Good, bad & ugly from Providence Bruins weekend

Chris Wagner takes the puck to the net against the Charlotte Checkers. He scored twice on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)

With wins in both of their games over the weekend, the Providence Bruins continue to hold down the top spot not only in the Atlantic Division standings but in the entire American Hockey League.

The P-Bruins faced the Charlotte Checkers twice and came away with a 5-2 win on Friday and a 5-3 victory on Sunday.

They led 3-0 and 4-1 on Sunday, but were hanging on by a goal as the clock ran down in the third period before Chris Wagner sealed the victory with an empty netter.

“We definitely bended, that’s for sure, but we didn’t break,” coach Ryan Mougenel said after Sunday’s game. “I didn’t think we played a great game today. (Charlotte) came in with tons of energy and took it to us.”

Chris Wagner, Joona Koppanen and Oskar Steen “really showed the younger guys how important it is sometimes to make the plays (that are) in front of you. And (Johnny) Beecher’s line did a real good job, too.”

Here’s the good, bad and ugly.

GOOD

— Brandon Bussi, who is displaying a real knack for making timely saves, had another strong weekend. He is 4-0 with a .947 save percentage and a 1.84 goals against average.

— Chris Wagner scored twice, including the game-winner, on Sunday and played his usual strong game in all three zones.

— Oskar Steen potted an empty net goal on Friday and a goal and an assist on Sunday.

–Johnny Beecher scored a hard-working goal on Friday and did a lot of the little things right on Sunday, though he didn’t have any points.

“The points are going to be a bonus for him based on how he defends and how he comes back,” said Mougenel. “(He’s a) young pro learning what it takes to win and he’s going to be one of those players that you win with. (He’s) just building those habits into his game, those details that are so important,” said Mougenel.

— Providence has lost only one game in regulation time this season and that was three weeks ago. They’ve won five games in a row and earned 22 of a possible 26 points.

— Jakub Lauko scored three goals in 54 games last season. With goals on Friday and Sunday, he already has two goals in two games this season.

— Justin Brazeau scored his first of the season on a very well-executed power play on Friday. Vinni Lettieri and Georgii Merkulov made nice passes to set it up.

— Dan Renouf was plus-two on Friday and plus-three on Sunday and had an assist in both games. His partner Connor Carrick was plus-two in both games with an assist.

— Georgii Merkulov has points in four straight games. He dished an absolute beauty of a pass to Fabian Lysell for a goal on Friday.

— Kai Wissman made a sweet pass to set up Vinni Lettieri’s goal on Sunday.

BAD

— The P-Bruins had the fourth-best penalty kill in the league as of Nov. 6, but Charlotte scored four times on 11 opportunities on Friday and Sunday. As of Sunday night, Providence was 11th on the PK at 82.7 percent.

— Providence continues to give up an awful lot of shots – 42 on Friday and 39 on Sunday. They are 25th in the league in shots against, yielding an average of 32.15 per game.

— They were whistled for too many men on both Friday and Sunday.

UGLY

— Injured: Nick Wolff, Eddie Tralmaks, Kyle Keyser, Matt Filipe

Georgii Merkulov is second in scoring for Providence with 4-8-12 in 11 games. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)

Good, bad and ugly from Providence Bruins week

Brandon Bussi came on in relief and nailed down a win in Springfield on Saturday, then pitched his first AHL shutout in Bridgeport on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)

The good times are rolling for the Providence Bruins.

After winning all three of their games this week, the P-Bruins were in first place in the Atlantic Division and led the American Hockey League in points with 18 and points percentage with .818 as of Sunday night.

They started the week with a 4-3 shootout win against the Utica Comets on the road. Providence was down by three midway through the game but rallied to tie it with a late goal and then won in the 11th round of the shootout.

On Saturday night in Springfield, Providence trailed by a goal but again came from behind to win a 3-2 decision against the Thunderbirds. That victory was notable in that all three goal-scorers – Fabian Lysell, Luke Toporowski and Joey Abate — and winning goalie Brandon Bussi are rookies. “The kids make us go,” said coach Ryan Mougenel.

In Bridgeport on Sunday, the P-Bruins got a third-period power play goal and rode back up I-95 with a 1-0 victory.

Here’s the good, bad and ugly.

GOOD

— With Keith Kinkaid on recall with Boston and Kyle Keyser out with an injury, Brandon Bussi came up from the ECHL and delivered terrific performances in the wins in Springfield and Bridgeport.

With the game on the line late in the third period on both nights he made sparkling saves to preserve the lead.

He finished the weekend with a 2-0 record, .961 save percentage, 1.10 goals against and his first AHL shutout.

— Connor Carrick scored his first goal with the P-Bruins – it was the game-winner in Bridgeport – and registered assists in Utica and Springfield. He has 1-6-7 in 10 games.

— Joey Abate’s first goal as a pro was the game-winner in Springfield and it was a beauty. He took the puck off a Thunderbirds defender then fired a wrister to the top shelf.

— Joona Koppanen scored in the 11th round of the shootout to win the game in Utica.

