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Matt Porter | Bruins beat writer’s notebook

Vaakanainen looks like Bruins’ top prospect, and other preseason observations

Bruins defenseman Urho Vaakanainen is calm and reliable defensively.Barry Chin/Globe Staff file/Globe Staff

PHILADELPHIA — Checking in from Old City, a short SEPTA train ride from where the Bruins take on the Flyers in their second preseason game Thursday (7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center):

The Bruins returned to practice Wednesday after a day off. Patrice Bergeron (groin) and Joakim Nordstrom (foot) went through a full-contact session. Two young players, defenseman Axel Andersson and winger Zach Senyshyn, did not participate. “Minor bumps and bruises,” coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters afterward. “They won’t play [Thursday], for sure.” Both Andersson and Senyshyn played in Monday’s preseason loss at New Jersey, neither making much of an impact.


■  Urho Vaakanainen, despite his overtime giveaway that led to the deciding goal in that 4-3 loss, looked like Boston’s top prospect. He’s not flashy. His shot is decent, and will likely improve. He’s not a drag racer on skates, though he moves well. For now, Vaakanainen is calm and reliable defensively, playing a tight gap and wisely deploying both stick and shoulder. Offensively, he makes smart stretch passes that lead to easy defensive zone exits, and is improving as a transporter of pucks. His fitness — he skated a game-high 24:53 on Monday — is a major plus. It helps the Bruins that he may not be needed immediately.

■  The Bruins wanted to lock up both Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo to long-term deals, but couldn’t find common ground. The good news: Both want to be in Boston. “I didn’t really have any expectations for it,” Carlo said after signing a two-year, $5.7 million deal Tuesday. “In my heart, from the beginning, I was looking hopefully for the longer term, but I’m absolutely fine with (this) . . . just to be a part of this organization for any length of time.” If Torey Krug extends his run, the Bruins will be in good shape with Krug, McAvoy, Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk as a post-Zdeno Chara defensive corps, especially if Vaakanainen, Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril keep improving.


Jake DeBrusk will be coming off his entry-level contract at the end of this season.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

■  The Bruins are close to the salary cap limit now, and several players will be due raises before next July 1. Krug ($5.25 million), Charlie Coyle ($3.2 million) and Jake DeBrusk, coming off his entry-level deal, will command the largest figures. Grzelcyk ($1.4 million) is certain to deserve a boost. Where the Bruins may need to make tough calls: how to proceed with Kevan Miller ($2.5 million), Chris Wagner ($1.25 million), Brett Ritchie, and Nordstrom ($1 million each). All except Ritchie have proven themselves to be valuable depth. Overpaying for depth is like taking an express train to cap hell, especially when young players are pushing to be in the lineup.

■  Cassidy wants to keep Coyle as the third-line center, since his combination of size, skating, puck protection and offensive touch in that role is a matchup issue for most opponents. But he wants to see if unproven Par Lindholm can fill the fourth-line center role, and if Sean Kuraly makes good on another crack at centering the third line. That would allow him to try Coyle as David Krejci’s right wing. If Coyle brought a protect-and-shoot mentality to that line, he could be a very good fit. And put more cash in his pocket, next July 1 or before.

Brett Ritchie would benefit from skating on David krejci’s line.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

■  Does Ritchie look like a fit for Krejci’s line? Perhaps not for the whole season, but maybe in spurts. He showed a few of his positive attributes in Monday’s game, particularly on one sequence in which he protected the puck down low, separated from a defender, and drew a cross-checking penalty. His size, strength and willingness to finish checks could make him a good bottom-sixer on the right side. “The puck didn’t find him a ton, unfortunately,” Cassidy said after the game. “I think he’s the type of player that will be better when it does.” Not pegging Ritchie to any line, but just saying: There are few better than Krejci at distributing.


■  Wagner’s assessment of Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick who scored a pair of goals on Monday: “Skilled. Really skilled. Shifty. He was good. He was noticeable, at least. I don’t know if that’s going to be the same game in the regular season, but for now, he was pretty good.” Hughes will likely do a lot of damage on the power play, in 3-on-3 and 4-on-4, but it remains to be seen how the 5-foot-10, 170-pound rookie handles himself in heavy battles — or if teams can force him into them.

■  Oskar Steen’s favorite player growing up: Peter Forsberg. An excellent choice. The Swedish legend had few holes in his game, other than his nagging foot woes. Credit Steen for doing his YouTube homework, since the 21-year-old was toddling around when No. 21 was at his physical, playmaking peak.

■  Not everyone cares about such aesthetics, but I’ll miss the old yellow seats at TD Garden, which were ripped and replaced by cushier, all-black versions. Seat upgrades were a necessary part of a much-needed renovation for the 24-year-old barn, but at first glance, the sea of black no longer recalls the Old Garden, and all its golden memories. On the other hand, I suppose all that darkness is a better visual backdrop for the overhauled 4K-resolution video board hanging at center ice . . . and all those banners hanging above it.


Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.