Wrapping up Prospects Challenge

BUFFALO — I’ve been to enough Prospects Challenges to know that you shouldn’t put too much stock in how players perform here.

You just don’t know for sure what lies ahead for some of them. Consider that one of the better Bruins in Buffalo not that long ago was Jesse Gabrielle. Bet you haven’t heard his name lately.

Having said that, there were reasons to be encouraged in the two games the Bruins played – a 5-2 win against the Sabres on Saturday and a 4-3 loss to the Devils on Sunday.

Jack Ahcan, Sammy Asselin and Kyle Keyser played extremely well and are trending upward as main camp opens this week. Jesper Froden was a standout, as you’d expect an experienced, soon-to-be 27-year-old pro to be. He projects to be in Providence this season and he should have an impact right off the bat. Teenage draft picks Brett Harrison, Fabian Lysell and Ryan Mast had their moments.

Here are four notes from the final day in Buffalo:

Lysell ticketed for the Dub

Meeting with the media after Sunday’s game, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney made it clear that he expects Lysell, Boston’s 2021 first rounder, to play in the Western Hockey League this season.

“In all likelihood, Fabian will play in Vancouver. It was exciting to see him today get even more comfortable, when you see him in the open ice, being able to create offensively.

“He’s got some areas, in traffic, and some things that he’s going to have to be aware of, and defensively. All are things we believe we can teach those young players as long as they are willing and receptive to learn. But he’s got the skill set that’s pretty unique for us to be adding to our group and to be excited about,’’ Sweeney said.

“It will be important for him to play against kids in his peer group. We’re excited that he’s going to play over here. We do believe the transition to the smaller ice surface, especially with young guys, they have to play in the hard areas of the ice in order to be successful. He’s more than willing to do that but he’s got to find his space.’’

I had him down for a pair of assists on Sunday, although he apparently was credited with just one. Lysell scored an empty-net goal on Saturday.

“I think he felt very comfortable today,’’ said Bruins coach Ryan Mougenel.

“I thought he was a little bit of a different player. He’s an exciting player. Every time he touched the puck I got excited. I think he was feeling it for sure. He did a very good job — very good game for him.’’

Lyle not at his best

Coming off a strong rookie year with Providence, Brady Lyle’s play this weekend was not up to the standard that he set last season.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t think he had a great two games. I didn’t necessarily like his games at times. He was forcing a little bit too much. But that’s also to be expected for guys that want to push their game and it was obvious,’’ said Mougenel.

“Brady knows he’s best when plays develop for him, he’s not leading the rush, but a part of the rush. Offensively, he had a lot of kind of looking for that perfect play. He had a lot of drag in his game. He was dragging the puck a lot. So he knows what he’s got to do.

“Brady and I spend a lot of time together, so he knows he didn’t play the best that he could. But, again, getting the rust out, I think that was important for those guys. He’s a player that I think Butch Cassidy will like.’’

Good weekend for Mast

The Ontario Hockey League didn’t play last season, so the last competitive game that Ryan Mast played in with the Sarnia Sting was 18 months ago.

Boston’s sixth-rounder this year, the 6-foot-4 defensive defenseman had a strong weekend, getting better as the two games went on.

“A year off is a tough thing, especially for a big defenseman. His progression was great in the last two games,’’ said Mougenel. “I thought he was one of our best D, for sure.’’

Replacing JFJ

With the departure of John Ferguson Jr., Boston’s executive director of player personnel and Providence general manager, to the Arizona Coyotes as assistant GM, the front office is down an experienced executive who covered a lot of ground for the organization.

To pick up the slack for the time being, the Bruins will spread out the responsibilities, Don Sweeney said on Sunday.

“Where we are right now, I feel comfortable in kind of doing it in-house and collectively. Dennis Bonvie will take on a little bit more of a head scouting role. Jamie (Langenbrunner) and Evan (Gold) will work in conjunction to handle most of the Providence duties and we’ll see where we’re at,’’ said Sweeney.

