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Prospects Challenge Will Bring Competition Up A Notch

by By Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BUFFALO - For many of the 25 Bruins prospects that traveled to Buffalo for this weekend's Prospects Challenge, a new level of hockey is on the horizon.

Some have the chance to make it all the way to Boston this season. Others may end up in Providence, Europe or juniors.

The individual performances in Upstate New York over the next few days will go a long way in determining at which level each player should reside when the regular season kicks off next month.

The pace of play will far exceed anything they have seen this summer, whether it be during captain's practices or other informal workouts they may have participated in over the offseason. They will need to be ready for the uptick in action.

"Summer hockey, no matter if you think it's intense or not, it's not going to be the same on Sunday night when the puck drops," said Providence head coach Kevin Dean, who will oversee the group during the tournament.

"These guys are going to have their faces pushed into the glass, it's going to be faster and a lot more physical. You can't replicate that in the summer. That's what they're going to be seeing in the Boston camp, so they might as well get ready for it."

After four seasons at Boston University - and five Bruins Development Camps - this will be the first time that Bruins defense prospect Matt Grzelcyk will don the Spoked-B in real game action.

 "It's got a little bit more of a pro feel to it," Grzelcyk said following Friday's practice at HarborCenter.

"It's good to kind of grow together with the guys and we're just all really excited to play against the different sweaters…get the legs moving against a different team.

"It's nice to compete with the guys and stuff, but you kind of want to put that in during the week against an opponent."

After one more practice session on Saturday, the B's will battle prospects from the New Jersey Devils on Sunday and the host Buffalo Sabres on Monday.

"There's value on a few different levels," said Dean. "I think it's a benefit for [the players]. It's a benefit for us to start our evaluation and start our coaching. These young kids, they all have strengths and they all have deficiencies.

"You address some of those deficiencies now so that when they get to the main camp they can put their best foot forward."

Grzelcyk knows the opportunity for him to make a push for an NHL roster spot is there, particularly after Bruins general manager Don Sweeney's comments on Thursday, during which he said the prospects would have every chance to solidify positions.

"It's definitely eye-catching when any GM says that," said Grzelcyk, who was drafted by the Bruins in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft. "I think it gives all of us some motivation going into the week. While we're trying to showcase our skills and our best abilities, you're also trying to win for the guy next to you.

"As long as we play simple and compete out there, I think our skills will come out."

This weekend also marks the first time Dean has been the man in charge. It's a learning process for him, as well.

"Even today at practice, I was thinking at one point, I can't evaluate the practice as easily as I could as an assistant because I have to watch the reps and who's going when," said Dean, who takes over for Butch Cassidy after five seasons as an assistant.

"I've certainly had to get my brain around things that Butch was doing. I listened to him and understood it, but now I have to think it through or why this kid may or may not be good in that situation…getting my brain around a lot of different aspects of the game I haven't done before.

"Frankly, it's been enjoyable to this point."

Forming A Bond

Grzelcyk was enthusiastic while talking about the future of the Bruins defense corps. He joins Linus Arnesson, Brandon Carlo, Jeremy Lauzon, Rob O'Gara and Jakub Zboril to form a strong group of potential Bruins blue liners.

"I think Bruins fans should definitely be excited about what's to come out of that group," said Grzelyck. "It's nice to kind of know them over the years and have that comfort level with them on the ice. I think it makes the situation like this week a little bit easier."

Equal Opportunity

With 25 total players in Buffalo, the Bruins have five extra skaters. Dean said everyone would play in at least one of the two games.

"The five guys that don't play on Sunday will definitely get in on Monday, provided that they're healthy," Dean said.

Here is the Bruins roster for the weekend:

FORWARDS: Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Peter Cehlarik, Domenic Commisso, Jake DeBrusk, Jesse Gabrielle, Colton Hargrove, Danton Heinen, Justin Hickman, Sean Kuraly, Matt Mistele, Mark Naclerio, Drake Rymsha, Simon Stransky, A.J. White

*Forward Zach Senyshyn will not be participating after undergoing a successful appendectomy on Sept. 4.

DEFENSEMEN: Linus Arnesson, Josh Atkinson, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, Rob O'Gara, Bailey Webster, Jakub Zboril

GOALTENDERS: Zane McIntyre, Dan Vladar

The 2016 Boston Bruins Rookie Camp is presented by AT&T.

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