Haggerty: Skill at development camp bodes well for Bruins


WILMINGTON, MA -- Nobody was blaming Bruins GM Don Sweeney for having a smile on his face and a spring in his step as he spoke with the media at the end of this week’s development camp at Ristuccia Arena.

One of the goals he was charged with as a new GM was restocking the Bruins farm system with varied prospects that would eventually contribute to the NHL team. Clearly that’s a job he’d already been doing in his assistant GM capacity in recent years, and even before that as the director of player development that first came up with the idea for the development camp.

But he started this summer’s renewed efforts by selecting a whopping 10 players in last month’s draft, and inviting a franchise-high 37 players to development camp. New player development coach Jay Pandolfo, European scout P.J. Axelsson and Providence coaches Bruce Cassidy and Kevin Dean put the youngsters through an arduous week of battle drills, power skating sessions and a number of activities designed to reveal their nature as hockey players, and more importantly as individuals.

“I thought the week was a big success,” said Sweeney. “All of the players that are at this camp deserved to be here. We identified them all as players that we like, and we want to continue to watch. You’ve got some investment [in these players].

"I was really looking forward to this week, and I don't think the players, Jay [Pandolfo] and his staff or the direction of this camp disappointed in any regard. [Friday’s] scrimmage really highlighted some of the things we were hoping to see come out during the week.”

There were the usual areas to work on: many of the newly drafted players weren’t in the kind of condition they’ll be expected to be in for rookie camp in September, and big Finnish free agent Joonas Kemppainen never made it to the ice with a hamstring injury.

But by and large it was a successful week for the organization, and continued a nice upward trend for Sweeney and Co. since that rocky weekend at the NHL Draft. The capper, of course, was a Friday morning 4-on-4 scrimmage that produced 12 goals, and showed off exactly the kind of speed, skill and elite talent that the Bruins are panning for while looking for prospect gold.

“You obviously saw some really nice plays [during the scrimmage],” said Sweeney. “I think guys got more comfortable as the week went along. You could highlight guys from earlier in the week from a skill standpoint like [Peter] Cehlarik, and then you had guys that were able to score goals today like Senyshyn and [Andrew] Poturalski, who each had two nice goals. Colby Cave had a nice goal. We had other guys that we identified: Anton Blidh going down to block a shot in this environment speaks to what he’s going to be about as a player.

“It’s exciting. I could take out the roster and point to every player’s development just from the week-long stuff. Guys were embracing things from a power skating perspective, and D-men not crossing over. There was a lot of teaching…it was a real teaching environment, and that’s consistent with what Jay [Pandolfo] wanted this to be. It was our approach in the past and he wanted to carry that forward, and I think he did a good job.”

Clearly the star pupil on Friday was Zach Senyshyn, the 18-year-old kid from outside Ottawa that was labeled as a “reach” when the Bruins selected him with the 15th overall pick after he was tapped to be a second round pick. He showed skating speed and first step quickness, and stood out with two goals and three points along with a number of offensive chances created while bombing up and down the right wing.

But he had plenty of company, of course.

Danton Heinen was the third leading freshman scorer in college hockey last season behind a couple of guys named Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin, and showed both playmaking skills from the wing and a shot and release that will yield plenty of goals at the University of Denver this season. Free agent signees like Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari and Colby Cave shined at different points during the week, and showed that there will be budding talent down the road in Providence as well. Big-bodied defensemen Brandon Carlo and Robbie O’Gara both look like future NHL players in their size, strength and the ability to function at a high level offensively.

Ryan Donato dangled through defenders and roofed a shot top corner for his goal during the scrimmage session, and first rounder Jake DeBrusk set the twitter-sphere abuzz with his behind the legs move during a shootout session after the scrimmage.

There haven’t been many “oohs” and “aahs” when the big boy Bruins practice their shootout moves over the last few years, so this whole exhibition of offensive skill had a different feel to it than the same old Bruins. It was also noteworthy to longtime prospects like goalie Zane McIntyre, who has been to six development camps and was blown away this week with the talent level.

“You look at all these guys here whether it’s the guys drafted first round all the way through the guys drafted in the sixth and seventh round…and even the free agents as well. There’s a ton of great talent here,” said McIntyre. “I think it just goes to show how much time and effort the brass puts in every year to bring in talent to push for spots with their talent.”

That was kind of the point as the Bruins want to create skilled, scoring players that will stick with the organization, and be brought up in a development system that will preach two-way play along with the offensive goods.

That was the message sent this week, and it was well-received by all the players top to bottom.

“The offensive talent is definitely very high. You could just tell by the kind of goals that were being scored out there,” said Donato. “They were just ridiculous goals almost. The goalies were almost getting a little mad at us.”

That hasn’t always been the case during Bruins development camps in the recent past even when highly skilled players like Tyler Seguin, David Pastrnak and Dougie Hamilton were a part of them. So it was a reassuring sign for the future of Bruins hockey club that can use all of the speed and skill they can get their hands on.

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