Bruins

Bruins make first training camp cuts at 'difficult camp' for young hopefuls

Bruins make first training camp cuts at 'difficult camp' for young hopefuls

BRIGHTON, Mass. — The Bruins made their first cuts of NHL training camp over the weekend with their preseason schedule halfway over, and Providence Bruins camp for their AHL farm club set to begin on Monday. Young D-men Axel Andersson and Wiley Sherman were sent down to Providence this weekend, and Samuel Asselin, Chris Breen, Alexey Solovyev, Brendan Woods and Cooper Zech were all assigned to the P-Bruins as well.

The moves still leave the Bruins with a few young faces in NHL training camp as more veterans will be inserted into the lineup for the three home preseason games beginning tonight at TD Garden against the Philadelphia Flyers. But Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has been quick to point out that there aren’t many open spots for young hopefuls this time around for the Black and Gold coming off last year’s Stanley Cup Final run, and taking into account all of the different players with NHL contracts in this season’s camp.

“This year is a more difficult camp to find a spot in the lineup. We just have more returning players. It doesn’t mean you can’t beat a guy out, but it’s more difficult than maybe last year where we created some competition at different spots hoping that a young guy would take over. This year [there are fewer openings] just because of the trade for Coyle and the growth of [Karson] Kuhlman. There’s competition for that right wing spot with [David] Krejci, but we like what Kuhlman did.

“It makes it tougher for those young guys trying to crack the lineup. So what you’re trying to do is identify yourself as a depth player that can be the first call-up in certain situations. That’s about the best you can do with the hand you’re dealt.”

Take for example, young center Jack Studnicka, considered by most to be Boston’s top young prospect entering his first season as a pro. Studnicka has been solid in camp and did his best to bulk up a bit in his first real shot at an NHL job, but it’s also pretty apparent the 21-year-old is going to be best served by some development time in the AHL where he can keep getting bigger and stronger.

“It’s going to be tough in the middle for Jack. We’d have to move pieces around, which we said we would do [if he was ready]. But I don’t think he’s there yet and that’s fine. With Jack there is great hockey instincts and great will, but I just think he hasn’t grown into his body yet strength-wise. It is what it is,” said Cassidy. “But we like how he’s playing. Is he ready to unseat anybody? I wouldn’t say so yet.”

With the numbers beginning to get pared down, here’s the expected lineup for tonight’s first preseason game at TD Garden this fall. Conspicuously absent from Monday night’s starter-filled Bruins lineup is Patrice Bergeron, who should make his only preseason appearance in Saturday’s finale at TD Garden vs. the Blackhawks just a few days before the start of the regular season:

Marchand-Coyle-Pastrnak
DeBrusk-Krejci-Ritchie
Heinen-Frederic-Wagner
Lauko-Kuraly-Backes

Chara-Clifton
Vaakanainen-Petrovic
Zboril-Didier

Rask Vladar

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Bruins' Jake DeBrusk, Brett Ritchie trending toward return vs. Devils

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USA TODAY Sports Photos

Bruins' Jake DeBrusk, Brett Ritchie trending toward return vs. Devils

BRIGHTON, Mass. — The Bruins should get at least a couple of pieces of their team back from injuries for Tuesday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils.

Jake DeBrusk (lower body) and Brett Ritchie (upper body) both skated without restrictions in Monday morning’s practice at Warrior Arena, and it sounded like they would play against the Devils barring any setbacks following practice. For DeBrusk, it will be a welcome return after a five-game absence and he’ll hope to pick up where he left off with goals in each of the two games before he got hurt early in the first period against the Canadiens on November 5.

“I’m feeling good,” said DeBrusk, who has three goals and six points in 15 games this season. “I’ve obviously been missing the game, so it was great skating with the boys today. I scored in back-to-back games before Montreal, so I used the time [out with injury] to reflect on things and rejuvenate myself in a way. It was different things that were getting to me a little bit. I used the time to be more mature with my approach [to the game] coming back whenever that is going to be.”

Patrice Bergeron (lower body) didn’t skate with the Bruins on Monday and will be a game-time decision against the Devils while planning to travel with the team to New Jersey. Torey Krug (upper body) skated ahead of practice on Monday and could be nearing a return to the lineup as well, but he won’t be playing against the Devils.

“Ritchie and DeBrusk both skated and no residual effects right now, so we anticipate they’re going to play,” said Cassidy. “We’ll put them as game-time decisions. “Krug skated. He’s not available [against the Devils] so he’ll be available a little later as well.”

As far as other injured Bruins are concerned, Kevan Miller has had a couple of days off the ice, “won’t play this week” but is looking at a possible return to game action next week after he was not on the ice with the team on Monday morning. John Moore (shoulder surgery) did skate with the main group and continues to make progress in his recovery from offseason surgery.

Tuukka Rask will get the start against the Devils on Tuesday night, and both Brendan Gaunce and Urho Vaakanainen were called up to the Bruins ahead of Tuesday’s trip to New Jersey. It didn’t look like Gaunce will be playing against the Devils, however, unless somebody expected to play isn’t able to at game time.

