Haggerty: Bruins prospects showing off at national junior showcase


Haggerty: Bruins prospects showing off at national junior showcase

Perhaps some of the naysaying Bruins fans, unhappy with years of barren B’s draft classes, are starting to see the Black and Gold light.

While the Stanley Cup prospects for next season’s NHL group in Boston aren’t demonstrably better than the last couple of seasons, the performances of several B’s prospects at last week’s National Junior Evaluation showcase in Plymouth, Michigan should have opened plenty the eyes of plenty of Boston hockey fans.

“[These prospects] are now at the forefront of where this organization is headed,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney last month at the end of development camp. “We feel good about that. We’re going to give them the time that’s necessary to become the players that they can become, but they are a big, big part of our future. They know it and we’ve acknowledged it to them. Now they recognize the opportunity in front of them to take advantage of it.”

That’s exactly what happened during the week in Plymouth, Michigan with the best and brightest young hockey talent on the planet testing their abilities against each other. Granted it was a summer tournament at a time when most players aren’t their razor-sharpest, but it’s still instructive as to which way particular players are trending.

First round pick Charlie McAvoy, in particular, made a statement as one of the most dominant players on the ice among his under-20 peers, and gave everybody an idea of what he’ll look like as an NHL D-man a couple of years from now. The BU sophomore-to-be dominated at both ends of the ice with steady, confident puck-moving, and at times simply controlled the puck possession in the offensive zone setting up offense for his US teammates.

It didn’t result in a ton of actual stats on the scoreboard for McAvoy and the Americans when you browsed the stat line, but the 18-year-old passed the eye test in a major, major way. That wasn’t even the real eye-grabber, however.

The solidly-built McAvoy, who says he models his game after the physical, skilled Drew Doughty, was crushing opposing players with bone-rattling hits at the defensive blue line throughout the week. He did it against an unsuspecting Swedish player last week, and McAvoy destroyed 6-foot-4, 215-pound Florida first round pick Lawson Crouse with a clean, punishing hit in the closing minutes of the US’s blowout win over Canada on Saturday night. The giant open-ice check would have been impressive no matter which player he was standing up at the defensive blue line, but to do it to the biggest, toughest player on the Canadian roster was an impressive hockey play from the offensively-gifted McAvoy.

It was another encouraging step for McAvoy after showing those same glimmers of skill and physicality at Bruins Development Camp last month, and more evidence he should be in line for a dominant sophomore season with the Terriers. If the 18-year-old continues at the rate of improvement he’s currently on, it’s no stretch to say this coming season might be his last for the Terriers before joining up with a Bruins team that badly needs some explosive ability on the back end.

As it is, he looks like Boston’s best hope to develop into the Duncan Keith/Kris Letang homegrown No. 1 defenseman that the B’s desperately require if they’re going to push back into true contending status. But it wasn’t just McAvoy showing off his wares for B’s prospects.

Ryan Lindgren was another solid defenseman for Team USA after being a second round pick for the Black and Gold back in June, and first round pick Trent Frederic showed exactly what kind of player he was during a showcase game against Finland. Frederic won just about every face-off and didn’t lose a single defensive face-off while taking some key draws during the game, and played with the kind of intensity and energy the B’s envisioned when they picked him at the end of the first round.

Meanwhile the player some hoped the B’s would take instead of Frederic with the 29th pick, Alex Debrincat, was pretty much invisible for long stretches of the same game. It’s true that Frederic didn’t show much in the way of skill and offensive knowhow while playing a fourth line center role for Team USA during the one game, and that will be the area where the athletic forward will need the most improvement.

In addition to the trio of B’s prospects skating for Team USA, there were three other prospects taking part in the evaluation camps with 2015 draft picks Zach Senyshyn (15th overall) and Jeremy Lauzon (52nd overall) both skating for Team Canada, and speedy, small 2016 sixth round pick Oskar Steen participating for Team Sweden as well. All six players acquitted themselves well over the week, but this prospect showcase might someday be remembered as the first time that McAvoy really began to register in the hearts and minds of Bruins fans all over. 

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs

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

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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.