Camp notes on McNeill, Hughes, P-Bruins captain

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PROVIDENCE — Mark McNeill is one of the reasons Jay Leach believes his Providence Bruins will be strong at center this season.

McNeill, the 18th overall pick in 2011 by the Chicago Blackhawks, signed a two-way deal with Boston in July. He had a pair of fights in preseason games with Boston before being assigned to the P-Bruins this week.

“He’s got a boatload of skill and he’s a big body and he does skate pretty well. Clearly shows that he’s physical. I think he opened some eyes with the way he played – abrasive,” Leach said today.

“We’ve had talks just about the fact that he has the ability to play in the NHL. In order to get there, we’ll have to work on his pace, in tight areas, being a little bit more aggressive in using his feet. He’s got all the tools to do it, he really does. That’s our outlook for him to start the season.”

McNeill, 25, had his most productive season in the AHL in 2015-16 when he scored 25 goals and 48 points in 64 games with Rockford.

He played more center than wing during Boston’s training camp and that’s where Leach is likely to play him.

“I think he can play both. Sometimes big boys like that can use a little windup speed. He might be a little bit more effective that way. He’s pretty conscientious defensively. If he works on those first few strides in closing quickly, he really might be able to play (in the NHL),” said Leach.

Pending final cuts in Boston, Leach could have centers Jordan Szwarz, Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson and Trent Frederic in his lineup, in addition to McNeill and Colby Cave.

“We should have four very good centers. There’s a lot of options there, depending on who we get,” Leach said.

Hughes will help

Rookie Cam Hughes, who scored twice for Boston in the preseason, is a handy player to have around.

Leach is looking for the Wisconsin alumnus to “take what he did in camp and keep going with it” as he starts his first full season as a pro.

In Boston’s camp, “He played a little bit of center, a little bit of wing. He and (Karson Kuhlman) seem to have a little bit of chemistry together, especially on the defensive side of things. We’re going to use him in a lot of different situations. He has the ability to make some plays, scored a couple of goals,” said Leach.

“Assuming we’re getting who we think we’re getting (once roster decisions are made in Boston), we should have a lot of opportunities to play people with difference guys. We don’t want to get stale.

“He can be a checker for us and I think he can also score for us, depending on the lineup and the personnel we have at that particular moment. For a coach it’s awesome because I can slot him in a lot of different places.”

Who is the next captain?

Don’t expect the P-Bruins to have a captain when the puck drops in Hartford on Oct. 5.

“For the time being, we’ll probably just have (assistant captains) and we’ll see when the dust settles. We have plenty of leaders in the room. We’ll most like have A’s that will rotate,” said Leach.

Chris Breen, Szwarz and Cave were among the players who wore A’s last season.

“There are a lot of guys who have been here for three or four years now that are well aware of the way we want to play and the standard that we want to compete at. They’re all going to be looked at to lead. Until the dust settles and we really see that guy, we’ll be led with a group effort,” Leach said.

Tommy Cross, who wore the “C” with distinction in Providence for three seasons, is now with Cleveland.

Notes from Day 3

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David Broll, a Toronto draft pick in 2011, is trying to earn a contract with the Providence Bruins.

PROVIDENCE — David Broll isn’t ready just yet to wear a black-and-white striped shirt and carry a whistle for a living, but chances are he’ll look at the work of the referees a bit more sympathetically this season.

Broll, who is in training camp on a tryout with the Providence Bruins, got a taste of the referee’s life when he attended the NHL Exposure Combine for prospective officials in Buffalo in August.

“I thought I’d give it a shot and it was awesome,” he said. “They asked me what my situation was, trying to recruit me for this year coming up, but obviously I want to play as long as I can and kind of suck the life out of hockey. They agreed with that.”

Broll, who has spent the last two seasons with Montreal’s St. John and Laval farm clubs,  learned a lot.

“It’s a different prospective. You’re always on the refs during the game. Guys that go (to the Combine) have a different feel for the refs once they come out of the camp and kind of know how much you can push them and chirp them throughout the game.

“It was good for me to see that side of things. If I choose to go that down the road, I know what it looks like. If there is an option there, I think I’d definitely try to pursue it if I enjoy it at that time,” he said.

First, though, there is more hockey to be played. Without a contract, Broll is in the same position he was in with Montreal two years ago.

