Bruins rookies to watch in training camp
Last season, the Bruins had the kind of NHL rookie class that draft-and-development challenged organizations can wait decades for.
Charlie McAvoy was a wire-to-wire legit Calder Trophy candidate as one of the best young D-men in the league. Danton Heinen was among the top NHL rookie scorers for most of the season, and embraced the kind of two-way play that’s going to get him more and more responsibility as he matures into a finished product on the wing. Sean Kuraly was a solid fourth line center that brought size, face-off ability and two-way play that will get him an audition for a third line center spot this season. Matt Grzelcyk became a bottom-pairing staple that worked his way into the everyday lineup and featured the kind of puck-moving ability that will earn him a long career at the NHL level. Jake DeBrusk carved out a niche as a top-6 winger that came up clutch in the postseason and appears to have the goods to be a consistent 20-goal scorer at the NHL level once he fully matures.
There were others, of course, but those were the first year players that popped for the Black and Gold last season. With another wave of talented young B’s prospects on the way, here’s a look at the top rookie candidates in this season’s Bruins training camp that will open rookie camp at Warrior Ice Arena on Thursday morning.
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson
The 21-year-old Swedish center has already made his one-game NHL debut two seasons ago, but he spent all of last year in Providence making the transition from college hockey to the pros. JFK finished with 15 goals and 32 points in 58 games for the P-Bruins, and played in all situations while showing off the two-way capabilities that he was featured to have after being a second-round pick. Forsbacka Karlsson was solid at the AHL level last season, and will be in the mix for the open third line center position during training camp. JFK will be making the trip overseas to China and is expected to get a long look for one of the few open spots on the NHL roster, but it remains to be seen if he needs to keep developing his game in Providence. Forsbacka Karlsson could still use a little more size and strength added to his lithe frame to withstand the physical rigors of the NHL, but his mature two-way game might be enough to get him to the NHL right now.
The 20-year-old Frederic is very young and very raw after spending the last couple of seasons at the University of Wisconsin, but he’s also 6-foot-3, 215-pounds with a ready-made physical game at the NHL level. Frederic averaged 16 goals and 32 points for the Badgers over the last couple of seasons, and certainly has a big man’s offensive game with size, strength and tenacity around the net. Something like that could work really well with a David Backes-type winger and another physical banger on the other wing, and could give the Bruins a really interesting, bruising third line to check other teams. Frederic finished with five goals and eight points in 13 games for the P-Bruins in a late season cup of coffee at the end of his college hockey season, and certainly looked like he might be ready to make the NHL jump as well. Frederic will be in that open audition for the third line center spot and could be the kind of player that quickly pops up and seizes control of the competition if he can do enough of the little things well to go along with his big man’s game.
The 19-year-old Studnicka will also be headed over to China along with Frederic and Forsbacka Karlsson, and all three will get a long look at the open third line center spot before the traveling group returns to Boston. Studnicka scored 22 goals and 72 points in 66 games for the Oshawa Generals last season, and then was a point-per-game player in five appearances for the Providence Bruins while looking confident and competent at the AHL level. Studnicka still has OHL eligibility left if he’s not ready for full-time duty in Boston, so he would really have to go above and beyond to win the third line center job over guys like Frederic and JFK that are ahead of him on the development chain. But there’s also something undeniably special about him as a prospect, and it was clear that Studnicka was one of the best players on the ice during development camp a couple of months ago. So he’ll get his look in preseason along with all of the other candidates, and could win a job if he really surprises at his precocious young age.
The 21-year-old Senyshyn is a former first-round pick with size, skating speed and a goal-scoring ability that he showed early and often during his junior hockey days. It wasn’t quite as easy to post the big numbers in his first go-round in the AHL last season as Senyshyn had 12 goals and 26 points in 66 games, and wasn’t exactly the same kind of consistent offensive force one might have expected him to be. Still, Senyshyn is 6-foot-3, 200-pounds and can skate like the wind, so things could come quickly for him if everything falls into place for him with one of the openings on the wing. More than likely Senyshyn is headed back to Providence where consistency and getting to the dirty scoring areas will be a couple of the orders of the day, but a lot of young wingers are going to get looks at training camp. The problem for Senyshyn is that both Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato are well ahead of him on the developmental depth chart with some NHL experience, and that gives them a major inside track for NHL roster spots this fall.
The 23-year-old Fitzgerald was very good in his first season with the Providence Bruins while posting 21 goals and 37 points in 65 games, and clearly has some offense that he could bring to a potential bottom-6 role with the Black and Gold. It’s going to be an uphill climb for Fitz to win a job based on the other NHL contracts that are already present for gigs in Boston, but the Bruins have shown a willingness to make room if a young player shows that they’re ready. It could be that Fitzgerald is another forward that’s a year or two away based on Boston’s current situation with their forward group, but with a standout camp the former Boston College standout could make it a really tough decision for the B’s coaching staff. The thing that Fitzgerald has over a lot of the other young B’s forward prospects is his innate hockey instincts and his willingness to play a grittier game that’s probably going to be his pathway to the NHL.
Urho Vaakanainen/Jakub Zboril
Vaakanainen and Zboril are both former first-round picks that will get appropriate looks during training camp and will most likely show flashes here or there, but there’s also got to be an honesty about their presence in camp. With eight legit NHL defensemen already signed to the Bruins, neither of these young D-men has any shot of making the NHL roster out of camp unless there’s a major injury or a major trade to free up the logjam. Otherwise, it’s going to be about Vaakanainen getting some experience in North American at the pro level before heading to Providence, and Zboril showing the Bruins that he’s ready to play if he’s needed at some point during the season. Zboril had a decent first pro season with four goals and 19 points along with a plus-12 rating in 68 games for the P-Bruins, and was much better in the second half after getting used to his surroundings in the first half. If he can continue to build on that with a strong training camp, it could go a long way toward getting him a look in Boston this season. But the signing of John Moore to a five-year contract this summer sure makes it seem like Zboril is far away from establishing himself with the Black and Gold.