Forced Into Action, Young Bruins Spark the Team’s Rise

Forced Into Action, Young Bruins Spark the Team’s Rise


“It’s a credit to those guys,” Cassidy said. “They’ve certainly helped put us in a good position heading into the stretch.”

Through Thursday’s victory over the St. Louis Blues, Bruins rookies have accounted for 23 percent (36 of 158) of the team’s goals, second most in the league to Arizona.

Center Danton Heinen and left wing Jake DeBrusk have 11 goals each, followed by the rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy (five), who returned to practice this week after having surgery for an abnormal heart rhythm on Jan. 22 and expects to be back in the lineup next week.

Working so many young players into the lineup and a new system is not the typical route to Stanley Cup contention.

“It’s tricky, even in the best of circumstances, to integrate young players into a results-oriented business,” said Andy Brickley, a TV analyst for New England Sports Network, who played 11 years in the N.H.L., four of them in Boston. “But since Bruce has taken over, everybody’s on the same page.”

Photo

Danton Heinen, center, leads Boston rookies in scoring with 33 points, including 11 goals.

Credit
Bob Dechiara/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Boston’s top line of Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak features the team’s top three scorers, with 62 goals among them. But the contributions to Boston’s position in the standings have come throughout the lineup. Nine players have at least 20 points, and four rookies have 10 or more.

Backes, 33, who joined the Bruins for the 2016-17 season after 10 years with the Blues, said the opportunities injuries created early in the season are now benefiting Boston.

“Our younger guys are now a little more battle tested, and they can play more roles,” he said. “We’ve shown that we can simplify and play 2-1 games in addition to 5-4 games.”

Center Riley Nash, who is in his second year with the Bruins after five with Carolina, said that even with so many young players on the roster, Cassidy has allowed them to play to their strengths rather than adhere to a rigid system.

“He’s given a lot of freedom to players who are hard-wired to play aggressively,” he said. “The good thing about this team is that everyone seems to be on the same wavelength.”

The Boston connections run deep for some of the new Bruins.

McAvoy, 20, and the first-year defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, 24, played at Boston University. Grzelcyk’s father, John, has worked on the TD Garden “Bull Gang,” which changes the hockey rink to a basketball court and vice versa, since Matt learned to skate.

Considering Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney, who was hired before the 2015-16 season, played four years of hockey at Harvard, it is not surprising there is a strong presence of former N.C.A.A. players on the team.

Heinen, 22, the team’s leading rookie scorer with 33 points, played at Denver University. Others from the college ranks include Nash (Cornell), center Frank Vatrano (University of Massachusetts), defenseman Kevan Miller (Vermont), center Sean Kuraly (Miami University) and center Tim Schaller (Providence).

More former collegians could be making contributions to the Bruins soon. Forward Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, a second-round pick in 2015 and a former teammate of McAvoy and Grzelcyk at Boston University, is in his second year at the Bruins’ American Hockey League affiliate in Providence.

Ryan Donato, a second-rounder in 2014, leads Division I in goals (20) in his junior season at Harvard and will play on the United States Olympic team this month. He is expected to make the jump to the N.H.L. next season, following in the footsteps of his father, Ted, who played more than 500 games with the Bruins.

Brickley, a former all-American forward at New Hampshire, said Cassidy learned to trust younger players while coaching the A.H.L. team in Providence from 2011 to 2016, even though he promotes an aggressive style of play.

“His feeling is, ‘Let’s get the next one,’ not just protect leads,” Brickley said. “He trusts young players and gives them responsibility.”



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