— Luke Toporowski continues to be a revelation. He scored goals in Utica and Springfield. The goal against the Thunderbirds came at the end of a strong 200-foot shift. He is third on the team with 5-4-9 in 10 games.

— Fabian Lysell turned on the afterburners, flew in on a breakaway and put Providence in the lead at 1:44 of the first period on Saturday. He’s second on the team with 3-7-10 in nine games.

— Chris Wagner scored a big goal to tie the game against the Comets with 2:41 left in the third.

— Providence killed all nine shorthanded situations in the three games. The PK is fourth in the AHL at 87.8 percent.

— They’ve won all five of their road games so far.

— Providence’s next five games are at home. They don’t play outside Rhode Island again until Nov. 23.

BAD

— After a brilliant performance in stopping 10 of 11 shooters in the shootout win in Utica, Kyle Keyser left the game in Springfield in the first period with a leg injury.

— Providence gave up two goals in 59 seconds late in the first period in Springfield.

— They mustered only two shots in the first period on Sunday.

— Seven of Providence’s 11 games so far have been against Springfield (4) and Bridgeport (3). A little more variety would be nice.

UGLY

— Injured/ill: Kyle Keyser, Nick Wolff, Georgii Merkulov, J.D. Greenway, Matt Filipe

Good, bad & ugly from Providence Bruins weekend

Vinni Lettieri beats Joel Hofer of Springfield in the shootout on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)

It wasn’t a perfect weekend for the Providence Bruins, but it was pretty close as they earned five out of six points.

The P-Bruins got off on the right foot by scoring a late goal to beat the Charlotte Checkers, 2-1, at home on Friday.

In Springfield on Saturday, they scored a late power play goal to force overtime and then earned the extra point by winning the shootout against the Thunderbirds, 4-3.

In a rematch back home on Sunday, Providence trailed by two goals with less than three minutes left, then stunned the T-Birds with a pair of five-on-three power play goals to send the game to OT. Springfield prevailed in the shootout, 3-2, but the P-Bruins took home a well-earned and unexpected point given the way the first 57 minutes went.

“There were a lot of positives. I really like our team. I like the kids. We’re finding ways, which is good,” said coach Ryan Mougenel. “We played not great (on Sunday), but it’s to be expected in a three-in-three. We’re still finding our way, building some chemistry.”

Here’s the good, bad and ugly.

GOOD

— It wasn’t just a good weekend for Vinni Lettieri, it was a great weekend.

After setting up a goal on Friday, he stepped up with a big-time game on Saturday. He registered seven shots on goal and tied the game with a power play tuck with 29 seconds left in regulation and an extra attacker on the ice. Then he buried the only goal in the shootout as Providence won the game. Lettieri bettered that performance on Sunday, scoring twice in 45 seconds on 5 on 3 power plays to tie the game and send it to OT. He then scored Providence’s only goal in the shootout.

Lettieri is tied for the team lead in scoring with 5-4-9 in eight games and is tied for the league lead in power play goals with four.

— Providence received a month’s worth of favorable calls from the referees late in Sunday’s game. Then they took advantage with a pair of 5-on-3 goals.

— Fabian Lysell scored a goal on Friday and added assists on Saturday and Sunday. He had a nice backcheck on Saturday that prevented a Springfield scoring chance. He’s tied with Vinni Lettieri for the team scoring lead with 2-7-9 in six games.

— Georgii Merkulov made plays all weekend. He had an assist on Friday and two more on Sunday. He has 4-4-8 in eight games.

— Luke Toporowski continues to produce. He dished the puck to Oskar Steen for the GWG on Friday. He went to the front of the net to pot his third goal of the season on Saturday and he fed Vinni Lettieri for a goal on Sunday. With 3-4-7 in eight games, he’s getting a good start on earning an NHL contract.

— Keith Kinkaid stopped 34 shots and all three Springfield attempts in Saturday’s shootout win.

— Nick Wolff threw the clean hit of the season on Friday, flattening Charlotte’s Gerry Mayhew. It’s unfortunate Wolff was injured on the play.

— Connor Carrick recorded assists on Friday and Saturday and made a great defensive play to thwart a scoring chance in OT on Saturday.

— Johnny Beecher played his best game of the season on Friday and scored his first goal of the year on Saturday.

— Oskar Steen’s first goal of the year was the winner on Friday. He had eight shots on goal on Sunday.

BAD

— They’ve gone five straight games without scoring in the first period.

— The P-Bruins were outshot 17-9 in the first period on Saturday.

— Providence is giving up a lot of shots. They gave up 30 on Friday and Sunday and 37 on Saturday. Going into Sunday’s game they were allowing 33 shots per game, more than all but two teams in the AHL.

— They allowed the first goal once and the first two goals twice over the weekend.

— Providence’s next three games are on the road against Utica, Springfield and Bridgeport. They are 2-0 away from the AMP so maybe road games don’t belong in the bad category.

UGLY

— Injured: Nick Wolff, Matt Filipe

Good, bad & ugly from Providence Bruins weekend

Despite missing two games, Fabian Lysell leads the Providence Bruins in scoring with a goal and five assists for six points in three games. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)

Playing their first three-in-three weekend of the season – with all the games at home — the Providence Bruins came away with three of a possible six points.

They were 20 minutes away from maybe adding another point or two, but faltered in the third period on Sunday.

Providence earned a point in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Bridgeport Islanders on Friday. They beat the Utica Comets, 2-1, on Saturday. And they dropped a 2-1 decision to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Sunday. It was their first loss of the season in regulation time.

“I thought today we played two great periods. We absolutely fell asleep in the third. It’s tough because the guys played so hard and so well for two periods. It’s a lesson learned. Hopefully it’s just a one-time lesson,” said coach Ryan Mougenel after Sunday’s game.

“We’re playing pretty consistent. I like a lot of things in our game. We’ve been, for the most part, pretty good.”

Here’s the good, bad and ugly.

GOOD

— Georgii Merkulov scored twice against Bridgeport on Friday and set up a goal by Vinni Lettieri on Saturday. Just as important, his play without the puck is trending in the right direction. He dove to block a shot from the point in the dying seconds of the second period on Sunday.

— Sammy Asselin scored his first goal of the season and played an excellent two-way game on Saturday. On Friday, when Bridgeport’s Hudson Fasching threw a hard hit on Chris Wagner, Asselin immediately jumped in.

— Joona Koppanen has played well all season and was rewarded with his first goal on a power play on Sunday. He continues to be one of the best defensive centers in the AHL and has five points in five games.

— Kyle Keyser played an excellent game in Saturday’s win. Utica came on strong in the third period, but Keyser held the fort with 10 saves to hold a one-goal lead. He is 2-0 with a .933 save percentage.

— For the second week in a row, Chris Wagner turned in a standout game on Friday night. He scored a goal, was credited with six shots and probably had at least five hits.

— It was a pro debut to remember for Joey Abate. On Saturday, he fought Utica heavyweight Mason Geertsen and sacrificed his body to block two slapshots late in the game to help preserve Providence’s one-goal lead.

— On Sunday, the fourth line of Abate, Alex-Olivier Voyer and J.D. Greenway chipped in with some strong shifts in the offensive end that swung momentum in Providence’s favor.

“They provided some energy for sure. They did a good job. (J.D.) Greenway’s really taken a step in the right direction,” said Mougenel.

— Providence fell behind by two goals to Bridgeport, but showed good resilience by tying the game and earning a point by taking it to overtime.

BAD

— Tough start for Johnny Beecher. He has no points and no shots on goal through five games.

— Providence has had 26 power play opportunities, tied with the Henderson Silver Knights for the most in the AHL. But the P-Bruins’ PP is only 25th in the AHL at 15.4 percent. Koppanen’s goal on Sunday snapped a 0-for-15 stretch with the man advantage.

— Wilkes-Barre/Scranton outshot the P-Bruins 10-1 early in the third period on Sunday and took over what had been a scoreless game with a pair of goals in 1:57.

UGLY

— Injured: Fabian Lysell, Eddie Tralmaks, Matt Filipe

Providence’s Joey Abate dropped the gloves with Mason Geertsen of Utica in the first period on Saturday night. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)

Good, bad & ugly from Providence Bruins weekend

Rookie Fabian Lysell scored the game-winner on Friday, then handed out three assists on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)

The Providence Bruins started their 31st season this weekend with a bang.

They won their first two games and they did it in entertaining fashion with contributions from veterans and from rookies, who scored the game-winning goals in both games.

The P-Bruins beat the Bridgeport Islanders, 3-1, at home on Friday night, then topped the Springfield Thunderbirds, 4-3, on the road on Sunday.

Here’s the good, bad and ugly.

GOOD

— Keith Kinkaid was outstanding with 42 saves in Friday’s win against Bridgeport.

— Fabian Lysell scored the game-winning goal against the Islanders, then turned in a dazzling performance on Sunday with three assists against the Thunderbirds. Georgii Merkulov potted the rebound of Lysell’s shot for his first helper. Then the 19-year-old Swede made a brilliant pass to set up Vinni Lettieri’s power-play goal and dished the puck to a wide-open Luke Toporowski for another goal.

— Georgii Merkulov scored a goal in each game and made some nice plays. He’s not timid about going to the hard areas. His goals were scored from close range and he was knocked down both times.

— Vinni Lettieri had a good weekend with an assist on Friday and a goal and an assist on Sunday.

— Luke Toporowski scored his first goal as a pro on Sunday and it was the game-winner. He beat T-Birds goalie Joel Hofer with his blazing wrist shot.

— Chris Wagner turned in an excellent weekend. His performance on Friday was particularly strong as he scored a goal and threw half a dozen hits.

— Providence’s penalty kill rose to the occasion in keeping Springfield from scoring during a four-minute power play in the first period on Sunday.

— Captain Josiah Didier hustled in from the blue line to bury a rebound on Sunday for his first goal of the season.

— Kyle Keyser bent but didn’t break, making 33 saves in Sunday’s win.

BAD

— Fabian Lysell took hooking penalties in the third period of both games as Providence guarded a lead. On Friday he skated into traffic with the puck and absorbed a big hit. The sooner he learns not to put himself in situations like that, the better.

