But make no mistake: This isn’t development camp. Not anymore. This is where the competition begins.
“Going into development camp, I really thought we were coming in there trying to learn and understand what goes on during these camps, and that’s kind of what we prepared ourselves for,” said 2015 second-round draft pick Brandon Carlo. “Obviously here, there’s a lot of guys competing for jobs, trying to make it to that next level, either in Providence or in Boston, and I feel like that’s definitely the difference here: You’re competing with the guy next to you along with playing with him.”
Yes, all of the players on Boston’s Prospects Challenge roster will be teammates for the next four days. But the internal competition presents an added wrinkle.
Boston’s main camp doesn’t begin for another week, and there are projected to be some open spots on the 2015-16 roster. This camp, therefore, is an opportunity for the rookies to get a head start on impressing Boston’s coaching staff and management.
“These guys are competing, and they have to understand that,” said Providence Head Coach Bruce Cassidy, who led Friday’s practice. “This is Step 1. Management’s here, Claude [Julien] is here, so it’s a great chance to get a leg up as a young guy. And that will be the message — pretty simple.
“We’re still here to teach, obviously, and get them acclimated with how Claude likes the players to play in Boston, and similarly in Providence. But for them, they’ve got to understand that now, it’s not about feeling your way around. As a young guy, you tend to have to kick the door down if you want to make a solid first impression, and hopefully, there’s a fair amount of guys that do that.”
On Thursday, after the 24 rookies concluded off-ice testing, B’s General Manager Don Sweeney said this camp, first and foremost, is an opportunity.
The rookies themselves have the same outlook.
“You’ve got to work your hardest every single day, and they’re going to see you if you’re doing well,” said Austin Czarnik, who signed with Boston as a college free agent out of Miami University in April. “So [you’ve] just got to do your best every single day and work hard.”
Everyone who stepped foot on the ice on Friday had the same goal in mind: Make a good first impression. Show Julien, Cassidy, Jay Pandolfo and the other staff in attendance something they haven’t seen before, something the current Bruins roster is missing.
“There’s a lot of guys here for the first time trying to make that first impression,” Carlo said. “I feel like that’s a huge thing to do — come in here and work as hard as you can, show what you have, offer the role you might have at the next level, and just go from there and prove yourself.”
And fortunately, internal competition tends to bring out the best in every player. Not only does that serve this group well in practice, but it should certainly serve them well when they face off against New Jersey’s prospects and Buffalo’s prospects later this weekend.
“Everybody’s just working their hardest, obviously — trying to prove what they have — and I feel like that makes it a lot more fun out there,” Carlo said. “The pace is going, and there’s no better hockey than the best hockey to play, so it’s so much fun being out there with all these guys just working their butts off. I’m having a great time so far.”
Practice Makes Perfect
Friday’s practice wasn’t perfect. Everyone who participated acknowledged that.
But it wasn’t supposed to be perfect. Most of these players have spent no more than one week at a time playing together — if that.
“I think at first, it was a little choppy out there,” Czarnik said. “Guys don’t know each other yet, so it’s hard to get some chemistry right away, but I think after we got going, it started picking up.”
Later in the weekend, the competition will certainly heat up. On Friday, though, it was more about learning the drills and learning the system.
“I thought it was good at the start and at the end; in the middle, it got a little sluggish,” Cassidy said. “But a lot of these guys haven’t seen the drills, and I don’t like to go to the board a lot. We explain it, try to explain it, will go to the board, but we want to keep up the pace and get them to think, pay attention — so if they’re not sure in a drill, then watch, because that’s how you learn.
“I don’t try to judge it too much the first day in that regard, and I’m glad — nothing bad happened and no injuries, no one ran into each other, I haven’t heard about any groins or sore backs — so you want them to be ready to go Sunday and Monday when they’re playing and be at their best so they can, like I said, make a good impression in the games, and hopefully, it translates into the main camp.”
The games, of course, are the highlight of rookie camp for all of these players, across the board. Yes, they are competing against each other, but they also relish the opportunity to play with each other — and against some of the best rookie competition the NHL will have to offer this season.
“[Games are] obviously the best part,” said forward Frank Vatrano. “It’s what everyone’s looking forward to. I heard Buffalo had a great crowd here at development camp, so I know the guys are really excited for that game, but obviously, you can’t look ahead — we’ve got a game against New Jersey, and they have a bunch of good young prospects, too.
“So I think everyone’s ready for the challenge, and ready to play some hockey.”
