Thoughts and observations from first weekend of B's camp
Thoughts and observations from first weekend of B's camp
With the first three days of on-ice training camp in the books through last weekend and the first preseason game on tap for Monday night vs. the Montreal Canadiens, now is an opportune time to take stock of what we’ve seen to date. There’s a full complement of players in camp, no major injuries to speak of and a brisk, fast-paced camp that has the Bruins players hopping, and ready to implement Bruce Cassidy’s quick pace to the regular season. With that kind of high-paced snap in mind, here are a few thoughts and observations from B’s training camp:
1. Anders Bjork jelling with Bergeron and Marchand
Anders Bjork looks very comfortable in the right wing spot with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Obviously it’s very early and the preseason games will tell us a lot more of the tale, but the 21-year-old Bjork doesn’t look like he wants to give up that ideal top-6 spot paired with one of the NHL’s best combos. Bjork’s speed and instincts appear to work very well with No. 37 and No. 63 on the attack where they can fore-check and force defenses into turnovers and mistakes, and they have looked very effective as a three-man unit passing, working and moving without the puck in the offensive zone. Sometimes it can be a challenge for a young right wing to find their own niche playing off the time-earned chemistry between Bergeron and Marchand, but that doesn’t appear to be much of a problem for the former Notre Dame standout. You could see all of that in some of Boston’s captain’s practices prior to formal training camp as well. Clearly Bjork is going to have to win the job during the preseason slate of games if he hopes to be this year’s rookie sensation like Brandon Carlo was last fall in training camp, but he’s one forward prospect off to a good start.
2. Frank Vatrano turning heads
Frank Vatrano has been very good early in camp, and looks like he might finally be able to put it all together this season. The 23-year-old comes into camp healthy and in excellent shape, and he’s worked with David Backes and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in a different-look third line that’s actually been very strong in training camp. During battle drills on Saturday both Vatrano (a spinning backhanded beauty while crossing through the slot) and JFK (a more traditional one-time blast from the high slot area) sniped goals within about 10 seconds of each other while going up against Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo in the defensive zone. That’s not something you see every day and is indicative of the high level that the potential third line trio has played at while in the same camp group as the “other” third line of Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner and Teddy Purcell. The Bruins could be in very good shape indeed if Vatrano can finally bust out, realize his potential and enjoy that 20-25 goal season that he seemingly has all the goods for.
3. Young defensemen look impressive
Clearly the Bruins talented group of young defensemen is a thing to behold in training camp, and most of them have lived up to the hype. Charlie McAvoy has looked fluid and right at home in a pairing with Kevan Miller while showing off the size, skill and polish that have him on track to be a No. 1 defenseman for the B’s, and Carlo looks bigger, stronger and perhaps a little more suited to handle the challenge of an 82-game pro schedule after going through it for the first time last season. Jeremy Lauzon is a little more unheralded and likely ticketed to the AHL this season, but the former second round pick has been pretty strong in the early going of camp entering his first full pro season. Lauzon was frustrating offensive attackers in 1-on-1, 2-on-2 and 3-on-2 battle drills by simply not allowing anything to get past him in the defensive zone, and utilizing his big body to block shots, separate opponents from the puck and throw bodies around in front of the net. Injuries have derailed some of his progress and profile over the last couple of seasons, but Lauzon is a really interesting dark horse candidate to become one of Boston’s key left-shot defensemen over the next couple of seasons. It remains to be seen if his offensive game is up to the same developed level as his work in the D-zone, but clearly the numbers on his junior hockey resume indicate that won’t be much of an issue.
4. Jake DeBrusk struggling early
One young player that’s looked a little slow out of the gates is 20-year-old Jake DeBrusk. He’s been given a chance to play left wing alongside David Krejci and David Pastrnak, and is expected to get a good chance to win the job after scoring 19 goals for Providence at the AHL level last season. Through the first couple of days DeBrusk hasn’t looked like the chemistry is quite all the way there yet with Krejci, and has shown a little frustration at times when plays haven’t been made during 5-on-5 drills and battle drills. Clearly DeBrusk wants to win an NHL job badly and is putting a great deal of expectation on himself, and that is coming through with little shows of frustration early in camp. DeBrusk would do well to relax a little bit and simply read off what Krejci and Pastrnak will be doing, but there’s also still some question as to where the left winger ultimately belongs at the NHL level. It may be that a third line role is more in line with his skills and style of play rather than dealing with the expectation of a top-6 winger expected to consistently score, but either way DeBrusk will get a chance to prove that for himself. One would expect that another youngster like Danton Heinen, or maybe even Frank Vatrano given how good he’s looked, could start getting some reps there if DeBrusk doesn’t get off to a particularly auspicious start.
5. David Backes strong out the gate
One player that’s looked good and strong in the early going is David Backes. It’s clear he’s dropped a couple of pounds from his frame, and looks a little lighter, a little faster and a little more explosive with his movements on the ice. It also doesn’t look like the change has siphoned any of the power out of his game either as Backes went toe-to-toe with Brandon Carlo in some pretty spirited battle drills in front of the net over the weekend. Backes was going to get some looks at center potentially if David Pastrnak was a lengthy holdout from training camp, but now it looks like Backes will be penciled in as a power forward right wing again this season. The hope is he can get back to the 20 goals/50 points range this season after a year of adjustment with the Bruins after signing away from the St. Louis Blues. That would be an important weapon in a third line role that could keep opposing defenses honest after they keyed very much on the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line last season. Certainly the first couple days of training camp are an optimistic sign that Backes has very good things in store for this season in Boston, and perhaps portend that he’ll be good enough in the next couple of seasons to mitigate what he might look like in a Bruins uniform at 35 or 36 years old.