Bruins

Haggerty: Good start for Anders Bjork as he looks to nail down Bruins' job

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Haggerty: Good start for Anders Bjork as he looks to nail down Bruins' job

With the hopes pretty high for 21-year-old Anders Bjork heading into NHL training camp at the end of this week, he obliged with a strong start at rookie camp in Buffalo last weekend. Bjork scored three goals while playing in two of the three rookie tournament games held in Buffalo against his Devils, Sabres and Penguins peers, and looked every bit the speedy, skilled young winger Boston is hoping to see over the next month.

That’s after Bjork looked pretty comfortable skating with the NHL big boys at captain’s practice where he’d connected with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on a few scoring plays, and looked like a confident young kid fresh off Hobey Baker consideration at Notre Dame. 

That’s exceedingly good news for the Black and Gold, who need at least one and possibly two young wingers to step up and win NHL jobs in training camp just as Brandon Carlo did on the back end last season.

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“It’s been well-documented that we’re hoping some of those [young] guys are going to push for jobs, so I guess we’ll see starting this weekend,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, who got a good first look at the prospects during his time in Buffalo last weekend. “I think this rookie camp is good for guys like Bjork, who maybe didn’t get to play in those games [in the AHL last spring] to see where our guys are at and build some chemistry. We’ll use a lot of different lines.

“We know that Bergeron and Marchy are going to play together. I’ll let the cat out of the bag right now on that one. They’re probably going to play together. With Pastrnak’s situation we don’t who is going to go in with Krejci, so there’s going to be a developing chemistry situation there. But they still have to do it against NHL competition [in main training camp].”

The lefty-shooting Bjork said he’s comfortable at either wing after playing mostly right wing for the Fighting Irish, and finishing with 21 goals and 52 points in 39 games as a junior at Notre Dame last season. That means he’s likely to be used for some reps as the young legs on the right side with Bergeron and Marchand at camp, and for others he’ll get a look at left wing alongside David Krejci in another top-6 audition.

Who knows? 

Perhaps Bjork will even get a look at right wing with Krejci if fellow 21-year-old David Pastrnak is slow getting into B’s training camp given his contract situation. Whatever the case, Bjork was still in a little bit of “pinch me” mode earlier this month when he was skating with All-Stars and Olympians like No. 37 and No. 63.

“It’s obviously exciting, but my focus is on doing the best that I can and trying to win the game no matter whether it’s rookie camp, preseason or whatever,” said Bjork. “I’m going to do all I can to help the team win. It’s definitely been eye-opening. Those guys [Marchand and Bergeron] are some of the best players in the world for a reason. You can see it. They don’t really make mistakes.

“It’s crazy to watch and really exciting and inspiring at the same time. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to skate with those guys. It feels like a dream knowing those are the kinds of guys I watched growing up. It’s exciting that the potential is there [to play with them] but it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of focus.”

Will Bjork be ready right off the bat for Boston after similar NCAA standouts like Jimmy Vesey and Kevin Hayes were over the last few years after leaving college? It remains to be seen once the real NHL auditions begin during the preseason and the speed and physicality both get bumped up as the pros are fighting for jobs. But Bjork is off to a good start after a productive rookie camp weekend in Buffalo where he showed the speed and goal-scoring abilities that will need to be most present for him to win an NHL gig. 

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Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

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Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – While it’s still early in the careers of all the young Bruins rookies making their way this season, it sure looks like 22-year-old Danton Heinen is among the B’s youngsters that are here to stay. The former University of Denver standout didn’t make the cut at the end of training camp this season and he failed early last year when it was clear he wasn’t ready during an eight-game audition with the big club.

But Heinen continued to look ready while scoring a pair of goals and three points in the three games on a pivotal road trip through California last week, and is now tied for fifth on the Bruins in points despite missing four games in the AHL. In all, Heinen has four goals and 10 points along with a plus-4 rating in 15 games this season, and is on pace for a really strong 21 goals and 52 points in his first full year.

