Bruins

Bruins prospects shining brightly at camp

191545.jpg

Bruins prospects shining brightly at camp

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs

BOSTON -- Dougie Hamilton, Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner were the unquestioned darlings of the prospect camp in July, and the headliners once again at rookie camp last week.

But its pretty clear the Bs youngsters have understandably transitioned into learning mode now that veterans camp has ramped up into full swing.

The three prospects are in a secondary dressing room at TD Garden for the rookies just down the hall from the veterans, and theyve taken on more of a listening and learning role over the last few days. But on the ice their unpolished, considerable skills are still shining brightly and coach Claude Julien has taken notice.

Hamilton, in particular, has looked very good with the higher caliber of talent skating around him and proved in his first scrimmage action that hes capable of making the initial simple transition pass flawlessly.

Its an underrated skill for a defenseman and its not going to lead to gaudy assist totals, but Hamilton prompted a Niklas Lidstrom reference from the Bs head coach when reviewing his first impressions of the blueliner.

Combine that with Hamiltons smooth skating ability both forward and backward for a 6-foot-5 kid also expected to be a physical presence, and thats quite the tool box for a young blueliner working his way to the NHL.

All of that adds up to something good in the future for the Bs and Hamilton, but it wont be this season as the Bruins have already reached their 50-contract limit for players signed within their organization. But the passing reference to Detroits franchise defenseman makes one wonder exactly what Hamilton will look like next season with another year of growth and development under his teen-aged belt.

We did some one-on-one drills today with the backwards skating and certainly hes a strong backward skater and has a good stick. I think hes learning a lot about our game and the game at the pro level, said Julien. Hes one of those guys -- we talk about players that come back to camp and improve every year -- well, hes one of those players that will certainly do that because hes capable of putting a little more muscle and a little bit more weight on. It certainly wont affect his game.

Hes already a good, smooth skater. He sees the ice well, moves the puck well. He has a bit of the Lidstrom quality of making easy passes and seeing the ice well -- and making the game look so easy. So hes got some good qualities there that I think will bode well for him in the future.

The one teenager whos already got his own stall in the main Bs dressing room at the Garden is Tyler Seguin.

The mere mention of a little more muscle and a little bit more weight during training camp makes the 19-year-old immediately come to mind after a summer spent in the weight room. Seguin came into camp hovering around 196 pounds, and has been noticeably more aggressive taking the puck to the net and mixing it up in the middle of high traffic areas.

Julien said thats exactly what they hoped to see out of Seguin in Year Two, and the first few days of camp have been a nice little preview of a potential breakout sophomore year. Seguin has been paired up with Nathan Horton in practices and scrimmages, and the two forwards have created a lot of offensive chemistry in a short amount of time.

Hes been very good. Ive noticed him," Julien said. "You guys certainly have as well. He seems a lot stronger and he seems a lot more confident from what Ive seen so far. His first three days his skill level has really shown because hes competing with that confidence. I see . . . a guy whos got a year under his belt whos coming in this year and wants to make a difference.

We all know that hes got it. So its up to him to show it. And in the first three days I think hes done that, so hopefully that carries through and he keeps going for the rest of the year.

Julien also chose to pair Knight and Spooner together on a rookie line, and both forwards have evolved from wide-eyed 18-year-olds to experienced prospects looking to potentially win a job. Both players know that theyre most likely headed back to junior hockey for one more season with a stacked lineup of Stanley Cup-winning veterans, but theyve already managed to earn the NHL endorsement from their coach.

When a guy comes in for his second year, hes had a taste of camp the year before and hes more confident. Hes not as intimidated and not so much in awe, said Julien. I think Knight and Spooner are basically going through that stage where theyre not in awe as much as they were last year. They feel more comfortable.

Theyre not afraid to go into the corner and battle with veterans and showcase their strengths. So I see two guys that are obviously more comfortable, and thats just part of the process of growing, being bigger, stronger, more mature and more comfortable. Both of those guys, to me, are guys that I cant see not playing in the NHL someday. Theyve got all the goods. Its up to them to keep working at it.

Its still an amazing haul when one considers that three (Knight, Hamilton, Seguin) out of the four super prospects in camp arrived via the Phil Kessel trade two years ago, and have set up the Bruins organization for a prolonged run into the future.

While only Seguin will likely contribute to this coming season for the Bruins, a few days of camp have confirmed that the future is indeed very bright for the Black and Gold.

Its also confirmed that the Thank You, Kessel chant last season might still have a little bit of mileage left in it.

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

Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

column_bruins_peter_cehlarik_kenny_agostino_101817.jpg

Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

BRIGHTON, Mass – It would appear that Bruce Cassidy is ready to start shuffling the deck up front after a slow start to the season.

With the Bruins ranking among the league’s worst both offensively and defensively just a handful of games into the season, they are both introducing a few new forwards to the mix while hoping for full health to a couple of other ones. 

First off, the Bruins appear that they might get David Backes back for Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks after his bout with diverticulitis, supplying some badly needed size, strength and net-front tenacity on the wing. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) might not be too far behind after going through a full practice wearing a no-contact jersey. The return of No. 37 would help in any number of different areas once he’s good to go, and would have a cascade effect on the rest of the forwards.  

MORE:

Getting both players back in short order would give the Bruins a toughness around the net that was certainly missing against Malcolm Subban and the Golden Knights, and hasn’t been there consistently this season with No. 37 and No. 42 out of commission.

