Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot


Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

BOSTON – At this point in training camp with just a couple of preseason games to go, Monday night’s performance might have represented the exclamation point on Anders Bjork’s impressive drive to win an NHL roster spot. The 21-year-old Bjork has scored other goals during this preseason, but Monday night’s tally in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was his first while skating with prospective linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“I think we had more ice time together, which helped us get more comfortable and helped me kind of learn their chemistry a bit more,” said Bjork, who finished with 21 goals and 52 points in 29 games for Notre Dame last season. “Obviously, they have a ton of chemistry and they’re very easy to play with, of course, but you know, it’s nice to get more shifts with them and kind of pick up on their patterns and stuff like that.”

In fact, it’s become easy to see Bjork now winning the right wing spot with No. 37 and No. 63 after watching them work together in perfect concert for Boston’s third goal of the night.

Already up by a 2-0 score, Marchand turned over a puck in the Chicago defensive zone while on the forecheck hunt, and managed to work it over to Bergeron for a quick, backhanded saucer pass to the slot area. The alert Bjork stepped up into the high slot and one-timed the puck past Corey Crawford to give the Bruins a three-goal lead on Monday night, and allow all involved a sigh of heavy relief that Boston has found at least one rookie ready to hold down top-6 NHL job.

“He’s got that speed and the smarts to get open and then find the openings in the quiet ice. It was a great play by him just to get open, and for me to see him. He made it really easy,” said Patrice Bergeron. “He skates well, he made some great plays, we just need to keep talking and finding each other more and more on the ice.”

Given the overall scope of Bjork’s performance in camp, his steady presence on a line with Bergeron and Marchand during the preseason and his speedy skill set, the rookie is stating a strong case that he’s ready for NHL prime time. It would be a major training camp shocker to this humble hockey writer if Bjork is anywhere other than in the Bruins lineup when they drop the puck against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 5.  

“Yes, it does [look like Bjork is NHL ready]. The competition will stiffen for him and we’ll keep evaluating that. Still, he’s got skill, speed, and courage. He gets to the dirty areas. He’s hard to play against [and gives] second effort on pucks,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s not one-and-done with him. And for a young kid, that’s special, to be able to hang in and there and battle for those turnovers. That’s usually the part of the game they have to continue to grind on them.

“But he’s got a lot of that. Maybe that’s Bergy and March’s influence, I’d like to think they have some of that, because that’s their game. Marchy never quits. Bergy never quits. They’re going to be a hard line to play against if they are that dogged on the puck every shift.”

There are still two preseason games remaining before the real thing, so it makes little sense for the Bruins to pronounce Bjork ready for NHL duty until the time comes. Bjork’s combination of blazing skating speed, decision-making and confident swagger on the ice have pushed him to the top of Boston’s prospect list when it comes to being closest to play in the NHL. All were on display in his 12:48 of ice time with a goal and a plus-1 rating to go along with two shots on net, a hit and a takeaway while playing the fast, aggressive hockey that Boston prefers these days.

Bjork could have even had a second goal after he intercepted an Erik Gustafsson outlet pass, but missed the net high with a shot in close while going for his second goal of the game. All in all, it was another hurdle cleared by a talented Notre Dame standout that certainly feels like he’s destined to make the opening day roster, and equally ordained to start in a top-6 right wing role with arguably the best duo in the entire NHL.

It will be interesting to see just how good Bjork can be on a daily basis at the NHL level, and if he can get into becoming the 20 goals/50 points range player that should be in his future.  

Now it’s up simply up to Bjork to finish up strong in the preseason when he’s paired with Bergeron and Marchand, and continue on the straight-ahead path toward cracking the Bruins roster for years to come. It would appear he’s poised to “pop” in training camp just as Brandon Carlo did a year ago, and stand as one of those talented youngsters ready to help bridge the gap between talented rookies and established core veterans.


Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

File photo

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while not really digging these forecasts of more snow.

*You know, if he weren’t making millions and millions of dollars I might actually feel bad for ol' Claude Julien up in Montreal busting out the “We’re not a very good team” soliloquy with the Habs. That team flat out stinks this season and these past few weeks it can’t be fun at all being the head coach of that dumpster fire.

*Darren Dreger says there is no rush for the Toronto Maple Leafs to bring back Auston Matthews before he’s ready to go, and that’s absolutely the case so close to the playoffs.

*Here are five Hart Trophy-caliber players that won’t get a sniff of the voting, but deserve some attention nonetheless. There are no Bruins players on the list if you’re wondering, but some pretty good ones in Johnny Gaudreau and Aleksander Barkov.

*The NHL general managers are weighing potential changes to the goalie-interference interpretation ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

*While it still looks a Swedish defenseman is going to be the No. 1 overall pick this June, there are some other players rocketing up the list.

