Final thoughts and observations from Bruins development camp
Final thoughts and observations from Bruins development camp
WILMINGTON, Mass. - Final thoughts and observations with another week of Bruins development camp in the books as the final official B’s event to take place at Ristuccia Arena:
The biggest impression of the week is that the Bruins drafted a stud defenseman in Charlie McAvoy. He’s bigger than you think, extremely smooth in the skating and puck-moving departments and looked ultra-confident while going through all drills and development camp testing for the first time in his life. Everything is predicated on the skating game with the 18-year-old McAvoy, and for him to stand out like he did while also being one of the youngest guys in the camp speaks to how good he could be a couple of years down the road. When you see the clear talent of McAvoy, the strides that Jakub Zboril has made and Brandon Carlo with the size, strength and skating ability, you can see that the Bruins could have an extremely good, young D-corps a couple of years from now. That’s not even mentioning D-man Jeremy Lauzon, who has a chance to be one of the best players taken in that 2015 draft.
It was a good week for him. He’s a good skater and very accurate with his outlet passing and – even though he was far from the biggest guy in camp -- it was pretty much impossible for other players to knock him off the puck. He still spaced out in drills from time-to-time showing some of the focus lapses that the Bruins officials want him to work on, but it was clear Zboril put the work in prior to this development camp. If people had doubts about his talent or worthiness as a first rounder, that should be gone know after he was neck-and-neck with McAvoy as the most impressive-looking defenseman at this year’s development camp. Zboril really stood out in the 3-on-3 scrimmage where he feed a long stretch pass to Cameron Hughes for a breakaway goal, and then created a rebound with his big point shot for another Hughes goal later on in the game.
A few of the college guys were excellent. Ryan Fitzgerald was solid and smooth coming off a very good season at Boston College and Ryan Donato was an impact forward with his hands, hockey IQ and aggressive willingness to take shots whenever they presented themselves. Donato has good skating speed, but his ability to anticipate plays, and know what he wants to do with the puck before he gets it, gives him the advantage when he’s flying into the attack zone ready to make plays. The most impressive college guy for my money this week was Anders Bjork, who was good on just about every level consistently from day-to-day and practice session-to-practice session. He was simply blowing by guys with his skating speed, had toughness in the puck battle drills and clearly gained some confidence finishing off offensive plays after his time spent playing at the World Junior Tournament last December. He was initially projected as a third line guy at the NHL level, but he flashed some top-6 ability throughout the week. Bjork was only a fifth round pick in 2014, but he’s looking like he could be a productive player for the Bruins organization that will need to be signed away from Notre Dame after his upcoming junior season.
Carlo was strong and physical, looked mistake-free moving the puck up the ice quickly while towering over most of the other campers at 6-foot-5, 203-pounds. Clearly guys like McAvoy, Zboril and Lauzon are more dynamic offensively than Carlo when it comes to their final projections as players, but the size and maturity of Carlo is something that is going to play in the NHL more quickly than those other players. He has the size and strength to survive in the league now as a 19-year-old, and could become dominant in time if he retains the mean streak he showed at times during the battle drills. If there’s one guy that could make the team out of development camp this fall, it’s Carlo. One thing that was very good to see and hear close to the ice: how vocal Carlo was on the final day of scrimmaging on Friday as he was taking charge on the ice, and barking out communicative messages to his goaltender and D-man partner all the while he was out there. That’s the kind of stuff you see from a player that wants to take charge when he’s on the ice, and that’s impressive from a player that was only in his second B’s development camp after being taken in the second round last summer.
From a forward standpoint, the closest guy to an NHL roster spot is undoubtedly Danton Heinen. He was dangerous with the puck on his stick throughout the week, and showed the kind of playmaking instincts that will allow him to flourish with talented, experienced NHL guys on his line. It was a regular sight to see Heinen coming down the wing, head up and looking for passing options while also locked and loaded for a scoring attempt of his own if the pass was being taken away from him. He set up Jack Becker for a tap-in attempt on one score in the 3-on-3 scrimmage with a beautiful cross-ice feed, and then completely turned around defenseman Cam Clarke off the next face-off for his own score in an impressive flourish of offensive execution. If there’s one player that could surprise and win a third line forward spot a couple of months from now, it’s definitely Heinen.
CAMERON HUGHES AND JAKE BECKER
While they didn’t always shine in the drills throughout the week for differing reasons, Cameron Hughes and Jack Becker showed up in the scrimmage. Becker scored a couple of goals while showing some of the hands and skill level that looked inconsistent throughout the week, and Hughes showed off great speed and finishing ability by consistently getting behind the defense in the 3-on-3 scrimmage. He scored once early on a breakaway bid, had Malcolm Subban stuff him on another breakaway attempt and then scored later in the scrimmage on a rebound of a Zboril shot at the net. I think the jury is still out on Becker given some of the mixed things I saw this week, but the Bruins might have something in Hughes if he can continue to get bigger and stronger given the skating and skills.
While many other players looked good in the 3-on-3 scrimmage, it was Jake DeBrusk that notched the winning goal on a pure rush up the right wing before firing a shot on net from faceoff circle depth. DeBrusk had a solid camp and really knows who he is and what his strengths are as a player. He goes a great job of getting himself into shots where he fire the puck at the net, and he buries changes when he gets a setup pass in the slot area or in the face-off dots. He’s not the biggest forward when it comes to playing the power game and he’s not the fastest guy on the ice either, but his intelligence, anticipation and his shot/release will be his ticket to the NHL, provided he can keep getting bigger and faster. While it’s not expected that DeBrusk is going to win an NHL job at this training camp, there’s a good chance he could push some of the veterans extremely hard if he plays like he did this week.
The one big downside from Bruins development camp was the real lack of goaltending prospects. It was good to see a rusty Malcolm Subban getting back into the swing of things and Zane McIntyre acquitted himself well enough as a veteran getting some work with Goalie Bob Essensa. But Daniel Vladar looked far from ready with the obviously impressive size working in his favor and the camp invite did not have a very good week when it came down to impressing Bruins officials. This is why the idea of trading Tuukka Rask is a foolhardy one: the Bruins have nobody that could step into those shoes right now if they even entertained the idea of trading their No. 1 goalie, and that was plainly obvious watching the goaltending position at this development camp. Given the talent we saw this week, with Zach Senyshyn and JFK not even present for the sessions, I’d expect the goalie position to be one the Bruins will take a long look at for next summer’s draft.