Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins should take a pass on Will Butcher

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Haggerty: Bruins should take a pass on Will Butcher

Almost a year ago, the Boston Bruins were readying their best pitches when the so-called Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes saw them as a finalist for his sought-after services.

Vesey waited out the draft rights of the Nashville Predators that expired on Aug. 15, and the Bruins rolled out the red carpet for the former Harvard University standout. The Bruins obviously didn’t end up landing Vesey as he chose the New York Rangers, instead.

Don’t expect history to repeat itself when Hobey Baker winning University of Denver defenseman Will Butcher becomes a free agent next month.

The 22-year-old offensive defenseman capped off a strong four-year college career with seven goals and 37 points in 43 games for the Pioneers and has indicated that he’s not going to sign with the Colorado Avalanche as a former fifth-round pick.

There will be plenty of interest in the 5-foot-10, 186-pound Butcher as teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs are lining up for a shot to sign the talented youngster. That’s a great situation for Butcher to be in, but that doesn’t mean the Bruins need to be one of those NHL suitors.

There is an NHL need in Boston for a left-shot defenseman that Don Sweeney has been looking to fill all summer, and it’s no mystery the Bruins organization values the world of college hockey where they’ve uncovered D-men prospects like Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk over the last five years.

What the Bruins don’t need is another undersized, unproven youngster on their back end while 21-year-old Brandon Carlo enters his second full NHL season, and 20-year-old McAvoy readies for his first full pro hockey season in Boston. Instead, they really could have used a battle-tested, grizzled veteran D-man on the left side capable of being an on-ice tutor as McAvoy’s D-partner this season, and that’s what they were unsuccessfully looking for via free agency or trade earlier this summer.

That never worked out for Don Sweeney and the Black and Gold, so the expectation is that Kevan Miller is going to play on his “off” left side as a defense partner for the gifted McAvoy. It’s not a perfect solution given Miller’s limited time playing on his left side last season, but it’s better than potentially signing Butcher and rolling with two rookies together on the same pairing, or elevating the undersized Torey Krug to a top-4 pairing with McAvoy.

Beyond that practical reason, there’s also the simple fact that there’s little room at the inn for another young left shot defenseman prospect knocking the door at the NHL level. The Bruins need to get good looks at Jakob Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon in training camp, and have Robbie O’Gara and Grzelcyk pushing for more looks at the NHL level over the next year as well. This doesn’t even mention Urho Vaakanainen, who is expected to play in North America for the Bruins organization in 2018-19 after getting selected in the first-round last month.

So there is a plethora of young left shot D-men prospects already in Boston’s ranks and adding another one in Butcher shouldn’t be any kind of priority for a team already bursting with talented young players. The clear need for this team on the back end is a bigger, stronger and more well-rounded eventual replacement for the 40-year-old Zdeno Chara on the left side, rather than a 5-foot-10, 186-pound college hockey player that sounds much more in the Krug mold.

Clearly that kind of power play quarterback and offensive D-man is going to be a solid addition for any NHL team if he turns into even half the player Krug has become in Boston, but the B’s already have that guy in their lineup for the foreseeable future while coming off a career-high 51 points last season. 

What We Learned in B's 4-2 win over Kings

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What We Learned in B's 4-2 win over Kings

Here’s What We Learned in the Bruins 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on Saturday night:

1. Not only is Charlie McAvoy rounding into form after a first half full of injuries and getting up to speed, but he’s starting to regain that confidence and clutch ability that he regularly flashed in previous seasons in a Bruins uniform. After a rough game on Friday night against the Ducks, the 21-year-old McAvoy bounced back with a clutch game-winning goal late in the third period against the Kings on Saturday. It was a sweet give-and-go play with Jake DeBrusk to score the goal in the final two minutes of regulation play, and sparked a two-goal outburst that allowed the B’s to finish the second night of road back-to-back games with a big time kick. But it wasn’t just the final play for McAvoy. He finished with a plus-1 in 19:16 of ice time, four shots on net, six shot attempts, three hits and a pair of blocked shots in an excellent all-around effort. McAvoy continues to put together consistently excellent efforts over the last few weeks, and has two goals, four points and a plus-8 in eight games during the month of February while playing like a No. 1 D-man in the making.

