The newest version of Boston’s ever-changing third line features a trio of young college hockey products in Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato. With every shift, the line is developing a cohesive sense of chemistry.
The paying customers at TD Garden got a glimpse of the potential that the young guns possess on Tuesday night. The trio set the tone for the Bruins’ 4-3 comeback victory over the Arizona Coyotes when Forsbacka Karlsson fed a saucer pass to Heinen on an odd-man rush to put the team within one.
Boston’s new-look top line of Brad Marchand, David Krejci and David Pastrnak factored into the next three goals. The third line, though, gave the Bruins some much-needed scoring depth with that important second-period tally.
“Secondary scoring, we’re still searching. We got one from Danton. That was nice,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “That line, they earned it. They made a nice play. Best play of that, [assistant equipment manager] Matty Falconer should have gotten the assist on the stick handoff from the bench. So, he was on the ball and off we went. And good for those young guys to get on the board. They need to score periodically, make them feel good about themselves.”
And it isn’t just getting on the stat sheet that has been a noticeable difference from previous lineups, it’s the eye test as well. Donato (22), Forsbacka Karlsson (22), and Heinen (23) are all using their speed and offensive prowess to find pockets and create quality scoring chances.
The offense is much more free-flowing. They move the puck with a purpose and are becoming more of a threat to score every time they touch it.
“I think it’s been kind of better than it’s been. We had a couple looks tonight,” Heinen said about the newfound chemistry with his linemates. “That was a good play by JFK [Forsbacka Karlsson] backdoor there. I think it was an even better play by Matty Falconer handing me my stick from the bench, but no, I think it’s getting better.”
This was evident when Donato and Heinen nearly connected for another two-on-one tally midway through the final period. Heinen once again hustled to the front of the net, while Donato made defenders look silly with his slick shot and skilled dekes.
Although Darcy Kuemper made the save, the Super Saiyan Donato showcased the impressive skillset that he rarely used when skating with veterans like David Backes, Noel Acciari and Joakim Nordstrom earlier this season.
“Yeah, of course. I mean, Heinen has a great shot, good hands, he has a good vision too and JFK can always find you and always is playing smart,” the former Harvard standout stated about skating with his fellow young guns. “So, for a guy like me, it’s nice to play with those guys and it’s a good college hockey line.”
Cassidy put this line together before Saturday’s tilt with the Maple Leafs. Their play in the last three games — along with the Marchand, Krejci, Pastrnak trio — helped Boston go from a three-game losing streak to a three-game winning streak.
Boston’s bench boss certainly likes the production from the Bruins’ college hockey line. But, even with their success, Cassidy isn’t so sure whether or not he’ll keep this line intact. It all depends on how the Bruins matchup on a nightly basis, especially with road matchups in two of their next three games.
“Well, they get equal amounts of vocal encouragement from the coach, so that’s the one thing. They’re all young, so they’re all going to get it, and they’re all going to get the teaching that comes with it after. Jay [Pandolfo], Joe [Sacco] spent a good portion of the morning with them this morning going over some stuff, so that’s part of it for them,” Cassidy said.
“They have to learn on the fly a little bit. Danton did it last year, JFK now, Ryan a little more now. I don’t know if the plan will always be to keep them together. I don’t know if it’s ideal every night, but at home, you get some matchups that if they’re going you don’t mind and if they’re not then you have to sort through, but hopefully, they’re finding some chemistry.”
Donato and Forsbacka Karlsson are proving that former Harvard and Boston University standouts can co-exist once their collegiate days are over. Adding Heinen, a former University of Denver product, gives Cassidy a well-rounded trio from both ends — east and west — of the college hockey spectrum.
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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