BUFFALO -- Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Matt Grzelcyk were not too surprised by defenseman prospect and former college teammate Charlie McAvoy's contributions for the Boston Bruins during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. And with McAvoy likely to make the Bruins roster to start this season, Forsbacka Karlsson and Grzelcyk are looking to get there.
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All three former Boston University players are making an impression at the Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter, a tournament that runs through Monday.
"I think a lot of guys were surprised when [Charlie] came in and played that way, but after watching him for two years, I knew," said Forsbacka Karlsson, a 20-year-old center. "It's really good to see that he can come in and step up like that. It's motivation for us young guys."
Grzelcyk, 23, often compared to Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, played two games for Boston and had 32 points (six goals, 26 assists) in 70 games for Providence of the American Hockey League last season.
Forsbacka Karlsson was alternate captain as a sophomore at BU last season, when he had 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) and was plus-11 in 39 games skating with Patrick Harper (Nashville Predators), Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes) and Jordan Greenway (Minnesota Wild).
"Karlsson is a solid two-way center," McAvoy said. "Playing with him is awesome because as a defenseman you always look for your center and you always hope he'll be there to bail you out and be in the right spot. He's there and supporting the play very well defensively."
Forsbacka Karlsson said he could contribute at wing if needed. He compares his game to Bruins center Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins coaches will likely consider all options at left wing to play with center David Krejci and David Backes this season. Frank Vatrano might be penciled in now, but with a good training camp, perhaps another young player can win the job.
Forsbacka Karlsson could battle for a roster spot in camp, along with several others, including Anders Bjork, a fifth-round pick (No. 146) in the 2014 NHL Draft, and Jake Debrusk, a first-round pick in 2015 (No. 14). Bjork and Debrusk are at the Prospects Challenge.
McAvoy's former BU teammates are hoping to impress the Bruins much like McAvoy, 19, did after being selected in the first round (No. 14) of the 2016 NHL Draft. He had two assists and was plus-3 in four games with Providence before Boston called him up for the Eastern Conference First Round against the Ottawa Senators. He had three assists in six playoff games.
Forsbacka Karlsson had firsthand knowledge of McAvoy's makeup the past two seasons before each signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Bruins in April. Grzelcyk, a defenseman, was captain as a senior during McAvoy's freshman season in 2015-16. He signed a two-year, entry-level contract April 1, 2016.
Forsbacka Karlsson and Grzelcyk were aware of McAvoy's tendency to play a lot of minutes, strong positional play, and intimidating presence along the blue line long before he averaged 26:12 and worked the point on the Bruins' top power play in the playoffs.
Each has shown plenty of his own strong qualities at the Prospects Challenge.
"[Forsbacka Karlsson] is a smart player, but I still believe he needs to shoot the puck more because good things happen," said Providence coach Jay Leach, who is coaching Boston here. "Clearly he's an intellectual player, he makes nice reads, and supports the puck well on breakdowns. He has proven to be responsible defensively and that's good."
McAvoy said Grzelcyk has the experience to be in the mix for a roster spot this season.
"He's a very dynamic defenseman," McAvoy said. "He can skate effortlessly, has great skills with the puck, is a great passer, and [has the] offensive ability to run a power play. His defensive strengths are very strong and he always finds a way to get his stick on the puck. For a guy his size, he can still play a strong game."
Leach said it's a matter of time before Grzelcyk (5-foot-9, 174 pounds) gets his chance.
"He's poised with the puck; a smaller guy but not afraid to defend," Leach said. "As a coach you try not to fall in love with guys, but [he] is different because he's a good person and he's someone I really root for. I hope he gives himself the best chance in training camp."
Grzelcyk said, "For me, it starts with moving the puck up and being that guy who is reliable on the breakout. Someone who doesn't have to spend too much time in his own zone but is willing to play defense as well, and when I get a shot on the power play, take advantage of it."