Here are my thoughts and observations from Day Three of Bruins Development Camp at Warrior Ice Arena:
1) Mixed bag for Bruins second-round pick Axel Andersson over the first few days of camp. He's definitely a smooth skater and you can tell he's got some pretty good offensive tools, but he's also looked a little tentative and perhaps nervous at times with the puck. It's completely understandable for a young kid in his first NHL development camp, of course, and there were flashes of a hard, accurate shot, good vision on the ice and the kind of skating game that will play at the next level.
One funny exchange with Andersson took place on his first day in camp when he was asked who he models his game after at the NHL level. The youngster's answer was Charlie McAvoy, who of course is just a couple years older than Andersson. Maybe Andersson had a really good satellite TV setup in Sweden that allowed him to McAvoy's games at BU over the previous two seasons, or maybe this Swedish second-round pick just knows how to give a smart, Bruins-centric answer already. Bruins Director of Player Development Jamie Langenbrunner certainly came away impressed with his intelligence: "He looks like a smart player, give him the hockey player designation – finds ways to make plays in traffic. Skating looks definitely above average. He's got some strength to him."
2) One dark horse performer in this training camp is massive Czech D-man Daniel Bukac. The 6-foot-5, 207-pounder has massive stay-at-home defenseman written all over him and he very clearly casts a big shadow at development camp with his size and strength in battle drills. But Bukac looked surprisingly smooth and confident in the breakout drills that the Bruins coaches were running on Wednesday morning, and he looked like he might have some budding puck-moving skills to go along with his size and natural strength.
The 19-year-old Bukac posted just eight assists in 39 games for Brandon last season and really doesn't look like he's ever going to be a high-ended offensive D-man. But he's shown enough in this development camp to make me think that he's got an NHL future someday, and he'll get plenty of chances to get there based on his ideal NHL size. The good news is that he's still got a long way to go before he'd even begin to build up any expectations from the Bruins, and that means he'll get ample opportunities to develop his game at a position where there always seems to be plenty of late bloomers.
3) Kudos to the Bruins for inviting UMass-Boston defenseman Nick Albano to development camp this week. The Beverly, Mass. native was a strong player for UMass-Boston this past season and certainly made a name for himself in the local high school hockey world before landing at the Division III program. Albano has looked very much at home with the rest of the prospects in the drills and with the high pace they've been going through each session, and he's made a few excellent plays with the puck along the way. Nobody is saying there should be a token invite for a local Massachusetts kid to every development camp, but there are local kids like Albano just about every year that would be good enough to compete at a development camp.
Let's hope the Bruins continue to find the good ones and give them a look just like with Albano. Jamie Langenbrunner indicated that Bruins scout Scott Fitzgerald had a big hand in Albano attending B's development camp, and that's no surprise since Fitz always knows the best local hockey talent year in and year out: "I think when you say, obviously he's a D3 guy. At first you think he might be a little bit off the pace – he hasn't been. He's thrown himself right in there. He learned pro hockey, got a stick in the mouth and he's off getting his tooth fixed. He's got some skill. Makes you wonder what some of the college coaches were doing not getting him into school somewhere. Good player."
4) Jack Becker has shown some flashes in camp this week. The 2015 seventh-round pick out of a Minnesota high school program had a decent freshman season at the University of Michigan this past year with eight goals and 15 points in 33 games. But he's got plenty of potential at 6-foot-4, 200-pounds with strength around the net and a very good shot from the slot area that he's shown off a few times during practice this week.
The hope and expectation is that Becker will continue to get better with the Wolverines over the next season or two as he heads into his sophomore season at 21 years old. Certainly, he'll need to keep working on the skating game and building up his strength as that's going to be his bread and butter at the NHL level. Players like Joona Koppanen and Tom Marchin are roughly the same size as Becker in Bruins development camp, and each of those big forwards plays with a little more of a thud to his game. That's something Becker will need more of if he wants to take the next step in college, and in turn with the Bruins.
5) There are some good players in this season's development camp with the Bruins, but I'm not seeing any players dominate the way that Ryan Donato and Anders Bjork did a year ago. Certainly, Jack Studnicka has been amongst the best performers at forward and Urho Vaakanainen is a first round pick that carries significant expectations, but the most consistency noticeable player in the entire camp has been 28-year-old Slovakian pro Martin Bakos. He's gained his legs as the practices have gone on, and he's been very effective using his strength, speed and skill level to create offensive chances for himself while all at times outmuscling some of these young kids that he's skating with.
It's to be expected as you usually see the older college kids, like a Karson Kuhlman for instance, stand out at these prospect showcase-type camps, but this time around it's the guy that's been cashing checks to play in Europe and Russian for the last 10 years. It still remains to be seen if he's got any shot of seeing NHL time next season, but he's at least making a good first impression with the Black and Gold brass watching all the proceedings. But if I'm being honest, I don't see a single player on the ice this week that's going to seriously push for an NHL job this fall and that includes a player like Vaakanainen that the B's are putting in a position to succeed as he moves over to North America for the first time in his career.
6) Some quick random thoughts: Daniel Vladar is massive between the pipes at 6-foot-5 and is a guy the Bruins could really use as an emerging player in Providence for this upcoming season. A dominant year out of him would do wonders for Boston's organizational depth. He'll be 21 years old this upcoming season and is presumably healthy, and it should be his time to really develop into the pro goalie that he's going to become. Swedish D-man Victor Berglund made a couple of really high-level skill plays during the drills over the last few days. The 2017 7th rounder had a decent first season in Modo as a 19-year-old kid and appears to have some goal-scoring ability on the back based on his junior seasons, and based on the way he was attacking with the puck at times in the offensive zone. Clearly, he's got plenty of work to do as a seventh-round pick, but I can see why Berglund popped for the Bruins scouts over in Europe. Guys like Cedric Pare, Curtis Hall and Dustyn McFaul really haven't done enough to stand out from the crowd, but they'll get another chance on Friday when the players usually get together for a scrimmage that allows the crème to rise to the top.