Changing on the Fly: B's prospects ready to take flight

751050.jpg

Changing on the Fly: B's prospects ready to take flight

One thing that wouldnt seem necessary on a team like the Bruins is a sweeping youth movement.

After all one of their key All-Star players isnt even able to order a legal drink in the city of Boston, and a healthy chunk of the Bruins corps will enter next season between the ages of 24-28 years old while seemingly in the prime of their hockey careers.

But that hasnt stopped many of the Bruins players from admitting they were fighting tired legs and exhausted minds by the time the playoffs arrived this spring.

Brad Marchand copped to a motivation level that was noticeably down a few notches from last years Stanley Cup run.

You dont notice it until after it happens. Youre obviously excited for the playoffs, but the hype of last year didnt really feel the same this year, said Marchand, who needed to be dropped to the fourth line in practice prior to Game 5 before he briefly woke up in the series. But at some point you have to find a way to get yourself engaged and prepare for the game.

I learned about how I have to make sure I prepare. There are different ways to get up for games. When youre not as excited or able to get up for games like we were last year during the playoffs, it can be a little tough. You have to be mentally tough enough to be able to mentally prepare yourself. Its a tough job to mentally prepare yourself to play at a high level every night, but what you have to learn to do being a professional.

So whats the best thing to do when key Bruins players are having difficulty finding their motivation just like Johnny Drama at a Hollywood movie audition?

Its easy if youre Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli.

Perhaps its time to start bringing along some of their talented young players to push the established veterans and create some roster competition. Whether its warranted or not another wave of shimmering Bruins prospects are about to make a play for NHL roles in Boston.

The Bruins are already counting on 2011 first round pick Dougie Hamilton to step in and potentially fill a top-six defensemen roster spot vacated by Joe Corvo. The 6-foot-5 two-way skilled Hamilon should be an upgrade both offensively and defensively despite his NHL inexperience.

The 18-year-old Hamilton has set records this season with 17 goals and 55 assists for the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL, and doesnt appear to have much more to prove at the junior hockey level after this season. Theres no reason to have him dominate the OHL for another year when he could begin helping the Bruins next season while learning his craft from experienced NHL blueliners like Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk.

Chiarelli has mentioned on numerous occasions he fully expects Hamilton to compete for a spot out of training camp, and his passingskating combo could do much to help jump start the Bruins offense with speed out of their own zone. Expectations should be tempered, but the talent is there.

I just want to look at the trade market and the free agent market. And we got a couple of good, young players coming too. We got a good defenseman that I think will challenge for a spot: Dougie Hamilton, said Chiarelli. Weve got young defensemen, you saw Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski. Youve seen some guys that are going to challenge but on the major change front, Im not looking at doing anything on that front. I would like to add some pieces.

On the front lines, 20-year-old Ryan Spooner has seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) in eight games for the Providence Bruins over the last two years. The creative center will be entering his first full AHL season next year and has an NHL-level skill set once his body fully matures.

Twenty-year-old Jared Knight is also graduating from the OHL and the London Knights, but wasnt able to finish up things with the P-Bruins while skating in the Memorial Cup playoffs at the end of the season. Hell push players like Caron and Pouliot for one of those bottom-six wing roles even if he needs a refresher course in Providence to start the season.

Both of those players will start pushing Bostons forwards as young, cheaper alternatives if they start showing play-making and goal-scoring prowess as they have during their junior hockey careers.

That will remedy one problem from this past season: Bostons AHL farm club was bereft of blue chip prospects this year, and that meant few players on the Bs roster felt threats for their roster spots coming off a Cup victory.

Things might be a little different now with a host of talented young players pushing for look-sees in Boston.

Perhaps that will wipe out some of the complacency and banish the bad habits Andrew Ference said he noticed creeping into Bostons game once the playoffs had rolled around. In the words of the Lion King, the Bruins were more than what they had become against the Washington Capitals, and that left a feeling of great disappointment when the season was over in April.

The disappointing thing about going to seven games is the feeling that during moments in a lot of those games we had more to offer from our end, said Ference. We brought The Chain in for a reason, so that nobody would be the weakest link. Its not just words there. Theres a lot of pride that goes into that. Youve got to continue to push who you are as a player, and what youre going to be known for as a player.

You need to live up to the expectations that are set. If you dont have that commitment from every single piece of the team then it hurts, and it only has to be a little bit. If it just slips a little bit this league is too good that it becomes a coin toss after that. Last year there was a real focus into detail and a pride on doing the small things that dont always get noticed. They added up to make us better than other teams. Those things all make a difference.

Perhaps a little youthful enthusiasm and healthy competition from the treasure trove of draft picks acquired in the Phil Kessel deal can bring some of the Black and Gold magic back.

Bs long range prospects will finally start turning into present day players this upcoming season, and that could all the difference as well.

Chara: 'A great honor' to be nominated for Masterton Trophy

Chara: 'A great honor' to be nominated for Masterton Trophy

It takes only the highest levels of perseverance and dedication to the game to log over 1,300 NHL games and to play past your 40th birthday. Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has both of those qualities in overflowing amounts as the fourth oldest player in the league behind Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr, Arizona Coyotes forward Shane Doan and Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cullen. Chara is also the second longest tenured captain in the league behind Doan, who has been the captain of the Coyotes since 2003.

