Bruins

Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

He might not have quite the cachet of Jack Studnicka or Jakub Lauko as an uber-prospect for the Bruins. Just by virtue of not being drafted or playing forward, young goaltender Kyle Keyser is more of a blip on the radar screen as another young B’s player headed into a key developmental year with the organization.

Keyser, like Studnicka and Lauko, didn’t take part in the on-ice portion of this summer’s development camp and only played in a single regular-season game for the Providence Bruins in the AHL at the end of this past season. That came after Keyser, 20, posted a .915 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average in his final regular season with the Oshawa Generals and preceded a run for the young goalie as part of the Black Aces in this spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

“The playoff time in Oshawa was something truly awesome to experience,” said Keyser, who posted a sterling .925 save percentage in Oshawa’s 15-game run through the Memorial Cup playoffs. “Being with those guys in my first long playoff run and the camaraderie of being in a group playing for one another was something special. It was great to be around.”

It’s also something for Keyser to build on as he enters the first season of a three-year, entry-level contract signed with Boston back in Oct. 2017 after the 6-foot-2, 180-pound goalie from Coral Springs, Fla., took part in B’s development camp as a free-agent prospect.

Now is an exceedingly interesting time for the young puck-stopper as the Bruins boasted one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL last season in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Certainly, it was educational for Keyser to get an up-front seat to the way Rask performed while helping bring the B’s all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Final with a brilliant couple of months in the postseason.

It’s very likely that will be the same NHL tandem for Boston again this year with Rask and Halak signed for next year and Rask signed for another season at $7 million afterward.

“Being here at the end of the season and being around these guys at playoff time was incredible,” said Keyser, who has essentially been a Black Ace practice goalie with the Bruins in each of their last two postseasons. “Being at the Garden for every game and seeing the atmosphere gives you chills whether it was the first game or the last one.

“Watching Tuukka every single game, everybody saw the performance he put up in the playoffs. Just learning from every single minute with him and watching him as closely as possible, it was an incredible experience. It was probably one of the best goaltending performances that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, and maybe of all time. To witness that in person was something special. You don’t take that for granted.”

One thing not under debate: The role of “goalie of the future” in the Bruins organization is completely up for grabs headed into this season and Keyser will be in that mix.

Certainly, Keyser and Daniel Vladar, 21, will both be competing to be that guy in the AHL next season with free-agent signee Max Lagace around as the veteran mentor. The 6-5 Vladar, coming off a disappointing year where he posted an .898 save percentage in his first full AHL season, is entering the final year of his entry-level contract with the Black and Gold.

There’s also Jeremy Swayman further down the organizational depth chart while still in development as the No. 1 goalie for the University of Maine, but he’s years away from potentially pushing into the NHL picture.

All three will get a chance to show they might be worthy of being Rask’s backup in 2020-21 when Halak has presumably moved on, and the B’s are getting much closer to deciding on Tuukka’s future in Boston.

It’s going to be Keyser’s time to step up and push into the Bruins' organizational picture and show that there’s a potential young option for Boston should injuries, or something else, create an NHL goaltending opening. It’s doubtful there would be any kind of scenario, other than injury, that would create a goalie need in Boston this season, but one can’t rule anything out in the long-term future given Boston’s tight salary-cap situation.

It’s the exact kind of opportunity that Keyser is hoping to run with as he enters his first full pro season with the B’s organization.

“To get with the strength and conditioning guys and with the nutrition [staff] is great any time of year, but even more now in the summer when you’re trying to get stronger,” said Keyser. “You’re trying to get stronger and put yourself in the best position to succeed next year. I want to make sure I’m doing everything to make sure I’m fresh and ready to go when next season starts.”

It will be a gigantic, first impression-type season for Keyser next year. Getting through development camp last month was one of the hurdles in getting ready to seize the moment, but there’s a long way to go for Keyser and the rest of Boston’s young goalie crew.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Ilya Kovalchuk would still look good in a B's uniform for the right price

Ilya Kovalchuk would still look good in a B's uniform for the right price

As the Bruins lament the lack of scoring from the middle of their forward lineup amid a five-game losing streak, a viable option might be just about to drop into their lap.

