With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.
2011-12 stats: 48 games played, 7 goals, 8 assists, 15 points, even rating
Contract status: signed through 2012-13 season ($1.1 million cap hit), restricted free agent after next season
Looking back: After going back and forth between Boston and Providence and playing in 23 NHL games in the 2010-11 season, Caron’s goal this time around was to stay with the big club for the entire 2011-12 campaign.
That didn’t exactly happen, as Caron was sent to Providence six different times this past season. Unlike his first taste of the NHL in the Bruins’ Cup-winning season, however, Caron was able to sustain a stretch in which he made clear why the Bruins selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft.
Caron totaled eight points over a six-game run from March 4-13 (four goals, four assists), and even saw his impressive play earn him time as a top-six forward after spending the vast majority of his NHL ice time as a third-or-fourth-liner.
Though his improved play down the stretch forced Daniel Paille to sit as the healthy scratch late in the season, Caron began the postseason in the press box. When the Bruins were struggling for offensive production in the first round, it seemed Caron could be inserted into the lineup in place of a fourth-liner in hopes of giving the team a bit of an offensive spark. Such strategy became a moot point, as Patrice Bergeron‘s oblique injury (which prevented him from taking faceoffs), forced Julien to play Caron instead of Shawn Thornton for the last two games against Washington just in case Bergeron went down during the game and the team needed a noter top-six forward.
Bergeron was able to play through the pain in Games 6 and 7, so Caron averaged 6:41 of ice time in his first two career playoff games.
Looking ahead: While Benoit Pouliot‘s surprising consistency and the trade for Brian Rolston made it tough for Caron to stay in the lineup (and even on the NHL roster) for the entire season, you would have to think that next season will be Caron’s time to stick.
Given the plethora of free agent forwards (Rolston, Chris Kelly, Paille, Gregory Campbell and the restricted Pouliot) and the fact that the B’s wouldn’t want to stunt to their former first-round pick’s development, the stars seem to be aligning for Caron to finally be given a full-time chance in the NHL.
Caron has spent practically all of his time in the NHL this point as a bottom-six forward when he’s been in the lineup, and it would seem that he’ll be in for more of the same next year. If Paille isn’t re-signed, Caron could end up skating with Campbell and Thornton while pushing for time on the third line. That isn’t to say there might not be immediate opportunity for Caron on the third line by the time training camp rolls around. Rolston could retire, the team could opt to not retain Pouliot or Kelly could opt for a bigger paycheck in a different market. Should Kelly leave, Rich Peverley could be an option to play center in Kelly’s place, and if either Rolston or Pouliot isn’t back, Caron could take the vacated wing spot. The Quebec native has played both left and right wing in the NHL for the B’s.
The thinking here is that the Bruins should do what they can to ensure Caron gets a prolonged look on the third line next season, preferably with Kelly as the pivot should they bring back the alternate captain. While the team’s offensive depth is undeniable, the Bruins have yet to fully replace Michael Ryder‘s offensive production with a third-line winger. With a full season, something along the lines of 18 goals shouldn’t be too out of reach for Caron.
Regardless of line he plays on next season, Caron will also be an option to serve more as a penalty killer for the B’s. Claude Julien obviously values two-way players highly, so don’t think he won’t try to get everything he can out of the defensively savvy youngster.