Quick hits from Bruins camp

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BOSTON – A little of this and a little of that from today at Bruins training camp.

ZACH SENYSHYN

Another year, another step closer to an NHL job?

We’ll see how it plays out for the 2015 first rounder in his fifth Boston training camp, but it certainly appears that he’s going to get his best opportunity yet to graduate from Providence to the NHL.

One factor in Senyshyn’s favor is that he is more comfortable this time around. He doesn’t hesitate to say he was star-struck in his first couple of camps. “You see Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, it’s like, ‘I’m in a video game,’” he said.

“I definitely feel like my game’s matured a lot. I got a taste of it at the end of last year. I’ve got that confidence. It definitely lit that fire under me, black acing for the playoffs. It was awesome, being a part of the team,’’ he said.

“The whole summer my goal was to make sure I set myself up as best as possible to make that final roster. I was really focused and came here early and ready to work. It’s given me a lot less stress and anxiety this year in camp. I’m really just focusing on what I do well.’’

In the first two days on the ice, Senyshyn has skated at right wing on a line with Jack Studnicka and Brad Marchand.

“When they put you with a guy like (Marchand), it’s an opportunity to learn in practice and be a part of it. It’s awesome to be able to talk to him about what I need to do to make the team,’’ he said.

CONNOR CLIFTON

In Boston’s training camp 12 months ago, the notion that Connor Clifton would finish the year as an NHL regular and be a postseason contributor on a Stanley Cup finalist was far-fetched, to say the least.

And yet that’s exactly how it played out as the young defenseman vaulted over more highly touted prospects to earn a place in Boston’s lineup.

Heading into what he hopes will be his first full NHL season, Clifton is quick to credit the coaching he received while spending the better part of two seasons in Providence under head coach Jay Leach and assistants Spencer Carbery (in 2017-18) and Ryan Mougenel (’18-19), both of whom handled the P-Bruins D-men.

Before that, the staff at Quinnipiac University played a critical role.

“College hockey was great for me. I needed four years to develop and round out my game. Working with (head coach) Rand (Pecknold), Cash (Reid Cashman) and Joe Dumais for my four years there was huge, instrumental in my development,’’ Clifton said.

His former teammate, Chase Priskie, is the latest Bobcat to step up to the pro game, signing a free-agent deal with Carolina last month. He won’t be the last, according to Clifton.

“It’s just the beginning. There will be more in the near future,’’ he said.

ANTON BLIDH

After playing 19 games with Boston three seasons ago, Blidh played just one in each of the last two years.

Now in his fifth camp with the Bruins, he’s aiming to convince management that he is capable of being a full-time NHL player.

One of Blidh’s best attributes, according to Leach, is that he brings the same energy every night. Opponents know they won’t get a night off when he’s in the lineup.

In camp, he said, his goal is “to show up every day and show them what kind of player I am, a hard forechecking guy, never give up. Backcheck. Show them.’’

PAUL CAREY

Bruce Cassidy tossed some compliments Paul Carey’s way after Saturday’s skate.

“Paul Carey looks real good to me. He’s a good player,’’ Cassidy said of the veteran left winger whose 22 goals in 30 games down the stretch last season played a pivotal role in Providence making the Calder Cup playoffs.

In 2015, Carey played for Cassidy in Providence for 17 regular-season games and four playoff games.

“You could see it. Had good speed, shoots the puck well,’’ Cassidy said. “He’s a great depth player for us.’’

Last word from Buffalo

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BUFFALO – After three days at the Prospects Challenge, it’s time to empty the notebook. Here are some odds and ends from the weekend.

KIDS WERE ALRIGHT

It was a solid tournament overall for Boston’s better prospects.

Anders Bjork played well. Jack Studnicka had his moments, especially on Monday. After a couple of so-so games, Urho Vaakanainen was good on Monday.

“Anders had two strong games, was pretty noticeable. Urho had his best game today, was sharp moving pucks, involved,’’ GM Don Sweeney said after Boston’s 3-2 OT loss to New Jersey.

Jakub Lauko, per usual, let the other teams know he was there. Oskar Steen had 2-1-3 on Saturday night.

Trent Frederic played only one game, then was held out as a precaution with lower body soreness. Sweeney said he’ll be ready when Boston camp opens.

I didn’t see Kyle Keyser on Friday night, but he was sharp on Monday in 30 or so minutes.

