As the Bruins’ NHL roster has taken a downturn in both quality and depth over the last few seasons, the importance placed on rookie camp has never been higher as Boston’s prime time players get ready for next week’s main camp. David Pastrnak flashed a couple of years ago in Nashville during a rookie tournament, and last season talented prospects like Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari popped on the radar prior to making NHL appearances.
So this rookie camp is about knocking out some of those youthful jitters, and getting the prospects up to speed before they start mingling with the usual suspects.
“It’s nerve-wracking. It’s the not-knowing that’s tough,” said B’s center Noel Acciari, who went through the rookie camp experience just last year before graduating to main camp only this season. “I know that was the toughest part for me last year. You know what they expect, but it’s a little different feeling once you’re in there doing the physicals and the testing.
“It’s one of those things where you’re nervous, but really every guy should be nervous. [Zdeno Chara] told me last year that he’s still nervous to this day, and I really took that to heart.”
Clearly there will be some gravitas to the proceedings in Buffalo with the B’s rookies tangling with similar young players from the Sabres and Devils, and then reporting back to Boston next week for full NHL camp. For some like Colton Hargrove, Justin Hickman and Zane McIntyre, rookie camp will simply serve as a warm-up to another NHL camp followed by another AHL season in Providence.
But for players like Danton Heinen, Brandon Carlo and Jake DeBrusk, this could be the start of a month-long drive toward capturing an NHL roster spot. Heinen has the playmaking skills and hockey IQ to play with some of Boston’s best and brightest forwards, Carlo is a 6-foot-5 blue chip D-man prospect trending toward shutdown duty at the NHL level and DeBrusk is a natural born goal-scorer with good NHL bloodlines. There are open spots on the B’s roster as they continue to turn things over to youth, speed, energy and skill. Those are among Boston’s best and brightest that are also poised to pop under the right circumstance.
Don Sweeney said earlier this week it certainly wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for one of this weekend’s rookie campers to win an NHL job at the conclusion of main camp next month. That’s as it should be given that the Black and Gold have a roster full of players that haven’t made the playoffs in two years running.
So there aren’t a lot of givens or automatics with these Bruins, but there are plenty of roster holes open for the seizing.
“It’s a fun time when things get going. You can put aside some of the things that you may have been thinking about during the summertime. You focus internally on your group and you evaluate them as a staff, and as an organization,” said Sweeney. “You get excited about the progression piece. Our young players are a big part of what we need to do going forward, and they should understand that and believe that, and feel good about that.
“The first week going off to Buffalo to play some games is just a really good opportunity to get comfortable. You understand that the expectations go up as the week goes along, and then go up again the next week. One thing you don’t want is to be on the outside looking in [once main camp starts]. I don’t think we want to any expectations or pressure on any one individual. This group is exciting whether or not you have players on the horizon, or current players.”
One of the few bummers for the Black and Gold is that former first round pick Zachary Senyshyn will miss the entire rookie camp while recovering from last week’s appendectomy. The prevailing wisdom, however, has long been that the 19-year-old Senyshyn would be headed back to his junior team, the Soo Greyhounds, for another year of development anyway. Instead Heinen, DeBrusk and perhaps Peter Cehlarik will be bringing the offensive razzle dazzle to the table, and the Bruins will feature four (Jakub Zboril, DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo, Jeremy Lauzon) of the nine players drafted by Sweeney and Co. in the first two rounds of the last two drafts.
The other thing to keep in mind headed into rookie camp: a large number of Boston’s best prospects won’t be at rookie camp as they ready for their college hockey seasons. Charlie McAvoy, Trent Frederic, Jacob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Ryan Lindgren are already on the campuses for Boston University, Wisconsin and Minnesota getting ready for their respective NCAA seasons.
But at the very least the Terriers twosome could be in this very B’s rookie camp at this time next year, and that will once again ensure that next fall’s rookie camp carries the importance that this one will begin in earnest on Thursday morning for off-ice testing.
Bruins rookie camp should serve as another reminder that the B’s current picture isn’t all that bountiful at the NHL level, but that the future is indeed bright for a Black and Gold group with a full cupboard of talented prospects.