— The P-Bruins gave up a lot of shots — 43 on Friday and 36 on Sunday

— Three times Providence took the lead in Springfield and all three times they allowed the tying goal within minutes.

UGLY

— Injured: Eddie Tralmaks, Matt Filipe.

— Misspelling Keith Kinkaid’s name a bunch of times, as I did, is ugly. For someone who’s been doing this as long as I have, it’s inexcusable. I’ll be better.

Fabian Lysell was flattened by Jeff Kubiak of Bridgeport in the first period on Friday, but picked himself up and scored his first goal as a pro a few minutes later. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)

P-Bruins season preview

The spotlight will be on Providence Bruins rookies Johnny Beecher (19) and Fabian Lysell (22), both first-round draft picks. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)

The name of their building has changed and so have some of the faces on the roster.

But one thing that remains the same for the Providence Bruins is the expectation that they will again be in the playoff hunt in the AHL’s Atlantic Division.

The puck drops on the P-Bruins’ 31st season at the newly christened Amica Mutual Pavilion – formerly the Dunkin’ Donuts Center — on Friday night.

Providence has put very competitive teams on the ice on a regular basis recently and the latest edition should be no exception. The team has an interesting mix of exciting rookies and good veterans.

Over the summer, the Bruins worked to surround the young players with “really good character, veteran guys, guys who have been through some of these battles at both (the AHL and NHL) levels and who want to win and continue to get better,” said Evan Gold, Boston Bruins assistant general manager.

“One thing we wanted to do is get a little more offensive, be able to score a little easier at times on the power play and five on five, and then I think there was a focus on adding a little bit of length and size to the back end. We’re really excited about the mix in terms of talent and competitiveness,” he said.

Heading into his second season as head coach, Ryan Mougenel liked what he saw in training camp.

“Speed is going to be a big part of who we are. It feels like we’re really fast in practice, much faster than last year,” he said.

“(Management) did a real good job of recognizing high quality people, which for me is one of the most important things when you are adding pieces around young players. I think there’s going to be some hiccups and some growing pains, but that’s what we’re here for, to navigate that.”

Here’s how the team looks:

FORWARDS

Providence has a good mix up front.

Lettieri is a proven AHL player with 47- and 48-point seasons under his belt. He has a wicked shot and has been a point-per-game scorer in the league the last two seasons.

It should be interesting and entertaining to track the development of first-rounders Fabian Lysell and Johnny Beecher and free agents Marc McLaughlin, Georgii Merkulov and Luke Toporowski.

Lysell projects as potentially the most electric offensive player to wear a Providence sweater since David Pastrnak. He can fly and has an excellent scoring touch.

At 6-foot-3 with blazing speed, Beecher can be a runaway train on skates. It remains to be seen if he will be a point-producer as a pro, but his size and skating ability will likely generate chances for him and his linemates.

Many observers believe McLaughlin played well enough in camp with Boston to make the team. It wouldn’t be a surprise if his stay in Providence is a short one.

Merkulov, who scored 20 goals as an Ohio State freshman last season and impressed with the P-Bruins in a late-season audition, has superb hands and hockey IQ. It’s been a while since the P-Bruins had a skilled Russian in the lineup but Merkulov fills the bill.

Toporowski, a free agent signed out of the WHL, is a shooter, plain and simple. At the Prospects Challenge last month and in training camp he showed no hesitation to get to inside ice even though he’s under-sized. He has a bomb of a shot and he unloads it at every opportunity.

Returnees Joona Koppanen, Chris Wagner, Oskar Steen, Sammy Asselin, Justin Brazeau are all capable players. Curtis Hall, Alex-Olivier Voyer and J.D. Greenway provide depth.

If his preseason performance is any indication, free agent Joey Abate will get under the skin of opposing teams in short order.

Eduards Tralmaks and Matt Filipe start the season on the injured list. Tralmaks, looking to build on a 14-goal season last year, could be back by the end of October.

“Offensively, there’s a lot of creative players. There’s a lot of players with tons of courage who play the right way, like Marc McLaughlin,” said Mougenel.

DEFENSE

You can never have too many defensemen. Providence starts the season with nine.

Entering his third pro season, Jack Ahcan is the team’s best puck-mover and the most offensively talented defenseman. Look for him to be one of the best players not only in the Atlantic Division but in the entire league.

Josiah Didier is a stout defender who provides peerless leadership as team captain.

Free agents Kai Wissman, Connor Carrick and Dan Renouf look like solid additions.

Nick Wolff, coming off a solid training camp with Boston, brings a physical presence and is good on the penalty kill.

Mike Callahan and Victor Berglund are developing prospects. Rookie Jacob Wilson rounds out the group.

“Our back end is going to have that Bruins identity – hard and tough to play against,” said Mougenel.

GOALTENDING

Boston signed free agent Keith Kinkaid over the summer to provide depth behind NHLers Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman.

Kinkaid has 167 games of NHL experience under his belt. In the AHL, he’s played well against Providence on a number of occasions.

“We think we’ve added a very capable veteran guy, good person, who is going to lead the group,” said Gold.