Now it’s on to NHL training camp, where the men will be separated from the boys.

BJORK IS FIT

As far as his health is concerned, Bjork, who had a second shoulder surgery in January, is good to go.

“His strength has fully returned. He just hasn’t played hockey in a long time, so his timing needs (work),’’ Sweeney said.

“We may play him on the left side, his strong side, as opposed to his off side. He’s able to play both and I think you saw how effective he was against his peer group. Now he’s got to get acclimated to that next group.

“He’s been pretty honest that at times it’s been a bigger jump than he might have even thought. He’s got special qualities that we’re going to try and continue to harvest and see if he can make the jump.’’

WHERE TO FOR LAUKO?

Jakub Lauko could return to Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL, or he could turn pro with Providence. He’s eligible to play in Boston, too, but it doesn’t sound like that’s likely to happen this season.

“Jakob played real well the first two games. Might not have had his best game (Monday),’’ said Sweeney, summing up Lauko’s weekend.

The Bruins GM said the season in the Q helped the youngster.

“Maturity on and off the ice. Habits, details, things that he needed to work into his game, he’s slowly working into his game. We know how effective he is to get in on the forecheck and under the skin of players. … We’re excited about where he’s at.  We just know that he has details to put into his game,’’ Sweeney said.

“He’s the one that’s going to establish if he can play down (in Providence). We’re very, very cognizant of 19-year-olds playing in that league. It’s a big jump. Physically, we do not want them exposed to the possibility of getting injured. Obviously, anybody can get injured. We just want to be careful.’’

SOLID FINISH

Studnicka got better as the tournament went on. He didn’t have a lot to show on the score sheet, though he made a nice pass to set up a power-play goal by Scott Conway against the Devils.

“I thought his execution – we talked about it a little a couple of days ago – was just OK. … That’s just part of being a 20-year-old kid learning how to be a pro. But he’s physical, he’s willing to shoot. He’s pretty good on his faceoffs. He can play in all situations. I thought he was pretty effective,’’ said coach Jay Leach.

SIZING UP HANNOUN

It feels like we haven’t heard the last of Dante Hannoun, who scored the only goal for the Bruins on Monday.

He was an interesting player to watch all weekend. He’s only 5-foot-6 but didn’t play like it.

“Obviously, size doesn’t seem to bother him,’’ Sweeney said. “Goes to the (tough) areas of the ice. Is quick, he can dart, is effective on the power play, as well.

“He’s signed as a depth player for us, will be battling for a spot in Providence. If not (in the AHL), he’d start in Atlanta with (coach) Jeff Pyle down there. We’re excited about what he’ll bring to the table there.’’

BRYSON SHINES

After watching him for three years at Providence College, it was no surprise to me that rookie defenseman Jacob Bryson stepped in and played very well for the Sabres.

The elite skating that made him a great college player shone through. He retrieved pucks, eluded forecheckers and made smart plays exiting the defensive zone and entering the offensive end.

“I think I held my own out there, first pro games under my belt. It was exciting playing with a different group of guys and a different atmosphere than the college level,” Bryson said.

“I think I played three good games this weekend. It’s definitely different than playing two games every weekend in college hockey. You get a little more tired, it’s harder on the body.

“The pace was pretty similar to what we do with coach (Nate) Leaman at Providence. He’s one of the best coaches to play for and it carries into pro. The coaching staff here is amazing as well,’’ he said.

Bryson’s parents and a cousin made the two-plus-hour drive from London, Ontario, to watch the Friday and Saturday games.

The next step is Buffalo’s training camp, starting late this week.

“I’m excited. It’s my first one. It should be fun to keep it rolling with this group of guys,’’ he said.

CONWAY CASHES IN

Bryson’s PC teammate, Scott Conway, scored a goal in both games he played in for the Bruins.

“He’s the type of player … it doesn’t really look pretty, but it’s effective. Somehow he always gets that puck. Somehow he’s always in the right spot. Heady player and then when he gets an opportunity to bury, he buries, which is important,’’ Leach said.

Conway has an AHL deal with Providence.

BEST LINE OF THE WEEKEND

I happened to see Tom Fitzgerald of the Devils minutes after his son, Casey, a Sabres rookie, pummeled 6-foot-5 Andrew Angello of the Penguins in a fight.

“Did you teach him that?’’ I asked.

“No, his mother did,’’ he replied, without skipping a beat.

