Questions still remain in Bruins' competition between JFK, Frederic

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Questions still remain in Bruins' competition between JFK, Frederic

BOSTON – With just one preseason game left until the start of the regular season, the lines are getting more defined for competition among open positions on the Bruins roster.

There aren’t that many of them open, of course, and things have been muddied a bit by both the preseason-long injury status for Patrice Bergeron and by the large contingent of players that left for 10 days in China in training camp. But both Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson dressed for the 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night at TD Garden, and both are still very much in the running for a wide-open, third-line center spot with Boston.

Neither player stood up and laid claim to the job in the OT loss while playing a lineup closer to the NHL real thing with Detroit, but neither youngster did anything to lose the job in the penultimate exhibition game either.

Does Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy want to see the 20-year-old Frederic and the 22-year-old Forsbacka Karlsson in another preseason game?

You bet he does, but it might not matter even if he didn’t with Bergeron and Sean Kuraly still banged up in camp.

“I might not have a choice if Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] and [Sean] Kuraly aren’t ready to go. Krech [David Krejci] will definitely go in [Saturday vs. the Flyers]. [Noel] Acciari, assuming he has no residual effects from his first game in a while, can play in there or [Chris] Wagner. We’ve seen a lot of them,” said Cassidy. “Every game matters and they get more comfortable, but I think we’ll be able to have good internal discussions tomorrow and say ‘Hey where are we at exactly and go from there.’

“I can’t tell you right now that this guy’s staying or this guy’s going. Jack [Studnicka] went back today.

We felt JFK [Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson] and Trent [Frederic] were ahead of him. [Studnicka] had a nice camp, but he’s still young. So, we have to figure out now, okay are we willing to go with one of those guys? I can’t sit here and tell you unequivocally yeah they’re the third-line center. I’m not going to do that, but they both had pockets of good hockey, and [one of them] may be a guy that starts [in Boston].”

At least Frederic was a noticeable physical presence while centering Peter Cehlarik and Lee Stempniak, and was mixing it up in front of the net while also nearly dropping the gloves with fellow youngster Givani Smith. He finished with three shot attempts and a blocked shot in 17:11 of ice time, but also had three giveaways while also losing 9-of-15 draws in the face-off circle.

“I thought I was fine tonight,” said Frederic, who has spent a lot of time skating with David Backes in what could be a bruising, physical combo on Boston’s third line. “I didn’t really do anything much offensively, but my defensive game was sound. That’s kind of the overall game I thought I had. I thought I had alright legs, and that was kind of it.

“I know if [getting sent to Providence] happens, I’ll have to play good there, too. It’s day-by-day for me probably and I’ve got to play good every day.”

Still, Frederic was a more visible presence than the slick, cerebral JFK, who seemed to disappear amidst the higher level of competition. Forsbacka Karlsson finished with no shots on net and a blocked shot in 13:03 of ice time, and got worked on the draw to the tune of losing 9-of-13 face-offs. For a player that the Bruins coaching staff has admitted to needing to prod a bit to be more assertive in games, JFK simply wasn’t that at all with a potential NHL spot on the line in Wednesday night’s game.

Cassidy is hoping to get Kuraly (lower body), maybe Bergeron (back spasms/groin surgery) and Noel Acciari in at center along with David Krejci for this weekend’s final preseason tune-up, and at least see once in this preseason what that lineup might look like down the middle. That may not happen, of course, and keeps the door very much ajar for the top B’s prospects competing for the third line gig right now as well.

“Hopefully [the injured guys] are ready to play, and we’re going to have to make some decisions after tonight with the young guys,” said Cassidy. “We’ve played them a lot, and if we have our full group then, you know. Yeah, the one game will certainly be advantageous for some. Hopefully, the other guys take it as a work project to get ready for Wednesday.”

So there’s a viable scenario where both JFK and Frederic are sent down to Providence in the next few days, and the Bruins start with Bergeron, Krejci, Kuraly and Acciari down the middle to start the year in Boston. One thing the Bruins should keep in mind, however, is the overall offensive upside with the younger guys that they just might not get with a couple of two-way players with limited offensive skills in Kuraly and Acciari centering the bottom-six if that’s the way it shakes.

There are plenty of variables and unknowns still remaining for Cassidy with just a few days left to make decisions, and it seems like the performance Wednesday night didn’t do much to clear any of those things up. 


Danton Heinen's play for Bruins hints there's more to his game

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Danton Heinen's play for Bruins hints there's more to his game

Danton Heinen certainly takes a lot of heat when it comes to being a member of the Boston Bruins.

The 24-year-old winger is on pace for 15 goals and 38 points in 82 games this season, and has had his moments for the Black and Gold. One of them was in Tuesday night’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes when he stripped Jake Gardiner at the defensive blue line and then pushed the puck up the ice, leading to the game-winning, third period goal for Charlie Coyle.