Kyle Keyser starts his second full season with the P-Bruins. Rookie Brandon Bussi was sent to Maine of the ECHL, where he is expected to see plenty of action.

“Goaltending should be strong. Keyser really had a lot of growth at times last year. The net’s up to them, they’re going to compete for it and I love the fact that Bussi is going to push from below,” said Mougenel.

PREDICTION

You just never know in the American Hockey League.

The regular season is a six-and-a-half-month battle of attrition. The roster you start with is often not what you finish with.

Veterans aren’t a lock to play as well as in previous seasons. Prospects that are expected to thrive as they arrive from college or junior hockey or Europe don’t always do so.

Callups, injuries and trades can wreak havoc.

The P-Bruins have made the playoffs every year since 2012. They’ll make the playoffs this year, too.

Get your popcorn ready. The fun starts Friday night.

Providence rookie Joey Abate fights Springfield’s Nick Isaacson in a preseason game on Oct. 8. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)

That’s a wrap for 2022 Prospects Challenge

BUFFALO – The Boston Bruins finished up at the Prospects Challenge with a 3-2 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils on Monday. Boston won two and lost one in the annual event.

The Bruins trailed 1-0 and 2-1, but first Johnny Beecher and then Georgii Merkulov evened the score. In the shootout, Merkulov made a slick move for a goal and Fabian Lysell buried a wrister. At the other end, Brandon Bussi (19 saves) stopped both Jersey shooters for his second win of the weekend.

Here are quick hits on three players who had good performances in the three games:

LUKE TOPOROWSKI

The 5-foot-11 winger was in the thick of the action in every game, whether he was scoring goals or pushing the buttons of opposing players.

Toporowski, 21, a free agent out of the WHL who signed an AHL deal with Providence, plays with a chip on his shoulder.

No one has to tell him to shoot, that’s for sure. He let bombs fly from all over the rink.

“He was as advertised from a shoot-first mentality,” GM Don Sweeney said before Monday’s game.

“The interior-ice play has been pretty consistent in (the first two games). Needs to continue for him because he can’t just be a one-trick pony in this league. Obviously he does shoot the puck past the goaltender with regularity at all the levels he’s played at despite his size. That will be a calling card for him.

“But I really like the feisty competitiveness, as I mentioned, getting to the interior ice. He’s a player that has put himself on our radar in getting into main camp and playing with established players as well. We’ll see how the details hold up.”

JOHNNY BEECHER

Boston’s first-rounder in 2019 scored a goal in all three games and led the team in scoring with 3-1-4.

His best performance was on Monday, when he was engaged from start to finish.

“That’s how he’s got to play. We all talk about his feet, his separation. He’s got to sometimes lean in on guys and he did that (Monday). He was excellent,” said coach Ryan Mougenel.

“The first two days he had some really strong flashes,” said Jamie Langenbrunner, director of player development and player personnel adviser.

“The obvious one is his speed, his ability to skate by defenders. The game winner in Game 1 was one of those where he almost looks like he glides by a defender to finish, then here again today he creates a chance and rips it off the post. (Monday) I’ve liked his engagement level better. He’s getting inside more, making it difficult on the other team by using his body more.

“That’s what we’re going to be stressing with him for however long it takes, to bring that every shift, that consistency in using his God-given talent of size and strength and skating ability all the time. It’ll be a process, we know that. He’s giving us more and more each day and that’s what we want,” he said.

Beecher should have plenty of juice heading into his first NHL training camp later this week.

“He’s buying in. He scored some goals, watched the puck go in the net. Hopefully that confidence that he should have translates to big camp,” said Mougenel.

MATT POITRAS

Poitras, drafted in the second round in July, is listed at 5-foot-11, 173 pounds.

Off the ice, he could pass for a high school freshman. On the ice, though, he’s wise beyond his years.

Poitras put up only one assist, but he created chances for Toporowski, Lysell and Merkulov.

Asked what he liked about Poitras, Langenbrunner quickly answered, “His instincts.”

“I think he has a good feel for the game. You can see what he’s trying to create. Whether it’s worked every time in the execution yet, it’s about what you expect for a young kid in this tournament.

“He’s been good especially in small areas, where a lot of the pro game is played. It’s played in tight little areas. He has a good feel for it, a good stick, ability to handle defenders.”

In watching him with Guelph of the OHL last season, Langenbrunner noted “his ability to elevate in big games, in big moments, playoffs, and play in tough situations. Obviously, (the Prospects Challenge) isn’t that yet, but it’s a step for him and he’s been as advertised, what we expected.”

Poitras looks like a good prospect and it will be interesting to watch him progress as he matures.

“He’s got a lot of physical development left in him,” Langenbrunner said.

Notes from Buffalo on Bussi, McLaughlin and Merkulov

BUFFALO – Brandon Bussi had to navigate through some potholes on his journey to an entry level contract with the Boston Bruins.

A native of Long Island, he committed to St. Lawrence University in 2016 at age 18 while playing for the New Jersey Titans of the NAHL. After moving on to the Amarillo Bulls, his game veered off track.

