BUFFALO -- Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Studnicka and Trent Frederic said they anticipate an even better future for the Boston Bruins after what they saw last season.
Vaakanainen (6-foot-1, 185 pounds), a left-handed defenseman, and centers Studnicka (6-1, 171) and Frederic (6-2, 203) are participating for the Bruins at the Prospects Challenge at Harborcenter this weekend. Each has drawn the attention of the development coaches and might even challenge for a roster spot out of training camp.
"We pretty much have the same core in Boston and the younger guys are going to get better," Vaakanainen said. "The team is going to get better as well, so it's exciting times for the Bruins."
Boston is expected to make another run at the Stanley Cup with the usual veterans playing key roles this season. It lost to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season with 42-year-old defenseman Zdeno Chara, 34-year-old center Patrice Bergeron, 33-year-old center David Krejci, 31-year-old forward Brad Marchand and 32-year-old goalie Tuukka Rask leading the way.
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"These are guys I grew up watching on TV when I was younger and to be able to see them go through that run and see core guys aged 20-to-24 contribute and be a part of that run was cool," Studnicka said. "It's inspirational to see that it doesn't really matter the age in that locker room. Everyone is treated the same and given equal opportunity."
Though the Bruins have integrated their share of young and productive players such as 23-year-old forward David Pastrnak, 22-year-old forward Jake DeBrusk, 21-year-old defenseman Charlie McAvoy and 22-year-old defenseman Brandon Carlo, there's always room for younger, energetic legs in the lineup, particularly with McAvoy and Carlo each remaining an unsigned restricted free agent.
Vaakanainen, selected with the No. 18 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Bruins on June 13, 2018. The 20-year-old had 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 30 games for Providence of the American Hockey League last season, his first in North America, and played two game for Boston in October.
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"Last year I was close [to making the roster] so I feel like I have a good chance," he said. "I feel like I'm pretty good offensively. Guys tell me I'm a defensive defenseman but I don't really feel like that. I think I have a lot to give offensively, too."
Studnicka is considered by many as a top-three prospect for the Bruins. The 20-year-old signed a three-year entry-level contract on Sept. 26, 2017.
"It's a different mindset [entering camp] just because I got the pro eligibility whether that be in Boston or in Providence," Studnicka said. "I think this was my best summer yet in terms of trying to gain strength and put on a little bit of weight, so I'm excited to show that I had a really good summer."
Selected in the second round (No. 53) of the 2017 NHL Draft, Studnicka had 233 points (80 goals, 153 assists) in 252 games over four seasons with Oshawa and Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League. He had a goal and an assist in four Calder Cup Playoff games with Providence.
He said one underrated part of his game is face-offs.
"It's something I struggled with early in my career, so I tried to dial it in as I got older," he said. "It's pretty easy being in the Bruins organization because you have someone like Bergeron who arguably is the best face-off guy in the League. I talk to him a lot; I like to bounce ideas off him when I see him because him being a center and breaking into the League at a young age is what I'm going through.
"I'll watch tape and see he kind of reads the other centerman first to kind of see what they do, and then he reacts to that."
Frederic had 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) in 55 games for Providence in 2018-19, his first full AHL season, after playing the previous two at the University of Wisconsin. Chosen with the No. 29 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, the 21-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level contract on March 13, 2018.
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Frederic said he changed his summer workout regimen and feels thinner and quicker.
"You can see it in him," said Bruins player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner. "He leaned out and got his training to where it needed to be to become a pro hockey player. He's continuing to get better, and I think he's going to be a good player for us sooner than later. He's doing it the right way and is going to be a player who can have an impact in games."