“I was fortunate enough to have a good camp and make the team out of there, ended up staying with the organization for two more years. I don’t think it matters if you have a contract or not. If they want you here, they’ll make it happen. The stability isn’t there, obviously, until you sign, but it makes you push that much harder and show them what you can do,” said Broll, who gets around the ice well for a big man.

“I’m getting to know everyone. Had a bunch of guys come down (from Boston) today so the skates are a little bit better paced now that we have more bodies. So far, so good,” he said.

Colby Cave returns

Getting sent down by Boston wasn’t what Colby Cave was hoping for, but he’s ready to start the season with the P-Bruins.

“I had an unbelievable experience getting to go to China with the guys and seeing that part of the world, and I’m blessed that I got to compete in an NHL preseason game. You can’t complain about the opportunity. I’m thankful for that. I’m looking forward to putting in some work down here and hopefully ending up back up top,” he said.

“We’ve got a good thing going in Providence, a lot of potential, a lot of good guys coming in. When you can build a winning organization down here, it helps up top. I’m looking forward to the start of the season.”

The more the merrier

Camp went from 16 skaters and 2 goalies in one session on Monday to twice as many in two sessions on Wednesday.

Cave, Anton Blidh and Mark McNeill cleared waivers at noon and hit the ice for the second session. It was an off-ice day for Cody Goloubef, who also cleared waivers.

“It’s a weird number. Right around 30. So if you do 30 in one session, I don’t think the guys get enough. If you split it like we did, it’s tricky. You’ve got to make sure you’re not going too long. Hopefully we found the right mix,” said coach Jay Leach.

“The intensity’s really good. As the ice got a little sloppy, so did the execution. I appreciate their efforts. It’s definitely a competitive group.”

Notes from Day 2 of P-Bruins camp

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PROVIDENCE – The Providence Bruins coaching staff did its homework on Austin Fyten.

Both Jay Leach and Trent Whitfield made calls to learn more about the 27-year-old center/left wing, who signed an AHL deal a month ago after two seasons with the Texas Stars.

“Everyone – and I mean everyone – said this guy is a top-notch guy,” Leach said after practice on Tuesday.

“He’s a great role player. Will always push the envelope for our guys. We’re excited to have him. He had a good camp (in Boston). For a coach at this level, that guy is awesome,” said Leach.

Hockey in the family

Jack Riley is descended from American hockey royalty.

His late grandfather, also named Jack, coached the U.S. team to a gold medal in Squaw Valley in 1960. His father, Brian, has been the head coach at the West Point since 2004. The Riley family tree is brimming with players and coaches.

Jack, 26, who was the captain for the last two seasons at Mercyhurst University of Atlantic Hockey, is in camp this week with the Providence Bruins. He is under contract for the coming season with Reading of the ECHL, where the coach is former P-Bruin Kirk MacDonald.

Like nearly all of the tryout players in Providence’s camp, Riley is a long shot to earn an AHL deal. That won’t stop him from putting his best foot forward.

“I know they have guys here,’’ he said after practice on Tuesday. “My job is just to work hard, make a good impression on the coaching staff and the rest of the guys here.’’

Riley, a 5-foot-11 winger, scored 17 goals and 31 points in 37 games for Mercyhurst. He had 2-3-5 in five games with Reading after his college season ended.

He is looking to make hockey his career, as have so many other members of his family.

“Growing up around a Division I team, I always wanted to play college hockey. Once I got there, I had to kind of switch goals, move towards the pro game, and then maybe when this is done, get into coaching somewhere. Trying to stay in hockey has always been my ultimate goal,” he said.

Malatesta stands out

Leach mentioned Atlanta (ECHL) defenseman Zach Malatesta as a player he noticed during the first two days of camp.

“Makes some nice plays. You can tell he’s smooth,” said Leach.

Malatesta, 22, was born in Boston. He played for the Junior Bruins before spending three seasons in the QMJHL, where he skated for Moncton and Acadie-Bathurst.

Reinforcements on the way

The five players sent down by Boston on Monday — Zach Senyshyn, Emil Johansson, Cam Hughes, Joona Koppanen and Tanner Pond — didn’t skate on Tuesday, but are expected back on the ice on Wednesday.

Connor Clifton, Karson Kuhlman, and Jeremy Lauzon were sent to the P-Bruins on Tuesday and Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Cody Goloubef, Mark McNeill, and Jordan Szwarz were placed on waivers.

