The Bruins just wrapped up their yearly development camp. And while I wasn’t able to attend all five days, some things were apparent during my time spent over the weekend.
These kids are a few years away, but they’ve got some real talent.
Recent draft picks have been the buzz in recent weeks, especially with several prospects being from the New England area—5 to be exact. But for the most part, the majority of these prospects will only be seeing AHL, juniors, and world league ice-time.
Bruce Cassidy, coach of the Providence Bruins, admitted, "Aside from Malcolm I don’t know if any of them are gonna turn pro [this year]." Guys like 2013 2nd Rd. pick Linus Arnesson (who actually won’t be appearing in the AHL this season due to Swedish transfer limitations) are showing improvement, but are still behind the top of the class on the Baby B’s like David Warsofsky, Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow and even Chris Casto. Don’t expect many of these guys to get spot-starts until late in the 2015-16 season, or maybe later. That said, the talent with this group was very apparent to all, including Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. "This has been the most skill we’ve had in a long time," Peter noted after camp concluded.
The closest skater in camp was Linus Arnesson, and while he’ll be developing for one more year in Europe, he believes he’s making strides toward the NHL. When asked about his main improvements, Arney claimed "my body, my strength. I put on more pounds, like 12 pounds this year. And I’m more relaxed now than I was last year. That’s a better feeling."
One of the best shooters in camp was BC sophomore Ryan Fitzgerald, who not only displayed a quick release but also a knack for getting in the dirty areas. In his second year of camp, he seemed to be comfortable on the ice. "You definitely come in with a lot more confidence," says Fitzy, "and that helps big time, coming out there and being able to do stuff that you’re comfortable with now that it’s your second time back." He also plans on taking improvements he’s made from his first two years at dev. camp into his 2nd season with the Eagles, noting "It’s good competition here. It kinda gets you ready for the fall. Coming off my freshman year, we went through a lot so… We should be able to build with it and have a good season."
One of the most promising-but-developing skaters is local kid and 2nd round pick Ryan Donato, who is still a year away from Harvard. "I loved it," he said. "I had a great time, I got a lot of new buddies, a lot of local guys, and I can’t wait to come back next year." He’s been well over a point-per-game player at Dexter, with about an equal amount of goals and assists. But his camp showed that he’s currently very much a "shoot first" type of player. Either way, his skill was on display, and his confidence grew over camp thanks to help from camp veterans like Rob O’Gara, Donato’s roommate. Still, even he knows there are factors of his game that he’ll need to develop over time. "It’s kinda hard to improve so much in a couple of skates," Ryan noted, "but I know what areas I need to improve my game now and that’s gonna help my development in the future… I know I need to work on my skating a little bit and get my first few steps going."
Malcolm Subban is the exception.
There were a few apparent things seeing Subban in practice. One of the main criticisms of Rask during the year and throughout the playoffs was his confidence against skaters coming down the wing on the rush. He wasn’t beat cleanly often, but when he was it was mostly on the rush around the dots. Malcolm Subban is a few years away from starting in the NHL, but there may be a underlying reason why Svedberg was only signed to a 1-year deal.
One of the first positives I noticed was his confidence and control on the rush. He was solid. Subbs has a strong glove, great vision, and fantastic rebound control against shots from the wing. The two areas he seemed to falter in were seeing through traffic in front of the net, and reacting to 2-on-1 chances. Malcolm’s lateral movement is fantastic, but reading the play—guessing shoot vs. pass and reacting—needs improvement. He handled 1-on-1 rushes and even shootouts with more confidence.
With only Rask and Sveddy ahead of him, he’s hopeful he can make his NHL regular-season debut in 2014-15, but he’s not going to get ahead of himself. "We’ll see," Malcolm said. "It all depends on how I’m playing during the season."
Lower Supply of Canadians, but a Higher Level of Skill?
There are only a handful of Americans on the Bruins current roster. Most of the team is made up of Canadians, with a couple Euros and Americans thrown in. But this latest class is showing something different. Five of the 23 invitees to camp hail from New England—one more than Canada—including Ryan Fitzgerald, Ryan Donato and Michael Doherty. It also allows for some friendly competition. While defensemen Matt Gryzelcyk wasn’t available in the locker room, his locker neighbor Ryan Donato admitted "there’s a little bit of [Beanpot sportsmanship] between Fitzy and Gryz. I’m a few years away from Harvard, but those guys… The more trips we have the more I’m sure it’ll come out."
The best shots seemed to come off the sticks of Fitzgerald and Doherty (Doherty scored twice glove-side on Subban during shootout practice). The United States had 11 skaters total represented in camp this year, and not far behind were the Swedes.
Four of the 23 prospects putting on the spoked-B hail from Sweden—2013 draft picks Linus Arnesson and Anton Blidh, 2014 7th rounder Emil Johansson, and free agent invitee Simon Norberg. When adding Loui Eriksson and King Carl Soderberg to the list, The Kingdom has a healthy presence in the Boston Bruins system. Arnesson was very excited about this element, saying "you can maybe go [into the locker room] and speak some Swedish if you don’t understand everything, you can talk to them and learn from them. I think that’s a good thing."
The European culture shift should bring a different style of play to the Bruins in a few years, with the focus being on skill, puck-possession, stick-handling and controlling the flow of the game. Reminds me of another Original 6 team based over in Michigan.
Past, Present, and Futurnak
Outside of the local kids, all eyes seemed to be on the Bruins’ latest 1st Round pick, David Pastrnak. His play overall was up and down, but it was a side-effect of not skating much at all over the last few months.
"I’ve played about 2 to 3 weeks in about six months… February until the first of April, so about two months, and then I played two weeks at the World Championship, so it was two weeks on the ice... And then here. But I’m starting to feel better and better."
He was confident he would get back to normal going forward into next season. And he didn’t feel any added pressure being one of just two first round picks in camp this year.
"Everybody in the locker room is the same, it doesn’t matter if you’re a first [round] pick or a fifth. Everybody’s just trying to do all their best. Being around these guys was unreal."
Speaking of first round picks, Pastrnak seems to have a bromance in one Malcolm Subban.
"Oh yeah, Malcolm, all the guys that have been here a second or third year, we’re thankful for them and they help us. They help us before we make a mistake." My favorite moment of camp had to be during shoot-around prior to the drills, where both Malcolm and Zane Gothberg were participating, taking shots. On one of Malcolm’s trips down the ice, Pastrnak raced up behind to back-check him, then drifted by with a big smile on his face, staring at Subban.
Oh. And where was his passport? "I’d rather not say," says Pastrnak. Time to speculate!
Overall, it's a very promising group. Only a handful of the campers might make the Bruins someday. But if the window for the current Bruins roster is closing as some believe, the future beyond it has a pretty high ceiling. Granted, that ceiling is hard to achieve. And the prospects will be tested each time at every level before stepping foot on TD Garden ice. There's no Bobby Orr, no Cam Neely. There's likely not even a Bergeron in this group. But skill and instincts can be approved upon, and those are attributes some of these kids already seem to have a lot of.