Cunningham making people take notice

920097.jpg

Cunningham making people take notice

SPRINGFIELD, MA Its pretty easy to get lost in the Providence shuffle if your name isnt Spooner, Knight, Bourque or Caron.

Providence Bruins forward Craig Cunningham was taken in the same 2010 draft class as Tyler Seguin, Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight among others, and hes largely flown under the radar during his time in the Bs organization. That can happen sometimes with fourth round draft picks, but the 22-year-old started to catch the eye of Providences coaching staff last season when he shifted from center to left wing.

The Trail, British Columbia native a place thats also the hometown of Ray Ferraro and Jason Bay among others continues to plug along with uncommon steadiness and strength on his skates, the high-effort willingness to play defense and now the ability to chip in offensively from a bottom-six forward spot.

Those are the kind of qualities that have Providence coach Bruce Cassidy convinced that Cunningham might just have a shot at the next level even if hes only 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds.

Hes been good. At camp we played him at center, but he played his best hockey last year on the wing, said Cassidy. He gets his shot off. He goes to the net. His defensive responsibilities arent as great because one thing about Cunningham is that he has to work to get around on the ice. Hes not a natural skater like Spooner so playing at wing frees him up that way a little bit.

Hes also a competitive and caring kid. He takes to coaching and he wants to win. We just have to find a line for him like a lot of guys. But I think hes got a chance to make it. He was a winner in junior with the Vancouver Giants, so he has a bit of that mentality. Hell do what it takes.

Cunningham went back to center for parts of training camp when the team needed a few extra centers to make the numbers work, but hes been back at the wing with the start of the AHL season. Cunningham potted his second goal of the season in Providences 3-1 win over the Springfield Falcons at MassMutual Center on Saturday night, and continues to build on a promising second AHL season.

Cunningham finished with 20 goals and 36 points last season, and is looking to improve those totals along with his minus-12 rating from last year. That improvement will start with more time spent around the goalie crease area where he was rewarded with a goal against Springfield.

Its a big weekend for us. All 20 guys both nights really bared down and got strong on the puck, said Cunningham of Providence sweeping a pair of weekend games against Manchester and Springfield. Weve got some older guys this year that can be bigger and stronger on the puck, so we just need to play that way every night.

I dont really have a number thing in my head for what I want to achieve this year. I just want to improve all the time. With all the guys in the AHL its a great opportunity for guys to show they can play, and just keep improving. I just push ahead every day and try to learn from the guys around me.

Its clear to anyone watching that Cunningham has made some big improvements heading into this season, and hes now making a name for himself along with all the other recognizable ones dotting the P-Bruins roster.

Heinen looking to show his offense in his shot on Krejci line

Heinen looking to show his offense in his shot on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins mixed things up with their roster a bit on Saturday after dropping a couple of games in a row to Washington and Colorado. 

Fourth-line energy winger Noel Acciari and playmaking forward Danton Heinen were called up from Providence and will be in the lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden on Saturday night. 
Acciari went to Providence the past couple of days to get some game action in after missing the past month with a lower body injury, but clearly showed he’s ready to go. 

So, Acciari is back to provide the same hard-hitting and energy he showed before he was hurt and Heinen is looking to show off a little more offense than in his first stint with the Black and Gold this season. He’ll be featured in a top role as left wing with David Krejci and David Backes and with marching orders to shoot the puck like he never shot it in his previous stint in Boston. 

For the Bruins, it’s about getting another look at a candidate to play left wing beside Krejci with both Ryan Spooner and Tim Schaller, with limitations to their respective games, unable to fully grasp that same opportunity. 

“My hope is that Heinen can come in and give us some good hockey. He’s a skill player and he’s been down there for a while, and he’s back up again because he’s been playing well,” said Claude Julien of the Bruins rookie, who had four goals and seven points in his past five games with Providence. “Hopefully he can play well here also. It’s about getting some confidence. When he went down to [the AHL] the pace of his game had to get a little bit better, and in the battles coming up with the puck along the walls. Those are the kinds of things we thought he could work on down in Providence.”

Heinen knows he needs to shoot the puck a bit more to show off his offense after a seven-game stint with the Bruins where he went scoreless, was a minus-2 and had just six shots on net.

“Being hard on the walls, playing fast and shooting the puck, those were all things I was working on [in Providence],” said Heinen, who has seven goals and 13 points in 13 games for the P-Bruins after being assigned to Providence. “I was doing what they told me to do [in Providence] and that’s shoot the puck. They were going in, and I was getting some good opportunities on the power play. It’s seriously tough to get chances [at the NHL level], so you can’t pass them up when you have chances. That was kind of my focus down there.”

Fellow fourth-line energy winger Anton Blidh has been shipped to Providence after three solid games with the Black and Gold. 

Julien said Blidh goes back to Providence having adequately shown that he can play in the NHL. He clearly showed the Bruins that he understands his role as a player that stirs things up a bit and gets his nose dirty on a regular basis.

“[Blidh] was fine. No issues there. He does his job. He plays with lots of energy and obviously he’s getting more experience. He’s a lot better at understanding his positioning within the game and what he has to do,” said Julien. “I thought he helped us out for the time that he was here.”

With Heinen and Acciari both in the lineup and Blidh back in Providence, that means Jimmy Hayes will be scratched after dressing for three of the past four games for Boston.

Saturday, Dec. 10: Vegas, scoring on NHL governors' minds

Saturday, Dec. 10: Vegas, scoring on NHL governors' minds

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while doing some early Christmas shopping ahead of the late rush. 

*Mike Zeisberger sits down with a quartet of NHL governors and discusses a number of hot topics including the Vegas franchise and scoring around the league. 

*Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos has been removed from the NHL Board of Governor’s Executive Committee amid rumors that the Canes might be a prime candidate for relocation. 

*Pierre McGuire weighs in on Connor McDavid’s war of words on the ice and Carey Price losing his mind in the crease against the New Jersey Devils. To that end, Wayne Gretzky liked seeing McDavid get a little combative at such a young age. 

*The New York Islanders signed Cal Clutterbuck to a five year contract extension, and some are skeptical it will turn out well for the Isles.

*David Pastrnak is a premier scoring threat in the league, and Scott Cullen has some details behind that. I will say this: his stock falling in the draft had less to do with his size or heaviness, and more to do with him being concussed for a long stretch of time during the year leading up to the draft. 

*The Florida Panthers are really struggling to stay positive with a 1-5-0 record since the ownership group and management decided to fire Gerard Gallant. 

*For something completely different: Baywatch stars then and now.