For all those reasons and more, Chara has been voted by the Boston Chapter of the PWHA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) as the Bruins nominee for the Masterton Trophy given to the player that best exemplifies “the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

The Bruins captain has also been the embodiment of good sportsmanship in his 11 years as captain of the Black and Gold while leading teams with his steady, hard-working hand through both epic highs and lows. Chara is always at the forefront of the Bruins charitable efforts and has shown his dedication to the game by nearly always participating for his Slovakian homeland whether it’s world championships, the Olympics or the World Cup as the setting for the International tournament.

It all comes back to Chara’s love for the game, his dedication to setting an example as a professional and his enjoyment of the hard work required to play in the NHL for 18 plus seasons.

“From my first day in the NHL until today it is an absolute thrill to play in the league,” said Chara. “It’s a great honor to be nominated. I always take a lot of pride in doing my job as a professional, and doing it right. Doing all of my work on and off the ice. I’ve always felt really humble about being a part of this league and this game. It’s a game that gives you so much in life, and helps you become a better person and a better hockey player each day.

“I’m just enjoying my time with team and my teammates, and cherish the memories of winning. I just try to work every day on my game and improve. I enjoy every day whether I was 20 years old or 40 years old. I love the game, and I love everything about it.”

Chara had missed only 41 games for the Bruins in his first 10 seasons with the team in a remarkable show of durability and toughness while playing the role a physical defensive stopper. He's never shied away from the big hits, the big players or the big ice time totals. The veteran D-man is having a banner season as a 40-year-old that started out by leading Team Europe to the World Cup Final against Team Canada, and it’s continued with his season-long mentoring job helping develop 20-year-old rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo.

Chara has changed a bit from his Norris Trophy days while adjusting his game to reduced levels of physicality and out-and-out dominance, but the ability to still call on both of those qualities at 40 years old is unique for an intimidating 6-foot-9 force out on the ice. Equally impressive is his standing as a No. 1 defenseman at this point in his 18-plus year career while constantly dedicated to improving himself, and learning, both on and off ice. Perhaps Chara’s most underrated quality is his ability to move the puck and chip in offensively, a set of skills that will see him pass the 600-point milestone this season after a career built in part on a big slap shot from the point.

It’s also a great example of Chara remaking himself into more of a puck-mover and power play point producer when he was projected to be a good defense/limited offense shutdown defenseman all those years ago working his way through the Islanders’ ranks.

Chara continues to be a strong lead-by-example personality within the Bruins dressing room, one who demands hard work and total dedication to both the game and the team concept when it comes to his Boston teammates.

Cassidy quells goaltender controversy: 'Tuukka's our No. 1 goalie'

Cassidy quells goaltender controversy: 'Tuukka's our No. 1 goalie'

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While the sequence of events over the past couple of days could understandably lead one to wonder who will start between the pipes for the Bruins on Tuesday night vs. Nashville, interim coach Bruce Cassidy tried to quell any hint of a goalie controversy.

The vote of confidence was certainly needed after Anton Khudobin’s fifth consecutive win halted the B's four-game losing streak with a huge 2-1 victory over the Islanders on Saturday night in the wake of Rask’s absence while tending to a short-term lower body issue.  

“[Rask] had a good practice today. I spoke with him. We’ll see how he wakes up tomorrow and we’ll make our decision. He’s our No. 1 goalie, so there’s no way we can skirt our way around that issue. He’s our No. 1 and his health is very important. When he’s physically ready to go and he tells me that, then we’ll make that decision,” said Cassidy. “He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year...and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.

“That’s why we have two goaltender, and [Anton Khudobin] has really stepped up in that last stretch and done what’s asked of him. He’s fixed that area of our game. It’s nice to have a guy that’s your No. 2 that can win you hockey games and play well. It’s a great problem to have, to be honest with you. But Tuukka is our No. 1. But Tuukka is our No. 1. He’s our guy.”

Rask declared himself fit to play after going through a full Monday practice with no issues, but said he’s still waiting to hear the final word on whether he’ll play on Tuesday night vs. the Predators. The Bruins franchise goalie also said he isn’t worried about any recurrence of the lower body injury that “popped up” in the Tampa Bay loss Thursday night, which really doesn’t bring any clarity to the entire situation.

“It was a good day back on the ice. I feel good. We’ll see what the decision is [for the Nashville game], but I feel good today,” said Rask, who is 8-8 with a .892 save percentage and a 2.91 goals-against average since the All-Star break, compared to Khudobin’s 2-0-0 with a .920 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average. “You need to put the best lineup out as possible, and I wasn’t in any shape to play. So, there are no easy decisions this time of year, but I’ve played a lot of hockey and injuries happen. We talked to the training staff and managers and came to a decision that [Khudobin] was going to play the game, and that’s it.

“It’s obviously tough from a personal standpoint, but it’s never about one guy or two guys. It’s a team game and I feel confident that we’re going to get the job done as long as we play the way we did. It was great to see.”

Clearly, it looks like Rask is going to play vs. Nashville and that’s the safe, easy decision when it comes to a No. 1 goalie getting paid $7 million a season and perhaps it all works out with a fired up Finnish netminder after sitting out Saturday night. But nobody is going to be faulted if they wonder what’s going to wrong with Rask ahead of the next gigantic game Boston will have to play with the Stanley Cup playoffs on the line.