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What we’ve learned about the Bruins’ young players (after 20 games)

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Some bad, some good, and a heaping pile of Pasta.

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

The Bruins have passed the 20 game mark, and with the Thanksgiving line in the sand approaching, it’s time to start taking stock of what this team is. Here—as we did a couple of times last year—we’ll be taking a look at the team’s younger players to get an idea of what the first quarter’s results say about how they fit into the team’s plans both this season and in the future.

As we have in the past, we’re drawing the line on “young players” at the 25th birthday. That means that Sean Kuraly has aged into “We know what you are” territory. We also will be looking at players that have played five or more games in the NHL this season in order to create at least a little sample size, which means no Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, or Connor Clifton. Sorry fellas, maybe you’ll make it into the mid-season list.

And as before, we’ll be using a mix of traditional and fancy stats: Points, Points per 60 (5-on-5), and Corisca’s Expected Goals Percentage (also 5-on-5). The latter gives a good generalized view of a player’s contribution by taking into account shot rates and shot quality for and against.

In order jersey number, here’s how your young’uns are doing:

Forwards

Anders Bjork

Age: 22 GP: 18 Points: 1 – 2 – 3 P/60: 0.93 xGF%: 45.92

Bjork finished the 2017-18 season on a frustrating note, unable to bounce back from head and shoulder injuries that derailed a promising start to his NHL career. Thinking the 2018-19 season would be the reset he needed seemed reasonable, but the frustration has not only carried over, but intensified. Bjork has lagged behind in every way, producing only three points through 18 games and getting outshot and outchanced no matter his linemates. He does display the hustle coaches love, but it’s starting to look like the Jordan Caron brand of hustle, which is really just a guy who’s always chasing the play. And if you think he’s been unlucky, you’re wrong. Bjork has a PDO over 102 and has started 62.92% of his shifts in the offensive zone.

Ryan Donato

Age: 22 GP: 11 Points: 1 – 0 – 1 P/60: 0 xGF%: 28.94

Where Bjork had a tough go of it in the early going, Donato completely fell flat. Facing the expectation of a breakout in his first full year in the NHL, Donato took the dangerous, elusive play he flashed last year and threw it in reverse. We covered his struggles in detail here shortly before he was rightly demoted to Providence. The good news is that Bruins management recognized a young player being overwhelmed and headed it off. Since the move to the AHL, Donato has four goals and two assists in seven games. Hopefully getting back to scoring will give him the confidence he needs once he returns to Boston, which he surely will before long.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson

Age: 22 GP: 5 Points: 1 – 0 – 1 P/60: 1.17 xGF%: 40.42

After the Bruins were manhandled by the Canucks in mid-November, Bruce Cassidy decided to shake up his lineup by bringing up JFK and giving him the third-line center spot. In the five games since, Forsbacka Karlsson has looked competent, but certainly not special. His shot metrics are pretty bad, and the only Bruins goal he’s been on the ice for was the first of his career (hey, congrats!) On the other hand, he hasn’t done anything catastrophic and has only been on the ice for one goal against. The third line seems to be something of a sinkhole for the Bruins this year, and Forsbacka Karlsson hasn’t been the one to fix it. But hey, at least it hasn’t grown on his watch.

Danton Heinen

Age: 23 GP: 18 Points: 2 – 3 – 5 P/60: 1.11 xGF%: 55.32

After a surprisingly great rookie year, Heinen has gotten off to a slow start to 2018-19. But take heart, fellow Heinen Heads! As our Shawn Ferris pointed out, Heinen seems due for a turnaround. Many of his underlying numbers suggest his low point totals so far are not indicative of his play. Within the Bruins’ ranks of young players, Heinen remains one of the most complete forwards, balancing strong defensive play with some creative offensive upside. While his speed and skill won’t dazzle anybody, he has the game to last in the Bruins’ middle six for a long time.

Jake DeBrusk

Age: 22 GP: 20 Points: 8 – 2 – 10 P/60: 1.19 xGF%: 55.69

Any concerns of a sophomore slump for DeBrusk have been put to rest, as the winger continues to get to the net at all costs and score. Everything about his game has been impressive, from his forechecking pressure, to his ability to attack on the rush, to his deadly wrist shot. We can only hope that his skillset, and maybe another skilled winger opposite him and David Krejci, can boost the Bruins’ secondary scoring as the season goes.

David Pastrnak

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

Ah yes, here is NHL’s leading goal-scorer, who is still only 22 years-old. Pastrnak is such a unique talent. It’s truly remarkable that he’s managed to take his game to an even higher level this season. The improvement in his one-time ability—along with his uncanny knack for getting to the right place at the right time—has made him more or less unstoppable on the power play, and his ridiculously creative skillset make him a beast to contend with at 5-on-5. The Bruins were very lucky to get him with the 25th overall pick in 2014 and perhaps just as lucky to have him locked up for less that $7m per year through 2023. And plus, he chooses the best hats:


Defensemen

Brandon Carlo

Age: 21 GP: 16 Points: 0 – 2 – 2 P/60: 0.22 xGF%: 52.92

We’ve been through plenty of hand-wringing over Carlo, whose young NHL career has seen its ups and downs. Early this season, it looks like we might be seeing him level out at the type of play we should expect from him. That is to say that Carlo has become the steady, no frills, stay-at-home defensive anchor the Bruins thought they were getting when the drafted him in the second round in 2015. Virtually all of his underlying numbers suggest that Carlo’s defense-first game is contributing positively, if not dramatically, to the Bruins blue line. As the last two seasons have shown, you’d rather not be without him when it comes down to it.

Matt Grzelcyk

Age: 24 GP: 18 Points: 1 – 7 – 5 P/60: 8 xGF%: 47.2

Grzelcyk just barely makes the cut here, as he turns 25 in early January. Coming off a surprise rookie campaign, the Charlestown native signed a two-year bridge deal worth $1.4m per year. Bruce Cassidy has placed him in less favorable situations this year, leading to an inevitable downslide in his shot rates (especially expected goals, which he dominated last year in a sheltered role), but he hasn’t looked out of place while filling in for Torey Krug and on the top pair alongside Zdeno Chara. Grzelcyk continues to be pretty good defensively and very good on the breakout. He remains a useful piece on the blue line.

Charlie McAvoy

Age: 20 GP: 7 Points: 1 – 5 – 6 P/60: 2.42 xGF%: 55.56

The stallion is in the stable. Following on an awesome rookie year, McAvoy had been off to a decent start until a concussion sidelined him in late October. Given the massive role he was given last year, it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing much more of him in the future. The only questions are how soon will he play, and how long will it take him to get back to dominating 23 minutes every night. In any case, the Bruins would be wise to open their wallets and lock him in long-term before next season.

Jeremy Lauzon

Age: 21 GP: 8 Points: 1 – 0 – 1 P/60: 0.56 xGF%: 57.38

With McAvoy, Vaakanainen, Kevan Miller, and now John Moore all injured, we’ve gotten eight games of Lauzon to analyze. So far, the results have been quite good. Lauzon has stayed well in the black in xGF% despite starting only 42.62% of his shifts in the offensive zone. He has been modestly outshot but has only surrendered one 5-on-5 goal against. That’s impressive considering that he’s been used as something of a top-three defenseman lately. Importantly, he seems willing to jump into the play where appropriate. His first and only NHL goal resulted from that selective aggressiveness (and a terrible idea by Malcolm Subban).