WASHINGTON — Bruins rookie Fabian Lysell did not face a playoff-ready opponent Sunday. However, the Capitals dressed a healthy NHL roster for their preseason home opener, including nine players who were on the team last year.
There are no Tom Wilsons, Dmitry Orlovs, or Justin Schultzes in Swedish junior hockey, which is where Lysell has spent most of his time the last few seasons. When staring down those veterans for the first time, the first-round draft pick did not shrink.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy lauded the 18-year-old Swede for his “overall feel and composure and compete,” and dropping a platitude that coaches use as high praise: “hockey player.”
Skating on a pedal-mashing line with Jakub Lauko and Oskar Steen, Lysell landed three of five shot attempts in 14:39 of ice time. He carried the puck around traffic, and sometimes right into it. He looked at home on the power play (2:31). He lost his helmet in a net-front scrum.
“He was around the puck,” Cassidy said. “Pulled it to space when he needed to. Attacked the front of the net. Pushed back when he had to. Made a heck of a play on the wall late to get it into the middle for a scoring chance.
“He did a lot of things well. Attacked, didn’t look flustered, strong on his skates. A lot of good things for his first [NHL preseason] game.”
It’s far too early to ask this, perhaps comically so, but we’ll ask anyway: Does Lysell have a shot at making the team?
“You don’t want to rule out a guy, right?” said Cassidy, who watched an 18-year-old David Pastrnak fast-track himself to the varsity in 2014-15. “It can happen. I guess the way we’re looking at it: He’s got to mature and build his game and all those things. But who the hell knows?
“Am I going to sit here after one game and say he’s closer or farther? No. We’ll reassess. I think guys like that, you make decisions daily. What’s best for his development, what’s best for him in the long term, what’s best for us in the short term. The longer he stays, if we feel he has a chance, then we’ll keep him around.
“Going into it, I’d say he’s a guy we have ticketed for the Western Hockey League, to go score goals, light it up, so to speak — you’d hope. Hopefully make him a better player down the road. I can’t predict what’ll happen [over] two weeks.
“Some guys get a look with injuries, too. A guy gets hurt, and he’s our best option, and off he goes. You never know.”
▪ Orlov, the hard-hitting Capitals defenseman, stood up Lauko on a rush in the third period. But the speedy, gritty, 21-year-old found a way to advance the puck. Lauko’s boldness is one reason the left wing remains in contention for a roster spot.
“He’s knocking on the door,” Cassidy said. “Can he kick it down? If you look at our left side, it’s not the easiest to crack, but that’s hockey. Play your position, play it well, and make room for yourself.”
▪ Shots weren’t sticking to netminder Jeremy Swayman, as they were in his 10-game stint last year (.945 save percentage, 1.50 GAA). Cassidy wasn’t concerned.
Asked what he liked best about the rookie’s game, Cassidy said, “His battle level. He left a lot of rebounds laying around that he’ll have to clean up. I think he knows that. Every goalie goes through that early on.
“You haven’t had a lot of live action around your net. It’s a lot of shots. Technically, you’re ready to go, but it’s those little things around your crease: the stuffs, the post battles, the action in tight. You don’t get a lot of that in summer hockey. Other than that, I thought he was excellent.”
A reminder: Swayman is eligible for the Calder Trophy. He is a long shot, considering he’ll split time with another capable netminder (Linus Ullmark). Betting favorites include Cole Caufield (Montreal), Trevor Zegras (Anaheim), and goaltender Spencer Knight (Florida). Also, Minnesota lottery pick Marco Rossi reportedly is healthy after struggling last year through a bad case of COVID.
▪ Cassidy wasn’t impressed with defenseman Urho Vaakanainen, who played a tentative game. He turned a lost puck battle into an interference minor.
Vaakanainen, 22, is coming off his third pro season, in which he played 22 games between Providence (11), Boston (nine), and SaiPa of the Finnish Liiga (two). He is projected to be sixth among Boston’s left-side defensemen, with Jakub Zboril and John Moore ahead of him.
“He needs to be better if he’s going to make our team,” Cassidy said of the 2017 first-rounder. “He’s going to have to be more assertive all around. He had opportunities to make plays with the puck; they weren’t clean. He didn’t create extra time and space for himself by moving his feet.
“We can tell him and we will tell him, but at the end of the day, this isn’t his first go-round. There is an understanding after a few training camps of where you are and what you need to do. We went through it with the Zborils and [Jeremy] Lauzons. They figured it out, pushed a little harder.”