Bruins

DeBrusk doing all of the little things right to earn his spot in Boston

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DeBrusk doing all of the little things right to earn his spot in Boston

BOSTON – The overwhelming chatter leading up to Saturday night’s game vs. the Islanders was about electric rookie playmaker Mathew Barzal, and the fact that the Bruins passed on him in the 2015 NHL Draft with their three consecutive picks. Only time will tell if the Bruins played it correctly, whiffed badly, or made the right choice by passing on the forward. There won’t be a final resolution until a good 5-10 years have gone by for respective careers of Barzal, Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn.

But DeBrusk stepped up and made a huge statement about his own game in a 3-1 win over the Islanders on Saturday night, when the 21-year-old left winger scored the game-winning goal. He also stepped up and courageously tangled with Casey Cizikas after the Islanders energy guy threw a big hit on Charlie McAvoy.  

DeBrusk was slapped with an instigator penalty good for 17 penalty minutes that seemed ridiculous given that the rookie waited for Cizikas to drop the gloves before engaging in the fight, but he rookie was able to make light of it after the game.

“The fight? Well, I mean a fight’s a fight. I think I had zero penalty minutes coming in and now I have 17. So, it’s kind of funny that way,” said DeBrusk, who is now on pace for a solid 19 goals and 45 points this season. “It’s a big night; it’s kind of funny that way, but no, it was just more so standing up for a teammate. I thought it was a clean hit. I didn’t think it was dirty, but just heat of the moment.” 

DeBrusk was close to finishing off a nice setup with David Krejci in the third period, close to earning himself a Gordie Howe hat trick. Saturday night served as a showcase for DeBrusk’s talent, strong character and makeup, and the variety of reasons he’s going to be just fine with the Bruins. Sure, he might not land as many points as Barzal has at the end of the season, but DeBrusk is looking like a pretty good player himself. 

DeBrusk has been showcasing why he’s a perfect fit for this particular hockey club now, and that’s really the most important thing.   

“I think it’s good for his teammates to know that he’s going to get in there, whether people think it’s right or wrong,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s in there looking after one of his teammates, so guys appreciate that. In the playoffs the discipline level goes up a lot and obviously the regular season you need your level of discipline, but at that time and juncture in the game, I think everyone’s fine with [DeBrusk sticking up for his teammate] and it will help him in the room."

“I think it was written that there [should have been] a certain player drafted ahead of him, so I think he took it upon himself to maybe show that he’s here for a reason, he’s a good player in his own right, and he was pretty excited about it. Good for him; he’s a young guy and we like that excitement level out of those young guys.”

Despite spending 17 total minutes in the box, DeBrusk would net his sixth goal of the year. He jumped out of the box after serving his time, and managed to score on his first post-fight shift with a shot at the net from the high slot area. It was, on one hand, a resounding bit of karmic glory from the Hockey Gods after doing the right thing standing up for one of his teammates. It was also a great display of character and poise from a young winger that immediately responding with production after lengthy penalty time.

“I thought it was great to see him stepping up for Chuckie [Charlie McAvoy] there and then getting that goal. He was in the penalty box for a while and sometimes your legs can get stiff and cold, and he didn’t miss a beat,” said Patrice Bergeron. “Then he was ready for when I guess he got a tap on the back, and came back on the ice. It was a huge goal for us. We needed that. So kudos to him for stepping up and making those two big plays [when the B’s needed him].”

The simple truth when it comes to DeBrusk is that he’s the best, and most advanced, of the three players selected by the Bruins in the middle of the 2015 NHL Draft. The young forward looks like he’s going to be in the NHL for a long time. There is no revisionist history with Bruins fans wanting Barzal rather than DeBrusk with the 14th overall pick because that was never really the case. This entire situation is unfortunately more about 15th overall pick Zach Senyshyn as he slowly gathers experience in Providence, and faces lingering questions about whether he’ll ever be better than Barzal, Kyle Connor, Travis Konecny, Brock Boeser, Colin White or any number of talented players selected right after him in the draft.

Right now DeBrusk looks like the surest Bruins bet for a long NHL career between the three 2015 first round picks, and he backed that up with the kind of scoring, tough game Bruins fans will learn to love very, very quickly. 

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Sean Kuraly.

Kuraly represents a Bruins prospect turned legit player after the fourth line center graduated from the P-Bruins and turned into a solid, strong two-way pivot on a B’s energy line that was actually pretty good for most of the season. There may be a limit to the offensive upside for a rugged, penalty-killing player like Kuraly, but there was more than enough good there for him to earn  new three-year contact with the Black and Gold that will begin this upcoming season.

What Happened Last Year: The 25-year-old Kuraly was the B’s fourth line center from beginning to end last season after really popping in the previous season’s playoff series against the Ottawa Senators, and he performed up to hopes and expectations. Kuraly finished with six goals and 14 points in 78 games for the Bruins, and was a big-bodied center willing to throw his body around on occasion and kill penalties pretty much all the time. Kuraly also had his moments during the playoffs with a couple of goals and four points in 12 games, but the entire B’s fourth line was pretty badly outplayed by Tampa Bay in the second round of the postseason. So there are definitely a few things for Kuraly to build/improve on from last season, and now he’ll have the time to do it with the B’s.