The latest out of Los Angeles is that Ilya Kovalchuk is about to have his contract terminated with the Kings after last playing a game for them on Nov. 19 and essentially having been told by Kings management a month ago that his time with the organization is over. The 36-year-old Russian winger has three goals and nine points in 17 games this season, but is also a minus-10 and hasn’t been all that good at any point the past few seasons with the Kings.

Kovalchuk had 16 goals and 34 points along with a minus-26 last season in 64 games, but clearly wasn’t a good fit with an L.A. team nowhere close to playoff-caliber. His three-year, $18.75 million deal was viewed at the time as a questionable contract signed to an aging, once-great player coming out of the KHL, but it was the cost to win Kovalchuk over other teams such as the Bruins that had also shown interest.

Certainly, Kovalchuk is no longer the guy that carried the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, or a player that’s capable of putting up 37 goals and 83 points as he did that season. Kovalchuk is still a 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger that can shoot, score goals and finish off plays as evidenced by his 19 goals in 81 games the past two seasons while doing it for a Kings team that’s severely lacking offensive pieces around him.  

But if Kovalchuk is either bought out of his contract or granted some kind of release from the Kings, it’s still perfectly reasonable to theorize that the Russian sniper would reach higher offensive levels skating in a second-line role with a natural playmaker such as David Krejci. It’s unclear at this point whether any interested team would have to put up his contract or be free to sign him to a new deal, but there’s no question his value is down after two rough years in L.A.

Sure, it looks like Kovalchuk is a severe defensive liability at this point in his career given that he was minus-36 over the past two seasons, but there are enough responsible defensive players for the B’s to make up for it.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

What they don’t have right now is a finisher who can spark the second line, or somebody with a natural scoring touch for the second power-play unit as well. It was a problem Bruce Cassidy highlighted after the 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night where they didn’t get much of anything from their middle two forward lines. It’s the same kind of issue that dogged the B’s in previous losses to quality opponents Colorado and Washington earlier in the stretch of five losses in a row and earlier in the season when their Perfection Line carried them.

“The top line again was creating. We’re just not getting anything from the middle of the lineup in terms of offense,” lamented Cassidy. “You need four lines to produce for you in this league on a regular basis. It might not be [on Thursday]. It might be Saturday [at Florida], but you need some offense to sort of balance things out.

“We need some guys to get going here a little bit. [They need] to at least find their opportunities and then they’ll go in. I’m not sure they’re even finding their opportunities yet, so that’s step one that they are chasing.”

It will depend on the details, of course, but if the Bruins can land Kovalchuk without surrendering much in the way of actual assets or big-time salary for a player that flamed out in Los Angeles, they need to seriously think about doing it. 

If nothing else, he gives them a much better top-six wing option than they now have with Brett Ritchie, Danton Heinen, David Backes or Karson Kuhlman, and fits along the lines of whatever the Bruins are hoping to upgrade their forward group with at the trade deadline.

It may be that Kovalchuk simply decides to head back to Mother Russia for a big-money deal and eschews the NHL moving forward after he was a spectacular flop in LA over the last couple of seasons.

Given how interested the B’s were in Kovalchuk a couple of summers ago as a free agent and how little they might have to spend to get him for the rest of the season, the Bruins need to do some serious tire-kicking on the former No. 1 overall pick who could be a revitalized force playing in a top-six role for a deep, skilled Bruins team looking to fortify a Cup run.

 


 

Losing streak revealing a Bruins flaw that could be fatal if not addressed

Losing streak revealing a Bruins flaw that could be fatal if not addressed

TAMPA  – The problems are many when a team has lost five in a row as the Bruins have.