“Junior hockey was a little tough on me. I bounced around,” said Bussi, 24, who is expected to get the start against the Devils on Monday morning in Boston’s final game at the Prospects Challenge.

“Honestly, I think it was more mental than physical. I had the toolset physically but mentally, early on, leaving home for the first time was rough on me. Some rough games kind of sat in my head a little too much and I harped on the negatives more,” he said.

In 2017-18, Bussi moved to a lower-level league with the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders of the NCDC, playing out of Syosset, Long Island.

“Getting home and being able to resettle was huge for me,” he said.

When he moved up to the USHL in 2018-19, he was ready.

“Going through the adversity toughened me up and then (coach) Mike Hamilton gave me an opportunity in Muskegon as an undrafted age-out who played in the NCDC. It is a good league but it’s a pretty big jump to make to be a starter in the USHL,” said Bussi.

“For him to give me an opportunity, let me take the net and go, ‘It’s your net as long as you want it,’ it was good to have some trust.”

Bussi rewarded that trust by going 33-12-4 with a .915 save percentage for the Lumberjacks and earning a scholarship at Western Michigan.

As a junior last season, Bussi led Western to the NCAA Tournament, posting a 26-12-1 record. At the Northeast Regional in Worcester, he backstopped an overtime victory over Devon Levi and Northeastern.

The 6-foot-5 netminder signed a one-year ELC with Boston on March 30 and finished the season in Providence.

“Once I faced some adversity and learned that I’m at my best when I’m having fun and playing the sport that I love, success started coming and I just kind of rode it out to now,” he said.

Bussi started Friday’s 5-4 win over Ottawa. The Bruins fell behind early and trailed for much of the game, but clawed back to tie the score. As the game was winding down in the third period, Bussi made a terrific pad save and seconds later Johnny Beecher scored the winner at the other end of the ice.

“Obviously as a goalie you don’t want to be giving up four goals. In the first period it really felt like I needed to make a save to kind of settle us down. It didn’t come but sometimes as a goalie those are the kinds of games you like playing,” he said.

“You don’t want to be in them too much, but I felt good the whole time and being able to fight through and make big saves down the stretch in a close game shows a bit of character. It felt good to get the win.”

He’s ready for Boston training camp and for the regular season, which could see him playing some games in Maine as well as in Providence.

“I’m going to play wherever they tell me to play. I’m going to compete hard. I want to have a good training camp to prepare for the season and for the first game, wherever I end up.

“Everything’s kind of a progression. The end goal is everyone wants to play in the NHL, right?”

MEETING THE ‘CHALLENGE’

Since 2015, participating in the Prospects Challenge has been a rite of passage for young players with hopes and dreams of playing for the Boston Bruins, regardless of whether they are first-round picks or free agent signings or if they’ve already logged NHL games.

First-rounder Charlie McAvoy played in it in 2017 a few months after he’d made his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs the previous season.

This year, undrafted Marc McLaughlin is in Buffalo. He played 11 regular season games and scored three goals in the NHL last spring after signing a free-agent deal out of Boston College.

“I think it’s real good for young players to go through (the Prospects Challenge), it’s part of the process. We talked a little bit about other organizations, some of their guys aren’t playing. It’s more the message than anything at times, right?” said Ryan Mougenel, who is coaching the Bruins here.

“I think that’s an important message that everything you get here, you earn. You have to go through the process. Our process – it could be through Maine or through Providence. That’s how this game works. We want guys always to be the best version of themselves for the Boston Bruins.”

For McLaughlin, who scored a goal and an assist in Friday’s win, the tournament is a step toward “getting his game in the right place” heading into Boston training camp later this week, Mougenel said.

“Marc’s going through that. There’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs. This is a good way to get his game consistent and understand what he’s got to do to go into camp and have success.”

With a strong camp, McLaughlin has a chance to earn a bottom-six job to start the season.

Mougenel calls him a student of the game.

“I think that’s real important for a guy like that. He knows those things he’s got to work on and he’s committed to doing it. He’s got an NHL (caliber) shot. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to have to really embrace some penalty killing, especially up there.

“If you’re a right-handed shot and can alleviate some of the stress they put on some of the guys on the kill, that’s one way he can get some minutes up there. That’s what it’s about, finding ways to create minutes for yourself. That’s one of the tools he can put in his toolbox.”

TEACHING MOMENTS

Over the coming months, as Georgii Merkulov works his way through his first full season as a pro, “there’s going to be a lot of teaching moments,” says Mougenel.

Playing at center with Fabian Lysell and Jakub Lauko against the Senators and at wing with Matt Poitras and Lysell against the Penguins, Merkulov was held off the scoresheet.

“His game right now, he’s kind of trying to find what works. I said it before, but he’s a guy who’s spent a career valuing different things – possession, making plays. And sometimes those plays are right in front of you,” said Mougenal after practice on Sunday.

“You don’t have to go back to make it more than what it is. He’s a guy that if there’s a play of front of you, he has to make it. He’s coming back with the puck a little bit too much. It’s to be expected with an offensive player. He really values those things. It’s going to be a process, for sure. As a staff we have to have the patience for it.

