Haggerty: Bruins should take a pass on Will Butcher


Haggerty: Bruins should take a pass on Will Butcher

Almost a year ago, the Boston Bruins were readying their best pitches when the so-called Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes saw them as a finalist for his sought-after services.

Vesey waited out the draft rights of the Nashville Predators that expired on Aug. 15, and the Bruins rolled out the red carpet for the former Harvard University standout. The Bruins obviously didn’t end up landing Vesey as he chose the New York Rangers, instead.

Don’t expect history to repeat itself when Hobey Baker winning University of Denver defenseman Will Butcher becomes a free agent next month.

The 22-year-old offensive defenseman capped off a strong four-year college career with seven goals and 37 points in 43 games for the Pioneers and has indicated that he’s not going to sign with the Colorado Avalanche as a former fifth-round pick.

There will be plenty of interest in the 5-foot-10, 186-pound Butcher as teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs are lining up for a shot to sign the talented youngster. That’s a great situation for Butcher to be in, but that doesn’t mean the Bruins need to be one of those NHL suitors.

There is an NHL need in Boston for a left-shot defenseman that Don Sweeney has been looking to fill all summer, and it’s no mystery the Bruins organization values the world of college hockey where they’ve uncovered D-men prospects like Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk over the last five years.

What the Bruins don’t need is another undersized, unproven youngster on their back end while 21-year-old Brandon Carlo enters his second full NHL season, and 20-year-old McAvoy readies for his first full pro hockey season in Boston. Instead, they really could have used a battle-tested, grizzled veteran D-man on the left side capable of being an on-ice tutor as McAvoy’s D-partner this season, and that’s what they were unsuccessfully looking for via free agency or trade earlier this summer.

That never worked out for Don Sweeney and the Black and Gold, so the expectation is that Kevan Miller is going to play on his “off” left side as a defense partner for the gifted McAvoy. It’s not a perfect solution given Miller’s limited time playing on his left side last season, but it’s better than potentially signing Butcher and rolling with two rookies together on the same pairing, or elevating the undersized Torey Krug to a top-4 pairing with McAvoy.

Beyond that practical reason, there’s also the simple fact that there’s little room at the inn for another young left shot defenseman prospect knocking the door at the NHL level. The Bruins need to get good looks at Jakob Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon in training camp, and have Robbie O’Gara and Grzelcyk pushing for more looks at the NHL level over the next year as well. This doesn’t even mention Urho Vaakanainen, who is expected to play in North America for the Bruins organization in 2018-19 after getting selected in the first-round last month.

So there is a plethora of young left shot D-men prospects already in Boston’s ranks and adding another one in Butcher shouldn’t be any kind of priority for a team already bursting with talented young players. The clear need for this team on the back end is a bigger, stronger and more well-rounded eventual replacement for the 40-year-old Zdeno Chara on the left side, rather than a 5-foot-10, 186-pound college hockey player that sounds much more in the Krug mold.

Clearly that kind of power play quarterback and offensive D-man is going to be a solid addition for any NHL team if he turns into even half the player Krug has become in Boston, but the B’s already have that guy in their lineup for the foreseeable future while coming off a career-high 51 points last season. 

Grzelcyk happy to be back w/ B's and confident in his game


Grzelcyk happy to be back w/ B's and confident in his game

BRIGHTON, Mass – It had to be a bitter pill for Matt Grzelcyk to be sent back down to the AHL after playing solidly for the Bruins earlier this season. 

The 23-year-old Charlestown native was excellent playing in place of Torey Krug in Boston’s opening night win over the Nashville Predators, but his stay didn’t last very long. The former Boston University standout was back in the minor leagues shortly afterward once Krug returned from his fractured jaw a little earlier than expected. Now Krug is again banged up again with an upper body injury, and Grzelcyk has been called up to fill in for Krug during Wednesday night’s pre-Thanksgiving road game in New Jersey against the Devils.

Once again it will be about a focus on puck-moving and power play for Grzelcyk, who is the closest thing that the Bruins have to the smaller, skilled Krug in their minor league system. 

“I was happy with how things went before I got sent to Providence, so I’m just going to try to do the things that I was doing well before I got sent down. Mentally knowing that I can play at the NHL level [is huge], and just going through the experience was positive,” said Grzelcyk. “Mentally my first year I think I was a little too nervous and tentatively with my play, and that’s not me at all when I’m at my best. I’m confident with the puck, and confident with my speed and ability. It was just about going out and doing it on the ice.”

Grzelcyk was okay down in Providence with four assists and a plus-4 rating in 14 games, but he’s been patiently waiting for another NHL call since logging 12:11 of solid puck-moving ice time in his lone appearance for Boston this season. Now he’ll get it in a likely pairing with Kevan Miller against the New Jersey Devils

“He’s a puck-mover. He’s quick. He can get up the ice and support the rush, and he’s a good distributor,” said Cassidy of Grzelcyk. “There are a lot of natural similarities to Torey [Krug] because of their physical makeup, but they are similar [players] with Torey at this level being a bit more significant offensive player. Whether it’s in [Grzelcyk] or not time will tell, but we believe it is and we just need to get it out of him.”

Grzelcyk will get a chance to show that offensive wrinkle and more when he suits up against the New Jersey Devils for his second game of the season after paying his dues with the P-Bruins overt the last month. 


Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game


Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

BRIGHTON -- Coming off a pair of back-to-back wins from backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are still undecided about what they’re going to do between the pipes Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

On the one hand, the Bruins are very tempted to ride the hot goaltending hand with Khudobin a strong 5-0-2 record on the season and a .935 save percentage that currently leads all goaltenders across the league. There’s a school of thought that the B’s should simply keep plugging Khudobin into the lineup until he actually loses a game, and begins to cool down a little bit between the pipes after stopping 63-of-65 shots against LA and San Jose.

At the same time it will be over a week since Tuukka Rask has played in a game if the Bruins go with Khudobin on Wednesday night against the Devils, and Bruce Cassidy was clear to stress that Rask is still their No. 1 guy. So that’s the dilemma the Bruins are facing with Cassidy calling it “a good problem to have” based on Khudobin’s strong play from the backup spot.

That is a far cry from what the Bruins experienced a year ago with the same goalie, and a reason for optimism that their goaltending situation will be better off throughout a long season.

“Do you go with the hot hand and leave your No. 1 sitting where he’s beginning to wonder what the hell is going on? That’s the decision,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We need to keep them both in a good place, and not lose out on [Khudobin’s] good run while keeping Tuukka focused and confident in his game. That’s what we’re battling and I talk to Goalie Bob [Essensa] about it every day. We’ll make our decision [on Wednesday] and we hope it’s the right one.

“It’s a long year so no matter who we use there are a lot of starts. I don’t think Khudobin is going to go ice cold if he use Tuukka tomorrow, and I don’t think Tuukka is going to blow a gasket if we go with the hot hand. For me I don’t think it’s that big of a decision.”

Perhaps Rask blowing a gasket wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given the way he’s played this season.

The one underlying concern for Rask beyond the .897 save percentage this season is that his game has really been in a different place for the last three seasons. While his .922 career save percentage mark is among the best in the NHL, he has been below that mark in each of the last three seasons while struggling to maintain consistently behind a changing roster that’s turning over to youth and inexperience.

It certainly seems like the Bruins feel it’s premature to label Rask as anything but their No. 1 goaltender, but the pause they’re giving on Wednesday night’s starter speaks volumes about their current confidence level in each of their puck-stoppers.