Haggerty: Bruins' young forwards answering challenge so far in camp

Haggerty: Bruins' young forwards answering challenge so far in camp

BOSTON – Brad Marchand hasn’t dressed for a preseason game yet for the Bruins this month, but the excitement level in the Nose Face Killah’s postgame tweet said it all for the Black and Gold.

The Bruins were hoping that their talented group of young forwards would step up for them in training camp this fall and so far, so good a couple of games into the preseason. Youngsters Ryan Fitzgerald, Danton Heinen and Austin Czarnik all scored second-period goals in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden on Tuesday night and joined with fellow prospect goal-scorers Anders Bjork and Jesse Gabrielle from the preseason opener Monday night in Quebec.  

Clearly, it’s going to need to continue with a couple of weeks still remaining in the preseason, but it looks like there is going to be some major competition for NHL jobs in this camp by a Bruins forward crop that’s ready to be harvested.

“I would like to have some very difficult decisions when training camp is over because players have pushed and played well. That is the hope," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Hopefully, you have a difficult time because guys have done what they’ve been asked. You’d hate for it to be the other way where you’re looking at the waiver wire. I think guys understand that there is an opportunity and they’ve really pushed hard so far. We are only two games in, a week in, but I like that these young guys [have stepped up]. Who is hard on the puck? Who is winning pucks? Who can keep their pace up? I think [the forward prospects] are all capable of making plays, the young skilled guys, you can probably list seven or eight that have talent and could make NHL plays. Maybe not consistently, I can’t say that after two weeks, but that’s what we are looking for. Who can play against the men, and compete and win the pucks?”

Given the lack of free-agent signings or game-changing trades for the Bruins this summer, the hope from the organization is that some of these aforementioned young forwards would be ready for an NHL graduation. It might not quite be time for early camp standouts like Gabrielle and Fitzgerald, but Bjork and DeBrusk have given plenty of reasons for optimism while placed into prominent spots in the top-six.

“They’re just pushing us as the veterans to be better and that’s what you want from the young guys. They keep us honest,” said David Krejci. “We knew they were going to come in in good shape, and so did we. It’s good, it’s a good mix...Some veterans and some young guys [with the] young guys playing well.”

On Monday night, Bjork was arguably the best player for the Bruins in their win over the Canadiens. He flashed the speed, skill and confidence that’s set him on track to potentially win the right wing job with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. DeBrusk didn’t get on the scoreboard with Krejci and David Pastrnak on Tuesday night vs. the Wings, but the 20-year-old did give a preview of what he could do at the left wing spot. DeBrusk won puck battles down low below the goal line to prolong possession in the offensive zone and he regularly crashed the front of the net doing the big-bodied dirty work while skill guys Krejci and Pastrnak danced around him.

Those are the exact kind of qualities that make DeBrusk a little bit of a throwback for a young player and perhaps give away his rich hockey background with a dad, Louie, who had a long NHL career with plenty of lessons to give his son.

“I thought he did a nice job around the net, the goal line. He was trying to attack the net, did a couple of times and made some plays. He’s another guy who is hard on pucks. His pace is better than it was last year [after] a year pro and being around it. It goes to the hard decision part,” said Cassidy. “He’s really pushing it and understanding [the competition]. I mean put yourself in his skates. You show up and you’re playing on the left side of [David] Krejci and Pasta [Pastrnak], I think you’d give it your all too, and I think you want that opportunity. Now, we’ve said we were planning on moving people around in camp [and giving] different looks. We put him there to start, and I think he’s fit in nicely.”

The best part is that it’s not just Bjork and DeBrusk, but other young forwards. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson looked solid on the PK and made a nice play to set up Heinen’s goal before getting tumbling into the boards in the second period. Heinen looks like a much more confident, explosive player this season with a year of pro hockey under his belt. Fitzgerald has been strong in camp thus far after making the jump from Boston College. Krejci even said postgame that he had some “Brad Marchand-like qualities” to his offensive game.

Czarnik had a penalty-shot goal, a couple of points and has enjoyed another energetic, productive camp after winning an NHL job with the Bruins last fall with the same kind of preseason performance.

