Haggerty: The Rask Era is underway in Boston

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Haggerty: The Rask Era is underway in Boston

NEW YORK -- The third period of Wednesday nights highly entertaining4-3 loss in overtime to the New York Rangers was the night that Tuukka Raskofficially laid claim to being the Boston Bruins No. 1 goaltender. He made some big saves at the end to help us get one point,said Claude Julien. Hes been really good. If anybody had doubts about Tuukka,hopefully theyve been erased by now because hes been solid in every game thathes played.Forget about the four goals allowed during the game. Thefirst two were all credited to the pure skill of the Brad RichardsRickNashMarian Gaborik combination and a defensive breakdown between DougieHamilton and Andrew Ference. The third was a rebound goal after the Bruinsfourth line failed to clear the puck out of the zone with heavy traffic bearingon Bostonsfifth and sixth defensemen. The overtime goal was another Bruins defensemen turnover byFerence when he couldnt handle a bouncing puck near the blueline, and Gaborikwas given a straight line breakaway chance to win the game. It was a creditthat Rask even somehow got his blocker on the first attempt, but then couldntrecover when the Slovakian scorer swatted the puck out of the air for thegame-winning strike. He scored a couple of goals like that today, said Rask. Hesgot a quick snap-shot so I closed my five-hole and then he bats it out of theair. Thats why he scored 50 goals or something last year.Every point will be critical in the 48-game shortened NHLregular season, and it was Rasks efforts alone in the final minutes anintense, playoff-style battle that helped preserve a single point by pushing toovertime. The Rangers poured it on with 11 shots in the third period thatdialed the pressure on the Bostongoalie, and Rask made his best 1-2 combination saves of the year in the finalminute of regulation. Nash fired a wrister from the right face-off circle thathandcuffed Rask, but he was able to push the puck away from the crease. Gaborikwas waiting, coiled and ready to pounce on the rebound. The Rangers forwarddidnt get great wood on the puck, but managed enough to push it back towardthe goal line as Rask was pushing from left post back to the right. He somehow managed to smother the puck underneath him justas he had done in the first period when Nash and Gaborik tried to push him andthe puck past the goal line and protect the tie after Nathan Horton hadsummoned up a clutch goal in the final six minutes of regulation. Looch was playing defense there and Nash shot low blocker.I reacted that to that and I knew Gaborik was there, said Rask. I juststarted making snow angels at that point.The four goals allowed and the 29 saves dont seem like aparticularly great night for Rask, but theyre misleading when one considersthe way Gaborik, Richards and Nash were buzzing around all evening. The pressure was high on Rask to backstop a defense thatmade its share of mistakes in the game, and he was up to the task. Not only that, but Rask made the important save whenovertime was hanging in the balance. Hockey experts from here to Thunder Bay will tell youthats the most important thing on the goaltenders job description. Or as formerBruins head coach Mike Sullivan always -- and we do mean always -- said makingthe critical save at the critical juncture in the game.We had a expletive start, said Rask. They came out hardand we were sloppy. We just couldnt match it early, but showed something incoming back.Critics will say that he should have stoned Gaborik on bothshots again in overtime, but there are only so many free chances at the net youcan give a perennial 40-goal scorer before hes going to break through. Things have gone almost perfectly for Rask in his firstthree games of a season where hes proving some things to himself and to hisorganization. The young Bs netminder outplayed reigning Vezina Trophy winnerHenrik Lundqvist in their first showdown last week in Boston. Rask never blinked in a shootout winover the Winnipeg Jets where the offense never gave him any room to breathwhile flubbing far too many Grade A scoring chances. On Wednesday night Rask kept the Bruins in a game where theywere outclassed in the first 20 minutes in a hostile hockey setting where theother team was on a mission to show they werent nearly as crappy as theirwinless record suggested. Rask has got a 1.95 goals against average and a .926 savepercentage that everybody agrees will make the Black and Gold a Stanley Cupfavorite if he can simply maintain what hes doing now for the next 5-6 months.Theres no pressure on Tuukka. We know what hes capableof doing, said Julien. All we have to do is the job in front of him and thejob that everybody else is capable of doing. The pressure you want him to puton himself is positive pressure, and to say Hey, Im No. 1 and Im a goodgoaltender. Thats what you want.All that positive pressure and error-free puck-stopping isalso making everybody forget about Tim Thomas through the first few weeks ofthe season. Salvaging a point against a frenzied Rangers club stands as anothergiant statement that the Tuukka Rask Era has officially begun between the pipesin Boston.

Haggerty: Grading the Bruins Draft

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Haggerty: Grading the Bruins Draft

BUFFALO – The Bruins knew they had some objectives heading into the 2016 NHL Draft at the First Niagara Center, and by their accounts they achieved them. The Black and Gold were looking to get bigger and grittier down the middle at the center position, they wanted to get faster and they knew they had to continue to add quality top-4 candidates to their organization defensemen corps depth.

