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Anderson: Bruce Cassidy has communication, veterans to help prospects ease into NHL

Ty Anderson
July 10, 2017 - 11:42 pm

The Bruins may have a nearly complete roster -- the team has a couple of restricted free agents, in David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner, to fit in as the last pieces to fit into the Black and Gold’s picture before it comes bonus-adding time for Bruins general manager Don Sweeney -- but they remain a team of question marks.

When you look at what the Bruins have up front, there’s probably four spots that are set in stone, and even that’s not exactly clear as day. Brad Marchand will be your top line left wing, and he’ll skate next to Patrice Bergeron. David Krejci will center the second line, and David Pastrnak will skate on the right side of either Bergeron or Krejci.

Besides that, even after a four-day development camp, it’s anybody’s guess.

It’s clear that there are jobs to be had, and that they have more than enough kids ready to compete for them.

Luckily, the B’s coach knows that that’s the case, too.

“You have to let these kids grow up on the job if they can handle it every day,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of the team’s deep prospect pool and their potential jump next season. “I do believe that there needs to be a conversation with your leaders.”

So, who are the kids in future discussions with a Bergeron, Krejci, and David Backes?

Anders Bjork, a winger that can play both the left and right side (but with most of his camp time spent on the left), is a likely fit somewhere on the Black and Gold’s top six. Sweeney believes that the 20-year-old Bjork has a greater comfort on the right side simply because of his familiarity there, but it’s clear that Bjork will play wherever.

Jake DeBrusk is a left winger that took strides in his first full season, with 25 goals and 58 points in 91 AHL games between the regular season and postseason. Danton Heinen had similar progress, scoring 14 goals and 44 points in 64 AHL regular-season contests, and with nine goals and 18 points in 17 postseason contests. Zach Senyshyn, after scoring 42 goals and 65 points in 59 games in the OHL this season, is going to jump to the pro game and believes that he’s ready to jump to the NHL.

“With these young kids that are going to play – let’s say Bergeron and [Brad Marchand], we’re spitballing here – but let’s say one of these young kids goes and plays with that line. I have to convince those two 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. “Maybe if [David] Backes plays on a line with, let’s say JFK [Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson], a 200-foot center that we have if he starts in that role that he would have to mentor. I think that’s a conversation we have to have. Krech [David Krejci], if there’s a young left winger on his side – you’ve got to work with this kid. You can get frustrated with him at times, but you have to work with him and you have to pull him along if we’re going to be the team that we want to be.”

This is easier said than done in some instances.

It’s well known that just about anybody can play with Bergeron and Marchand. They’re that good (they helped make Reilly Smith a multi-millionaire), and allow Cassidy to relax when it comes to his first line. Backes’ ability to play the center and wing (along with his attitude) allows Cassidy to tinker with that his game without much of a pushback.

But it was pretty clear in the beginning of last season that Krejci was not necessary thrilled with the youngsters he was asked to carry. Then again, he was asked to carry a revolving door of characters, which varied from veterans like Matt Beleskey to first-year pros such as Heinen and Austin Czarnik to his left while the B’s attempted to force chemistry between he and Backes. It continued from Claude Julien and then to Cassidy, as guys like Peter Cehlarik were then given chances, too, and it wasn’t until late in the regular season that the Bruins showed Krejci some mercy and reunited him with Pastrnak.

Krejci’s stat-line spoke to that herky-jerky nature of his line’s chemistry, or lack thereof.

But if there’s that communication this year, which Cassidy has insinuated that there will be, and there's a mutual understanding that you're going to have to be more of a mentor than you might have originally expected (think about what a positive influence Zdeno Chara was on Brandon Carlo's first season), then Krejci likely becomes entirely more understanding and willing to work through these potential growing pains, and same for Bergeron and Backes.

“We wanted to let a couple of these dates play out as we get closer to camp and it looks like, hey, this is what we’ve got. I think those are the conversations. They will take place, trust me. I don’t know how they’ll go,” Cassidy admitted. “They may say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m more comfortable with Pasta [David Pastrnak], Backes, I’ll use Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] as an example.’ But, I think they’re terrific individuals and I think they’ll do whatever it takes for the team’s success. So, I’m actually looking forward to the conversations. I just don’t know which players are going in there, obviously. But, I’m hoping we can mix some youth with our veteran, skilled, leadership guys.”

And while the Bruins remain open to bringing some veteran help into the picture (Sweeney has said that the Bruins are going to revisit their team needs once their RFA situation -- headlined by Pastrnak and arbitration for Ryan Spooner -- is settled), it’s clear what Cassidy wants to see infused in his lineup come Oct. 5’s opening night.

“I like these young kids,” Cassidy said, “I’m hoping that, and I understand and I’m hearing that these guys are ready to compete for NHL jobs, is how far up the lineup can they play? Listen, on October 1, we’re going to have to have some of those answers.”

With the help of the young guns and the veterans expected to guide them into the NHL.

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