Let's just be "patient"
Bruins: The next generationBy The Associated Press
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- There was a reason for the seven mini-cams, several dozen reporters and 300-400 fans at the Ristuccia Center yesterday as the Boston Bruins rookies practiced for the first time.
A big reason.
His name is Joe Thornton. The 6-foot-4, 198-pound center was the first overall selection in the June entry draft, bringing more than a ray of hope to a Boston team that had the NHL's worst record in 1996-97. Thornton, 18, scored 122 points in 59 junior hockey league games last season.
Does this represent the first step toward respectability for the Bruins?
"Kind of, yeah," said Thornton, easily recognizable with his long, curly blond hair. "They had a rough year last year but we have a lot of young guys coming in. I'm not worried about doing a miracle show here. We're going to have fun here today and hopefully we can get things back together.
"Hopefully, we'll win a couple of Stanley Cups. Hopefully, I'll play in the league for 10 years. Hopefully, we'll look back on this and say this is the day it all started."
The key word is "hope." The Bruins, who missed the playoffs for the first time in 30 years last spring, open training camp having dealt away their top two scorers from last season, Adam Oates and Jozef Stumpel. A host of rookies will be competing for jobs on what promises to be one of the youngest Bruins teams ever.
On Wednesday, the Bruins agreed to terms with Russian winger Sergei Samsonov, their other first-round draft choice (eighth overall).
The veterans return to the ice Tuesday. Among them is Ray Bourque, who is entering his 19th season and turns 37 in December.
"Other than 1966-67, this is the first time the team has been made over," said Bruins President and General Manager Harry Sinden. "It's usually been carried by a nucleus of veterans returning from the year before. I hope the results are as good."
Sinden chuckled after the last remark, an obvious reference to the Bruins teams he coached from 1966-70. Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr was a rookie in 1966-67 as the team went 17-43-10, but Boston went on to win Stanley Cups in 1970 and '72.
While there are a number of young players vying for jobs, it's clear that Thornton and Samsonov are the building blocks for the future. Thornton can pass and score. Samsonov is a potential 50-goal scorer.
"Joe likes to dish it off," said right wing Cameron Mann, a 20-year-old rookie who played against Thornton in junior hockey and with him in the World Junior Championship. "He can score goals, too. He's big and he's not scared to rough it up."
Sinden described Thornton as "an excellent two-way player" and called Samsonov "a classic wing."
Samsonov, 18, is the shortest Bruin in camp at 5-foot-8 but is a sturdy 184 pounds.
"You'll see his strength in the other team's end, in the corners, hanging onto the puck," said Sinden. "He's a good playmaker, too, but primarily a scorer."
Samsonov said it was hard to describe his game.
"My strengths are speed and quickness," he said. "I'm not going to talk about my weaknesses."
New coach Pat Burns, formerly with the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, knows this will be a building season.
"I probably have some ties and underwear that are older than some of the guys on the ice," Burns cracked. "But it's exciting. We've got some talent."
The new coach also cautioned that Thornton and Samsonov might not have a big impact right away. Very few rookies, he noted, can turn a team around in one season.
"There aren't too many I can remember," Burns said. "If a team comes off a bad season, it's difficult. If a rookie comes into a team that's done well, it's easier for him. I don't want to put any undue pressure on them."