BUFFALO — Bruins hopefuls such as Jack Ahcan didn’t get a chance to compete in rookie camp last year, a pandemic casualty. His entry into pro hockey wasn’t a few games against fellow youngsters in the late summer, it was a Bruins training camp, then a season with Providence, then three games of NHL work late in the season.
“Last year with all the craziness that happened, you just kind of got thrown into the fire and see what happens,” Ahcan said. This week’s rookie camp, he said, is “a great thing for me and everybody else that’s out here right now.”
Entering his second pro season, the diminutive defenseman from St. Cloud State looked like he’s ready to push for time with the varsity this season. He wound up with an assist in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Sabres at HarborCenter, but didn’t have a shaky shift as the top even-strength, power-play, and penalty-killing defenseman for the Bruins’ prospects.
“He looked like you want a player of his caliber to look,” said Rochester Americans coach Seth Appert, who is leading the Sabres this weekend. “I thought he was one of the more dominant players on the ice today.”
Right now, he might be No. 5 on the left-side defensive chart, and his size will always be a concern at the NHL level. But Ahcan, listed at 5 feet 8 inches and 184 pounds, is a stout defender for his size and a crafty, decisive playmaker. His game Saturday was bold, confident, jitter-free.
“I think you see how smart he is. Everything he does has a plan. He’s just a different, special player,” Providence coach Ryan Mougenel said. “Sometimes I get caught watching him a lot out there, because he’s fun to watch.”
Also chipping in for the Bruins: netminder Kyle Keyser, who was particularly strong in the middle period of a 32-save effort, and Swedish import Jesper Froden, who scored twice. Froden, who turns 27 this coming week, said the North American ice suits him. “I’m a fast-skating forward, a shooter,” he said. “I like to be around the goal. I think it fits me pretty good.”
At the other end of the spectrum: Brett Harrison, a third-round pick (85th overall) in June, who cleaned up a rebound in his pro debut. Harrison, who turned 18 in June, was happy to be throwing checks and shooting pucks again.
“A lot bigger and stronger guys than I’m used to in the OHL,” said Harrison, who found himself playing juniors in Finland last year after his season with OHL Oshawa was canceled. “It was really good. I love competing.”