Clearly, it needs to keep going for the young guys to win NHL jobs once camp breaks, and perhaps 32-year-old Teddy Purcell was feeling that pressure to keep up when he also scored late Tuesday night. But in a camp where the Bruins were hoping and planning on their young forwards blossoming into productive NHL players, the early returns are very good for the Black and Gold. 


Slowed after a hot start, Rick Nash looking to 'open up the gates' on offense

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Slowed after a hot start, Rick Nash looking to 'open up the gates' on offense

TAMPA, Fla. – Rick Nash stormed in smoking hot for the Bruins after his trade to Boston ahead of the NHL trade deadline. He had two goals, three points and a whopping 15 shots on net in the three games after jumping into the lineup.

But it’s been a bit of an offensive slowdown for Nash with one goal and two points in his past seven games on Boston’s second line as they’ve shouldered a bit more offensive responsibility with Patrice Bergeron out. Nash, 33, it’s been par-for-the-course for a career where goals have come in bunches and offense moves in bursts that have become more spread out as he’s gotten a little older.

“It seems like my whole career I’ve always scored in bunches,” said Nash. “The chances are there. That’s the positive thing, but usually, it takes a funny one to go in to open up the [flood] gates. If we get a bit more traffic around the goalie it helps, and get a few more shots from the inside than the outside, where it’s tougher to score. You look at the highlights every night and the goals are all scored right around the net.”

Nash has enjoyed his share of chances in those seven games with 23 shots on net and at Carolina on Tuesday night was the only real stinker for him among the bunch. He's been around the net with his 6-4, 220-pound frame, working on the chemistry with David Krejci and actually skating better than most around the Bruins might have hoped for such a big-bodied player.

So, Bruce Cassidy is expecting his big power forward to finish some of those chances as he heats up a little bit offensively.

“I think he’s had one game where he didn’t have very many opportunities, but other than that he’s been around the net every night. It just hasn’t gone in as much as we had hoped,” said Cassidy. “So I don’t know him well enough to know whether that’s a trend, or if he’s just a little snake-bitten.”

The bottom line with Nash is that he’s consistently been a beast around the net and a puck possession force that can’t be derailed by defensive players attempting to take the puck from him. It will be interesting tonight for Nash playing against a number of his former teammates with ex-Rangers Ryan Callahan, J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh now all members of the Tampa Bay Lightning. That familiarity, along with the teams vying for the Atlantic Division top spot, should make it a special night for Nash along several lines.

“His size is his biggest asset I think, and the way he can hold onto it and control the play. Sometimes he grabs the puck and you can’t take it off his hands. He reminds me a little of Jaromir Jagr when you played him, and he sticks his butt into you and you can’t do much with it,” said former New York Rangers captain and current Lightning forward Callahan. “It’s tough to see him go to Boston where it’s a divisional rivalry, but I know what kind of guy he is, what kind of player he is…and that’s a huge pickup for Boston.”

In a huge game against the Lightning, who the B's are chasing. Facing his old Rangers buddies, Saturday night would certainly be a perfect time for the Nash goal-scoring floodgates to open for an undermanned Bruins team looking to make a stand.


Morning Skate: Talkin' B's as in Bruins, Backes, big game

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Morning Skate: Talkin' B's as in Bruins, Backes, big game

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting tired of the Friday news dumps.

*Here’s your Saturday morning hockey show on 98.5 the Sports Hub where yours truly, Billy Jaffe, Ryan Johnston, Bob Beers and Judd Sirott all talked Bruins, Ryan Donato, David Backes’ busy week and Boston’s big game against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight among other things.

*Alex Galchenyuk has been regaining his rhythm, speed and effectiveness for the Montreal Canadiens even as so many other things for them are spinning out of control.

*Braden Holtby has been one of a number of big-time NHL goalies that have struggled at times this season, but he may be getting his mojo back for the Washington Capitals.

*It looks like there’s never been a better time to be an NHL coach as all 31 coaches are going to keep their jobs through the season, the first time that’s happened in more than 50 years.

*Pro Hockey Talk has the details of Ilya Kovalchuk looking to return to the NHL next season after five years over in Russia.

*For something completely different: Love these galleries that Anthony Breznican does at Entertainment Weekly to break down the new Star Wars/Marvel trailers when they finally drop on the Internet. There are such great, little details to them.