Tuukka Rask came up big for the B’s in Brooklyn (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)
The Boston Bruins did a nice job of bouncing back from a tough loss to halt the losing skid at three games with a plucky 2-1 road victory against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center in a late afternoon game Sunday.
Ryan Spooner and Patrice Bergeron tallied for Boston, while Tuukka Rask played his best game of the season in making 36 saves to preserve the two points in a game made interesting thanks to a late 5-on-3 goal by old friend Johnny Boychuk.
The Bergeron line featured a tweak as Brad Marchand was moved down and Matt Beleskey brought up to play the left wing with Brett Connolly remaining over on the right. The BeBes- Bergeron and Beleskey- showed some okay chemistry together and generated some good moments up front. Beleskey plays with a lot of passion and energy, and on one memorable 2-on-1 in the third period, he made a superb pass over a sprawling Islanders defender and over to Bergeron who got his blade on it and put it on net, only to see Isles goaltender Jaroslav Halak in fine position to make the stop.
Boston opened the scoring with a 5-on-3 power play goal to extend the consecutive games with a score on the man advantage to seven when Spooner ripped a one-timer into the net from a David Krejci feed. Bergeron had started the play when he took the puck and walked down the middle of the offensive zone between the circles to back the defense in before dishing to Krejci, who wasted little time in taking advantage of the added time and space to find Spooner all alone off to the side of the right post. It was Spooner’s third goal and ninth point of the season.
Bergeron made it a two-goal game in the second period when he put a shot to the front of the net that appeared to be deflected in by Marchand but was later changed to Boston’s assistant captain when reviews showed the puck hit Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy and changed direction past Halak.
The story of the contest was Rask, who played the kind of shutdown game the B’s have come to expect from him. He did seem more active at times than he should have in leaving his crease to play the puck, but none of those adventures cost him. He gave up just the one goal to Boychuk late after Kevan Miller took a careless-looking high stick penalty to Casey Cizikas and then Joonas Kemppainen gloved the puck off of a face-off, giving the Islanders 1:47 of 5-on-3 play, that they took advantage when he launched a Johnny Rocket that clanged in off the post. It was the only power play out of seven chances the Islanders got, so the maligned penalty killing unit got a confidence boost, but a perfect game on the PK would have been even better.
The Islanders launched a concerted attack late, but Rask stood his ground and the Boston forecheck made some nice plays in the neutral zone and Islanders end to prevent the home team from getting Halak out for the extra attacker earlier. The B’s did a nice job overall of containing Isles captain and superstar John Tavares from getting much going in this one.
The B’s will get a few days of rest through Veteran’s Day before taking on the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night at the TD Garden.
Tuukka Rask- Boston’s. No. 1 goaltender brought his A-game tonight and had no real chance on Boychuk’s howitzer of a shot. His glove save on Cal Clutterbuck during a shorthanded breakaway in the second period was a crucial stop that could have had a devastating impact on Boston’s psyche, but he effortlessly snagged it to keep it a 1-0 game. Rask made the defense look better than it was today, which is what you’re going to get with a player of his caliber in net. However, this team is simply not good enough to rely on Rask’s heroics as we have seen on other occasions throughout the first calendar month.
Patrice Bergeron- It was an active game for him with a goal and an assist, seven shots on net, more than 21 minutes of ice time. He stepped up with he game-winner in the second period as Boston got a much-needed win, their first in seven days.
Frank Vatrano- For the second straight game, he impressed with his speed and hustle, pushing the offensive pace and getting some quality shots on the net. He didn’t find the twine, but he didn’t look like a kid in just his second career NHL game and showed some good stamina for playing the second of a back-to-back game. The adrenaline he’s feeling is no doubt still pumping in his veins after scoring in his first big league game Saturday night.
Joonas Kemppainen- He blew it by taking the penalty late for handling the puck on the face-off, but made up for it with a solid game defensively and a game-saving defensive zone draw that he won cleanly after Beleskey was sent to the box for a slash with 1.7 seconds left. Thanks to Kemppainen or “Kemper” as he is called, the Isles didn’t even get a chance to get a shot off.
Ryan Spooner- The even strength play has been at times rocky, but when the B’s go up a man, Spooner’s high-end skill and creativity come out. His goal was a bang-bang play, but he did what scorers do well- get to the one spot on the ice where no one else is and bury the pass when it came to him. Even if his overall game and play has not been perfect, Spooner is producing points, so as long as he can keep doing that, the coaches will work with him on the little things.
Johnny Boychuk- What more can I say? He is still missed and the reaction by the Islanders faithful when he scored brought back memories of how he used to bring the Garden crowd to their feet.
Torey Krug- He played a season-low 16:25 and made one memorable gaffe that could have proven costly when he sent an errant pass while on the power play that resulted in Clutterbuck’s breakaway. He later took a needless cross-checking call against Clutterbuck in the third period, Boston’s fifth penalty of the day. Krug has been Boston’s best and most consistent defensemen all season, but this was not his night and it showed in the box score.
Kevan Miller- You try not to pile on, but the free agent defender’s play has been more down than up. He struggles with handling pucks under pressure, does not have the mobility to win a lot of races to loose pucks, and took that sloppy, undisciplined highsticking penalty late in the contest which helped contribute to Boychuk’s power play goal. The Bruins have room for one or the other other Adam McQuaid or Miller, but employing both of them on a regular basis will prove costly.
Joonas Kemppainen netted his 1st points in the NHL with the Bruins vs the Isles (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)
The Boston Bruins balanced out their home winless record with a perfect standing in road games, beating the New York Islanders Friday night by a 5-3 score (including a late meaningless goal by Thomas Hickey) to collect their third win and a 3-3-1 record overall.
Joonas Kemppainen scored his first career NHL goal and the B’s got tallies from four other players- Brett Connolly, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner and David Krejci- plus some solid if unspectacular play in net from backup Jonas Gustavsson.
It was also a strong game from the Boston defense, who played well on the whole as a unit, limiting mistakes and making the defensive plays that they needed to preserve the win.
Boston took the lead on Connolly’s second marker of the season, a scorer’s play that he made as he put on a burst after Brad Marchand put the puck out front from the corner and Connolly zipped past Islanders captain John Tavares in the slot to wire the shot into the net past a surprised Jaroslav Halak.
The lead didn’t hold for long as Marchand was sent off for a hooking call and Justin Bailey converted a rebound to tie the score at 1 goal apiece on the power play. 1:19 later, former Bruin defender and enduring fan favorite Johnny Boychuk (playing career game 400, btw) beat the Boston forward to the puck along the right wall and threw a shot on net that Casey Cizikas redirected into the net past Gustavsson. Ryan Spooner was defending him but allowed the Isles’ fourth line center and top defensive forward to gain body position as he cut to the net for his first goal of the year to make it 2-1.
Boston battled back in the second frame after Claude Julien shook up the lines and put Spooner on the bottom unit with Kemppainen and Tyler Randell. The move paid dividends as Kemppainen, who had been mediocre up until the midway point of the second period, made a sharp play to force a turnover on an attempted Islanders breakout, getting the puck over to Spooner. The skilled center tried to get a shot on net, but the puck hit a defender and bounced right to Kemppainen who was alone in the slot and fired a short-side shot that slipped past Halak to even the score.
Pastrnak later gave Boston the lead back with a tremendous play to corral a Loui Eriksson pass in his skates, kick the puck to his stick, then rifle a bullet shot into the twine for his second goal of the season.
Spooner would score to make it 4-2 in the third when he and Kemppainen did good forechecking work to force a turnover. As Spooner took the puck to the net, he tried a return pass to the Finn, but his attempted feed hit an Islander skate and skittered into the open side.
Krejci put a shot into the empty net to put the game out of reach and extend his streak of points in every game thus far with his fifth goal and 12th point.
Zdeno Chara- The Boston captain played his 1,200th career NHL game against the team that drafted him in 1996. He’s well past his prime, but even so- he played with snarl and toughness tonight, going off late in the second period when he absorbed a hit by Matt Martin but then got elbowed by Cal Clutterbuck, who flew in on the backside and knocked his helmet off. When he plays like that, Chara inspires his young, but hard-working team to dig down a little deeper and stand a little taller in the face of adversity. He’s had a tremendous career and will one day reside in the Hockey Hall of Fame when all is said and done.
Joonas Kemppainen- Right after I tweeted about him being too soft on the puck, he finished a check in the offensive zone, then stripped the Isles of the puck, putting Spooner’s deflection home a couple of ticks later. He added an assist for good measure, getting his first NHL points and playing a more energetic, inspired game alongside Spooner.
Loui Eriksson- At times his skating looks labored, but he’s such a smart player who manages to be in the thick of the action. He tallied a couple of helpers tonight, but it was his solid 200-foot game that caught my eye for much of the night. He was strong on pucks, made good decisions with and without the puck and showed why he’s a savvy veteran and the second highest scoring (to Patrice Bergeron) player from the 2003 NHL draft’s second round.
David Krejci- He only had the empty-net goal to show for what was a solid performance from Boston’s leading scorer. He was particularly effective in puck support tonight and made some nifty plays that didn’t result in goals but reminded everyone that he’s on pace for a career-best year.
Adam McQuaid- Strong game from Darth Quaider. He fought Matt Martin in the opening period after the Isles took the lead, and played capable defense. On one memorable play in the second period, he was a step behind the Islander forward, but stayed with him and broke up the rush/prevented the shot. He also assisted on Krejci’s empty-netter.
Ryan Spooner- He belongs in both Up and Down sections in this one…his play in the first period was not encouraging, but after Julien demoted him, the 23-year-old pivot got some home cooking going with Kemppainen. Up until tonight, his 5v5 play had been a major bone of contention in the early going of the new season, but he salvaged that a bit in the final 40 minutes by taking pucks to the net and being rewarded with a goal and helper.
Brett Connolly- What a snipe. He used his speed and hockey sense to score his second goal of the year. If there is more where that came from, he’s on the way to justifying the deal Peter Chiarelli made for him by surrendering a pair of second-round picks.