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Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest Q for Kuraly is just how high the upside is for the 25-year-old former Miami University standout. Kuraly showed last season that he could be a pretty solid fourth line center that could bang bodies a bit, provide occasional offense, kill penalties and win a few big face-offs while bringing size and strength down the middle. Now Kuraly will be in the mix for the vacant third line center position, and he could win it outright if he can show a little bit more offense and physical aggression as he matures into an NHL career. Is last season the ceiling for Kuraly, or can he harness the impact game we’ve seen out of him in the playoffs to make him an even more impact NHL center. The good thing about Kuraly is that he’s smart, he’s a good teammate and he plays hard all of the time, so the Bruins aren’t going to have worry about any of those things as anything but automatic with the young center.

In Their Words: “I don’t think you could tell me about it and try to tell me what it’s going to be like or how to prepare for it. It’s something you really have to go through, and it’s long, and it’s a marathon, and it’s nights where you’re not feeling 100 percent, and maybe you have to do a little bit more that night. So, there are nights that it’s tough, and I think that’s something that I, hopefully, can get better at next season is dealing with some of the adversity and realizing that this is a long season, and there’s going to be some ups and downs and just try to stay levelheaded.” –Sean Kuraly, on what he learned from his rookie season and how he can apply it to this upcoming season and beyond.

Overall Outlook: The Bruins certainly liked what they saw out of Kuraly last season as a rookie, or they wouldn’t have signed him to a three-year contract. It’s reasonable to expect that the big-bodied pivot is going to improve from the six goals and 14 points posted in his rookie NHL season, and it’s now up to Kuraly to see how good he can be. Could he be a steady third line center at the NHL level where he teams with David Backes to form a physical, grinding third line that can pound other teams? Can he supply enough offense to be a legit third line center, or is the offense the kind of thing that’s going to likely relegate him to fourth line duty. As mentioned above, the intangibles are never going to be in question with Kuraly and that’s a very good place to start. Now it’s just a matter of letting Kuraly develop at the NHL level, and see what he ultimately turns into after showing he’s got the right stuff for the B’s energy line at the very least.

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Chris Wagner

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Chris Wagner

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Chris Wagner.

One of the offseason aims for the Boston Bruins was bringing a little more experience and a little more physical thump to their fourth line, and the Bruins did that by signing Chris Wagner to a two-year contract on the opening day of free agency. The addition of Wagner adds a hard-hitting, versatile element to the bottom-six up front for the Bruins, and also gives the Bruins yet another local success story as a Walpole, Mass., native coming home to play for his hometown team. The fact that Wagner plays with the blue collar, physical style favored by Bruins fans will make it all the better for him in his home state.   

What Happened Last Year: The 27-year-old Wagner had a strong season with the Anaheim Ducks/New York Islanders going into free agency with seven goals and 16 points in 79 games while finishing among the NHL’s top-5 in registered hits. It was the most games that Wagner has ever played in the NHL and the most production he’s ever posted as well. Based on his track record and how hard he plays the game, it shouldn’t be all that difficult for Wagner to at least play at least season’s level for the next few seasons while under contract with Boston. 

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The big question for the rugged, high-energy Wagner is where the ceiling will be for him over the next few seasons after cementing himself as an NHL player last season. Is he going to be good for something in the neighborhood of five goals/15 points as a third/fourth line forward, or can Wagner hit double-digit goals once he settles into with a role and linemates for the Black and Gold. The other part of that question is whether Wagner can continue with the desperation and maximum energy output that he played with for Anaheim/New York last season. Will the security of a multi-year deal in Boston allow Wagner to relax a little bit and potentially not play with the kind of fire required to hit, play physical and get in the other team’s face? Only time will tell on this one, but it’s tough to get against a player like Wagner that’s had to scrap for everything he’s got.  

In Their Words: “I just wanted to find the best situation, obviously. It seemed that they had success recently and definitely had a chance to make a run for the Stanley Cup. That was huge for me. I’ve heard a lot of great things about the character of the guys in the room with the Bruins. I’ve always wanted to play here and be close to home and be close to my family. My parent, my grandparents, and my brother and all that so it’s just a win-win and a dream come true.” –Chris Wagner, on the process behind signing with his hometown Bruins on the July 1 open of free agency. 

Overall Outlook: The Bruins let Tim Schaller walk away in free agency, so they had to go after another physical, energy player for their fourth line. They found that in Wagner for a similar level of pay at $1.25 million per season, and are once again betting on the player to come into his own during his time with the Black and Gold. It’s a bonus that he’s a local kid just like Schaller, and the hope is that he’ll have the same level of success on and off the ice that Schaller did before parlaying it into a contract with the Vancouver Canucks. If Wagner plays the same way he did last season with Anaheim and New York, both the player and the team should be happy with the level of performance over the next couple of seasons. Bruins fans love players that are willing to take the body and work hard, and that is Chris Wagner several times over.

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