BUFFALO - The Boston Bruins contingent of prospects took the ice for the first game of the 2018 Prospects Challenge on Friday at 3:30 pm. With a lineup loaded with players who have substantial pro hockey experience, the B's young guns took it to the Penguins early on their way to a 4-2 victory.
In the first period, the Bruins outshot Pittsburgh 16-7 and jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead.
"I thought the first period we really supported pucks well," said Providence Bruins head coach Jay Leach. "We got pucks in and we were able to attack both off the rush and off the forecheck."
Video: Leach discusses Game 1 victory
The Penguins showed more in the second, in part thanks to three power play opportunities, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Bruins prospects.
"What I'd like for them to take out of the game," said Leach. "Was if we play the right way, and we go north and we skate and we take care of pucks and we attach, it's hard to play against us. And if we don't, then it's hard to play against any team you're playing against. Hopefully we can take something like that out of it and move on from there."
Donato and Top Line Dominate
The number one line of Ryan Fitzgerald, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Ryan Donato was impressive for long stretches of the game, and their experience was evident.
Video: Bruins Postgame: Prospects Top Pens
"Ryan [Donato] has the puck on a string quite a bit," said Leach. "JFK [Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson] is able to really find guys with his great vision, and then Fitz [Ryan Fitzgerald] made a nice, nice play at the end to show off his hands. They were an elite line. We put them together to be that way and I thought for the most part they did a nice job of doing that."
Forsbacka Karlsson is coming off his full first season of professional hockey with the Providence Bruins, and is hopeful the trio can build on Game 1.
"Two great guys and two really good hockey players, so it was fun," said Forsbacka Karlsson." I feel like [the chemistry] was there. I feel like it could get better if we had a little more time. It was definitely there."
Donato, who played 12 games with the Bruins in the NHL last season, praised his linemates for their performance.
"Fitzy is going to work hard in the corners," said forward Ryan Donato. "He's going to get a lot of loose pucks. And JFK will find you no matter where you are, he has great vision. I think we all work together very well and hopefully we'll find more success down the line in this tournament."
The 22-year-old Donato felt he had a strong summer, and it was evident in Game 1 as he notched a goal and an assist.
"I trained really hard this summer," said Donato. "I picked up a lot of things at the end of the season last year that I wanted to work on and get better at. I think I did. I really improved on those things. Hopefully that will translate to the season. I feel great with the way I worked this summer and hopefully that confidence will throughout the summer will translate to the NHL game."
Leach noted the great potential that Donato possesses.
"I think he's already shown flashes that he's an exceptional talent," said Leach. "You don't put up the points he's put up in college and then really seamlessly transition to the NHL and be able to do to the same. He has all the tools to be that type of player."
At the NHL level, the Bruins forwards are exceptionally deep on Donato's preferred wing position on the left side. All-Star Brad Marchand and rookie standouts Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen all patrol the left wing. With an opportunity in the top six on the right side, Donato has practiced skating on his off wing.
"It's different," said Donato after he played right wing against the Penguins prospects. "But it's something that I get comfortable. First period, first couple shifts it's like 'ok I have to be in the same spots'. It's just flipped, it's the same thing, just handling some pucks on the backhand. In the game it felt natural, it didn't feel any different than playing left wing. Either side feels great."
Regardless of position, the college star is looking forward to the opportunity to prove himself this season.
"I want to be someone who makes an impact in the NHL," said Donato. "A guy that just doesn't make an NHL roster. I want to make sure I stay and I'm a guy that other guys on the team can rely on. I want to be a guy that's in the lineup every night, yeah, but I want to be a guy that has an impact on the game and scores goals and creates plays as well."
Studnicka Stands Out
Jack Studnicka got a brief taste of pro hockey at the end of last season, playing five games for the P-Bruins. On Friday, the Ontario-native impressed with a dazzling first period goal.
Video: Highlights from the B's 4-2 win over Pittsburgh
When asked about the sequence, the 19-year-old was quick to give credit to his teammates.
"First and foremost," said Studnicka. "It's all on the chip by [Jakub] Lauko there. He takes a hit to make a play, so it doesn't happen without him and fortunately I was able to get around a couple defenders and found a hole."
In his second year participating in the Prospects Challenge, Studnicka felt more comfortable with the experience.
"A lot of comfortability," said Studnicka. "Going to a meeting, meal or even the rink, you know what to expect in your second time around. I feel comfortable personally and trying to make those who it's their first time around feel comfortable."
Keyser Keeps Them Out
Goaltender Kyle Keyser took part in the 2017 Prospects Challenge as an invite. A few months later, he signed an entry-level contract with the Bruins. Against the Penguins, the Florida-native stopped 35 of 37 shots in the victory.
"He competes," said Leach. "He's a battler. He really competes on pucks. Tries to find pucks, he scrambles down low, he did a nice job."
Keyser only saw seven shots in the first frame, but in the second, he also stopped all 16 shots he faced.
"You just have to be mentally engaged the whole game," said Keyser. "There are times when you're only going to see three or four shots for 15 minutes a stretch. That's part of goaltending. You just have to be engaged for 60 straight minutes.
"I knew there be a time when I was going to get a barrage of shots but there are times you have to just sit there for a little bit, but you have to make sure that your mind's ready because there could be a 2-on-1 or a breakaway coming down on you and you have to be ready to make a save for your team when they need it. That's what I was trying to do all night, stay engaged, take deep breaths, try to focus in."
Despite the added security of his entry-level contract, Keyser's mindset has not changed.
"You still want to come out here and perform to the best of your abilities," said Keyser. "You don't want to take that for granted. Every day I'm trying to impress the people upstairs and show that I've been working hard and I'm getting better. That's all I care about. I'm not trying to take it easy because of what happened last year. I'm trying to build off of it and show them that I had a good summer."