More from Prospects Challenge

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BUFFALO – Three more quick hits from the Prospects Challenge.

URHO VAAKANAINEN

The performance of the Bruins’ 2017 first-rounder has been underwhelming so far this weekend.

With NHL jobs up for grabs in Boston’s training camp next week as Kevan Miller and John Moore recover from injuries, more will be expected from Vaakanainen, Boston’s top defense prospect, if he is to earn a place on the opening night roster.

Not that there’s any real cause for concern. It’s been only two games, after all.

“He’s certainly not exactly where he wants to be, not to say any of them really are,’’ said coach Jay Leach after practice on Sunday.

“He’s fighting it a little bit. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He expects to be really good and in a tournament like this sometimes it’s hard to be really good, it’s so helter-skelter out there.’’

Leach compared Vaakanainen’s situation to Danton Heinen’s two years ago in Buffalo. Hoping to win an NHL job in camp, Heinen squeezed his stick a bit too tight in the early going before settling down and going on to a 47-point rookie season.

“You just have to kind of put it in check, understand the situation, that these games are a bit helter-skelter,’’ said Leach.

“Vaaks wants to be good. He’ll figure it out.’’

CAMERON HUGHES

Coaches love players like Hughes, the Wisconsin alum drafted in the sixth round in 2015.

“He’s a utility guy. He can play wing. He can play center. He can play on the power play and the penalty kill. He’s a very heady player. He’s not afraid to be in the mix. He does a lot,’’ said Leach, who used Hughes at wing with Jack Studnicka and Anders Bjork on Saturday night

An under-the-radar, bottom-six prospect, Hughes will look to build on a fine rookie season (13-15-28 in 52 games) in Providence last year.

His season was interrupted when he went down with a knee injury in mid-February after a collision with a Charlotte player. “I actually got a penalty for slashing, so I don’t know what happened there. It was weird play,’’ said Hughes, who avoided surgery and was able to return to the lineup for the playoffs.

“He’s got a real good attitude. He competes. Does a lot of things that project to put him in consideration for further growth as a pro,’’ according to John Ferguson, Boston’s executive director of player personnel.

This season Hughes will look to “find that consistency that I had leading up to that injury. That was some of the best hockey I’ve played over a long stretch. To get to that point in the year pretty quick would be nice.’’

DANTE HANNOUN

Never drafted, the 5-foot-6 Hannoun parlayed a light’s out performance for Prince Albert in the WHL playoffs – he led the league with 14 goals in 24 games – into an invite to play for the Bruins’ rookie team.

Hannoun, whose cousin is Toronto’s Nik Petan, was noticeable in Saturday night’s game, setting up a goal by Oskar Steen.

“He’s a little bulldog. He buried that guy on the wall there. He gets to the net. He made a nice play on that goal. He’s 5-6, but he’s sturdy. I knew he could make a play. He scored some big-time goals last year (for Prince Albert) in the WHL. These (smaller) guys, they find a way,’’ said Leach.

Atlanta of the ECHL is Hannoun’s most likely destination this season. First, he’ll probably attend Providence’s training camp, according to Ferguson.

“The biggest thing is opportunity. I got an opportunity here and I’ve just got to make the most of it, just keep working hard every day,’’ Hannoun said.

Quick Bruins hits from Buffalo

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Anders Bjork (10) and Cameron Hughes, right, wait for Jack Studnicka to take a draw against the Sabres on Saturday night.

BUFFALO — Three one-timers from my first day at the Prospects Challenge.

ANDERS BJORK

I landed here on Saturday morning, so I didn’t see Friday’s win by the Boston Bruins over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but all reports were that Anders Bjork was one of Boston’s best players, scoring the winner in the dying seconds.

He played well again on Saturday against Buffalo. Skating at right wing beside center Jack Studnicka and left wing Cameron Hughes, Bjork made good things happen even though he was held without a point.

“He created. He’s involved. Obviously, he got a bunch of chances. Did a nice job,’’ said coach Jay Leach after Boston’s 4-3 loss.

“He’s definitely more assertive. He looks just a little bit more mature, is what I would call it. He’s certainly taking a step. Hopefully it continues.’’

As has been noted by a few observers, Bjork should be one of the better players in the Prospects Challenge. After all, he is farther along the development road at age 23 than many of the youngsters in Buffalo. Through two games, he’s delivered.

