Although the Bruins’ search for production from their third line led coach Claude Julien to increase Daniel Paille’s ice time in a handful of Boston’s first 29 games, the veteran winger is still averaging just 21 more seconds of ice time than last season.
That’s unfortunate considering that in just 11:51 of ice time per night, Paille has managed to pot six goals, which is just three shy of his total for an entire 82-game schedule (he skated in 69 games) from 2011-12.
The answer to some of the Bruins’ offensive struggles could be increased playing time for Paille. Julien doesn’t figure to use the long-together line of Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton as his third line, as he did Thursday in Ottawa, much longer. So finding ways to get Paille more ice time could mean a full-time promotion to at least for the third line for a player tied for fifth on the team in goals scored.
At 28, Paille hasn’t lost the desire from his youth to be a top-six performer. He’s just better accepted his role as a guy counted on more for energy, checking and penalty killing than lamp-lighting.
“When you’re young you try to do as much as you can and think of those personal goals. But now that I look back, I have no regrets where I’m at at this point of my career,” Paille recently told TheBruinsBlog.net. “I’ve been pretty happy with the way I play. I like this type of style, I’ve played it my whole career. But now it’s more about defensive than offensive, and I don’t have a problem with that.”
Paille was once a 37-goal scorer in junior hockey. More than a majority of NHL players can point to their junior stats to make an argument for an expanded offensive role at the game’s highest level. But Paille’s track record includes a 19-goal season with Buffalo in 2007-08. The next season, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff slotted Paille in a checking role. The left wing’s goal total dropped to 12 and the next season he was dealt to Boston.
Paille’s early days with Boston featured nights with him in a top-nine role. A combination of his inability to finish and the Bruins’ increased depth eventually pushed Paille to the fourth line, where he became a key component in the Bruins’ ’11 Stanley Cup championship with Campbell and Thornton.
Many players proclaim at the end of every season that they’re going to attempt to improve in the offseason. Paille is obviously a player who has turned those words to actions. He’s clearly skating stronger, playing more creatively and putting a harder shot on opposing goaltenders. Paille’s 17.1 shooting percentage is his best since his 19-goal season.
With Jay Pandolfo and Lane MacDermid around the Bruins have plenty of pluggers to fill their fourth line. Right now they need players who can be a threat to score playing top-nine minutes. With Paille, Julien could get the best of both worlds – a player who can score and still has the defensive instincts and experience in the Bruins’ system that Julien loves.
Down the road, you’d expect Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli to add at least one piece to fill a top-nine slot. The Bruins are hopeful Chris Kelly will be healthy in time for the playoffs and Rich Peverley can break out of his season-long slump.
Regardless of what the future holds, Paille has made his case for an increased role. Julien should put the speedster to better use. Maybe the expanded role could even pay off for Boston down the road as well as this season.
Paille hasn’t completely ignored the allure of being a more effective scorer.
“If I get the opportunity to do that and play a little more minutes, hopefully that will come someday,” he said. “But I’ve been really focusing on just not putting my mind on it and just figuring out the right plays at the right time.”