BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins rookies passed every test during the regular season, and now it’s on to the first experience of the Stanley Cup playoffs for many of them.
Some like Charlie McAvoy and Sean Kuraly have already dipped their toes into the NHL playoffs last season, and others like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato and Matt Grzelcyk will get their chance this spring in a first round showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It appears that Donato will start as a healthy scratch for Game 1 on Thursday night, but the other three first year players are expected to suit up for the Black and Gold.
Clearly there might be a bit of a learning curve for the rookies experiencing the playoffs for the first time, but Bruins general manager Don Sweeney had a pretty simple message to guys like DeBrusk, Heinen and Grzelcyk at this time of year.
“This is winning. This is all about winning. It has been from day one,” said Sweeney. “That’s how you’re judged and surveyed this time of year, even more so. We talked about [David] Pastrnak last year going through the playoffs for the first time. Yeah, some [rookie] players are going to go through that, [but] it’s about winning.
“I think we’re here because they integrated with a pretty strong core of guys. Those young players deserve a lot of credit for moving along and developing accordingly. They got opportunity; we spoke at the beginning of the year that players would get opportunity, it was up to them to take advantage of it, and I think several of those players have done that. We’ve benefitted as an organization as a result of that. But I’ve always said all along that I think the core group of our players is the driving influence here. Then we have players that are emerging to hopefully grow into the next core.”
The series against the Maple Leafs actually provides a unique challenge for young forwards like Heinen, DeBrusk and Donato to show what they can do against a renowned group of skilled, speedy young Leafs forwards like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and a number of other talented young players. Heinen actually kicked up the intensity in his game over the last few weeks and had back-to-back games with goals in the final week of the regular season while getting things back on track. DeBrusk hasn’t been a scoring machine as of late, but the 21-year-old has a long history of elevating his game in the big moments like what will be his first Stanley Cup playoff experience.
“I think you need to step up your game in every aspect,” said DeBrusk, who finished with 16 goals and 43 points in his rookie NHL campaign. “It’s going to be lots of fun. It’ll be crazy. Two Original Six teams. We’re going to need to bring our very best to beat them and we know that. From what I’ve heard it’s really intense and a lot of fun, and it brings the guys closer together.
“We’re just looking for a good start in Game 1 and to get things going, bring our own game, and just continue to get better.”
There are certainly enough qualified rookie candidates to put in the Bruins lineup on Thursday night, and most of them will be in there based on an a guaranteed contract, or as a counter-point to the youth, speed and skill on the Leafs roster. The exact reasons behind the presence of the Bruins Youth doesn’t really matter, of course, and it’s simply part of a special blend of talented first times and hardened, old school veterans that make Boston such an interesting, and compelling roster of players ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.