Boston Bruins

Haggerty: Plenty of questions headed into B's camp may not be a good thing

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Haggerty: Plenty of questions headed into B's camp may not be a good thing

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins are saying all of the right things as training camp commences for the Black and Gold on Thursday morning.

It will be a little different this season for a number of reasons, of course. A handful of key players will be missing with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak all participating in the World Cup of Hockey, and the Bruins will be holding their day-to-day practices in a new home at the impressive Warrior Ice Arena practice facility.

So in some ways the Bruins will get to push the refresh button prior to this season in a new home, with some fresh, new faces and a whole different energy to this training camp.

“It’s been a long summer for everyone. I think everybody is excited and ready to go,” said Matt Beleskey, who should be fun to watch this season with another bruising forward in David Backes within the forward ranks. “We’re looking for big things this year. I can tell everybody is excited. It’s been kind of weird without everybody here, but we’re ready to get started.

“It’s been fun watching the World Cup, but you kind of have the feeling like you’ve been killing time waiting for camp to start.”

But that shouldn’t fool anybody out of realizing that many of the same bugaboos still remain with this Bruins group after missing the playoffs each of the last two seasons. Don Sweeney did nothing to upgrade a defensemen group that was flawed and problematic at best, and borderline disastrous at its worst. Naturally the D-men group was bashed early and often for being substandard last season, and the Bruins finished ranked 19th in the league in goals allowed while saddling Tuukka Rask with the worst numbers of his career.

So the returning group is motivated to shut up the critics, and the Bruins are banking on young blue liners to burst up through the ranks and provide upgrades at some point this season. The question is whether the talent is going to be there this time around for a Boston back end that struggled mightily to retrieve pucks, move pucks quickly out of their zone and execute things like tape-to-tape passes out of the defensive zone.

Perhaps 23-year-old Colin Miller develops into that right shot top-4 defenseman that can check off all the boxes for the Black and Gold, or 19-year-old Brandon Carlo is far ahead of Boston’s development plan for him with a game that’s expected to be NHL ready within the next year either way. Or maybe Sweeney gets around to making a trade for an established veteran defenseman like Kevin Shattenkirk or Cam Fowler during training camp to at least give the Bruins something approaching an NHL caliber defensemen group.

Either way, the Bruins front office believes that the defensemen situation will be improved for the Black and Gold this year. That doesn’t necessarily make it true, but one would hope their optimism is based on more than willing it to come into being.

“Basically from April to now everybody is talking about our back end, and not being able to land a top-4 defenseman. We still have an opportunity as far as cap space goes if something shakes free, and I know Don [Sweeney] has been working hard trying to do something,” said Bruins President Cam Neely to CSN NE’s Great American Hockey Show podcast earlier this month. “But I feel like as a group we can do better than we did last year.

“I think Tuukka [Rask] can play better than he did last year. If that happens we should be a better club. It’s going to be a challenge and it’s going to be competitive. But I feel like the changes we’ve made through the organization, and not just in player personnel, that there’s opportunity for our group to improve.”

One thing that should be readily apparent during this training camp is the influx of youthful talent that’s expected to be continuous over the next few seasons. 2015 first round pick Jake DeBrusk and former University of Denver standout Danton Heinen should be flashing their offensive games for open winger spots, and 2015 draft picks Brandon Carlo, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon will all be pushing to show how close they are to NHL readiness.

The Bruins are a couple of years away from young talents like Charlie McAvoy and Zach Senyshyn joining the fray as well, but the next month of preseason hockey should do plenty to illustrate just how good this group of young players could make Boston a couple of season down the road.

“We need to put the best players on the ice,” said Sweeney. “If [a young player] can pass somebody or the opportunity is there then take hold of it. Because this is really about competition from [rookie camp] on out, and I think we were very specific with that.”

“Is there opportunity for a guy to make a jump? Yeah, there absolutely is…every day. I told [all of the prospects] that the best players are going to play. If they far and away exceed the guys that are here, the incumbents that are here, then they’ll have an opportunity at the end. There are no blockers [for roster spots]. We’re in a situation where we need to get better and I’ve been adamant in saying that. If that [young player] is better [than the veteran] then he’s going to play.”

But this season’s training camp is still about this year’s team first and foremost, and that means keeping Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, David Krejci, David Backes, Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak all in one piece until the regular season begins. It also means finding out how Claude Julien and his staff plan to deal with an NHL roster that could have Bergeron, Krejci, Backes, Ryan Spooner, Noel Acciari, Dominic Moore and Riley Nash in a huge surplus of centers down the middle of the ice.

At this point the sheer number of Bruins center-men doesn’t even make sense for the Black and Gold unless there’s a trade planned for one of them over the next few weeks, or Julien and Co. plan to get really creative with their forward group.

On the bright side, these roster questions and unknown scenarios should make things interesting for Bruins fans over the next month. On the not-so-bright-side, so many question marks and unknowns in training camp don’t portend great things when the top NHL teams are pretty locked and loaded right from the start of main training camp.

A little of this and a little of that with no real hopes for NHL dominance has been the sobering reality for the Bruins for each of the last two seasons, and it unfortunately sounds very much like more of the same as camp gets going at their shiny new practice home on Thursday morning. 

Talking Points: Austin Czarnik puts on a show vs. Red Wings

Talking Points: Austin Czarnik puts on a show vs. Red Wings

GOLD STAR: Austin Czarnik once again showed that he can really put on a show during training camp after winning an NHL job last season based on his strong preseason. Czarnik finished with a goal and two points along with a plus-1 rating in 15:15 of ice time, created a penalty shot situation solely based on his skating speed and perfectly executed a 3-on-1 late in the third period while feeding a one-timer dish to Teddy Purcell for the insurance marker. Czarnik tied David Pastrnak with a team-high four shots on net for the night, and won 8-of-15 draws for the Bruins while manning his natural center position. Czarnik showed once again that he can play effectively when he’s motoring at a high pace and playing aggressive hockey, a couple of things he didn’t always do with the Bruins once the routine of the NHL regular season settled in last year.

BLACK EYE: Brandon Carlo didn’t have a particularly terrible night, but he did end up as the only Bruins player with a negative plus/minus. Carlo was on the ice for both goals scored by Detroit, and otherwise didn’t really factor into the game while clocking in a solid 17:48 of ice time. His only other major contribution was an interference call halfway through the first period that put the Wings on the power play. Carlo was playing without his usual partner, Zdeno Chara, of course, and one of the remaining questions about the 21-year-old D-man is exactly how good he can be as a shutdown defenseman when he doesn’t have the big captain on his left side. Clearly, it was a good night overall for the B’s, but Carlo was far from his best in his preseason debut.

TURNING POINT: Nobody would have blamed the Bruins if they were a little frustrated after outshooting the Red Wings by a 13-8 margin, and not seeing any points up on the board. Instead of getting frustrated they kept working and finally busted through with a pair of goals within 90 seconds of each other in the second frame. Ryan Fitzgerald finished off the first chance off a nice dish from Jakub Zboril, and Danton Heinen followed by banging home a backdoor dish from Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson across the ice. The two goals from two of Boston’s young forward group pushed the B’s out to a lead that they would never relinquish against Detroit.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jakub Zboril probably hasn’t received some of the fanfare of the other first-round picks in Bruins camp, but the skilled, improving D-man played an excellent first preseason game for the Black and Gold. It was Zboril’s one-man rush from his defense position that helped set up his creative dish to a wide-open Ryan Fitzgerald for Boston’s first goal, and he followed that up with 19:12 of mostly solid ice time. Zboril finished with the assist and a plus-2 rating along with a shot on net and a registered hit while also playing a special teams role on both the power play and the penalty kill. Zboril is still working on the polish to his game that will eventually make him an effective pro, but he was noticeable in a good way in his first preseason action of the season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 – the team-leading number of shot attempts for David Pastrnak in his first action of the preseason while skating with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Who is hard on the puck? Who is winning pucks? Who can keep their pace up? I think [the young forwards] are all capable of making plays, the young skilled guys. You can probably list seven or eight that have talent and could make NHL plays.” – Bruce Cassidy, on what he’s looking for out of B’s forward prospects that want to win NHL jobs.