Jonas Gustavsson- He gave up three goals tonight, but was superb in the second by not allowing any of New York’s shots to get by him, opening the door for Boston to re-take the lead. He’s a bit scrambly at times, leaving fat rebounds and is an adventure when he roams from his crease to play the puck, but in two wins, both on the road, he’s done what his team has asked of him.
Spooner- Dropped from the third line, needs to bring more to the table at even strength or he could find himself doing more than just going down to the fourth line. With Alex Khokhlachev heating up in Providence, I wouldn’t put it past the Bruins to do some message sending. Thing is- he’s such a skilled and talented player- we saw what he’s capable of last season. That’s the Spooner the Bruins need back.
Brad Marchand- His lazy, undisciplined hooking penalty in the first period cost the Bruins a power play goal against. He’s got to do a better job than just putting his stick in the hands of an opponent rather than move his feet to force a turnover, especially with how fast a skater he is. He gets credit for working the puck to the front of the net on the Connolly goal, but his penalty was unacceptable in that situation and he’s got to learn from that.
Seven games in, and it looks like this is going to be an up-and-down season for this team. There are some things to be encouraged about on the defense- Torey Krug continues to log a lot of ice time and play well in all situations even if he’s snakebit and still looking for his first goal. Colin Miller and Joe Morrow are noticeable in their ability to skate pucks out of danger and make the crisp outlets. We also have to live with the inevitable mistakes they’ll make, but the raw material is there.
The B’s are a better team on the road right now than at home, but they’ll take it- it beats being poor at home AND in the role of visitors.
Captain Claude Giroux’s power play goal in overtime, his second of the game, gave the Boston Bruins their fourth loss at home this season in as many tries as the Philadelphia Flyers defeated them by a 5-4 score in sudden death.
Bruins and Flyers met at the TD Garden in NBCSN’s much-ballyhooed “Rivalry Night”, and although the B’s overcame a sluggish start and 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to gain a 4-2 advantage, quick third period goals by Flyers big guns Giroux and Wayne Simmonds evened the score with 8:39 left in regulation to set up the 3-on-3 overtime period.
The B’s once again got solid production from its special teams in the form of both power play and shorthanded goals (the second such shortie in as many games) from Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly respectively.
The Flyers struck first with a goal from Paris, France-born Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who put in his own rebound after boxing out Joonas Kemppainen and getting to the puck when Tuukka Rask was unable to close his glove on the initial shot.
Boston evened the score with Brett Connolly’s first goal as a Bruin dating back to his acquisition at last February’s trade deadline. He swooped in and converted a Bergeron rebound after Giroux failed to pick him up, firing the puck into the net past starter Michal Neuvirth.
The Flyers re-took the lead right after that when Sam Gagner capitalized on a bad line change by Boston to gain some extra time and space and beat Rask with a shot to make it 2-1 on his second goal of the season.
Boston tied it up when Bergeron batted a puck out of mid-air with the man advantage late in the opening frame. The NHL’s most lethal power play unit moved the puck with authority in the offensive zone and when Loui Eriksson worked the puck to the front of the net, David Krejci’s initial shot bounced up in the air with Bergeron right at the top of the paint to knock it in. Neuwirth slumped over after that play, which was a harbinger of things to come.
As the opening frame ended, Zac Rinaldo reminded everyone of the controversy that surrounded his summer acquisition (for a 2017 third-round pick) when he hit Sean Couturier hard at the buzzer, knocking the big center out of the game. At speed, the play looked like a head shot, but when slowed down, it appeared that Rinaldo went shoulder to chest, but Couturier had his head down, appearing to brace for backside checking pressure coming from Adam McQuaid. When Rinaldo ran him, his head snapped back and Couturier went down hard. Rinaldo was assessed a 5-minute charging match penalty (game misconduct) that will likely draw some form of supplemental discipline given Rinaldo’s history. The hit looked dirty, but the unfortunate outcome was that the Flyers player was lost for the remainder of the contest.
When the second period started, Neuvirth was out of the crease and not present on the bench with an undisclosed injury, giving way to Steve Mason.
While the Flyers were on the Rinaldo power play, the B’s rubbed some salt in the wounds on a breakout, with Eriksson throwing the puck to the Philly net with Chris Kelly driving straight in at Mason. The shot hit Kelly’s skate and deflected in the net to make it a 3-2 score.
Boston added to the lead when Jimmy Hayes broke in on the right side and threw a shot at the Flyers net from a sharp angle that somehow snuck over the goal line past Mason to make it 4-2.
Boston was cruising near the halfway mark of the final frame when Colin Miller found David Pastrnak all alone in the high slot with a yawning net to hit, but somehow, Mason got his glove hand across to deny the young B what looked like a surefire goal. The NHL reviewed it, but the call on the ice of no goal stood, leaving the score at 4-2.
That opened the door for Philly’s quick strikes to tie the game and eventually force overtime, especially after the B’s did not register a single shot on Mason in the final 12 minutes and change of regulation.
Ryan Spooner took a hooking call after Michael Del Zotto all but grabbed onto Spooner’s stick while hurling himself to the ice in spectacular fashion, but it worked to perfection. The Flyers went on the 4-on-3 man advantage with Bergeron-Zdeno Chara-MQuaid unable to clear the zone before the puck worked over Giroux for the one-timer that found the back of the net past Rask.
Patrice Bergeron- On the day his first child, a son named Zack was born to him and wife Stephanie, Bergeron assisted on the Connolly goal and added one of his own. As Globe scribe Amalie Benjamin said- assist, goal and baby- thats got to be some kind of newfangled trick for the new dad, who couldn’t quite pull out the win for his boy.
Brett Connolly- For the former Lightning high-end prospect, this goal was a long time coming and he didn’t miss. He also displayed speed and quickness throughout the game, though that was all he was able to generate on the score sheet. If Connolly could put it all together, the B’s will benefit and for now- finding the back of the net is a good start for him.
Chris Kelly- He got one shorthanded goal and was instrumental on the Hayes tally with a hustling back check to diffuse a Philadelphia scoring chance then transition the play back the other way. The savvy veteran is contributing this season with his typical three-zone effectiveness while also adding some early production.
Zac Rinaldo- C’mon, man. All that talk of turning over a new leaf…it doesn’t matter if the hit was technically shoulder-to-chest contact- it was unnecessary as Couturier did not have the puck and was looking away from Rinaldo as he came in. Fair or not- Rinaldo is not going to get the benefit of the doubt on plays like that, and so he’s getting hammered in the court of public opinion right now, especially since Couturier is out with what is believed to be a concussion. Not smart, but a lot of critics said this was coming and it only took six games. C’mon man.
Tuukka Rask- At some point, you have to quit making excuses for the guy. He’s off, and this was a game the Bruins played well enough to win, save for the fact that they didn’t get some key stops from him when they needed it. Even if you allow for the fact that Kevan Miller’s turnover behind the net leading to the first Giroux strike was not on him, he was off the angle on the Simmonds goal and simply isn’t playing like the All-Star caliber goalie the B’s need him to be. It’s not Bobrovskian on the scale of disappointments in the early season, but the Bruins and their fans have a right to expect a whole lot more than what Rask is giving them right now.
David Pastrnak- Love the kid’s talent and enthusiasm, but the turnovers continue and when he had a glittering chance to put the game away, he wasn’t able to, opening the door for the Flyers comeback. You have to grit your teeth and live with the mistakes given how hard he works and how well intentioned he is, but he’s hurting the team and needs to simplify/try to find a balance between the high-risk decisions he’s making and the natural ability we all know he has to score points in this league.
Joonas Kemppainen- At this point, I’ve seen enough. He’s soft on the puck, not assertive enough, appears to be a step behind when it matters. Most of the time he looks like he’s in the right spots but is just not making plays. I have to think Max Talbot would give you more effective all-around play on the bottom line than this guy will at this stage.
Kevan Miller- He’s got to be better in his own end. His aborted attempt to reverse the puck led to the goal that pulled Philly back into it, and when you’re a fringe d-man, you can’t afford those kinds of mistakes. Miller is one tough nut and a rugged customer, but he doesn’t have enough in the way of talent to get by when he makes gaffes out of what should be a routine exchange. Tighten up.
Ryan Spooner- Great on the power play, but not getting it done at even strength where the advanced stats are exposing him down near the bottom of the league in puck possession. The penalty he took in OT won’t help his case either, but in his defense, Del Zotto sold that like a Sotheby’s auctioneer.
Tough loss in a game the Bruins really had on their plate to win. It won’t get any easier when they travel to Brooklyn to face the Islanders on Friday, but play away from the TD Garden has offset their poor performance at home, so we’ll see.
The good news in Boston on Columbus Day 2015: the Bruins scored 3 power play goals.
The bad news: The Tampa Bay Lightning scored 6 goals (2 with the man advantage) and dominated the B’s at even strength to drop the home team to 0-3 for the 2015-16 season, with all three losses coming at the TD Garden.
The B’s squandered a 2-0 lead in the first period in a 1:09 span late in the opening frame when the fourth line collapsed too deep in their own end and got caught puck watching (Torey Krug was also guilty of this) while former St. Sebastian’s and Boston College star Brian Boyle drifted to the front of the net, took a pass from the left boards and buried a high shot for his first ever goal against the Bruins. Boston then saw Patrice Bergeron take a goaltender interference penalty (the B’s would get whistled for three such infractions on Ben Bishop today and what do you know? The 6-5 goalie went down like he’d been shot with a machine-gun every time a guy in a black sweater made contact with him.) and Tampa evened up the game when Ondrej Palat heeled a pass that deflected through Tuukka Rask’s five-hole. Just like that, all of the hard work and two goals worth of offense compliments of David Krejci and Loui Eriksson evaporated.
Boyle took full advantage of a David Pastrnak miscue while Boston was on the power play in the second frame, intercepting an ill-advised (this is the second time in as many games I have used those words to describe a Pastrnak decision) pass to the middle of the ice out by the Tampa blue line. Boyle took off then gave Pastrnak a stiff-arm to knock him back, going in alone on Rask, sliding the puck again through the five-hole to make it 3-2.
