Separating prospects from suspects starts in Buffalo

Just a couple of more days until the Bruins and Penguins rookies face off in the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, and it feels like we are entering uncharted waters.

I honestly can’t recall another year where there was this much anticipation and excitement over a crop of Bruins prospects.

On Friday, we’ll begin to learn more about the kids and start to find out who is a prospect and who is a suspect, who will be able to contribute at the NHL level and who can’t, now and down the road.

A handful of players suiting up in Buffalo – let’s start with Charlie McAvoy and Anders Bjork –  likely will be in Boston’s lineup against Nashville on opening night a month from now. If everything goes as hoped, they will step right in and contribute.

Most of the the young guys, to state the obvious, will spend the year in Providence.

If they don’t make the big club out of camp – and I’m not ruling anyone out at this point — will second-year pros such as Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly, Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk continue to make progress?

How will the likes of McAvoy, Bjork, Jesse Gabrielle, Zach Senyshyn, Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon fare in their first full season of pro hockey?

A few more questions to ponder before the puck drops:

Can McAvoy pick up where he left off in the postseason?

I don’t see why not. I believe he will be in the discussion for the Calder Trophy by season’s end.

Is Bjork ready for full-time NHL duty? 

I like his chances, but you never know. The Boston lineup needs the speed and skill that he showed off at development camp in July.

Darkhorse candidate to impress in Buffalo: Ryan Fitzgerald gets my vote. The Boston College alumnus played well in Providence at the end of last season. It says here that he’ll keep that up.

What will the first power-play unit be on Friday?

I’m going with McAvoy and Grzelcyk up top, JFK as the bumper, Bjork on right wing and Heinen on the left.

How does Boston’s young talent stack up?

This weekend will provide a good measuring stick as to how good Boston’s young players are. Prospects like Nico Hischier and Will Butcher of the Devils, Alex Nylander of the Sabres and Daniel Sprong of the Penguins should be there. It will be interesting to see how Boston’s guys look in comparison.

When will David Pastrnak’s contract be straightened out?

Okay, this one doesn’t have anything to do with what happens at the Prospects Challenge. Still, it’s a question that is on everyone’s mind these days. Simply put, Pastrnak has to be signed and ready to go on opening night. The success or failure of the Bruins season might depend on it.

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