The week in Bruins: Caps’ Year, Ilya Kovalchuk?, enjoy the draft, bet on Anders Bjork

Sara Civian
June 13, 2018 - 9:10 am

Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports

The Bruins were knocked out of the playoffs well over a month ago, but isn’t this offseason flying by?

The 2017-18 team had a multi-round run worth paying attention to  -- that has something to do with it. Maybe the Summer of Alexander Ovechkin does, too.

He and his Capitals finally did it. They finally took down the Penguins and everything else that dared stand in the way of their first-ever Cup, and there’s something so captivating about their celebration. No one is forcing them to share any of it, but they’ve given us all-access passes via social media. We’re getting a delightfully turnt Jakub Vrana (follow him on Instagram and thank me later), all the uncensored swears, and Ovechkin’s unbridled, childlike joy.

The Washington Capitals are a bunch of elite athletes opting for Bud Light, getting matching wrist tattoos, rocking out to Blink 182, and screaming in the streets of our nation’s capital. They’re doing exactly what many of us would do in this situation. They don’t seem to care who knows it.

I saw such an annoying tweet about it: “I guess it’s hard to act like you’ve been there before when you haven’t.”

Go be miserable somewhere else, please -- it’s Caps’ Year, none of us have ‘been here’ before. And I don’t think anyone could've known how desperately we as a society needed an adult man with a greying beard flailing around in a public fountain like no one was watching.

Before the debauchery, we got one of the most iconic Cup lifting ceremonies since Ray Bourque’s (Bourque’s is still better), and T.J. Oshie’s moment with his dad.

This has been, bar-none, the greatest Stanley Cup celebration since the Bruins in 2011. Allow Brad ‘Wiz Khalifa’ Marchand to re-introduce himself:

Anyway, the NHL draft is in nine days and free agency is in less than a month. You know what that means: the Bruins are starting to start to do things.

• No multi-week benders in Boston this year, but there’s a possibility of some Capitals-esque Russian flair. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported Tuesday that the Bruins are a top four “contender” for Ilya Kovalchuk. The others are the Kings and Sharks (who already met with him), and the Rangers.

Kovalchuk tallied a point per game (417-399-816) in 816 career NHL games before a five-year stint with the KHL’s St. Petersburg SKA. The 35-year-old winger isn’t getting any younger, but neither is Rick Nash (he’s turning 34 in a few days). The understanding is the Bruins will either sign Kovalchuk or re-sign trade deadline acquisition Nash for (probably) David Krejci’s right side.

Or maybe neither...just not both.

If I’m Don Sweeney -- which I’m decidedly not -- I make a push for Kovalchuk but don’t sweat it too much. He’ll be hungry in his NHL return, and I do think he’s a slightly better option than Nash, especially with his right-shot next to Krejci.

It mostly depends on who’s willing to sign for less, in terms of both time and money. It’s just not substantial enough a difference to go all-in when the Bruins have bigger fish (as in, bigger defensemen) to fry. At least two of the three “top contenders” for Kovalchuk will offer him more than the Bruins should, and there are apparently multiple tiers of interest in Kovalchuk.

That’s great for him, but the Bruins can plug virtually any decent sized, aging veteran in next to Krejci and expect similar results. Does anyone vehemently disagree?

Add #KovalchukWatch2k18 to the list of things to look for come free agency July 1, anyhow. LeBrun reported Kovalchuk’s camp hopes to have an agreement with a team before then, though they can’t make anything official until then.

• The Bruins lost their first-round pick in the upcoming draft when they acquired Nash. Sweeney’s still trying to finesse Boston into the first round.

“I’d had previous discussions, and whether or not those change between now and after interviews and such, we’ll have to find out in the next couple weeks,” he said at the draft combine in May. “I do think it will be difficult, yeah, but there are teams with multiple picks. You never know what some team may want to do.”