Eriksson and the Bruins battled back to tie it at 3-3 with his second power play goal of the game, redirecting a Krejci shot (he finished with a goal and two assists, Krug had three points- all assists- as well) into the net and giving the building life.
It was short-lived, however- as Bergeron took another penalty (hooking) and then while Boston was on the PK, the Bolts’ Tyler Johnson got away with an interference play of his own to prevent Chris Kelly from clearing the puck. As a result Tampa held the zone, allowing Steven Stamkos to get open and bury a shot for the 4-3 lead and his 500th career NHL point (500s are wild in Boston- Tomas Plekanec reached the same milestone on Saturday).
Boston needed a strong final 20 minutes to come back, especially improving their 5-on-5 play, but didn’t get it. Rask gave up a soft goal to Jonathan Drouin on an off-speed shot that a sliding Boston D got a piece of, and then Valtteri Filppula closed out the scoring with a shot he directed in off his skate. After review, the goal was upheld and the Lighting left town with 6 goals, the second club in three tries this season to do it.
We knew that this Bruins team wasn’t going to be all that good, but they’ve not gotten much puck luck thus far, and more calls have gone against them than in favor. You don’t want to make excuses, though- the defense, which did benefit from having captain Zdeno Chara back, is too young and unproven at this stage, and the Boston offense does not have the horses to provide consistent scoring. In net, Rask has been mediocre thus far, which, in a nutshell, accounts for 16 goals allowed and the 0-3 start, the equaling the 1999-00 Boston Bruins, a non-playoff club.
Instead of doing 3 up/3 down, I’m just going to switch to up/down, because I don’t want to force things that are not there. More guys probably deserved down grades than up today, but to be quite honest- Tampa Bay is one of the top teams in the league and the Bruins did some good things today, especially in the first 40 minutes. I particularly liked some of the pressure they put on Tampa in their own end, disrupting their breakouts and not letting the Lightning generate much speed in the neutral zone. Unfortunately, the wheels came off in the final period and Boston couldn’t sustain that.
Torey Krug has been consistent in the early going on a defensive unit that has had some tough nights. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)
Loui Eriksson- He pounced on a Krug pass just outside the right post for his 1st goal of the season (he had one wiped out against Saturday night, I would add), then got his stick on a Krejci shot in the second period to tie the game at three goals apiece. He’s a smart player who works hard around the net and deserves more credit than he gets from rank and file Boston fans. Unfortunately, as a 30-year-old impending free agent, he’s far more likely to be traded at some point this season where he can help a playoff-bound club than to finish out his time as a Bruin.
David Krejci- He started the scoring with his second goal in three games, then assisted on both of Ericsson’s tallies. He won face-offs and provided an offensive spark. His day was not without mistakes- he coughed the puck up a few times, got hit with one of the Bishop interference calls (Bishop sold it pretty well) and overskated the play that resulted in Tampa’s final goal. On another tough day for a loss, it’s hard to find positives.
Torey Krug- With three assists and nearly 24 minutes, Krug has been Boston’s most consistent defenseman in the first trio of contests. Like Krejci, however, Krug’s day was not without its warts. He was out of position and did not pick up Boyle on his first goal to cut Boston’s lead to 2-1, focusing on the puck instead of his surroundings. But, when it comes to handling the puck and starting the breakouts from his own end, nobody is doing it better than the third-year player.
Tuukka Rask- Yes, his team isn’t very good. Yes, some of the goals today were not his fault. But, there are times when a team simply needs their goaltender to make the basic stops to keep them on top or get them back in it, Rask was AWOL today. With the money he’s making, the Bruins deserved a much better performance than they got from the moody and often times mercurial personality. It will be interesting to see if Rask digs in and dedicates himself to being better or his attitude worsens. The Bruins cannot afford any petulance from the one guy they’ll depend on the most to steal them some games this season.
I’ll be honest- I am not a fan of the people out there who never seem to think the goaltender should be accountable for anything. It’s always a defensive breakdown or a forward who didn’t get back or some other excuse. I think after a day like today- if that’s what you’re bringing to the table in a debate about Rask’s performance, then you probably need to take a step back and reevaluate your knowledge of the game of hockey. At some point- there’s a certain level of performance from the guy between the pipes that everyone should expect and demand, regardless of agendas. Rask fell short today. But, he’ll get plenty of other opportunities to shine this season, and when he does- I’ll be the first in line to give him credit, because that’s how this should work. Today, however, he let his team down when they needed him to be just above average.
Joonas Kemppainen- You can tell the guy is mature and a smart hockey player, but he seems to be gripping the stick pretty tight and playing not to lose. Like everyone on that bottom unit and defense that got burned on Boyle’s first goal, he was nowhere near in position to defend, and as the center, Boyle was his man. He’s new to North America and still getting acclimated, but the B’s need him to play better going forward after a shaky first game against Winnipeg.
David Pastrnak- His play in the second period was a costly one and he did not have a great game overall. He is easily one of the most talented players on the ice on either team in the three losses, but the B’s are going to have to live with the mistakes he will make out of a desire to try and make too much happen. Claude Julien’s challenge will be to take the good with the bad and protect the kid’s confidence by not crushing him when the mistakes occur. The Bruins are better off with Pastrnak trying too hard to make something happen than doing too little for fear of getting stapled to the bench.
Patrice Bergeron- He had an assist and was strong in the face-off dot as he normally is, but with the Bruins up 2-1 after Boyle’s strike he went into the crease and made contact with Bishop, opening the door for Tampa to tie it. He was far from the only culprit today, but a second penalty he took proved to be the winning goal against.
Jimmy Hayes- Three games and not a whole heck of a lot to talk about from the Dorchester native. You can see that he wants to be engaged out there, but his lack of speed hurts him on a line with someone as fast as Ryan Spooner is. The coaches perhaps need to look a little closer at what Hayes does well and figure out how to get him more involved. Without a strong puck possession game, he’s going to have his hands full in terms of keeping up with the play.
Next game- the Colorado Avalanche. Not exactly world-beaters, but with the B’s reeling and on the road in Denver, it’s going to be a tough matchup for them. The Bruins are dead last at 0-3 and have given up the most goals in the process.
It’s probably going to get a good deal worse before it gets better, folks. There are some things to be positive about, but the Bruins on the whole simply do not have the talent to stay with the big dogs in this league, and we’ve seen it with them going 0-3 agains three playoff teams from last spring. It’s a tough pill to swallow given where the B’s were just back in 2013, but they are where they are right now, and it looks like the team will need to sell off more veteran parts in order to commit to a true rebuild.
Trying not to be overly pessimistic here, but this club just does not seem to have it, and it’s hard to envision them suddenly turning things around based on what we’ve seen in the early going. Growing pains time, as the kids like Pastrnak and Colin Miller are going to have their ups and downs but ultimately will be some of the faces this team looks to in the future. That’s of little comfort in early October, but just calling it as I see it.
Brett Connolly scored a pair of goals including one just 40 seconds into Wednesday’s contest, but the Boston Bruins dropped their second exhibition game in as many tries after starting the preseason 4-0.
As pointed out to me on Twitter by several B’s fans, the Rangers were icing a lineup much closer to their NHL roster than Boston was, so there is room for praise for the job the Boston squad did in keeping the lead until the last 3 minutes or so of the second period and then coming back to within one goal late in the final frame. In the end, however, it wasn’t enough.
The B’s lost in regulation, but the teams played a 5-minute 3-on-3 overtime session that failed to generate a score, despite the Rangers getting a power play after Alex Khokhlachev was assessed an obstruction foul.
Fans will need to get used to these kinds of games going forward this season- yes, the team was without many of its top players last night, but even with a full roster, the Bruins will be challenged to score goals on the regular basis. They will have to cash in on the opportunities they do create (and those given them by opponents) and outwork other clubs in order to make the playoffs.
Having said that- here are some notes on some of the players:
Brett Connolly- He accounted for all of the offense last night, and it was the best of the three preseason games we’ve seen from him. His second goal was batted baseball style out of midair and into the net, displaying some excellent hand-eye coordination. On the downside, he’s still turning the puck over and making some mistakes to nitpick, but you could see last night why he was a top draft pick five years ago. Connolly is more than capable of scoring 25 goals this year for Boston, but Claude Julien will stress attention to detail with him to mitigate some of the mistakes he makes with and without the puck.
Zach Trotman- Last pick in 2010 played a strong defensive game and assisted on Connolly’s second tally by denying a Rangers clearing attempt at the blue line and throwing the puck to the net. He may not be the most instinctive of defenders, but Trotman’s 6-4 height and 220-pound frame, along with his mobility allow him to make plays at both ends of the ice. Sometimes, you wonder about people’s expectations- it isn’t like Trotman was a first- or second-round selection and recognized talent to play a prominent role. He was a developmental project player from the get-go and has worked hard to put himself into the NHL picture in Boston- some of these same critics fall all over themselves to praise Koko who has yet to turn any of his flashy plays into production, yet Trotman came through with a statement game last night. It’s the internet and all, but my guess is that on opening night- No. 62 will be in the Boston lineup and No. 76 won’t.
Colin Miller- I think we’ve seen enough- the former Kings prospect is an NHL player, and the Bruins will benefit from his skating, puckhandling and big-time point shot. On one particular sequence in the second period, the puck was thrown to the net as he was cutting to the short side. It hit his skate, but even at speed, Miller was able to corral it with his stick and get a shot off. Henrik Lundqvist made a terrific save, but it was the kind of effortless-looking play that is much harder for most to pull off. Miller belongs on this team, end of story.
Joonas Kemppainen- The Finnish free agent has the look of a solid fourth-line center with his faceoff work and disciplined play in all 200 feet of the rink. He’s not a dynamic skater, but as a big guy, he doesn’t have to be. He uses his stick effectively to disrupt plays on the penalty kill and has been in the right position throughout the preseason. He’s not a player who will bring a lot of offensive production to the table, but his heavy game is well suited for the bottom line and with the right wingers, so long as that unit can chip in and play some quality minutes, the B’s are on the right track.
