Observations from Day 4 of Bruins Development Camp

Observations from Day 4 of Bruins Development Camp

BRIGHTON, Mass – Here are the thoughts and observations from the fourth and final day of Bruins Development Camp at Warrior Ice Arena. 


1)  Best players from the camp in my estimation were Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato, a pair of mid-round picks that have been groomed and developed at strong NCAA programs while also serving as two of the older forwards among the prospect group. Bjork has speed and strength on his skates, an ability to finish off plays as he showed with one-timers and taking pucks strong to the net and has the kind of polish that most of these younger, up-and-coming prospects are striving for at this point in their careers. Donato has always showed a strong shot and the kind of motor you expect from a kid that’s grown up with hockey in his blood, but now he’s got a little more size and a little more speed to dominate among his peers. It was difficult for other camp prospects to separate him from the puck, and he took it hard to the net every chance he was on the ice. It remains to be seen what Donato does in terms of his NCAA career playing for his dad at Harvard, but he looks like he’s going to close to ready for pro hockey as he enters his junior campaign for the Crimson. 

2)  We had some fun with Jesse Gabrielle and the frosted tips he’s sporting during yesterday’s thoughts and observations, but one thing stands out about Gabrielle above and beyond the talent. The kid clearly has some kind of inner fire and drive to improve and show what he can do, and it manifests in the things that he does in between drills and scrimmages. Gabrielle is constantly skating around, shooting and working on something as other guys rest and recharge for the next drill, and that kind of energy and drive is exactly the sort of thing you want to see in a young player fighting for a job. Gabrielle has posted good numbers in junior hockey and could be the type to rest on his laurels if he really wanted to be, but Gabrielle showed this week that there should be a future for him in the Bruins organization as a Brad Marchand-type player that hopes he can hit something close to that ceiling. 

3)  I like the skating and lack of panic in Urho Vaakenainen’s game that translates well to breaking pucks out of the zone and transitioning quickly, and should make him a longtime pro in the NHL ready to go a couple of years from now. You can see the potential there, and there is tremendous value with those kinds of players. But you can see the lack of creativity and spark to his offensive game when he was playing in the half-ice 3-on-3 drills, and that’s something that may never be there for him on the back end. Clearly he’s not billed as an offensive defenseman per se, and some of that will develop over time as he parlays skill and opportunity into genuine improvement. But some of that offensive skill is a “either you have it or you don’t” kind of thing, and I’m not sure Vaakenainen is ever going to be a dynamic offensive defenseman. More like a solid mid-pairing guy that can play in all situations, put up a decent amount of points and be the kind of solid pro that every team needs. 

4) The first thing you notice about Zach Senyshyn is the speed and the way he can change gears when he’s skating, and he can surprise players by blowing by them when he really turns on the jets. But he showed an increased level of physicality as well in the 1-on-1 battles. At one point he just blew Oskar Steen off the puck during a battle between the two forward prospects, and you saw Steen’s stick go flying as Senyshyn moved the puck back down the other end of the ice in half-ice 3-on-3 drills. That was one area where Senyshyn looked a little wide-eyed in past camps, so adding a little more physicality to the speed package is a necessary ingredient for a player that’s been blessed with the size and the natural gifts already. 

5) Trent Frederic has done some good work in the weight room. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 205-pounds and was always a good-sized kid, but a year at the University of Wisconsin has him showing off man strength among teen-aged prospects. He easily carved out space in front of the net and won puck battles in the small spaces caused by the 3-on-3 drills, and continues to look like he’ll be a good third line center at the NHL level. The offensive game is still a little basic with Frederic despite the good numbers in college last season, and there isn’t much he does that’s of the flashy variety. He’ll also continue to be judged as a guy the B’s took at the end of the first round rather than rolling the dice on the undersized, ultra-skilled Alex Debrincat. But Frederic clearly a hard worker and a leader given the way he operates with his peers in the dressing room, and that will translate to the pro game well along with the size/strength talent that he brings to the table. 

6)  Guys like Wiley Sherman, Cedric Pare and Jack Becker are all big bodies that have some degree of skill or ability at their respective positions, but it’s really tough to judge them in the development camp environment. The skills aren’t going to make them jump off the page and there are too many older, experienced players at the camp for them to physically dominate with any size advantages they do have. Pare had a tough start to camp in terms of showing anything offensively, but he was a bit better as the week went on to at least show a bit of what the B’s scouts are seeing in him. Of the big-bodied prospects, Joona Koppanen might have been the best one all week as he showed some pretty decent skill to go along with the ideal 6-foot-5 size he brings up front. 

7)  Jeremy Swayman was the best of the goalies in camp, in this humble writer’s hockey opinion. He was big, athletic and quick from post-to-post while showing good competitiveness on each and every play around him. I just have not seen it with Daniel Vladar, who is huge size-wise and should have the advantage given his pro hockey resume. He’s way too inconsistent at this point in his career and doesn’t really look like the heir apparent for the Bruins with Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban entering into a career phase where they’re looking to break into the NHL as back-ups. 

