Jason Brough

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Bruins hope to rebound with help of ‘new blood’

BOSTON (AP) The Boston Bruins’ plan for making the playoffs this season involves adding young talent around their veteran core.

The Bruins, who missed the postseason the past two seasons, open the regular season on Thursday on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Their lineup could feature at least three rookies: Defensemen Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara and forwards Danton Heinen and Austin Czarnik, who is returning from a concussion suffered last weekend, have made the opening night roster.

Having first-year players to support the group of veterans highlighted by captain Zdeno Chara, forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and goaltender Tuukka Rask advances the plan general manager Don Sweeney put forth when he took over in the summer of 2015.

“That’s kind of been the plan is to try and do a better job with drafting and then do as good a job as we can developing and then seeing where that shakes out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said Tuesday during a news conference at Warrior Ice Arena.

“This training camp we probably had a couple surprises as far as guys stepping up a little earlier than maybe we anticipated. But that’s the thing that Don expressed when we interviewed him for the position about drafting, developing, getting these guys to understand the type of hockey we want them to play.”

The Bruins supplemented their veteran core by signing forward David Backes and backup goaltender Anton Khudobin as unrestricted free agents in the offseason.

But the major story in training camp was the emergence of the inexperienced players. O’Gara, Carlo and Heinen are first-year professionals, while Czarnik is in his second year of pro hockey.

A core that’s five years removed from winning the Stanley Cup could benefit from the rookies’ talent and their energy.

“We don’t give free passes to anybody,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “When they show they can play here, we give them the opportunity. We’re patient with them just like anybody else. When they make mistakes, we understand they have less experience and that’s where you’ve got work with them.

“It’s exciting there’s new blood. I think it’s exciting for the players too, the veterans. They’ve talked about it, they really feel that those guys want to be part of this hockey club and want to blend in.”

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs also said his goal for this season is to see his team return to the playoffs.

More: Jacobs expects B’s to go ‘deep into the playoffs’

But the Bruins are still trying to strike a balance between becoming winners again and making sure they don’t mortgage their future.

“We certainly don’t want to stray away from what we think is going to build us for some long-term success,” Neely said. “We feel like we’re on the path to do this in a way that’s going to give us some success for a long period of time. You’d like it sooner rather than later and we’ve had some surprises here at this particular camp.

“Who knows where it’ll end up by the end of the year, but I certainly feel like we’ve got some good young players who are knocking on the door or a couple years away from making an impact on our club while the core is still in a position to play at the level they’re currently playing at.”

Virtanen remains with Canucks, but AHL still an option down the road

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Anton Rodin‘s lingering knee injury will allow winger Jake Virtanen to remain with the Vancouver Canucks to start the regular season.

But general manager Jim Benning had a warning of sorts for the 20-year-old Virtanen — if his play doesn’t meet the NHL standard, he’ll be off to Utica.

Virtanen had an up-and-down rookie season in 2015-16, scoring seven goals in 55 games. He wasn’t eligible to be sent to the AHL last year, but he is now.

At his best, Virtanen can be a physical force on the forecheck, with scoring ability to boot. It’s just a matter of doing it night after night that’s been a challenge for the sixth overall draft pick in 2014.

Rodin, meanwhile, is expected to be placed on injured reserve as he continues to rehab the major injury he suffered in January while playing in Sweden.

“The injury got aggravated and so he’s going to have to take a step back,” Benning said recently of Rodin, per the Vancouver Sun. “We’re going to give him a few days or week off here to get the swelling down, and from there just rehab so he’s a 100 per cent for us. We’re going to need him at 100 per cent.”

Benning also said today that the Canucks intend to sign winger Jack Skille, who’s with the club on a PTO, and they intend to put winger Emerson Etem on waivers after a less-than-impressive camp and preseason.

Related: There’s one ‘vision’ in Vancouver this season, and that’s winning

Report: Versteeg to sign with Flames, not Oilers

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It seemed only yesterday that Kris Versteeg was on the verge of signing with the Edmonton Oilers.

But apparently it was not to be, as the 30-year-old winger will reportedly join the Calgary Flames instead. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Versteeg will ink a one-year deal, with a cap hit “likely” under $1 million. (Update: $950,000.)

Versteeg split last season between Carolina and Los Angeles, finishing with 15 goals and 23 assists in 77 regular-season games. He was traded to the Hurricanes last September after winning the 2015 Stanley Cup with Chicago, his second championship as a member of the Blackhawks.

As an unrestricted free agent, Versteeg last month agreed to a professional tryout with the Oilers. He had one goal in four preseason games.

The Flames have also signed defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. It’s a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000 for the 31-year-old who came to Calgary on a PTO.

Kevin Klein (back spasms) uncertain for Rangers’ season-opener

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New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein is dealing with back spasms and is uncertain to play in Thursday’s regular-season opener against the Islanders at MSG.

Klein has missed the last two days of practice due to the spasms. His injury comes amid speculation that the club may be looking to trade Dylan McIlrath, who like Klein is a right-shot d-man.

With Klein’s status up in the air, head coach Alain Vigneault does not expect any roster moves for now. The Rangers are currently carrying eight defensemen, including Klein.

Also today came word that veteran winger Nathan Gerbe would not be reporting to the AHL. Gerbe’s one-year contract, signed on July 1, will reportedly be terminated by mutual agreement and he will play in Switzerland this season.

Gerbe was placed on waivers last week.

Penguins claim Condon off waivers from Montreal

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Mike Condon is off to Pittsburgh. The Penguins have claimed the 26-year-old goalie off waivers from Montreal, a direct result of Matt Murray being sidelined with a broken hand.

Condon went 21-25-6 for the Habs last season, with a .903 save percentage. Thrust into a starting role due to Carey Price‘s injury, Condon battled hard and had a few memorable moments, including a victory over the Bruins in the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium. But it was a lot to ask of a rookie, and ultimately the job was too big.

It remains to be seen how long Condon will last in Pittsburgh. Murray will be back shortly, so Condon’s stay may only be temporary. He’s a pending UFA with a cap hit of $575,000, which can be buried entirely in the minors if need be. Then again, with Murray a pending RFA who will be looking for a good-sized raise, there has been speculation that the Pens may look to trade Marc-Andre Fleury.

Price’s backup in Montreal this season will be Al Montoya.