Jimmy Hayes- He was active and involved in the play all night. He’s not as skilled as younger brother Kevin, but he brings more tenacity and “want to” in my opinion. The team had him wearing the ‘A’ last night, and Hayes continued his solid if unspectacular play in the preseason, tallying a helper on Connolly’s first goal. He’s clearly enjoying being a Bruin, and he’s a valued addition on a team that is going to need every ounce of his talent and 6-6 frame to get some gritty, dirty goals on any given night.
Ryan Spooner- Boston’s third-line center showed off his ability to work the wall last night, at one point during a power play in the second period generating quality scoring chances from both sides of the ice. Koko just missed sending him in alone on a breakaway during the 3-on-3 overtime session, and he might have ended it right there. Spooner is at his best when pushing the pace of the offense and backing defenses up with his speed. Unfortunately, he also made a poor decision late in the second period to make a cross-ice pass after gaining the offensive zone that was deflected away and resulted in a rush the other way that saw J.T. Miller put the Rangers up 2-1 with about 37 seconds remaining on the clock. Those are the kinds of plays that will get any player a stern talking to from the coaches- it was risky and ended up being costly. He did have an assist on Boston’s second goal of the night, however.
Alex Khokhlachev- At some point the energy, hustle and skill plays need to amount to points on the board and it’s just not there. It seems to me that there is an element of fans who want him on the team no matter what, and I can understand that- everyone has an opinion, and he’s undoubtedly more talented than a couple of the veterans who are likely to beat him out for a spot coming out of camp. But one wonders if Max Talbot was showing the same kind of energy, would people go out of their way to praise him as seems to be the case for Koko? For a guy who made it clear that he sees himself as an NHL player, he sure hasn’t been able to find away to produce, and that’s going to be the difference when he is optioned to Providence to start the year. The B’s can and will almost certainly bring him back up at some point (unless Don Sweeney trades him elsewhere- but the kind of value Koko will get at this stage is anyone’s guess), but enough of the grasping at straws- potential is just that- potential…until it is realized through tangible results. It would be one thing if he was scoring a point or three each night he went out there, but he’s not doing that. In the end, it doesn’t matter what any of us on the outside think- Boston management and coaches have the power to decide, and in Koko’s case- it’s pretty simple: where’s the beef? There is no denying the skill, but the team rightfully expects more from him.
Adam McQuaid- The most memorable play of the night from him came on Miller’s late second period goal when he backed up too much in the Boston zone, giving the Ranger forward the time and space to rip a wicked shot into the net, taking the lead. You love McQuaid’s character and toughness, but his mobility and decision-making at times will result in plays like this one. During the course of the season he’s going to make some plays and give some up- if not for the AAV on his contract extension, few would have any issue with his presence. It’s the nature of the beast in this modern cap world.
Jonas Gustavsson- Playing in just his second contest since coming to camp on a PTO, it was a good news/bad news kind of game for the veteran. He was victimized on the first goal, which came on a screen and deflected in off of Trotman’s skate. But he was beaten cleanly on a shot by Miller to break a 1-1 tie, and in the third period, was unable to get across the crease when Rick Nash’s attempted pass was blocked by Matt Irwin. Nash, doing what top goal scorers like him do, grabbed the puck as it bounced back to him and popped it into the yawning open side as Gustavsson was caught by the shortside post. Neither Gustavsson nor Smith have been outstanding in exhibition play, but they have been serviceable. Gustavsson held the fort later in the game and in the OT when the Rangers were on a 4-on-3 man advantage, so flip a coin between the two for Boston’s backup spot. It’s close, and with Smith under contract, he just might get the nod.
Zac Rinaldo- Continues to play his high motor game and drive opponents crazy with his hitting and stickwork. He took a goalie interference penalty and then was reminded of that with a hard, borderline vicious hit from Dylan McIlrath that he bounced back from. With his speed, he creates scoring chances, ringing a shot off the post at one point in the final period, but the production has not and never will be there. Rinaldo is there to bring energy, agitate, draw penalties and get opponents off their game without hurting his own team in the process. There is a segment of Boston fandom that will simply not reconcile that role with his past transgressions nor the price Boston paid to acquire him, but that’s fine- as is the case with McQuaid- he’s here like it or not.
Tyler Randell- Drove to the net and worked the corners effectively. When McIrath tried to go after Rinaldo during a scrum in front of the Rangers net, Randell intercepted the New York defender and the two dropped the gloves. Both players got some shots in, and it looked like a draw, but given what Randell gave way to in terms of height and reach, the bout further enhanced his reputation as a nasty forward who can fight it out with the heavyweights.
Tommy Cross- I have to give the former BC captain and 2x NCAA champion credit. He played hard and smart last night. He’s a longshot given the players the B’s have on the roster, but his character has never, ever been a question mark. Last night, he played with effort, pace and got some good shots on net from the point. He’s an NHL-capable defender in a reduced role, but the question for him is opportunity- can he get it in Boston?
Brian Ferlin- Good player, but what on earth was he thinking in OT when he went to the bench for a chance with the Rangers in possession of the puck at center ice? That resulted in a 3-on-1 but somehow, the B’s survived it and transitioned back the other way, with Koko just missing sending Spooner in on a breakaway. But, Brian- yikes!
The Boston Bruins announced that forwards Austin Czarnik and Frank Vatrano, along with defensemen Linus Arnesson and Chris Casto, were sent to Providence on Tuesday.
Interestingly, the B’s brought some previously relegated players in fowards Brandon DeFazio and Ben Sexton, along with minor league defenseman Chris Breen.
This puts the current count of forwards on the roster at 20, defensemen at 11 and the B’s are carrying three goaltenders. Dennis Seidenberg is injured and won’t be available for about the first eight weeks of the season, so the D count is really at 10 right now, with Breen and Tommy Cross expected to go back down to Providence if the team opts to go with eight defensemen out of the chute (including the banged up Zdeno Chara).
The moves are not all that surprising- Czarnik, Vatrano and Arnesson all show intriguing promise, but they are all entering their first full pro season after all seeing limited action in the AHL last spring. I know that fans love their shiny new toys, but these guys need to be playing, and they weren’t going to be getting a lot of playing time in the NHL, even if they made the roster. And by the way- to keep a young forward on the big club means that the B’s would in most cases have to place another veteran on waivers. No big loss in Max Talbot you say? Well, he most likely would not be claimed, but the B’s value his experience and leadership more than a lot of the folks watching the games, so let’s just say that paying him nearly a million dollars to play in the AHL is not the best use of team resources, regardless of how he has looked in some limited preseason action.
As for the recalls, they’ll get a chance to play in the final couple of preseason contests and likely go back down.
The guys pushing for spots at forward need a strong push here at the end to make their case: Alex ‘Koko’ Khokhlachev has shown that he’s got some legitimate skills, but we’re still waiting on the production to take shape. Even when Ryan Spooner was trying to make the B’s in his previous two exhibition seasons, he was scoring goals and points in the preseason. Koko has done some good things, but the pucks haven’t been going in for him. At this rate, he’ll be one of the final cuts, but will go down to begin the year in Providence.
Tyler Randell is an interesting case. He’s a late-round pick from 2009 who never really stuck around in preseason much for fans to get a handle on, but has done the grunt work down in Providence as an enforcer. He’s a player with a good set of hands- he once scored 4 goals for the Kitchener Rangers during a 2012 OHL playoff game against the Plymouth Whalers (who featured Washington power forward Tom Wilson). Randell’s not much of a skater, but the guy can fight and he could find a spot for himself with his toughness. He wouldn’t be an every game player, but could slot in when the B’s needed to add some bite to their roster. I keep seeing Randell linked to Shawn Thornton as a comparable player and I won’t go there other than to say that they are two different players and fans have to understand that Thornton came to the B’s as an established NHL veteran who was added as much for his character as he was for the toughness he displayed. Randell’s not there yet, so temper the expectations- he’s still growing and learning as a player.
I’ve been impressed with Anton Blidh– he’s fast, gritty and energetic. He’s always moving his feet and qualifies as a grinding agitator type. It might be a situation where the B’s feel like he’s better served getting more minutes in Providence initially and then bringing him up when the inevitable injury happens up front, or he could very well make the Boston roster to start the season. These last couple of games will be critical for him, but because he can go down and not be subject to the waivers process, the team at least has options with Blidh. He’s on the bubble and close, but I predict he’ll start the year in Providence. Ditto Brian Ferlin, who has played well in preseason, but will find himself the odd man out on the right side with a chance to go back to the AHL and play top-two line minutes and in all situations.
Finally, I’m sold on Joonas Kemppainen to start the year as Boston’s fourth-line center. He’s mature, smart and does the little things for the position. I like his faceoff work and he does a nice job of making the right reads coming out of the zone and moving the puck to the open spaces on the ice. He’s not going to wow you in any one area, but I can see why the Bruins signed him out of Finland at age 27.
The final roster picture is coming into focus, but after the sluggish night against Detroit in the 3-1 loss Monday, that’s a harbinger of more nights to come. Loui Eriksson’s goal was too little, too late and the offense will have to overachieve to score regularly this season by the looks of it.
Would like to be proven wrong, but even in Boston’s victories, the cup of offense has not runneth over.
Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)
The Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney announced today that eight players under NHL contract have been sent down to Providence of the AHL. Defenseman Chris Breen and forward Brandon DeFazio were put on waivers yesterday and designated for assignment- they both cleared today and will participate in the Baby B’s camp. Defenseman Ben Youds, on an AHL deal, was released from Boston camp (PTO) and sent to Providence. You can read the transaction announcement here.
Additionally, the B’s returned their remaining junior players to their respective teams, with Jakub Zboril (Saint John- QMJHL), Jake DeBrusk (Swift Current- WHL) and Brandon Carlo (Tri-City- WHL) all going back to the CHL. The B’s released Zach Senyshyn (Sault Ste. Marie- OHL) and Jeremy Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda- QMJHL) prior to the weekend’s slate of games.
In the spirit of and with a nod to the always outstanding Mike Reiss and his Patriots blog at ESPN Boston throughout the NFL training camp leading up to the final cuts day before the start of the 2015 NFL season, here’s the remaining players- locks and bubble guys along with a little analysis on what it all means going forward.