“[Bergeron] is progressing. In the past we’ve ruled him out ahead of time, but we’re not ruling him out for [Thursday vs. the Canucks]. Backes looks closer to being ready to play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of the games that have gotten away from us, those guys are glue guys that really add that element to us to keep us on the rails without the game getting away. Some nights you just need their offense or some hard defending, and you miss their leadership obviously. They’re all good players, but most of them you know they’re bringing that North/South game and a few good shifts here or there could have got us back on track.

“[Bergeron] is underrated in his ability to get to the front of the net especially with Marchand and Pastrnak on his wings. So we miss that part of it: Getting there on time, making plays and finishing off plays. Backes is just a big body there and you certainly miss that part of it. With Vegas the other night that was one of the biggest things we were missing was getting second chances, shooting for second chances, hitting the net and getting those rebound chances against a team that was harder to get inside on.

A few moves on Wednesday might also suggest some on-the-fly changes with some forwards that haven’t been working out with the Black and Gold. Ryan Spooner suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday night against Vegas, and it sounds like it might not be a short-term injury for the center with just one point in his first five games. Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano also haven’t produced much in the first couple of weeks of the season, and could be in danger of losing roster spots to Providence call-ups Kenny Agostino and Peter Cehlarik.  

Both players were late cuts from training camp and were showing the blend of size, strength, skill, experience and production that Boston needs more of as they search for answers among their forward group. Beleskey, Spooner and Vatrano have combined for one point, a minus-6 rating and just 12 shots on net in a combined 14 games this season, so clearly that is one of the first spots to look for upgrading the roster from within.

“[A tryout period] is a good way to put it. We talked about that in training camp when we had a long look at guys, but not Cehlarik because he didn’t get a chance to play [because of shoulder surgery]. He obviously piqued our interest last year and did a lot of good things for us,” said Cassidy, who has been in a state of constant flux putting forward lines together due to injury and ineffectiveness. “We just went in a different direction at the trade deadline, but we brought him up to give him a look. We have a decision tomorrow and I’m not going to say whether [Cehlarik] is in or out.

“He’s really played well in Providence, and we just thought he might be able to help us. Some of it may depend on the health of the other guys as far as who’s in and who’s out. If both Cehlarik and Agostino are both in the lineup there’s a chance [they might play together]. They were with [Riley] Nash today in the middle, and he has some of the same qualities as JFK down in Providence. But until we sort through who’s in for tomorrow, and that starts at the top with Bergeron and Backes, then stuff will fall into place for all of them.”

Depending on how Don Sweeney plays with his 23-roster spots, perhaps the time has come to put one of those players on waivers for a trip to the AHL. Simply based on merit it would be Vatrano and the total nothingness he’s shown in his first four games this season, but there would also be a legitimate concern they’d lose the 23-year-old Massachusetts native on waivers for nothing.

For their part, players like Agostino and Cehlarik ripped up the AHL while teamed with Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in Providence, and were just looking for their chance to carve out a role in Boston. Now they may get their chance based on others not really grasping their opportunity, and they’re ready if that’s the case.

“It’s encouraging for me, but I’m just taking things day-by-day. I’m not looking past anything and I’m looking in the past. I just take things as they come here,” said Agostino, who leads the Bruins two goals and seven points in three games thus far. “This isn’t my first time [up at the NHL], so I’m just going to do whatever I can to make the best impression possible.”

What if Agostino and Cehlarik, a career AHL player and a former third-round pick, can’t make the impact that the Bruins are looking for?

Hopefully by then the Bruins will at least have their top two lines healthy and firing on all cylinders, and can continue to mix and match things in the bottom six until they find a combination of forwards that work. But it may come to a point where the Bruins need to look outside the organization for an impact forward or two, or at least find somebody that can make an impact on the ice rather than will themselves invisible.

Only Beleskey has been at all effective this season as he’s dropped the gloves and played physical at times, and certainly can still be an effective third or fourth liner with the right players skating alongside him. For those reasons along with the massive contract money still owed him, Beleskey should be given every opportunity to succeed in Boston. But one thing is clear at this point: There is too much dead weight on the Bruins roster right now at the forward position, and something needs to be done about it if they hope to pull themselves out of their early-season funk.   

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins lose Ryan Spooner for 4-6 weeks with a groin tear

bruins_ryan_spooner_120216.jpg

Bruins lose Ryan Spooner for 4-6 weeks with a groin tear

The Bruins have absorbed another substantial injury to their forward group with the news that Ryan Spooner will be out 4-6 weeks with a torn groin. According to sources, it was something he was playing with for some time before the right adductor muscle in his groin finally tore in Sunday’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

With Spooner out of the Bruins lineup, there will be challenges to both team speed and to a power play unit that the fast-skating center was a key contributor over the last couple of seasons. Sean Kuraly was centering Tim Schaller and David Backes in Spooner’s absence during Wednesday practice, but it remains to be seen how they’ll go about filling the void for the next couple of months.

MORE:

“We’re no different than anybody else. We’d like to have our full complement [of players],” said Bruce Cassidy, when addressing the injury situation. “To be healthy and 100 percent in this league is tough, but we’d love to be there.”

Spooner was very clearly slowed by something at the start of the season with just one point and four shots on net in his first five games of the season along with a minus-2 rating, and that’s a tough development for a player like Spooner that relies on his speed and skating for much of his effectiveness at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see if Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson eventually gets a look given his fast start at the AHL Level, and the fact that Spooner is on a one-year deal that may see him playing somewhere other than Boston next season, or perhaps even following this spring’s trade deadline. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE