Notes from Day 3 in Buffalo

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BUFFALO – There were no games on Sunday in the Prospects Challenge. The Bruins practiced at HarborCenter in the early afternoon and then Jay Leach and players were available, so I gathered some odds and ends for a notebook.

LAST CALL

The 2-0 Bruins play their final game on Monday morning at 9:30 against the 1-1 New Jersey Devils. Look for free agent Dawson Weatherill in goal. Tentatively, the plan is that players headed to China with the big club on Tuesday won’t play, Leach said. They are Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen.

AXEL ANDERSSON

Learning from mistakes is part of the process for young players.

The 18-year-old Swedish defenseman make a pretty move to elude one Buffalo player early in Saturday’s game, then in the blink of an eye gave the puck away for a Grade A scoring chance.

“I think we’re at a place within the game where we want people to make plays. We want some skill. We want these guys to be able to make a play like that. Where we are with that particular play, we showed it to him and said, ‘Hey, you made an unbelievable first play. Make a pass the second time,’ ” said Leach.

“But that’s the evolution of a kid. You asked me yesterday about him and what he needs to do. He needs to make that play and that move and then get rid of it. After that he settled in. He has the ability to see the ice fairly well. He seems to be very courageous. There’s definitely something there.’’

Rookie tournaments like the Prospects Challenge can be particularly challenging for young defensemen.

“If you see defensemen out there in these games that are able to make a couple of passes and make plays, it’s very encouraging because the game is very scrambled and it’s hard to play as a defenseman. I thought his game was, overall, pretty effective,’’ Leach said.

“You pack the building, you have scouts from four different organizations and then you tell a kid that has never really played in North America that you’re going to play a completely different way, and then on top of that we want you to go make plays. There’s a lot going on in his head.’’

RINK RAT

Ryan Donato really is a rink rat. He was one of the first players at the rink today, arriving well ahead of the team bus. Then he was the first guy on the ice and the last one off, long after practice ended.

RYAN FITZGERALD

Coming off a 21-goal rookie season in Providence, the Boston College alumnus continues to fly under the radar as a prospect, but he’s not concerned about it.

“I feel kind of like it’s been that way for a while for me. It’s not something I think too much about. I’m comfortable with it. It’s something I think I embrace,’’ he said.

Fitzgerald, who assisted on two goals on Saturday, played well in both games so far. He has Leach solidly in his corner.

“Every night he’s pretty much the same guy. He gets inside people. Excellent around the net. He booted a couple (on Friday night), which is going to happen in this tournament, but as the third (period) got through, he started to go through people, made a nice play to get a shot off through a defender late in the third,’’ he said.

More penalty killing will be added to Fitzgerald’s responsibilities in Providence this year.

“We want to round out these players so that they can do a lot of things for us whenever needed. I think he’s going to continue to be an offensive threat, like he was last year. He’s working on being a bit more efficient with his skating and get that extra gear,’’ said Leach.

CONNOR CLIFTON

Clifton earned an upgrade from an AHL contract to a two-year NHL deal with his play as a Providence rookie last season. I asked him what he learned and what he needs to do to take the next step.

“Just getting used to the speed and the professional life. Having a year under my belt is great. Lots of nerves last training camp. Now I can just kind of settle in and just play,’’ he said.

“Obviously, I needed to gain a little experience, get my confidence up. It took me a bit to get in the lineup, but by the end I hit the ground running. I just want to keep doing that and keep going up from here.’’

Clifton plays with a lot of enthusiasm, charging up the ice with abandon at times.

“Cliffy is fun to play with. Fun in a lot of different ways. You might find yourself on the receiving end of a two on one (against), but he’s very engaged,’’ said Leach.

“He has this infectious personality and he will get his partner, whoever it is, involved in a game. He talks a lot. (Urho Vaakanainen) is a reserved kid. That (Vaakanainen-Clifton pairing on Saturday) we strategically tried to do just to see if we could bring him out. Vaak was really pretty effective last night. He skated well, he did some nice things. That was nice to see.’’

