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What we’ve learned about the Bruins’ young players

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The kids are getting plenty of time to show what they can do, so how have they done?

Nashville Predators v Boston Bruins Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

We’ve just about reached that magical NHL checkpoint known as Thanksgiving, which means it’s time to start taking taking stock of what we’ve seen from the Bruins so far. In a couple days, Colin Beswick will have our full quarter season review up for your consumption. Today, let’s have a look at how the team’s youth movement is progressing.

We’ve chronicled the Bruins’ immense injury issues (more on that here) which have led to a rocky start and lots of roster instability. However, the revolving door in the infirmary has provided a chance for a slew of young players to get major NHL ice time. While the team entered the year with a commitment to their youth movement, it was never supposed to look like this. As you might imagine, the results have been mixed, but at least we have some results to review.

For our purposes, we’re going to look at players age 24 and younger that have played at least six games. This gives us a good sample of guys that could be a part of the Bruins future with enough NHL ice time to give a fair assessment (you won’t see Peter Cehlarik or Matt Grzelcyk because we just haven’t seen enough of them this year.) We’ll be using both traditional and newfangled stats here to get an overview of each player: Games played (GP), points; points per 60 minutes for all strengths (P/60); and 5-on-5 expected goals percentage (xGF%) via Corsica.

Forwards

Anders Bjork

Age: 21 GP: 16 Points: 3 – 6 – 9 P/60: 2.33 xGF%: 46.62

After dominating the college ranks at Notre Dame, Bjork made the jump straight the NHL. So far, it looks like he belongs. He made the team out of training camp and was put on the top line with the always excellent Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. As injuries have forced change, Bjork has bounced around the lineup a little, remaining relatively productive all the while. His defensive game needs some work, but he looks dangerous enough to warrant top-six usage, even at this early stage. He’s working through an injury now, but expect to see Bjork used in that top-six capacity for a good long time.

Austin Czarnik

Age: 24 GP: 6 Points: 0 – 1 – 1 P/60: 0.91 xGF%: 50.57

Czarnik just makes the cut here, as he turns 25 in just a couple weeks. That’s not great news for the speedy center, who just hasn’t cut it at the NHL level. There was a time when it appeared he was being groomed to replace Ryan Spooner as the Bruins’ third center, but Czarnik’s offensive output has been practically nonexistent in every role he’s been given. He’s hasn’t been a liability, but that’s not enough. Even with all the injuries, he’s been given just six NHL games this year with an average TOI of 10:58 after he played in 49 games and averaged 13:01 last year. The writing, as they say, is on the wall.

Danton Heinen

Age: 22 GP: 15 Points: 4 – 6 – 10 P/60: 2.47 xGF%: 61.2

In a first quarter wanting for bright spots, Heinen has been one of the brightest of all for Bruins fans. He’s been dangerous and productive, flashing skill, vision, and smarts no matter who his linemates are. The Denver University product made the team out of camp last year, but needed more seasoning. It looks like his year in the AHL did him some good, as he’s emerged as reliable, productive player who can be used in all situations. He won’t be going back to Providence.

Sean Kuraly

Age: 24 GP: 19 Points: 2 – 3 – 5 P/60: 1.34 xGF%: 58.98

He’s not flashy, but Kuraly has done a nice job in his bottom-six center role. He seems to have found a bit of a groove alongside Tim Schaller and has definitely played his way past Czarnik on the depth chart. Don’t expect any big numbers from him, but he should be around as a solid depth piece (and expert leaper).

Frank Vatrano

Age: 23 GP: 15 Points: 2 – 0 – 2 P/60: 0.82 xGF%: 57.06

This far into his pro career, Vatrano remains an enigma. His skillset is obvious (that shot!) if one-dimensional. Advanced metrics speak fairly highly of him. But he just hasn’t produced much. It might serve well to admit that he doesn’t have the ability to make dangerous plays, so he’ll always be a volume shooter with the ability to pot a few solely based on probability. Food for thought: Vatrano has been among Boston’s best players in shot suppression the last three seasons.

Jake Debrusk

Age: 21 GP: 18 Points: 4 – 5 – 9 P/60: 2.01 xGF%: 44.83

Like Bjork, Debrusk made the team out of camp in a top-six role and has continued to earn it. Despite some periodic struggles, the winger has used his straight-line speed and soft hands to provide some much-needed offense to the depleted lineup. As the Bruins get healthier, he should retain an important scoring role.

David Pastrnak

Age: 21 GP: 19 Points: 10 – 7 – 17 P/60: 2.87 xGF%: 45.63

This is your periodic reminder that Pastrnak is only 21 years-old. He’s a star. Not in a couple years. Right now. No, he’s not Bergeron defensively, but he doesn’t have to be because he’s an offensive force. He’s the Bruins’ leading scorer, and he will be one of their most important players for a long time. Leave your takes at the door.

Defensemen

Brandon Carlo

Age: 20 GP: 19 Points: 0 – 4 – 4 P/60: 0.66 xGF%: 59.57

After bursting onto the NHL scene with a great start last season, Carlo’s performance has undeniably fallen back. As expected when he was drafted, he hasn’t produced much offensively but has served as a serviceable shutdown defender. As was pointed out here, Carlo has some serious issues on the breakout. That’s a big problem for a defenseman in today’s NHL. That said, he’s only 20, and defensemen generally take time to develop. He should still improve.

Rob O’Gara

Age: 24 GP: 6 Points: 0 – 0 – 0 P/60: 0.00 xGF%: 49.63

The Yale man spent his first pro year in Providence and has seen time there and in Boston this year. He’s very much a stay-at-home type, but skates better than the old-guard version. With blue line injuries to Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid, he’s making the most out of his chance, outplaying Paul Postma in his limited minutes.

Charlie McAvoy

Age: 20 GP: 19 Points: 2 – 8 – 10 P/60: 1.22 xGF%: 51.83

Arriving as advertised in the playoffs last year, McAvoy hasn’t missed a beat to start his first full pro season. His offensive game is advanced beyond most tenured NHL defensemen, and he’s better defensively than he’s given credit for. Trailing only Zdeno Chara in ice time at an average of 23:16 a night, McAvoy has been one of the Bruins’ best players by any measure. He is the real deal if ever there was one.