Bruins

Haggerty: Youth will be served on this year's Bruins

Haggerty: Youth will be served on this year's Bruins

BOSTON --The motto for this year’s Bruins team might come out of what’s now considered a classic rock Guns N’ Roses song: “Take it slow and it'll work itself out fine, All we need is just a little patience."

Clearly Axl Rose didn’t have the B's in mind when he took pen to paper to write “Patience,” but that’s exactly what Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy and Cam Neely have signed on for this season with a major influx of young talent. Not only is the talent flush in numbers -- with rookies Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and Sean Kuraly starting the season with the Bruins -- but all of those first-year players are expected to fill major roles for Boston.

It certainly makes for an exciting time for a Bruins group that should again compete for the playoffs this season, and might only be a year or two away from building really something special.

“It’s exciting,” said Bruins president Cam Neely. “It’s been a few years in the making, to see some of the young kids being able to push for jobs. It looks like a couple [of youngsters] have done that.

"[You] have to give credit to drafting properly. Then once you draft them, you have to do a good job developing them. It starts with our development camp, and having these younger players understand what our expectations are of them, where they need to work on their game to get to the NHL level.

“I think we can really build off what we did last year. I saw a little different style of play, and the league has gotten faster. Our coaching staff has helped us become faster with the way we practice and how Butch [Bruce Cassidy] wants us to play. I think, even though we lost in the first round, it was a close series. I think it was the first time for some of our players to play in the playoffs. They haven’t – understanding what it’s like to play in the playoffs, and they got a taste of it. I hope they are hungry for more.”

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Bjork is slated to be top-line right wing, and use his blazing speed, high-end skill and good instincts to produce plenty of offense and points with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. DeBrusk will start the season at left wing alongside David Krejci and David Pastrnak, and will fill the power-forward role of net-front finisher and winner of battles that has often been successful with the playmaking Czech center throughout his career. McAvoy will start the season in a top-4 role paired with Kevan Miller, but the 19-year-old is going to be a workhorse playing in all situations, moving the puck and shouldering a heavy burden for a D-corps that’s probably still a year or two away from being a truly dominant group again.

The role for Kuraly still isn’t completely defined, but it’s clear that he’s got a friend in David Backes after the two big-bodied forwards showed chemistry and production during the playoffs together. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him settle into a third-line role with Backes, where he can work up the same straight-line, north/south game that proved so successful in the postseason against the Senators.

Certainly it’s all adrenaline and reality setting in on the coolness of being an NHL player for these young guys, but for most, if not all, there will be ups and downs as they navigate for the first time through the sometimes unforgiving world of the NHL.

Much is expected of these prospects and more of Boston’s youth movement in Sweeney’s third season guiding the Bruins franchise, where his five year plan should be fully entrenched with the draft-and-development effort paying dividends.

“I think we do have to have some patience, and some understanding that we’re going to go through some of those [rough] time periods,” said Sweeney. “We have a core group that’s going to pull us through those periods, and we have depth during those times when guys do stub their toes where we can withstand some of those times of struggles. But the results also take over from here, to tell you the truth. That’s what this league is and we have to be cognizant of that while balancing the patience part of it.”

Certainly the teaching style that Cassidy employed for close to a decade at the AHL level in Providence is going to be an asset with the younger players. The head coach will preach aggression and creativity within a controlled systems environment, and mistakes will be tolerated as long as they’re not repeated and devolve into chronic issues on the ice.

That’s a far cry from Claude Julien, who seemed to no longer have the patience to live through youthful mistakes when a conservative, defensive-minded option could be at the ready. The other factor working in Boston’s favor is the established veteran core that’s embracing the infusion of youthful talent that they so desperately need.

Brandon Carlo went through the rookie experience with the Bruins last season, and he said that a big part of his successful season was the unflinching faith that both Bruins management and his veteran teammates showed.

“It was great,” said Carlo. “I definitely needed it at times, and for them to show trust in me definitely helped me keep my confidence up when I wasn’t playing as well. Getting that opportunity was pretty special, and allowing me to stay in the lineup and learn from my experiences was beneficial. [Zdeno Chara] was definitely a big help during those times. At practice he could tell I was a little frantic at times because my confidence wasn’t all there, and he would tell me to take a step back, realize that I’m in the NHL right now and wasn’t going anywhere. I just needed to work on my game. [Chara’s words] were so helpful for me.”

Certainly the Bruins may not hit with all of these young players, and there will be growing pains with a pair of rookies among their top-6 forwards and two more first or second year players in their top-4 on defense. But patience isn’t going to be a dirty word for the Bruins this season as they mix their draft-and-development future with the established players of the present while looking for just the right mix for success.

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Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

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Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

BRIGHTON, Mass – It would appear that Bruce Cassidy is ready to start shuffling the deck up front after a slow start to the season.

With the Bruins ranking among the league’s worst both offensively and defensively just a handful of games into the season, they are both introducing a few new forwards to the mix while hoping for full health to a couple of other ones. 

First off, the Bruins appear that they might get David Backes back for Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks after his bout with diverticulitis, supplying some badly needed size, strength and net-front tenacity on the wing. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) might not be too far behind after going through a full practice wearing a no-contact jersey. The return of No. 37 would help in any number of different areas once he’s good to go, and would have a cascade effect on the rest of the forwards.  

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Getting both players back in short order would give the Bruins a toughness around the net that was certainly missing against Malcolm Subban and the Golden Knights, and hasn’t been there consistently this season with No. 37 and No. 42 out of commission.