8)  In all, this was a solid Bruins development camp. Not as star-studded or high-end quality as the past couple of seasons when guys like Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo were on the ice among the prospects. But there are still some good players coming through the B’s system that should be competing for jobs this season and beyond for a Bruins team that needs to keep producing young talent in a salary cap era. 

Tuukka Rask back with Bruins after 'making things right' with family

File Photo

Tuukka Rask back with Bruins after 'making things right' with family

BRIGHTON -- Tuukka Rask didn’t get into details about his leave of absence over the weekend other than to say it involved “making things right” in his family life, but says he's ready to get going in his role as goalie for the Boston Bruins.

Rask participated in a full practice with the B’s -- who sent rookie Daniel Vladar back to Providence -- ahead of their West Coast road swing, and said he’s excited to jump back into action.

Rask gave quick “yes” answers when asked if his family was okay, and if he believed the personal matter was resolved at this point. That’s all good news for both the player, Rask, and the team, and the goaltender was appreciative of the time the B’s allowed him over a three-day period to address his off-the-ice life.

“First and foremost I want to thank all the people that sent me messages, that contacted me and that supported me," he said. "Second I’d like to thank the Boston Bruins for giving me some time off to be with my family. I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this family with the Boston Bruins. We talk about it a lot that it’s a family and we take care of each other when times are tough.

“That being said, I have a job and my job is to be a hockey goalie for the Boston Bruins. I also have another job title and that’s a family man. This was a time that deep inside my heart I felt like I needed to take this time with my family and make things right so I could be back here and focus on my job. That took three days. I’m back here. I’m back to work and I’m ready to battle with these guys. At the end of the day I realized that the hockey career is a very short career, and your life afterward is a lot longer after that. I got the privacy and time I needed, and now I’m ready to move on.”

The Bruins goalie was confident that the issues were resolved to the point where they wouldn't be a potential distraction again. Rask also said he wouldn’t use the personal matter as an excuse for his performance this season, but he has absolutely looked distracted to this point in the season with 3.05 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage while losing playing time to the red-hot Jaroslav Halak.

“It doesn’t matter. It hasn’t affected my job,” said Rask, who said he never considered stepping away from the Bruins permanently or needing a change of scenery. “I’m not going to make excuses that I played good games or bad games because of my personal life. This was just a time where I needed to take some time for my family’s future and I’m glad that I did.”

Now Rask and the Bruins will move after things came to a head last weekend, and Halak will start on Wednesday night against a high-powered Colorado Avalanche group that boasts a super top line of its own. Bruce Cassidy indicated that Rask will get in there at some point on the road trip, but it won’t be at the sacrifice of playing Halak while he remains in the brick-wall mode that he’s been in for pretty much the entire season so far.

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Bruins trade rumors, contract talk and more in this week's Hagg Bag

Bruins trade rumors, contract talk and more in this week's Hagg Bag

The Bruins showed the best and worst of themselves over a four day period as they lost to Vancouver while giving up eight goals, and then swept the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights in a couple of back-to-back weekend games with Tuukka Rask on a leave of absence. Just another day in the life of the Black and Gold, so with that in mind let’s crack open the Hagg Bag mailbag. As always these are real tweets from real fans sent to my twitter account using the #HaggBag mailbag, real messages sent to NBCS Facebook fan page and emails sent to my email account. Now on to the bag:


No one expected the Bruins to get as far as they did last year. They squeaked past Toronto and were no match for Tampa. The playoffs showed they pretty much sank and swam by the production of the first line. Tampa stayed the same and Toronto upgraded big time and with the start of the season it’s pretty much the same thing thing with points coming from first line. I feel if they don’t make a move to help with the scoring they might not even make the playoffs, let alone go far in them no matter who is in net. If they don’t make a move and start to drop do you see them unloading any of the veterans? 


JH: Your analysis is pretty spot on, Chris. The Bruins biggest addition in the offseason was most definitely Jaroslav Halak as we’re seeing right now with him second in the NHL in goals against average and save percentage more than a month into the season. But they were too top heavy in the postseason last year and they didn’t make any significant outside improvements to change that while relying on kids like Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork to step up and fill the void. Instead they’ve been filling it with Joakim Nordstrom on the second line, which will do for right now but isn’t going to be a permanent top-6 solution on David Krejci’s line.

