BUFFALO — The NHL is seemingly getting faster all the time and if the group that took to the ice at the Harborcenter on Thursday afternoon is any indication, the Bruins are doing their part to keep up.
The day before Boston’s first game in the Prospects Challenge, coaches Jay Leach, Jamie Langenbrunner, Trent Whitfield and Spencer Carbery put the 16 forwards, 10 defensemen and two goalies through a fast-paced workout.
“We’ve got some kids that can skate. I think we also benefit having seven or eight guys that have played in the system for a bit and are used to the pace. We’ve got some hockey players that like to skate and play fast. I think that’s what you saw,’’ Leach said after the one-hour-plus workout.
Thursday’s drills emphasized skating and competing, with systems taking a backseat.
“You don’t want to overwhelm them with information but at the same time if we can provide them with a little bit of structure, just so that when they go out there tomorrow afternoon, they’re not either frozen or their heads are spinning,” said Leach.
“We had some D zone coverage and maybe a breakout structure, as well. That’s really all you can do if you have 55 minutes.”
Bjork turns on jets
Some of the best wheels on the ice on Thursday belonged to Anders Bjork.
“That’s the third time I’ve seen him and every time I walk away and say, whoa, I never played like that,” said Leach.
“He’s obviously got exceptional ability with reading things. He’s got that ability to be inside people and he makes these nice little plays that not a lot of people can make. Every day he keeps doing it. For him, he’s just got to get comfortable with the pro game.
“He’ll be playing against bigger guys and stronger guys. His ability to learn to get inside those bigger, stronger guys is going to be his key to getting where he wants to go. Today he looked pretty good,” he said.
Leach understands the buzz surrounding Bjork, who gave up his senior year at Notre Dame to sign with Boston.
“With guys like that, it’s real easy to get excited. I get it. I see it. Everybody sees it, but at the end of the day, in fairness to the kid, we try to take it step by step the best we can,” Leach said.
“He’s probably got a lot coming at him right now and that sort of ability does lend to some fanfare and it can get to you. For us, I think our hope is that we can provide him with structure, (make sure) he’s comfortable with his teammates and he can go out there and do what he does.”
For his part, Bjork has been checking in regularly with his buddies at Notre Dame.
“Some of my closest friends are still there. I’ve been talking to them and seeing how that team’s doing , how practices are going, conditioning and tests and stuff. I’ve been kind of making jokes with them about doing homework and stuff like that,” he said.
After a good rookie season with Providence (including a two-game NHL callup) and a summer of training, Matt Grzelcyk has gained in both confidence and weight.
“I was able to put on 6-7 pounds, which is what I’ve been wanting to do for a while,” he said.
In his second prospects challenge, the 175-pound Grzelcyk is more comfortable.
“Last year I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little wide-eyed. Coming in here and knowing how everything operates, even something as simple as knowing some of the guys and the staff, it makes a big difference. Just playing more confident and trying to be more of a leader this year,” he said.
He has a fan in Leach.
“I love Grizzy. He’s a hockey player. He’s undersized but he’s not afraid to play defense. He’s got a nice stick, he can skate and he’s obviously offensive. He’s got a lot of tools there. Like we’ve said with some of these other guys, they’ve just got to figure out a niche. Everyone’s different. He might be a combination of a Tory Krug and a Jared Spurgeon,” said Leach.
Boudrias looks good
Six-foot-four undrafted winger Shawn Boudrias made a positive impression on Day 1.
“He looked pretty good. Made some nice moves, took the puck to the net,” Leach said.
Boudrias, 18, scored a total of 17 goals for Charlottetown and Gatineau of the QMJHL last season. He was picked 13th overall in the first round of the QMJHL Draft in 2015.
Bruins vs. Pens
Boston and Pittsburgh are scheduled to face off at 3:30 on Friday. The game will be streamed on penguins.nhl.com. Leach said he was undecided on his lineup.