“[Bergeron] is progressing. In the past we’ve ruled him out ahead of time, but we’re not ruling him out for [Thursday vs. the Canucks]. Backes looks closer to being ready to play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of the games that have gotten away from us, those guys are glue guys that really add that element to us to keep us on the rails without the game getting away. Some nights you just need their offense or some hard defending, and you miss their leadership obviously. They’re all good players, but most of them you know they’re bringing that North/South game and a few good shifts here or there could have got us back on track.

“[Bergeron] is underrated in his ability to get to the front of the net especially with Marchand and Pastrnak on his wings. So we miss that part of it: Getting there on time, making plays and finishing off plays. Backes is just a big body there and you certainly miss that part of it. With Vegas the other night that was one of the biggest things we were missing was getting second chances, shooting for second chances, hitting the net and getting those rebound chances against a team that was harder to get inside on.

A few moves on Wednesday might also suggest some on-the-fly changes with some forwards that haven’t been working out with the Black and Gold. Ryan Spooner suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday night against Vegas, and it sounds like it might not be a short-term injury for the center with just one point in his first five games. Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano also haven’t produced much in the first couple of weeks of the season, and could be in danger of losing roster spots to Providence call-ups Kenny Agostino and Peter Cehlarik.  

Both players were late cuts from training camp and were showing the blend of size, strength, skill, experience and production that Boston needs more of as they search for answers among their forward group. Beleskey, Spooner and Vatrano have combined for one point, a minus-6 rating and just 12 shots on net in a combined 14 games this season, so clearly that is one of the first spots to look for upgrading the roster from within.

“[A tryout period] is a good way to put it. We talked about that in training camp when we had a long look at guys, but not Cehlarik because he didn’t get a chance to play [because of shoulder surgery]. He obviously piqued our interest last year and did a lot of good things for us,” said Cassidy, who has been in a state of constant flux putting forward lines together due to injury and ineffectiveness. “We just went in a different direction at the trade deadline, but we brought him up to give him a look. We have a decision tomorrow and I’m not going to say whether [Cehlarik] is in or out.

“He’s really played well in Providence, and we just thought he might be able to help us. Some of it may depend on the health of the other guys as far as who’s in and who’s out. If both Cehlarik and Agostino are both in the lineup there’s a chance [they might play together]. They were with [Riley] Nash today in the middle, and he has some of the same qualities as JFK down in Providence. But until we sort through who’s in for tomorrow, and that starts at the top with Bergeron and Backes, then stuff will fall into place for all of them.”

Depending on how Don Sweeney plays with his 23-roster spots, perhaps the time has come to put one of those players on waivers for a trip to the AHL. Simply based on merit it would be Vatrano and the total nothingness he’s shown in his first four games this season, but there would also be a legitimate concern they’d lose the 23-year-old Massachusetts native on waivers for nothing.

For their part, players like Agostino and Cehlarik ripped up the AHL while teamed with Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in Providence, and were just looking for their chance to carve out a role in Boston. Now they may get their chance based on others not really grasping their opportunity, and they’re ready if that’s the case.

“It’s encouraging for me, but I’m just taking things day-by-day. I’m not looking past anything and I’m looking in the past. I just take things as they come here,” said Agostino, who leads the Bruins two goals and seven points in three games thus far. “This isn’t my first time [up at the NHL], so I’m just going to do whatever I can to make the best impression possible.”

What if Agostino and Cehlarik, a career AHL player and a former third-round pick, can’t make the impact that the Bruins are looking for?

Hopefully by then the Bruins will at least have their top two lines healthy and firing on all cylinders, and can continue to mix and match things in the bottom six until they find a combination of forwards that work. But it may come to a point where the Bruins need to look outside the organization for an impact forward or two, or at least find somebody that can make an impact on the ice rather than will themselves invisible.

Only Beleskey has been at all effective this season as he’s dropped the gloves and played physical at times, and certainly can still be an effective third or fourth liner with the right players skating alongside him. For those reasons along with the massive contract money still owed him, Beleskey should be given every opportunity to succeed in Boston. But one thing is clear at this point: There is too much dead weight on the Bruins roster right now at the forward position, and something needs to be done about it if they hope to pull themselves out of their early-season funk.   

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Groin tear to sideline Bruins' Spooner for four to six weeks

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Groin tear to sideline Bruins' Spooner for four to six weeks

The Bruins have absorbed another substantial injury to their forward group with the news that Ryan Spooner will be out 4-6 weeks with a torn groin. According to sources, it was something he was playing with for some time before the right adductor muscle in his groin finally tore in Sunday’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

With Spooner out of the Bruins lineup, there will be challenges to both team speed and to a power play unit that the fast-skating center was a key contributor over the last couple of seasons. Sean Kuraly was centering Tim Schaller and David Backes in Spooner’s absence during Wednesday practice, but it remains to be seen how they’ll go about filling the void for the next couple of months.

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“We’re no different than anybody else. We’d like to have our full complement [of players],” said Bruce Cassidy, when addressing the injury situation. “To be healthy and 100 percent in this league is tough, but we’d love to be there.”

Spooner was very clearly slowed by something at the start of the season with just one point and four shots on net in his first five games of the season along with a minus-2 rating, and that’s a tough development for a player like Spooner that relies on his speed and skating for much of his effectiveness at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see if Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson eventually gets a look given his fast start at the AHL Level, and the fact that Spooner is on a one-year deal that may see him playing somewhere other than Boston next season, or perhaps even following this spring’s trade deadline. 

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