In Year 2, Bruins' Backes wants to be 'a bigger factor in us winning more games'


In Year 2, Bruins' Backes wants to be 'a bigger factor in us winning more games'

BRIGHTON, Mass – Coming off a season that clearly wasn’t his best in his first year with the Bruins, power forward David Backes, 33, is looking for things to get a little better this season in Boston.

It wasn’t that bad for the 6-foot-3, 221-pounder. He finished with 17 goals and 38 points in 74 games and most nights provided a physical presence, solid leadership and a big body willing to pay the price around the net. Other nights it looked like Backes was a thirty-something NHL player trying to keep pace with a younger, faster league, and didn’t quite have the skating legs he’s going to need to keep up with everybody else.

With that in mind, Backes said he made a conscious decision to change his offseason workouts this summer and go from a football training-type size/strength regimen to something built more around skating and superior conditioning. That alteration, combined with settling into life in Boston off the ice, has Backes enthused that he’s going to improve from last season and push closer to the 20-goal, 50-point player he’s been in the past.

“Coming back here my wife made a lot of friends over the last year, we’re all settled into our house and we’re just living. That’s an awesome feeling to know all of that is checked off the list, and I can just go out and play the game. I can really be more concentrated on what’s going on here, and being a bigger factor in us winning more games. That’s what it’s all about,” said Backes. “My whole summer was totally different. I’d be training more like a football player with heavy weights in previous summers, but this year it was a lot more functional, speed-training with a lot more work done on the ice than previously.

“I think it’s partly because I’m getting older, and partly because the game itself is evolving into a faster, quicker, less chipping it in and grinding it out kind of game. While I still love that part of the game and hopefully it can still be incorporated, you also need to be able to get up and down the ice, win races to the puck and be able to make plays. I tried to incorporate training with that in mind.”

It still remains to be seen whether a sleeker, slightly quicker Backes is going to spend the season on the wing or back at his natural center position. He said he's discussed both options as possibilities with the Bruins, but a lot of it depends on how things develop in training camp with a slew of third-line center candidates including Ryan Spooner, Sean Kuraly and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson among others.  

“There have been a few talks on the phone about what I’m thinking, and about what the coaches are thinking. It’s been good dialogue, but I don’t think we’re going to know what the case is until the puck is dropped on opening night,” said Backes. “That being said, I’m open to trying whatever and they’re open to being flexible with wing or center. It’s kind of like what we had in the playoffs with Kuraly and myself where he’s a younger kid that’s capable of playing center and maybe has a little bit more wheels than I do. But he needs help on face-offs, or there are times in defensive coverage where it’s better for me down low late in the game with a lead.

“Alex Steen and I kind of did something like that in St. Louis for a while. He was a lefty and could take draws on the left-hand side, and I was a righty taking draws on the right side. You always have that advantage on your strong side. So we’ll tinker with that a little bit and see how things play out in training camp. That’s kind of why you have a training camp to get a look at those new kinds of things.”

Is the new training going to allow Backes to somehow discover the fountain of hockey youth?

That’s doubtful given his age, with the 800-plus NHL games of hard-nosed play already on his resume. Backes is understandably going to get slower rather than faster over the course of his B’s career, with some real challenges when the schedule spits out back-to-back games or those stretches where the Bruins play three games in four days.

But there should be some optimism that Backes can still have at least one more quality season for the Bruins before age really begins to creep in over the final few years of his five-year deal with the Black and Gold. This should be one of those quality seasons, particularly when considering how Backes altered his offseason workouts to streamline his big man’s skating and speed game while retaining the size and strength at the heart of his hockey tools.

The really good news is that the toughness, the tenaciousness and the competitiveness in Backes’ game will all continue to be there and set the right kind of example for a young crop of forwards getting ready to complement him up front this season.   

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

In an ideal world the Bruins could have signed highly regarded prospect Ryan Donato to a two-year entry level contract, watched him develop his game deliberately at the AHL level and received two full years of service before the forward hit restricted free agency. 

But that doesn’t take into account the current injury situation for the Boston Bruins with a few weeks to go in the regular season, and it didn’t factor in Donato’s leverage as an NCAA player that could have chosen free agency, or going back to Harvard for his senior year, if he didn’t get what he was looking for in negotiations with the Black and Gold. Clearly it never got to anything approaching a hard ball level between the Bruins and a young player with plenty of B’s background in Donato, and now he’ll get to suit up for Boston and most likely make his NHL debut on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

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Once he plays for the Bruins that will burn the first year on his two-year entry level contract, and it will also prohibit him from heading to Providence and playing for the P-Bruins through the rest of the hockey season. It’s the exact same situation Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson found himself in last spring when it was pretty clear after one game in Boston that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL level. 