After two years cut short by shoulder surgeries, it seems to me that a solid stretch of games and good health in the AHL to start the season would be best for Bjork.

OSKAR STEEN

The 21-year-old Swede was Boston’s offensive star on Saturday, scoring the first two goals and assisting on the third in a 4-3 loss to the Sabres prospects.

After playing wing on Friday night, Steen was back at his customary place at center between Jakub Lauko and Dante Hannoun.

“I like both (positions), but I’ve played center all my life, so I think that’s my best spot,’’ Steen said.

After playing on Olympic-size rinks in Europe, he is adjusting to the less spacious North American rinks.

“I think I played better (Saturday) than (Friday). It’s a bit different between the small rinks and the big rinks,’’ he said.

“You don’t have so much time. It’s more playing north and south. You just go forward all the time,’’ he said. “I like it, but I just have to get used to it, be better at it.’’

Leach believes Steen – who is likely bound for Providence — will make the adjustment without a hitch.

“I haven’t seen much of a problem with him with the North American game. He’s straight lines. He’s ready to go,’’ he said.

DAN VLADAR

This is a big year for Vladar, who is starting his fourth pro season at the age of 22.

He was the second goalie in Providence almost by default last season, but this time around he is competing with first-year pro Kyle Keyser to see who sticks with the P-Bruins. (Maxime Lagace, the 26-year-old signed as a free agent over the summer, is a lock for one of the AHL goalie slots).

Vladar was in the barrel against the Sabres on Saturday, and he gave up four goals on the first 19 shots he faced, including three in four minutes in the second period. But he turned away all 13 shots after that as the Bruins rallied to come within a goal late in the game.

“I felt better as the game went on. Obviously, those (four) minutes in the second period killed us. Overall, from my point, it’s the first game of the season, so it’s never easy for a goalie,’’ Vladar said.

“He’s got to find his spots,’’ said Leach. “When he’s routinely finding his posts, then he’s out and he’s big, he’s good. When he’s flopping around and he can’t find much, he’s not, he struggles. That’s what he’s got to find.’’

Vladar’s goal for the season is “to get a spot in Providence and run with it. I want to play as many games as I can.’’

He won’t be shying away from the competition.

“I’m just trying to enjoy it and work hard on my game to be the best I can,’’ he said.

Good start for new Mount St. Charles Hockey Academy

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The new Mount St. Charles Hockey Academy’s four teams put up a combined record of 14-7-3 in last weekend’s Labor Day Cup tournament.

Very impressive numbers considering that the program has been in existence for only 12 months.

“We had expectations coming in of what we wanted to do, but starting out brand new at the school, we weren’t certain where we’d be,’’ said Devin Rask, the coach of the U16 team and the co-director of hockey operations along with Matt Plante.

“We’re very happy with the way we opened up. Being able to compete with some of the top programs right out of the gate, with four days of practice, is pretty exciting for us.’’

Plante, who coaches the U18 team, wasn’t surprised by Mount’s strong start.

“All four teams (U14, U15, U16 and U18) played some of the best teams in the country and were right there with those teams,’’ he said.

“The 15s and the 16s certainly proved that they are going to be right up there with the top teams in the country. I was disappointed with the 18s. I thought we should have advanced to the playoff round. We ended up finishing the weekend 3-1-1. Obviously a good weekend, but our goal was to get to the playoffs and give ourselves a chance to win it.

“We wanted a better result with our teams – what competitive coach doesn’t, right? – but if you look at the big picture and put it in perspective, it was a good start. We’re where we thought we could be,” said Plante.

Classes started this week and players will be able to settle into their routine of school work and practices.

“As coaches, you get so consumed by your day-to-day grind and trying to build your teams, we overlook that these are all brand-new kids at a brand-new school, brand-new coaching staff to them. There’s an adjustment not only on the hockey side, but socially, academically. These kids have got a lot going on right now in all facets. It’s a big adjustment,’’ said Plante.

College coaches turned out in force last weekend to check out the Mount teams. Before the tournament started, recruiters from Boston University and Maine came to Adelard Arena last week to watch practice. On Friday night, nine of 11 Hockey East teams watched the U16 and U18 games, including five head coaches. Coaches from the ECAC, Atlantic Hockey and the Big Ten checked in over the course of the weekend.

All eyes were on uncommitted winger Zachary Bolduc of the deep, talented U16 team. He didn’t disappoint, compiling a 5-5-10 line in 7 games. Bolduc scored a big-time goal on Monday in overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Elite Penguins.