“The one goal last night, there was an opportunity to get a puck into an area behind their D, and he comes back, chucks a grenade off the wall to Fabian (Lysell) and it’s in the back of our net…  Just get it behind them and go to work.

“He’s going to learn those things. There’s lots of teachable moments for all of us. His hockey IQ is off the chart. He sees plays that I don’t see. He puts pucks in amazing places, even in practice. He’s a really smart kid away from the rink. He’s an impressive kid. I’ve got a lot of time for him.”

MERKULOV: ‘INTERESTING HOCKEY’

Merkulov’s impressions of the Prospects Challenge:

“It’s interesting hockey. So many good young players. It’s fun to play. Obviously it’s different from Providence and AHL. I actually think this hockey is faster than AHL. It’s fun. It’s good to play some games before training camp.”

With Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle and others lined up ahead of him on Boston’s depth chart at center, the 21-year-old rookie is realistic about his chances of making it to the NHL this season.

“I have to work on my game in the D zone,” he said. “I’m not in a rush to make the team this year.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Ryan Mougenel: “I come from a background of junior hockey, but I’m a big advocate for college hockey because the runway is so much longer.”

Notes from Day 2 in Buffalo

BUFFALO – The Boston Bruins rookies erased a four-goal deficit before losing, 6-4, to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Prospects Challenge on Saturday.

For the second day in a row, the Bruins dug a hole and then rallied. Down by four in the second period, they got goals from Ryan Humphrey (2), Curtis Hall and Johnny Beecher and tied the game in the third period before the Penguins pulled away with two more scores.

Five of Pittsburgh’s six goals came on the power play.

Here are three quick hits from the game:

MATTHEW POITRAS

Poitras, Boston’s second round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, was slotted in as the third-line center when the line charts came out a couple of hours before the game.

But as puck drop approached, he was moved up to the first line between Georgii Merkulov and Fabian Lysell.

The idea, according to assistant general manager Evan Gold, was to get a look at Poitras with skilled players on his wings.

While Poitras’ line didn’t produce any points, they did create chances. Poitras, 18, a shifty center with a high hockey IQ, was around the puck all afternoon.

He set up Lysell for some good opportunities and nearly had a goal himself in the third period, but was robbed by Taylor Gauthier in the Pens’ net.

“It feels good to be playing on the first line with Merk and Fabs, great players,” he said.

“I thought we jelled pretty well, probably should have had a few goals. I know I missed a tap-in, but it’s going to come. I thought we played well. Those two guys are so skilled it creates a lot of space for me and kind of allows me to do my thing.”

He had 21-29-50 in 68 games with Guelph last year. He’ll return to the OHL this season.

“He sees a lot of plays. He makes a lot of plays. He’s got a little subtleness to his game. I like him and Lysell together, for sure. They made some nice plays, those two,” said Bruins coach Ryan Mougenel.

JOHNNY BEECHER

Beecher scored a goal for the second straight game, banging the puck home from in tight after Luke Toporowski’s blast hit the post. That knotted the game at four.

He lost 10-15 pounds over the summer and he believes it’s helped his game.

“It feels good. I think I’m getting up and down the ice much faster for the entire game. My legs aren’t as tired by the end of the third period. I think my speed and the consistency of being able to get up and down is huge for me, especially with speed being my biggest asset,” he said.

“I’m really comfortable at 215 (pounds). It’s plenty of weight for physicality. We’ll see how it is coming down the stretch for my first pro season, but as of right now I love where I’m at.”

Moungenel sees a difference from last spring.

“He can sustain a lot more than he could when we first got him in Providence at the end of the season,” he said.

“We were really banged up at the time and he was playing a ton of minutes, so it was not really a fair assessment. But now I can see the difference in him on the bench, he’s ready to go. He’s going to play minutes for us, important minutes on the PK.

“There’s things in his game that I like. I like that he’s finding ways to score. I’ve talked about that, too. He’s got to find different ways to score, it can’t just be with his feet all the time. Use his shot, tips, wraps.

“A little bit more Joe Pavelski-ish. If you can blend the two, where you have an IQ for the net, you have a plan, you have a template, I think he’s a guy that can manufacture offense that way.”

RYAN HUMPHREY

A last-minute invite to rookie camp after 2021 third-rounder Brett Harrison of Oshawa was injured, the undrafted Humphrey was all over the scoresheet with a pair of goals and 12 penalty minutes.

A native of Michigan who played for Victory Honda and Honeybaked while growing up, Humphrey skated for the U.S. in the U-17 Five Nations Tournament in 2019. He had 25-37-62 with 82 PIMs in 68 games with Hamilton of the OHL last season.

“I feel like I’m a hard-nosed, gritty guy with a touch of skill. I can bury my opportunities if I get them, but I’m willing to do whatever I can for the team and play my heart out for the guys,” he said.

Both of his goals were scored from close range, the first on a redirect of a shot by Jacob Wilson.

“Anywhere by the net, I feel comfy scoring from in tight,” he said.

