Morning Free Association: Taking the Next Step

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Ah, so the Bruins season is finally upon us. Tonight the hometown team takes on the 2017 Stanley Cup Runner Up Nashville Predators. However, this MFA is not about that. Instead it is about the players (aka the young guys) of whom much is expected.

First, The New England Hockey Journal had a write-up on the importance of both Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari seizing their opportunities. With a lineup full of young guys who might be flanking veterans on the top two lines and anchoring the bottom two, it’s high time for every player to progress and make their mark.

“We’ve always stated that we want to be a deeper team, a deeper organization from top to bottom,” Sweeney said. “You have to have players that can push through and push other players out. We potentially have (open roster) spots, but we also have incumbents that don’t want to give spots up, players that broke through last year that are going to want to continue their own progressions.

“We’re excited about the competition.”

Both players spent time battling injuries last season — Vatrano with torn foot ligaments and Acciari with a knee — and had different levels of success last season. Vatrano is a scoring threat but a bit lost in his own zone, Acciari makes and finishes big checks, ending the year with his first NHL goal and an additional one to boot.

Here’s what Cassidy has said about both players:

“Frank never played a lot of pro hockey, so coming to the NHL from one year in the American League and some time in Boston, it was going to be a learning curve,” Cassidy said. “He was trying to catch up to the rest of the group or was chasing the rest of the group — at times that happened with Frank, but other times he was fine.”

“I like his game so far,” Cassidy said of Acciari. “You always know he’s going to give you 100 percent effort and finish all of his checks, so if he can round out where he’s a bit of a threat offensively, that would be great.”

It would seem that the two could be one complete player if combined. This season each player knows what they need to do to make the first step.

Another player (young guy!) in the spotlight this season is Anders Bjork. The 2014 fifth-round draft selection has had to drive hard, grow into his body and game to earn a spot on the right wing of the top Bruins line. Fluto Shinzawa believes that his comparable is Jonathan Drouin in speed and scoring ability. We’ll see how he handles the pressure of playing, or not playing if it comes to that.

You know, it wouldn’t be a piece about taking that next step if someone didn’t mention Ryan Spooner. Turns out, more is expected of him. (Shock! Gasp!) Apparently, Spooner has bulked up and become stronger as a result.

Despite his contract and experience, Spooner wasn’t guaranteed a job in training camp. Cassidy made it clear what he wanted to see from Spooner, often saying, “I don’t want Ryan Spooner to lead our team in hits, it’s not his game, just engage in those battles.”

Spooner took that coaching to heart and even had one preseason game where he was credited with two hits. But he’s going to have to continue his new approach when the season starts against Nashville on Thursday.

“It means they just want me to have ‘hard skill.’ They don’t want me going out there trying to kill guys, they just want me out there just being harder on the puck,” Spooner told CBS Boston recently. “I find for me that when I hit a little bit more it kind of gets me in the game a little bit, so I’ve been trying to do that. So we’ll see.”

“That’s never been my game before,” he continued. “I’m just trying to build another more of a layer to it and if I can finish maybe two or three checks a game, not go looking for it but if the opportunity’s there, I have a chance to do it, I should be doing that, right?”

I guess we’ll get to see his results starting tonight.

Lots of youth, plenty of veterans, hopefully three to four scoring lines. That would be a good start.

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