Bruins bringing loaded group to Prospects Challenge
For the fourth consecutive year, the Boston Bruins are taking their prospects up to Buffalo's HarborCenter for a weekend tournament, where they will compete against prospects from the Sabres, Devils, and Penguins.
And this year's group may just be their most loaded yet.
Headlining the team are 2017-18 NHLers Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato.
Bjork is most likely participating thanks to what was an undeniably back-and-forth 2017-18 season -- Bjork scored four goals and 12 points in 30 NHL games and two goals and four points in nine AHL games with the P-Bruins -- ultimately cut short by a season-ending shoulder injury. Donato, meanwhile, was unable to participate in this tournament last year because of NCAA rules and regulations.
The 22-year-old forward out of Scituate, Mass., Donato was a gigantic late-season boost to the Bruins, with five goals and nine points in just 12 games. He played all over Boston's lineup over that 12-game run, too, playing his natural left wing, dabbling as a top-six right winger, and even finishing the regular season with some time at center. Expected to be a go-to scoring option in 2018, where Donato lines up for this tournament could be slightly telling when determining his 2018-19 role. Same for Bjork, who is a fellow left-shot winger capable of playing on both the left and right wing.
Some other noteworthy names up front include third-line pivot candidates Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka. 2018 draft pick Jakub Lauko -- a player whose speed and skill dazzled at Bruins development camp this past July, and whose season can be spent in Boston, Providence, or back home in Europe -- will also skate for the Bruins.
The Bruins will round out their prospect challenges forward corps with an invite to Carson Focht. The 18-year-old Focht split last year between the Tri-City Americans and Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, where he tallied 13 goals and 33 points in 69 games played.
Complete list of forwards: Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato, Ryan Fitzgerald, Carson Focht (non-roster invite), Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Trent Frederic, Cameron Hughes, Joona Koppanen, Karson Kuhlman, Jakub Lauko, Cedric Pare, Zach Senyshyn, Oskar Steen, Jack Studnicka.
On the backend, all eyes will be on the development of first-round picks Jakub Zboril (2015, No. 13 overall) and Urho Vaakanainen (2017, No. 18 overall).
At this point, Zboril is one of just three players from the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft to have not skated in at least one NHL game (fellow B's pick Zach Senyshyn is one of the others), and it's nearing the time for Zboril to excel against this group and take that next step in his pro career development. In the case of Vaakanainen, this will be everyone's first real look at how he plays on an NHL-sized rink against fellow competition, though this may not be the best test given the fact that Vaakanainen has thrived against pro competition back home.
Complete defensive group: Axel Andersson, Justin Bergeron (non-roster invite), Daniel Bukac, Connor Clifton, Olivier Galipeau, Emil Johansson, Jeremy Lauzon, John Ludvig (non-roster invite), Wiley Sherman, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril.
Goaltenders: Kyle Keyser, Daniel Vladar, and Dawson Weatherill (non-roster invite).
This tournament should mean something special to Kyle Keyser, to be honest, as Keyser turned his opportunity with the Bruins at this challenge into an entry-level deal with the club, and has since emerged as a legit prospect. Of the three, Daniel Vladar is the most seasoned, and is set to embark on a Providence-only development path in 2018-19.
The 6-foot-4 Dawson Weatherill, meanwhile, gets an invite to the challenge after going 26-12-3 with an .893 save percentage in 46 games for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League last season.
Here's the current schedule for the games...
Friday, September 7 (HarborCenter, Buffalo, NY)
- Pittsburgh vs. Boston, 3:30 p.m.
- Buffalo vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m.
Saturday, September 8 (HarborCenter, Buffalo, NY)
- New Jersey vs. Pittsburgh, 3:30 p.m.
- Buffalo vs. Boston, 7 p.m.
Monday, September 10 (HarborCenter, Buffalo, NY)
- Boston vs. New Jersey, 9:30 a.m.
- Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh, 12:30 p.m.