Bruins

Haggerty: Youthful, fast-moving Bruins draw rave reviews on opening night

Haggerty: Youthful, fast-moving Bruins draw rave reviews on opening night

BOSTON – There were two major takeaways from the Bruins opening night win over the Nashville Predators. One is that the B’s are very young in many key spots around the lineup and that they played very fast hockey in an energetically good way.

Three of Boston’s four goals in the 4-3 win over the Western Conference-champion Predators were from players 21 or under and the Bruins played fast, aggressive hockey while consistently pushing the pace and moving Nashville backward for long stretches of play.

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Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork both passed their top-six forward tests with flying colors as DeBrusk potted his first career goal on a nice drive to the net. Both of the rookie wingers ended up on the same line with a rejuvenated David Krejci by the end of the night. Charlie McAvoy showed his skill dishing slick PP passes to David Pastrnak for one-time opportunities and soaked up 22 plus minutes of ice time while also showing his rookie side by taking on three minor penalties.

The healthy doses of confidence that the rookies will take from opening night certainly can beneficial to a strong start and undoubtedly will also help guide them through the inevitable challenging periods they’ll face this season.

“It’s awesome. It’s awesome for the three of us to kind of get that out of the way and now you can roll, kind of,” said McAvoy. “Points aren’t everything that’s for sure, but for offensive guys like Jake [DeBrusk] and Anders [Bjork] and myself – I try and contribute – sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get that zero out of there in the point column. We came out of the gate pretty hot there and I’m very happy. I’m very happy for Jake, very happy for Anders to get their first points and I’m just thrilled that we walk out of there with two points.”

For a team that’s going to rely heavily on youthful contributions after no major signings or trades this summer, the Bruins had to love the early returns with all their kids stepping up in their first night under the big lights. There is still more of that to come, but the draft-and-development plan has begun to produce in a major, tangible way at the big-boy level.

“We’re pleased. They all had good moments. They all had learning moments throughout the course of the game, as we expected, but they stayed with it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “They’re good players and obviously helped us win a hockey game. But that’s what they’re here for. They were put in good positions to do that, and I thought our veteran guys pulled them along well. They’re good players and they did their part, so we’re very pleased with them.”

The youthful additions to the lineup certainly paid off on the scoreboard with DeBrusk and McAvoy scoring their first NHL goals, and Bjork also getting involved with his speed and tenacity on the fore-check. 

It was clear that a couple of young, fast-moving players along with an adept puck-mover in McAvoy also did a great deal to augment Boston’s team speed and allow them to embrace an aggressive, up-tempo style Cassidy has been working to instill. Even a bigger, slower-moving object like 40-year-old Zdeno Chara has altered his style and embraced the relentless, quick-acting approach that seemed to overwhelm the Predators for long stretches.

Combine all of the high-speed and precision skill with Adam McQuaid’s old-school, titanic heavyweight bout in the first period, and you have the Black and Gold version of the Extremely Fast and the Traditionally Furious coming to a hockey rink near you this winter.

“I thought it was good. It was a high-paced game and both teams played with a lot of energy. You can tell it’s early in the season, but that pace was pretty quick and fast with the puck moving up and down,” said Chara. “Obviously there were some opportunities on both sides and some power plays, but that’s what we’re going to see. It’s pretty obvious that’s what the new ‘modern hockey’ is all about. It’s a lot of skating and a lot of moving, and whoever makes those plays quicker and better is probably going to win those games.”

Clearly, there were mistakes and things to work on borne of both youth and the fast, aggressive style. McAvoy was whistled for three minor penalties while getting caught leaning offensively a couple of times and the Bruins allowed goals in the waning minutes of periods in a pattern that’s been very problematic for them in the recent past.

Still, if the suddenly Fast and Furious Bruins can play with that same speed, skill and relentlessness for most nights this season, they’re going to be pretty good. If they can get consistent contributions from the rookie players that stepped up on opening night, then the Bruins will be even better. 

That’s the test now. The Bruins set the bar up fairly high with a strong effort right out of the starting gate and the challenge now will be to match that and build on for 81 more games this season. 

The fact they were able to do that on opening night without Patrice Bergeron, David Backes and Torey Krug gives everyone belief that we may see plenty from this entertaining, high-tempo Bruins team in what could be a surprisingly good season for the Black and Gold.  

Morning Skate: Golden night for Team USA

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Morning Skate: Golden night for Team USA

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while glad it was finally a gold-medal experience for the USA women in Olympic hockey.  

*As mentioned above, late in the American night, Team USA women’s hockey defeated their Canadian arch-rivals in the shootout and clinched their first gold in 20 years. What an exciting game and a great lesson in resiliency from the USA ladies.

*Speaking of the Olympics, it looks like some Maple Leafs players lost a bet with coach Mike Babcock and had to bust out their Team Canada gear at practice as a result.

*Former Boston College standout Nate Gerbe has resurfaced in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets after working to get back to this level.

