(Photo Credit: Kim Klement – USA Today Sports)
By Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty
With a plethora of players within the Bruins organization vying for NHL ice-time during the 2018-2019 season, it’s simply a fact that not all of them will be able to fit into the lineup on a consistent basis. Said players include, but aren’t limited to –– Trent Frederic, Jakob-Forsbacka Karlsson, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Urho Vaakanainen. Whoever one may think could see NHL ice-time this season with the Boston Bruins, some time in the AHL isn’t necessarily a bad thing otherwise.
Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen were once prominent Providence Bruins Forwards
Two wingers who although were highly-touted prospects as they entered the Bruins’ organization, had AHL stint’s before becoming impactful NHL players. Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen both hold roles in the top-nine forward core and have shown top-six forward capabilities.
Once a member of the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos and Red Deer Rebels, Jake DeBrusk went on to play for the Providence Bruins to get his first taste of professional hockey. As the 14th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, fan expectations were high for DeBrusk from the start. The 2016-2017 season rolled around, and DeBrusk found himself in Providence, where he then played in 74 regular season games and 17 playoff games. He amassed 43 points in the regular season, plus an additional nine points in the playoffs.
Come the 2017-2018 season, Jake DeBrusk was a hungry, dynamic winger that was fully ready to make a difference in the NHL –– and that he did. In 70 games, he put together a 16-27-43 stat line and got noticeably more comfortable as the season went on. This lead to his figurative explosion in the playoffs for six goals and two assists in 12 games and some huge plays that hockey fans won’t soon forget.
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Jake now holds even higher expectations coming into the 2018-2019 season, and it’s fair to feel pretty comfortable with his capabilities. It started in the AHL when it comes to professional hockey, and things will continue to blossom for Jake DeBrusk.
On the other hand, Danton Heinen played in the NCAA as a Denver Pioneer before heading to Providence on his way to a solid NHL role. Over parts of three seasons, Danton saw 70 games of regular season AHL action, with the 2016-2017 season being his most prominent. The 28 career AHL playoff games he played in didn’t hurt either. Heinen really showed what he could bring to the table after putting together a 44-point season over 64 games in the 2016-2017 season, plus 18 points in 17 playoff games with the Providence Bruins.
Danton Heinen’s productive 81-game AHL rookie season eventually earned him consistent ice-time in the left and right-wing positions within the Boston Bruins’ top-nine forward core. He was even sent down in October of 2017 for four games this past season where he averaged two points-per-game with eight points. That didn’t deter him too much, as he played in 77 NHL games and tallied 47 points in those games. Additionally, he added a goal in nine playoff games.
Heinen, like DeBrusk, will look to expand on his NHL role and skill set over the course of the 2018-2019 season and beyond. His three-zone prowess and smarts will continue to be welcomed in the lineup in hopes to build on a successful 2017-2018 season for himself, as well as the team as a whole.
Anders Bjork looks to continue to grow in his second NHL season
Once an icon at the NCAA’s University of Notre Dame and Hobey Baker winner, even Anders Bjork saw some AHL time. In a rookie season that had its hills and valleys for Bjork, nine games of AHL time may not end up being the worst thing for him. Although a small sample, he had four points in those nine games and some bright moments along the way. It’s a shame that he didn’t get a full season under his belt due to concussion and shoulder problems, but this shouldn’t hide the fact that Anders has a high NHL ceiling as a mid-round draft-pick back in 2014.
Bjork showed varying degrees of comfortability in important roles with the Bruins within the 30 NHL games that he played in. Injuries and butterflies in the stomach along the way made it so it wasn’t a perfect first go at the NHL for him, but certainly not a bad one. The dynamic winger will look to build on a 12-point rookie season come October of 2018 and into the future.
Matt Grzelcyk, Sean Kuraly, and Noel Acciari all have important NHL roles
Matt Grzelcyk played a bigger role this past year than some may have expected. Those who watched him at Boston University and/or in Providence might not have been as surprised by the role that he played this year. He is a bit undersized, but he doesn’t let that get in his way as he is very shifty and smart with and without the puck on his stick. How good he did this season was refreshing to watch, joining his former BU defensive partner Charlie McAvoy in making up a third of the defensive core most nights.
Including 14 games this season, Matt Grzelcyk has seen 84 games of regular season AHL action, and an additional 17 games of playoff experience. This all built up to him playing in 61 regular season NHL games, and 11 NHL playoff games. He looks to be a defenseman who can put up 20 points minimum per season, as he put up 15 points in 61 games this past season, plus an assist in 11 games in the playoffs. His steadiness and hockey IQ were a great addition to the back end, and he can credit part of his growth to this point to the environment that surrounded him as a Providence Bruin in recent years.
Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari hold down sturdy bottom-six roles with the Bruins at this point in their careers. With Sean Kuraly, it was four years at the University of Miami (Ohio) and a trade with the San Jose Sharks that brought him to the Bruins organization. Kuraly spent the majority of the 2016-2017 season with the Providence Bruins, 54 games to be exact, where he put up 26 points. He also played in eight games with the Bruins that same year and tallied an assist.
The 2017-2018 season rolled around, and he was an effective wheelhouse down the middle in 75 games of regular season action in which he had 14 points. This earned him playoff minutes that he took full advantage of and proved to be extremely effective at many points throughout the Bruins’ playoff run. His efforts as a professional hockey player thus far were enough to earn himself a comfortable three-year, $3.825 million contract in which he signed on July 3 of this summer.
Noel Acciari, or the buzzsaw as I like to call him, is in the NHL because he seems to hit anyone who touches the puck whenever he’s on the ice. That’s the role he has embraced, along with the weirdest stat line ever of ten goals and an assist in 60 NHL games last season. He signed with the Bruins as an undrafted free-agent fresh off of a National Championship title as captain of the Providence College Friars, as well as one of the best all-around college hockey players in New England. What did he do after all of that glory? He went to Providence to grow as a professional hockey player post-graduation.
For his first two pro seasons, Noel Acciari saw brief stints of NHL –– 46 regular season games over two seasons, as well as 75 regular season AHL games with Providence. Within these seasons also came 12 games of playoff experience, four with Boston and eight with Providence.
No matter how much success a player has before becoming a professional, time in the AHL can help them mature and adapt to a much different game at the professional level. Noel Acciari is a prime example of this. His physical edge has always been there, so the rigors of professional hockey, despite some injuries, haven’t deterred him too much. His journey up until this point has allowed him to become a rugged, effective NHL player.
Providence will continue to groom potential NHL players
As previously mentioned, players like Trent Frederic, Jakob-Forsbacka Karlsson, and Ryan Fitzgerald, and Urho Vaakanainen –– just to name a few, won’t necessarily see a decline in their development if they play in the AHL next year. This is no matter how NHL ready they may be. It doesn’t matter if someone is to play 20 games in the AHL, or 100 games, the AHL is a great platform for growth in young players that are on the brink of NHL readiness.