Charlie McAvoy, Ryan Lindgren and Cameron Clarke will add to the defensemen within the Bruins organization, and both Trent Frederic and Joona Koppanen are big-bodied, gritty centers that take care of business in their own end.

Oskar Steen is the one departure as a small, skilled forward out of Sweden to add to the D-men and centers that now count themselves as members of the Black and Gold. Interestingly enough this was the first season in Bruins history that the B’s drafted an entire class of players without selecting a single Canadian player.  

The six player draft class wasn’t an overwhelming success or an abject failure, but something in between both of those while a much more muted all-around experience for Don Sweeney in his second season running the hockey operations in Boston.

“You look at last year and we took three junior players right out of the hop. This year there were some college players,” said Don Sweeney. “We always identify the best players that we want, and positional need. In a perfect world it all lines up.”

With that in mind, here are grades and breakdowns for each of the six prospects that heard their names called by the Bruins this weekend:

First round: Charlie McAvoy (14th overall) – The Boston University D-man impressed scouts and college hockey enthusiasts all the same by playing extremely well as the youngest NCAA player last season. McAvoy’s explosive skating ability, quick decision-making with the puck on his stick and ability to execute the tape-to-tape pass practically ensure that he’ll have success at the next level, and his low center of gravity and feisty physicality at 6-foot, 208-pounds will make him well-embraced by Bruins fans. The Bruins scouting staff was split between choosing McAvoy or BCHL defenseman Dante Fabbro when both players were there for the taking, but McAvoy’s skating ability and playmaking confidence tipped the scales his way. McAvoy could be NHL-ready a within a couple of seasons, and immediately shoots to the top of the organization’s D-men prospects. Grade: A-. What the Bruins say: “We had a lot of discussion on a lot players, and those two players [McAvoy and Fabbro] we went back and forth on them quite a bit. They’re both good defenseman, but we really believe that Charlie has something that we really liked. Playing against men already at that age is a big thing, and we’ve seen him grow as a player. He can skate, he’s mobile and he plays physical. We feel like his style is what we’re looking for, and it’s up to him to take it to the next level.”

First round: Trent Frederic (29th overall) – The 6-foot-2, 210-pound center is a hard-working, strong player in the pivot that isn’t afraid to pay the price in the danger areas, and is more than willing to throw his body around. The offensive ability seems to be a bit limited, but he also played with an injured hand in the second half of last season that appeared to impact his placement in the final draft rankings. In a perfect world Frederic develops into a hard-nosed, gritty forward in the mold of his favorite players (David Backes, Justin Abdelkader), but he sounds eerily like a Chris Kelly kind of player taken in the first round of the draft. Clearly the Bruins were looking at size at the center spot, and perhaps they were a little thrown last minute when Tage Thompson got selected a few picks earlier in the first round. But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to draft third and fourth line center prospects at the end of the first round when skilled players like Alex DeBrincat and Pascal Laberge were still on the board. If DeBrincat turns into a scoring machine in Chicago with Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, the Bruins will regret this weekend in a big, big way. This feels like a reach with a draft pick the Bruins were hoping to move for a defenseman, but the likeable Frederic will have years at the University of Wisconsin to prove everybody wrong. Grade: D. What the Bruins say: “We needed some centers with some size and heaviness, and we really believe he’s going to a [Wisconsin] program where everything is changing for him. Even his teammates all talk him up. He’s not going to be top two line guy, and we all know that. He’s got some jam, and he plays hard. You want good people that are going to pay the price. He playing well during the year, and then he tailed off at the end because he had a broken hand. We liked his projection as a staff.”

Second round: Ryan Lindgren (49th overall) – The Minnesota native and Gophers recruit has recorded nine goals and 35 assists for 44 points and 145 penalty minutes in 116 games over the last two years with the US National Development Team Program. The 6-foot, 198-pounder isn’t very big, isn’t the fastest guy when it comes to skating and is far from the flashiest player that came through the Team USA pipeline over the last couple of years. But Lindgren is hard-nosed and competitive, and is a high character player that brings effort into every category of his game. Scouts rave about his leadership, character and willingness to sacrifice for the greater good of the team while quietly going about his own business, and the Bruins could use a solid defenseman like that. Lindgren will need to improve, but everybody that knows him thinks he’ll be able to do it. Grade: B. What the Bruins say: “He blocks shots. He’s not the most skilled guy like McAvoy or anybody like that, but he brings an element that we really liked as an organization. He really brings something as a leader, and we like those guys.”