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings for Tuesday night’s game vs. the Devils based on practice:

PROJECTED LINES

Brad Marchand David Krejci David Pastrnak
Anders Bjork Charlie Coyle Danton Heinen
Jake DeBrusk Par Lindholm Brett Ritchie
Joakim Nordstrom Sean Kuraly Chris Wagner

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS

Zdeno Chara Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk Brandon Carlo
Urho Vaakanainen Connor Clifton

STARTING GOALIE

Tuukka Rask

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Charlie McAvoy 'building (his) game' after slow start to Bruins season

Charlie McAvoy 'building (his) game' after slow start to Bruins season

The good news is that a physical challenge against a big, strong and offensively explosive Washington Capitals team brought out the best in Charlie McAvoy on Saturday night.

The bad news is that hasn’t been the norm this season for the 21-year-old McAvoy more than a month into the new NHL season. McAvoy picked up a couple assists in 23:23 of ice time in the shootout loss to the Caps, and even better, along with defense partner Zdeno Chara he was able to keep Alex Ovechkin under wraps throughout the game.

The two points would have been better, of course, and McAvoy quickly confirmed that after the game while also acknowledging that he played well.

“I tried to play hard on those guys and a big part of that is physicality,” said McAvoy. “[Ovechkin] ending up with zero is pretty nice. I can be happy with that, but I’m pretty pissed off that we pissed away two points.”

That was something to build on for a player in McAvoy who has just six assists in 20 games, and equaled half his offensive output from the first 19 games with the two helpers against Washington.

“He was terrific tonight. [The] level of competition tends to bring out the best in Charlie, and we certainly saw that [against the Capitals]. We needed it against a heavier group. I think he took the challenge head on. It’s a tougher game for the [Connor] Cliftons and the [Matt] Grzelcyks of the world,” said Bruce Cassidy of McAvoy, who one evening prior had been part of a defensive breakdown that led to a Maple Leafs goal when he wandered away from the front of the net. “[McAvoy] played a lot of minutes, and Charlie was really good in that way at both ends of the ice.

“I thought he was excellent. With Charlie, it’s just, he’s got to stay in the moment, that’s when he plays his best hockey. We’re not in there feeding him. It’s not information overload for that particular type of player. It’s protect the middle of the ice, be assertive with the puck when you see ice and make good decisions when to go. I thought [against the Capitals] a lot of it fell into place. He was up the ice at the right time, defending at the right time and not being vulnerable to a serious counterattack from a team that can finish. He wasn’t putting himself in bad spots. I thought that was the best part. As much as he was involved in the game, there wasn’t much risk. That’s a sign of a guy that’s growing.”

Now McAvoy faces the challenge of maintaining that high level of play and continuing to eliminate the tentativeness to his game. It certainly hasn’t been all bad as McAvoy is leading the Bruins with 22:21 of ice time per game and is a plus-8 for the season while routinely lining up against the other team’s best offensive players.

But he’s also on pace for just 25 points this season and is still looking for his first goal of the year, and hasn’t really managed to find the balance between offense and defense that makes for a true No. 1 defenseman at the NHL level.

Some of it has been a few unlucky bounces along the way for McAvoy and those he’s set up for scoring chances, but some of it is also about the paltry 20 shots he’s put on net in his 20 games played this season. Even in the Washington game, McAvoy missed high and wide with a golden scoring chance from the slot on a setup by David Krejci that eventually turned into a goal for David Pastrnak from a bad angle at the side of the net.

McAvoy talked about his game a couple of days ago ahead of the semi-breakthrough performance against Washington, and it was pretty clear the 21-year-old knew there was more for him to give out on the ice.

“For me, it’s just playing hockey. Every night I’m lucky and I’m happy I get to take a lot of pride in the defensive side of the game lining up against guys who are world class players. I really take pride in just shutting them down. [Chara] takes a lot of pride in that and he sets the precedent in how we approach those things,” said McAvoy. “Then it’s easy for me to follow his lead. Whatever the game presents is what I try and get [offensively]. I feel like I’m building my game right now. I’m trying to build it from the defensive zone out.

“Things just happen and you’ve just got to play and have fun. At times if I’m going through streaks where I’m not having much opportunity or chances, that’s when I look at it and say where I can start joining in more. But I feel like I’m getting these chances. Some of it is just shooting more, and some of it maybe is just bounces. It’s been kind of new to me where it’s a streak like this, but I think there’s a lot of guys on this team like me that are looking to break through and get on a roll. I know that if I build my game from the defense out and that I’m a defenseman first and foremost. If I can do the best I can every night to keep the puck out of our net, hopefully when we get to the other side of the net I can start helping put it in theirs.”

To put it in perspective, some hockey prognosticators — this humble hockey writer included — pegged McAvoy as a possible Norris Trophy candidate for this season, and he’s got a long way to go to achieve that level. There are encouraging signs he’s starting to make the climb there after a very slow start out of the gate, but McAvoy won’t be there until he becomes the Bruins' best D-man pretty much every night for long stretches of time.

McAvoy was exactly that against the Capitals, and now he needs to begin doing it again and again with Torey Krug out of the lineup due to injury, and Zdeno Chara unable to shoulder that kind of burden anymore nightly at 42 years old. The game Tuesday night in New Jersey won’t be as stimulating as a Saturday night game against a Capitals team that won the Cup a couple of seasons ago, so it might be a good test for McAvoy as he keeps building his game to a higher level.

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