Down 2-0 Tuesday night, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson picked up the puck at the offensive blue line and headed into the offensive zone. Coyotes defenseman Jordan Oesterle chased Forsbacka Karlsson down the half wall. As if someone switched control of the Coyotes players, Jakob Chychrun slid over to challenge the young Swedish center, leaving the slot wide open. Forsbacka Karlsson recognized this and threw the puck across the ice to Danton Heinen. The Denver University alum finished the play by putting the puck into the back of the net.
For Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, it was the first assist of his young NHL career. For Heinen, it was his fourth goal of the season in a contract year. Ryan Donato also grabbed an assist on the play, his second on the year.
The three young forwards did not have the best starts to the season. Expectations were high for Ryan Donato heading into 2018-19. After returning from the Olympics in March, Donato played 12 regular season games and 3 playoff games in the 2017-18 season, tallying 5 goals and 4 assists. After being scratched for one game, and playing eleven, management and the coaching staff decided he should spend some time in Providence. Donato recorded 5 goals and 4 assists in 10 games with the Providence Bruins. Since coming back from Providence, Donato has 4 points in 7 games.
Danton Heinen saw two games from the ninth floor in October. Playing on an abysmal third line, and not passing Bruce Cassidy’s eye test, the twenty-three-year-old was forced to watch his teammates win 8-2 against a weak Red Wings team and get obliterated 5-2 by the Calgary Flames. While Heinen struggled in the playoffs last season, only recording a single point in nine contests, his 47 points in 77 regular season games promised for a breakout sophomore campaign. He will also be a restricted free agent come this summer. As Bruce Cassidy has mentioned before, you know you will get good defensive play out of Heinen. However, points and time on ice determine your new salary, not defensive play.
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson started the season in Providence. Heading into the new campaign, he, Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, and Sean Kuraly were the leading candidates for the third-line-center position. However, Forsbacka Karlsson didn’t even make it to the final day of the preseason. When the Bruins played their final preseason game, Trent Frederic was centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak while Sean Kuraly was between a mixture of Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, and Anders Bjork. At the end of the night, Sean Kuraly won the job and Frederic was sent down to Providence.
To say Forsbacka Karlsson has lit up the AHL in his appearances this season would be an overstatement. In 10 games, he has 1 goal and 3 assists. Forsbacka Karlsson has inverse totals in the NHL, with 3 goals and 1 assist in his 13 games played. Meanwhile, his competition from the preseason has struggled. Trent Frederic has 6 points (all of them goals) in 18 games for Providence this season. Jack Studnicka has mainly played second line for the Oshawa Generals, recording 33 points in 29 games. Sean Kuraly was quickly kicked back to the “fourth” line and has 4 points in 30 games.
With Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk injured, and no depth scoring in sight, it is up to these three young forwards to not only grab the hearts of Bruins fans, but to solidify their positions on the team. As Danton Heinen said Tuesday night, “We are three pretty young guys and we’re trying to learn together.” While it’s never optimal to learn on the job, it’s working out better than the veteran presence on the team at the moment.
This three-game win streak the Bruins have been on has had a huge impact on the Bruins playoff chances. According to Micah Blake McCurdy’s model, the Bruins had around a two-thirds chance of making the playoffs heading into Saturday’s contest. After the Coyotes game Tuesday night, the Bruins are around a four-fifths chance to make the playoffs. The three goals the line has produced, including the game winning goal against Toronto, have been very valuable in the Bruins quest for a return to the playoffs.