BRIGHTON, Mass – Here are the thoughts and observations from the fourth and final day of Bruins Development Camp at Warrior Ice Arena.
1) Best players from the camp in my estimation were Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato, a pair of mid-round picks that have been groomed and developed at strong NCAA programs while also serving as two of the older forwards among the prospect group. Bjork has speed and strength on his skates, an ability to finish off plays as he showed with one-timers and taking pucks strong to the net and has the kind of polish that most of these younger, up-and-coming prospects are striving for at this point in their careers. Donato has always showed a strong shot and the kind of motor you expect from a kid that’s grown up with hockey in his blood, but now he’s got a little more size and a little more speed to dominate among his peers. It was difficult for other camp prospects to separate him from the puck, and he took it hard to the net every chance he was on the ice. It remains to be seen what Donato does in terms of his NCAA career playing for his dad at Harvard, but he looks like he’s going to close to ready for pro hockey as he enters his junior campaign for the Crimson.
2) We had some fun with Jesse Gabrielle and the frosted tips he’s sporting during yesterday’s thoughts and observations, but one thing stands out about Gabrielle above and beyond the talent. The kid clearly has some kind of inner fire and drive to improve and show what he can do, and it manifests in the things that he does in between drills and scrimmages. Gabrielle is constantly skating around, shooting and working on something as other guys rest and recharge for the next drill, and that kind of energy and drive is exactly the sort of thing you want to see in a young player fighting for a job. Gabrielle has posted good numbers in junior hockey and could be the type to rest on his laurels if he really wanted to be, but Gabrielle showed this week that there should be a future for him in the Bruins organization as a Brad Marchand-type player that hopes he can hit something close to that ceiling.
3) I like the skating and lack of panic in Urho Vaakenainen’s game that translates well to breaking pucks out of the zone and transitioning quickly, and should make him a longtime pro in the NHL ready to go a couple of years from now. You can see the potential there, and there is tremendous value with those kinds of players. But you can see the lack of creativity and spark to his offensive game when he was playing in the half-ice 3-on-3 drills, and that’s something that may never be there for him on the back end. Clearly he’s not billed as an offensive defenseman per se, and some of that will develop over time as he parlays skill and opportunity into genuine improvement. But some of that offensive skill is a “either you have it or you don’t” kind of thing, and I’m not sure Vaakenainen is ever going to be a dynamic offensive defenseman. More like a solid mid-pairing guy that can play in all situations, put up a decent amount of points and be the kind of solid pro that every team needs.
4) The first thing you notice about Zach Senyshyn is the speed and the way he can change gears when he’s skating, and he can surprise players by blowing by them when he really turns on the jets. But he showed an increased level of physicality as well in the 1-on-1 battles. At one point he just blew Oskar Steen off the puck during a battle between the two forward prospects, and you saw Steen’s stick go flying as Senyshyn moved the puck back down the other end of the ice in half-ice 3-on-3 drills. That was one area where Senyshyn looked a little wide-eyed in past camps, so adding a little more physicality to the speed package is a necessary ingredient for a player that’s been blessed with the size and the natural gifts already.
5) Trent Frederic has done some good work in the weight room. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 205-pounds and was always a good-sized kid, but a year at the University of Wisconsin has him showing off man strength among teen-aged prospects. He easily carved out space in front of the net and won puck battles in the small spaces caused by the 3-on-3 drills, and continues to look like he’ll be a good third line center at the NHL level. The offensive game is still a little basic with Frederic despite the good numbers in college last season, and there isn’t much he does that’s of the flashy variety. He’ll also continue to be judged as a guy the B’s took at the end of the first round rather than rolling the dice on the undersized, ultra-skilled Alex Debrincat. But Frederic clearly a hard worker and a leader given the way he operates with his peers in the dressing room, and that will translate to the pro game well along with the size/strength talent that he brings to the table.
6) Guys like Wiley Sherman, Cedric Pare and Jack Becker are all big bodies that have some degree of skill or ability at their respective positions, but it’s really tough to judge them in the development camp environment. The skills aren’t going to make them jump off the page and there are too many older, experienced players at the camp for them to physically dominate with any size advantages they do have. Pare had a tough start to camp in terms of showing anything offensively, but he was a bit better as the week went on to at least show a bit of what the B’s scouts are seeing in him. Of the big-bodied prospects, Joona Koppanen might have been the best one all week as he showed some pretty decent skill to go along with the ideal 6-foot-5 size he brings up front.
7) Jeremy Swayman was the best of the goalies in camp, in this humble writer’s hockey opinion. He was big, athletic and quick from post-to-post while showing good competitiveness on each and every play around him. I just have not seen it with Daniel Vladar, who is huge size-wise and should have the advantage given his pro hockey resume. He’s way too inconsistent at this point in his career and doesn’t really look like the heir apparent for the Bruins with Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban entering into a career phase where they’re looking to break into the NHL as back-ups.
8) In all, this was a solid Bruins development camp. Not as star-studded or high-end quality as the past couple of seasons when guys like Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo were on the ice among the prospects. But there are still some good players coming through the B’s system that should be competing for jobs this season and beyond for a Bruins team that needs to keep producing young talent in a salary cap era.