Five Bruins rookies to watch at the Buffalo Prospects Challenge
Five Bruins rookies to watch at the Buffalo Prospects Challenge
With the Bruins rookies off to Buffalo for preseason games against the prospects from the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils organizations, there will be plenty of curiosity as to which players are going to stand out. Here are our top five choices for Black and Gold rookies to take over, dominate and impose their will on their peers at the Buffalo Prospects Challenge while getting their main training camp experience off to a very auspicious start.
1) Danton Heinen
If there’s one player that could use this weekend as the announcement of his presence to the NHL world with authority, it’s 21-year-old Heinen as he transitions from NCAA stardom to the real thing at the professional level. Heinen is more mature and developed after posting 36 goals and 93 points in 81 games for the University of Denver the past couple of seasons. He’s got the kind of playmaking ability that will flash in a wide-open preseason setting. It will be interesting to watch him as one of the best players on the ice versus a playmaker deferring to more established veterans as Heinen will likely be once main camp opens, but this is a perfect time for Heinen to really pursue his own offense rather than passing the puck. There are wing positions open on the Bruins roster over the next month and Heinen is one of the leading candidates to lock it down, if he can show that his game is closer to fully developed than some of his prospect peers. That proof begins this weekend when Heinen takes the ice as an older, experienced star offensive player who should really stand out in this environment.
2) Brandon Carlo
The 19-year-old stay-at-home defenseman might not be fully in his element in rookie games that can sometimes turn into offensive showcases, but he can show his snarl, his physicality and his ability to shut down the other team’s best offensive players. Carlo can also show that he’s really continued his upward trend in the puck-moving department against players in his peer group. One shouldn’t expect Carlo to drop the gloves to make any kind of statement to the Bruins brass, but the 6-foot-5 D-man should be noticeable by throwing his weight around whenever he’s on the ice as one of the biggest and strongest players on any of the rookie rosters. It’s expected that Carlo is going to start the season in Providence barring an overly impressive training camp, then gather some experience before getting some games in Boston this season. Still, the Colorado native can change the conversation starting this weekend if he looks like a big man among boys in the rookie camp games.
3) Jake DeBrusk
The former first-round pick is probably the least talked-about candidate for the NHL roster among the prospect candidates. The 19-year-old is still very young in both age and pro experience. But DeBrusk can also shoot the puck, has an exceptionally high hockey IQ and impressed Claude Julien last season with his willingness to do the little things that sometimes escape young players. Those kinds of qualities along with some really smart movement with and without the puck in the offensive zone could really translate at the pro level. DeBrusk could be a player that really elevates his standing after toughing out a year with injuries and adversity in junior last season. One thing about DeBrusk, however, is that he’ll need somebody to get him the puck in the places to do damage. He'll be at least partially dependent on the guys who he’s playing with this weekend. So if DeBrusk is paired with a potent playmaker, it could be a real eye-opening, eye-popping statistical weekend for the former Swift Current/Red Deer sniper. Like Carlo, DeBrusk is likely earmarked for the AHL, but could change the conversation if he can physically dominate in the offensive zone against players his own age.
4) Jakub Zboril
The 13th overall pick in 2015 had a bit of a down year at Saint John and that led some people to whisper that the young defensemen was already a bust less than a year after being drafted in the first round. That’s crazy talk, to be sure, and this weekend will give Zboril a chance to show what he can in a big game atmosphere, which is expected to be one of his strengths as a pro player. Sure, Zboril has some moments where his focus wanes and his work ethic has come under some scrutiny, but he also showed at July’s development camp that the skill, the physicality and the overall talent level is still strong. Zboril could be the kind of D-man that could really stand out in this environment given his propensity to line up big hits at the blue lines and his ability to effectively move and shot the puck like a first-round pick should. If Zboril has the kind of weekend his talent say he can, it could really become a momentum-shifter for the D-man as a prospect and it could start to make pushing for an NHL job a little more of a reality. There’s some level of uncertainty about where Zboril is going to play this season. The next few weeks are going to answer some of those questions. The B’s would also really like to see Zboril step up and show he can do after hearing some criticism over the past year following a solid draft year.
5) Jeremy Lauzon
The 2015 second-round pick continues to rise up the Bruins prospect rankings and is becoming one of the brightest spots for a B’s back end that could be looking pretty good a couple of years from now. He had 10 goals and 50 points in 46 games for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies last season and was just about a point-per-game player during the junior playoffs. Lauzon had a scary neck injury where he was caught by a skate blade in the Memorial Cup playoffs, but he returned from that scare without any problems. That should make a rookie tournament in Buffalo a piece of cake for Lauzon against the Sabres and Devils prospects. It should also highlight Lauzon’s compete level along with his skills. Don Sweeney said that Lauzon did something in every junior hockey playoff game to make him stand up and take notice of the player and one should expect the same thing in his first real moments to make a first impression about his NHL readiness. Lauzon isn’t always as flashy as Zboril at either end of the ice, but the smoothness to his blue-line game belies the great effort level he brings. Making it look easy is one of the hardest things to do on the frozen sheet.