The good news is that it looks like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson may be ready to handle the third line center duties. At least it looks good after a couple of games, and it’s brought the best out of both Bjork and Heinen too. But that leaves the Bruins one top-6 forward short of a team that could do some damage in the playoffs, and leaves them with a need to make a deal at some point soon. It remains to be seen how they’re going to accomplish that, but they were in a similar spot last season and landed Rick Nash at the trade deadline. They were good enough to get 112 points, good enough to advance a round in the playoffs and would have been a deeper forward group if Nash had lived up to expectations. I think this is a playoff team as currently constituted right now mostly because that top line will allow them to beat most of the mediocre-to-bad teams out there. But they’ll need another established goal-scorer, and preferably somebody with some size and nasty to their game, if they’re going to be a real threat this season. They’re not there yet and Don Sweeney has some work to do.

All that being said, I don’t see the Bruins becoming sellers this season. No way they do that with the current talent level on the team, and no way they should based on where they are in the Atlantic Division pecking order. We’re talking about a team that’s 10-5-2 in their first 17 games and has the assets to make a deal to improve the team. All things considered, they’re not in a bad spot at all.   

Hey Haggs, 

Just wondering what you think about Charlie McAvoy seemingly always being hurt.  I love him as a player and think he has a great future ahead of him, but could this possibly affect how much he’ll make on his next contract.  Hopefully the Bruins can get him at a reasonable number this summer.  He’s a great player, but he’s not worth the 7-7.5 million I’ve been hearing so far.  He will be sooner or later, but I just don’t think he’s there yet.  I’m also wondering if Sweeney is regretting not bringing a veteran forward in over the summer to help the second line.  I wanted them to go after Skinner.  What do they do now that they sent Donato back to Providence?  It’s kinda earlier to start trading, but I’m not opposed to that at all.


JH: It’s too early to put any labels on McAvoy given his talent level and his youthful age. He was going to need a monster season to haul in that kind of a second contract, and it doesn’t appear that it’s going that way at this point. So perhaps a little bit of a silver lining to the McAvoy injuries is that it will cut down on his price tag coming out of his entry level contract, but that’s little reassurance to the Bruins. They want McAvoy on the ice where he can help them, and it looks like he’s headed in that direction now that he’s back on the ice again.

The Bruins are going to be okay for the time being riding the top line and plugging somebody into the David Krejci line. It’s a temporary fix, though, and it clearly paves the way for Sweeney to need to make an in-season deal for a top-6 winger. It is early to start trading, but we’ve also seen plenty of Anaheim and LA Kings execs/scouts at Bruins games over the last few weeks to think it’s completely dead. The Bruins are talking to other teams and know they could use more scoring punch and some more size up front, and perhaps can make a deal to address both of those before the burden becomes too heavy on Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

Hi Joe!

First, all Bruins fans should hope Tuukka will be fine as a person after his requested leave from team. 
Second, hopefully he comes back stronger as the ‘elite’ goalie that he has been......again, on his time.  We forget these guys are under the ‘spotlight’ and have other daily matters to deal with same as fans. Hockey players are the least attention grabbing of all other major sports athletes including college and amateur levels and yet, are the most professional and generous with their time!
Kanpai (cheers) to Tuukka and the Bruins!

Ron Saitama, Japan

JH: Well said, Ron. All you can hope for is that Tuukka Rask comes back stronger, more centered and all-around better after getting some time to deal with his personal affairs. I may take issue with his consistency on the ice and how much he’s being paid based on the performance, but I’ve always liked Rask off the ice. He’s funny, he’s pretty honest about things and he’s an interesting guy that has a lot of interests outside of hockey.


Will the Bruins trade for a center or a winger?

--Michael Boldiga (via NBCSN Facebook fan page)

JH: Yes. I think they will. If I had to guess, I think they’ll eventually trade for a winger. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to give up assets for a third line center when they have both JFK and Trent Frederic in the minors as players that will be ready sooner rather than later. You look at Joakim Nordstrom’s spot on the second line as the place where the Bruins badly need to upgrade, and give Krejci another weapon on his line now that it looks like Jake DeBrusk is starting to get going.

I have faith in Heinen and DeBrusk to chip in more and more as the season continues. Not sold on Bjork or JFK. Need more sample size. But at least Backes has been moved. Next step is to buy him out.

--Matias Halluchuck (@mhall3333)

JH: Interesting to see the Bruins scratch Noel Acciari for the last few games, and install Backes on the fourth line where he’s actually been pretty good with Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly. It’s tough to see a player taking up a $6 million cap space on the fourth line, but it would be eased a bit if Backes could chip in some offense to that line and make some things happen by causing some havoc in front of the net. Do I see them buying out Backes and paying a portion of his contract for the next handful of years? No, I don’t see them doing that. But it’s also just simple reality that the number of concussions that Backes has suffered could begin to take their toll as he becomes a bit more of a slow-moving target on the ice at 34 years old. The Bruins made the right call moving him off the center position after trying him out on the third line, and now they need to let him find his game with a little consistency in both his linemates and his role. 

That’s all for the Bag this week. See you next week. 

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