I'll sidestep my mini-rant about the injury status of Nathan Horton (it includes many comments such as "SUCK IT UP AND PLAY" and "THROW SOME DUCT TAPE ON IT") and dive right into who will replace him if they just can't pop that shoulder back into the damn socket tomorrow night.
The choices for forward replacements are currently Jay Pandolfo, Carl Soderberg, and Jordan Caron. Providence Black Aces Carter Camper and Chris Bourque were sent home last week after Gregory Campbell was injured and Caron was inserted into the Bruins practice rotation.
Citing every Bruins and NHL reporter on twitter and what we will assume is my common sense, Tyler Seguin will step into Horton's spot on the first line alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic. That leaves an open spot on the right wing of the third line with Rich Peverley at center and Kaspars Daugavins on the left.
Pandolfo is a left wing, and Soderberg is listed as a center, so score one for right winger Caron. Caron also seems like the best choice because he is awesome and my favorite. If you would like some legitimate reasons, those also exist too.
Caron has played playoff hockey with the Bruins. He was inserted into the lineup last season when Patrice Bergeron was playing injured against the Washington Capitals in the first round series that they lost in seven games, and Claude Julien cited Caron's ability to step in as a top six forward in case Bergeron was unable to finish a game as the reason for playing Caron and healthy scratching Shawn Thornton. Caron only appeared in two playoff games and had no points, though.
Caron has played playoff hockey more recently than Soderberg and Pandolfo in that he was apart of the Providence Bruins playoff run that was cut short last month when they lost in seven games to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the second round. Caron was the second best forward in the playoffs for the P-Bruins, with Carter Camper being far and away the best forward. They played on a line together, and Caron's strong body and style complemented Camper's tiny stature and quick hands very well. They combined for 22 points in 12 games.
Caron made great adjustments over the course of the season in Providence. He has struggles for the first half, injuries through the second half, and was in and out of Boston's line-up in the tail end before finishing up back in the AHL. His inability to maintain a spot on the Boston roster has raised questions about his future, but I think the Bruins are invested in him. He has made progress in the AHL, sometimes hindered by injury, lockouts, and yes earlier this season, sucking really hard because sometimes that happens to young players - but he broke out of it.
After the comeback against the Hershey Bears in game five in round one, Providence coach Bruce Cassidy said of Caron:
I think it's been well documented - sort of the ups and downs - more the downs for hims...listen, if he's gonna be in this game for a long time, you're gonna go through seasons where they don't always go your way and you gotta get something out of it and it looks like he's put his mind to it [and said] 'you know what, I'm gonna get something out of these playoff' and so he's been very good. He has a big goal tonight and he's made plays all five games. He's a great individual...he's shown character.
He built off of that quite a bit more in the second round, although the team didn't get the scoring support, or any defense really, to be able to get a fourth win against the Penguins. But almost immediately after the game seven loss, it seemed Caron was already getting ready to pack up his things and get the call up to Boston, despite the fact that the only initial Black Ace brought in was goaltender Niklas Svedberg.
Caron was a Black Ace with the Bruins during the Stanley Cup run in 2011, stepping into practice rotation with the team during the Cup Final when Horton was taken out by the Aaron Rome
murder attempt hit. Drafted by the Bruins 25th overall in 2009 out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he was unable to compete for a spot on the team as an 18 year old due to a broken collar bone.
He joined the Bruins the following year, making a splash in the two rookie games played at the Garden against the New York Islanders rookies. Those games were to debut Tyler Seguin more than anything, but that was when I personally became a Caron fan. He made the team out of training camp that season, although most people don't recall him being there at all because Seguin was the only rookie drawing any attention. Caron also debuted with the Bruins in Prague, and scored his first NHL goal only six days later against the New Jersey Devils.
Caron, who is also from Quebec, lived with Patrice Bergeron while he was in Boston that first year, since he didn't speak any English. They train together in the off-season, if you need any evidence of perfect human being qualities rubbing off on Caron. He didn't finish his rookie season with Boston, getting sent down to Providence and recalled occasionally. In three professional seasons with the Bruins, Caron has split them all between the NHL and AHL (23 NHL, 47 AHL his first year; 48 NHL, 17 AHL last year; 17 NHL, 47 AHL this year). His entry-level contract expires this summer, making him a restricted free agent.
I think we'll see Caron by a long shot over Soderberg or Pandolfo because he is just a better candidate over the other two. Pandolfo has Stanley Cup Final experience, sure, but he is a little older and slower than I think the Bruins are comfortable with against this Chicago team. Pandolfo has the advantage of being a penalty killer, but then again, Caron also kills penalties. Soderberg still has yet to really grasp the NHL game since coming over from Sweden, so I really think we can rule him out all together.
I take issue with the fact that Camper and Bourque were sent home. I think Camper would be interesting to see out there, because he had so much success in the AHL playoffs, and that success is helpful in transition into the NHL as was evidenced by Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug just a few weeks ago. He was amazing against the baby Penguins, scoring a hat trick, an overtime winner, and being all around awesome. I'd also like Bourque to still be around so I could pretend that he was returning to the line up and making everyone's heads explode.
Caron actually played well earlier this season when he got his shot in Boston, alongside Chris Kelly and Peverley. Until Kelly broke his leg. But even if he didn't play that well, can you blame anyone who suffers with Kelly and Peverley?
If Horton can't play tomorrow, I will be very excited to see what Jordan Caron can do with this opportunity. I would bet that we will almost certainly see him over the other healthy scratched forwards. Just look for the magnificent horse-man.