Bruins

With Bruins youth served, there are still plenty of lessons to be learned

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With Bruins youth served, there are still plenty of lessons to be learned

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins youth movement has gone remarkably well through the first three months of the season.

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-Charlie McAvoy, just 19, is a contender for the Calder Trophy and leads all first-year players in ice time while excelling in all aspects of the game. 

-Jake DeBrusk has endured through some ups and downs in a top-six role alongside David Krejci and has played a key role in a number of Bruins wins this season while on pace for a solid 19 goals and 44 points. 

-Danton Heinen has erased the memory of his ineffectual NHL audition last season and has established himself as a third-line winger while on pace for 19 goals and 53 points as a solid 200-foot player.

-Anders Bjork is currently in a quiet period, but he’s shown enough speed and skill to be able to live up to the hype. 

-Sean Kuraly has been solid as a fourth-line center and Matt Grzelcyk is beginning to establish himself as a puck-moving defenseman capable of holding up an NHL job. 

This doesn’t even mention guys like Noel Acciari and Brandon Carlo that are still in the first few seasons of their NHL development and continue on an upward trend for the Black and Gold.   

Despite all of these positive developments, there are still going to be teaching moments and frequent lessons for the young Bruins. 

The Thursday night loss to the Washington Capitals was one of those moments with a standout youngster McAvoy getting pushed around by the big, strong Cap. Bjork finished with a season low in ice time while getting benched in the second and third periods. He may even get scratched for Saturday’s game vs. the Rangers after simply not being hard enough on the puck recently.

As the season goes along the intensity, the speed and the physicality is going to heighten around the league and a game against a big, strong, deep and dangerous team such as Washington was a good reminder of that for Boston’s rookies.

“This league has different levels as you go along. It’s tough enough for the young guys when they’re healthy, so there’s another level happening that [Anders Bjork] is going to have to catch up. I think it’s a little more physical. I think he’s getting pushed off pucks now, and you’re starting to see it against some of, you know, the men,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We knew that coming in that there’d be a time where that may or may not happen with all the young guys. We saw that with [Danton] Heinen last year. He’s kind of figured it out.

“[Against Washington] Charlie [McAvoy] had a tough time. You know, he got pushed off some pucks and beat one-on- one, so it happens to a lot of guys. That’s a good hockey club. It’s a good test for those guys to understand what it takes. You know, Grizz [Matt Grzelcyk], not so much. I thought, you know, his quickness allowed him to get in and out of spots, but that’s where Anders is right now, and he’s got to fight his way through it.”

Certainly it’s the kind of first-year learning process that every NHL player goes through, so there’s a level of patience and understanding from the veteran guys that have been there. Patrice Bergeron broke into the NHL as the youngest player in the league and knows it better than most.

“You’re going to see that during the season, especially for young guys. So I think it’s about going back to what you do best,” said Bergeron. “I think when you move your feet and you stop and start in the right position, things fall get back and fall back into place. He’s right there and the plays are going to come back to him, I think it’s part of being a professional and being a young guy and learning. I’m not worried about it.”

Clearly, the Bruins aren’t worried about it while knowing full well this would be a learning curve for the rookies, and that the rare instance where the rooks are taken to school will help the team out in the long run. 

Bruins go home empty-handed on NHL Awards night

Bruins go home empty-handed on NHL Awards night

The Bruins didn’t take home any hardware at the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, but appropriately one of their youthful players was recognized among the league’s best and brightest. Rookie D-man Charlie McAvoy was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie team along with New Jersey Devils D-man Will Butcher, forwards (Islanders) Mat Barzal, (Canucks) Brock Boeser and (Coyotes) Clayton Keller and Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros.

The 20-year-old McAvoy finished fifth in Calder Trophy voting as well behind Barzal, Boeser, Keller and Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor, but the rookie D-man didn’t get any first-place votes on ballots across the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association). 

