Bruce Cassidy knows he will have a treasure trove of prospects coming down Interstate 95 sometime soon.
“We can all predict what’s going to be down there,” the Providence Bruins coach said after Saturday’s developmental camp session at Ristuccia Arena. “I think it’s fair to say that this year’s crop, at least on paper, is a higher end group of players.”
Last season, Cassidy said, the AHL Bruins would routinely dress 10 to 11 first-year players.
“A lot of teaching,” Cassidy said. “We kind of changed our system to be more in line with Boston. I enjoyed that, but it took away from some on-ice success.”
This year, players like defensemen Zach Trotman and Tommy Cross, and forward Ryan Spooner, will likely all return to Providence, having each spent a short time there in 2011-12. Defenseman Torey Krug, who saw ice time in two games with Boston last season, should be there as well.
“It’s to be around a pro environment,” Cassidy said of bringing in players toward the end of the season. “How do I conduct myself, how are practices, how is preparation? Once they get on the ice, they’re hockey players, they’ve played at a high level, it’s going to be a little better.”
Add to the mix forward Jared Knight (52 points with the AHL’s London Knights) and goalie Niklas Svedberg (.912 save percentage in Sweden), and Cassidy suddenly finds himself swimming in experienced prospects.
“They know that there’s a certain amount of time you’ve got to spend there. When they get a little antsy, it’s part of your job to keep them focused,” he said.
“I think it’s good to have a chip on your shoulder in the minors. Not everyone makes it out of there, so to have that mentality is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t cross the line of selfish and negative when you do make it up.”
Other nuggets from Cassidy’s press conference:
On Spooner: “Spooner, two years in a row, has come down. Very creative, made some no-look passes that maybe some of the other players in our club just don’t have the ability to make. It’s one of his best gifts.
“The difference I noticed from last spring and the previous one was his attention to detail away from the puck. He’s starting to become more of a student of the game. A year older, he wants to know, positionally, where to be, have a good stick, the things he’s going to need to do when the offense dries up in spurts. Shoots the puck better than he did the year before.
“You see him now, when he walked through the door two years ago, he looked like a 14-year-old kid. Now at least he’s got a little peach fuzz on his face, starting to look a little like a man now.”
On Cross: “He was coming down for two games, we knew that, he knew that. His first game, he was a little tentative. The second game, we had a chat after, a very short window, 48 hours is what he was going to be there.
“We talked about what he needed to do to be more of an impact player. That second game he was crisp with the puck, snapping passes, physical when he needed to be in terms of one-on-one confrontations, when they’re there he was aggressive with them.
“Night and day between the two games. But such a small sample size that it’s hard to say which one you’re going to see more of. But we need more of the second game. I think Tommy will bring that.
“He’s a very mature guy, he’s a winner, and he’s going to figure it out.”
On developing a winning environment in Providence: “You develop a lot better in a winning environment. That’s what we’re trying to do. Last year, we won more than we lost, but not enough to make the playoffs, and I think playoffs are important for young kids to feel the atmosphere of that. That’s ultimately our goal as a team, but again it can’t come at the expense of developing players.
“The more winners you have in the locker room, the more winning you’ll do at the end of the day if they have the talent to match. It becomes a culture, which you’re going to accept. Providence for years was a winning environment, the last few years not as much, so we’re trying to get that back.
“Like I said, these kids need to play in order to learn, and sometimes you learn by failing, so you have to balance that.
“The young kids we had last year, until the roster takes shape, you hope that the growing pains you went through, that they’re better players for it, and a better younger crop coming up will help you coming out of the gate.”
On forward Justin Florek: He’s already skating better than he did at the end of the year, so he’s obviously done some work on his legs. That’s a noticeable difference for me.