Bruins

Surplus of 'qualified candidates' means a good Bruins player may be cut

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Surplus of 'qualified candidates' means a good Bruins player may be cut

BRIGHTON, Mass. – With the majority of Bruins players still healthy and rookies Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork appearing ready to handle frontline NHL duty, it is going to be a fascinating battle for forward spots at the end of camp. 

The Bruins have a boatload of forwards on one-way contracts and clearly not enough spots. That reality set in as the training camp group has settled into one massive practice unit at Warrior Ice Arena.

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Bruce Cassidy prefers to work in pairs with his forwards to find chemistry and combinations and it certainly looks as if Riley Nash and Noel Acciari are locked in as a fourth-line combo while Ryan Spooner and David Backes would seem like an inevitable third-line combo based on their skill and respective NHL resumes.

That leaves a number of players, including Frank Vatrano, Matt Beleskey, Sean Kuraly, Kenny Agostino, Teddy Purcell, Tim Schaller, Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen battling for three final roster spots, a pair of wing spots in the bottom-six and a reserve spot for the 13th forward. The third and fourth lines Wednesday at practice were Kuraly/Spooner/Backes and Beleskey/Nash/Acciari. That gave everyone an indication of which players had the upper hand for NHL jobs with just two preseason games (tonight in Philly, Saturday in Chicago) before the Oct 5 season opener against Nashville at TD Garden. 

Cassidy recognizes that there’s a surplus of “qualified candidates” for NHL jobs still skating around in training camp and that was something done by design in the offseason.

“We feel like there’s a lot of, for lack of a better term, qualified candidates for those [bottom-six] spots,” said Cassidy. “Some of that was by design when Donnie [Sweeney] was building the roster in the offseason. We talked about working in some of these younger players, but there needs to be a margin for error there if it wasn’t going to work,” said Cassidy. “[The surplus of forwards] is for that reason and to build up our organizational depth up was another reason. We saw it last year in the playoffs with our defensemen, so we’re trying to guard against that and make sure we’ve got quality people if it becomes a ‘next man up’ situation.’

“So far, so good. We’ve had good efforts from guys that all realize that the competition is there, and that should make your team better. You might have one lineup on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean another player can’t push their way into the lineup the week later. Sometimes you get locked into the opening night roster, but there are a lot of hockey games [in a regular season]. So there is that to consider as well.”

One really interesting thing that could play into all of this is the game-to-game needs of the team and the way that the Bruins coaching staff could tailor their game-day lineups based on matchups. If they want a big, heavy fore-checking line they can put Kuraly and Backes together, or if they think the penalty kill will be a big factor then Kuraly and Schaller could be bigger factors. If the coaching staff is looking to boost the offense then Vatrano paired with Spooner would be the right combination.

The special teams’ ability, in particular, might help Schaller and Kuraly, who can kill penalties, and could hurt Agostino, who hasn’t been pegged for much special-teams duty in the preseason.

“We’re going to get a little bit of everything, particularly if you’ve got Spooner at center with his speed and Backes at one of the wings. He’s a heavier guy that likes to cycle pucks, and then if you’ve got Kuraly there he’s got some speed and likes to play the cycle game,” said Cassidy. “Or you’ve got a high-end rush sort of line if you throw in an offensive rush guy like Vatrano. At the end of the day it depends who those guys are for what kind of line it is, but regardless it’s going to be something of a mixed bag.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a situation where there’s going to be a 13th guy, and the other 12 guys are clearly up above him. It’s not shaping up that way right now. Certain nights early on how many penalties are going to be called? Early in the preseason, you’ve needed a boatload of [penalty] killers, and it will be paramount early in the year if there’s a lot of penalties called. It could slant more towards that early on.”

The best guess here is that Beleskey, Kuraly and Vatrano end up as the final three to make the squad, which could leave Agostino and Schaller open to being claimed by any of the other 30 NHL teams in the waiver process. Still, it should also be a signal to Bruins veterans such as Vatrano and Schaller that protecting their NHL roster spots could come down to their performance in the final two preseason games and could also be predicated on which players aren’t yet subject to the waiver process. 
 

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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Morning Skate: 100 reasons to love the NHL at 100

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Morning Skate: 100 reasons to love the NHL at 100

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while "The Last Jedi" is officially open for business.

*In honor of the 100th anniversary of the NHL, here are 100 reasons to love the league, its players and its storied history. I’ll give you one reason: Bobby Freakin’ Orr.

*It looks like Milan Lucic is becoming a good fit on a line with Connor McDavid out in Edmonton, something that I think the Oil envisioned when they originally signed him.

*A nice piece on the lasting friendship between Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury even after they’re no longer goalie tandem partners in Pittsburgh. A couple of Stanley Cups will do that for a goalie duo.

*They say that there’s no dancing in hockey, and there’s this ECHL player that is getting his groove on during pregame warm-ups.

*It sounds like Anthony Duclair is attempting to adapt and evolve his game with the Arizona Coyotes after fighting through the trade rumors.

*For something completely different: Speaking of the release of the new "Star Wars" movie, here is the first reaction from fans.