Haggerty: Could Vatrano be in danger of not making Bruins roster?

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Haggerty: Could Vatrano be in danger of not making Bruins roster?

BRIGHTON, Mass – With it getting down to crunch time for the Bruins opening night roster and the final version due into the league offices by Tuesday afternoon, Frank Vatrano might just be in jeopardy of not making the cut. 

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Vatrano, 23, entered training camp at an important early crossroads in his career coming off two NHL seasons where he showed flashes of scoring, but never really put it all together for an extended stretch.

"I think my overall game needs to be better. I need to be a complete, 200-foot player and I think I just need to bring consistency night in and night out," said Vatrano in the first few days of camp. "Obviously your 'A' game needs to be there more consistently, but you also need to bring your 'B' game if the 'A' isn't there. This is my third year, so I feel a lot more comfortable being here having relationships with the guys and with the coaching staff."

It remains to be seen if that comfort level is a good thing or a bad thing for Vatrano, who still has quite a bit to prove in the NHL. 

Last season, Vatrano finished with 10 goals and 18 points in 44 games, along with a minus-3 rating, and played all six playoff games against the Ottawa Senators. This fall, however, both Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk have made strong pushes for NHL roster spots and by all accounts, Vatrano has been pretty average in the competition for a third-line spot.

Unfortunately for him, he’s competing with Matt Beleskey, Tim Schaller, Noel Acciari, Teddy Purcell, Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly for the three final forward spots and that means somebody expected to be on the big club is probably going to fall short. Kenny Agostino was placed on waivers on Friday afternoon, so it would appear that he won’t be on the NHL roster to start things off after an injury-plagued camp.

It would be easier for it to be Vatrano because he doesn’t have to pass through waivers at this point in his young NHL career and because the Bruins are expected to put an emphasis on penalty-kill candidates given the mass number of face-off/slashing penalties in the preseason.

That all spells possible trouble for Vatrano as a sometimes power-play performer, but definitely not a guy who's been used extensively on the PK unit in his pro career. Instead, it might give bigger, grittier players Schaller and Kuraly a better chance of securing those final few roster spots and leave Vatrano excluded from a Bruins roster where he was thought to be a lock entering camp.

Clearly, Bruce Cassidy wasn’t happy with the middling effort after a 5-1 exhibition loss to the Flyers on Thursday night in Philadelphia and signaled a warning shot to camp participants currently on the bubble.  

“We weren’t competitive enough. The first period, we put ourselves in a tough spot, we took four penalties. A couple, I wasn’t sure what they were, but they’re tough to kill. We were playing against a good team,” said Cassidy. “We were on the road and then you get a couple of disallowed goals, it just seems like we were chasing the game the whole night. If that’s going to happen, you need your guys here pushing for jobs to give you energy to get you back in it. That didn’t happen either, at least not enough.

“I don’t know if there was a lot of [positive developments], to be perfectly honest. I’ll watch it again to see the things we did well. They were better than us. Like I said, the start didn’t help. These types of games during exhibition when you’re traveling the same day, you want to get off to a decent start to stay energized. We didn’t do enough to do that and we put ourselves in a bad spot.”

It remains to be seen if it’s too late for bubble guys like Vatrano to secure jobs with big performances in the preseason finale Saturday night against the Blackhawks, but the fact the Massachusetts native is in that position at all is a bad sign for the way his preseason has rolled out. 

DeBrusk looking to show some finish, lock down NHL job

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DeBrusk looking to show some finish, lock down NHL job

BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s certainly not set in stone quite yet with another week-plus of training camp to go, but it would appear that Jake DeBrusk has the inside track on the top-six left wing job with David Krejci and David Pastrnak. 

DeBrusk, 20, hasn’t lit the lamp yet in the preseason while skating with Krejci and Pastrnak, but he’s certainly done some of the little things he’ll need to do for success on that line: Winning puck battles down low, paying the price in front of the net and playing with big-bodied strength along the walls to support his skilled Czech linemates.