The pool is overflowing with cusp-of-NHL prospects. Ryan Donato’s rookie season is here. Brandon Carlo and Anders Bjork are returning from injury. Why should the Bruins give up anything worth a first-rounder?

Sweeney has a point: “you never know what some team may want to do” -- and maybe some GM with multiple picks is just itching to make a terrible decision. It wouldn’t be the first time.            

• The first round isn’t even the end-all be-all of the draft that some make it out to be. Reilly Smith (sorry) was drafted 69th overall in the third round. Pavel Datsyuk? Round 6, 171 overall! Oh, and that’s third-round pick Brad Marchand to you. Enjoy the draft and let yourself get way too excited about the future of someone you had never previously heard of. No one really knows what they’re talking about.             

•After left side defensive depth is resolved, the Bruins need more secondary scoring. Sometimes you can get away with that when you’ve got the best line in the NHL to work with. You can’t get away with that when you’re trying to actually win the Stanley Cup. The Lightning exposed the Bruins’ lack of scoring depth when Rick Nash was the only forward not on the first line to score at all in Round 2. People seem to forget that.

Unless multiple NHL GMs lose their minds simultaneously and all of the sudden three or four affordable goal scorers appear on the market, the solution isn’t external. This one’s basically up to how much progress the organization’s youth movement has or hasn’t made.

•Despite the widespread touting of certain prospects as a cure-all, reality is almost always...not that. Barring injury, bad systems, and other personal issues, prospect development is usually a steady line of improvement or decline until a player hits a ceiling or bottoms out. That’s why I will almost always preach patience, but of course there are a few exceptions.

Keep an eye on Anders Bjork.

The nature and timing of the 21-year-old winger’s rookie setbacks present only two conceivable scenarios to me:

1. He ends up a vital component to The Great Secondary Scoring Solution of 2018.

2. He’ll probably have to go somewhere else to reach his full potential.

I’d bet on the former.

The striking speed the Notre Dame product displayed at last season’s training camp earned him an NHL debut with some decent linemates named Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. He had three goals and six assists through the first 16 games of the season. More than that, he played with such an out-of-nowhere confidence -- the kind you get when you successfully assemble a table from IKEA without directions.

By all means, you gotta run with that feeling as long as you can. It’s just that at some point the table will break and you’ll have to do it the real way.

Most first-year NHLers hit a “rookie roadblock” somewhere between the daze of achieving a dream and the reality of fighting for an NHL roster spot. Bjork’s came when a hard hit to the head from Toronto’s Matt Martin sidelined him for seven games Nov. 11. He struggled to find his groove ever since.

At the time, head coach Bruce Cassidy said it was just that -- his rookie roadblock -- and he’d have to “fight his way” through. Like Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen before him, Bjork would get a shot to do so in the NHL, and if that didn’t work he’d head to Providence. The team, in the midst of an 18-game points streak, was clicking way too well for the rookie to get much ice time anyway.

He only recorded one goal and two assists through 12 games when he returned to the lineup, he was healthy scratched for two games, then it was off to the AHL Jan. 4.

He didn’t exactly tear it up there, but that isn’t what these field trips to the farm team are for. Bjork’s points weren’t going to return until he regained his style of play from before he was clocked in the head. So that’s what was going on in Providence.

It paid off when Bjork was called back up Jan. 25. He didn’t get on the scoreboard against the Senators, but he was confident and aggressive again. He pressured arguably the best defenseman in the league Erik Karlsson into a turnover and drew a penalty on him, for one.

That was the start of a foundation more sturdy than IKEA table confidence. So it was a real shame when just minutes into his second game back in the lineup, Anaheim’s Francois Beauchemin gave him a season-ending cross-check to the shoulder.

Bjork isn’t naive -- he knows people consider his rookie season a “real shame.”

Why shouldn’t they? That’s what it was.

But one time he strutted into Bruins training camp and ended up on a line with Bergeron and Marchand. He could do that again.

 

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