JEREMY LAUZON

He enters his second year after playing 52 games as a rookie, missing a good chunk of the season with a concussion.

“Last year for me was a year to learn how to act like a pro, play like a pro. I remember my last year of junior. If I was coming to a game and I wasn’t prepared to play, I was still able to do enough. But now you’ve got to be prepared for every game. It’s a different mindset to be a pro,” he said.

“For this year, I need to stay healthy first. Last year I had a good start and after that I got my concussion and that slowed me a little bit. I’m really looking forward to this year. I had a great summer of training. I feel like my skating got better; my puckhandling, too. It’s going to be a big year for me.”

After putting up good offensive numbers in juniors, Lauzon posted only seven points as a rookie.

“Last year I was really concentrating on the defensive part, be reliable in my zone. In my junior career, playing in the offensive zone was a part of the game that I loved. I’m going to make the effort to play more offense this year,” he said.

Good health and playing time are all Lauzon needs, according to Leach.

“For a lot of defensemen, the remedy is just playing time. He’s such a high-strung guy that is willing to compete at such a high level that sometimes that does get in the way of timing or making a play or two. As you get playing and you get a little bit older, he’ll calm down and start to learn the angles, learn certain things that will allow you to make a play,” he said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“He’s willing to go to the places where it hurts’’ — Jakub Zboril describing feisty 3rd rounder Jakub Lauko

 

Notes from 2nd day of Prospects Challenge

bufrinkBUFFALO – Dan Vladar (38 saves) and Karson Kuhlman (two goals) were standouts in Boston’s 3-1 win over Buffalo in the Prospects Challenge at a jam-packed HarborCenter on Saturday night.

“I thought we skated, is what I really liked,’’ coach Jay Leach said afterward. “I thought we took it to them. They have a lot of skill. There’s two ways to go about it. You can sit back and trust your systems or you can go at them. I even asked the guys in the room, ‘What do you want to do?’ They wanted to go. Our guys can skate and we really showed that tonight.

“We competed on pucks. Gave up some chances, for sure, which you’re going to see in this tournament. Vladdy was there for us. Overall, I really liked our compete and the way we skated.’’

Trent Frederic scored first for the Bruins, shoveling in a rebound after Urho Vaakanainen made a strong drive to the net.

After Vasily Glotov tied the game for Buffalo, Kuhlman ripped home the rebound of a Ryan Fitzgerald shot in the last minute of the first period. He added an empty net goal with 27 seconds left.

Fitzgerald finished with two assists; Vaakanainen, Connor Clifton and Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson had one helper each.

KARSON KUHLMAN

Here’s what I wrote about Karson Kuhlman during development camp in June:

“He may not make the Boston Bruins out of training camp, but I like Karson Kuhlman’s chances of playing NHL games at some point during his upcoming rookie season.”

After Saturday night, I like his chances even more. Simply put, Kuhlman is the kind of player that coaches love.

“I’ve gotta be careful because you can only compliment guys so much, but he’s the real deal,” said Leach.

Kuhlman played two regular season games and one playoff game with Providence in the spring, after captaining Minnesota Duluth to the national championship and being voted Frozen Four MVP.

“By the end of the playoff game he was one of our top guys,” Leach said. “Tonight his speed was exceptional. He was great on the penalty kill. He gets everything out. He gets everything in. He was able to capitalize with a couple of goals.”

Leach compared Kuhlman to Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust, who he coached with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a few years back.

Kuhlman is “a bulldog. He’s a dog on a bone. Donnie (Sweeney) just said it. He seeks that puck, those blocked shots, all of that stuff,” Leach said.

For his part, Kuhlman is understandably happy to be with the Bruins.

“It’s a great spot to be. The culture here is unbelievable. They know how to win. Those are things that I hold very high. I think it’s a place where I can develop my game and hopefully take it to the next level,” he said.

DAN VLADAR

He turned 21 just a couple of weeks ago, but Vladar is starting his third pro season and his first as a full-timer in Providence.

A good win in front of a capacity crowd was a nice way to kick off his season.

