Bruins

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. 

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Beleskey ready to 'perform at the level I know I can' in Providence

Beleskey ready to 'perform at the level I know I can' in Providence

BRIGHTON, Mass – In an unsurprising move given the strong character he’s shown since arriving in Boston, Matt Beleskey tweeted an assurance that he was going to work hard and regain his game after being sent to Providence.

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Beleskey, 29, cleared waivers on Friday afternoon and was assigned to the Providence Bruins, where he'll presumably play in all situations and get plenty of ice time to rebuild his confidence and game while waiting for another chance in the NHL. There’s no guarantee when or if that next chance is going to come given the richness of the Bruins prospect pool at the forward position, but Beleskey said via social media that he was ready to put in the work.

Beleskey still has 2 1/2 years left on a contract that will pay him $3.8 million per season, but he’s hit a wall the past two seasons with just three goals and a minus-18 in his past 64 games for the Bruins. It’s a far cry from the hard-hitting, confident player that posted 15 goals, 37 points and 260 hits in his first season in Boston or the one who popped in 22 goals for the Anaheim Ducks heading into free agency.

Some have speculated that the blue-collar Beleskey isn’t a good fit for Bruce Cassidy’s speed and skill-based system. Others say that the hard-nosed winger hasn’t been the same since injuring his knee at the start of last season. Whatever the case, the hard-hitting, heavy part of his game has been missing the past couple of seasons and the Bruins hope that Beleskey can find it in the AHL.

“Matt [Beleskey] is very well liked in the room. So, no one likes to see a player get waived. The way we look at it as an organization is, he hadn’t played much, and I think the best way for him to get back to helping the Boston Bruins is to get playing,” said Cassidy. “So, he goes to Providence, finds his game, what he did well before previously – from my end, we just thought there were some players in the lineup that outperformed him, plain and simple.

“We are trying to reward the players that earned it on merit and not look so much at maybe contract status, et cetera. You know, within reason. I think some of the young guys have pushed him. We’ve seen it at different positions and that’s as simple as I can make it. Like I said, I like Matt. He’s very respectful of the coaching staff of what we are trying to do. We just felt we had better in the lineup. The team is going well. The decision was made.”

While it’s entirely possible that a stint in the AHL could be exactly what’s needed to light the fire in Beleskey’s game, the truth is that the demotion is an admission by the Bruins that the five-year, $19 million contract wasn’t a good one. Furthermore, it’s not very common for veteran NHL players to come back and regain their former high level once it gets urgent enough that they’re assigned to the minors.

The more likely scenario with Beleskey is that he spends the rest of the season in Providence, the Bruins get the $1.025 million in savings on the salary cap and the team strongly considers a buyout in the offseason. It’s all disappointing considering the signing of Beleskey was their reaction to letting Milan Lucic go in a trade three years ago. They were desperately looking for a big-hitting, intimidating power forward to take Lucic's place in a search that’s still ongoing to this day.

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Struggling Bjork may take a seat vs. Rangers

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Struggling Bjork may take a seat vs. Rangers

BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s normally a sequence of peaks and valleys for rookies in their first foray through the NHL and Anders Bjork is definitely in one of those lower points right now. 

Bjork, 21, registered a season-low 6:47 of ice time in the Bruins 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday night at TD Garden and was benched for portions of the second and third period after looking pretty timid throughout the game.

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Bjork has just a single point and two shots on net in his past six games since returning from an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. It's been an extremely quiet period for a player expected to make a top-six forward impact. It’s all trending toward a potential healthy scratch for Bjork on Saturday against the New York Rangers with a healthy Ryan Spooner potentially taking over for him on David Krejci’s left side.

“We’ll make the decision tomorrow, but [a Bjork scratch] is definitely a possibility and something we’ve discussed,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I just find that he’s not as strong on the puck as he was at the start of the year, or as quick to create turnovers. There are parts of his game that are always going to be worked on, like his play away from the puck.

“But the issue right now is being strong on pucks. The goal [Washington] they scored the other night is a good example. We make a play through the middle of the ice tape-to-tape, he’s in the crease and he’s not able to handle a puck. They’re coming back at us while we’re thinking we’re on offense. There were breakdowns after that clearly, but that’s an area [that needs improving]. Just before Charlie [McAvoy’s] penalty, we’re on a draw and [Bjork] gets pushed off a puck that comes back on us and we get beat up ice. Some of it is plays where he needs to be better, and some of it is where he’s at in his career where other guys are just stronger.”

Perhaps some of Bjork’s hesitancy is also an after-effect of getting tattooed in the middle of the ice by Tampa Bay's Matt Martin in a play that knocked him out of the lineup for a few weeks. Coping with the immediacy of those kinds of hits is part of life in pro hockey for a young player. It's a considerable adjustment when going straight from college hockey to the NHL.

Bjork knows that he hasn’t been a high-impact player since returning from injury and hasn’t really utilized his greatest offensive assets, speed and skill.  It may not matter much if Bjork watches Saturday from the ninth floor of the Garden as a healthy scratch, but he has a plan to get his game back on track when he does get his next opportunity for the Black and Gold.

“I think it’s mainly a confidence thing. I have to use [my speed] and it’s on me if I don’t,” said Bjork, who has four goals and 10 points in 22 games this season. “I think I just have to have that confidence every shift, so I can avoid the mistakes. There are bounces good and bad in hockey, but you create your own luck sometimes. You do that by playing the right way, and when things aren’t going your way you need to get back to basics of making things simple. That’s what I need to focus on: Making the simple plays and doing the details right.”

A healthy scratch was exactly the right thing to spark fellow rookie Jake DeBrusk when he was scuffling a bit last month, so perhaps the same plan of attack for Bjork to unlock his game while on a pace for 14 goals and 34 points this season. 

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