Now it comes down to showing a little more finish to his game coming off 19 goals last season in his first year of pro hockey in Providence. On the bright side, he’s been with Krejci and Pastrnak pretty exclusively since the start of camp and that’s a sign DeBrusk is going to get every opportunity break camp in that exact spot.  

“It’s an anxious time for all of us as we’re really trying hard to make the team,” said DeBrusk. “Personally I’m looking at as an opportunity to get better every day and work on the things that I need to work on. I think I’ve been with David Krejci every single day of camp. When you’re with players like that everyday building chemistry it really helps your confidence and gets you comfortable around the room.

“But I know it’s a tough task at hand because it’s the best league in the world and there is still a lot of work to be done. There are lots of things I need to prove and I’m looking forward to the chance to do that. Obviously, everybody wants to get on the board and I’m playing with two offensive guys, so that’s the main focus. But I look at the overall game. I’ve had some Grade-A chances, but I just haven’t finished. It will be nice to hopefully see one of them go in, and have some of that success that I’ve seen other guys have in this camp.”

Count Pastrnak as a fan of DeBrusk’s game as the 21-year-old star-in-the-making gave the rookie left winger a vote of confidence as the guy he’d most like to see on his line once the regular season begins against Nashville on Oct. 5.

“In the last two games he’s gotten plenty of pucks out of the battles and he’s winning pucks, so I think the scoring and confidence will come with it,” said Pastrnak. “I like it and think [DeBrusk] is a pretty good fit. There are so many good, young players this year, so it’s fun to watch.

“I’ve been there not long ago, so I know how it feels. We had so many good opportunities in that first [preseason] game with Jake and we didn’t get rewarded. Three years ago that would have brought me down if I had those good chances without getting rewarded, but it’s not always about scoring. We had a good game offensively and we try to let him know not to let it bring [DeBrusk] down. I’m pretty sure the scoring is going to come.”

It would be ideal if it happens this week in the final two preseason tune-ups as the Bruins travel to Philadelphia and Chicago. DeBrusk wants to really lock down his NHL position by finishing off some of those plays in the offensive zone with Krejci and Pastrnak. 

Khudobin missing from Bruins practice with 'lower body injury'

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Khudobin missing from Bruins practice with 'lower body injury'

BRIGHTON, Mass – Despite not having played in a game in more than a week, backup goalie Anton Khudobin was missing from Wednesday’s practice with a lower body injury suffered at some point in training camp. 

Coach Bruce Cassidy said the Bruins expect it to be “nothing major” and that Khudobin will be back at practice on Thursday, but the plan isn’t to play him in net until this weekend in Boston’s preseason finale against Chicago.

“[It’s a lower body injury...nothing major we hope,” said Cassidy. “That’s what I’ve been told, so he should be back out there tomorrow. Tuukka is starting tomorrow, so we’re not really worried if he’s not up to speed by then. We’d like to get [Khudobin] some work on Saturday.”

To this point, Khudobin’s only work of the preseason was stopping 20 of 22 shots against the Detroit Red Wings eight days ago while watching Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban get the lion’s share of preseason action between the pipes since then.

It’s really no harm, no foul if Khudobin misses a few days with a nagging lower body issue and there’s only a problem if the Bruins backup isn’t ready to go once it’s final preparation time for the regular season. Clearly, the B’s need Khudobin ready to go and likely able to play as many as 20-25 games this season while getting plenty of work backing up Tuukka Rask after the No. 1 goalie has worn down the past few seasons.

It was Rask, Malcolm Subban and youngster Daniel Vladar as the practice goalies on Wednesday at Warrior Ice Arena, where the Bruins have condensed camp into one massive practice group still competing for jobs. Here are the line combos and D-pairings from practice with the top four lines really beginning to take shape:

Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork
DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak
Kuraly-Spooner-Backes
Beleskey-Nash-Acciari

Agostino-JFK-Schaller
Vatrano-Czarnik-Purcell
Heinen

Chara-Carlo
Miller-McAvoy
Grzelcyk-McQuaid
O’Gara-Postma

Rask
Subban
Vladar