DETROIT — Two games in China did not provide Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy with a sufficient number of looks to determine just how newcomer John Moore factors on the Boston backline.
“I guess with John, we’re still figuring out where does he best fit,” said Casssidy, who did not have Moore here for Saturday night’s exhibition game vs. the Red Wings. “What is his true identity as a player? I don’t think after two games you can say, ‘OK, this guy’s going to slot in right here.’ ”
They do know Moore is fast, with elite, rocket-man speed, wheels reminiscent of smooth-skating Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer.
“He plays fast, he closes fast,” said Cassidy, who has preached the need for a fast transition game since taking over the bench in the second half of the 2016-17 season. “He gets up the ice. Scored a nice goal [in China]. So he’s going to make us . . . the areas of the game . . . he’s good at killing plays at the [defensive] blue line . . . good in the neutral zone.”
Speed is great, and the Boston backline needed an infusion of giddyup, but it takes many factors — processing the game at warp speed chief among them — for hot-wheeled blue liners to become elite NHL contributors.
Cassidy said he figures Moore’s time on ice might not reach top-four minutes because he has team captain Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug playing ahead of him on the left side. Chara will eat up penalty-killing minutes, while Krug will work the point on the No. 1 power play. Moore will see second-unit time on both special teams, but that role alone will mean his TOI will be stunted. It’s quite likely he’ll start on the third pair at even strength, possibly alongside Kevan Miller.
Moore, 27, spent the last three seasons in New Jersey and hooked on here July 1 when GM Don Sweeney offered him a five-year deal at $2.75 million per season through the spring of 2023. No other Boston defenseman has a deal beyond 2020, but that is expected to change, perhaps significantly, when Charlie McAvoy signs his second deal.
The signing, particularly if Moore graduates to top-four minutes in a year or two, has the possibility of becoming perhaps Sweeney’s best UFA deal. The $2.75m price point is modest by today’s standards (equal to what Adam McQuaid made in Boston). But it carries some risk and projection. Rarely are players signed to that term when their job description remains a work in progress.
Quartet playing well
Cassidy still has two roster spots available, both at forward, and none of the four prime candidates hurt their chances on the China trip. Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka remain in contention for varsity work — be it at center among the bottom six, or right wing in the top six.
Cassidy’s view of each in China, where the Bruins twice beat the Flames in exhibition games:
■ Donato — “Good in Game 1. In Game 2, he made some plays, and had some turnovers — the usual stuff that young guys need to work on, but I love his initiative, he wants to make things happen.
■ Forsbacka Karlsson — “Had pockets of really good shifts. Other times he got tentative and we had to remind him it’s a 60-minute game. But again, young guys.”
■ Frederic — “Good on the kill with [David] Backes, they played as partners. He scored a goal, so offensively they all chipped in.”
■ Studnicka — “Had a little penalty trouble. I am not sure he deserved all of them, but he’s learning that hands and sticks have to stay off the body. Look for a better angle. But again, he’s [only] 19.”
Cuts are coming
The Bruins are expected to make wholesale roster cuts following Monday’s exhibition in Philly, leaving Cassidy with a more manageable, and focused, bunch of 25-27 players, closer to the 22-man unit that will ready for the Oct. 3 season opener in Washington . . . Cassidy liked what he saw of newcomers Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom, the two low-budget wingers who were signed as free agents July 1. “Wagner hit everything that moved, as advertised,” said Cassidy, impressed by the 27-year-old’s play on the China trip. “We moved Nordstrom up in the lineup in the second game — good pace to his game, around the puck, gets chances. So, yeah, I think those two are going to fit in well together.” Both forwards remained back in Boston Saturday and likely won’t suit up again until Wednesday when the Wings visit the Garden . . . Daniel Winnik and Lee Stempniak both suited up here, each hoping to extend their tryouts into the final stretch. Last year, the Bruins gave Teddy Purcell a similar look, only to cut him free in favor of kids. Cassidy made clear prior to landing here that he still has a preference to go with unproven youngsters ahead of vets. “I thought Teddy played well for us,” said Cassidy. “We just said we wanted to give some of those guys a chance. If they were completely not ready, then you can’t force it, but I think they all acquitted themselves well.” Purcell did not find NHL work, but found work in the KHL, playing 21 games with Omsk Avangard.