A fresh start for Jesse Gabrielle

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PROVIDENCE – Jesse Gabrielle was surprised and disappointed when he wasn’t invited to Boston Bruins rookie camp and training camp this year. Instead, the 21-year-old winger was told to report straight to Providence.

Was he given a reason?

“No, they didn’t tell me why. I got a text a couple of days before camp and they said be in Providence,’’ Gabrielle said.

When GM Don Sweeney was asked about Gabrielle’s status at the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo on Sept. 10, he alluded to the ankle injury that kept Gabrielle out of the Memorial Cup in the spring. “We’re going to have him start (in Providence),’’ Sweeney said.

While Gabrielle says he was good to go by the end of July — “I’ve been ready,” he said — he did as he was told, reporting to the P-Bruins for the first day of their camp at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Monday.

“Just do it. Smile. Say OK. Show up whenever they want me to,’’ he said after the first workout of P-Bruins’ camp at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Monday.

Boston’s fourth-round draft pick in 2015, Gabrielle is looking for a fresh start after a disappointing stint in Providence last season.

Gabrielle was effective in the Prospects Challenge in 2017 and, playing his agitating style,  was noticeable in some preseason games with Boston. But with his confidence wavering after scoring once in 21 games with the P-Bruins, he was returned to the Western Hockey League in late December.

“I was extremely confident coming down to Providence. I thought I was ready to make the jump and play a lot, play good minutes, big minutes, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way,” he said.

“I had chances to put pucks in the net. They weren’t going in. It’s a tough situation to look back on. I thought I had a really good preseason in Boston and I came in with some expectations. It didn’t work out in my favor. That happened. It’s happened to me before.

“It’s something I needed to reflect on throughout the summer and come back with a different mentality this year, not put my confidence in anyone else but myself and be ready. I’ve got to be mentally tough and battle through adversity,” he said.

Providence coach Jay Leach likes Gabrielle’s speed on the forecheck and his feistiness.

“He’s one of those guys that lives on the edge a little bit. He’s probably most effective that way. It’s hard being that guy sometimes,” Leach said.

“We’re looking for him to be an up-and-down, power winger who can show a physical presence and also score goals, which he’s been able to do (in junior). He can skate, he can shoot.”

The kind of struggles Gabrielle went through last season aren’t uncommon for young players. An early bounce or two this season would help.

“You have scoring chances, you don’t bury them and it starts to fester a bit, it gets frustrating. He has the ability to get those scoring chances. If he buries them, he’s on his way,” Leach said.

Odds and ends from here and there

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Random thoughts:

—  The Boston Bruins are less than two weeks from their season opener and Anders Bjork (shoulder surgery in February) still hasn’t played in a preseason game. Didn’t participate in contact drills in practice the other day. Looks to me like he will start the season in Providence.

— Curt Bennett is in the Rhode Island Hockey Hall of Fame now, but why isn’t he in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame?

Yes, he was born in Canada, but moved to the U.S. permanently as a young child and grew up and was trained as a player in Rhode Island.

He’s undoubtedly qualified. At a time when the NHL was almost exclusively Canadian, he posted back-to-back seasons of more than 30 goals in the mid-1970s.

He was American enough to play for the U.S. in the 1976 Canada Cup and in the world championships in 1978 and 1979.

The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame’s 2018 class has already been chosen and will be inducted in December.

But when the nomination window opens again on Jan. 1, 2019, I’ll be submitting Curt’s name. He should be in.

— With the announcement this week of staff changes, it appears the Bruins have parted ways with strength/conditioning coaches Mike Macchioni (Boston) and Garrett McDonough (Providence). If true, it’s too bad. Mac and G are first-rate professionals and all-around good guys.

— It’s the preseason and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is already minus-1 after its handling of Max Domi’s punchout of Aaron Ekblad.

— Strong week for recruiters Kris Mayotte and Ron Rolston at Providence College and Jason Guerriero and James Marcou at Brown University.

These guys are tireless. Mayotte and Rolston are in British Columbia this weekend. Marcou recently spent a week in western Canada.

The Friars received verbal commits this week from ’01 defenseman Cam McDonald of Muskegon of the USHL and ’02  forward Chase Yoder of the NTDP U17.

McDonald comes from good bloodlines. His father Reid played at Michigan Tech and uncle Brian Swanson played 70 NHL games with Edmonton and the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Bears landed ’00 Salisbury School defenseman Luke Krys and ’98 defenseman James Crossman of Odessa of the NAHL.