This has been a really nice step forward for Heinen after being a point-per-game player for Providence during their playoff run last spring.

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“Last year’s playoff did a lot for him. When I saw him playing there, he was a different player than when he’d left [Boston],” said Bruce Cassidy. “There was a willingness to stay in the battle and his growth when it comes to winning pucks…you’ve seen it here. A lot of the things he’s down well are his second and third efforts on the puck where last year I thought he was pushed off the puck pretty easily [at the NHL level].”

There could be a period when his offense slows down or some other part of his game drags his minutes down, but right now he looks like he’s well on his way to establishing himself in a key role with the Black and Gold. The difference has been Heinen increasing his speed and also adding a little more tenacity to the skill and offense package that he was always bringing to the table.  

“I don’t want to say that because when we get our guys healthy then we’ll see where we’re at,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked if Heinen was a keeper at the NHL level at this point. “But I think he’s certainly shown he’s a much more consistent player than he was last year. He’s probably a bit ahead of the other younger guys because he has gone through a bit of it [at the pro level]. The fact that he’s been able to play in a lot of different situations, play left or right wing, and moved up in the lineup while being very effective with [Sean] Kuraly and [Tim] Schaller down in the lineup, as a coach it’s to have a guy like that who can move around and fit in a lot of different places.

“So he’s certainly helped himself [to stay in the NHL]. I think it’s too early to say if he’s here for good, but I don’t envision him leaving [Boston] anytime soon with the way that he’s played.”

Only time and consistently good play will allow the playmaking Heinen to truly lock up his spot on the NHL roster, but it’s increasingly difficult to envision any scenario where the fifth-round pick isn’t playing an increasingly important role for the Bruins. 

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Bruins' Backes returns to ice after surgery for diverticulitis

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Bruins' Backes returns to ice after surgery for diverticulitis

BRIGHTON -- In a development that was certainly much sooner than originally anticipated, David Backes has returned to the ice just a matter of weeks after having 10 inches of colon removed during surgery for diverticulitis. It remains to be seen how gradual a process it will be for the 33-year-old to actually return to game action given his original timetable for recovery was eight weeks following the early November procedure, but it seems like it might end up being ahead of the two months Backes was initially expected to be sidelined. 

For his part, Backes was happy to be back skating with his teammates and pushing his recovering body after feeling pretty sluggish for the first few days following surgery. He confirmed he’d been skating for a couple of days while the team was on the West Coast, but Monday was his first team doing anything post-surgery with the rest of the team. 

“It’s good to be back with the guys and to be around the room, and to have seen the kind of resiliency that these guys showed on the road trip. The back half of the road trip was impressive,” said Backes, who has an assist in five games with the Bruins before succumbing to the surgery. “To be on the ice and moving around after sitting around doing nothing for too long where you don’t think you’re going to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it feels good. 

“The doc’s advice is that if it doesn’t hurt then I can keep moving forward and add more of a workload on, so that’s the update for today. It’s still non-contact, but we’ll keep moving along and hopefully I’ll be back doing what I love to do on a regular basis. I haven’t been notified that the timeline has changed at all, so I’m just going to keep putting in the work. The more I seem to do the work the better it is, and I seem to be able to do a little more each day. So those are all positive signs.”

For the Bruins it’s clearly a morale booster to see the big power forward back doing regular hockey activities, and serving notice that he’ll be bringing his size, strength, leadership and physicality back to a B’s team that definitely needs him. Clearly the return of another high-end forward would also immensely help a Bruins team that’s still very undermanned up front, but it would appear there will be some other B’s forwards getting back prior to Backes. 

Brad Marchand and Ryan Spooner appear poised to return to full practice on Tuesday with a possible return to the lineup not too far beyond that after all three injured forwards took part in Monday’s optional skate at Warrior Ice Arena. 

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