“We probably will add somebody at some point in time to augment our group, but several of these guys have been looking to do more and it’s a good opportunity for them.’’

Bonvie is a pro scout. Gold’s title is assistant GM and director of legal affairs. Langenbrunner is director of player development and player personnel adviser.

Positive start for Bruins prospects

BUFFALO — The Boston Bruins brought a good mix of experienced players and teenagers to the Prospects Challenge and they skated to a 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon at the HarborCenter.

The Bruins received two goals and an assist from Jesper Froden and a goal and two assists from Sammy Asselin, while Jakub Lauko and Jack Ahcan chipped in with two assists. Kyle Keyser was excellent in net, turning aside 32 shots. On the younger side, Brett Harrison and Fabian Lysell, both just 18 years old, scored a goal each.

Dynamic day for Ahcan

Ahcan’s fingerprints were all over this game.

Always skating with his head up, he carried the puck or moved it with authority, he jumped into the rush and he defended well.

He even drew compliments from the opposition coach.

“He looked like you want a player of his caliber to look. I thought he was one of the more dominant players on the ice today,’’ said Seth Appert, the Rochester Americans coach who is running the bench for the Sabres.

Bruins coach Ryan Mougenel praised Ahcan, too.

“You see how smart he is. We were just talking about it. Everything he does has a plan. He’s just a different, special player. I was asked the other day, do I talk to him differently about how to defend. I don’t. He’s strong, he’s inside. He’s a hockey player. Sometimes I get caught kind of watching him a lot out there,’’ said Mougenel.

“I think he’s where the game is today. He’s a guy that we can celebrate for his offense and we can celebrate him for how he defends.’’

Froden fits right in

At 27, Jesper Froden is the oldest player on any of the three teams and it showed.

In his first game since coming over from Sweden, the speedy, skilled winger turned in an excellent performance.

“Obviously I have a little more experience than a lot of the other guys here. I have that as an advantage both on the ice and off the ice, help the guys with small stuff and be a leader out there,’’ said Froden.

“He is super committed to being a better player and getting into the National Hockey League,’’ said Mougenel.

“He’s a guy whose game is going to translate very well over here. He’s one of those players that, when he plays with really good players, I think you are going to see how good he really is.’’

The kids are all right

It was a positive day for Boston’s scouting department.

Brett Harrison, drafted in the third round this year, got more comfortable as the game went on, displayed some good instincts and scored the game-winner in the third period.

“He’s a hockey rat. He’s got a great sense to him. He’s still young, he’s got a lot of time to develop, get stronger, all those things junior players have to go back and work on. He’s impressed me with his intellect, for sure. There’s a lot of good things in his game,’’ said Mougenel.

Talking about his more experienced teammates, Harrison said he’s taken note of “how they work off the ice in the gym and how they prepare for games, it’s really eye-opening. I’m just trying to learn as much information from those guys, soak it all in.’’

The goal by Fabian Lysell, drafted in the first round this year, was an empty netter. Lysell didn’t really get a chance to turn on the jets, but he did fire at least two shots on the Buffalo net before his late goal.

“He’s getting acclimated. I think that’s a fair assessment. He did some good things and I think there’s some things he’ll have to get used to out there. There’s some big bodies out there, too, and it was pretty scrambly, it’s tough to make an assessment. The one thing that’s evident is his skating ability. He’s got great feet,’’ said Mougenel.

Sixth rounder Ryan Mast turned in a solid, no-frills game. As advertised, he defends well.

Introducing Matt Thomas

Matt Thomas and Ryan Mougenel have been buddies since they were teenage hockey players in Toronto some 30 years ago.

Thomas is from Mississauga and Mougenal is from Scarborough. They skated together in the summers while playing for rival Catholic high schools, Thomas for St. Michael’s and Mougenel for De La Salle.

And they’ve remained close through the years as they climbed the ladder in their hockey careers.

Thomas was an assistant coach under Mike Haviland with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies of the ECHL in 2002-03 when the team traded for Mougenel. The Bullies went on to won the ECHL championship in what turned out to be Mougenel’s final year as a player.

