BRIGHTON, Mass – With the days numbering just a few until final NHL rosters are due into the league offices on Tuesday, Bruce Cassidy has an idea of where he’s going with most of his roster headed into Saturday night’s preseason finale in Chicago.
With the caveat that nothing is concrete until the final list is submitted on Tuesday afternoon, it’s just about an automatic that Anders Bjork has won the top-six, right-wing job alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Anton Khudobin will be the backup goaltender provided he gets through Saturday’s start without any issues and it looks as if Sean Kuraly has won a job to start the season after a solid training camp.
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Jake DeBrusk isn’t quite in the same “lead-pipe lock” status that fellow rookie Bjork is for Thursday's opening night roster, but it looks like the 20-year-old former first-round pick will make the cut if he can show a little offense against the Blackhawks in his final exhibition tune-up.
“Bjork seems like he’s going to be a fit. We’ve played him with [Bergeron] and [Marchand], but he can play the other side. So he could flip and play the other side with Krejci and Pastrnak as well. We haven’t looked at that much, but it could happen,” said Cassidy. “But we like where his game is at right now. DeBrusk, we’re going to keep in there and we’re looking for a few more things out of his game. We like it as well, but we think that Bjork is the furthest ahead of all the young guys.
“We like where Kuraly’s game has been as far as what he brings: Energy and the ability to turn pucks over. It has really turned into a lot of offense, but we believe that it will over time as he continues to play like that. We’re looking at him as a wing tonight rather than center, and he may be a guy that moves around. I’ve liked Danton Heinen’s game. We haven’t talked about him as much, but we want to get another look at him with [Ryan] Spooner as more of a skill guy. There’s no concrete decision on the sixth defensemen yet, and I think [Anton Khudobin] is ready to go as the backup. That’s where I have him. Bjork looks like he’ll start in the lineup, and then we have some spots to fill in down below [among the forwards]. The game matters tonight more for that area.”
DeBrusk came close to scoring in his last preseason game before it was wiped away due to goaltender interference, and Cassidy wants to see the young left winger play at the higher pace he knows he’s capable of when he’s pushing forward.
“[We’d like to see] a little finish around the net. That would be good for [DeBrusk’s] confidence. When you’re playing up in the lineup [in a top-six spot] that will be talked about if you can’t finish,” said Cassidy. “Be a little more proactive skating. There are times when he really pops out of the pile and off he goes skating. He’s shown spurts of that, but let’s see that all the time.
“Coming down the wing let’s not pull up with the puck, but let’s continue to attack and make your plays with your feet moving. He’s a good skater, and if he’s going to make our team it’s going to be because he adds foot speed. That’s what we want out of that younger group, and that’s what they’ve been advertised as.”
Clearly, there are still jobs up for grabs among the bottom-six with Noel Acciari, Matt Beleskey, Frank Vatrano, Danton Heinen, Teddy Purcell, Tim Schaller and Kuraly all in Saturday night’s lineup, and likewise Matt Grzelcyk, Robbie O’Gara and Paul Postma all competing for a fill-in spot while Krug sits out with a fractured jaw.
So, it should be a competitive effort from a group of hungry Bruins on Saturday night in their final dress rehearsal prior to opening night and several players keenly aware that NHL employment might hinge on the final impression they leave with the coaching staff.