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.”


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.


Takeaways from the Bruins' 6-1 blowout loss to the Canucks

Takeaways from the Bruins' 6-1 blowout loss to the Canucks

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins Saturday night 6-1 drubbing at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Centre. 

1)  The young players for the Bruins are responding very differently while knowing they’re front and center in trade rumors going on this month. It’s a funny time of year when the rumors and the whispers kick up to high gear in the final weeks ahead of the NHL trade deadline, and it’s no different this season with the Bruins heavily involved with the deadline little more than a week away. Brandon Carlo has been mentioned early and often as a young D-man that’s drawn interest around the league, and it’s no surprise given that the 6-foot-5 defenseman has been a constant top-4 guy during his two seasons. He’s accomplished plenty at 21 years old and holds plenty of value around the league even if he’s never going to be a puck-moving demon like fellow youngster Charlie McAvoy. All that being said, Carlo responded to hearing and seeing his name kicked around by having one of his worst games of the season. Loui Eriksson basically backed him into the front of the Boston net on Vancouver’s first goal against the Bruins, and Carlo was an adventure with both defensive zone coverage and gap control all night. He finished a minus-4 in the blowout loss, and he was every bit that bad. Conversely, Jake DeBrusk has seen his name come up recently in the Ryan McDonagh rumors, and it’s clear other teams would hold him in high esteem given his solid NHL debut as a 21-year-old rookie this season. DeBrusk responded to the rumors by enjoying one of his best games of the season even if he didn’t end up on the score sheet. DeBrusk finished with four shots on net, hit a post in the first period on a nasty shot from the high slot and was turning pucks over while playing active, engaged hockey all night. DeBrusk was Boston’s best player, and that’s impressive given the circumstances. But then again, DeBrusk has shown early in his career that he responds in a very good way when he’s challenged by the circumstances around him. That kind of character is one of the reasons I wouldn’t want to give him up in a trade if I were Don Sweeney. Either way, it’s interesting to see how both of these young players are responding under the microscope. 

2)  Leave it to Loui Eriksson to pick his spot against the Bruins. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years covering Eriksson, it’s that the Swedish winger can be a very good NHL player when he really wants to be. Like when he’s playing for a big contract in his final year with Boston, and posted 30 goals and 63 points while playing grittier and tougher than he ever had in his previous two seasons with the Bruins. After signing a huge six year deal with the Canucks, he responded with 11 goals and 24 points last season and is once again just “meh” this season as a minus player that’s pacing for much less than 30 goals and 60 points. But he rose to the occasion against his old Bruins team and scored a pair of goals while attacking the Boston net, and generally playing with an urgent approach that I’m pretty sure Vancouver hasn’t seen much of over the last two seasons. One of the best things that Don Sweeney did was take a pass on the passive, play-when-the-mood-strikes Eriksson, and instead replace him with a bigger, tougher and more consistent – if not quite as offensively gifted – winger in David Backes. Good luck with four more years of Eriksson, Vancouver. Yikes. 

3)  Once again Thomas Vanek gave Bruins fans a reminder that he is a certified Bruins killer and that perhaps they could use a player like Vanek at the trade deadline. Vanek didn’t even have a shot on net during the game, but it was his play attacking the Boston net that freed up Daniel Sedin for a wide open goal during the four-goal, first period onslaught against the Bruins. The 34-year-old Vanek has 16 goals and 40 points this season along with a minus-13 rating, and definitely stands as one of those second tier wingers that could be available to Boston if they strike out on Rick Nash as the top rental winger that’s going to be available at the deadline. It’s interesting that both Vanek and Patrick Maroon, who are both on Boston’s trade radar, will be available to the Black and Gold if they want them after tormenting the Bruins pretty much every time they play against them. The current tally: 33 goals and 68 career points in 63 games, and a plus-21 mark against the Black and Gold. That is some serious damage against the Bruins over the years, so maybe it bodes well for what he could do if the notoriously streaky forward donned the Black and Gold.  


