BOSTON - With training camp just over two weeks away, the excitement for another season of Boston Bruins hockey is beginning to build. And with an influx of young talent seemingly ready to emerge and push for spots at the NHL level, there appears to be an added buzz surrounding the team this fall.
We sat down with General Manager Don Sweeney to get his thoughts on where the Black & Gold stand as the 2017-18 season approaches:
Is there an added level of excitement this season given the amount of young guys knocking on the door?
Don Sweeney: It's the element of the unknown. These are unproven players with a high pedigree and we have plans for them to move along and be impactful players. I think Brandon Carlo is a great example of a player that can sort of surprise you when training camp rolls around, but it's a good surprise. We've had other players that had very good years down in Providence last year in [Danton] Heinen, [Jake] DeBrusk and then you've got [Matt] Grzelcyk and [Rob] O'Gara and the [goalies, Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban].
How much patience will the veterans and coaching staff have to have with the young players should they make the team?
DS: Well, there will always be because they're at a different level. Training camp is at one level and then the season kind of goes along and things continue to ramp up. Some players react to it and other players don't. You saw Danton Heinen last year was by far one of the best rookies in the early going and broke with our team, but then the league kind of got a little fast around him. You may have other players that go through the same thing. You also look at Brandon Carlo who came out and just kept getting better and had dips during the season but then re-grouped and we missed him in the playoffs. Clearly, the loss of him and [Torey] Krug and then when Adam [McQuaid] got hurt, so that's why we wanted a deeper group. For internal competition when the injuries come, as well. Solving our problems from within.
Bruce Cassidy, Kevin Dean, and Jay Pandolfo have all been involved with developing some of these young players. How beneficial with that familiarity be?
DS: We have several touches on our players from our coaching staff, a history which is really helpful. I think they know what they can bring to the table. This is at a different level, so I think they can instill the confidence in the kids, the teaching environment of the kids. It's up to the individual players to take a hold of it. I think our staff is excited to work together and work with the players. It's a revitalization, kind of an injection of energy and enthusiasm. Bruce has a way he's going to do things. It's going to be different than how we've done it in the past. This training camp is not going to be the same as it's been for the last 10 years. It will have some areas that I'm sure will need to be sort of ironed out. But again, we made the change and we're excited about what stands in front of us.
What are your expectations for some of these young players?
DS: I think we're excited about the depth of the group, first and foremost. And then it's really up to the players. Do I think that [Anders] Bjork and Heinen and DeBrusk and [Jakob] Forsbacka Karlsson, the forward group, yeah, I think they're going to vie for spots. But then you've got players like Kenny Agostino coming in, Frankie [Vatrano's] going to want his spot, [Austin] Czarnik played well last year, [Peter] Cehlarik's going to be a little late because of the offseason shoulder surgery. You've got other players that could be sitting in the weeds a little bit in Colby Cave and Anton Blidh that might push [Tim] Schaller and [Noel] Acciari and some of the other guys in their spots. Danton Heinen had a tremendous playoffs [with Providence] and should feel more comfortable having played games last year. It's a tremendous amount of names and that's just the forward group. Then you add Charlie [McAvoy] to the mix and a healthy Brandon and then you've got Robbie [O'Gara] and Matt Grzelcyk that, you've got young players in [Jakub] Zboril and [Zach] Senyshyn, [Jeremy] Lauzon that are just turning pro.
I think Brandon's a great example of last year where he just kept getting better and we said, 'Well how can we keep this kid out of the lineup?' There could be players who do the exact same thing. Emil Johansson has played a couple of years in the Swedish Elite League, we'll see where he goes, the skating ability that he has. Goaltenders probably feel the same way, Malcolm and Zane, had good years, a strong playoff run, let's see if they can push [Anton Khudobin].
What is your overall view of the year ahead?
DS: Well, we took a step forward last year. We got in and had we been healthy, who knows, maybe we win. But you give Ottawa credit for winning their series. You realize how it takes 95 some-odd points to make the playoffs. You have to get off to a good start, you have to build as the season goes along. You've got some younger players who are going to go through some bumps, you realize that. You cross your fingers that you're gonna stay healthy. I think we're going to be a team that gets better as the season goes along. We have a tough finish to the schedule, got a couple interesting road trips early on. There will be some time for our players to bond and get together. Our leadership group is tremendous and we need that next group, Ryan Spooner, Riley Nash, Torey, guys that have been here, to continue to move the needle, because our younger guys are going to need that support. Albeit, I think they're talented enough to help move the needle themselves.