Locks: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner, Chris Kelly, Max Talbot (5)
On the bubble: Joonas Kemppainen
AHL-bound: Alex Khokhlachev, Austin Czarnik, Zack Phillips
Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci…Krejci and Bergeron…Boston’s 1-1A center punch is well entrenched, and I won’t fool around with the argument I see some people engage in over who is the B’s 1 and 2…it’s a pretty meaningless debate, because without one or the other, the team’s in deep trouble. Ryan Spooner hasn’t had a great deal of time to establish himself with new linemates, but he’s been an opportunistic scorer with the man advantage and is clearly the No. 3 man in the center pecking order. Even if the B’s might opt not to use Chris Kelly and/or Max Talbot at center, expect the team to retain both as veteran options for the bottom line with the ability to play the wings- they’ve done it before. Joonas Kemppainen has been a solid if unspectacular presence in the exhibition games he’s suited up for, and he’s effective on the draws, plays a mature two-way game, and has the size and strength to start the year as the team’s fourth-line center if that’s the plan. Austin Czarnik has been a revelation in his first pro camp after signing with the B’s last spring, using his speed, smarts and quick hands to make an impact in all three zones, but he’s better off playing on Providence’s first or second line and on both PK and PP units. If injuries take a toll on the B’s depth, don’t be surprised to see him get a chance at some point this season. If not, he’ll make it tough to cut him next year with a full season under his belt. Alex Khokhlachev, for all his talent, just hasn’t been able to find the production in his game. He’s without a doubt more talented than Kelly, Talbot or Kemppainen, but building an NHL roster isn’t just about plugging in the most skilled guys on the bottom line and expecting them to thrive. He’s improved his overall game, but if Koko had found a way to actually…you know…score some goals, then you might have more of an argument than the simple “SKILL!” that I have people hit me with onTwitter quite a bit. The B’s need to figure out how to best use him or trade him, but just because he said he doesn’t want to play in Providence forever does not mean he’s ready for primetime now. He’ll have a few more chances before the final cuts come in, so if ever there was a time for him to impress the brass with a breakout individual performance, it’s now. Zack Phillips was waived yesterday (and cleared) but is still with the team, where he is rehabbing an injury. Even if he had played in any of the preseason games, it’s hard to see Phillips being in the mix for a center job given how deep the team is at that position right now.
Locks: David Pastrnak, Loui Eriksson, Brett Connolly
On the bubble: Anton Blidh, Tyler Randell
AHL-bound: Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith
David Pastrnak is not only a sure thing, he’s the most exciting combination of pure speed/scoring talent *and* character since…well…quite a long time. He’s similar to Bergeron in terms of the kind of impact he could have on this franchise, but he’s a higher-end scoring winger and will eventually put together some impressive numbers. I don’t know if he’s quite ready to bust out with the All-Star production this year, but he’ll give it his all. Loui Eriksson plays the off-wing and will go about his business being the smart, stealthy scoring presence he was a year ago when he finished second on the team in goals. However, if the B’s are going south in the standings, don’t be surprised to see Sweeney try and move Eriksson to a contender- his current contract is up next summer and it’s doubtful he’ll be back. Brett Connolly has not had a great preseason thus far, but the team gave up a pair of second-round picks for him and has high hopes. Unlike impatient fans who expect instant near-perfection, the B’s will give Connolly a chance to see if the 2010 draft hype was real or not. Listed as a left wing but shifting over on the right side thus far, Swedish pest Anton Blidh has impressed with his speed, energy and grit. He’s the kind of guy who could start the season right away on the bottom line, but as a young player on the first year of his ELC, he can be sent down to Providence without being placed on waivers, whereas other players can’t, so he might need to bide his time in the AHL as a third-liner who can grind it out. Tyler Randell has yet to even come close to making the NHL roster since the B’s drafted him late in 2009, but he’s in the mix because of his sheer toughness and ability to make the odd offensive play. Randell’s feet are an issue and he’ll have to be waived to get sent down, so the B’s might carry him as an extra forward to spot play when facing the more rugged teams (which admittedly are decreasing rapidly in number). Brian Ferlin scored a nice backhand goal off a turnover against Detroit and impressed in a small sample size call up a year ago, but like Blidh, he can go down without waivers, so the B’s would rather have him playing a lot than the limited time he’ll get on the bottom line. He’ll be among the first to be recalled if injuries hit. Seth Griffith’s sprained MCL suffered in a preseason game essentially means he’ll rehab the injury but likely go down to start the year and work his way into shape and consideration to be brought up when that time comes.
Locks: Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Zac Rinaldo
AHL-bound: Frank Vatrano
Brad Marchand led the team in scoring a year ago and he’s going nowhere- will keep riding shotgun with Bergeron to consistent effect over the past several seasons. Boston’s big-ticket free agent Matt Beleskey hasn’t set the world on fire in his first couple of preseason outings, but he’s done and said the right things. Working with Krejci and Pastrnak means that he’ll have plenty of chances to find the back of the net, but expectations need to be tempered- the B’s need him to stay healthy more than anything else right now. Local boy makes good in the case of Jimmy Hayes, who has used his enormous 6-foot-6 frame to good effect and done pretty well skating with Spooner. He’s going to grunt it out in the trenches, but he looks like an ideal fit in Boston’s top-9, playing over on the left side after being a right wing in Florida. Zac Rinaldo was acquired with a third-round pick, so even the most ardent critics will have to grudgingly admit that he’s here to stay for now at least, and we’ll see how much of a role he’ll have on the team going forward. If the B’s opt to use Kelly on the left wing of the fourth line, then Rinaldo will have to move around. Thus far, he’s drawn more penalties than he’s taken and played his patented physical style. Frank Vatrano, along with liney Czarnik, has been a revelation, but he’s not ready to take on a full-time NHL role. He’s better off playing a lot of minutes in all situations and building his confidence by unleashing that killer shot down in the AHL for now, but watch for him to get some looks if he’s productive and keeps playing hard in all zones.
Locks: Zdeno Chara (inj.), Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Zach Trotman, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, Matt Irwin, Kevan Miller *Dennis Seidenberg (inj.)– 8-week timetable for return (mid-to-late November)
On the bubble: Linus Arnesson
AHL-bound: Tommy Cross, Chris Casto
The Bruins are hoping Zdeno Chara is ready to begin the season after taking a hit the other night in action against the NY Rangers and leaving the game in the first period. Torey Krug has stepped up in his absence, scoring the OT-winning goal against Detroit and playing with the confidence and heart of a much bigger man. Adam McQuaid is safely entrenched on the Boston roster, and Zach Trotman is also a solid bet for now as a known entity, even if he does not possess the uptempo game and sexy upside that Colin Miller and Joe Morrow bring. Both offense-minded blueliners have impressed in the preseason and the injury situation means they will both likely make the cut. Matt Irwin and Kevan Miller bring veteran ability and know-how to the mix, and if Claude Julien was serious about carrying eight defenders to begin the year (he said that even before Chara got banged up) then these are your guys. Linus Arnesson has played very well- his ice time against Detroit was notable early for how much of the first 20 minutes was played on special teams and he did well in all situations. However, with more experienced options in play, the expected move is for him to go down to the AHL where he can develop and thrive in a top role. Experienced farmhands Tommy Cross and Chris Casto will help Arnesson form a nucleus of a relatively young but game defense corps in Providence.
Lock: Tuukka Rask
On the bubble: Jeremy Smith, Jonas Gustavsson
And then there were three…with both of Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre being optioned to Providence today, this leaves it between Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith to be Tuukka Rask’s backup. Gustavsson just returned to the team after dealing with a personal matter, so he hasn’t had much playing time outside of an 18-shot, 18-save half of work in Boston’s first preseason contest against the New Jersey Devils. Smith has been a little up and down, struggling to find his game against the Rangers, but digging in and making some key stops at crunch time to preserve a 4-3 shootout win after letting in some softies to fall behind 3-1. In Gustavsson (who is on a PTO and would still need to be signed if the B’s like what they see), the team gets an NHL-experienced backup who has proven he has the tools to be a capable starter should something happen to Rask (knock on wood, please). On the downside, ‘the Monster’ has had injury issues, so even if the B’s go with him this year, there is a chance he’ll end up on IR at some point, meaning the team has to go deeper into the bullpen. As for Smith, he’s a one-time second-round pick from 2007, so at one point, he was seen as an impressive pro prospect, but he has zero NHL experience, so the B’s are going right back where they were a year ago when they went with the unproven Niklas Svedberg, who could not win Julien’s confidence to spell Rask more than once in a blue moon. It would be one thing if Smith had completely shut everyone down thus far in exhibition play, but he hasn’t done that. He also hasn’t been as bad as some folks have shared with me online, either. At the same time, Gustavsson’s effort was in a very small sample size…but then again- you know he can stop pucks at the NHL level, at least. My guess: Gustavsson stays, Smith goes down to the AHL, and at that point, the B’s will probably need to either option McIntyre to the ECHL or figure out another AHL team for Smith- three goalies in Providence is not the kind of situation Boston wants.
Just a couple of days after the NHL opened up main training camps around the league, the exhibition games started, with the Boston Bruins taking on the New Jersey Devils in a home game at Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence R.I. Sunday evening.
The Black and Gold got a pair of power play goals from free agent addition Matt Irwin on defense, as he and fellow blue liner Colin Miller made strong cases for themselves in the first real glimpse fans got of them. Goaltenders Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith split the game down the middle and combined to pitch the shutout, with Gustavsson making 18 saves and keeping the Devils from taking advantage of a quicker start.
It was just one preseason game, but Boston’s biggest area of concern going into the season is on defense- and the performances of Irwin and Miller might be bringing that picture into focus more.
And here are the player notes (not quite covering everyone):
Jonas Gustavsson- The Monster did not let anything by him on his watch, though he did knock the puck into his own net after Adam Henrique gloved down a drive inside the crease. Referee Chris Rooney was on hand to waive the goal off, however. The veteran Swedish netminder did a good job of staying square to the shooter and tracking the puck during his 30 minutes of action last night. As is the case with him on occasion, he got overly aggressive and came out of his net, nearly getting caught for what would have been an open net goal during one sequence in the second period, but his defense bailed him out. This was the kind of performance Gustavsson was looking for as a player in camp on a PTO- he has NHL experience and the ability/mentality to be the right kind of backup for Tuukka Rask.