“He’s one of the difference makers,” said Rask.

Between them, the U15, U16 and U18 teams have nine Division I commitments so far, with more on the way.

“It’s all about getting these kids opportunities beyond high school,” said Plante.

Steen leads my development camp all-star team

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Compared to past years, the 2019 Boston Bruins development camp was short on snap, crackle and pop.

There were some excellent players, but no Tyler Seguins, Charlie McAvoys or David Pastrnaks. Or even Dougie Hamiltons.

And three of Boston’s better prospects – Jack Studnicka, Kyle Keyser and Jakub Lauko – didn’t go on the ice. They finished their seasons just a few weeks ago and didn’t need the work.

The lack of star power may be the reason crowds were a bit sparse, especially compared to bygone days when Ristuccia Arena was packed with enthusiastic fans.

Jamie Langenbrunner of the Bruins cautioned against “overvaluing” development camp performance, to which I say: Amen.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my development camp all-star team.

F OSKAR STEEN – For my money, Steen was the best player here. He’s played at a higher level than the rest – the top pro league in Sweden — and it showed. He has an explosive first step and plays with pace all over the ice. Steen made some nice plays around the net while also showing the ability to finish.

He’s going to need time to adjust to the smaller North American rinks, so I believe starting the season in Providence would be good for his development, though I’d bet on him playing NHL games next season at some point.

A top line of Paul Carey-Studnicka-Steen could do some damage for the P-Bruins.  Just sayin’.

F JOHN BEECHER – Don Sweeney’s description of Beecher’s skating as effortless was right on the money. He’s a runaway train when he gets going. We’ll get a better idea about his hockey sense and puck skills when he gets to Michigan.

F PAVEL SHEN – The Russian, who was good in the World Juniors, didn’t bring me out of my seat with dazzling dangles in camp, but he showed a knack for protecting the puck and making some plays. Hopefully he’ll be in Providence this season.

D COOPER ZECH – I said going in that he’d be one of the top players and he delivered. The sequence early in Friday’s scrimmage when he made two or three subtle moves to elude a forechecking Steen was vintage Zech. He looked to make a play every time he touched the puck. As a member of the Boston staff put it, he plays with conviction.

D NICK WOLFF — Twenty years ago, a rugged customer like Wolff would probably be a lock to play in the NHL just for his physical presence. Times have changed as the game gets faster, but Wolff has a chance if he continues to improve his footwork and his stick skills. It looks to me as if the Bruins have the inside track on signing him – either to an AHL or an NHL deal – once he finishes his senior season at Duluth.

G JEREMY SWAYMAN – Maine’s best player is getting better all the time and was easily the best of the three goalies who played in Friday’s scrimmage. (Dan Vladar, who already has three pro seasons under his belt, didn’t play in the scrimmage.)

Player to watch in Bruins development camp: Cooper Zech

Just like a certain undersized offensive defenseman for the Boston Bruins, Cooper Zech hails from Michigan and is at his best with the puck on his stick.

“I was a Detroit fan as a kid, but I always looked up to Torey Krug,’’ Zech says.

The 20-year-old doesn’t have any draft pedigree or the hype that comes with it, but then neither did Krug when he signed with the Bruins as a free agent out of Michigan State in 2012.

Zech will be an intriguing prospect to watch when he takes the ice for his first Boston Bruins development camp starting on Wednesday. I’m betting he will be one of the standouts of the three-day event.

Obviously, Zech has miles and miles to travel before he comes anywhere close to Krug’s starry level, but there’s reason for optimism about his future given his promising play in the AHL at the end of last season.

He had an outstanding freshman year at Ferris State, where he was rookie of the year in the WCHA with 28 points in 36 games. When his college season ended, he signed a two-year AHL contract with Providence (AHL deals with Toronto, St. Louis and Washington were also on the table).

Displaying plenty of poise, Zech played well in 12 regular season games and 4 playoff games for the P-Bruins.

“From the day he got here to the day he left, he was a really impressive player for a 20-year-old kid who weighs 160 pounds. He ended up being our best defenseman overall in the playoffs,’’ said Providence coach Jay Leach.

The 5-foot-9 Zech can use his excellent skating ability to carry the puck out of his zone or he can pass it out. He is an excellent passer. His escapability under a heavy forecheck is impressive. He finds seams in transition. He makes smart plays from the point on the power play.

