Haggerty: Bruins' final roster decisions may have a younger theme

Haggerty: Bruins' final roster decisions may have a younger theme

BRIGHTON, Mass. – With a week to go until the Bruins start playing games for keeps in the regular season, it would appear changes are finally coming to the roster with a wave of young players ready to make their contributions.

It simply remains to be seen how much of a youth makeover the Bruins will be getting, but modeling themselves after a Penguins team that embraced the change and won the Cup last season, with a mix of kids and established stars, wouldn’t be such a bad thing.


“[The young guys] need to continue to show that they’re good enough to play here and the other part too is you want to see if they understood how we want to play,” said Claude Julien. “They’ve got to be able to show they can do that as well. This is what we’re expecting out of these guys. It’s the last opportunity for everybody here to make sure we’re on the same page, we’re headed in the right direction and that we understand how we need to play.

“[The young players] get the opportunity, and they get the chance to prove us right or the chance to prove us wrong. That’s where the determination of the individual comes into play. If they come in here giving us reasons for them to be on the team then we’ll make room for them. That’s always been the case from Day One when I’ve been here. Right now, where there’s a situation where certain guys are going to make our decisions hard, and I like those decisions. It makes our team situation a lot better when we have those [difficult choices].”

Young forwards Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen have absolutely torn up the competition in the preseason with their speed, playmaking ability and hockey IQ. They have really done everything required to win spots on the official NHL roster next week. Fourth-line center Noel Acciari may be part of a B’s roster heavy on centers that will demand flexibility and accountability among their top-12 spots, but could also open up a world of possibilities for Julien at both ends of the ice.

It’s something Julien watched work out swimmingly with Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey with a roster loaded with centers and the B’s bench boss may just adapt that philosophy to the Black and Gold this season.

“We just went through it at the World Cup with a lot of centers playing wing. It was great for face-offs; one gets kicked out and the other one goes in. They adapted well and it just gave us more flexibility. It’s hard to replace a centerman, but it’s much easier to replace a winger,” said Julien. “When you’ve got them on the wing and something happens to somebody playing down the middle, then you’ve got somebody to replace them, and feel a lot more comfortable about that. For us, we like our players to be versatile and play different positions when asked to.”

Clearly, things are a little more wide open up front with the loss of Frankie Vatrano for the next three months. Both Czarnik and Heinen have produced offense, fit in well with veteran players on their lines and showed capable, responsible play in all zones. Czarnik, in particular, has provided options for Julien where he can load up on his top two forward lines, and piece together a second line of three centers (Ryan Spooner, David Krejci and David Backes) with Krejci manning the middle.

That alignment would allow David Pastrnak to play right wing, with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and piece together a third line with Matt Beleskey providing the heavy, veteran presence alongside lighter rookies in Czarnik and Heinen.

Another impressive rookie, Sean Kuraly, is also still in the running for a fourth-line spot with Dominic Moore and Acciari and that would leave Riley Nash, Jimmy Hayes and Tyler Randell scrapping and scraping to be the extra forwards.  

Again, Moore, Acciari, Nash and Kuraly are all natural centers, and could potentially comprise a fourth line full of centers taking draws on their strong side and sometimes sharing the weighty pivot responsibilities at both ends of the ice.

It will be up to the kids to hold onto the jobs they’ve seemingly won to this point. One would expect Czarnik, in particular, has learned that lesson after admittedly fading out at the end of last year’s training camp following an impressive start.

“It’s been a positive experience for me, and I’m happy to be in this position right now,” said Czarnik, who scored his second goal of the preseason in Tuesday night’s preseason loss to Montreal. “I took [from last training camp] that I had to be more confident. I wasn’t as confident. I was a little nervous out there every single day with the older guys, and the veterans. So I just came in there this year with a little bit better mindset that I could go out there and make some plays, and not be so scared of them. I think that’s been the biggest thing.”

On the back end, it’s a lot more cut-and-dried with seven players (Zdeno Chara, Colin Miller, John-Michael Liles, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Torey Krug and Joe Morrow) signed to one-way NHL deals and Christian Ehrhoff potentially threatening one of their jobs on a veteran tryout while dressing for the final couple of preseason games. The German D-man already impressed Julien with his play for Team Europe during the World Cup of Hockey, so now it’s a matter of whether he can fit in with the established B’s group.

“We need to see how he fits on our hockey club, as well,” said Julien. “Playing those [preseason] games isn’t really about proving anything as much as it’s about ‘How does he fit in our group?’ That’s important. I guess we’ll make that decision when the time comes, but our goal is to give him that opportunity that he asked for, and that we were willing to give him because we want to see if he could be a fit for our hockey club.”

We’ll end this piece with my best guess as to what things will look like when NHL rosters are made official on Wednesday, but it feels like there are still some things very much in the air for the Black and Gold:





Chara-C. Miller

Krug-K. Miller





Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

In an ideal world the Bruins could have signed highly regarded prospect Ryan Donato to a two-year entry level contract, watched him develop his game deliberately at the AHL level and received two full years of service before the forward hit restricted free agency. 