“It kind of reminded me of a small rink in Europe. It was loud. Everyone had fun tonight,” he said.

Talking to the media, he displayed his engaging, fun-loving personality, a quality that makes him popular with his teammates.

Vladar explained that he was a forward when he started playing back home in the Czech Republic. “I wanted to score goals, but after a year or two I was the worst skater on the team, so coach put me in the net and I started liking it. My dad didn’t like it because it was too expensive, but I liked it,” he said.

He added some muscle to his 6-foot-5 frame over the summer, following a weight program put together by the Boston staff.

Leach said that Vladar’s workload in Providence this season remains to be sorted out.

AXEL ANDERSSON

I paid more attention to 2018 second-round pick Andersson than I did on Friday night and liked what I saw, for the most part. He displayed good poise and escapability with the puck on a couple of occasions. He also turned it over a time or two, most notably in the first period, when he danced a Sabres player in open ice, then immediately gave it away to Tage Thompson, who hit the post on a breakaway. You can live with mistakes like that from an 18-year-old defenseman from time to time.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This guy’s the best I’ve seen for a long time because of his skating and the fact that he’s so mature.’’ Scotty Bowman on Rasmus Dahlin.

Senyshyn continues to be work in progress

BUFFALO – In an NHL that gets faster every year, Zach Senyshyn’s day is coming.

Not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But it will get here.

Both Senyshyn and Providence coach Jay Leach talked on Saturday morning about where the 21-year-old stands now, where they hope he is headed and how he can be an NHL contributor down the road. It was an interesting window into how the player and the team view his development.

There’s pressure on every first-round draft pick and Senyshyn is no different. He’s handling it the right way, though, rolling with the process and not trying to live up to someone else’s expectations or timeline.

“One thing we hear right after we get drafted from the staff is that now (draft position is) just a number. They really show that in the organization,’’ he said.

“You’re ready when you’re ready. There’s obviously pressure and I want to produce and be able to help this team win, but I try to have faith in the organization and faith in the staff, that they are going to play me when I’m ready.’’

In Providence last season, Leach used the lightning-fast Senyshyn as a bottom six winger, which the first-year pro was not accustomed to after putting up 45 and 42 goals in his final two years in the Ontario Hockey League.

“Different role than I had before, playing on the lower lines and learning how to (penalty kill) and that kind of stuff was big. I want to be an elite PKer, an elite power forward, able to use my speed and offensive abilities on that side of the puck,’’ Senyshyn said after the Bruins’ morning skate on Saturday.

Leach’s take on Senyshyn was refreshingly frank.

“We want him to have a transferable game. Let’s be honest. He’s probably not going to walk in to the second line position or the first line position for the Boston Bruins right away. He’s really not,’’ Leach said.

“So, how’s he going to get in the lineup? He’s probably going to have to be a utility guy for the start, at least. I mean, Brad Marchand did it his first year, turned out to be OK.

“We’re transitioning him, trying to complete him as a player so that when the opportunity does come in Boston, we can throw him in on the third or fourth line and he can give us energy minutes and he can be an effective killer for them. Then, if things pan out, you never know.’’

Leach noted that Senyshyn is so fast that finishing around the net can be difficult at times.

“Clearly his speed is his asset, so if he can effectively use that speed, it’s ideal. He’s always going to be an F1 on the forecheck. We’ve talked a lot with him and he’s expressed a real interest in providing a little more physicality, being an up-and-down winger, bringing that up a level,’’ he said.

“Where I think we would like to see him improve and what I think he’s working on is finishing in tight. A guy that goes that fast, it’s really hard to make a play in tight going that speed. The elite can do it, but the others that have that speed, they just don’t have that polish. That’s what we’re working on, to be able to have that puck control at a high speed, if he’s coming off the rush or a stretch play on a breakaway. He’s really got to hone in on being able to control that puck when he’s going at that exceptional speed.’’

Stay tuned as Senyshyn continues to be a work in progress in Providence.

(By the way, Senyshyn was resplendent in a blue striped suit this morning. “Had to step up my suit game,’’ he joked when complimented. “If you’re going to make it, you have to dress the part.’’)

