has indefinitely delayed. When the lights get turned back on and the curtain rises, you can bank on the multitalented winger being fully prepared to shine on the big stage.
“Yeah, I think I’m ready. Well, I know I’m ready,” Caron said. “It’s not fun that I have to wait a bit longer, but when the season starts, I just want to be ready, go out there, play in the NHL and keep improving.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Jesse Connolly is the Bruins
beat writer for New England Hockey Journal and is the
editor of hockeyjournal.com.