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2. The Bruins continue to put themselves in a very good position. They’ve now won five games in a row and moved past the Maple Leafs for second in the Atlantic Division, which would give them home ice advantage in a repeat first round rematch against the Maple Leafs if the season ended right now. It would also put two of the NHL’s best teams, according to points, in the first round of the playoffs, which is perhaps inevitable given how stacked the Atlantic Division has been this season at the very top. But credit where it’s due with the Bruins, who continue to play very well when injuries throw a monkey wrench into their plans. One other correlation between the B’s winning streaks and a common denominator from their play: The Bruins get great goaltending whenever they start stringing together wins in a row and making a push up the standings. Jaroslav Halak was excellent in shutting out the Ducks on Friday night, and Tuukka Rask was similarly excellent in the 4-2 win over the Kings including a stupendous double-stack stave on Alex Iafallo in the second period when things were still very tight with the Kings.

3. The jury is out on Karson Kuhlman. The center played under 10 minutes of ice time and had a shot blocked in his only mark on the stat sheet. Credit Kuhlman for not looking out of place and for playing a strong all-around 200-foot game, but he also didn’t do much to distinguish himself from anybody else, or from being more of a factor than David Backes is on most nights after Backes was the one scratched in place of him. He’ll certainly get more of a look given the strong game he played in Providence, but he’ll need to be better than he was on Saturday if he wants to stick around Boston. 

PLUS

*Charlie McAvoy scored the game-winning goal, filled up the stat sheet in almost 20 minutes of ice time and generally played another excellent game against the Kings and one of his NHL role models in Drew Doughty.

*Tuukka Rask stopped 23-of-25 shots that he faced, and made a highlight reel-worthy double-stacked save on Alex Iafallo in the second period during an odd-man rush for the Kings. Rask made 10 saves in that pivotal second period and did a good job of keeping the Bruins in it.

*Jake DeBrusk has now scored goals in three straight games and is riding a hot streak to rival the cold stretch where he didn’t score a goal for over a month.

MINUS

*Drew Doughty was on ice for three of the four goals allowed by the Kings, and that is something you really don’t see every day. He wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t his usual Doughty-self either while being forced to play almost 30 minutes of ice time.

*Anze Kopitar finished a minus-2 and lost 12-of-19 face-offs in an uncharacteristically bad game for the usually adept two-way center. Call it to the Patrice Bergeron factor if you want, as he always seems to play top level against his Selke Trophy-winning peers.

*Matt Grzelcyk finished a minus-1 and looked rusty for the Bruins after returning to the lineup from a lower body injury that cost him the last few games played for the Black and Gold.  

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This stat shows Bruins forward Brad Marchand's impressive consistency

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This stat shows Bruins forward Brad Marchand's impressive consistency

There's no question Boston Bruins star Brad Marchand is one of the best wingers in the NHL, and consistency has become a huge reason for that.

Marchand scored a goal in Saturday night's 4-2 road win against the Los Angeles Kings, giving him a team-leading 70 points (also leads the team with 47 assists) through 58 games. It's his third straight season with 70-plus points, moving him higher on an impressive list of scoring wingers in Bruins history.

Hitting the 70-point mark in three consecutive seasons is pretty good, and Marchand is the first Bruin to accomplish that feat since Marc Savard from 2006-07 through 2008-09.

Marchand has scored at better than a point-per-game level in each of the last two seasons, and he's projected to do it again in 2018-19. His current pace would put him at just under 98 points by the end of the regular season. Marchand also is well on his way to finishing as the B's top scorer for the third consecutive campaign. 

The Bruins are on a 10-game point streak (including five wins in a row) entering Monday night's game against the San Jose Sharks. Marchand has tallied 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) during the team's point streak, serving as the catalyst for the Boston's offense without leading goal scorer David Pastrnak, who will miss several weeks with a thumb injury.

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