Credit: Boston Bruins
Few have enjoyed a better view of Boston’s recent playoff push than Andy Brickley. As NESN’s Bruins Analyst/Color Commentator, “Brick” knows the Bruins as well as anyone, and he recently offered his take on the team’s Players to Watch – with a focus on what youth players can learn from each of them – as the playoffs beckon.
First of all, youth hockey players need to learn what I think is the most important thing about being a good hockey player, and that's playing without the puck. When you're an elite player, what sets you apart is how you play without it, and Patrice Bergeron is one of the best players without the puck.
He also practices like they’re game conditions – he doesn't want to lose a battle and he doesn't want to be in the wrong position when he doesn't have the puck. And that's the approach you have to have if you want to be one of these elite players at the highest levels of the game.
[On faceoffs:] It's a huge piece to the game. You can talk about technique or leverage, but people underestimate his actual strength. He's 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds and you say, He can't be that strong! … but he is. It's all about practice, repetition and knowing your opponent, but it's a lot of will to win the faceoff.
I think he's getting smarter with each and every season he plays. He had to learn to walk the line because of the style of hockey he plays. As far as goals, though, he's been consistent. I like his release, his ability to shoot in stride and not telegraph it. He's gotten more accurate, and that comes from practice and reps and understanding the value of keeping it between the posts and below the crossbar.
He understands, more important, his value to the team. His value is not to be in the penalty box.
With his Xs and Os, it's his quick release and his ability, because of his speed, to attack to the outside and then read whether he can get around a guy and create problems or think, Do I need to pull up and hit somebody coming late? And that part of his game has really developed over the past year and a half.
His straight-ahead speed is as good as anyone his size. When he plays with a certain pace to his game, when he doesn't stand around, when he gets going in the offensive direction, every time that he's on the ice, he's a game-changer.
Just as an aside, the fact he's playing with Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak has forced him to pick up the pace of his game and he's much more effective.
I guess the best way to talk about Chara this year is that throughout his career, he was healthy for 99 percent of all possible games. These are uncharted waters for him. And you combine that with how much tread is on the tires at this point in his career. It's been a challenging year for Zdeno.
I'd still hate to play against him if I was an offensive player in the NHL. And I know some fans get on him – he looks slow at times because he is 6-9 and battling a knee injury that's probably going to need some attention when it's all said and done this year. But he's still a force and he's still a difficult guy to beat. And he still controls the front of the net. He’s a guy who’s played a ton of hockey and he knows what it takes to win at this time of year and in the playoffs.
The first thing [youth players can learn] is to keep your creativity on the offensive side of the puck. If you're a creative guy, if you’re an offensive guy, you have to have a pretty good understanding of where the danger zones are.
He understands the value of creating 2-on-1s. I know the way young players are taught today, with the small games and the 3-on-3s, the half-zone, and that's all designed to get open, create 2-on-1s, find players' weaknesses and move the puck quickly. All those things, Pastrnak’s really, really good at that. He knows how to isolate a player.
And I think that's something he innately has. So keep that creativity when you're on offense, but, when you watch him and you're thinking about how you're on the edge of your seat every time he gets the puck, that's all great. But also pay attention to what we talked about at the beginning: how to play when he doesn't have the puck.
Does he pursue the puck on the backcheck or handle a wraparound on the breakout and absorb a hit and make sure the puck gets out of the defensive zone? He's an 18-year-old kid, the youngest player in the NHL, high school age in some cases, and he's playing against men but he's doing what he has to do without the puck to make sure he stays in the lineup.
[We know he’s on his game and healthy] when he's one of the, if not the best, smartest player on the ice in the biggest game. When he's healthy and he's playing, and it's a big game, he is a dominant player.
When the games are most important, he raises his level. His heart rate stays the same but he raises the level of this game, and that’s what I admire most about him.
He has this incredible knack for breaking up passes when he's in a defensive position. He has a really good stick. He gets the stick on it and disrupts a play or steals it. He's kind of stealthy. He's really good at stick-on-puck, stick-on-stick to make the steal and little chip passes to get it over a stick. He's cagey and I think you're really seeing a healthy Eriksson because he makes a lot of really good, smart plays and he's very versatile.
Given his skillset and trying to give him everything he could handle without having to take any steps backward, I think the Bruins have done a good job with that. But you still see a lot of inconsistencies, as you would in any 21-year-old player.
He does some really great things and he has incredible offensive instincts. At 6-foot-5, he's still growing in to his body, he's not really a man yet, but he's a guy the Bruins need to play and play well in every situation. He's still figuring out the defensive side of the game, and he has some good mentors. But he can be a special talent and play in this league for 20 years.
From my own experience, the goalies I loved playing in front of, outside their obvious competitiveness, is their demeanor, the accountability postgame that you admire most. I'm here, I have your back.
[On the ice,] it's the economy of motion, letting the game come to him, and the ability to track the puck. If he's not seeing the puck or not moving enough to see the puck, if he's not reading the play that's happening in front of him, if he's slow to react, if he overplays an angle because there's too much motion, that's when you know he's not on. There's probably fatigue involved or just a lack of focus, but you don't see that from him anywhere near as much as you might have seen four years ago.
When he lets the game come to him and he always seems square to the puck, that 19 out of every 20 rebounds somehow end up in the corner of the rink, that tells you he knows exactly what he's doing and he's in total control of what's happening out there.