When Thomas moved on to be head coach of the Fresno Falcons of the ECHL a few years later, he hired Mougenel as his assistant.

Now they are working together again, with Mougenel taking over as head coach with the Providence Bruins with the departure to Seattle of Jay Leach and Thomas coming on board as assistant coach along with holdover Trent Whitfield.

“We know each other so well. I like to think I’ve been a member of the Providence staff for the last three years,’’ said Thomas.

“Usually when there was a debate going in between Whitter, (former head coach Jay Leach) and Mouge, I was the guy coming in to vote one way or the other on Facetime. We know each other so well away from the rink, there’s a lot of mutual respect.’’

Working for the coach who used to work for him won’t be any problem, said Thomas.

“I know the way I’ve always been as a head coach. We all know that somebody’s got to make the final decision, and that’s the head coach. But we’re a team. Just like the players on the ice. It’s not one guy doing all the heavy lifting. We work together and we collaborate and we’re supportive of each other in the ways that we need to be.’’

Thomas comes to Providence from the Cincinnati Cyclones, where he was named ECHL coach of the year in 2019. Before Cincinnati, he was head coach at Alaska-Anchorage of the WCHA, where his stickboy one season was a young rink rat named Jeremy Swayman.

Early on in his coaching career, Thomas succeeded Nate Leaman as volunteer assistant under the legendary Shawn Walsh at the University of Maine.

Working for Walsh was akin to earning a PHD in coaching, Thomas said.

“That first year I got to sit in the crow’s nest, up top in the Alfond Arena, next to (legendary assistant coach) Grant Standbrook. Just the way Grant could analyze the game, the things he could see. Then to watch the way Shawn ran everything – really hard on his staff, really demanding. More importantly, he wanted you to be good, so he pushed you to be good,’’ said Thomas.

Quote of the day

Seth Appert on NHL draft picks opting to stay in school:

“In my years of college hockey, I never saw a player regret taking another year. I saw a lot of players regret leaving a year early.”

Notes from Day 1 in Buffalo

Sam Asselin will center Jakub Lauko and Fabian Lysell against the Sabres on Saturday.

BUFFALO — Sam Asselin is writing a nice feel-good story for himself with the Bruins.

In 2019-20, as an undrafted center/left wing out of the QMJHL, Asselin honed his game in the ECHL, scoring 52 points in 53 games.

He moved up to Providence last season and continued to improve, posting a line of 8-8-16 in 25 games while playing on the power play and the penalty kill as well as in five-on-five.

Boston rewarded him over the summer with a two-year, two-way NHL contract and the 23-year-old from Montreal is raring to go.

“Start with training camp, start with rookie camp here and try to make the most out of it,’’ Asselin said after Friday’s practice at the HarborCenter.

“I just want to go step by step. There’s a lot of depth here in this organization. There’s a lot of players that can do what I want to do, so honestly I just want to have a really good camp. I hope I can get a game in up there in exhibition and show what I can do.’’

When the Bruins prospects face off against the Buffalo Sabres youngsters on Saturday afternoon, Asselin will center the top line with Jakub Lauko and Fabian Lysell on his wings.

He smiled as he talked about playing with the two flashy Euros.

“Lauks looks really, really good. It’s his third year. I know Lauks from junior. Never liked the guy in junior. He was fast, he was good, strong. He’s really strong for his height and his weight.

“I’m pretty pumped to play with him. We never had the chance to play together last year so it’s going to be a good combination tomorrow.

“Lysell is a little tiny, but you can see the skills and the hands that he has. It’s pretty nice to see that at 18 years old. I don’t remember myself doing all he does at 18.’’

Asselin is undersized at 5-9 and 180 pounds, but his stature hasn’t held him back.

He points to Eric Veilleux, who coached Asselin with the Halifax Mooseheads in his last year in junior and is now an assistant coach with the Syracuse Crunch, as playing a key role in his development.

