As expected, the Providence Bruins are in the thick of the playoff hunt in the American Hockey League’s Atlantic Division as they reach the quarter pole of the season on Friday night.
Coach Jay Leach has had to deal with the usual challenges – NHL callups and injuries. And on most nights he’s had at least a half-dozen rookies, and at times as many as eight, in the lineup.
Watching the youngsters develop – or not — is one of most intriguing aspects of watching the P-Bruins. A year ago, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Peter Cehlarik were finding their way in Providence. Now they’ve all graduated to Boston.
As the next crop of rookies climbs the ladder, I asked Leach for a progress report, keeping in mind that it’s still very early.
C JAKOB FORSBACKA KARLSSON, 5-7-12 in 18 games
Leach: “JFK shows flashes of his offense, how cerebral he is. Nice hands. We use him in all situations. Overall for a 21-year-old kid, as a centerman, he’s done a nice job. He does have moments where he’s watching – not as engaged as he should be. He’s probably been able to get away with that (in college) because it’s a lower level and he thinks the game better than everyone else. Now he’s facing men and he’s realizing that sometimes he’s got to dictate a little more. The game Saturday night, he’d probably say it wasn’t his best. On Sunday he made up his mind that he was going to be engaged, starting with faceoffs, and he competed all night on pucks. He’s learning that consistency.’’
W ZACH SENYSHYN, 2-7-9 in 17 games
Leach: “Seny’s really been open to everything we’ve talked about. He’s willing to take any sort of role. We started him on the third or fourth line and he’s worked his way up and down the lineup. He’s worked his way onto the power play. There have been nights when he’s been penalty killing. He’s done everything that we’ve asked and he’s done a nice job. In years past I think he’s been more on the outside with wide speed. We’ve tried to get him to get on the inside and he’s completely willing to do so. He’s done a lot and we’re encouraged to see where it goes. Nothing but positives.’’
W RYAN FITZGERALD, 5-3-8 in 17 games
Leach: “When Fitz is good he’s inside people, uses his feet and is hard on the puck. Obviously, he’s got some instincts on the power play. He probably has had more games where he’s effective than not. There’s been a couple where he maybe hasn’t moved his feet as much and been a little careless with the puck. Overall he’s been pretty good, pretty consistent. As we like to say, he’s a hockey player. He likes to get the puck and try to make plays with it. It’s encouraging.’’
W JESSE GABRIELLE, 0-0-0 in 14 games
Leach: “Jesse’s had a tough start. We’re trying to find him a role. He can skate like the wind. He’s got a nice shot, nice hands. He’s a physical specimen. We’re still looking for him to bring the consistency – up and down heavy winger that can score. We teach the game a certain way. We want to make sure we take care of the puck. As we know, if you go up to the NHL and you don’t take care of the puck, it’s done, it’s over. I think Jesse is learning that and he’s also playing against men. It’s a different game. He’s going through that process right now.’’
D JEREMY LAUZON, 0-2-2 in 15 games
Leach: “He always will compete. It’s never an issue. He’s physical down low. He’s had moments when he lets the game come to him – I guess that’s the best way to describe it. He’s in position and he’s clean and it’s a simple game for him. There’s other moments when he shows his youthfulness, when he’s a little more aggressive and tends to get out of position, and the game becomes a lot harder. He’s learning to find the balance.’’
D JAKUB ZBORIL, 0-0-0 in 15 games
Leach: “Z is kind of in the other direction (from Lauzon) in that there’s times when he seems to be really engaged and skating and really good. And then there have been games where he’s just not engaged enough and he’s a little lax. He tends to lose a couple of battles and he’s not playing as hard a defensive game. He’s got to find that balance the other way – igniting a little bit more.’’
D EMIL JOHANSSON, 1-2-3 in 10 games
Leach: “We’ve asked Emil (a left shot) to play the right side, which is a hard thing for young D-men. That’s a challenge and he’s gotten right into it, for sure. He’s had moments where he’s complicated the game and it comes back to bite him. He’s had other moments where he’s starting to learn how to simplify. When he does that, he’s really effective. He’s a good shot-blocker, he’s willing to engage. He uses his skating ability nicely. Emil had a tough time early and lately he’s showed some progress.”
D CONNOR CLIFTON, 0-1-1 in 9 games
Leach: “Like Lauzon, he can be really aggressive. He’s learning his positioning. I think he comes from a completely different system that he’s been used to playing for a long time, so it’s been a process for him to break those habits and get inside and do the things that we talk about. But he has shown the ability to change, to keep it simple. He competes like a you-know-what.’’