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Bruins prospects excited to show their stuff in rookie tournament

BOSTON — Officially, it’s called the Prospects Challenge.

Actually, it’s a three-team rookie tournament, during which 60-70 prospects will fight — sometimes literally — to stand out from the crowd.

“I was very specific,” general manager Don Sweeney said, after addressing the group of Bruins who departed Friday morning for the four-day event in Buffalo. “Scratch and claw to find any advantage you can as you go through this process.”

While there’s not an NHL player in the bunch, not all participants are necessarily equal. High-end draft picks who have participated in past tournaments are expected to stand out. Well-seasoned college players aren’t supposed to look like nervous teenagers, even if they’re getting their first professional experience.

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“You’d hope so,” Sweeney said. “I made mention to some of those players who feel comfortable, knowing what we’re going through: Lead the practice. Lead the drills. If they have more familiarity, they should be taking a leading position.

“But the other guys don’t take a back seat at all.”

Jake DeBrusk (Round 1, No. 14 overall) and Brandon Carlo (Round 2, No. 37), two of the more prominent members of the Bruins’ plentiful Draft Class of 2015, participated in the Challenge a year ago. The experience was eye-opening.

“The biggest thing you notice right away,” said DeBrusk, a left wing whose injury-interrupted 2015-16 Canadian junior season included a trade, “is how hungry everyone is, how everyone’s competing for jobs on every team, how competitive it is.”

“It definitely shows you how hard everyone wants to compete,” said Carlo, a defenseman who joined the Providence Bruins for seven AHL games after his junior season ended. “That bumps up your own compete level, as well.”

The tournament effectively serves as the Bruins’ rookie camp. After returning from Buffalo, the prospects get one day of practice at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton before a group is selected to participate in main training camp. Veterans undergo fitness testing next Thursday, and everyone hits the ice next Friday.

Not everyone on the rookie roster — many of them invited free agents — will be around by that point.

“There’s no guarantees in this business,” Sweeney said. “If you don’t want that opportunity, somebody else will take it. I don’t mind making that call, when somebody’s put themselves in that position.”

Thursday’s portrait, however, was of a group of young players who’d worked hard to be ready for an opportunity to show what they can do.

“There’s an opportunity, and guys realize that,” said defenseman Rob O’Gara, the Yale graduate who will finally embark on his first full pro season more than five years after the B’s drafted him out of Milton Academy in 2011 (Round 5, No. 151). “Everyone’s working their tail off to make the most of it, to see if they can make an impact.

“From top to bottom, everyone has that pressure on them to perform. You can feel it in here. The guys are ready to go.”

Around the boards: The Bruins, who’ll be directed by the Providence B’s staff of head coach Kevin Dean and assistants Jay Leach and Trent Whitfield, will practice Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon before facing the Devils rookies at 7 p.m. on Sunday. They wrap up their stay in Buffalo with a 7 p.m. game on Monday against the host Sabres. … Sweeney said that winger Zach Senyshyn (Round 1, No. 15, 2015), who will miss the tournament because of an appendectomy performed on Sept. 5, has started skating. “He’ll come in (on Monday) to be evaluated,” said the GM. “We’d like to see him integrate (into main training camp) at some point in time, but that’ll be a medical decision.”

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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