Krys’ father Mark was an original Providence Bruin in 1992-93. His older brother Chad plays for Boston University.

— The Providence College hockey family was shaken by the death of Mark ‘Roo’ Adams at age 27 on Monday. He played on PC’s 2015 national champs.

I came away from every conversation I ever had with Roo with a smile on my face. That’s the kind of kid he was.

A celebration of his life will be held on Monday night at 6 at The Golf Club at Turner Hill in Ipswich, Mass.

Deepest condolences to Roo’s family.

— It was fun to listen to lively 94-year-old Ralph Warburton on Thursday night when he was the first to be honored at Rhode Island Hockey Hall of Fame enshrinement. The back rink at Thayer Arena in Warwick is named after him. He is a treasure.

— Thursday was Guy Lafleur’s 67th birthday. I watched him carve up the Bruins and every other NHL team countless times during his brilliant career. Meeting him at a house party in North Smithfield in June was one of the high points of my summer. Happy birthday, Flower.

Quick hits on Lauko, Andersson, McIntyre

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BOSTON – The Bruins traded away their 2018 first-round pick in the Rick Nash deal, but they did just fine on their second- and third-round picks in June.

That’s my takeaway from today’s 2-1 shootout win over the Washington Capitals at the TD Garden.

Third-rounder Jakub Lauko scored the first goal and second-rounder Axel Andersson showed plenty of poise and mobility. Throw in a strong performance by Zane McIntyre in the net and it adds up to a 2-1 shootout win.

Here are quick hits on Lauko, Andersson and McIntyre.

JACOB LAUKO

While he didn’t score at the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo last weekend, he was effective all over the ice. Today he broke through with a goal and continued to skate with lots of speed and energy.

“Yeah, it was good – the feeling after. I didn’t know what to do. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I scored, what do I do now?’ So, it was good. Nice feeling,’’ he said.

That’s another thing to like about Lauko. He has lots of personality.

Was he nervous before his first NHL preseason game?

“I’m never nervous, so I think it’s a good thing for me that I’m never nervous. So, yeah, just fun,’’ he said, after recording three hits, a couple of blocked shots and making some creative offensive plays.

Coach Joe Sacco was upbeat on Lauko.

“He played hard, 18-year-old kid, didn’t seem fazed by anything out there really. Competed, obviously scoring the goal is a bonus, but just the way he played the game, the way he approached the game tonight. It was a good start for him. I mean you don’t want to get ahead of yourself here, but certainly it was a good first game for him. He showed a lot of composure for his first game,’’ he said.

As he did in Buffalo, Lauko talked about doing all he can to play in North America this season, instead of going back to the Czech Republic.

“I’m trying. I’m trying a lot. I’m trying to learn on the ice and off the ice. And I hope I can stay for (the coming) season – here or Providence. I want to stay in America,’’ he said.

I have my doubts that playing in the AHL as an 18-year-old is the right next step. It seems to me that junior hockey – Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL holds his rights – is where Lauko would get the top-six minutes and power play time that he needs.

AXEL ANDERSSON

To me, this righty defenseman – who is 18 but looks, I don’t know, 15 – has gotten better with each game.

A superb skater, he was paired with Zdeno Chara today. He was composed with the puck in his own end and had some strong keep-ins at the other end. He was credited with the only assist on Lauko’s goal.

“Seemed really poised back there, wasn’t nervous, went back for pucks, didn’t seem to get rattled or anything. Even when the pressure came on him a few times he didn’t seem to back off, he stuck with it,’’ said Sacco.

The advantage of playing with Chara, who was in his third NHL season the year Andersson was born, wasn’t lost on the youngster.

“As I said before, he’s such a role model, and yeah, he’s great on and off the ice, so he made me comfortable,’’ he said.

Andersson, a puck-mover whose skills as a defender need work, is expected to play in Sweden again this season.

ZANE McINTYRE

McIntyre was dialed in today, stopping 21 of 22 shots in regulation time and overtime, then all 3 in the shootout.

“He wasn’t tested early all that much and then when they started to press towards the third period, obviously towards the end there on the power plays that they ran up there, he played well. He made some big saves. He played well, and then he came up big in the shootout, so good on him, good start for him, too,’’ said Sacco.

