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What we’ve learned about the Bruins’ young players: Mid-season edition

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Long live the youth movement!

Boston Bruins v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The surging Bruins have hit the mid-season bye week, and it’s time to check in on how the kids are performing. We took some notes on them at the quarter mark of the season here. To say that a lot has happened in the 20 games since then would be an understatement.

We’ve seen continued excellence from several young players, while the brakes have been thrown on the season for others. At least one (maybe two) is making a case for Rookie of the Year consideration. The Bruins are getting serious contributions from some of these guys.

We’re going to use the same stats in our player snapshots that we did last time: Points, Points per 60, and Corisca’s Expected Goals Percentage. The latter gives a good generalized view of a player’s contribution by taking into account shot rates and shot quality for and against.

Our age requirement remains 24 and under (bye bye Austin Czarnik) with a minimum of 20 NHL games played this year (sorry Rob O’Gara and Peter Cehlarik).

By order of jersey number, here they are:

Forwards

Anders Bjork

Age: 21 GP: 28 Points: 4 – 8 – 12 P/60: 1.53 xGF%: 49.01

Since the quarter poll, things have changed drastically for Bjork. In that time frame, he’s only put up three points in 12 games. That qualifies as hitting the rookie wall. As his production stagnated, he was first scratched, then ultimately demoted to AHL Providence to open up a roster spot for the suddenly healthy Bruins. By all accounts, he is far too advanced to stay in Providence long-term. At least he stands to benefit from playing big minutes and dominating the lesser competition in the AHL. The Bruins are on a roll with their current forwards, but it will only take one injury to get Bjork another shot.

Danton Heinen

Age: 22 GP: 36 Points: 10 – 20 – 30 P/60: 2.59 xGF%: 59.75

Where Bjork struggled after the quarter poll, Heinen practically exploded: In his last 21 games, Heinen has tallied 20 points. He’s settled in quite nicely on the wing with Riley Nash and David Backes, while also playing well on the penalty kill and, more recently, the power play. While his overall point production lags a touch behind other Rookie of the Year candidates like Brock Boeser and Mathew Barzal, his game is complete and mature enough to warrant real consideration. Not too shabby for a fourth round pick.

Sean Kuraly

Age: 24 GP: 40 Points: 3 – 5 – 8 P/60: 1.12 xGF%: 56.05

Kuraly still isn’t flashy, but he is still solid. As the Bruins have regained their health, he’s found a permanent home centering a very good fourth line with Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari (At SCOC, we’re advocating for the name “50 grit,” as in the very rough sandpaper). Competitive teams need the kind of reliable minutes that type of a line provides. They don’t have to score a ton if they keep pushing the puck up ice. Kuraly works quite well in his role.

Frank Vatrano

Age: 23 GP: 20 Points: 2 – 0 – 2 P/60: 0.66 xGF%: 56.05

Not much to report here. Varano has only played in five games since we last checked in, and he didn’t do much with them. He remains a staple on Level 9 as an extra forward. It’s become apparent that the Bruins don’t feel strongly about him. The only question is what they plan on doing with him. Trade him? Waive him and hope he clears? Regardless of how you feel about Vatrano’s potential, it’s pretty clear that he needs a fresh start.

Jake Debrusk

Age: 21 GP: 36 Points: 9 – 12 – 21 P/60: 2.38 xGF%: 48.4

Debrusk started the season well, and he has only gotten better. His speed and tenacity have translated well in the NHL, and he has added an element of consistency that bodes well for a 21 year-old. One interesting note, he hasn’t gone pointless in more than three games in a row since October. He may still have some growing pains to go through, but he looks like a reliable middle six wing, even at this early stage of his career.

David Pastrnak

Age: 21 GP: 40 Points: 17 – 22 – 39 P/60: 2.4 xGF%: 51.77

David Pasrnak is still 21 years-old. Take that in for a second. Have a good laugh. I’ll wait.

Okay, there isn’t much to add here, other than to say that he went 11 games without scoring a goal recently, and I didn’t even notice. He’s dangerous just about all the time. He has the audacity to try new, exciting things and the skill to pull them off. He plays on the best line the league. He draws loads of penalties, then terrorizes teams on the power play. Enjoy the next six years.


Defensemen

Brandon Carlo

Age: 21 GP: 40 Points: 0 – 5 – 5 P/60: 0.39 xGF%: 54.04

This one’s a tough nut to crack. Carlo has played in every game this year, mostly in a shutdown role on Torey Krug’s pairing and on the penalty kill. While he doesn’t hurt most of the time, it’s hard to ignore two things: his knack for turning the puck over in bad spots and his complete lack of offensive contributions (one point in the last 20 games). To my eye, Carlo hasn’t looked comfortable all season. If the Bruins intend to get Adam McQuaid back in the lineup, he could be the odd man out.

Matt Grzelcyk

Age: 24 GP: 22 Points: 1 – 4 – 5 P/60: 1.02 xGF%: 62.31

Welcome to the list, Gryz! He wasn’t covered in our quarter poll piece because he had hardly played in the NHL. Fast forward 20 games, and Grzelcyk is looking like one of the best young players on the Bruins’ roster. Granted, he has been heavily sheltered, but his rates are downright eye-popping. Where Carlo seems lacking in confidence, Grzelcyk has shown some swagger, seeing the ice well and making plenty of sharp, effective breakout passes. He looks totally at home with Kevan Miller. I’m intrigued to see if Bruce Cassidy sees fit to test him with some tougher matchups as the season goes on.

Charlie McAvoy

Age: 20 GP: 40 Points: 5 – 16 – 21 P/60: 0.97 xGF%: 55.75

My goodness, is this kid good. McAvoy has shown no signs of hitting any kind of rookie wall, gobbling up big-time minutes against tough competition and dominating all the while. There is a legitimate case to be made that he has been the Bruins’ top defenseman. For a 20 year-old on a team sitting third in the conference, that’s really saying something. If you’re trying to find a chink in his armor, you may want to just give up now. The only negative I can think of is the enormity of his future contracts. But that’s for later. Right now, we should just be thankful that he was available at 14th overall in his draft class.