BUFFALO – Connor Clifton’s shifts at right wing were the highlight of Monday morning’s 6-2 loss by the Bruins to the Devils in the final game of the 2018 Prospects Challenge.
That’s the kind of game it was. The Bruins didn’t dress the cream of their prospect crop – those guys got a day off before their trip to China on Tuesday.
“Can’t fault the effort. The execution I can fault, both on the power play and 5 on 5. Obviously it ended up in a poor result,’’ said coach Jay Leach.
Marek Valech and Clifton scored Boston’s goals.
Don Sweeney met with the media after the game for the first time this weekend. Following are some notes on what Sweeney and Leach had to say.
THE THREE CENTERS
The three candidates for a bottom six job at center in Boston — Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka — all sat out on Monday.
All had their moments in Buffalo. Now it’s on to China.
“They all acquitted themselves well. They all had pockets where they played really well, other areas where they’re going to get exposed if they play that way at the NHL level. Bruce (Cassidy), the coaching staff, all of us are excited to see how they integrate into the main group and see who has the chance to carry the ball,’’ said Sweeney.
All indications are that the Bruins have themselves a player in the young Czech. Where he will play this season remains up in the air.
“I think his preference would be in Providence, to sign and play there. That league’s tough for young, young players. We want to see him play in as an offensive a role as possible, wherever he ends up playing. He has an opportunity to play back in the Czech Republic and I think that’s likely where he’ll end up,’’ said Sweeney.
“Certainly, there is the Quebec league (he was drafted by Rouyn Noranda), which has been pining for him to go and play there. It’s still an option. We’re going to go through camp and reconvene with him and his representatives and see where it goes. I like his speed, his ability to get on pucks, his tenacity.’’
Lauko wants to play on this side of the Atlantic.
“I want to stay here in America, sign a contract. It was my big hope before this tournament and before the start of the season. I will see what will happen back in Boston, then I will know,’’ he said.
While Lauko didn’t score any goals in the three games, his speed and competitiveness stood out.
“I found out that I can play against these guys,’’ he said.
Leach liked Lauko, too.
“Competes his butt off. Really competitive guy. Exceptional speed. He attempted to make some plays. I thought he was good,’’ said Leach.
“It’s a good experience for him, obviously, to get over here and be in a North American style rink and try to figure it all out because it’s a lot different than where he’s coming from,’’ he said.
The Bruins drafted the super-sized Harvard graduate five years ago. He’ll start his first full year as a pro in Providence, which figures to be stacked with defense prospects.
“I think he is a project. He’s a real athletic kid. He played lacrosse in school. Moves well for a really big guy. He trained really hard this summer,’’ said Sweeney.
“Now we’re going to see if we can smooth out the edges of his game – identification of that first pass that’s so paramount for a defenseman to be able to make and execute with regularity. We’ve done a job with a number of players over the years that have been able to smooth those things out.
“He’s competitive as hell. He’s got that long stick and guys take notice in the defensive zone in particular that he’s out there. He’s got to go and learn to move the puck efficiently and play within his strengths, recognize his limitations and try to minimize mistakes.’’
What is up with Gabrielle, who played well in last year’s Prospect Challenge, but then struggled with the P-Bruins before being sent back to the WHL?
“He’ll be in Providence when they open camp. He had a late-season injury – an ankle. We’re going to have him start there,’’ Sweeney said.
The P-Bruins’ goalies will be Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar. Workload remains to be decided.
“(Vladar) really needs to challenge and push Zane for as many starts as he can possibly get in the American League and continue to make that next step,’’ said Sweeney.
“Zane’s been there. He wants his opportunity at the NHL level. He’s had some inconsistencies. Vladar’s a young goaltender. They play a lot of three in threes, situations where one goalie gets two out of those three. You want that competition for a guy to step up and say I want that other start. We’re hopeful that Zane can continue to move forward and doesn’t want to give up the net.’’
The Minnesota Duluth captain was one of the top players for the Bruins in Buffalo. His relentless style is likely to win him a lot of fans in Providence.
“The tenacity of Karson is probably what’s really going to stand out. Manages the puck really well. He goes to hard areas of the ice. He got rewarded the other night (with two goals). Can penalty kill. He’ll forecheck. Responsible player. He’s certainly a guy that we’ve identified that might grow with us and carve out a niche,’’ said Sweeney.
RIGHT WINGER CONNOR CLIFTON
Just kidding. The Bruins aren’t considering converting Clifton to play up front.
They dressed seven defensemen and 11 forwards on Monday and to give the D-men more playing time, the coaching staff moved Clifton to the wing in the second period.
“We were trying to spice it up a little bit. Cliffy’s up there half the time anyways. Scores a goal, so we said, screw it, we’ll keep him up there,’’ said Leach with a smile.
“He was yelling at the wingers in the first for doing something wrong, so we said, well, you show them how to do it. You can bet that he said something when he came back to the bench after scoring that goal.’’
SWEENEY STAYS HOME
The GM will watch over the group that stays behind while the rest of the team heads for China on Tuesday.
“I’m not going to China for a very specific reason. The players here should recognize that they’re being evaluated equally to the players that are going to China. It’s a real good opportunity for some players to see minutes in situations they might not have if the group was together,’’ Sweeney said.
“It’s unique; it’s disjointed in some ways that you’ve got a split camp. Shame on anybody that doesn’t recognize the opportunity in front of them with those (first three) exhibition games.’’
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“The big takeaway for our guys is the way the Boston Bruins play and the way that we compete and we prepare. I hope they are at least able to take some of that away from this weekend as they move forward. Hopefully, all of them will have a taste of what it means to be a Boston Bruin. – JAY LEACH