Jeremy Smith- Came in halfway through the second period and picked up where Gustavsson left off, doing a nice job of smothering rebounds and using his glove to good effect. People forget, but Smith was once a second-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2007, so he entered the pro ranks with some promise that he appears to be on the verge of putting together in terms of reaching the NHL. He came into the B’s organization a year ago with hopes of providing a veteran presence in the AHL while Malcolm Subban took on a bigger role for Providence, but “Smitty” played so well that he ended up with a lot more starts than originally planned. He could win the backup job coming out of camp in a few weeks, but he would still represent risk for Boston given his lack of NHL experience.
Matt Irwin- The former UMass rearguard from British Columbia could not have asked for a better first look in a Boston uniform. Though not a speedster, he moves well laterally and has some impressive offensive instincts. The first goal he scored happened in the second period when he slipped in from the point, took a perfect pass from Ryan Spooner, and put a shot past former Union goalie Keith Kinkaid. His second goal was a point blast after his D partner Miller put a pass right into his wheelhouse, and Irwin didn’t miss. He had eight shots on goal and could have had at least a hat trick if not 4 goals- that’s how involved he was in the play. Don Sweeney talked about how Irwin impressed the team with his power play work on the San Jose Sharks, so credit the pro scouts who recommended him- he did not look out of place. Granted- it’s just one preseason game, but Irwin looks like a player.
Colin Miller- When the B’s traded Milan Lucic to the Kings, Miller was the one piece coming back (not counting Martin Jones– Marty, we hardly knew ye!) that could pay immediate dividends and based on last night, we’ll be seeing Miller in Boston. The first thing that jumps out at you is his skating- he can really scoot, and is capable of pushing the pace when he has the puck. In the offensive zone, he shows a lot of poise and handles the puck with confidence, using his vision and offensive IQ to make the right passes and find open space. He and Irwin were highly effective on the power play all night, as the B’s not only tallied twice, but did a pretty good job of maintaining possession and generating scoring chances, even the ones that didn’t go in. Miller even made a highlight hip check that would have made old school and Hall of Fame B’s defenseman Leo “Billy Boy” Boivin proud.
Miller is still learning the defensive aspect of the game, but Miller brings something the B’s are in desperate need of- speed/mobility and puck skills from the blue line to go with a big, powerful shot. He no doubt impressed Claude Julien, Doug Houda and the Boston coaches last night. He’s a right shot, which makes him even more appealing when it comes to balancing the defense pairs and available talent. Miller delivered the goods last night as advertised with assists on both Irwin goals.
Zach Trotman- It was a solid night for Trotman, who showed off his NHL experience with an effective game in his own end, not allowing much to get by him and using his size/mobility combo to keep the Devils away from the front of his net. It was more of a case of what you see is what you get from Trotman, and while he was not impactful to the degree that Irwin and Miller were, he didn’t hurt himself last night. Being a right shot helps, and he’s been projected as Zdeno Chara’s opening night defense partner. We’ll see how that goes, but for now he’s still tracking.
Jakub Zboril- You can certainly see the skill and potential on display with Boston’s top draft choice in 2015, but he’ll go back to the QMJHL this season with plenty to work on. The first thing that catches your eye is the skating- he powers into top speed with an impressive first few steps and generates enough momentum that he can beat opponents with his glide in open ice before churning up more speed to gain the opposition blue line. He wants the puck and handles it with confidence. I thought there were a few times when he got to running around as a result of missed opportunities to make the simple play, but he’ll get there.
Brandon Carlo- I saw some people singling him out for a strong performance last night, and honestly didn’t really see it. It’s not to say he played poorly- he didn’t, but again- I guess I don’t get the urge to go out of the way to heap praise on a solid player with promise, but who isn’t in any position to win an NHL job this season. This is not a knock on him at all as Carlo’s size and mobility are very good- he has NHL tools and he played a pretty mistake-free game. An old saw says that if you don’t really notice a defenseman then it means he did his job pretty well. He’s got a real active stick, controls his gaps well and is not afraid to throw his body around. He’s looking like a very good value at 37th overall, but no need to rush him- the payoff will come in due time.
Tommy Cross- It was a gritty, energetic performance from the Connecticut native and former high second-round pick of the Bruins in 2007. The Boston College captain has one of the best characters and personalities of anyone, but he hasn’t lived up to his draft position. Even if he makes the NHL (which is a tall order at this stage of his development), it’s hard to envision him doing it as more than a bottom pairing guy , and with the surplus of similar type defenders ahead of him in the pecking order, it’s hard to see it happening for him in Boston. That said, he made good reads, was involved all night and even got into several scraps, including one fight at the end with Seth Helgeson. If his goal was to send a message to the B’s brass that he’s still here and willing to work for it, he certainly succeeded.
Ryan Spooner- It was a good game for the projected third-line pivot to begin the season. His primary assist on the winning goal was vintage Spooner- he took the puck over at the right half-wall and used his puck skill and shifty elusiveness to create space for himself while his teammates helped collapse the Devils PK in front of the net. Then, spotting Irwin leaking in from the blue line, got the puck cleanly to him through traffic so he could make a play on it and put the B’s in front. That’s what Boston most needs from Spooner, and he had his speed game going all night, working well with Jimmy Hayes. He solidified his case as a roster regular last night with his overall play, especially with the man advantage.
Alex Khokhlachev- He raised some eyebrows this weekend with his comments about wanting more of a chance to play in Boston. While his sentiments understandable, he didn’t exactly help his case last night. While his supporters and the folks whose answer to any attempt at meaningful debate when it comes to Koko these days seems to be “SKILL!” are no doubt pointing to the flashes of ability he showed last night. I thought that he looked mighty good at not accomplishing a whole heck of a lot against New Jersey, however. Koko is a very good offensive talent…but he’s not as elite as some make him out to be in my mind at least, and he’s got room for improvement…at the tender age of 22. If he (or his agent) is trying to force Boston’s hands for a better situation where he doesn’t have as many impediments to playing center and getting to the NHL is therefore easier, you can get where he’s coming from, but it isn’t like the B’s have buried him. He should be willing to stick it out and continue to work. An injury here or there and he’ll get his chance. But if you’re pointing to last night as proof positive that he’s earned that chance right now, don’t really see it. He’s shown his offensive skill in flashes, but this is a results-oriented business and he didn’t get them last night.
Jimmy Hayes- It was a nice first game for Hayes who went up and down the wing as advertised and helped on Irwin’s second goal by setting up in front of Scott Wedgewood as the point shot came in. He’s not a snarly, physical presence, but Hayes uses his big frame effectively. Spooner nearly hit him with a nifty behind the back pass on a third-period rush that if, on target, likely would have found the back of the net. The Dorchester native certainly looked the part of a Boston Bruin last night.
Brett Connolly- If Hayes played well on Spooner’s left wing, then Connolly did not have a very good showing over on the right. He did not show much in the way of the skating and speed that he’s known to possess and seemed to have a hard time handling the puck cleanly or getting to open spaces. Let’s face it- when you’re the sixth overall pick, and a team gave up two second-round picks for you, a lot more is expected. We can chalk it up to rust and it being the first action of the new season, but Connolly did not send any kind of message that he’s ready to supplant David Pastrnak or Loui Eriksson on the top-two lines. Where’s the beef?
Jake DeBrusk- Boston’s first forward choice showed some good things last night, but he’s clearly not ready for prime time and will go back to Swift Current soon. On the plus side, he’s active in the offensive end and instinctively reacts as the play develops by getting to the right spots on the ice to make something happen. He also played with some jam, as on one third period play, he fired a shot that Wedgewood made a good save on, then went right to Devils defender Eric Gelinas behind the net and got in his face after Gelinas gave him a little tap, with the two engaging in a quick scrum/wrestling match that the refs broke up before it escalated. I liked the feistiness from DeBrusk, because that’s not really his game. He’s a polarizing player because like Connolly, much is expected of him offensively, so he’ll have to translate the flashes of talent into production here soon.
Joonas Kemppainen- At 27, he had the look and feel of a mature, poised pro forward last night. He didn’t make any real eye-opening plays, but did the little things well like protecting the puck, going to the net and supporting his defense when the play went the other way. He’s not going to wow you, but the B’s could do much worse than entrusting a fourth-line spot to him. We’re still getting the book on him, but Kemppainen has the tools at least to compete- we’ll see where the rest of the exhibition season takes him.
Brandon DeFazio- I thought the free agent depth pickup played a real solid game- he was noticeable and played with energy and jam, showing a willingness to do the dirty work and stick up for teammates. Clearly acquired to be one of Providence’s veteran leaders this year, the former Clarkson Golden Knight who got two NHL games in last year with the Vancouver Canucks did not look out of place as a gritty grinder. He looked like he wanted to kill Tuomo Ruutu near the end of the game, which was good- Ruutu took out Seth Griffith with a knee-on-knee hit in the second period and Boston’s prospect did not return, a fact that was not lost on the Bruins. The refs kept DeFazio from engaging Ruutu, but he showed the willingness to battle- I liked what I saw.
Seth Griffith- Tough night for him, as he began the game playing with Koko and the two did combine to generate a couple of nice scoring chances early. Unfortunately, while on the power play in the second period, he took a knee-on-knee hit from Ruutu and that was the end of his night- hopefully, he did not suffer a serious injury on the play, but we’ll soon find out.
Max Talbot- The veteran did his thing, though it is pretty clear that he’ll make his bones on the bottom line and the team won’t get much in the way of offense from him. On the wrong side of 30, he’s lost a step, which means he has to work that much harder to generate scoring opportunities, but he’s still a feisty, savvy defensive player who understands his role and will be a good example for the younger players around him.