It wasn’t a desperate Bruins dressing room in the aftermath of their 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night at Amalie Arena, nor should it be. The B’s still hold an eight-point lead in the Atlantic Division despite being in the throes of their first losing streak of the season.

As Tuukka Rask said succinctly afterward, “We hate to lose, but we’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that [Brett] Ritchie said.”

A strong, winning effort against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night would salvage a rough trip and get the Bruins spinning in the right direction in short order.

That’s not really the problem.

The issue with the Bruins is the same old problems that cropped up against the St. Louis Blues last June in the Stanley Cup Final and two years ago in the second-round series against Tampa Bay. The flaws are springing up again with a series of heavy, intense playoff-style games against quality opponents.

When the Bruins go up against opponents such as Colorado, Washington and Tampa Bay, the offense gets one-dimensional and the effort to score becomes challenging if the special teams are playing at a dominant clip. 

Bruce Cassidy sounded the alarm about it after watching another loss to Tampa Bay where the Bruins scored just enough to lose. There wasn’t enough going on offensively aside from the "Perfection Line" accounting for a first-period lead and a late, desperate goal from John Moore.

“The top line again was creating. We’re just not getting anything from the middle of the lineup in terms of offense,” lamented Cassidy. “You need four lines to produce for you in this league on a regular basis. It might not be [on Thursday]. It might be Saturday, but you need some offense to sort of balance things out. We need some guys to get going here a little bit. [They need] to at least find their opportunities and then they’ll go in. I’m not sure they’re even finding their opportunities yet, so that’s step one that they are chasing.”

Can Cassidy put his finger on what the issue is with the middle lines?

“Some of it is inside. You start playing some good teams that are fast, Colorado, Washington and Tampa Bay. It’s almost like playoff hockey in December. A lot of those guys in that room have lived it and they know what it’s about,” said Cassidy. “Make a decision, do you want to play that way or not? Then some of it is self-inflicted where we won neutral zone face-offs, and harmless kind of plays where it doesn’t get in, we turn it over and then take penalties against a potent power play. Is it the PK? Well, it’s a great power play and we really didn’t help ourselves in those situations.”

Cassidy is spot-on about not enough from the supporting players in the kind of games the B’s will be in the postseason. Jake DeBrusk finished with zero points and had zero shots on net in two of the three games against Colorado, Washington and Tampa. Danton Heinen had zero points and a minus-4 in those three games with five shots on net. Anders Bjork picked up an assist in the loss to Tampa Bay, but managed just two shots on net in the three games against the Avs, Capitals and Lightning. Brett Ritchie has zero points and a minus-2 in the three games since coming back from injury. Even David Krejci has no points, a minus-1 rating and just two shots on net in those three games.

The dilemma facing the Bruins is this: Is this just a preview of what’s going to eventually doom them in the postseason if nothing is done about it?

Certainly, the Bruins weren’t playing their best in the loss to Colorado, but the efforts against Washington and Tampa Bay were more focused and had the kind of urgency that Boston has played with most of the season. And it still wasn’t enough when push came to shove and underlying flaws came forward for a team that’s a little small, a little short on real scoring depth against quality teams and beatable going up against big, deep teams with a physical defensemen corps. 

One would hope that Don Sweeney and Cam Neely were watching closely the past week and took these losses for what they are. The Bruins are showing that they are going to need some help when things get tough in the postseason and that they could use at least one more viable source of offense among their top-six forwards.

They have a bunch of talented kids up front who have shown a propensity to disappear when things get tough against the hard teams and that isn’t going to help the Bruins much this spring. There’s enough of a sample size now to predict that isn’t going to change when it comes to DeBrusk, Bjork, Heinen and Ritchie. The Bruins need to do something about it ahead of the NHL trade deadline.

Whether it’s kicking the tires on Taylor Hall, or a more realistic target such as Los Angeles Kings right wing Tyler Toffoli, the Bruins have shown the past few games that they need some outsource things for help up front if they want to finish what they started last spring.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.