And he’s got swagger.

“I love how he wants to play the game and compete – he’s more or less fearless out there, with a slight frame. He wants the puck,’’ said Leach.

Zech handles questions about his stature as comfortably as he dodges forecheckers.

“It is what it is. We all have disadvantages. I grew up a lot smaller than this, so it was nice to finally have a growth spurt. I was catching up a foot back then. Now it’s four or five inches. It’s made me the player that I am,’’ he said.

This will be Zech’s second NHL development camp. He attended Washington’s camp a year ago and played well. “There was talk of signing a contract, but nothing came of it. I went to college and it all worked out for me, getting to Providence,’’ he said.

Of his decision to leave Ferris State after only one season, he said, “I wasn’t a big school guy. I’ve always wanted to make hockey a full-time thing, revolve my life around it. I figured that was the best way to do it and not have to deal with going to class. It just wasn’t my style. Pro hockey was what I wanted to do.’’

At the start in Providence, Zech was given the green light to find his way.

“The first couple of games (the coaches) let me play my game and do what I do best and after that they made some adjustments. First game, they just said have fun and show them what I could do,’’ he said.

The signature moment of Zech’s late-season stint came in the playoffs against Charlotte. On the power play, he lugged the puck end to end to score a highlight-reel goal.

“It was crunch time, obviously, and that’s when I play my best hockey,’’ he said of his first goal as a pro. “That puck’s hanging up in my dad’s office right now.’’

Since Providence’s season ended, Zech has been back home in Michigan, helping his family with a move into a new house, “doing a ton of working out, fishing and just enjoying it.’’

He is an avid fisherman, for sure. He dropped a hook into Narragansett Bay on the day he arrived in Rhode Island in March. Charlie Moore’s going to be a fan of this kid.

Development camp will be the first time the Boston coaching staff and some in the front office will get a look at Zech in person. I expect they are going to like what they see.

Can he follow a similar development track as Connor Clifton, who signed an AHL deal as a college free agent and in time leapfrogged more highly touted defensemen on his way up to Boston? We’ll see.

“Obviously, he’s got to put some weight on. Some of that is just growing up,’’ said Leach. “His size will always be a question mark. But if there’s a guy who could find a way, it’s probably him.’’

Jayden Struble used NTDP snub as motivation

In 2017, Jayden Struble was widely regarded as one of the best 2001-born players in New England.

So a few eyebrows were raised around the region’s rinks that March when he was not one of the 16 defensemen from all over the country to be invited to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Evaluation Camp.

You certainly can’t argue with the squad that USA Hockey picked, led by Jack Hughes, that turned out to be arguably the best in the star-spangled history of the NTDP. While Struble may not have made the team, I believed at the time and still do that he was worthy of a look in camp.

Struble readily acknowledges that he was surprised by the snub. And to his credit, he did not let it get in his way. Not one bit. Instead, he used it as motivation.

“You want to prove that you are one of the best players. When you don’t get picked, you’re just thinking, ‘I have to work harder now.’ Then see where you’re at in the future compared to those guys (who did get invited),’’ Struble said this week.

“Time will tell. All you can do is work hard and keep your head on straight and the rest will play itself out.’’

As the NHL Draft unfolds in Vancouver this weekend, look for Struble to be picked ahead of several of the D-men who attended that NTDP camp while he sat at home in Cumberland, R.I.  I’m expecting that a team looking for a good skating defender with offensive skills who plays with an edge (wow, does he ever!) will take him no later than the third round. [UPDATE: Struble was picked by Montreal with the 46th pick in the second round on Saturday.]

[UPDATE: On Thursday, Struble was named to the initial U.S. roster for the 2019 World Junior Summer Showcase this summer.]

The 6-foot, 195 pounder helped himself with a light’s-out performance at the NHL Combine a few weeks ago, finishing first in 5 of the 18 tests — bench press, mean power output, standing long jump, right hand grip and left hand grip.

He credited trainer Korey Higgins of Brian McDonough’s Edge Performance Systems in Foxboro with helping him prepare.

It will be the first trip to British Columbia for Struble, but maybe not the last. After playing for St. Sebastian’s for the last two seasons, he is expected to move on to Victoria of the BCHL this year before enrolling at Northeastern in 2020.

“I’m excited to go with my family. Just hearing my name get called and then knowing what team I’m going to is going to be exciting,’’ he said.

