WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Most NHL development camps are highlighted by power skating, practice drills and the occasional frantic scrimmage. However, Boston Bruins development camp this July produced a viral video when 2015 first-round pick Jake DeBrusk scored a between-the-legs goal during a shootout.
DeBrusk managed to create a moment that was talked about for weeks after camp ended.
"It took me a while, because, honestly, it was a week there and then I went to the (Canada) World Junior camp and I was still hearing about that after that," DeBrusk said Thursday. "So that was about three weeks. And there were people I hadn't seen in a while and people I went to school with. And it's such a hockey-crazed town. ... It's pretty much all hockey in Edmonton, right, so just lots of people would be showing me things. And even some of my teammates with Swift Current [of the Western Hockey League] were doing it in shootouts and things. It was just one of those plays where I thought I'd try it and see how it goes, and I'm really happy it worked."
DeBrusk was one of two dozen Bruins prospects who reported to Ristuccia Arena for off-ice training Thursday, the first day of rookie camp. The rookies will compete in a round-robin tournament against the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils this weekend in Buffalo.
Some of the Bruins rookies have been through the NHL camp experience before; others are attending for the first time. All share the same goal of earning a spot in Boston's training camp, which opens next week, and maybe pushing their way into competition for a spot on the NHL roster. In the case of DeBrusk, the 18-year-old can make sure his development-camp highlight isn't the only thing he's known for.
"Your goal is to stay as long as you can, make the team and things like that," said DeBrusk, who had 42 goals and 81 points for Swift Current last season. "And I think this tournament is a huge thing for that. I think that if you have a good tournament and really show well, it gives yourself a way better chance to stay than if you had a bad tournament and didn't show well. So that's what I'm aiming for, just show my best and show my capabilities, exactly why they drafted me, and get some wins."
DeBrusk was the 14th player taken in the 2015 NHL Draft, one of Boston's three first-round picks. Defenseman Jakub Zboril was selected 13th and forward Zachary Senyshyn was drafted 15th, as new general manager Don Sweeney restocked his team's prospect base. The Bruins drafted 10 players; seven are at the rookie camp.
The camp got off to an inauspicious start for the three first-round picks; each failed the running test (three 300-meter sprints). Sweeney said the times probably mean the players will have to do some remedial work, but they will travel to Buffalo and play in the tournament.
Although the players were disappointed in their performances, they were hopeful their performance on the ice would erase memories of the failed test.
"It's all about your own improvement," said Senyshyn, who had 45 points in 66 games for Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League last season. "And I think just getting a baseline at development camp and kind of working toward getting better is all it's about. Everyone has their individual strengths in hockey and kind of off-ice testing. You try to do what you're great at and kind of improve at what you're looking to improve on."
Zboril, who had 20 points in 44 games for Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, was equally defiant about rebounding for the slow start to his camp.
"I just have to keep working hard and show myself on the ice and make them forget the running test and be better on the ice," he said.
This group of rookies is the first assembled since Sweeney took over for Peter Chiarelli as GM on May 20. Although Chiarelli was mainly responsible for drafting and signing many of them, Sweeney had a hand in those dealings as assistant GM. Add in the players the Bruins drafted in June and the prospect pool reflects Sweeney's philosophies about sustainability in the NHL salary-cap era. The Bruins have always been willing to spend to the cap, but that sometimes means losing players after they improve and want more money. Having younger, cheaper players in the system is crucial.
Some players will stay on a path that requires more seasoning at the junior level, but some can accelerate their development. Boston's 2014 first-round pick (No. 25), David Pastrnak, was in the NHL two months after competing in his first rookie tournament.
"I think it's important to these kids to understand there are measuring sticks along the way in your own personal development as well as our understanding of where guys are from the trajectory of when they can possibly play in the National Hockey League, when they can help us win," Sweeney said. "We've had guys that have come in, made the jump to the next level and hopefully we have more surprises in that area. So it is important. It's taken seriously and we talked about that this morning. This is the pro part of it. Make no mistake about it, the competition begins."
Sweeney said that regardless of whether a player is a first-round pick or a free agent signee, the Bruins are interested in playing and building around those who perform best, meaning that self-motivation is going to be important. Nothing should inspire this current crop of rookies, especially the higher draft picks, more than the openings the Bruins have in their lineup and the ones that will be there in the next couple of seasons.
"It's really exciting just looking at it from my perspective. There's a lot of change going on," DeBrusk said. "Especially with the salary-cap era going on, it's hard to keep the guys. But I think that there is lots of opportunity. Obviously there's lots of good guys around too. I think the guys they brought in are really good too. But just looking at it, there is some, I guess, chance and I'm taking that as an exciting moment and just really going to give my all and try to get in there."