Patrice Bergeron finished third in the Selke Trophy voting behind Selke winner Anze Kopitar and Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier while going for his record-breaking fifth Selke Trophy. While it might be a little shocking to see No. 37 finish third based on his season and his overall two-way prowess, he did miss 22 percent of the regular season (18 out of 82 games) and some voters may have dinged him a bit because of that. 

Likewise, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy finished a distant second in the Jack Adams Award voting behind Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant. In any other season, Cassidy’s job leading the Bruins to 112 points in his first full year behind the Boston bench would have been a shoo-in for the coaching award. Instead, it deservedly went to Gallant after guiding the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to a playoff spot and eventually all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. 

Don Sweeney also finished fourth in the GM of the Year voting just behind the three finalists for the award, a clear recognition from those around the league for the job he’s done turning things around in Boston over the last few seasons. Zdeno Chara (Norris), David Pastrnak (a first place Lady Byng vote, no less), Bergeron (Byng and Hart Trophy), Tuukka Rask (Vezina), Jake DeBrusk (Calder) and Brad Marchand (Selke and Hart Trophy) all received at least single votes on award ballots in a pretty strong Black and Gold representation across the board. 

A positive thought for all the Bergeron backers that felt he got robbed this season: It was the NHL-record seventh consecutive Selke Trophy finalist appearance for Bergeron on Wednesday night, and there certainly should be several more chances for No. 37 to win again and add to a resume that looks more and more Hall of Fame-worthy with each passing season.

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Cassidy says Kovalchuk would be 'nice addition' to Bruins

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Cassidy says Kovalchuk would be 'nice addition' to Bruins

As the free agency period of July 1 inches closer, the hype machine for 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk will grow more and more frenzied for teams like the Bruins.

And coach Bruce Cassidy gladly added to it on Tuesday in Las Vegas, telling reporters assembled for the NHL Awards that the Russian winger would be “a nice fit” for the Black and Gold. 

“Yeah, that would be interesting . . . you never want to speculate,” Cassidy said to reporters in Vegas during his press availability as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award. “You can’t get too far ahead . . . he’s a top-six guy, he can play left and right wing, he’s a big body. He’d be a nice addition. I am sure any team would say that right now. 

“He’s going to make your team better, and I think that’s what you always look at as a coach, and fitting [talented players] in is the easy part. The tough part is getting those types of players.”

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The Bruins will be among a handful of teams vying for Kovalchuk, who spend the last five seasons playing in the KHL after bolting the New Jersey Devils and the NHL after the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season. Even at his advanced NHL age, the expectation is that Kovalchuk can still have an impact offensively even if he’s not exactly the same player who posted 37 goals and 83 points in his last full season in Jersey six years ago. 

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger still has the big shot, the scoring ability, the size and the game-breaking skills that made him a former first overall pick in the NHL draft, and it may just be that he has more left in his tank than the younger Rick Nash. Clearly there was a concussion that played a big part in Nash’s time in Boston, but he also didn’t look like the explosive scoring ability was still there like it was in the Columbus/New York power forward’s younger years. 

The Bruins haven’t yet locked in a time when they’ll make their pitch to Kovalchuk’s camp, but it’s expected to happen ahead of the July 1 opening of free agency. Kovalchuk's representatives have already had meetings with teams on the West Coast like the Kings and Sharks. It’s expected that Kovalchuk, 35, be looking at a shorter-term deal making something close to the $6.67 annual salary he was being paid by the Devils when he departed the NHL. 

If Kovalchuk were to land in Boston, he’d fill a need for secondary scoring behind the big guns of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.He would allow the Bruins to keep their top forward line intact while filling a hole on the second line right wing alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. 

With the news that next season’s salary cap is going to be in the $79-80 million range, the Bruins will also have somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million in cap space for their offseason shopping list. That should give them plenty of room to sign Kovalchuk to a short-term deal and still address the other openings on their NHL roster, including third-line center and a backup goaltender. Still, Kovalchuk would be the big fish, and that’s why the talk about him is front and center.

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