With about 14 minutes left, Humphrey was assessed 12 minutes in penalties — a minor for slashing and a misconduct. Inexplicably, he was sent to the dressing room even though he should have been eligible to return for the final two minutes of the game.

“The faceoff before, I got high-sticked” in the mouth with no call, he said. In response, “I just went over with maybe a little hard chop on the guy’s laces. (The referee) said he didn’t want me starting anything and gave me the boot.”

Mougenel liked what he saw from Humphrey.

“I loved him and J.D. Greenway together. I thought they did a real good job. He’s a fiery guy. He’s from Detroit, kind of showed it tonight that he’s got some grit. He was on the short end of that call,” he said.

Undrafted the last time around, the 19-year-old winger is eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Johnny Beecher: “It was heaven on earth in my eyes, the University of Michigan. I cherish every second I spent there, but I’m excited for this new journey. To put the books down for a little bit is definitely great but hopefully I can get back eventually and try and finish up my degree (in sports management).”

Good day for Bruins youngsters at Prospects Challenge in Buffalo

BUFFALO – It was an encouraging day for the Bruins youngsters on Friday as they bounced back after a sluggish start to win their opening game at the Prospects Challenge.

Boston trailed 2-0 and 3-1 to the Ottawa Senators in the first period but rallied for a 5-4 win.

Luke Toporowski led the attack with two goals, Marc McLaughlin recorded a goal and an assist, Fabian Lysell scored a goal and Johnny Beecher set up a goal and potted the winner with under three minutes left in the game, turning a defender and depositing the puck in the net.

Here are three quick hits from the game:

FABIAN LYSELL

The most dynamic Bruins prospect used linemate Jakub Lauko as a decoy on a two-on-one before wiring the puck past Sens’ goalie Mads Sogaard for a goal in the second period.

Impressive, too, was the play he made in the defensive zone late in the game. With an extra attacker on for the Senators, Lysell won a battle with the much bigger Jake Sanderson along the boards and muscled the puck out of the zone.

“He’s a player that, when he touches the puck, you get excited. I’m no different than anybody else watching him. There’s things in his game I love. I loved his second effort to get the puck out with the goalie pulled. I thought that said a lot about the kid,” said Bruins coach Ryan Mougenel.

“He’s a special kid, he’s fun to be around, I really enjoy him. He’s got things in his game that probably, like all of us, have to get better at the next level. This is what it’s about, the process, for him, taking it day by day.’’

LUKE TOPOROWSKI

Toporowski’s father, Kerry, put up 505 penalty minutes for Spokane of the WHL in 1990-91.

Luke’s game is offense. The 21-year-old left winger averaged a point-per-game in his last two seasons of junior hockey, with Spokane and Kamloops last year and Sioux Falls of the USHL in the COVID year of 2020-21.

His flair for scoring was on display against the Senators. He was in perfect position to bury the rebound of a Marc McLaughlin shot in the first period and he ripped home a one-timer from distance in the third period, tying the game at four.

Toporowski signed a two-year AHL deal with Providence earlier this year.

A native of Iowa, he was regarded as a very good prospect while playing as a youngster for Chicago Mission. He signed with Spokane of the Dub, where his father and brother played, at age 15.

“I went on a couple of (college) visits but Spokane was always the team I wanted to play for,’’ he said.

He didn’t let being passed over in the draft hold him back.

“When it first happened and I didn’t get drafted I was a little bummed, but I think that motivates you even more and I think that will stick with me and will be something I’ll always have in the back of my head,” he said.

Mougenel likes what he’s seen from Toporowski.

“He’s a hockey player. He’s a guy that likes to play on the inside. He’s not afraid of it and he doesn’t really need a second chance to score. He’s shoot first. There’s not a lot of rebounds with him, he seems to find the back of the net. He really impressed me a lot (on Friday). He impressed me a lot in development camp, too. Some of those competitive traits really showed up with him early on,’’ he said.

JOEY ABATE

Abate signed an AHL deal with Providence out of Omaha of the NCHC last spring. He brought with him a reputation as guy who gets under the skin of opponents. He played to that identify on Friday.

The 6-foot-2 winger finished his checks and dished out a steady stream of chirps, even after the final buzzer. Earlier, when a Senator plowed Matthew Poitras of the Bruins into the boards, Abate immediately responded by knocking down an Ottawa player well after the whistle.

“I loved the juice that he brought,’’ said Mougenel. “It’s something that we need in Providence is some abrasiveness in a guy that can play. I think that’s important. I turned to Marc McLaughlin on the bench and said, ‘I know why you fought him (in the USHL).’ He would have annoyed me as well.

“I’ve been very transparent with Joey, what he needs to do to find minutes with the team. That’s how he’s got to play. Be an irritant, kill penalties and provide a value where you can be on the ice and not be a liability. He did everything I expected, came as advertised.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Luke Toporowski on former WHL opponent Fabian Lysell:

“Me and him had lots of battles. We went at it a lot with words and on the ice. We hated each other, essentially. He’s a great player. He plays with so much tenacity and then you see his skill take over. I think that’s what separates him from everybody else.

“Now we’re teammates and we’re getting along and we’re buddies. I’m happy to be on this side of the bench with him.”