WILMINGTON — This past season saw a rotation of young defensemen in either full-time or fill-in roles with the Bruins. Now it appears that the Bruins’ needs lie elsewhere. And fortunately, they have a couple of players in the AHL who are nearing NHL readiness.
As Providence coach Bruce Cassidy said, “It’s the forwards’ turn.”
In addition to Matt Fraser and Justin Florek, the two biggest names up for promotion are Ryan Spooner and Alexander Khokhlachev. There’s just one problem — they’re both centers.
The Bruins seem to be stacked with centers, with five of them (David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Carl Soderberg, Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell) under contract for the upcoming season. They’re far more in need of right-shot wings. Both Spooner and Khokhlachev are left shots.
“He should challenge for a spot, there’s no doubt,” Cassidy said of Spooner. “Whether he gets one or not, some of it depends on his competition around him, if the Bruins fill up the roster a little more, etc. But he should be a guy that’s one of the last cuts, if he’s cut at all.”
But where would he play?
“I think he likes to have the puck too much between the blue lines in the open ice, personally,” Cassidy said, when asked if Spooner could play the wing. “I just think naturally that’s when he’s at his best, when he’s getting the puck and attacking the D and backing them off.
“Usually through the middle of the ice is the best place to have that unless you’re a shooter down the wing, and he’s not, that’s not his game where he’ll come flying down the wing and back a D off there and beat him one-on-one. He’s more middle of the ice, draw people to him, drive wide, and then find the open man.”
Cassidy did emphasize that Spooner needs to improve on his ability to attack the net, to shoot more — something he did more of when he returned to Providence after his stint in Boston. He did not have a goal with the Bruins in his 23 games. He had 11 goals in 49 games in the AHL.
If the Bruins are interested in remaking their fourth line — they took the first step in not re-signing Shawn Thornton — then it’s possible they could shift to a speedier, more offensively gifted group, which could potentially include Spooner, though he has to work on his closing speed on defense.
“If your mind-set is a heavier line, then clearly he’s not going to fit there,” Cassidy said. “If your mind-set is more maybe what Detroit does, then I think [it’s possible].
“He’s certainly capable of checking. He can kill penalties. Maybe he earns his way into the good graces of the group that way by becoming a solid two-way player.”
As for Khokhlachev, Cassidy said, “I think he’s close. The question that comes up is, can he separate on the ice? Does he have the foot speed to separate? He’s got to develop more physically, but he gets all his goals going to the net. You think, sometimes, of a European player it’s more of the flash — this guy, he gets to the net.”
But, again, there’s that question.
“Can he play the wing?” Cassidy asked. “We tried him there, so those are all questions that have to sort themselves out, but I think he’s close . . . I think he’ll push at training camp. How that plays out, that will be an interesting one to watch.”
For him and Spooner both.
First-round pick gets ice time
There appears to be a mystery at development camp: Just why is first-round pick David Pastrnak falling down so much?
“Yeah, he toe picks a lot. I don’t know what that is,” Cassidy said. “I think he’s almost too fast for himself sometimes. I don’t know if his skates are a little worn, I don’t get into that stuff. I don’t know. Again, so maybe he was due for a new pair in August and he’s getting by on the old ones.
“I don’t know, but you’re right. His feet are so fast, so I assume that there’s something up, it’s either the ice gets a little slushy for him or maybe the top end of his steel is worn off there.”
His skates, of course, were the only piece of equipment that Pastrnak brought with him from Sweden. He has had to borrow the rest ofhis gear from the Bruins for this week.
Asked about it, Pastrnak said, “I think it’s a problem in my legs. No, I don’t know. I’m still getting used to skating again, so it wasn’t as good. I’ve been injured and then it was summer practice, so I haven’t skated a lot, but it’s not an excuse.”
He added, “I have always at the beginning of the season [had that problem], but during the season it goes away. It will go away with a few practices.”
Pastrnak hasn’t been on the ice much recently due to a back injury suffered in February, returning briefly and being off ice for the last two months.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.