It was part of a makeshift line that Bruce Cassidy threw together during the win over the Hurricanes with Heinen manning the right wing alongside Brad Marchand and Coyle while serving in a top-6 role for the Bruins. Now Cassidy looks like he’s going to keep that trio together for Thursday night’s home date against the Chicago Blackhawks while Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and David Pastrnak form the other top-6 trio.

All of it will cease once Patrice Bergeron enters back into the lineup, but the defensive play and assist on the game-winner showed what Heinen can do when he’s operating at full two-way efficiency.

“Sometimes these young guys, they’re not going to win them all, but [Heinen] stayed with it. He really did. And that’s the part I like — the second effort, to win a puck in a 0-0 game, in a non-scoring situation,” said Cassidy, who has given Heinen power play time this season and been rewarded with some pretty strong passing and puck movement when he’s out on the ice. “It was more of a defensive play than anything, and he stuck with it. You need to be able to do that. He made the play, kind of going up through the neutral zone and the o-zone. He’s going to be able to do those with time and space.

“I was happy for him because we trust Danton in those situations and we don’t want him to lose that [confidence in our trust] when things aren’t falling into place for [him] offensively, you’ve still got to be able to do that. [So] good for him.”

The frustrating part about Heinen’s game is that there is more to his game offensively, as he showed in his rookie season when he posted 16 goals and 47 points. He teamed with Riley Nash and David Backes to carry the Bruins at times offensively as a dynamic third line in the first half of his rookie season, but that confidence hasn’t been as prevalent since that point.

There’s hesitancy from Heinen to shoot the puck with a paltry 32 shots on net in 28 games as clear evidence he needs to look for his shot a little more often than he does right now. 

The cerebral part of the playmaking game and the solid hands are there, and Heinen can finish plays when he's around the net. Even the compete level part of it has improved for the young winger. But the confidence that he can create plays offensively comes and goes, and makes him hit-or-miss when it comes to consistently producing offense. 

The humble Heinen even admitted that the long bank pass off the boards for the game-winning goal on Tuesday was a flubbed pass attempt from him rather than a crafty, creative play.

“It’s nice. I felt like I needed to redeem myself after giving away the puck earlier in the shift,” said Heinen, who had three goals and eight points along with a plus-4 rating in 14 games during the month of November. “There’s definitely not a lot of panic. All of the games have been down to the wire. We’re a confident group in tight games and guys make plays at the right time.”

It was clearly Heinen’s time against the Hurricanes at a great time — both for him and for the Bruins.

The bottom line with Heinen is this: He’s a solid two-way, third-line winger who the Bruins still have on the cheap at $2.8 million per season. Right now it says more about the Bruins' poor roster depth on the wings than it does about Heinen that he’s been thrust into a top-6 role, but the hope is still there that he can reach another level offensively at just 24 years old in his third year at the NHL level.

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NHL rumors: Here is Devils' asking price for a Taylor Hall trade before deadline

NHL rumors: Here is Devils' asking price for a Taylor Hall trade before deadline

The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 24, and the superstar dominating the rumor mill is New Jersey Devils left winger Taylor Hall.

Reports last week indicated the Devils were listening to teams interested in making a deal for the 2017-18 Hart Trophy winner. Hall is in the final year of his contract and eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. The Devils are going nowhere this season, and sit in last place in the Metropolitan Division entering Thursday's games.

So, which teams are interested in making a deal for Hall?

The Boston Bruins have not come up in any recent rumors involving Hall, and that makes sense. The salary cap part of a Hall trade wouldn't be easy to work, and the Bruins also need cap space to re-sign defenseman Torey Krug when he's a free agent in July or find a suitable replacement if he leaves.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, in his recent 31 Thoughts column, mentioned several teams in the mix. But perhaps more interesting, he noted what the Devils are seeking in return for Hall.

The Taylor Hall trade talks have intensified, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen at this time.

“He’s trying,” another GM said of Shero.

The Devils have made it clear they want first-rounders (although they are willing to discuss conditional situations, depending on the acquiring team’s ability to re-sign Hall or playoff results) and/or high-level prospects who are ready to play. They badly need defence, which is why there’s a lot of focus on Colorado as the perfect trade partner. The Avalanche have plenty of defensive prospects and think they can win. Several teams believe Arizona is making a serious effort. Hall is what they need, too. It’s believed Dallas and St. Louis are among other pursuers.

Hall missed most of last season with an injury, but he's been healthy in 2019-20. He's tallied 22 points (four goals, 18 assists) in 27 games and would make a strong impact for any contending team's top-six forward group.

The asking price, as it should be, is substantial, but it would be worth it for teams that strongly believe they can re-sign him after the season.

Click for five potential trade destinations for Taylor Hall>>>

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