The 2017-18 season represented a sea change for the Bruins, as general manager Don Sweeney and coach Bruce Cassidy made an effort to play the kids. The results were positive, with the younger players blending in with the veterans as the Bruins reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Charlie McAvoy added some life to the Bruins defense, partnering with Zdeno Chara to form the top defensive pairing. Jake DeBrusk scored a goal in his first NHL game in the season opener. He would go on to play 70 games, scoring 16 goals and adding 27 assists.
McAvoy and DeBrusk were just two of the eight Bruins who scored their first NHL goals last season as they were joined by Anders Bjork, Peter Cehlarik, Matt Grzelcyk, Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly, and Ryan Donato.
The success of the young players is a testament to the work done in recent years by general manager Don Sweeney and assistant GM Scott Bradley.
Although it’s unlikely that the Bruins will have eight players record their first NHL goal next season, there are some potential candidates who could impact the team in 2018-19. Here are some possibilities.
Urho Vaakanainen, 6 feet 1 inch, 185 pounds
There have been rumblings since they were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning that the Bruins would like to add size to their defensive group, particularly on the left side, where both Grzelcyk and Torey Krug measure at 5-9.
Vaakanainen, 19, was selected by the Bruins in the first round in 2017 with the 18th pick. He played last season in the Finnish Liiga, notching four goals and 11 points in 43 games.
“Vaakanainen’s a bit of a wild card, for the fact that he’s played two years against men in Finland. So you just don’t know,’’ said Sweeney.
“He skates really well and there’s been guys to make the jump. But we don’t feel we have to. Our right side isn’t lacking any size, in any way, shape, or form. Every one of those guys is over 200 pounds.’’
Jakub Zboril, 6-0, 200
Zboril, 21, was selected by the Bruins in the first round of the 2015 draft with the 13th pick. He was the first of three Bruins picks in the first round that year, taken one pick ahead of DeBrusk.
Like Vaakanainen, he is a left shot defenseman with some size. He spent last season with the AHL Providence Bruins, where he tallied four goals and 15 assists in 68 games.
“Well, we hope with [Zboril’s] full year in the American Hockey League and the number of games Jakub played, he would be looking to take another step,’’ said Sweeney. “He certainly has peers that have played in the NHL, so he’s anxious to see where he fits and training camp will be a great opportunity.’’
Trent Frederic, 6-2, 205
Frederic was selected in the first round of the 2016 draft with the 29th pick. He played the past two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, registering 65 points in 66 games. He also played for Team USA at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo, and scored four goals in a 9-3 win over the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal game.
Shortly after the Badgers’ season was over, he signed a three-year entry level contract with the Bruins and played for Providence, scoring five goals with three assists in 13 games.
“In development camp, I thought he had good hands around the net,’’ said Cassidy earlier this year. “Maybe he’s not a guy who’ll come flying down the wing and score, but he’ll get to the dirty areas. If he can bring that on a consistent basis in college, then as he gets into a pro career . . . even if he ends up a third-line center, a valuable position in the NHL, if you can contribute offensively like [Ryan] Kesler in Anaheim . . . you are that much better.’’
Ryan Fitzgerald, 5-9, 172
Fitzgerald, 23, was drafted by the Bruins in 2013 in the fourth round with the 120th pick. He attended Malden Catholic, where he won two Super 8 titles. He also played four years at Boston College, following in the footsteps of his cousins, Jimmy and Kevin Hayes, before signing a two-year entry-level contract with the Bruins after his senior season in the spring of 2017.
This past season with Providence, his first full season as a pro, he scored 21 goals and added 16 assists in 65 games. Hockey is definitely in his blood. His father, Tom, played 17 years professionally, ending his career with the Bruins in 2006, while his younger brother Casey is entering his senior season at BC, serving as the captain for the Eagles.
Jack Studnicka, 6-1, 175
Studnicka, 19, was the Bruins’ second-round pick in 2017, No. 53 overall. He has experience at right wing, but projects as a center.
He played this past season with OHL Oshawa, where he was team captain and led the team in scoring with career highs in goals (22), assists (50), and points (72).
Prior to the 2017-18 season, Studnicka participated in the Bruins preseason and fared well, but given that he was only 18, and that the team is deep at center, he did not get called up to Boston.
“He’s on the puck, he makes plays,’’ said Cassidy at the time. “He looks like a hockey player. I know that’s a simple definition, but he just looks like he’s going to be a good one.’’
After the OHL season was over, he played in Providence, appearing in five games and finished with a goal and four assists.
Because he is only 19, he would not be eligible to play in the AHL. If he doesn’t make the Bruins’ roster, he would return to Oshawa.
Other players to watch
■ Zach Senyshyn — Forward, 6-1, 194. The 15th pick in the 2015 draft, Senyshyn was selected after Zboril and DeBrusk. Now 21, He played 66 games for Providence last season, scoring 12 goals and adding 14 assists.
■ Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson — Forward, 6-1, 190. Selected in the second round of the 2015 draft with the 45th overall pick, JFK was signed by the Bruins in April of 2017 after his sophomore season at Boston University. He played 58 games in Providence last season, registering 15 goals and 17 assists.
■ Goalies Kyle Keyser, Jeremy Swayman, and Dan Vladar were all named to the Bruins’ development camp roster.
Keyser, 19, went undrafted, but he participated in Boston’s rookie camp last September, and earned an entry-level contract. He was Oshawa’s No. 1 goaltender last season with a 28-13-0 record and .904 save percentage.
Swayman, 19, was drafted in the fourth round, 111th overall, by the Bruins in 2017. He appeared in 31 games as a freshman at Maine last season, compiling a 2.72 GAA and a .921 save percentage.
Vladar, 20, was taken in the third round of the 2015 draft with the 75th overall pick. He played 41 games for the Atlanta Gladiators in the ECHL last season, finishing with a 2.96 GAA and .911 save percentage. He also made four appearances in Providence, registering a 2.23 GAA and .924 save percentage.