Bruins

Checking in with the B's rookies a month into the season

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Checking in with the B's rookies a month into the season

BRIGHTON -- With the Bruins now roughly a month into the season, it feels like a good time to check in on the B’s prospects with the youth movement still ongoing despite injuries up and down Boston’s lineup. 

In general terms the returns have been pretty good from the Bruins rookies with five different B’s players scoring their first career NHL goals already this season. That’s tops among all 31 of the NHL teams little more than a few weeks into the regular season. Most of it is the sheer talent of the B’s youngsters and the concerted effort to work them into the lineup, and some of it is about other young players getting longer looks because of the injury epidemic. 

Clearly, however, the Bruins rookies are headlined by Calder Trophy candidate Charlie McAvoy, who has been excellent in his first full month as an NHL player and simply keeps improving with each passing game. Initially the feeling was it was going to take a couple of seasons for McAvoy to really grow into his own as a top flight NHL defenseman, but he keeps on adding to the checklist of things he can do with very few weaknesses in his overall game.  

McAvoy is third among NHL defensemen in points while ranking behind Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev and New Jersey’s Will Butcher, but leads all first year players with his whopping 22:40 of ice time for the Bruins through his first 11 games. At this point it seems almost a fait accompli that former BU sniper Clayton Keller is going to run away with the Calder given his nine goals and 15 points through his first 14 games with the Arizona Coyotes, but let’s just see how good McAvoy can be by the season’s second half before we crown anything to anybody. 

As of right now McAvoy leads the Bruins in assists, is second in ice time to just Zdeno Chara and now he’s become a top pair D-partner with Chara facing other team’s best players while also killing penalties as well. Clearly he relishes that role and being a do-everything D-man capable of playing in all situations, and capable of playing against anybody else on the other side even at the young age of 19 years old. 

“I just play the game as hard as I can and try to compete and see what happens,” said McAvoy. “Trying to manage a game, trying to pick your spots and really just trying to manage a game and be smart and responsible with the puck. If there’s not a play to be made then you live to fight another day. It’s little things like that I’m just trying to get better at. 

“You try and come out and set a bar for your compete level for yourself and for the team, and then you play against [other team’s top players] and you have to raise it. It’s almost like an inner competition where you need to rise [in any given night] because you’re playing against All-Stars and maybe even legends. When I’m able to play the way I want to play and we can limit those [top line guys] to nothing, that’s something that’s satisfying for me.

Jake DeBrusk got off to a quick start and has decent offensive numbers with two goals and five points in 11 games, and has managed to squeeze off 23 shots on net while missing on a couple of close scoring chances as of late. An assist on the game-winning goal against Vegas snapped a six-game point drought for the 21-year-old, but he also had his pocket picked by Nate Schmidt on the Golden Knights’ only goal and is a team-worst minus-8 a month into the season. 

“That play is going to happen to players. That was the exact definition of being hard on the puck, and younger need to know there’s always going to be someone…you don’t ever assume that somebody isn’t coming to get [the puck],” said Bruce Cassidy. “We know we’re going to have to live with some of that with Jake, but with Jake what we’re trying to do is build those good habits in his game every single night. 

“He lost some of his habits at times, and now he’s getting them back. The [game-winning] goal he was going to the net, and we need him to go to the net if we’re going to be good. We want those greasy traits to his game, so don’t lose those…reload well. Listen if he got stripped [of the puck] every day and just wasn’t ready to play every game then he wouldn’t be here, but [DeBrusk’s consistency] is part of the learning process for the younger players. I do believe Jake is a very honest player, so he takes mistakes to heart when he makes them and works hard to correct them.” 

The rookie left winger has started incorporating a little more physicality in his game and the injury to David Krejci has absolutely impacted his production over the last couple of weeks, but this month has definitely been part of an up-and-down roller coaster he’s looking to exit as quickly as possible.  

“My biggest take from the first month is that it’s been a bit of a roller coaster with a bit up and a bit down. Going into the season that was to be expected, but I obviously want to be better and want to be more consistent through each game,” said DeBrusk. “Moving forward I’m looking for more consistency within my game. It seems that every year I’ve had a slow start. It’s never that I’m not getting chances, but it’s just not going in. We’ve been in some close games against some good teams, and I take a lot of pride in being able to bury those chances. 

“I’ve been put in a spot on this team where I’m needed to produce. I’m not the lead catalyst to produce on a line, but I’m there to help. [Stretches with no offense] are frustrating to say the least. I just use that frustration on the ice [later in the game].” 

The 21-year-old Anders Bjork started off slowly, but has actually kicked things up a level as the month has gone along and posted three goals and seven points in 11 games while using his speed and skill to pretty good effect. After just four shots on net in Bjork’s first five games this season, he’s got 13 shots on net in the last six games including five of his seven points scored this season. 