Fifth round: Joona Koppanen (135th overall) – The 6-foot-5 center from Finland is big, strong and keen on playing with strength and effort in his own end, and has the kind of size at the center position that you just can’t teach. The problem right now is that the body type, style of game and limited offensive ability in a Finnish player reminds everybody of Joonas Kemppainen, who quite simply didn’t work out in Boston during his NHL audition last season. One has to hope that Koppanen can continue to develop his offensive skills to at least be a player with average production down the road, but nobody is expecting him to be more than a third or fourth line center at this point. Grade: B-. What the Bruins say: “He’s a big guy, and for a big guy he can really move around. He’s very good defensively and smart with his positioning. He plays hard. The skill is the one area that needs to develop, and we think it’s going to do that. He was a guy that we targeted because he’s a big guy that can skate, and is good in his own end.”

Fifth round: Cameron Clarke (136th overall) – The 18-year-old is a bit of a diamond in the rough out of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), who nonetheless got noticed in Michigan over the last year. Clarke played last season for the Lone Star Brahmas, and registered nine goals and 41 assists for 50 total points and 29 penalty minutes in 59 games during the 2015-2016 season. The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder is a bit on the gangly side and needs more physical development before he turns professional, and that’s something he should be able to focus on while heading to college at Ferris State. I like the off-the-beaten path Grade: B. What the Bruins say: “We knew there were teams that were there [ready to take him], and our guys really liked him. He’s gained a lot of weight in a year-and-a-half, but we know he’s going to take some time. We’re good with that. Our guys really liked him, so we took him.”

Sixth round: Oskar Steen (165th overall) – The 5-foot-9, 187-pound Steen is an undersized Swedish forward that plays a smart, versatile brand of hockey, and he does it while also showing plenty of flashes offensively. The 18-year-old played for Farjestad BK J20 of the SuperElit League for the past two years, putting together 15 goals and 45 total points across 69 games leading up to his selection this weekend. Clearly the size and lack of physical strength will be marks against Steen when he goes toe-to-toe against bigger, stronger competition in North America, but he showed enough smarts and skill to make his own mark. Grade: C+.What the Bruins say: “He’s got underrated skill. He can score goals and move the puck. He’s not the biggest guy, but we’ve seen him and we were excited to be able to draft him.”

Bruins need Hayes to "take his game to another level"

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Bruins need Hayes to "take his game to another level"

BUFFALO -- With it appearing that Loui Eriksson is all but gone from the Bruins with the July 1 opening of free agency around the corner, B’s general manager Don Sweeney must find a way to replace the second-leading point man from last year’s hockey club. With or without a suitable Eriksson replacement at right wing via trade or free agency, the Bruins will also need greater production from their returning wingers on the right side.

That means 20-year-old David Pastrnak needs to have a breakthrough season after the Bruins knocked away attempts to extract him in trade discussions for a top-4 defenseman, and Jimmy Hayes needs to rebound from a streaky, disappointing first season in Boston. The 6-foot-6 Hayes slumped to 13 goals and 29 points in 75 games, and was a team-worst minus-12 while going through long stretches where it was hard to even notice him on the ice.

His GM said that needs to change next season with the Bruins counting on him to play more consistently, and be willing to play the big man’s game.

“We have internal candidates that might have to step up, and David is a player like that…Jimmy is a player like that. There’s no question we’re not a complete team right now,” said Sweeney. “So we’ll go to work now, and that could be through free agency, or through potential trade stuff. It could also be about the excitement if somebody pops from the development side of things. I think Jimmy had a pretty start to the year, but he really tailed off when the team needed him most. He should take some responsibility for that. We had a pretty frank discussion about that to challenge him to take his game to another level, and be able to help out a younger player.

“He played a lot with Ryan Spooner. I have to put ownership on Jimmy in terms of saying ‘Hey, I have to take more responsibility. It’s not just about finishing and scoring goals.’ He has the capacity to do that. He gets power play time and net-front time, and he needs to get to the hard areas of the ice with more consistency. It’s an area that he needs to continue to improve upon. We as an organization feel that we need to have players that are driven to get better.”

As far as the free agent options mentioned by Sweeney, Kyle Okposo and Troy Brouwer would be names to watch closely as they both fight the Black and Gold mold of winger with size, strength and finishing ability.

Clearly there’s no choice but for the 26-year-old Hayes to have a bounce-back season given that he’s signed for two years in Boston at $2.3 million per season, and that they need him with the right side of their forward group in flux. 

Ray Bourque arrested and charged with OUI Friday

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Ray Bourque arrested and charged with OUI Friday

Bruins Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque was arrested in Andover this weekend, and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol according to multiple reports.

Andover Police told CBS Boston that the former Bruins and Avalanche defenseman was taken into custody around 11:30 p.m. Friday night on Lowell Street. The Bruins legend has lived on the North Shore with his family since retiring from the NHL, and has been a constant presence in the community at charitable events and Bruins functions.

Bourque was released on bail. No additional information was immediately available