*For something completely different: The definitive ranking of Girl Scout cookies from best-to-worst that we’ve all been waiting for.

*Song of the Week: Haven’t done one of these in a long, long time, but I like this Calvin Harris/Katy Perry/Pharrell Williams tune that I hadn’t heard until the past couple of days.


Donato looks like impact player after 'dream' debut

Donato looks like impact player after 'dream' debut

BOSTON – It certainly looks like the Bruins have themselves another young impact player.

The only way it could have been more of a dream scenario for Ryan Donato in his NHL debut would have been if the Bruins won the game, but otherwise it was as good as could have been hoped with a goal and three points in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at TD Garden.

Donato fired off a one-timer missile from the right face-off dot for his first NHL goal, but also showed both tenacity in front of the net on the power play leading to Riley Nash’s goal, and playmaking in flipping a backhanded saucer pass to David Krejci for the tying goal in the third period. 

The highly skilled Harvard star didn’t end up finishing off the storybook opening with an OT winner, but he did more than enough in his first game to make it a living dream for himself.

“During warm-ups, actually, I was kind of taken away. I mean it kind of felt like a dream and I really didn’t even get that warmed up because I was too focused on everything else, and just kind of the whole situation,” said Donato. “At the end of the day it was an unbelievable experience and it was a blessing tonight.

“I mean, [the NHL] is so much faster than what I’ve ever seen but at the end of the day, it’s something that you can get used to. When you’re playing with great players like that it’s something that will come along fast as well.”

If there were a checklist of qualities that the Bruins wanted to see out of their 21-year-old prospect while jumping from college hockey to the pros, one could check off “high hockey IQ”, “natural goal-scoring shot” and “nose for the net” right off the bat.

Those are the kinds of qualities that could make Donato very effective for the Bruins down the stretch and into the playoffs if the youngster can harness them on a consistent basis. It also caps off a brilliant 2014 NHL draft for the Bruins, helmed by current Edmonton Oilers assistant GM Keith Gretzky, where their first four picks were David Pastrnak, Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork, a draft class that’s helped set the Black and Gold up for years to come.  

What about the combination of those qualities plus being able to do it in front of friends and family as the hometown kid for his father's old team? That takes a pretty special makeup to do as well.

“He’s on the puck, as advertised, in terms of his compete. [He] wanted to shoot the puck," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Early he was trying to make some plays and then realized, just play to your strength. [He] did a real good job. I didn’t notice anything away from the puck. I’m sure there’s a few teaching moments once you go back over the game tape and go from there. But, like I said, I liked him a lot. I’m sure Krech [David Krejci] did, as well. They seemed to have some good chemistry.

“This is one game, but some of the guys that come in...You saw that with [Charlie] McAvoy, just played his game. It would be great if he has similar success. Consistency is a big issue for first-year guys, and we all understand that. If he can string it together then we’ll make that comparison, but very impressed by that to be able to come in here [and make an immediate impact]. Especially your hometown, could be some jitters there, might be easier to do it on the road, almost. I’m not sure – to each his own in that area – but there’s a lot of people to, sort of, impress, and it’s a tough game, so good for him to be able to do it right here in his own backyard.”

There was certainly no hint of tentativeness or nerves sapping any part of his game while jumping into a Boston lineup that desperately needed a guy like Donato while beset with injuries. The B’s are down Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk and now Rick Nash for the time being, and the ability to plug another capable top-six, potentially high-impact option into the lineup just allows the Bruins to keep on running like nobody was missing.

“Ryan [Donato] played a good game. Good for his confidence to get the first one. That is always the hardest, but he’s got to keep playing the way he played [in his first game]. I thought he played well and he made some good plays,” said Krejci. “He easily could have got a couple of more, but that’s a good start for him. For me, just have to go out and try to do your best to help the team.

“He was battling along the walls, and he was making some good plays. Like I said, it was a good game for him. For a first NHL game, you can’t really ask for anything better than he did. So it was a good game and hopefully, he can keep it up.”

The challenge now is twofold for Donato and the Bruins. The first hurdle is for Donato to keep performing and producing with consistency as he gets everything tossed at him in his first NHL go-round. That will be a challenge enough.

There are many that can look like an impact player in the NHL from time to time, but few that can pull it off nightly as the speed and physicality take a toll over the course of a long season.

The second difficulty, honestly, will be finding enough room in the Bruins lineup for all these players of different shapes, sizes and talents once they're all healthy and potentially start rolling once they bust into the postseason. If Donato keeps up something resembling his debut performance on a nightly basis, then the rich just got even richer with a Bruins team already awash in exciting, talented young players up and down their roster.