It will be interesting to see what Bjork does if he’s separated from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand after settling into some good chemistry with them, but it feels like the former Notre Dame standout is really finding his way. 

Last but not least there’s Danton Heinen, who doesn’t look like he has any interest in going back to the AHL level after his last call-up. The 22-year-old Heinen has a couple of goals and six points in seven games for the Black and Gold, and is getting both power play and PK time while moving all around the lineup. More importantly he’s making offensive plays in each and every game that he’s played in thus far with Boston, and setting up his teammates along with finding his own offense in a game that’s matured quite a bit over the last year.  

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Morning Skate: Dad's texts and emails reveal enforcer's sad story

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Morning Skate: Dad's texts and emails reveal enforcer's sad story

Here are the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while wishing everybody a safe night before Thanksgiving. Be careful out there, people.

*The New York Times has a very sad story on former NHL enforcer Stephen Peat, as told to the Times through a series of emails and texts from Peat’s dad as he struggles with a number of seemingly concussion-related issues in his post-hockey life.

*There’s nothing better than some Benn on Benn brotherly crime as Jordie Benn lays a hit on Jamie Benn in the Stars vs. Habs game.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Marc Spector has the Edmonton Oilers hitting a new low after they quit in a loss to the St. Louis Blues.

*Duncan Keith said he wants to play until he’s 45 and defy the odds as one of the few that get a chance to play pro hockey for that long.

*Dylan Larkin is flourishing with the Detroit Red Wings as he’s adding more responsibility to his chores in Hockeytown.

*A Happy Thanksgiving to the Boychuks and all the other great people around the NHL, including Matt Beleskey with the Bruins, who take time out of their days to help make sure everybody has a good meal on Turkey Day.

*For something completely different: Excited for my kids that there is going to be more Trolls in their future starting with a Christmas special on Friday.

 


 

Bruins won't win Cup with Rask in net, and need to start planning for future

Bruins won't win Cup with Rask in net, and need to start planning for future

One season could be an outlier. Two seasons is a trend. Three seasons is a long-term pattern that doesn’t figure to change.

For the last three seasons Boston’s $7 million man between the pipes, Tuukka Rask, has been more ordinary than extraordinary, and that’s a troubling development. At this point it’s enough to convince this humble hockey writer that the Bruins will never win a Stanley Cup with Rask as their No. 1 goaltender, and that should become a real issue in the next few years as the Bruins build back up to contender status.

Anton Khudobin will make his third straight start Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils, and that makes all the sense in the world: The backup has dramatically outplayed the starter this year. Just compare Khudobin’s NHL-leading .935 save percentage to Rask's pathetic .897, and the fact that the Bruins have pulled points from every single game Khudobin has started.

That’s all short-term stuff, but it's important as the Bruins are desperate for point to stay on the outskirts of the playoff picture. Long term, the B's are aiming toward being a Cup contender in a couple of years, when youngsters like Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Brandon Carlo, Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk will be entering their primes, and grizzled, winning veterans like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand will still have something left in the tank.

But what of the goaltending?

Rask, 30, still has an impressive career .922 save percentage, and nobody can take away his Vezina Trophy or his All-Star level seasons. But his save percentages have dropped noticeably: It's a combined .915 in the last two full seasons, and is below .900 now. He’s become predictable in his approach to shooters, consistently dropping to give them high, open targets around the net. And it feels like he’s lost some of the competitive fire he had when he was a milk-crate-tossing prospect in the minor leagues.

The stretches where he gives up soft goals have gotten longer, and -- as is necessary with a changing, aging cast of defensive personnel -- Rask rarely steals games when the Bruins are outplayed. The organization has also come to the determination that he loses effectiveness if he plays more than 55-60 times ia season.

In short, Rask is being paid as a $7 million-a-year franchise goalie, but he's not playing like one. And there's four years beyond this left on the contract.

The Bruins will have to play him and pump up his value if they any hopes of trading him in the future. He'll have to be inserted back in the lineup at some point anyway, because let’s face it: Khudobin and Zane McIntyre aren’t the answers as his replacement. The B's need to draft, sign or trade for Rask’s heir apparent, and pave the way for that goaltender to be in Boston a couple of years from now when they're again ready for a Stanley Cup push.

Rask proved he wasn’t good enough to carry a talented Bruins team over the top when he crumbled at the end of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Blackhawks, and he’s been spotty, and oft-times unreliable, in big games ever since. It’s time for the Bruins to begin the search process for a goalie that can take them on a Cup run when they’re ready for it.

After nine seasons, Rask has proven he isn’t that guy.

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