Young Bruins impress in developmental camp

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Young Bruins impress in developmental camp

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
WILMINGTON It was a brief respite to be sure, but little more than a month after capturing the Stanley Cup the Bruins were back on the ice at their practice facility in Ristuccia Arena.

It wasnt the Cup-winning Bs, of course. They have scattered to the four corners of the earth for the next six weeks before they have to return for training camp in September. But the baby Bs have taken their place.

First-round pick Dougie Hamilton took his first twirls in a Bruins uniform, promising forwards Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner returned a year bigger, stronger and determined to make a push for a roster spot, and Bs fans got their first look at the man they call Koko 2011 second-round draft pick and Russian winger Alexander Khokhlachev.

Knight and Spooner showed off the sizzling wrist shots that caught the eyes of the Bruins staff last fall during training camp, and Knight in particular looked like hes packed on some muscle for an important training camp. The 2010 second round pick has even taken up triathlons this summer as a way to vary his conditioning and exercise while getting ready for a run at a Bs roster spot.

Knight, 19, showed he can take the puck toward the cage with force, and the 5-foot-11, 202-pounder smashed into goalie Michael Hutchinson in the biggest collision on the ice during the entire Thursday afternoon practice session.

Your hopes are that everybody gets away healthy, first of all, said Bs assistant general manager Don Sweeney. Obviously Jared drives to the net and its probably typical. I was talking to Doug and Marc Cantin, two guys in the OHL, and it wasnt any surprise to them that it was Knight who ran into Hutch Michael Hutchinson. But Mikes fine and Jareds not going to change his game.

"I think overall we have fresh faces in here, we have some older guys who are returning -- and you hope that you blend that together right away. Maybe some of the older guys kind of, you know, give them a little heads-up because some of these kids are coming in here wide-eyed. You tell them that the Bruins are here to learn about you, youre here to learn about the Bruins and how we do things, and then learn about yourself and where you need to go between now and September. Wherever youre going to go play we want you to be a sponge throughout the course of the week. There are a lot of teaching moments that happen throughout the course of this week that you should really file away and learn from.

Hamilton drew the biggest crowd around his locker stall immediately after the first day of practice, but despite all the fanfare, its pretty clear he knows theres a long road of development ahead of him. He showed off the smooth skating ability and the powerful shot, but he said that theres plenty to do before hes ready to make a run at an NHL roster spot.

I definitely have to get stronger. Ive grown a lot in the last few years in my bantam year I was 5-foot-9, 145-pounds and that was four or five years ago and get used to that, said Hamilton. There are times when youre a little uncoordinated, and Im just trying to fill out into my body. There are a lot of college guys here and Im a little undeveloped while being one of the youngest guys here. But Im happy for my own personal goals and what Ive done.

You learn about yourself. You learn about what you need to improve on. I think the coaches are going to help me out, and show me some things that I can incorporate and work on for the rest of the summer. Thats what Im trying to do.

While its always difficult to gauge defensemen during development camp drills, Sweeney liked what he was of the youngster as he makes first impressions with the Boston staff this week.

Hes a big boy. He moves really well for a kid thats 6-foot-4. I like his overall approach to the game. He looks like he wants to get up ice and is conscientious about his one-on-one play, said Sweeney. Its a small sample size, obviously, but based on all of our games we watched him play, hes a well-rounded player that has a lot of room for continued development. Were really excited to have him.

There is plenty of excitement about the entire next wave of Bs players represented at the development camp this week, and thats big news considering 18 members of the defending Stanley Cup champs will be returning for another kick at the Cup next season.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while feeling like Warren Beatty took the sneaky way out by handing that wrong Academy Award card to Faye Dunaway last night. Clearly he knew something was amiss and he let her step into it. Kind of a weasel move if you asked me.

-- An interesting letter from FOH (Friend of Haggs) James Mirtle about the pay wall involving The Athletic sports website in Toronto.

-- Dean Lombardi and the Los Angeles Kings dealing for Ben Bishop is about more than just an insurance policy for Jonathan Quick.

-- FOH Mike Halford has the Minnesota Wild going for it with their trade for Martin Hanzal, but also keeping him from the other teams in the West.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Penguins are in great shape after winning the Cup last spring, and it’s clear they’re in good hands after Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle opted not to sell the franchise.

-- Kyle Quincey is being held out of the lineup in New Jersey because of pending trades, and the wonder is who else in New Jersey might be getting dealt.

-- Gabriel Landeskog and his Colorado Avalanche teammates know the trade deadline is coming. It would certainly be weird if they didn’t.

-- The San Jose Sharks feel fortunate for the timing of their bye week as it was clear that they needed a break.

-- For something completely different: Gronk was busy doing Gronk things at the Daytona 500 over the weekend.