*Loui Eriksson – Credit where it’s due to the Swedish winger that stepped up and probably had his best game of the season against the Bruins scoring a couple of goals and doing some of the things that allowed to put up a massive final season in Boston. The two goals and constant pressure around the net were a big factor in the win for Vancouver. 

*Jake DeBrusk – The Bruins rookie winger didn’t end up scoring any goals, but he was all around the net with four shots and one post on a Grade-A chance from the high slot. It was an impressive performance in an otherwise gross effort from the Bruins, and it also came in front of his dad, Louie DeBrusk, who was working the color analyst gig between the benches for Hockey Night in Canada’s crew covering the Canucks/Bruins game. 

*Anders Nilsson made 44 saves, so credit where it’s due in the victory over the Bruins. But the backup goalie was shaky throughout while not making any clean glove saves, so the best thing the Bruins ever did for him was fall way behind early in the first period. That took the pressure off Nilsson, and he was able to keep it simple with a big cushion and ride that to victory. 



*The minus-4 for Brandon Carlo was literally and figuratively the biggest minus for the Bruins in defeat. Carlo wasn’t nearly tough enough in front of the net early in the game, had some coverage issues in the defensive zone and really was a liability with Torey Krug as a pairing. Credit Carlo for stepping up and dropping the gloves with Darren Archibald after a big hit on David Pastrnak, and in doing so displaying a little toughness midway through the game. But it was too little, too late at that point.

*One shot on net and a minus-1 rating in 20:03 of ice time for Brad Marchand, who was clobbered early with a high stick that went uncalled and remained pretty silent in the game after that despite logging over 20 minutes of ice time. Marchand has had some pretty eventful games in Vancouver during his NHL career. This was not one of them. 

*The defense was dreadful in front of Tuukka Rask, but he also gave up four goals on nine shots before getting pulled after the first period. His rebound control was poor while he was in there in the first period and the Bruins only gave up a couple more goals the rest of the way, so it certainly feels like it was a combination of a bad night for the B’s and their goalie when they’ve both been so brilliant this season.


Morning Skate: Blackhawks fans ejected for racist chants

NBC Sports Boston Photo

Morning Skate: Blackhawks fans ejected for racist chants

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while blown away at the amount of money that Black Panther is going to make this weekend. 


*An ugly incident in Chicago where Blackhawks fans were chanting racist garbage at Devante Smith-Pelly as he served out a penalty during the Caps visit to Chicago. Hockey fans are better than this. Everybody should be better than this. Here’s the statement from the NHL released on Sunday morning, and I sure hope those four fans ejected are never allowed into the United Center again after embarrassing their NHL team, and their city: 

 "Last night in Chicago, individuals directed racial taunts and abuse at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. "The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. The League fully supports the actions taken by the United Center and the Blackhawks to eject the offenders and would expect the same response to any similarly unacceptable behavior at any of our arenas.

"While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games. The League will take steps to have our clubs remind all stakeholders that they are entitled to enjoy a positive environment - free from unacceptable, inappropriate, disruptive, inconsiderate or unruly behaviors or actions and may not engage in conduct deemed detrimental to that experience."


*The Hockey Night in Canada crew goes over the latest in rumors, including the NHL expansion into Seattle and the unclear situation still developing with Erik Karlsson in Ottawa. 


*Eric Staal deserves plenty of credit for the success of the Minnesota Wild after he’s been reborn as a player since going to Minnesota a couple of years ago. 


*Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray wants the prices to come down for potential deadline deals, and certainly they will to some degree ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline. 


*The Dallas media is certainly getting worked up about Tyler Seguin, as they’re starting to call him Mike Modano 2.0 as they enter the playoff picture. My prediction: Seguin is on his best behavior this season in his first year under Ken Hitchcock, but a leopard doesn’t truly change his spots. The talent is obviously there in huge amounts if he really wants it, but let’s see what Seguin does when things truly get nasty in the playoffs. 


For something completely different: As I mentioned above, it looks like Black Panther is going to break all kinds of box office records this weekend. Good stuff.