Struble said his maternal grandfather, Paul Struble, has been the biggest influence in his hockey life through the years.

“He taught me how to play, coached me growing up, drove me to all the practices. My love of hockey is directly impacted by the amount of work that he put into me, coaching wise, advice wise, all that stuff,’’ he said.

The crowd will be big and spotlight bright at the draft. That won’t be a new experience for Struble, who played in two of the biggest events in youth sports, the Quebec Pee Wee Tournament and the Little League World Series (as a slugging first baseman for Dave Belisle’s Cumberland American team in 2014).

“Just being that young and playing in front of that many people, it’s crazy,’’ he said of his LLWS experience.

“It’s definitely helped me. Calmed my nerves a little bit. If I can do that when I’m 12 years old, I can do it now.’’

Struble interviewed with 24 teams (including Boston) at the combine and is ready for whatever happens at the draft.

“At the end of the day, I don’t really pay attention to the rankings. The teams tell you one thing, the rankings tell you another. Draft day, wherever you go, you go. I’ll be happy with whatever team picks me. Wherever it is, it’s going to be a good experience,’’ he said.

Butch Cassidy: Profile in perseverance

On a December day in 1996, Bruce “Butch” Cassidy walked into the Jacksonville Lizard Kings dressing room to meet with his players for the first time. The previous coach had been fired and Cassidy was taking over.

Thirty-one years old at the time, Cassidy had no coaching experience.

He’d started the season by playing 10 games on defense for the Indianapolis Ice of the International Hockey League, but after battling knee injuries for years he’d retired as a player. Ice owner Horn Chen also owned the Lizard Kings of the East Coast Hockey League and he handed the reins to Cassidy.

“I really remember one thing distinctly,’’ said Rick Bennett,  a player/assistant coach for the Lizard Kings.

“Butch said, ‘Guys, I’m a players’ coach. I’m really not sure what that means.’ It broke the room up a little bit. And off we went  without a hitch,’’ said Bennett, an All-American at Providence College who coached Union College to the NCAA championship in 2014.

“Our record didn’t show it, but with some of the characters on that team, Butch did a great job. He had a lot of respect from the players. He held guys accountable. He was direct. You always knew where you stood. It was a lot of fun playing for him.’’

Cassidy was on his way. He climbed the ladder in a hurry.

During his playing days, Cassidy was smart and had superb offensive skills, which is why he was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Black Hawks in 1983. His mind for the game stood out when he went behind the bench.

“His feel for the game was really high. He just thinks the game on a different level. You could tell he was going to be a guy who worked his way up pretty quick. He’s by far one of the smartest hockey guys I’ve been around,’’ said Northeastern associate head coach Jerry Keefe, who played for Cassidy with the Trenton Titans of the ECHL in 2000.

Cassidy had his first notable success as a coach in Grand Rapids, leading the Griffins to the IHL’s best record in 2000-01. Not everyone who played for him there remembers it fondly.

During Chris Kelly’s time in Boston several years ago, I asked him what it was like to play for Cassidy back then as a first-year pro. “He was a (expletive),’’ Kelly answered. “But I was a better player by the end of it.’’

The American Hockey League Coach of the Year in 2002, Cassidy was named head coach of the Washington Capitals at age 37. But after making the playoffs in his first season,  he was fired 25 games into his second year in 2004.

Cassidy’s shortcomings in Washington have been well-chronicled.

“I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin now than I was then. I was young,’’ Cassidy told the media the other day. “I had really no NHL experience – I was up in Chicago (as a player) for bits and pieces. So you walk into an NHL locker room, there was still a little bit of awe – there’s (Jaromir) Jagr, (Sergei) Gonchar, these guys that had been around.’’

After Washington, Cassidy was an NHL assistant coach in Chicago and then was head coach with Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League before being fired early in his second season.

Out of a job in the summer of 2008, he called Boston GM Peter Chiarelli about a job with the Providence Bruins as an assistant under head coach Rob Murray.  Considering Cassidy already had been an NHL head coach and a Coach of the Year in the AHL, it couldn’t have been easy to pick up the phone for an AHL assistant job, but he swallowed his pride.

“I just wanted to get back to work,’’ Cassidy told me a few years back.

Providence is where his climb back to an NHL head coaching job gained traction. His career path since then is a profile in perseverance and belief in himself.