McIntyre made a fine stop on a Brett Connelly one-timer off the rush with 5:40 left to keep the game knotted at one.

“Just  kind of going through the ropes you learn to maybe take a little view of what’s going on in the neutral zone as they’re coming into the zone, so I was able to see he was a right shot on that right side and he was able to get it off quick, so I knew that I had to get over there fairly quick to stop it,’’ he said.

This will be McIntyre’s fourth year in Providence and his contract is up at the end of the season, so a strong start is what he and the Bruins are looking for.

Odds and ends from here and there

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Andrew Ference, left, and Dan Paille, right, congratulate rookie Adam McQuaid of the Bruins after McQuaid scored his first NHL goal in a 3-0 win in Montreal on Feb. 7, 2010.

Couple of thoughts on a couple of things:

— Adam McQuaid was a skinny 20-year-old when he arrived in Providence for his first pro season in 2007.

He was miles away from being ready to play in the NHL, but more than willing to put in the work to get there. I remember him staying on the ice after practice to work on his pivots.

McQuaid and Andrew Bodnarchuk eventually developed into coach Rob Murray’s shutdown pairing. Word that he was a fearsome fighter spread fast after he fractured the jaws of a couple of opponents.

You couldn’t help but like the way he played and the way he carried himself – humble, all about the team. He very quickly turned into one of my favorite players, the kind of kid you root for.

In  December of McQuaid’s third season in the AHL he got the call from Boston. He played his first NHL game on Dec. 19, 2009 in Toronto and took on Troy Bodie in his first NHL fight in Anaheim on Jan. 13.

He scored his first NHL goal in an afternoon game in Montreal on Feb. 7 – Super Bowl Sunday – beating Jaroslav Halak for Boston’s first goal in a 3-0 victory. The win broke a 10-game Boston winless streak.

A couple of weeks later, he was sent back to Providence during the Olympic break. I talked to him at the 146 rink one day after practice, and I’ll never forget the proud smile on his face as he talked about the goal and his first few weeks in “The Show.’’

“I was shooting for a tip and it went off one of the guys, so it was a pleasant surprise,’’ said McQuaid, the ultimate team player throughout his eight seasons in Boston.

I flashed back to that conversation – and the smile on McQuaid’s face — on Tuesday when I heard he’d been traded to the Rangers.

 Business is business, and it made sense for GM Don Sweeney to make the deal. But, man, it’s tough to see McQuaid go.

— The acquisition of Steve Kampfer from the Rangers in the McQuaid deal adds to an already crowded Providence Bruins blue line.

I count 10 defensemen who could be Providence bound: Kampfer, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Emil Johansson, Connor Clifton, Chris Breen, Cody Goloubef, Wiley Sherman, Olivier Galipeau.

Galipeau looks like a good bet to end up in Atlanta, but that still leaves a crowd and some potentially tough decisions.

— Providence College’s Brian Pinho scored a goal for the Washington Capitals against Nashville in a rookie tournament this week. The Caps play the Bruins in Boston on Saturday afternoon. While Pinho is expected to spend the season in Hershey, it would be great if he got a chance to play in his hometown before being sent down.

— I stopped over at Schneider Arena to watch Providence College practice on Wednesday. With a strong freshman class led by Flyers’ first round Jay O’Brien, the Friars look faster, bigger and deeper this season. Looks like the good times will continue to roll.

— Jacob Bryson is poised for another big year for the Friars. He does it all for Nate Leaman’s team. His retrievals and breakouts are terrific, he plays against top lines, runs the power play and kills penalties.

— Got my first in-person look at Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin over the weekend. Wow, is he good. Long-suffering Sabres fans are in for a treat.

— Thirty-nine years ago today, Bobby Orr was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame less than a year after his final game. Borrowing a phrase from that old Hall of Famer, St. Thomas Aquinas, if you saw him play, no explanation is necessary. If you didn’t, no explanation is possible.

 

Notes from last day of Prospects Challenge

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BUFFALO – Connor Clifton’s shifts at right wing were the highlight of Monday morning’s 6-2 loss by the Bruins to the Devils in the final game of the 2018 Prospects Challenge.

That’s the kind of game it was.  The Bruins didn’t dress the cream of their prospect crop – those guys got a day off before their trip to China on Tuesday.

“Can’t fault the effort. The execution I can fault, both on the power play and 5 on 5. Obviously it ended up in a poor result,’’ said coach Jay Leach.