“Honestly, he just showed me the right way. He gave me the green light to explode, I would say that. I was coming into Halifax after a great Memorial Cup in Bathurst. I was supposed to be the third center, just more of a defensive role, maybe, second power play, PK, good on faceoffs.

“Eric saw in me something else. He gave me the green light. I started scoring goals, which I never did before. He would do video with me, show me the right way to play,’’ said Asselin, who finished 10th in Q scoring that year with 48-38-86 in 69 games.

“Sometimes I was off in practice and I was 20 years old, a little older (than teammates). If I was off in practice he’d come to me and say, ‘You’re a leader, you can’t be off.’ He’s been a big part,’’ said Asselin.

Players like last year’s Providence captain, Paul Carey, also played an important role.

“P.C. last year, just how he is, the way he is, the way he acted. You looked at him and you want to be this guy. Players like that helped me a lot.’’

Asselin has a big supporter in Providence head coach Ryan Mougenel.

“I’m a guy that really roots for Sammy. The process that he’s gone through, he’s a guy that’s put his time in. I had a lot of conversations with him when he was playing in the ECHL,’’ he said.

“The one thing that’s always been very clear with Sammy is he wants to play in the NHL. He’s done everything he can to scratch and claw and get there. As a coach and somebody that is a part of it with him, you get goosebumps when he has success,’’ said Mougenel.

“These two games (in Buffalo) are big for Sammy in that he can start revving his engine and get ready for main camp. He obviously wants to start those conversations with the big club, that he can go and contribute.’’

Kyle Keyser spent most of last season in the ECHL before joining Providence when Jeremy Swayman was recalled.

Big opportunity for Keyser

Kyle Keyser was a free agent when he earned his ELC with the Bruins based in large part on his performance at the Prospect Challenge in 2017.

This is an important year for Keyser, who figures to be the starter on Saturday, after an injury-shortened rookie year and then the pandemic limiting him to 27 games last season.

“He’s going to have a great opportunity in front of him to earn his teammates’ trust. I think that’s a big thing with Kyle. He’s a teammate-first guy. He’s definitely putting in the work and he’s going to have to show up, that’s a big part of it,’’ said Mougenel.

“He’s another guy that’s full of life. Guys want to play hard in front of him. He’s got that part down, now we’ve just got to get him making that first save. I know he’s capable.’’

Wolff trims down

Second-year defenseman Nick Wolff looks thinner than last season, when he was listed at 229 pounds.

“The one thing with Wolfie is his body has slimmed down, which he needed to do. I think he was carrying a little bit of weight last year just because of how he plays. He’s another guy that has to keep getting better every day,’’ said Mougenel.

Developing his puck handling and decisions with the puck are things he needs to work on.

“He’s been celebrated for being hard. That’s obviously a huge part of his game, but to play for the Bruins and to play for the Providence Bruins, you have to have certain intangibles of skill. I think he’s embraced that.

“He has a lot of great qualities as a defenseman that we like. Last year was a great thing for him. There’s things in his game that are strong, like he became a very good penalty killer for us. He values a 200-foot clear. If you really watch and break down his game, he does a lot of really good things.

“On the offensive blue is something he has to get better at. It’s something that we talked about in development camp for our D. Listen, it might not be in your DNA, but you better start putting it in your DNA.

“You’ve got guys that are working extremely hard in the offensive end and if the puck comes up to you on the point, Butch Cassidy expects you to make that play and so does Brad (Marchand) and Bergy (Patrice Bergeron) and Pasta (David Pastrnak). If it’s not in your bag, you’d better put it in your bag.’’

The lineup

Here’s how the lineup is expected to look on Saturday.











Quote of the day

Ryan Mougenel on tough guy Ian McKinnon:

“I want him to be in a place where I can put him on the ice and he feels comfortable and I feel comfortable. It was said best to me that toughness should be in the fact that he doesn’t have to fight all the time. That’s a part of the game that I want him to understand. I value him as a player first and fighting’s a tool in his toolbox.’’