- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- In the moments following the Bruins’ 3-2 overtime preseason win over the Washington Capitals on Monday night at TD Garden, Boston newcomer Nick Johnson stood at his stall and realized he survived another round of cuts.
Johnson has stood out in the four preseason games he’s played for the Bruins with three goals, a fight, and consistent play. The 27-year-old forward has a bit more experience than the young players he’s battling for a roster spot. Johnson, Jordan Caron, Carl Soderberg, Reilly Smith, Ryan Spooner, Matt Lindblad and Matt Fraser remain on the training camp roster with only two exhibition games remaining.
All have made contributions during camp, but Johnson appears to have grabbed a hold of this opportunity.
“He’s in the mix. That much I can tell you; he’s in the mix,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “There are quite a few guys in the mix. We’re going to have some tough decisions to make at the end. And there’s no doubt those decisions will be made as a group with upper management, coaches involved, because everybody’s going to have an opinion and going to have to weigh pros and cons and everything else that goes with it.”
Having plenty of depth in the organization has been a priority for general manager Peter Chiarelli. He signed Johnson to a one-year deal worth $600,000 to add to that depth.
“It’s exciting,” Johnson said of his opportunity with the Bruins. “There’s a lot at stake. Everyone’s working hard. It’s a fun process and you can’t think about it too much. It’s coming along, I think.”
Chiarelli wanted to create a healthy competition during camp for a few spots on the Bruins’ regular-season roster. While most of the prospects are homegrown, Johnson’s journey to this point has been a different one.
During the 2012-2013 season, Johnson played for three different organizations and spent time in the ECHL, the AHL and the NHL. Overall, he has 104 games of NHL experience in his career between the Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild and Phoenix Coyotes.
Now that he’s in Boston, he’s hoping to find a permanent spot on the roster.
“You always hope for the best,” Johnson said. “I had a great talk with [Bruins assistant GM] Don Sweeney the day I signed. [Signing with Boston] was kind of out of the blue, we thought we’d maybe have to wait. Some guys are struggling to find some jobs right now. I had a great talk with Don and it just seemed like an honest approach. Come in, play well, and be ready to go is all they want and that’s what they’re looking for, the best fit. The Bruins are the Bruins and it’s neat. It’s a neat place.”
Arriving in Boston as a newcomer and entering a locker room filled with veteran players who have had success, Johnson knew almost instantly that playing for the Bruins would be a different experience.
“It’s different than past teams I’ve been on,” admitted Johnson. “They’ve played together for years and won a Stanley Cup a couple of years ago and they’re always at the top level. They’ve got a close group, but they’re also fun guys, good guys, and it’s been good. Everyone’s been welcoming. It was a little intimidating at first, but it’s been fun. It’s been good.”
When you’re trying to impress possible future teammates, sometimes it’s not only about scoring goals.
In the opening seconds of the third period Monday, Washington’s Michal Cajkovsky knocked Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid to the ice from behind. Johnson took exception and challenged Cajkovsky, and the two dropped the gloves.
“McQuaid was on the ground and I didn’t really like that, so I just did what you do; you protect Quaider when he’s on the ground. I didn’t get the best hold on the guy and he’s a little bigger than me but I’ve fought guys before and he didn’t get me too bad, so it was good.”
Julien has been impressed with Johnson’s compete level during training camp, and his status increased by coming to the defense of a teammate.
“Just another guy trying to show he’s a good teammate and he’s going to stick up for his team and he just went in there without hesitation, so kudos to him for doing that,” Julien said. “It’s not how many you win, it’s how many you show up for. So we give him credit for that.”
After the game, Chiarelli spoke with a few of the younger players still in camp and informed them they were being sent to the AHL to join the Providence Bruins. Forward Craig Cunningham and defenseman David Warsofsky were two of them. Cunningham sat in the Bruins’ locker room and was clearly disappointed.
No matter what Johnson’s fate holds in the coming days, he’s experienced enough to know that there will be times during the season when players are recalled from Providence and those players need to be ready to contribute.
“There are spots on this team to be had but it’s all about the team, the organization,” Johnson said. “It’s a hell of a long year and it is really like a family here. You’ve got to find some chemistry and it’s been nice to get that going. We’re all going to need [this family] because you never know what’s going to happen during the year. It’s nice to see guys doing well and it’s nice to have a lot of players because it means we’re going to be good and Providence will be, too.”
The Bruins open the 2013-2014 season on Oct. 3 when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. Johnson’s goal is to be a member of the Bruins at that point.
“Naturally, you want to think about it but you can’t,” Johnson said. “Every day you’ve got to go hard because every day it could be your last. That’s the way it is.”
5dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald