Boston Bruins

Observations from Day 3 of Bruins Development Camp

Observations from Day 3 of Bruins Development Camp

BRIGHTON, Mass – Here are some thoughts and observations from the third day of Bruins Development Camp at Warrior Ice Arena with just one more day to go. The scrimmage should be fun to watch, and instructive as to how all these prospects play in game-type situations.

1)   It’s clear in watching Anders Bjork skating with the rest of the prospects on Saturday that the 20-year-old is light years ahead of the rest of the group in terms of skating, offensive polish and overall presence on the ice. He was skating with purpose and offensive swagger during the drills and the scrimmage, and it set him apart from the rest of the group in the best way possible. He was among the best skaters in prospect camp last season, and he was clearly the most powerful skater among the players taking the ice on Saturday. He certainly looks ready to compete for an NHL roster a couple of months from now, and served as a good example for the young 18 and 19-year-olds of the level they need to get to if they want to be knocking on the NHL door.

2)  Urho Vaakanainen is extremely smooth. He looks like he’s gliding when he skates. He doesn’t panic with the puck on his stick and he’s in very good position with or without the puck in all three zones. He makes a good first pass and he seems to process the game quickly. He was pushed around a little bit by some of the bigger, stronger players over the last couple of days, but that’s to be expected as one of the younger guys on the ice. It also remains to be seen just good he looks once the intensity gets upped a little bit physically and intensity-wise, and what exactly he brings to the playmaking part of the offense in game settings. He looked good during a 4-on-4 scrimmage setting on Saturday, and will be pushed further if the Bruins go for a little 3-on-3 scrimmage on Sunday to finish off camp.

3)  Trent Frederic gives off a “future leader” vibe in the dressing room when he’s interacting with his teammates. The 19-year-old is in just his second development camp, but he has the kind of easy manner and good sense of humor that goes a long way toward bringing all corners of the dressing together. You combine the likable personality with the strong work ethic and the accountable, heavy game that he plays on the ice, and Frederic has all of the makings of a hard-nosed future team leader. Perhaps it’s not surprising that said he models himself after David Backes, who has a lot of the same kind of qualities that the Bruins were very interested in bringing back to their NHL dressing room when they signed him last summer.

4)   Oscar Steen isn’t a household name, but he’s had a pretty strong camp as a small, skilled forward out of Sweden that’s going to need to play up-tempo. The 5-foot-9, 192-pounder still hasn’t made a big splash in the elite league in Sweden playing against bigger, stronger and more mature opponents, and it remains to be seen if the sixth-round pick used to select him ends up paying off for the Black and Gold. But he has been one of the better forwards through three days of development camp. That could bode well for what the Bruins are looking for from him moving forward.

5)   Zach Senyshyn is fast, fast and even more fast than can be described conventionally. While the skating speed of Anders Bjork was very noticeable when he joined the group on Saturday, Senyshyn has effectively mixed skating speeds in camp with an impressive burst that he can kick in to create offensive opportunities for himself. It feels pretty apparent that Senyshyn still needs some seasoning at the AHL level to develop his game, build up his toughness and learn how to effectively his size speed/combo to great effect. But you can already see that Senyshyn is going to be very effective paired with a center that can get the puck to him in stride with some time and space, and that’s exactly the kind of finishing guy that David Krejci is on his best days.

6)  Jesse Gabrielle is fun to watch on the ice. He’ll try some higher level stuff than many other of his fellow forwards will not attempt offensively in the development camp setting, and he’s got the skill to finish off some of those plays. But in all fairness to Gabrielle, he is at his best game in a scrimmage-type setting where some of his physical play can impact the tone on the ice. He hasn’t had much of a chance to show that rabble-rousing side of his personality during skating drills and skill exercises with the B’s this week, and that’s something the Bruins are looking forward to simply base it on his playing style similarity to Brad Marchand. Nobody is saying Gabrielle is going to push close to a 40-goal season over the next few seasons just as Marchand did last year, but he should show the Bruins a little agitating taste of what happens when he isn’t on his best behavior during the next training camp game. He also has frosted tips as a hair choice for this week, and that is a strong indication that Gabrielle doesn’t take things too seriously. 

Haggerty: Right fit for Backes one of camp's lingering mysteries

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Haggerty: Right fit for Backes one of camp's lingering mysteries

BRIGHTON, Mass – With the start of Providence Bruins camp bearing down on Monday, the Boston Bruins know their NHL training camp numbers will be thinning out very shortly. That won’t change some pretty established forward combinations that head coach Bruce Cassidy has been working with throughout camp thus far.

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have skated together consistently as they obviously should as one of the league’s most lethal duos, and they’ve been teamed with rookie Anders Bjork at right wing pretty consistently through camp. David Krejci and David Pastrnak have also been linked together for every practice, game and drill since the 21-year-old Pastrnak signed his new six-year contract, and it’s been rookie Jake DeBrusk with them for most of camp.
Matt Beleskey finished the night in Detroit with Krejci and Pastrnak, and one begins to wonder if that’s where the established, 28-year-old Beleskey finds himself when the regular season begins.

That may or may not change after the young left winger was taken off their line in Saturday night’s preseason debacle in Detroit, but the point stands that Krejci and Pastrnak are expected to be on the same line to start the season. The same would seem to be the case with Riley Nash and Noel Acciari as fourth liners that really established themselves toward the end of last season, and have had Tim Schaller and Jesse Gabrielle cycle through as candidates.

That leaves the Bruins third line where the choices aren’t quite as easy for Cassidy, and where there are several different options for the Bruins coaching staff. Ryan Spooner and David Backes played together an ample amount of time last season, and would seem to be a good combo where their very different strengths can complement each other. Sean Kuraly and Backes would certainly give the Bruins a big, bruising, North/South third line dimension, and showed how effective they could be in the first round of the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson got some early looks with Backes as well, but it seems a foregone conclusion he'll start in the AHL after getting dinged up earlier this week in preseason action. Backes hasn’t been shy about his preference to see where this combo could take them given his preference for a bit of old school smash-mouth hockey.

“It depends on usage, and that conversation has yet to be had. Are we going to be a checking line that’s going to get the matchup against the other team’s top line, or if we’re going to roll three lines that can responsibly play against any line then the makeup of [the line] changes a little bit,” said Backes. “I think another big body to get pucks in and have that grind really wearing things down, and kind of setting things up for the line after us, is first and foremost on my mind.

“I think there are certainly plays to be made on entrances, but there’s a lot of times when there’s not. But starting up that grind game that’s there at times, the more often it’s there the better we are. It can be overwhelming for teams to have to be in their end for minutes on end, and get a fresh line change, while you’re still in the offensive zone. That’s how goals are created that aren’t made on the rush. In the second half of the game [against the Red Wings] with JFK not feeling so hot, Sean Kuraly and myself felt pretty good with his speed, his ability and just the unselfish type of “let’s go in here and grind” to make space for the other guys. I don’t know how it all sorts out or if they’ve A, B, C and D type of choices, but there’s still a great deal of camp. So hopefully that all gets sorted out, so we’re able to build chemistry with whoever it is.”

There are other pieces to be worked in like Frank Vatrano or possibly Beleskey if both of Boston’s rookie wingers stick on the NHL roster, but it would seem that the Bruins are facing a major philosophical decision with their third line after bringing Spooner back into the fold. Do they go big, strong and “crash and bang” with Kuraly and Backes, or do the Bruins try to amp up Backes’ offensive production as trigger man with Ryan Spooner setting him as a speedy, skilled playmaker?

“[Kuraly and Backes] enjoy playing together, and in the playoffs they had some level of success,” said Cassidy of Backes, who finished with an underwhelming 17 goals and 38 points in his first season with the Bruins. “At some point we have to get a look at that. Noel was in that mix. Do we want to add skill on the left side if Kuraly is in to complement them, or do we want kind of three North/South guys? Those are the things that training camp is going to answer. It’s difficult because if you’re building a heavier line, and you’ve also got a Ryan Spooner who is more of a skill guy with Vatrano speed. Now the questions will come what’s your third line? We’re going to do whatever is best to suit the team, and we’ll number the lines as we see fit afterward.

“But I think it’s important that Backes has the right type of chemistry player [on his line]. We’ve addressed the top two with Krejci and [Pastrnak] and Bergie and Marchand, so now we’ve got to find the proper fit for Backes for him to be an effective player for us. He’s a very good hockey player and we’ve got to make sure he plays with people that complement his game too.”

So what would this humble hockey writer do if he were making the hockey decisions?

Probably start Spooner with Backes and Vatrano on the third line to start the season given Spooner’s considerable talent on the power play, and what’s been a bit more determined effort to battle for one-on-one pucks in the preseason. There’s no harm in potentially keeping Kuraly as the 13th forward on the NHL roster, and then going to him if A) Spooner falls back into previous bad habits or B) the B’s coaching staff determines they need more of a punishing fore-check presence as they did mid-streak against the Sens in the playoffs.

It may not be perfect and the surplus of third line bodies may result in an early season trade given the need around the NHL for talented bottom-six centers, but the Bruins need to do whatever is necessary to consistently squeeze more production and quality shifts out of that group, and particularly out of Backes, this season. 

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Morning Skate: Can BU's Keller break through with Coyotes?

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Morning Skate: Can BU's Keller break through with Coyotes?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while watching the worlds of sports and politics collide this weekend.

-- Can former Boston University standout Clayton Keller become the NHL’s newest rookie sensation for the Arizona Coyotes? The skills and the skating are certainly there, but we’ll have to see if he can remain in one piece all season with a middling team around him.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Kris Letang returning to the Penguins on Sunday. It still blows my mind that Pittsburgh was able to win the Cup without him in its lineup last spring.

-- Speaking of the Penguins, they say they will accept the White House invitation to visit after last year’s Cup win, and offer a pretty non-committal statement about what’s going on in the other three major sports right now.

-- It was a tremendously successful opening of Little Caesar’s Arena for the Detroit Red Wings last night as they stomped the Bruins in preseason action.

-- The Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri is out to prove that last season wasn’t a one-year wonder.

-- For something completely different: Good to see another Stoneham guy getting some accolades for a dead-on impersonation.