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.
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.
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.’’
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.
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.
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.’’
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