Notes from 1st day of Prospects Challenge

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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.

CENTER STAGE 

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.”

URHO VAAKANAINAN

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.”

KYLE KEYSER

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.”

WILEY SHERMAN

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

Eyes on these five guys in Buffalo

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Providence’s Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson beats Springfield’s Harri Sateri during an Oct. 7 game.

It’s been a couple of months since I wrote anything on Rinkside Rhode Island, but now the dog days are over and it’s time to get back at it, so here goes.

To kick off the new season, I’ll be in Buffalo this weekend at the Prospects Challenge. It was well worth the trip last year, when the Bruins brought a good group that included Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Jake DeBrusk, all of whom made an impact later on in Boston.

I’m on record as saying I don’t see a player moving up from Providence this season and being as effective in the NHL as any of those four were. Of course, I’ve been wrong a time or three, so we’ll see how things turn out.

Here are five players to keep an eye on in Buffalo:

JAKOB FORSBACKA KARLSSON

All things considered, JFK had a solid rookie season in the AHL. It was interrupted midway through when he suffered a concussion when he hit his head on the ice after a collision with Hartford’s Brendan Smith.

I believe he is going to be a good player for Boston, but he didn’t do enough last season to convince me that he’s ready to step into the NHL just yet. He might be well served by spending a little more time in Providence.

For me, there were too many nights last season when he didn’t make enough of an offensive impact for a guy with his tools. He’s a setup man, not a sniper, but there were 16 games when he had zero shots on net and 15 more when he had only one.

That being said, a strong camp and his one year of experience may give him an edge on rookies Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka.

TRENT FREDERIC

He’s an average skater but he gets around the ice well enough. He’s got good size, a dangerous shot and he can make a play. In addition to those attributes, he has a healthy helping of “fuck you’’ in his game.

Frederic spent the end of the season with Providence and played well. When I ran into Lehigh Valley coach Scott Gordon a couple weeks ago, he mentioned that Frederic impressed him.

It will be interesting in Buffalo to see if Frederic can pick up where he left off. I’m betting he can.

In my opinion, he’s not all that far from being ready for NHL duty. If he doesn’t make Boston’s opening night roster, I could see him spending, say, half a season with the P-Bruins and then moving up.

JACK STUDNICKA

Studnicka also finished up in Providence in the spring and held his own. He was a standout in development camp and he’s saying all the right things about making the big club sooner rather than later.

He’s an excellent prospect but is he ready right now to skip the Providence rung on the development ladder and jump straight from the OHL to the NHL?

Barring a light’s out performance in the preseason, it seems to me Studnicka’s development would be best served this season by dominating with Oshawa and being a significant contributor for Canada’s World Junior team.

JAKUB ZBORIL

A year ago in Buffalo, Zboril played poorly in the opening game against the Penguins. To his credit, he stepped up afterwards and said so, then performed much better in the final two games.

He had the usual ups and downs as an AHL rookie last season, but finished on a positive note.

While Zboril has the tools to be an NHL defenseman, Jay Leach said more than once last season that he must continue to push his limits. We’ll see how the other Z does with that in his second pro season in Providence.

RYAN DONATO

Saved the best for last. Obviously, he’s the only guy on my short list who is a virtual lock to be in the opening night lineup in Washington.

Building on his experience in the NHL regular season and playoffs, I’m looking for Donato to have a strong rookie season. I believe he has a legit chance to hit the 20-25 goal mark.

In talking to Bruce Cassidy recently about the Prospects Challenge, he remembered David Pastrnak and Filip Forsberg as being standouts when Boston took a team to Nashville for a rookie tourney a few years back, foreshadowing their emergence as big-time NHL players.

“If a young guy really steps up there, then there’s a pretty good chance he’ll do well with us,’’ Cassidy said.

Not to suggest that Donato is in the class of a Pasternak or a Forsberg, but it will be intriguing this weekend to see how he measures up against his peer group of top prospects for Buffalo, New Jersey and Pittsburgh.