Bruins burning question: Which rookies make team out of camp?
Bruins burning question: Which rookies make team out of camp?
It’s an indisputable fact that the Bruins did remarkably little this summer when it came to adding to last season’s NHL roster. After putting together a squad worthy of the Stanley Cup playoffs and striking gold with a midseason coaching change, the Bruins clearly decided they liked their mix of established veterans and up-and-coming prospects while adding borderline NHL free agents Kenny Agostino and Paul Postma on the July 1 opening of free agency. Instead of plugging in veterans for open spots, the Bruins are counting on some of their young prospects to mature into roles on the big club. It’s the same faith in their prospect talent pool that allowed 20-year-old defenseman Brandon Carlo space and opportunity to pop in training camp last season despite little pro experience. The Bruins will be looking for a few more of those Carlo-type development stories this year. So which rookies will crack the roster to start the season? In order to most likely to least, here are five who may break through:
1) CHARLIE McAVOY
Since McAvoy, 19, is still considered a rookie by NHL standards despite playing in a handful of playoff games, we will consider him a part of Boston’s young prospect class for this season. That also makes him the most surefire young player to make the roster out of camp and play a pivotal, high-impact role this season. In fact, it’s likely that Carlo and McAvoy will form the right side of Boston’s top-four this season and could be installed there for the next decade barring any trades, injuries or long-term under-performance. McAvoy will undoubtedly experience ups and downs in his first full NHL season and the learning curve for NHL D-men can sometimes be downright brutal. But McAvoy has the skating, skills, size, strength and smarts to make it all work, and has made it a habit of making things look smooth and easy as he did while dropping into the Stanley Cup playoffs and playing 26 minutes per night. The sky is the limit for a player that the Bruins think will be their No. 1 defenseman in the next couple of seasons. At this point, it’s really just a question of how good McAvoy will be in his maiden voyage through the NHL.
Chances of cracking the NHL roster: Can’t miss.
2) ANDERS BJORK
Though he has yet to take even a single shift as a pro, Bjork, 21, the former Notre Dame standout, isn’t expected to need much of an adjustment period to make it at the next level. He's coming off 21 goals and 52 points in 39 games for the Fighting Irish last season while putting together a Hobey Baker Award-worthy campaign. Bjork has been the best forward among his prospect peers at B’s development camp in each of the past two off-seasons. The speedy, skilled and smart Bjork can play either left wing or right wing, so he may get looks in camp as both a left-side partner for David Krejci and as a right-side option with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The Bruins will be looking long and hard at their young options at both of those key spots in training camp after allowing Drew Stafford to leave via free agency this summer. The fact he’ll get those kinds of top-6 looks in camp tells you what the Bruins think of Bjork’s readiness and how much the B’s really need him to be NHL capable now. The guess here is that his top flight skating speed and hockey IQ will be a natural fit as a play-finisher with Krejci and that is where the left-shooting Bjork will end up to start the season. While it hasn’t always been an easy spot for a young player to break in with the notoriously exacting Krejci, Bjork could be up to it once he gets up to speed with NHL expectations. That may take no longer than his first full camp with the Black and Gold, and that’s certainly what the Bruins are banking on after they were ready to clear a playoff roster spot for him last spring.
Chances of cracking the roster: Highest among the B’s forward prospect crop.
3) JAKE DEBRUSK
DeBrusk, 20, might not be the player atop the Bruins prospect rankings or somebody who is projected to score 40 goals in the NHL, but the forward prospect might be the first of the B's 2015 first-round picks to make it to the NHL, ahead of Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn. The 6-foot, 181-pound DeBrusk went through his challenging development phase last season while spending all of it in Providence and enduring a first half where pucks weren’t falling for him as they had in junior hockey. DeBrusk stuck with it, however, and was Providence’s best player in the second half of the AHL season before finishing with a solid 19 goals and 49 points in 74 games. DeBrusk added another six goals and nine points in 17 AHL playoff games and should be fully prepared to compete for an NHL job this fall after that experience. His hockey smarts are obvious when you watch DeBrusk play the wing position and it’s clear he’s the son of an NHL player with the way that he thinks the game. He will use his size and strength to take pucks to the net, he knows where to go without the puck to get into scoring position and has really made strides in playing the all-around game. The real question with DeBrusk is whether he’s going to develop into a solid third -liner capable of kicking in offensively, or if he’s got the offensive goods to be a top-six NHL forward. It’s the same thing we’re still wondering about Frank Vatrano after two seasons. DeBrusk will need to be a steady provider of offense if he wants to reach that level. It’s still early enough in his development for that to eventually come along.
Chances of cracking the roster: Solid. It will be interesting to see DeBrusk and Vatrano go head-to-head while competing for similar openings. DeBrusk is about a year ahead of fellow 2015 first-rounder Senyshyn at this point.
4) DANTON HEINEN
Heinen, 22, is a bit of a forgotten man among the B’s prospects given that he got a few sips of coffee with the Bruins last season, but he’s still among the names in heavy contention for roster spots this fall. That’s based on how he finished last season in Providence after essentially willing himself invisible in his NHL time in Boston at the beginning of last season when he clearly wasn’t ready to go. Heinen finished with 14 goals and 44 points 64 games for the P-Bruins after going scoreless in eight NH games. He stepped it up with nine goals and 18 points in 17 AHL playoff games. Heinen finally looked much more like the projected highly productive offensive player who excelled in last fall’s NHL training camp. It seemed that Heinen finally developed that confidence with the puck that he displayed as a standout at the University of Denver. That had been missing in Boston, where he routinely went an entire game without even a shot on net. At his best, he’s a speedy, creative player who produces plenty of offense for those around him and would play a top-six role. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder is another left shot forward who can play either wing and could get looks at both of Boston’s open top-six spots particularly if Bjork shows he isn’t quite ready.
Chances of cracking the roster: Decent. The chances for Heinen will go up if either Bjork or DeBrusk open the door for him should they struggle.
5) JAKOB FORSBACKA KARLSSON
Initially, the thinking was that Forsbacka Karlsson would perhaps be one of the Bruins prospects with the best chance of cracking the NHL roster. The former Boston University standout had opted to leave BU last spring after his sophomore season and it looked like a spot was opening up as the B’s third-line center once the Bruins were seriously discussing Ryan Spooner in trade talks this summer. As it turned out, however, Spooner is back with the B’s for one more go-round and it would appear there isn’t much room for Forsbacka Karlsson, 20, to start this season. That isn’t the worst thing in the world, of course. Forsbacka Karlsson looked less-than-ready for the NHL in his one and only game for the Bruins late in the regular season. Instead, it would appear that the best course for the young two-way center would be to spend some time in Providence getting acquainted with the pro game and honing the skills that allowed him to post 14 goals and 33 points in 39 games with the Terriers last spring. Eventually, he projects to be a strong, smooth and smart two-way center on the third line behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and perhaps give Boston’s bottom-six a little more consistency than they’ve experienced in the past couple of years. It’s also possible Forsbacka Karlsson will get some looks on the wing in camp as a way to easing him into the NHL, but it certainly feels like Providence would be a better option as a learning environment for the Swedish youngster. It would have been ideal if Forsbacka Karlsson could have hopped on with Providence for their playoff run at the end of last season, but unfortunately, he was ruled out for AHL action once he appeared in that NHL cameo for Boston.
Chances of cracking the roster: Barring an amazing performance in camp, it would seem he's ticketed for the AHL to start the season.