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31 in 31

Inside look at Boston Bruins

Young group being relied upon to help take next step

by Matt Kalman / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Boston Bruins.

The Boston Bruins' first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three years, along with what is believed to be a strong run of drafting, has allowed them to exhibit more patience this offseason.

The Bruins made splashes in free agency in each of the past two seasons but remained relatively quiet this year. They believe many of their prospects are NHL-ready and can be mentored by homegrown veterans and experienced players who were brought in during the first two years of Don Sweeney's tenure as general manager. 

Boston qualified for the 2017 playoffs, where it lost to the Ottawa Senators in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round. Injuries to several players, including four regular defensemen, derailed the regular season, when the Bruins finish third in the Atlantic Division, three points behind the Senators.

 

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The only acquisitions from outside the organization were free agent defenseman Paul Postma and forward Kenny Agostino. But the Bruins aren't content with reaching the postseason and lasting two weeks, nor are they being shy with their resources. They simply believe some of their prospects are ready to blossom and compete for lineup spots in the NHL.

"We've been fairly committed to allowing our young prospects to try and grow and take some opportunity," said Sweeney, who helped add free agent forward Matt Beleskey in 2015 and forward David Backes in 2016. "Now we've got competition, internal competition, set up. I do believe there will be a couple players ... that will challenge, particularly up front. 

"On the back end, probably not as much, which has led me to continue to look outside. ... But I think the most exciting part is the internal competition piece that we've set a plan in motion, and I think there are players that will step forward and grab the opportunity."

Although the Bruins continue to work on a contract for restricted free agent forward David Pastrnak, who was second behind Brad Marchand in goals (39-34) and points (85-70) last season, they agreed to terms with every other restricted free agent they qualified. That includes center Ryan Spooner, who had 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) last season. The Bruins hope he will solidify their third-line center position.

Video: 31 in 31: Boston Bruins 2017-18 season preview

The Bruins also lured Anders Bjork from Notre Dame after the speedy wing's junior season. Bjork, a fifth-round pick (No. 146) in the 2014 NHL Draft, had 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists) last season and will be one of the primary young players fighting for a roster spot in training camp. They include forwards Danton Heinen and Peter Cehlarik, who each played in the NHL last season; Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn, two of the Bruins' three 2015 first-round picks who are close to making their NHL debut; and center Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, who played one NHL game after leaving Boston University following his junior season

Mixing in so much youth could put the onus on veterans Patrice Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci and Backes to have patience and be mentors. Bruce Cassidy, who became Bruins coach on Feb. 7, said he believes they can benefit from the youth-veteran mix the way the Pittsburgh Penguins have with Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel mixing in with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others.

"I have to convince those guys that they have to pull this kid along, whatever kid it happens to be, because that will make us a better team if we can spread the wealth and use other players in different roles," Cassidy said. "That's the challenge. I think that will be our biggest challenge, and one I'm looking forward to because I do believe some of these young kids, assuming they're ready ... that could make us a much better, stronger team if we incorporate those younger guys."

There are fewer young defensemen ready, but their talent level might exceed that of the forwards. Charlie McAvoy made an impressive NHL debut in the six playoff games, and the Bruins already have him penciled into their top four. They already know what it's like to have a rookie in their top four after Brandon Carlo played 82 games last season next to No. 1 defenseman Zdeno Chara before an injury kept him out of the playoffs.

The Bruins basically know what they're going to get from Bergeron and Marchand up front, and Chara and Torey Krug on defense. Barring a major trade or change in direction from the organization, it'll be up to their younger players to take the next step in their career if they hope to take another step in the playoffs.

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