Bruins

Impending return for DeBrusk means B's need to make a roster decision

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Impending return for DeBrusk means B's need to make a roster decision

NASHVILLE – Jake DeBrusk isn’t going to return to game action on the two-game Bruins road trip, but the 21-year-old is on the verge of getting back into the lineup and giving Boston their full and complete group of forwards.

DeBrusk (upper body) took part in Monday’s morning skate at Bridgestone Arena and has skated with the team over the last few days, and is on track to return for Thursday night’s home tilt against the Arizona Coyotes. DeBrusk has only missed a couple of games with the injury, but hopes that he can jump back into the lineup wielding a hot stick like he did just prior to getting hurt with two goals and five points in his last five games played. 

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DeBrusk is currently on injured reserve to allow the Bruins to put off a roster move until after their current road trip, but something will have to give if the B’s come out of Monday night’s game completely healthy. Matt Beleskey, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner are the most likely moveable Bruins pieces up front once DeBrusk comes off the injury list, but it remains to be seen which road the Bruins want to go down with a surplus up front. 

“The players are aware of what’s going on. We’ve tried to create a healthy competition throughout the lineup. You’ve seen it at times up front where we’ve used younger guys over more established guys,” said Bruce Cassidy. “You’re starting to see it on the back end with Grzelcyk staying in there, and we’ve seen it in net. So I think [the competition] is good if it makes you better. We have good character in the room, so guys understand what we’re trying to do. It’s not personal. That’s the business side of it where you need to do your part and do it well, or there are guys pushing you.”

There is clearly risk in losing Vatrano for nothing if they expose him to waivers in order to send him to the AHL, and Spooner hasn’t been able to buck up his trade value just a few games removed from a groin injury. It would be a major organizational decision to bury Beleskey’s contract in the minor leagues despite his offensive struggles (zero points and a minus-8 in 14 games) again this season, and it doesn’t appear that the B’s are ready to go down that road yet. 

It might be easy to just send Sean Kuraly or Danton Heinen to the AHL instead given that both players aren't waiver-eligible, but both players have carved out pretty solid roles on the team at this point. A trade of either Spooner or Vatrano might be a possibility, but it's unclear what kind of value either underachieving player holds in any discussions right now. 

If forced into a move by DeBrusk’s return, a trip to Providence for Vatrano (two goals in 18 games) would be the most reasonable outcome for the Bruins. Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings against the Nashville Predators based on morning skate: 

 

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak 

Spooner-Krejci-Bjork 

Heinen-Nash-Backes 

Schaller-Kuraly-Acciari 

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Miller

 

Khudobin

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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.