Marek Valech and Clifton scored Boston’s goals.

Don Sweeney met with the media after the game for the first time this weekend. Following are some notes on what Sweeney and Leach had to say.

THE THREE CENTERS

The three candidates for a bottom six job at center in Boston — Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka — all sat out on Monday.

All had their moments in Buffalo. Now it’s on to China.

“They all acquitted themselves well. They all had pockets where they played really well, other areas where they’re going to get exposed if they play that way at the NHL level. Bruce (Cassidy), the coaching staff, all of us are excited to see how they integrate into the main group and see who has the chance to carry the ball,’’ said Sweeney.

JAKUB LAUKO

All indications are that the Bruins have themselves a player in the young Czech. Where he will play this season remains up in the air.

“I think his preference would be in Providence, to sign and play there. That league’s tough for young, young players. We want to see him play in as an offensive a role as possible, wherever he ends up playing. He has an opportunity to play back in the Czech Republic and I think that’s likely where he’ll end up,’’ said Sweeney.

“Certainly, there is the Quebec league (he was drafted by Rouyn Noranda), which has been pining for him to go and play there. It’s still an option. We’re going to go through camp and reconvene with him and his representatives and see where it goes. I like his speed, his ability to get on pucks, his tenacity.’’

Lauko wants to play on this side of the Atlantic.

“I want to stay here in America, sign a contract. It was my big hope before this tournament and before the start of the season. I will see what will happen back in Boston, then I will know,’’ he said.

While Lauko didn’t score any goals in the three games, his speed and competitiveness stood out.

“I found out that I can play against these guys,’’ he said.

Leach liked Lauko, too.

“Competes his butt off. Really competitive guy. Exceptional speed. He attempted to make some plays. I thought he was good,’’ said Leach.

“It’s a good experience for him, obviously, to get over here and be in a North American style rink and try to figure it all out because it’s a lot different than where he’s coming from,’’ he said.

WILEY SHERMAN

The Bruins drafted the super-sized Harvard graduate five years ago. He’ll start his first full year as a pro in Providence, which figures to be stacked with defense prospects.

“I think he is a project. He’s a real athletic kid. He played lacrosse in school. Moves well for a really big guy. He trained really hard this summer,’’ said Sweeney.

“Now we’re going to see if we can smooth out the edges of his game – identification of that first pass that’s so paramount for a defenseman to be able to make and execute with regularity. We’ve done a job with a number of players over the years that have been able to smooth those things out.

“He’s competitive as hell. He’s got that long stick and guys take notice in the defensive zone in particular that he’s out there. He’s got to go and learn to move the puck efficiently and play within his strengths, recognize his limitations and try to minimize mistakes.’’

JESSE GABRIELLE

What is up with Gabrielle, who played well in last year’s Prospect Challenge, but then struggled with the P-Bruins before being sent back to the WHL?

“He’ll be in Providence when they open camp. He had a late-season injury – an ankle. We’re going to have him start there,’’ Sweeney said.

PROVIDENCE GOALIES

The P-Bruins’ goalies will be Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar. Workload remains to be decided.

“(Vladar) really needs to challenge and push Zane for as many starts as he can possibly get in the American League and continue to make that next step,’’ said Sweeney.

“Zane’s been there. He wants his opportunity at the NHL level. He’s had some inconsistencies. Vladar’s a young goaltender. They play a lot of three in threes, situations where one goalie gets two out of those three. You want that competition for a guy to step up and say I want that other start. We’re hopeful that Zane can continue to move forward and doesn’t want to give up the net.’’

KARSON KUHLMAN

The Minnesota Duluth captain was one of the top players for the Bruins in Buffalo. His relentless style is likely to win him a lot of fans in Providence.

“The tenacity of Karson is probably what’s really going to stand out. Manages the puck really well. He goes to hard areas of the ice. He got rewarded the other night (with two goals). Can penalty kill. He’ll forecheck. Responsible player. He’s certainly a guy that we’ve identified that might grow with us and carve out a niche,’’ said Sweeney.

RIGHT WINGER CONNOR CLIFTON

Just kidding. The Bruins aren’t considering converting Clifton to play up front.

They dressed seven defensemen and 11 forwards on Monday and to give the D-men more playing time, the coaching staff moved Clifton to the wing in the second period.