As Murray’s assistant for three seasons and then as head coach for five seasons, Cassidy helped the P-Bruins live up to Boston management’s mantra of player development in a winning environment. Players such as Johnny Boychuk and Torey Krug and others moved up to Boston and thrived. Cassidy had some good teams and some average teams, but they always were well prepared and played hard.

Cassidy also found a nice work/life balance in Rhode Island, living on Providence’s East Side, with wife Julie, daughter Shannon and son Cole. He’s said that having children has helped make him a more patient person and coach.

His hard work at the rink paid off. In 2016, Cassidy moved on to bigger things, joining the Boston Bruins as an assistant coach on Claude Julien’s staff. With the team floundering in February 2017, he was promoted to head coach. Since then, the Bruins have put up a glittering 117-52-22 record.

Former Boston College captain David Hymovitz has been a friend of Cassidy since playing with him in Indianapolis and for him in Grand Rapids. He is impressed with the way Cassidy handles his team.

“Twenty years ago he was blunt (with his players). He was young, trying to find his way. ‘What kind of coach am I going to be? How am I going to handle my players? How are they going to view me?’ Now he’s matured as a coach,’’ said Hymovitz, the director of hockey operations for the Boston Junior Eagles.

“When I watch him with the media, he never throws his players under the bus. There’s times when he may call somebody out, but he’s very respectful of his own players and in turn I think the players respect him for that.’’

“When I played for him, he was definitely blunt, but you always knew where you stood. Whether he’s very vocal or it’s your playing time, there was never a question of where you stood with him. I assume it’s the same now.

“Talk about where you stood, he had a guy get undressed after the first period one game, a rookie.’’

That player, Hymovitz said, recently took to Facebook to write that Cassidy was the best coach he’d ever played for.

It’s been a winding and at times bumpy road from that first meeting in Jacksonville 23 years ago, but here Cassidy is, four wins away from the Stanley Cup.

“It’s a testament to his character. He paid his dues and now, hopefully, he’s on top of the world in two weeks,’’ said Hymovitz.

Good, bad & ugly from Providence Bruins final week

room

A pair of road losses to the Charlotte Checkers closed the book on the 2018-19 Calder Cup playoffs and the season for the Providence Bruins.

The P-Bruins tested the favored Checkers in earning a split in the first two games in Providence, but they were overpowered by Charlotte’s deep, skilled lineup in the final two games.

The P-Bruins were beaten in Game Three, 3-0, and in Game Four, 4-1, as Charlotte took the series, three games to one.

“We didn’t play our best. Unfortunate circumstances. (Dan Vladar) goes down in warmups (before Game Three), which is never the way you draw it up,’’ said coach Jay Leach. “(Charlotte was) good. They were all on the same page. They were really tough. They didn’t give us much room out there.

“They found a higher gear. I can’t say that we as a team, collectively, were able to match that gear. When (Charlotte) pushed, I don’t think everyone was able to get up to that level.’’

Summing up the season, Leach said the good outweighed the bad.

“It was a positive year in that we obviously had to scratch and claw to get in (the playoffs). We had a crazy amount of turnover, with callups and injuries. We had to learn how to make it work with a lot of different combinations, so it was a good year in that regard. We had a lot of players play in a lot of situations that we might not have forecast happening. It was great experience. Overall, it was a positive year and I hope we can build off it,’’ he said.

Here’s the good, bad and ugly.

GOOD

*** In his first start as a pro, 20-year-old Kyle Keyser played well in Game 4, making 26 saves.

*** Jeremy Lauzon, who hadn’t scored an AHL goal since the second game of the regular season in October, netted Providence’s only goal in Charlotte.

*** Jakub Zboril played two strong games in Charlotte. Cooper Zech continued to play well.

*** Jordan Szwarz led the P-Bruins in scoring in the playoffs with 2-2-4 in 4 games.

*** With their season on the line and trailing by two goals, Providence pushed hard in the third period of Game 4. It didn’t pay off, but they deserve credit for the effort, which was there all season.

BAD

*** Dan Vladar was scheduled to start Game 3, but was injured in warmups.

*** The power play went 0 for 10 in Charlotte.

*** Zane McIntyre’s save percentage in his two playoff starts was .855.

*** Providence’s forwards scored only five goals in the four-game series.

*** The P-Bruins were outscored in Charlotte, 7-1.

UGLY

*** Injured: Gemel Smith, Dan Vladar, Anders Bjork.