Boston Bruins Prospect Challenge: Big decisions ahead for Bruce Cassidy and Don Sweeney

The Boston Bruins rookie camp and Prospect Challenge tournament ended on Monday.  How did the young guns do, and who staked a claim for a roster spot come October?

The one thing that there was no shortage of over the weekend in Buffalo, NY was goals.  In the six games that took place in the round-robin tournament featuring prospects from the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, and Pittsburgh Penguins, 51 goals were scored by the teams, or 8.5 per game.

The Bruins, a team normally not known for lighting up the scoreboard, scored 16 of those 51 goals, powered by a nine goal performance against the Devils on Monday.  The Bruins had three more goals than both the Devils the Penguins.  Even though it’s just a pre-season tournament, I think that the amount of young talent on the ice in Black & Gold should be encouraging for Bruins fans.

Game 1 – Pittsburgh Penguins

I previously analyzed this game, so I won’t go into much detail in this post.  However, as noted previously, it felt good taking down the defending champs, even in this format.  Strong performances by Matt Grzelcyk, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Jesse Gabrielle sparked the come-from-behind victory, 3-2 in OT.

Game 2 – Buffalo Sabres

Well, I guess we as fans can hang out hat on the fact that it was tied 3-3 after two periods and was a real back-and-forth game.  The third period, however, belonged to the Sabres prospects.

It didn’t help that the Boston Bruins took 5 minor penalties in the third period, which allowed Buffalo to score 3 power play goals, ultimately taking the game in a final score of 7-4.

The Bruins goals were scored by Sean Kuraly, Justin Hickman, Ryan Fitzgerald (BC alum and son of former NHL player Tom Fitzgerald), and Anders Bjork (PP).  Assisting on the goals were Connor Clifton, Joona Koppanen, Jack Studnicka, Jakub Zboril, JFK, and Charlie McAvoy.

I think one of the most promising things about this game was the goal scored at 18:15 of the third frame:  goal scored by Bjork, assisted by JFK and McAvoy.  I believe these three to be the future core of the Bruins franchise for years to come.  I foresee Bjork and JFK joining McAvoy in Boston this season at some point, if not to start the season.  To see these three connect on a power play goal is exciting, and brings good feelings for the future of Bruins hockey.

Game 3 – New Jersey Devils

The barn doors were blown off in this one and they were blown off early.  I cannot for the life of me remember when I saw a Boston Bruins team have a 5-1 lead after the first period.  But one of the most encouraging things to see wasn’t necessarily the lead.  It was the fact that the team didn’t stop there.  An additional 3 goals in the second period and another in the third gave the Bruins a 9-3 victory of the Devils prospects.

I get it, this is a pre-season, prospect tournament.  But it is awesome to see young players who are all scratching and clawing to try to make the NHL roster or earn significant playing time in Providence play with this type of energy and desire.  At no time did team sit back and rest on their 4, 5, 6, or 7 goal lead.  The team played hard for 60 minutes.  I think the Boston Bruins fans would all agree that we’d like to see that mentality in the TD Garden this season, having lost many games recently due to not playing a 60 minute game.

Goals were scored by Studnicka, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen (3), Jesse Gabrielle, Hickman, Victor Berglund, and Bjork.  Assists were tallied by Gabrielle, Zach Senyshyn, Zboril, Bjork, Owen Headrick (2), Studnicka (2), DeBrusk (2), Grzelcyk, Kuraly, Koppanen, and JFK.

This was an excellent team game, and contributions were made up and down the lineup.  When a team scores 9 goals, it’s hard to pick anything in particular that stands out in regard to performance.  But congrats to Danton Heinen for netting a hat trick, having gone somewhat quiet in the first two games.

I’m sure he’s reading all of the press about Bjork and other young players who are being touted as ready for Boston.  This performance will hopefully act as a reminder that this guy was called up to Boston last season, and played in 8 games for the Bruins.  He’d probably like people to forget that he went pointless in those 8 games…but still, NHL experience is NHL experience.

Things to take away from the Prospect Challenge

Is anyone else ready to buy their first Anders Bjork jersey?  In his two games he had a 2 goals and 1 assist.  Man, this kid looks so good on the ice, and could seriously be a game-changing top-six forward this season.  His game appears to be polished, and he is an incredibly interesting prospect. Imagine him on a line with Bergeron/Marchand or with Krejci?  Could be scary good.

I’ll admit, when I did my Bruins Season preview earlier, I did not include Bjork in my opening day lineup.  Props to one of our readers for calling me out on that, because I think if Bjork continues this play at regular camp starting September 14, he has a shot at making the big club this season.

I also got chirped by a reader for saying that I thought JFK was ready for Boston.  But with a goal and 2 assists in his three games, I think he showed the type of skill and play the team needs in Boston.  You can tell that he models his game after possibly soon-to-be teammate Patrice Bergeron.  Fellow prospect, and another player who had a great tournament, Matt Grzelcyk, calls JFK “Patrice Bergeron 2.0.”

I personally would like to see a guy like JFK garner some NHL time this season if the team struggles or gets hit by the injury bug.  Who knows, if the David Pastrnak situation doesn’t get resolved, there could be an extra roster spot available that no one expected.

Conclusion

Head Coach Bruce Cassidy, GM Don Sweeney, and the rest of the Bruins front office will clearly have some big decisions to make.  Many players have gone out and made their case for a roster spot.  Who makes it could depend on the resolution of the David Pastrnak contract dispute.  If he remains a holdout into the season, that could pave the way for another guy to get some minutes in the NHL.

Long story short, the future is bright in Boston in the years to come.  I also think this showing means that the team in Providence could really make some noise in the AHL this season.  The team made it to the Eastern Conference finals last season, and clearly has a ton of talent to work with, including two goaltenders who are competing to earn the back-up spot to Tuukka Rask this season.