Vatrano Leaving a Lasting Impression
On Thursday, Sweeney specifically mentioned Frank Vatrano as a player he expects to push — hard — to impress the staff during rookie camp.
On Friday, after one practice session, Cassidy expressed his own satisfaction with the native of East Longmeadow, Mass.
Cassidy got to see quite a bit of Vatrano at the tail end of the 2014-15 season: After signing his entry-level deal with Boston in mid-March, Vatrano left UMass-Amherst and reported to Providence, where he suited up for five regular-season games.
“He’s got an NHL shot, an NHL release, already,” Cassidy said. “He’s just got to find a way to use it and get it off. And in Providence, he wanted to shoot the puck, and that’s a great mentality to have when you’ve got a good shot. [There’s] nothing worse than trying to convince a guy to shoot the puck when he can really hammer it, so that won’t be an issue; it’s just a matter of getting open, finding the soft areas, the time and space to get a shot off, and he’ll have to learn that as he goes.”
During his P-Bruins stint and during July’s development camp, Vatrano clearly made an impression on Boston’s coaching staff and management. But in his eyes, he’s still not done.
“[I] just [want to] show management and everyone else that they signed me for a reason,” he said. “I’m here to make a statement, just like everyone else is, but at that same time, you have to be a great teammate, and just hopefully, your game falls into place.
“For the most part, it usually does. Stick to what you’ve been doing, and everything will follow along. So I’m ready for the challenge.”
In the few short months since he began his pro career, Vatrano has already seen growth in himself — not only on the ice, but in the dressing room, too.
He has only been a pro for a few months, but already, he feels like a veteran, and even though he is in their shoes, he feels like he can offer a positive example to some of the younger players attending this year’s rookie camp.
“I feel like an older guy here, and kind of lead by example,” Vatrano said. “Being in Providence at the end of the year and coming to development camp has really helped me develop, and rookie camp now — [I’m] just telling guys what the Bruins are all about, and how they preach hard work, and just take every day one at a time and just keep going hard.
“So that’s really what they want here, is just work hard, and everything else will take over.”
Vatrano has gotten the message from the Bruins brass. He knows what they want, and he knows how to deliver it.
Like everyone else at rookie camp, Vatrano is a work in progress, but his work has left his coaches wanting to see more. And as a rookie, that is all you can ask for.
“Everybody loves goal scorers, and if you can home grow them, it’s even better,” Cassidy said. “That’s how you’d like to think he’s going to make it. … It’s like a guy that can outskate everybody — well, he’d better use his speed to play up there. So Frankie’s going to have to, like I said, use his shot. But it’s easy to say that — ‘Oh, I’m going to shoot tonight’ — but the puck’s got to find you. You’ve got to go to the right spots, and you’ve got to be willing to fight through the checks, and be strong enough to get through all that stuff to get your shot off. So that will be the determining factor for him.
“And then when your shot dries up a little bit, [and] you don’t get the chances, you’ve got to be able to contribute. You’ve got to be able to hold your own away from the puck or make plays or do the other things that are necessary.”
McIntyre to Get First Start in Net
The Bruins brought three goalies to this year’s Prospects Challenge, but Zane McIntyre enters the camp with the most fanfare.
He has played in two straight Frozen Fours, he won the Hobey Baker Award a few months ago, and he has attended six straight development camps with the Bruins.
Now is his opportunity to make the leap to the next level, and he will get his first shot at it on Sunday night against New Jersey, Cassidy said.
“Zane will get the first crack [in net], and then we’ll go from there,” Cassidy said. “I’ll talk to [Goaltending Coach Bob Essensa], and see about the other two guys.”
The other two guys, of course, are 2015 third-round draft pick Dan Vladar and Holy Cross grad Matt Ginn, who signed with the B’s in July. Cassidy said their playing time this weekend will depend on how much time they will be able to spend in Boston’s camps.
Friday’s Practice Lineup
Forwards: Noel Acciari, Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Austin Czarnik, Jake DeBrusk, Mitchell Dempsey, Jesse Gabrielle, Colton Hargrove, Justin Hickman, Joonas Kemppainen, Jordan Maletta, Eric Neiley, Zach Senyshyn, Frank Vatrano
Defensemen: Linus Arnesson, Brandon Carlo, Max Everson, Max Iafrate, Jeremy Lauzon, Frankie Simonelli, Jakub Zboril
Goalies: Matt Ginn, Zane McIntyre, Dan Vladar