WILMINGTON – The biggest eye-opener for the Bruins organization at their annual developmental camps is seeing progress made by prospects after being handed a little guidance by B’s management.
That’s usually apparent just a few minutes into the first day of camp. There were some clear winners and losers after just the first day of skating for the B’s Next Generation of players, and the winners stood out more on Day One.
Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney mentioned four names right off the bat as players that caught his eye, though also stressing he wasn’t singling anybody out.
“It’s day one. We didn't do the run test because of the weather. We’ll do that later on in the week. I think you’re seeing some guys that have made some nice strides on and off the ice in their development," Sweeney said.
"Matt Benning has had a really good year, and he won a championship. From where he was a year ago to where he is today is exciting for him as a player.
"Chris Casto is a player that was an invite a year ago, and now he’s a part of the organization. You see [the progress] in just a year’s time.
"Anthony Camara is a really good example. Robbie O’Gara won a national championship.
“So it’s exciting to have this group. I’m not leaving anybody out by design. I go back to pointing out, it’ll be about between now and September when some of these kids come back. We’ve identified some things to say this is an area that you need to address, and hopefully they take it to heart and realize. There will be some guys who haven’t done that and it’ll be readdressed with them in a timely fashion to say ‘Hey you’re cheating yourself if you don't realize it.’ We talk about these kids being a sponge for the whole week to learn to absorb all these coaches that have had a tremendous success are trying to give them in a short period of time. I’m really excited about the overall depth of the group.”
Of the four players mentioned by Sweeney, O’Gara is perhaps the most obvious example of a player that’s experienced serious progress over the last couple of years.
From a big 6-foot-4, raw-boned high school kid drafted by the Bruins a couple of years ago out of Milton Academy, O’Gara has gained weight, strength and snarl around the net while also winning championships with both Milton Academy and Yale University over the last three years.
He’s gained at least 20 pounds over the last couple of years while getting up to 205 pounds, but there’s still plenty more that can be added to the New York native’s sturdy frame. The team championships on O’Gara’s resume along with the physicality and nastiness around the net in the defensive zone are exactly the kind of attributes Boston likes to see out of their big defensemen prospects.
He’s just trying to keep those things trending upward with each and every year.
“I still have so much development to do. I need to get so much bigger. That’s the biggest thing for me, is eating right and putting in all of the work during the summer,” said O’Gara, who finished with seven assists and 32 penalty minutes in 37 games as a freshman for the Yale Bulldogs. “I’m on a diet program now that I started two months ago. I’m eating 4,000 calories a day. I think I’ve maybe gained a pound or two. When I go to bed at night I can’t even move because I’m eating so much, but I think it’s one of those things that will come eventually.”
The one area where O’Gara wants to make more of an impact at the NCAA level is clear: the offensive end of the ice. The towering O’Gara just turned 20 years old on July 6 prior to developmental camp, and has already firmly established himself as a defensive factor in the stay-at-home sense of the position. He’s a big body with a little bit of snarl that can’t be moved from the net.
He was forcing other B’s prospects to pay the physical price to get close to the net even during a July camp, and that kind of competitiveness is exactly what the Bruins coaching staff wants to see.
But becoming a well-rounded player at both ends of the ice is something O’Gara will continue to work diligently on at the collegiate level. The offensive game is a place that O’Gara has had to work much harder at throughout his young hockey career, and that will continue to be the case.
In the Yale program, that means extended power play time, executing crisp and quick first passes from the defensive zone and jumping up into the offensive play during the right situations.
“This coming year I think I’ll be more of an offensive presence. I only had seven assists last year, and that was it,” said O’Gara. “I see myself being more offensive this year. Last year it was really about positioning and habits: staying inside the dots and keeping the stick loaded at my hips. Those are the things I was really drilling into my head.
“From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, it was a big difference and I was much more effective toward the end of the season.”
Given the progress that the Bruins have already seen with O’Gara, it will be no surprise if he continues to show leaps and bounds over the next three years of his college career while under the watchful eyes of the Bruins.