After Donato makes his debut it will be up to him and how NHL-ready he looks when he jumps into the Boston lineup, but it’s pretty clear they need some more dynamic top-6 bodies with Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk all out of the lineup, and Anders Bjork done for the season as well as what could have been a good reserve option at the AHL level. 

None of those players are expected to return in the next couple of games or even in the next week most likely, so there may be an opening for Donato to dazzle if he's prepared to seize the opportunity. 

“Once [Harvard’s season] was over with I had an opportunity to speak with his family advisor and with the family and with Ryan himself. We just worked through what looked like the opportunity he was looking for and we were happy to provide that,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “We have some injuries and we’re at the point in the season where every game has a lot on the line. I think his being able to go over and have success at the Olympics this year really started to jumpstart his thought process that he was ready for the next challenge.

“I think Ryan might have looked at [the injuries on the NHL roster] as an even bigger opportunity for him to go in and possibly play as early as [Monday night]. From our standpoint, we had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school. I think the two things just kind of lined up accordingly. We definitely are cognizant that the injuries are there, and they’ve mounted a little bit here coming down the stretch. It’s a testament to the group of players that we have [that led to the Tampa] win after losing [David] Backes early in the game and guys really playing well.”

Clearly Donato was ready for the next level after dominating college hockey to the tune of 26 goals in 29 games for the Crimson this season, and serving as one of Team USA’s best players in last month’s Olympic hockey tournament. Donato has a high hockey IQ that usually comes along with being the son of an NHL player, has a nose for the net for a young player that isn’t the biggest or strongest guy on the ice and has become a dangerous sniper with his NHL-level shot and release. The question now is whether all of those skills are “plug and play” at the NHL level, or if he’s more in the mold of similar NCAA players like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that needed some development time at the minor league level. 

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details that he’s going to have to work on. All young players do, more importantly the inexperience part of it, but he’s a kid that has hard skill,” said Sweeney. “So we’re looking forward to having him join our team, get immersed, and get a taste, and then it’s up to him. He’ll take it with however far he can run with it, but he is welcomed to the opportunity.

“We’re not going to put any pressure on him to say ‘You have to produce.’ It’s like every player; he’s going to be another player that the coach will have an opportunity to play in situations, and the player himself will dictate how much time and circumstances they play in. We feel that, if we get healthy, we’re going to have a deep group. He’s going to add to that group. Then it’s up to him.”

It would be unfair to expect Donato to have an impact on this Bruins team like Craig Janney did coming out of college thirty years ago, but that’s what many are going to equate it to based on the circumstances. Instead it should be looked at as another talented young player that the Bruins are going to add to their embarrassment of young hockey talent riches, and a player that could possibly help them get through a current tough stretch of injuries and attrition. If Donato does anything more than that then it’s another great story in a Boston Bruins season that’s been chock full of them from beginning to end.


Backes 'will be out for a couple of games' with right leg laceration

File Photo

Backes 'will be out for a couple of games' with right leg laceration

The late season attrition continues for the Boston Bruins as David Backes will miss some time with the laceration on his right leg caused by an errant skate blade in Saturday night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

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It took roughly 18 stitches to close a wound that was gushing blood as Backes quickly exited the ice in the first period, and now it looks like it’s going to force him to miss a handful of games here late in the season. Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that Backes isn’t “day-to-day” as they wait for nature to take its and heal a significant gash that could have been much worse for the 33-year-old power forward. 

“David Backes returned late [Saturday] night with the team. He did meet with our doctors, and they reevaluated the cut. They did some work on it. Obviously, you’ve got great medical care down in Tampa; we’re thankful for that, but our guys wanted their own hands and eyes on it,” said Sweeney. “A timetable hasn’t been set for him. 

“You can imagine it was a pretty significant cut, and now that it’s been, sort of, re-cleaned and addressed accordingly, we’ll just let nature take its course, let it heal. I don’t have a definitive timetable on that one, certainly not day to day. I would suspect he’ll be out for a couple games, and then we’ll reevaluate.”

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The biggest concern for the Bruins with a cut of that nature is the chance of infection, so that’s something the Bruins medical staff will be monitoring closely as Backes heals over the next week or two. It’s too bad for both the B’s and Backes as the Bruins forward was knocked out in the first period against both Florida and Tampa after serving a three-game suspension, and has had his share of freak injuries and illness this season with first diverticulitis that ended with colon surgery, and now the skate blade incident. 

The good news is that it doesn’t sound like Backes is in any danger of being ready for the playoffs, and that’s truly matters as the Bruins continue to win games with so many good players injured and removed from the lineup. Sweeney also gave updates on Patrice Bergeron, who may join the Bruins on their next extended road trip following Monday night’s game vs. Columbus, and Jake DeBrusk, who it doesn’t sound like is all that close to returning to the lineup with his upper body injury.