Zac Rinaldo- Well, what can you say about the most polarizing of all the new additions in the offseason? He had one memorable play when he took a Ben Sexton pass and blew by Devils defender Reece Scarlett before cranking a shot off the post. Had it gone in, it would have been a highlight reel goal, but even so, it demonstrated that even if Rinaldo lacks the pure skill and hockey sense to be a productive player, he can still put opponents on their heels. When on his game, he plays with energy, hustle and forces opponents to play with their heads on a swivel. That’s a good thing…so long as he does not cross the line. He drew several penalties which is what the Bruins were looking for. When he’s putting his club shorthanded with stupid, undisciplined plays, however- that’s when he’ll get in trouble.
It was the second loss to the Bruins in a week for New Jersey, who appears to be in for another tough season under new head coach John Hynes. Like Boston, they don’t have a great deal of high-end talent, so they have to out-work their opponents and depend on great goaltending from Cory Schneider to steal games for them. I thought both of Kinkaid and Wedgewood played well tonight- they made some stops that kept the score close and their team in the game.
Pavel Zacha was the sixth overall pick in last June’s draft and showed flashes of why that was the case even if he’s still pretty raw yet and didn’t have anything to show for it. He’s got size and skating but used his vision and anticipation nicely on a few plays where he got in behind the defense. With a little more patience, he might have been able to turn those flashes into goals. The Devils sure look like they got a player with him, and while there are sure to be ups and downs, he’s going to make that pick pay off for them.
I was also impressed with forward John Quenneville last night. The Brandon Wheat Kings star had some jump in his play and demonstrated a nice blend of creativity and skill. He was on Boston’s list in 2014, and had Pastrnak not been there, they might have gone with Quenneville at 25. He went to them with the final pick of the first round, 30th overall.
Damon Severson will build on a solid rookie year that saw him get off to a hot start offensively before injuries took a toll. He is mobile, smart and involved in the offensive flow. He was a real power play threat with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and will continue to see time with the man advantage in the NHL.
Frank Vatrano, UMass Minutemen (Kirk Luedeke photo)
Boston Bruins training camp is in full swing after the rookies had their day in Buffalo over the weekend, going 1-0-1 in 2 exhibition games against the Devils and Sabres. Frank Vatrano certainly turned heads with his performance, but now, all eyes are on the B’s veterans who are back and looking to build on last year’s disappointing non-playoff finish.
With that in mind, let’s get to your questions. As always- thanks for sending them along. I try to answer one per person, so if I didn’t get one because you sent multiple entries, try again next time.
If you had to pick one dark horse that’d surprise all and force his way onto roster (now or later in year), who would it be?– Jason Silva @JasonSilva67
Honestly, I’m not sure there are many “dark horses” who are in line for a big opportunity this year unless the bottom falls out of things injury-wise.
We’re getting a closer look at the three first-round picks from 2015 and they all look like they need to go back to junior.
Based purely on the rookie camp, my dark horse is Frank Vatrano– the former UMass standout scored three goals in two games including the OT-winner against the New Jersey rookies when he helped to force a turnover deep in the Devils’ end, then cut right to the net where linemate Austin Czarnik found him with a shot he tipped home. If the B’s suffered an unusual rash of injuries or just wanted a shakeup up front for game or two, Vantrano would be an interesting player up front because of his hands and energy. I cannot say enough how impressive he’s been over the last couple of seasons after playing just one NCAA game in 2013-14.
Realistically speaking, though- we’re probably not going to get a David Pastrnak-like breakthrough this year. Free agent Joonas Kemppainen was signed last spring on the heels of his Finnish league championship run. He’ll turn 28 this year and so I wouldn’t really call him a surprise- the B’s brought him on board I believe with every intention of getting him some time with the big club as a natural center who plays a strong three-zone game. If he makes the roster out of camp, it will be more by design than overachieving on his part.
David Pastrnak, Emil Johansson and Zane McIntyre take a break during 2014 Bruins development camp (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)
Where do Pasta, Hayes and Connolly play?- Matt Kalin @katomck1981
David Pastrnak is firmly entrenched on David Krejci’s right side for now, and I think the Bruins will try to capitalize on the potential those two have together, not just as fellow Czech Republic natives but because they both bring elite creativity and offensive vision to the mix and Pastrnak’s speed and tenacity is a perfect match for what Krejci brings when on top of his game. Matt Beleskey on that left side filling the spot vacated by Milan Lucic is a good call- he’s not as big as Lucic, but will bring the physicality to help address the loss of time and space ML17 used to bring.
I’ve seen that Jimmy Hayes (normally a RW) is over on the left side flanking Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly in early B’s camp sessions, and I think that is an intriguing trio for sure. I thought that perhaps the B’s would move Loui Eriksson over to the left side on third line to allow one of Connolly and Hayes to move up to the second line behind Pastrnak (if you slot the Krejci line at the top, that is). However, it looks like Claude Julien and Co. want to keep Eriksson with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and Eriksson (a left shot) playing on his off-wing.
What’s interesting to me about a Hayes-Spooner-Connolly third line is that this has the potential to be a model example of the new trend towards NHL clubs icing more of a top-9 attack, with three balanced and skilled scoring lines to aggressively attack opposing defenses as opposed to the older top-six/bottom-six design. Connolly was drafted 5 years ago to be a scoring wing, while Hayes is coming off a career-best 19 goals for Florida. Spooner was taken in the same draft as Connolly, and believe me- it wasn’t to be a grinder. If the B’s can figure out how to get enough ice for all three forward units, that third line could give other teams fits, allowing a clamp-down line of Chris Kelly and Max Talbot (and Joonas Kemppainen?) to grind it out and spell the top-9 forwards.
Jared Knight – any NHL upside at all at this point ? Thanks- @pprohaska
If Knight makes the NHL, it will be as a bottom-six, grinding forward in all likelihood.
It’s been a tough road for him over the past three seasons, so the team did him a big favor by getting him out of there and providing a change of scenery. I thought he played with more confidence in the AHL when he went out West, and so I would not rule him out of eventually earning an NHL job. The issue with him is- will he ever justify his draft position as the 32nd overall selection? That might be a bridge too far, as he’s a rugged, hard-working winger but does not appear to have the natural scoring ability to be an NHL-caliber top two line guy.
The deal appeared to be one of those “my bust for your bust” things- where neither Knight nor Zack Phillips, who was quite the hot shot going into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, sneaking into the late first round, got off on the right foot and things seemed to compound for them. Phillips is more skilled than Knight is, but his lack of pure foot speed works against him. I expect Phillips to be a key cog in Providence’s machine this year, and who knows? If he’s productive enough, he might get a brief look at some point. Realistically, though, like Knight- Phillips is an unenviable position right now as a high draft pick who still needs to prove he can play at the AHL level before we even start talking about the NHL.
I’ve known Knight since the B’s drafted him and he’s a quality person with a great attitude. If anyone can reinvent himself to be that gritty lower-line forward who skates up and down the wing and chips in some modest offense while playing a strong 200-foot game, it is him. I wish him the best.
What do you think about (Joonas) Kemppainen and his potential fit on the team?– davrion @davrion
I think the signing made sense from a pragmatic standpoint- the B’s have an opening for a bottom-line center and the 27-year-old Finn has spent nearly a decade in the pro hockey circuit there, meaning that instead of taking an NHL-inexperienced skill player who is probably ill-suited to play the fourth-line center role as Alexander Khokhlachev is, they’re hedging their bets with an older, more mature player who is more refined and has the intelligence, size and pro hockey experience to come right in and not look too out of place.
I don’t know how effective Kemppainen will be…the B’s have had mixed results when they have brought over older European forwards in the past, but I don’t buy the Carl Soderberg comparisons I’ve seen cropping up on the internet, either. Soderberg was talented, and a lot more was expected of him offensively, but he ultimately played too passive a game and his personality was not a great fit in the room. Kemppainen is quiet and perhaps shy, but I’m told by people who know him that he’ll earn respect because he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him. Plus, having Tuukka Rask around will help him adjust to North America and the B’s dressing room culture.
I like the move- it’s a no-risk attempt to infuse a winner who possesses the size and two-way game (and perhaps some underrated offensive ability) on the checking unit without taking a square peg and forcing it into a round hole. This is not an indictment of Koko, but if people are honest with themselves, they know that expecting him to thrive on the fourth line when he’s a player who is at his best in scoring role (just don’t ask me who he’s going to beat out to provide that in Boston as of today) is a tall order. You don’t call an electrician if your toilet needs fixing…the same principle applies here, so Kemppainen seems like a much better fit at least to start the year. Whether he has the ability to keep the job, however…we’ll find out soon enough.
Could you see Ryan Spooner having a 2008-09 Krejci-esque year (70 points) in his third line role w/ good line mates & PP time?– ETD51 @ETD51
I try not to set expectations on players today based on what others did in the past.
Spooner is to be lauded for seizing the opportunity presented him at the end of last year to establish himself as one of the few bright spots on the 2014-15 Boston Bruins.
Having said that, even though the two players’ (David Krejci and Spooner) numbers are similar at the same age and experience level, unless something happens to move Spooner up to the top two lines for a big chunk of the 2015-16 season, that 70 points is going to happen for him on the third line.
He’s a talented player and if he gets 50 points on that third unit, it will be a big win. Scoring is so down around the league- Jamie Benn won the NHL’s points title last year with 87- so thinking that a third-line player on any team, let alone one that struggled mightily to generate consistent offense a year ago is going to hit 70 points in this current environment (unless there is a major swing of the pendulum that is) isn’t very realistic.
Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)
Do you see Subban being traded or will he be the backup goalie all year?- Chris @FribbleLover
I think the B’s would certainly entertain any offers they get for Malcolm Subban, but they aren’t just going to deal him for the sake of doing so.
I’m also not sure Subban wins the backup job in Boston this year after as yet not having established himself as an AHL starter. I’m not a believer in young (and he’s not even 22 yet) goalies sitting and watching games as a backup during a critical development period in their careers, and I just don’t think the Bruins are going to put Subban in that situation when he could be starting and honing his technique/building confidence at the lower levels.