But that doesn’t take into account the current injury situation for the Boston Bruins with a few weeks to go in the regular season, and it didn’t factor in Donato’s leverage as an NCAA player that could have chosen free agency, or going back to Harvard for his senior year, if he didn’t get what he was looking for in negotiations with the Black and Gold. Clearly it never got to anything approaching a hard ball level between the Bruins and a young player with plenty of B’s background in Donato, and now he’ll get to suit up for Boston and most likely make his NHL debut on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

MORE - Backes 'will be out for a couple games' with right leg laceration

Once he plays for the Bruins that will burn the first year on his two-year entry level contract, and it will also prohibit him from heading to Providence and playing for the P-Bruins through the rest of the hockey season. It’s the exact same situation Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson found himself in last spring when it was pretty clear after one game in Boston that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL level. 

After Donato makes his debut it will be up to him and how NHL-ready he looks when he jumps into the Boston lineup, but it’s pretty clear they need some more dynamic top-6 bodies with Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk all out of the lineup, and Anders Bjork done for the season as well as what could have been a good reserve option at the AHL level. 

None of those players are expected to return in the next couple of games or even in the next week most likely, so there may be an opening for Donato to dazzle if he's prepared to seize the opportunity. 

“Once [Harvard’s season] was over with I had an opportunity to speak with his family advisor and with the family and with Ryan himself. We just worked through what looked like the opportunity he was looking for and we were happy to provide that,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “We have some injuries and we’re at the point in the season where every game has a lot on the line. I think his being able to go over and have success at the Olympics this year really started to jumpstart his thought process that he was ready for the next challenge.

“I think Ryan might have looked at [the injuries on the NHL roster] as an even bigger opportunity for him to go in and possibly play as early as [Monday night]. From our standpoint, we had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school. I think the two things just kind of lined up accordingly. We definitely are cognizant that the injuries are there, and they’ve mounted a little bit here coming down the stretch. It’s a testament to the group of players that we have [that led to the Tampa] win after losing [David] Backes early in the game and guys really playing well.”

Clearly Donato was ready for the next level after dominating college hockey to the tune of 26 goals in 29 games for the Crimson this season, and serving as one of Team USA’s best players in last month’s Olympic hockey tournament. Donato has a high hockey IQ that usually comes along with being the son of an NHL player, has a nose for the net for a young player that isn’t the biggest or strongest guy on the ice and has become a dangerous sniper with his NHL-level shot and release. The question now is whether all of those skills are “plug and play” at the NHL level, or if he’s more in the mold of similar NCAA players like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that needed some development time at the minor league level. 

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details that he’s going to have to work on. All young players do, more importantly the inexperience part of it, but he’s a kid that has hard skill,” said Sweeney. “So we’re looking forward to having him join our team, get immersed, and get a taste, and then it’s up to him. He’ll take it with however far he can run with it, but he is welcomed to the opportunity.

“We’re not going to put any pressure on him to say ‘You have to produce.’ It’s like every player; he’s going to be another player that the coach will have an opportunity to play in situations, and the player himself will dictate how much time and circumstances they play in. We feel that, if we get healthy, we’re going to have a deep group. He’s going to add to that group. Then it’s up to him.”

It would be unfair to expect Donato to have an impact on this Bruins team like Craig Janney did coming out of college thirty years ago, but that’s what many are going to equate it to based on the circumstances. Instead it should be looked at as another talented young player that the Bruins are going to add to their embarrassment of young hockey talent riches, and a player that could possibly help them get through a current tough stretch of injuries and attrition. If Donato does anything more than that then it’s another great story in a Boston Bruins season that’s been chock full of them from beginning to end.


Backes 'will be out for a couple of games' with right leg laceration

File Photo

Backes 'will be out for a couple of games' with right leg laceration

The late season attrition continues for the Boston Bruins as David Backes will miss some time with the laceration on his right leg caused by an errant skate blade in Saturday night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

MORE - B's sign Donato to entry-level contract

It took roughly 18 stitches to close a wound that was gushing blood as Backes quickly exited the ice in the first period, and now it looks like it’s going to force him to miss a handful of games here late in the season. Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that Backes isn’t “day-to-day” as they wait for nature to take its and heal a significant gash that could have been much worse for the 33-year-old power forward. 

“David Backes returned late [Saturday] night with the team. He did meet with our doctors, and they reevaluated the cut. They did some work on it. Obviously, you’ve got great medical care down in Tampa; we’re thankful for that, but our guys wanted their own hands and eyes on it,” said Sweeney. “A timetable hasn’t been set for him. 

“You can imagine it was a pretty significant cut, and now that it’s been, sort of, re-cleaned and addressed accordingly, we’ll just let nature take its course, let it heal. I don’t have a definitive timetable on that one, certainly not day to day. I would suspect he’ll be out for a couple games, and then we’ll reevaluate.”

MORE - B's make statement vs Lightning

The biggest concern for the Bruins with a cut of that nature is the chance of infection, so that’s something the Bruins medical staff will be monitoring closely as Backes heals over the next week or two. It’s too bad for both the B’s and Backes as the Bruins forward was knocked out in the first period against both Florida and Tampa after serving a three-game suspension, and has had his share of freak injuries and illness this season with first diverticulitis that ended with colon surgery, and now the skate blade incident. 

The good news is that it doesn’t sound like Backes is in any danger of being ready for the playoffs, and that’s truly matters as the Bruins continue to win games with so many good players injured and removed from the lineup. Sweeney also gave updates on Patrice Bergeron, who may join the Bruins on their next extended road trip following Monday night’s game vs. Columbus, and Jake DeBrusk, who it doesn’t sound like is all that close to returning to the lineup with his upper body injury.