What to watch for as Bruins prospects head to Buffalo
With a talented pipeline looking to make the jump to the NHL level, this year’s Bruins rookies will get their first taste of competition along with the Devils, Penguins and Sabres’ prospects starting Friday in Buffalo. From Charlie McAvoy looking to build off his solid postseason in his first month in the league to skilled wingers like Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn and Jesse Gabrielle looking to fill a need in the top-six, the Bruins youngsters are hoping to use this weekend’s Prospect Showcase to their advantage.
Some of the Bruins prospects will be going through another go around in Buffalo. Others, like Bjork and McAvoy, will be taking part of the weekend event for the first time. The prior tournament experience, along with a few players who already have some games at the NHL level under their belt, provides GM Don Sweeney and with a somewhat veteran core that could come in handy this weekend.
“As we kick off Rookie Camp, I think it’s an exciting time for the organization, it’s
definitely an important time for the organization and for each of the players on an individual level,” Sweeney said during Thursday’s media availability at Warrior Ice Arena.
“We have six players that have actually played in NHL games that will be playing in rookie games,” So I think that we’re tilted more towards what I would call a veteran group going in with some experience, having played in previous. And we’re excited about the group and the competition.”
With that in mind here are a few things to watch for in the first glimpse of the Bruins prospect pool for the 2017-18 season.
Leaning on McAvoy, DeBrusk
One is coming into the season as a potential Calder Trophy candidate. The other is hoping to make the jump to the big club after a solid season in Providence.
Both McAvoy and DeBrusk have a reason to be optimistic about 2017-18. Both have high expectations coming in with McAvoy likely filling the role as a top or second pairing defenseman and DeBrusk being a candidate to fill a void on one of the top two scoring lines.
This will be DeBrusk’s third go-around in Buffalo and McAvoy’s first. But both are being leaned on as veteran presences with DeBrusk giving advice on what to expect in the tournament and McAvoy sharing his thoughts with fellow prospects on his postseason experience.
“I’m going to use the experience [I had last year] to hopefully play my best hockey,” McAvoy said about his expectations for the four-day tourney. “I can use my experience to be somewhat of a leader in this group. I know some of the guys have more experience than me, but I can definitely try and do my part in terms of being one of the players on the team that will hopefully help us have a great weekend.”
“It’s a little bit different for sure, especially playing at the A[HL] last year,” the 20-year-old DeBrusk said about his pro experience and being one of the veterans among the Bruins prospects. “I know guys are asking me questions on what to expect and different things about this camp and the whole year. You know, I don’t mind that role at all, and I think it’s pretty cool.”
Gabrielle’s high hopes
At the end of Development Camp, Gabrielle set a lofty goal for himself – making the opening night roster.
Gabrielle’s game is being compared to Brad Marchand. Though he’s an inch or two taller than Marchand, there’s a reason for that comparison as he frequently got under opponents’ skin during his time in juniors while averaging a point per game for Prince George (WHL) over the last two seasons.
He saw first hand the chemistry between Marchand and Patrice Bergeron at captains practice. Given the tough competition expected at the two open spots – a top six winger and a bottom six forward – it may take a little time for Gabrielle to make it to the pro level. But there’s something to be said about having high hopes as the 5-foot-11 winger looks to make a good impression before the start of training camp.
First look at Anders Bjork at pro level
Of the players who had at least a cup of coffee in Providence, DeBrusk, Gabrielle and Senyshyn are two of the primary candidates to battle for a top-six spot in training camp. Both are coming off successful stints in juniors with Senyshyn tallying two straight 40-goal seasons with Sault Ste. Marie before joining the P-Bruins late in their playoff run a year ago.
Unlike Gabrielle and Senyshyn, Bjork, the other primary candidate for a top-six spot, didn’t have the benefit of joining Providence. The highly touted former Notre Dame product, fresh off a year that included a Frozen Four appearance and a finalist for last year’s Hobey Baker Award, developed into one of the elite scorers in the country over his three years. The fifth round selection in 2014, who averaged a point per game over the last two years, exceeded expectations during his stint with the Irish and his stock rose from a projected bottom six forward to a top six player.
Speed and skill are something that David Krejci could use on the second line to complement the Czech center and whoever skates on the opposite wing – most likely David Pastrnak, whenever he signs his new deal. Bjork, who joined Team USA at the World Championships in May before signing his entry-level deal, has both.
JFK looks to find a groove
Like his fellow BU teammate McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson signed with the Bruins following another solid season with the Terriers. Both signings came with fanfare, but Forsbacka Karlsson, also known as JFK, didn’t get to showcase his early potential as a solid two-way option all that much. In fact, he only got to see one game of action and that came in last year’s regular season finale against the Capitals.
Without the benefit of joining the P-Bruins during their playoff run, Forsbacka Karlsson enters the preseason with something to prove. The early forecast of replacing Ryan Spooner on the third line took a bit of a hit after Spooner signed his one-year deal in the summer. On Friday, JFK will get his first chance of giving Bruins management something to ponder about as he hopes to shake off the proverbial rust and make a run at a spot as a third or fourth line center.
With Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo healthy again after missing the first round against Ottawa, the Bruins appear to be set with a solid top-6 core that also includes McAvoy, captain Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid. New addition Paul Postma will likely be the extra defenseman.
Though the defensive core is a little more stable than this time last year, the Bruins are still hoping to find a left shot blueliner to fill a big need. With Sweeney opting to go stick to the course of drafting and developing over filling a hole through trade or free agency, an opportunity might be there for the taking for some of the young D entering training camp.
Following a bounce back year with Saint John in 2016-17, Jakub Zboril appears poised and confident entering his first season of professional hockey. Rob O’Gara, who appeared in three regular season games with the Black and Gold a year ago, including opening night, is another candidate that will be appearing in Buffalo. Jeremy Lauzon, who missed all of Development Camp due to injury, is good to go, and Matt Grzeclyk, fresh off his solid first year in Providence, gives the Black and Gold a good selection of left-shot defensemen to choose from this weekend.
Other stories to watch
– Like McAvoy, Sean Kuraly is carrying momentum into the preseason following a solid showing against the Senators. Of course, his Game 5 heroics that led to the Bruins extending the series highlights his playoff performance, but he made the most out of his four first round contests and saw his production and ice time increase over that span – with the exception of Game 6 where he tallied 15:15 of ice time compared to the 18-plus minutes of ice time in the double overtime Game 5 triumph. Following the B’s elimination Kuraly continued to produce down in Providence – scoring six goals in 10 games – and helped the Baby B’s reach the Eastern Conference Finals. This weekend will be Kuraly’s first step at hoping to become a full-time member of the Bruins’ bottom-6.
– With Dan Vladar missing this weekend as he recovers from an undisclosed injury suffered during the off-season, the Bruins will be short a goaltender during the four-day tournament. Kyle Keyser and Luke Richardson will share duties between the pipes with both coming as camp invites. Both Keyser and Richardson have spent the last two years at the OHL level and both are expected to compete for more ice time in Oshawa and Kitchener respectively. Vladar, the Bruins’ third round pick in 2015, should be available for training camp and is expected to start the season in Providence.