The Bruins went into this season hoping that they would get major contributions from some of their young talent. They’d have to, after dealing the likes of Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton over the offseason, but it’s hard to imagine even Cam Neely and company envisioned such good production from a group of young players who have quickly developed into crucial pieces.
As of January 11, the Bruins sit at fourth in the NHL’s Atlantic Division with a 21-15-5 record — an unexpected mark that, despite being dampened by a 5-1 thumping at the hands of the Canadiens in the Winter Classic and losing 7 of their last 9 games, has inspired optimism about the team’s postseason prospects. While veterans Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, and Brad Marchand have been crucial to that success, the contributions of young, unsung players seeking to prove themselves has been huge. Colin Miller, Frank Vatrano, and Landon Ferraro have proven to be viable pros who have developed quite a bit in a short period of time.
That’s not to say that these players were perceived negatively prior to this season. With the exception of Ferraro, they were regarded as good prospects, but nothing more, at least for this year.
Ferraro is an interesting case because the Bruins were able to snatch him up six weeks into the season after the Red Wings put the 24 year old forward on waivers, and he has been productive in that span, going between the second and third lines and providing a spark while filling in for Chris Kelly and David Pastrnak (another young player who will hopefully have a major impact moving forward). In total, Ferraro has three goals and four assists in his time as a Bruin, with his strength being his ability to work the center of the ice in the offensive zone in heavy traffic, which is where a lot of scoring opportunities begin.
On defense, Miller has developed very well, and is far ahead of schedule. A former Kings prospect who came over as part of the Milan Lucic trade, Miller has averaged nearly 16 minutes on ice per game in his 31 appearances for Boston, with a plus-three rating. Add to that three goals and 11 assists (four of which have come on the power play), and the Bruins are seeing solid production from the 23 year old. Miller fills an unsung but crucial spot every night in the second or third defensive pairing, and his absence was felt significantly at the Winter Classic. A versatile defenseman who can carry the puck between zones, Miller should be a fixture on the Bruins for years to come.
Vatrano, a Massachusetts native, is another great story on this year’s squad. An undrafted, undersized forward (5’9’’), Vatrano’s success has come in spurts, but he has come up big in a few spots, like his hat trick against the Penguins last month. The 21 year old is averaging around 12 minutes of ice time per game and has served on the third line in recent contests, but may move down as the Bruins get healthier. His six goals have been a welcome addition to Boston’s high-powered offense.
“The fact that he had a good start to the season in Providence and the fact that we ran into injuries kind of forced us to bring him up,’’ Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Vatrano prior to last Tuesday’s game against the Capitals. “He’s given us some big goals; he’s given us some big games. And for him I think the biggest thing is I find he’s probably well ahead of schedule from what we all predicted.’’
Between the three young talents and other valuable contributors like Ryan Spooner, Kevan Miller, and Joonas Kemppainen, the “bottom’’ half of the Bruins roster has shown up in a major way this season and has an almost Patriots-like quality to it, as players have been able to step in for their injured teammates. It hasn’t cost the team in any really significant ways, especially on offense, where they currently sit at third in the NHL in scoring with just over three goals per game. With Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak back on the ice and David Krejci set to return to the lineup soon, that number should hold for the foreseeable future, and the unexpected breakout contributors will play a factor in that as well.
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