“We were trying to spice it up a little bit. Cliffy’s up there half the time anyways. Scores a goal, so we said, screw it, we’ll keep him up there,’’ said Leach with a smile.

“He was yelling at the wingers in the first for doing something wrong, so we said, well, you show them how to do it. You can bet that he said something when he came back to the bench after scoring that goal.’’

SWEENEY STAYS HOME

The GM will watch over the group that stays behind while the rest of the team heads for China on Tuesday.

“I’m not going to China for a very specific reason. The players here should recognize that they’re being evaluated equally to the players that are going to China. It’s a real good opportunity for some players to see minutes in situations they might not have if the group was together,’’ Sweeney said.

“It’s unique; it’s disjointed in some ways that you’ve got a split camp. Shame on anybody that doesn’t recognize the opportunity in front of them with those (first three) exhibition games.’’

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The big takeaway for our guys is the way the Boston Bruins play and the way that we compete and we prepare. I hope they are at least able to take some of that away from this weekend as they move forward. Hopefully, all of them will have a taste of what it means to be a Boston Bruin. – JAY LEACH

Dennehy relishes new job coaching Devils prospects

BUFFALO – Relaxed. Smiling. Upbeat. Ready to speak his mind. Passionate, as always, about the game.

Mark Dennehy has been all of those things this weekend at the Prospects Challenge.

To the first-year head coach of the Binghamton Devils of the AHL, this is the second-best time of the year in hockey, behind only the playoffs.

“Everyone is undefeated still. No one’s been a healthy scratch. Everybody’s happy. You can feel the buzz. It’s like spring training for the hockey guys,’’ he said on Sunday after running practice in preparation for Monday morning’s game between the Devils and Bruins prospects.

According to Dennehy, who coached Merrimack College for 13 seasons before being fired in March, there are more similarities than differences between coaching college kids and coaching pro prospects.

“You’re dealing with young men and their development, so it’s probably closer than it’s ever been. To be honest, I’m looking at some of the guys here and they look like freshmen.

“My job is to help develop these guys into the best players and people they can be, so that when they are ready to go up to the big club they are ready to help (Devils coach John Hynes) right off the bat. I guess the only difference is there’s a parent club, whereas in college you’ve got a lot of parent clubs. You might have draft picks from different teams and things along those lines,’’ he said.

“It’s hockey. When you’re on the ice, inside the glass, it’s all the same. As talented as they are – and this is probably the most talent I’ve coached at this age – they still make mistakes and the mistakes they make are very similar to the ones the college kids make.’’

One part of the college game that Dennehy isn’t upset about leaving behind is recruiting.

“Recruiting has gotten so crazy over the last 10 years. I coached for 24 years in college. The last 10 years have been insane. Everybody recognizes there’s a problem, but we haven’t been able to come up with a solution. I won’t miss the recruiting piece.

“And I liked recruiting, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing better than meeting a kid and his family. I remember – and I wasn’t the main recruiter, Curtis Carr was – getting involved with Brett Seney for the first time and going up to Kingston (Ontario) and watching him and meeting his family.

“Those are all great things. It’s the rest of it. It’s recruitment of prepubescent people. It’s the overcommitments, the decommitments, the pushbacks. That part of it I don’t miss.’’

Seney, the top scorer at Merrimack for the last four season, is now playing for his college coach as he enters his rookie year as a pro. He has been one of the Devils more effective players through their first two games, though he did take two cross-checking penalties against the Penguins on Saturday.

“Senes is a feisty player. He fits in. Obviously I’m biased because I know him a little bit better than some of the guys, but it doesn’t surprise me. I went up last year, ironically, to Binghamton to watch him play and was there for his first goal,’’ Dennehy said.

“In terms of the penalties, hey, we had a saying that it’s always easier to let the air out of a tire than it is to pump it up. You don’t have to pump Brett up. You might have to let a little air out every once in a while.’’

Player development in a winning environment is what most AHL coaches aim for and Dennehy is no different.

“Part of development is winning, don’t get me wrong. But the onus is on developing these players, all of them. You want these guys to achieve their goals. And that’s my job. To help them be the best they can be. Again, that’s not much different from college,” he said.

Notes from Day 3 in Buffalo

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

LAST CALL

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

AXEL ANDERSSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RINK RAT

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

RYAN FITZGERALD

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONNOR CLIFTON

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

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

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

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

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

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

JEREMY LAUZON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUOTE OF THE DAY

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