BUFFALO – Maybe the first game of the 2018 Prospects Challenge wasn’t over as soon as the Bruins coaching staff decided to stack Ryan Fitzgerald, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Ryan Donato on the same line, but it kind of felt that way.
The young Pens had no answer for the Bruins’ top trio, which dominated even while scoring just one goal. Overall, the Boston prospects scored four times in the first 21:09 and rolled to a 4-2 win at Harborcenter.
“They made some high-end plays. (Ryan Donato’s) got the puck on a string quite a bit. JFK is able to really find guys with his great vision. And Fitz, made a nice, nice play at the end there that really showed off his hands. They were an elite line. We put them together to be that way,’’ said coach Jay Leach.
Donato and Cam Hughes each had a goal and an assist. Jack Studnicka scored a nifty goal on a fine individual effort. Wiley Sherman scored on a blast from the blue line. Single assists were notched by Axel Andersson, Jakub Zboril and Daniel Bukac.
Kyle Keyser was sharp in making 35 saves.
Connor Roberts and Adam Johnson scored for the Penguins.
Coaches have been saying it since the beginning of time: The team that gets off the bus with the best players usually wins. That was certainly the case on Friday night.
On this night anyway, I had Jack Studnicka as the best of the bunch in the three-way battle for the open, bottom-six center job with Boston.
Studnicka’s goal, in which he undressed a couple of defenders, put him over the top. JFK had a strong game, too, while Trent Frederic didn’t have one of his better performances.
According to Leach, Studnicka “might have been a little frustrated with some of the opportunities he had. Again, for these kids, it’s a process of getting into game action. We didn’t really have a power play … so they didn’t really get their touches. For the most part, he competed hard, skated well. I’m sure he’d like to get a couple of more looks offensively.”
JFK is building on last season’s performance as a Providence rookie.
“He has a year under his belt with the pro game. He’s still a young kid. You can tell he’s a lot more comfortable out here competing on pucks against men. Obviously he’s very comfortable playing with some skill. If he continues to progress and compete on those pucks down low, the offensive stuff. For me, he’s really an exceptional talent,” said Leach.
As for Frederic, here’s what Leach had to say:
“I didn’t have a problem with Freddy’s game. I think he might have a problem (with it). He might have been a little frustrated, just from his demeanor on the bench.
“He’s trying to make plays at the blue line – and I’ve gone back and forth on all of this for a long time. We want him to make plays. He’s going to get to the point where he’ll make the right play. We’re not going to tell him to just dump pucks in all night long. There probably were a couple at the blue line that he’d like to have back, where he’d like to take care of the puck, which he will learn.
“Overall, I think he’s looking for a clean game (Saturday) night. He’s always going to compete, he’s always in people’s faces, he’s always skating, so you can’t argue with that.”
Boston’s first-round pick in 2017 didn’t do anything spectacular, but played a steady game while paired with Daniel Bukac. As advertised, Vaakanainan is very good skater.
“He’s really, really smooth and he definitely, in my opinion, rises to the occasion with regards to playing games,” said Leach.
“He did a lot of good things out there. We’ll work on some stuff. Obviously, it’s a different game over here, a smaller ice surface, and you’ve got to make adjustments, but he’s smooth, likes to play the game, which is always fun to watch. I thought he was pretty good.”
The undrafted Keyser, who earned a contract off his performance in Buffalo a year ago, he did a nice job finding the puck in traffic on Friday night.
“He’s a gamer, is really the best way to describe it,” said Leach. “Every game I’ve seen him play, he’s able to rise to the occasion. Tonight was another one. You go out in the first period and you get, what, six shots? And then all of a sudden they’ve got three power plays in the second period, and it’s hard. He did a really nice job of staying focused and has a nice presence.”
He defended well and chipped in with a goal.
“Wiley was very confrontational and very involved. He had a goal and he got some shots through. I thought he was pretty good,” said Leach.
Sherman, who scored seven goals in four years at Harvard, smiled afterward when asked about his long-range scorcher.
“I just kind of watched it all the way, a little bit in disbelief,” he said.
SABRES ARE NEXT
Look for Dan Vladar to man the net on Saturday against a loaded Sabres squad.
The Bruins sat nine players on Friday. Some of them will play on Saturday.
“I think we’ll mix it in and out, look at injuries, if there are any injuries. I don’t think you’ll see a wholesale swap. We’ll see who’s got what and where and also see who we want to see against a pretty good team,” said Leach.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I want to be a guy who makes an impact in the NHL, not a guy who just makes an NHL roster. I want to make sure I stay and that I’m a guy that other guys on the team can rely on. I want to be a guy that’s in the lineup every night, yeah, but I want to be a guy that has an impact on the game, scores goals and creates plays as well.” — RYAN DONATO