Merrimack’s Schaller excited to join Bruins

Sometimes dreams can come true.

As July 1 was approaching, Tim Schaller was sitting down and, with his agent, went over the list of teams that might be interested in his services as he was beginning his first foray into National Hockey League free agency.

"The Bruins were on that list," the Merrimack native said. "It’s kind of funny, they’ve been my favorite team growing up, ever since I started playing hockey. So I told my agent if we could make that happen, let’s try it, because they were my dream team."

Mission accomplished. Last week the Bruins signed the 25-year-old Schaller, who played the last three years in the Buffalo Sabres organization as a center, with 35 games played in the NHL, the rest with Rochester in the American Hockey League. Now he works out with a huge purpose this summer.

"Besides scoring a goal against Boston, it was the best day of my life, and I’m thankful enough to be able to spend it with my family and friends."

Schaller scored that goal, his first in the NHL in a game Buffalo lost in overtime at the TD Garden in late December 2014. Since then, he had gone back and forth between Buffalo and Rochester, 18 NHL games one year, 17 in another.

But this past year it was different, Schaller said. He stayed up with Buffalo for what amounted to nearly half a season, half the time being a healthy scratch. That time, hanging around proven NHL veterans and watching games from high above ice level, he feels benefited him greatly.

"I watched from the suites and looked at things that will this year help me take my game to the next level," he said. "I learned a lot."

Schaller still has a two-way deal, but he feels he can spend the most of his time in Boston rather than Providence.

"You said it, I think I’ve proven myself at the AHL level and it’s time to take the next step," he said. "There’s no doubt in my mind I can be playing with the Bruins and help them."

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney agreed.

"Tim Schaller was a local boy at Providence College that we went out and identified another size, strength, left-shot, penalty kill and continued to add depth," Sweeney said last week during a conference call announcing a bevy of moves, including the signing of free agent centerman David Backes.

Schaller spoke with Sweeney and the GM echoed those remarks.

"He said he’s been watching me since I was at Providence College and he knows I’ve improved in my three years," he said. "He said if I continue to work hard, improve on my faceoffs, that I could really help the team; it needs a left centerman and I can be the right fit."

With Backes, the Bruins have three solid centermen between him, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Chris Kelly signed with the Ottawa Senators as a free agent on July 7. Perhaps Schaller’s situation was tied to Kelly’s?

Sweeney said last week’s signings didn’t close the door on Kelly, even though he opted to sign elsewhere.

Just like Sweeney did in evaluating Schaller, the player himself has identified faceoffs as something he needs to work on – something that’s critical for a projected third- or fourth-line player to have success at.

"For a third- or fourth-line center, I can skate with the best of them," Schaller said. "If I can be about 50 percent (in winning faceoffs), that would be great."

Schaller will be in the area most of the summer – working out, and likely skating regularly at Skate 3 in Tyngsborough, Mass., to prepare for Bruins training camp in September.

He knows this could be his best chance at fulfilling his ultimate professional goal, and hopes to make the team out of camp rather than start the year in Providence.

"It’s a dream come true," he said, "but it probably won’t be complete until I put on that Black and Gold jersey."