As for trading Subban, I’ve said this before- the value they would receive for him right now is not likely to justify the effort. Hold onto him and see how he performs in this important third season since he turned pro. If a team comes along and wants to give the B’s a good return for him, they’d be silly not to consider it, but while I’m sure more than a few teams would be happy to take him off of Boston’s hands for a song, that’s what I believe they want to give up. That doesn’t help Boston. Remember- the B’s once hoodwinked Toronto in getting Tuukka Rask even-Steven for Andrew Raycroft. How did that work out for the team that gave up an at-the-time unproven goalie talent for an established commodity?
Patience, young Grasshopper. Resist the urge to play fantasy hockey GM questing for shiny new toy returns and leave Subban where he is for now. The B’s used a top-30 pick on him for a reason.
I would like to know the upside/possibilities of Brandon Carlo?- Anthony Amico @anthonyamico
Carlo looks like the prototypical modern NHL defender: big at 6-foot-5, mobile, physical with a long reach and an ability to make a strong first pass.
I’m not sure that I buy into the over-the-moon excitement I’ve seen about him in some circles on the Internet, however.
Don’t misread that remark into believing I’m not high on the kid, but some fans have let the hype machine get out of control already, with some penciling him into the NHL lineup and I think we have to slow the roll on him. Given the other veteran and other pro defenders vying for spots, it would take a jaw-dropping camp and exhibition performance from the 18-year-old Colorado native to leapfrog some of the guys ahead of him on the depth chart. I fully expect he’ll be back in the WHL this year, but as a late ’96 birthdate, he’ll be eligible to play in Providence for the 2016-17 hockey season, at least.
As for Carlo’s upside, he has a big shot from the point, but I wonder about the vision and offensive creativity that is needed to emerge as a true-blue, top two-way threat at the NHL level. Instead, I see Carlo as more of a solid middle pair defenseman who can shut down opposition offenses because he moves well and uses his stick and physical strength to keep forwards to the outside. He’s also on the snarly side and will be his team’s captain this year at Tri-City, so there is a lot to like about the kid.
Just temper the expectations and don’t be in such a rush to see him in Boston- all in due time.
Brandon Carlo- “shiny new toy?” (Kirk Luedeke photo)
With the final session of the Boston Bruins development camp in the books, it’s time to take a quick snapshot of where things are shaping up with about 60 days before the organization’s young players (minus those in the NCAA) will return to Boston for rookie and main training camps.
Given my admittedly limited online viewing of the development camp on-ice sessions available, here are some notes and observations of the players in attendance at Ristuccia Memorial Arena, supplemented by my own previous viewings of many of these players live and via streaming. More seasoned veterans like Malcolm Subban, Alexander Khokhlachev, Joe Morrow and Brian Ferlin to name a few were not present, while other players such as BU and Harvard defensemen Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) and Wiley Sherman (Greenwich, Conn.) were injured.
Overall, there is some promising potential in Boston’s system, but fans were not treated to a dynamic breakout performance like they were a year ago when David Pastrnak introduced himself in memorable fashion. It’s a solid if unspectacular group, with several players such as Denver sophomore Danton Heinen, WHL defender Brandon Carlo and Harvard-bound center Ryan Donato (Scituate, Mass.) opening some eyes with consistent performances all week. Goaltender Zane McIntyre won the 2015 Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s best goaltender, and did not take advantage of the loophole to maximize his coin by declaring himself a free agent, instead signing with the Bruins. He is in his sixth and final development camp with the team, breaking the unofficial mark of five, set by Tommy Cross (Simsbury, Conn.).
The B’s trifecta of first-round picks showed off their talents in flashes, but underscored the conventional thinking on draft night that none appear to be ready to grab an NHL job out of the gate. Things could change for them between now and October, but realistically, this is going to be a deliberate process for each one of Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn. All three show promise but anyone hoping for a repeat of David Pastrnak from a year ago should temper their expectations for a longer timeline.
In part 1 of this 2-part series, we’ll look at Boston’s pro prospects, likely ticketed for Providence, and those playing overseas in the 2015-16 season. Part 2 will focus on the bulk of the camp attendees, still in the amateur ranks playing junior in Canada and the U.S. and college hockey.
Providence/pro prospects player capsules
Noel Acciari, RW (Johnston, R.I.); 6-0, 200
Acquired: Free agent, 2015
So, what do you do for an encore when you win a national title with Providence College? Why, you sign with the NHL team you always dreamed of playing for in the Bruins, of course! Perhaps one of the most unnoticed but key free agent signings of the past several months, the former Kent Lions and Friars captain plays a throwback, hard-nosed style, leveling opponents with clean hits but not engaging in unnecessary fisticuffs. The Hockey East’s top defensive forward is a crafty shooter who doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to finish, especially in clutch situations. However, where the Rhode Island native truly excels is in making life tough on opponents whenever they’re looking for space and can’t shake loose from this relentless forechecker who generates turnovers. He’s a player you go to war with.
Anton Blidh, LW; 6-1, 190
Acquired: 6th round, 2013 NHL Entry Draft
This gritty, agitating Swede is more of a bottom-six, in-your-face disruptive force on the ice. Blidh opened some eyes last winter with an impressive performance at the World Jr. (U20) tournament, and despite a lack of ideal size, his playing style is tailor-made for the Bruins and what he will face in the AHL next season. He’s not the most skilled forward, but he’ll force opponents to keep their heads on a swivel and he’s proven he has an opportunistic scoring touch when he generates turnovers. Blidh came out of the same Swedish team and system- the Frolunda Indians- as long-time fan favorite and current Boston scout P.J. Axelsson. He’s an industrious, abrasive player who catches your attention because he’s constantly in motion, and he has the makings of a solid bottom-six forward who will see time on the penalty kill.
Peter Cehlarik, LW; 6-2, 200
Acquired: 3rd round, 2013 NHL Entry Draft
The skilled scoring winger from Slovakia has spent the last three seasons playing pro hockey in Sweden is on the verge of being ready to try his hand in North America but is expected to spend one more year overseas with Lulea. He does not play a physical style, but uses his large frame to navigate traffic and establish a net-front presence when on top of his game. With an accurate shot and quick release, he has 20-30 goal potential in the NHL, but must show more dedication to a three-zone approach and improve his consistency and intensity.
Colby Cave, LW/C; 6-1, 200
Acquired: Free agent, 2015
The Swift Current Broncos captain is a versatile, underrated forward who can skate at center or the wing and brings a tenacious disposition to the ice with him on every shift. The B’s have looked to the WHL both in the draft and via free agency this season and the undrafted Cave was a solid get who is a two-way player with the intelligence and character to be more than the sum of his parts. Cave isn’t going to wow you with his skill level or earn a lot of “top player” honors in a development camp setting, but he’s fast off the mark and will give you a consistent effort and a heavy, effective 200-foot game that is so important in the NHL these days.
Colton Hargrove, LW; 6-2, 215
Acquired: 7th round, 2012 NHL Entry Draft
This rugged Texan does not bring much pro scoring upside to the table, but with his toughness and ability to finish around the net, he’s worth keeping an eye on. After improving offensively in each of his three seasons at Western Michigan he’ll likely see a limited role in Providence, where he’ll need to make the most of ice time and practice opportunities to pick up a step or two. With Tyler Randell already on hand to provide nastiness and occasional offense, Hargrove is going to have to put in the work, something that has been said he’ll need to improve as a pro.
Justin Hickman, RW; 6-3, 215
Acquired: Free agent, 2015
Multiple teams were in on the Seattle Thunderbirds’ captain (picking up on a trend here, Bruins fans?) who chose Boston in January after he had to shut it down for the rest of last season for shoulder surgery. The undrafted Hickman is back and ready to go for the 2015-16 campaign as a big-bodied power forward who needs to improve his first couple of steps but is tough to play against. He creates space for his linemates and does the grunt work along the walls and in front of the net, though will need time to work his way to the NHL. He’s a fierce competitor who isn’t flashy but will drop the gloves to defend teammates and is going to make his money in the greasy areas of the ice by paying the physical price to open things up. Emil Johansson, D; 6-1, 195
Acquired: 7th round, 2014 NHL Entry Draft
The two-way defenseman who plays for HV71 has a pretty good skill level for being a seventh-round selection but often leaves you wanting more from his play. He’s a fine skater in a straight line and backwards, but his footwork is not the smoothest, and he struggles to move as well laterally. He can fire the puck well from the point and makes the first pass effectively enough. Johansson’s overall hockey sense and awareness is questionable, as he struggles with making decisions under pressure and can get to running around in his own end.
Joonas Kemppainen, C; 6-2, 200 Acquired: Free agent, 2015
Finnish pro league standout and champion had a fine playoff run and World Championship performance, earning a Boston contract this spring. Tall and thick-bodied, the 27-year-old is more of a defensive (though not all that physical) type who chips in key goals and timely offense than a consistent scoring center, but he might be an ideal bottom-line pivot. He’s accomplished at winning draws and a recognized penalty killer for his smarts and strong defensive awareness. Unfortunately, he injured his hamstring in Finland shortly before development camp started, so fans were unable to get much of a look at him.
Zane McIntyre, G; 6-2, 200
Acquired: 6th round, 2010 NHL Entry Draft
The NCAA’s best goaltender and Hobey Baker finalist in 2014-15 added another stellar season to his resume, and is finally ready to embark on his pro career five years after the B’s drafted him. McIntyre has done tremendous work to improve his technique and fundamentals over the past half decade, but his promise continues to lend itself to his battler’s mentality and emotional toughness that allow him to shake off bad goals and make key saves at crunch time. He’s still improving his skills, but there is so much to like about McIntyre, who has made a career of playing well in any situation, whether serving as a backup or playing every game as he did for the Sioux last year.
Frank Vatrano, LW (East Longmeadow, Mass.); 5-10, 205
Acquired: Free agent, 2015
The B’s may have leveraged the hometown advantage in landing the UMass Minuteman who tallied 18 goals (36 games) in his first and only full season in the NCAA before deciding to turn pro. A natural scorer with a wicked release and nose for the net, Vatrano came to development camp on a mission and in outstanding shape- having shed a few extra pounds for added quickness. The former U.S. National Team standout appears ready to make an honest run at a primetime role in Providence and perhaps something more next season and beyond.