Bruins

Bruins go for a defensive project late with Daniel Bukac

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Bruins go for a defensive project late with Daniel Bukac

CHICAGO – The Bruins finished up their 2017 NHL Draft class with a bit of a project, but a 6-foot-5 defenseman with some great skating wheels is a pretty good way to go with a seventh round pick. The B’s nabbed Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Daniel Bukac with the 204th pick in the draft, and admitted afterward that he’s an ultra-big bodied player that could take some time in the development process.

Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley said Boston is more than happy to be patient with Bukac given the tools that he’s working with as an 18-year-old prospect. Bukac had two goals and 17 points to go along with 38 penalty minutes in his first season in North America after coming over from the Czech Republic, and Bradley said that B’s scouts noted that he continued to improve and get comfortable as the season wore on.

"He's raw. He's a project. [He’s a] kid from the Czech Republic that played in the Western Hockey League,” said Bradley. “At the start of the year - he's come leaps and bounds with his development. Talking to the people - the coaches, the management, and the GM in Brandon, they're very excited about him coming back to Brandon. They're expecting big things from him. We look forward to seeing him in camp."

Bukac is starting to garner some good international experience after playing for the Czechs in the Under-18’s and the Ivan Hinkla Tournament, but this weekend it was all about his addition to the talented group of Bruins prospects in the hockey world.

"I'm so excited to be drafted by the Boston Bruins," said Bukac, who described himself as a solid two-way defenseman with a good first pass. "It's an awesome feeling. I'm so glad that I was drafted by Boston."

Is it panic time for the Bruins after injuries to Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron?

Is it panic time for the Bruins after injuries to Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron?

The first thing to keep in mind for the Bruins is that it could have been much, much worse. Sure this current four-game road trip has taken a massive toll with long-term injuries to both Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron that will test both the B’s mettle and their organizational depth.  

Chara is going to miss at least a month with an MCL injury to his left knee and now Bergeron is also going to miss at least a month with an injury to his rib/sternoclavicular area after a hard, awkward tumble into the side boards.

They could have been season-ending injuries instead, so that’s much better news than it might have been for both players.

But alas the Bruins will miss their two biggest on-ice leaders, their two best defensive players and the two people most valuable to their penalty kill until at least Christmas, and perhaps even longer than that with the Winter Classic set for Jan. 1 vs. the Blackhawks. Oh, and Bergeron was also the team’s leading scorer with seven goals and 26 points in his 19 games played this season.

So it is time to hit the Bob Lobel-trademarked panic button at this point?

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Certainly there’s an argument to be made that it should be given how the team fell apart against Colorado once Chara exited that game with his knee injury. And the Bruins have been so dependent on their top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak this season that missing one of those three forwards will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on their offense.

But before true panic sets in, let’s remember what happened last season.

Bergeron missed 18 games due to injuries last year as well, and the Bruins managed to put together a 9-2-2 record in the month that he missed with a broken foot in the middle of the year when similar doom and gloom themes were intoned after his injury. So a similar group of Bruins players proved that it can be done and they did the same when Chara missed chunks of time last season with shoulder woes.  

The challenge will be finding players to step up as they did last season in the absence of their two most important players. Riley Nash jumped from the third line to the top line in between Marchand and Pastrnak, and gave the B’s a similar two-way center with a lesser offensive ceiling to hold things in place. Nash is gone now after signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent, but perhaps the underrated Joakim Nordstrom can do the same after Bruce Cassidy put him in the middle with Marchand and Jake DeBrusk in the win over the Coyotes.

The bigger long-term issue is going to be the absence of Chara with a defensemen corps that’s already missing Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Urho Vaakanainen, Kevan Miller and John Moore, and is seemingly introducing a new P-Bruins call-up with every single game. Bruce Cassidy, Kevin Dean and Co. are coaching their proverbial butts off right now by getting names like Connor Clifton, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon to play solid defense, but that isn’t going to be sustainable without Chara unless they start getting some of their reinforcements healthy again.

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The B's managed to get three of four points on the road against Dallas and Arizona by holding them to a total of two goals, but they were also outshot 70-46 in those two games. Some of it was about surprisingly good defense limiting mistakes and scoring chances, and some of it was about Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak being pretty close to flawless between the pipes. That’s a formula that’s going to need to continue for the next month while No. 33 and No. 37 get healthy.

The conservative, defense-first approach is the only way to fly right now with the team missing so much talent, but they’re also not going to have sustained success averaging 23 shots on net per night.

The final piece of optimistic information: The Bruins have been good enough in the season’s first six weeks to be in a playoff spot, and they will be there when the Thanksgiving holiday comes and goes as a regular-season benchmark.

The Black and Gold have built themselves a bit of a cushion for hard times like they’re about to face over the next four weeks, and they’ll be able to afford a period of .500 play while they get their bearings. But the B’s are also facing an Atlantic Division with some stiffer competition in improved teams in both Montreal and Buffalo, and they're also not as deep as last season’s group that amassed 112 points.

So the key Black and Gold mantra right now is to tread water and survive over the next four weeks while Bergeron and Chara recuperate, and then they can worry about the big picture with a Bruins group that hasn’t yet been able to really find its groove.   

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron out at least four weeks with rib, sternoclavicular injury

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron out at least four weeks with rib, sternoclavicular injury

Well, things just got a little worse for the Bruins on the injury front.

Patrice Bergeron is going to be out for at least four weeks with a rib and sternoclavicular injury. He was hurt in last week’s overtime loss to the Dallas Stars when his left shoulder area took the brunt of contact as he crashed awkwardly into the boards with Dallas forward Radek Faksa.

Bergeron missed some time after the collision into the boards, but finished out the game while a left shoulder/arm injury appeared to cause him enough discomfort that he was unable to take any faceoffs upon his return. Bergeron and John Moore (lower body injury) both left the team and returned to Boston after the Dallas to be evaluated for their injuries, an early indicator that No. 37’s injury was going to be a serious one.

The Bruins plugged versatile forward Joakim Nordstrom into a top-six center role with Bergeron out, but it remains to be seen what they’ll do over a longer period of time during his absence. Last season the Bruins had Riley Nash to fill in when Bergeron missed 18 games with groin and foot injuries, but it’s a different story this season. The Bruins have been almost completely dependent on the top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak for just about everything, both offensively and defensively.

Bergeron is currently seventh in the NHL with 26 points (7 goals, 19 assists) in 19 games this season, and the Bruins are going to be hard-pressed to replicate that kind of offense with anybody that does fill in for Bergeron. Beyond that, the Bruins will be missing their two best defensive players in Bergeron and Zdeno Chara with longer-term injuries.

Will this be a breaking point for the Bruins with a ton of bodies already missing on the back end with injuries, and now two of their biggest performers probably out until Christmas at the earliest? It remains to be seen, but the Bruins are going to need to win games in a different way with Bergeron now on the sidelines for an extended period of time. 

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