Bruins

No McAvoy-type among this crop of B's World Junior prospects

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No McAvoy-type among this crop of B's World Junior prospects

Last year at this time, the entire hockey world was buzzing about one of the Bruins best and brightest prospects at the IIHF World Junior tournament when Charlie McAvoy and Team USA took things over when it mattered most.

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A year later, McAvoy is one of the lead candidates for the NHL’s Calder Trophy and six other B’s prospects were looking to make their own name at the World Juniors in Buffalo. Those prospects have enjoyed varying degrees of success in this year’s Under-20 tournament, but it also looks very clear that there isn’t a McAvoy-type game-changing youngster rising through the ranks of the Black and Gold.

Certainly, Trent Frederic ended his world junior career on a high note by scoring an amazing four goals to help lead Team USA to a 9-3 blowout win over the Czech Republic for the Bronze medal. It’s the third year in a row that Team USA has medaled in the tournament. That’s a record-setting achievement for the USA Hockey program.

Clearly, there are things to like about Frederic stepping up in a medal game and dominating with a huge offensive night. It tells you something about the player’s overall makeup in big-game situations, and was also a nice response after he was benched for portions of Team USA’s disappointing loss to Team Sweden in a medal round game on Wednesday.

He showed a lot of his strengths: Size, strength, hustle, some great penalty killing and a really dogged, aggressive approach to attacking the puck carrier.

But there were also the other five games in the tournament where Frederic managed just a single point and was essentially the fourth-line center for Team USA with limited ice time and very little presence in any of the games. Clearly, he looks like an NHL player based on his size (6-2, 210), strength and willingness to do a lot of the little things on a game-by-game basis, but the jury is still very much out on whether he’s anything more than the “third-line NHL center” that then-scouting director Keith Gretzky projected him to be way back on the first night of the 2016 NHL Draft.

Ryan Lindgren was good enough to be a top-four defenseman for Team USA, but he looks like a true stay-at-home defenseman with very little natural inclination toward the offensive end of the ice. He finished a minus-3 in five games with just two shots on net leading into the blowout win over the Czechs.

Jeremy Swayman was the third-string goaltender for Team USA and didn’t get into any games while still racking up the big-stage experience being around the tournament.

The B’s 2017 first-round pick, Urho Vaakanainen, was another player, like Frederic, who certainly looked like he belonged in the elite tournament, but had mixed results at best. Vaakanainen finished with an assist in five games, along with a minus-3 rating, and had seven shots on net in a very defense-first performance. The B’s prospect wasn’t on the Finnish power play and most of the time his big offensive move consisted of dumping the puck into the end boards after gaining the offensive blue line.

Perhaps there is some latent offensive ability waiting to come out in Vaakanainen’s game, but it sure doesn’t appear like the instincts or the tools are really there for him. Instead, he looks like a good-skating, shutdown defenseman that will chew up his share of minutes, but is going to be more one-dimensional than one would hope as a mid-first round pick. The good news is that he showed a good, active stick in the D-zone and certainly didn’t seem to shy away from the physical play in front of the net.

But Vaakanainen was simply okay on a Finnish World Junior roster that was loaded with NHL first-round picks and really didn’t live up to the hype by not even making it to the medal round games on Friday.

Instead, it was a pair of lower-round picks that really impressed in the tournament. One was 2016 fifth-round pick Joona Koppanen, a big, aggressive bottom-six center for Finland who seemed to always be fore-checking hard or getting to the front of the net. The 6-5 Koppanen finished second on Team Finland with three goals in five games, and finished with four points and a plus-2 while killing penalties, taking face-offs and showing that he could do a little bit of everything. 

It says something about Koppanen that he managed to make plays despite playing a much more limited role on a Finland roster with some pretty big prospect names up front.

Finally, there’s scrappy, undersized Swedish forward and B’s sixth round pick Oskar Steen, who really gave everybody an idea of what he can do in Team Sweden’s dispatching of the Americans in the medal round. Steen scored on a shorthanded snipe under the bar for the eventual game-winner against Team USA, then got in touch with his inner-Marchand when he slashed the knee of American winger Kailer Yamamoto in the closing seconds of the win for the Swedes. It was a cheap play to be sure, but it was also evidence that there’s some snarl and sandpaper to the young Swede’s game that will endear him to the Bruins organization once it’s harnessed.

Clearly, there were a couple of excellent individual performances from B’s prospects and a four-goal game from Frederic is something to long be admired. Still, it sure doesn’t feel like there was a McAvoy-type player, or one that might be able to help the Bruins in the NHL next season, among this crop of B’s world junior prospects.  

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Re-setting the Bruins' blue-line depth

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Re-setting the Bruins' blue-line depth

The Bruins' already-thin blue line depth took another body blow Wednesday when captain Zdeno Chara left the first period of a loss to Colorado with an apparent knee injury. The big man is headed back to Boston for further evaluation, and as Joe Haggerty notes, any extended time away from the team by Chara could be a coup de grace.

How dire could this picture look without Chara? Here's what the defenseman depth looks like at present:

WHO'S OUT

Zdeno Chara - The captain is heading back to Boston after injuring his knee in Wednesday night’s loss in Colorado. It’s unknown how long he’ll be out for, but as Joe Haggerty writes, any long-term absence could be quite costly.

Kevan Miller - On the IR with a hand injury, Miller hasn’t appeared in a game since Oct. 18, but traveled with the team for this road trip. He won’t be eligible to play until Nov. 21 against the Red Wings, however.

Charlie McAvoy - Out since Oct. 18 with a concussion, he’s skating again, but did not travel with the team for this road trip.

Brandon Carlo - He’s out on the IR with an upper body injury, having not played since Saturday’s 5-1 win over Toronto.

Urho Vaakanainen - He didn’t make the trip to Colorado, out with a concussion, but he could join the team before the road trip concludes next week in Detroit.

WHO'S HERE

Matt Grzelcyk - He’s been on the top D-pairing with Chara and is averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time this season, with 1-7-8 totals in 16 games.

Torey Krug - The left-shooting puck-mover figures to join Grzelcyk on the top pairing. He started the year off on the mend, making his season debut Oct. 30, with six assists in the seven games since.

Steven Kampfer - Sitting on the third D-pairing with call-up Jeremy Lauzon on Wednesday, Kampfer is at a minus-1 for the season.

Jeremy Lauzon - The third-line rookie notched his first career goal in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Vegas.

John Moore - The well-traveled veteran has been logging heavy minutes of late, averaging 20:06 of ice time this month — including a season-high 25:53 in an overtime win over Dallas on Nov. 5. He has just two points in 18 games.

Jakub Zboril - The 21-year-old Czech is understandably thrilled about his first call-up from Providence. In 13 games for the P-Bruins, the former first-round pick has 2-2-4 totals with 16 penalty minutes.

Connor Clifton - The former Quinnipiac star was called up from Providence Thursday on an emergency basis. In 14 AHL games this season, he has four assists.

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Podcast: Mookie Betts wins MVP of the American League

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Podcast: Mookie Betts wins MVP of the American League

1:11 - Mike Felger and Lou Merloni discuss Mookie Betts winning MVP and if JD Martinez should’ve finished higher in the voting.

5:47 - Felger and Merloni are back to debate if the Patriots have enough talent and will be able to keep up the pace with the other high powered teams in the NFL.

10:21 - DJ Bean and Mike Felger talk about the loss of Zdeno Chara after suffering a lower body injury on Wednesday night and debate Tuukka Risk vs. Jaroslav Halak.

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