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China Games

China Games give Bruins rookies chance to impress

Three hopefuls for third-line center role balancing exploring country with chance to earn NHL job

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BEIJING -- For Boston Bruins like Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak, the trip to China for the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games has been almost as much about exploring the country -- about the Great Wall of China and the Silk Market -- as it has been about the hockey.

Boston's veterans are secure in their positions on the team. They have to worry about getting themselves ready for the regular season, of course, but they don't have to worry about making an impression on the coaching staff or winning a job.

That's not the case for a trio of rookies competing for the third-line center job: Trent Frederic , Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Jack Studnicka .

 

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This is not your average training camp. This is not what Forsbacka Karlsson and Studnicka experienced at camp last season. It is not what any of them will experience at camp next season. But for now, it's all that Frederic knows after spending two years at the University of Wisconsin.

"It's been good. The hockey aspect has been good," Frederic said Tuesday after practice at AZ Ice Sports Club in Beijing. "The experience has been great. All the guys have been really nice and welcoming. It makes you feel like you're on the team."

Frederic said he has not turned down an opportunity yet -- while still trying to get eight hours of sleep each night. He knows that even while he tries to win a job, he needs to savor these moments.

But none of them can forget about their ultimate purpose.

"It's a little bit of a different camp, but I think once you step on the ice and once you have a practice or a game, it's got to be 100 percent," Forsbacka Karlsson said. "You've got to be focused. You can't get distracted by things off the ice. Obviously enjoy it, enjoy the experience, but once it's go time, it's go time."

 

[Game-used Pucks from the 2018 NHL China Games available on NHL Auctions]

 

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy admits the rookies are in a unique position this season as they try to bond with teammates halfway around the world and also win an NHL job.

"I feel for them a little bit that way, but that's the hand they've been dealt this year," he said. "By the same token, we took a lot of them over here for a reason so they have an opportunity to meet and be around NHL players. They're getting the cultural experience but maybe the tryout experience isn't your typical experience. You've just got to find a way to play well."

While in China, against the Calgary Flames in Shenzhen on Saturday and in practices ahead of the game against the Flames on Wednesday at Cadillac Arena (7:30 a.m. ET; NBCSN, SN), Frederic has centered a line with David Backes as his right wing. Backes almost certainly will end up as the third-line right wing, so the desire by the coaching staff to see the chemistry between Backes and Frederic could bode well for the 20-year-old.

Still, all three bring different strengths to the ice. All three could work in that spot.

"I think Frederic, watching his pace get up, we've just got to get that motor running full time," Cassidy said. "Knowing that he has it is very encouraging, knowing that he can skate at the NHL level. Seems to have the competitiveness.

"JFK has got lots of skill. For him, we've got to get him to be hard every day. What I mean by hard is just compete and win your pucks. We know he's got skill. We don't expect him to be out there banging. That's not it. It's win your pucks.

"And Jack, for me, is just a young guy. It's about, can he handle the physical part of the game?"

While Frederic has been playing on a line with Backes, Cassidy has looked at both Forsbacka Karlsson and Studnicka with Marchand and Pastrnak. It's not an easy spot for any player not named Patrice Bergeron, but also will give Cassidy an early idea of the future for those two prospects.

It could also be injury protection.

The Bruins got impressive production from center Riley Nash in Bergeron's spot last season when the regular top-line center was injured. But Nash left as a free agent, signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets on July 1, and the Bruins believe Bergeron should be ready to start the season after offseason groin surgery, there are never guarantees.

"It would help if we need to go that route; I'm not saying we would force a guy in there, but it's a bit of long-term, bit of short-term playing them with those high-end skill guys," Cassidy said. "Then just trying to see if they can play with those types of players because we feel we have very skilled wingers up and down the lineup. Not as established as Pasta and March, but guys like [Anders] Bjork, [Ryan] Donato, [Danton] Heinen, [Jake] DeBrusk."

That's why getting a feel for all of the centers is so important, whether it's in Boston or in China, whether it's early in training camp or later on.

"We need to see glimpses of it, that at least they can handle parts of it and not be completely out of their element," Cassidy said. "So far they've handled it well."

And while the coaching staff might be ready to head back to Boston, to get the entire team together at a full training camp, Frederic isn't nearly as ready to rush home. He's enjoyed this experience in China and has made it work for him, finding his way on and off the ice.

"We're staying in nice hotels," Frederic said. "We're eating well. We've traveled pretty well. It's been a good experience. Going home will be good as well. I know guys are probably missing some people back home. But it's been great. I could stay longer."

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