*It’s not looking great for the Chicago Blackhawks' Corey Crawford to return this season as he continues to deal with mysterious symptoms that certainly sound like they’re concussion-related.  

*New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal can’t wait for the trade deadline to be over and done with as some of his teammates are being prominently mentioned.

*Speaking of the Rangers, both Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh are taking it like pros as their names are being mentioned everywhere as trade possibilities. The Bruins remain in discussions on both players, but it’s going to be at the price Don Sweeney wants to pay or not at all. Pierre LeBrun also tweeted that the Rangers' price needs to drop on McDonagh for the Bruins to get really interested. 

*A good piece on former Bruins energy forward Craig Cunningham and his life after hockey following last year’s scary cardiac arrest incident that obviously changed his life forever.

*For something completely different: The chances are pretty good something is high quality if Jesse Plemons is in it given his recent body of work, so “Game Night” might be worth seeing.

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Which prospects should the B's be willing to give up at the deadline?

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Which prospects should the B's be willing to give up at the deadline?

Looking at it from the long term view, the Boston Bruins are in a fantastic position at this point in time.

They’re a point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the NHL’s top spot, they have a group at the NHL level that’s an ideal combination of proven, veteran Cup winners and talented, enthusiastic young players ready to make their mark.

The Bruins also have a wealth of young prospects below the NHL level working their way to Boston whether it’s former first round picks like Jakub Zboril or Zach Senyshyn just a step away in Providence, or college hockey players like Ryan Donato or Trent Frederic that form the next wave of youngsters. The simple fact of the matter with the Black and Gold is that there isn’t going to be room for every single prospect at the NHL level, and that goes doubly so for a deep, talented group like the Bruins. Another simple NHL fact is that teams have to give up something to get something around the trade deadline, and that means the B’s are going to have to part with something of quality if they want to land a potential big fish like Ryan McDonagh or Rick Nash, or perhaps even a medium-sized fish like Michael Grabner.

Whether it’s again dealing with the Rangers, or the Edmonton Oilers for Patrick Maroon, or the Vancouver Canucks for Thomas Vanek, the GMs around the league are also well aware of the wealth of prospects within the Bruins organization. And they’re looking to land some of them in any potential deals with the Black and Gold. The Rangers, in particular, want NHL-ready prospects to quickly reload their roster, but that’s what all of these teams are looking for in potential rental deals, or trades for players like McDonagh with more term on the contract.

So the million dollar question is what the Bruins should be willing to part with in those types of deals. GMs will certainly ask about Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Brandon Carlo at the NHL level as all four players are midway through their entry level contracts, and have already established themselves as considerable NHL players. McAvoy, DeBrusk and Heinen should all be completely off the table in any of the deals the Bruins could be expected to make, and the expectation is that Don Sweeney isn’t going to deal any of them. Those three players are already tightly woven within the fabric of the team, and subtracting them from the roster would substantially worsen the team both in the short term and the long term.

Carlo is perhaps in a little bit of a different story in that the 21-year-old could be a viable trade piece if it was in something like the McDonagh deal, where the Bruins were going to be able to substantially upgrade their defensemen situation. Still, the Bruins aren’t very deep organizationally when it comes to right shot defensemen, and dealing a young, promising righty like Carlo for a lefty like McDonagh would only further complicate that situation.

That's above and beyond the fact that a clever, experienced GM like Jeff Gorton is going to attempt to maximize his return for a big asset like McDonagh, and attempt to get a package featuring two young NHL players (Carlo and either DeBrusk or Heinen) and a pick in exchange for New York's captain. 

The bottom line: of the four established NHL players mostly likely to be coveted by other NHL GMs in trade talks, stay-at-home defenseman Carlo is the only that should be seriously considered as a trade piece.

In the same vein, the most viable Bruins prospect up front that could be moved in the right deal is Anders Bjork. The 21-year-old Bjork has four goals and 12 points in 30 games for the Bruins this season while jumping from Notre Dame straight to the NHL, and is currently injured with an upper body injury suffered last month. He’s shown great skating speed, good hockey IQ and the offensive creativity needed to be a top-6 forward, and has been considered the same class of forward prospect as Heinen and DeBrusk.

It’s still entirely possible that Bjork becomes the best of all three players when it’s all said and done, but it’s also clear Heinen and DeBrusk have hopped over him on the organizational depth chart as this season has played out.

More importantly, Bjork, if traded, could be replaced rather immediately in the B’s talent pipeline by forward Ryan Donato after his impressive five-goal performance for Team USA at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. That’s how it works for an organization like the Bruins where draft and development has become a success story. Some prospects make it to the NHL level and supplant veterans while keeping the salary cap from becoming an issue, some prospects perhaps don’t live up to the hype and other prospects are used as trade assets to address roster needs at the NHL level when things like the trade deadline come to the fore.

The real challenge for Sweeney over the next few days will be deciding which ones like Robbie O’Gara can be utilized in trades to support the NHL team, and which ones like McAvoy, DeBrusk and Heinen should be absolutely untouchable right now.

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