McDavid, Eichel headline NHLPA Rookie Showcase

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This year’s NHLPA Rookie Showcase won’t be lacking star power.

The top two picks at this year’s entry draft — Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel — will be in attendance, along with 38 other prospects that’ll descend upon Toronto on Tuesday, Sept. 1 for photo ops and media availability.

The list of invitees, per the players’ union:

Connor McDavid (Oilers), Jack Eichel (Sabres), Dylan Strome (Coyotes), Mitch Marner (Maple Leafs), Noah Hanifin (Hurricanes), Ivan Barbashev (Blues), Chris Bigras (Avalanche), Oliver Bjorkstrand (Blue Jackets), Madison Bowey (Capitals), Connor Brown (Maple Leafs), Michael Dal Colle (Islanders), Nikolaj Ehlers (Jets), Robby Fabbri (Blues), Zach Fucale (Canadiens), Nikolay Goldobin (Sharks), Ryan Hartman (Blackhawks), Connor Hellebuyck (Jets), Julius Honka (Stars), Kasperi Kapanen (Maple Leafs), Ronalds Kenins (Canucks), Slater Koekkoek (Lightning), Dylan Larkin (Red Wings), Sonny Milano (Blue Jackets), Samuel Morin (Flyers), Mike Matheson (Panthers), Michael McCarron (Canadiens), Josh Morrissey (Jets), Brendan Perlini (Coyotes), Nic Petan (Jets), Emile Poirier (Flames), Shane Prince (Senators), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), John Quenneville (Devils), Mike Reilly (Wild), Nick Ritchie (Ducks), Travis Sanheim (Flyers), Mackenzie Skapski (Rangers), Brady Skjei (Rangers), Shea Theodore (Ducks) and Jake Virtanen (Canucks).

This will mark the seventh year the PA has gathered rookies for its annual event. Last year’s Rookie Showcase featured 33 players, including Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad and fellow finalist Johnny Gaudreau.

Boston Bruins ’15-16 Outlook

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Considering the significant changes that took place this summer, you’d think that the Boston Bruins fell from contender to cellar-dweller.

In truth, they didn’t miss the 2014-15 postseason by much, falling two points behind eighth-place Pittsburgh. Losing Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic won’t help matters, yet it’s not outrageous to imagine them back in the playoffs next season.

They do still employ Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, after all.

Now, it’s reasonable to wonder if they’re still a Cup contender, but what are their chances of making the playoffs?

Let’s ponder that in a slightly different way: by looking at how they compare to the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Division opponents

Lightning – Tampa Bay made a huge leap last season, but they didn’t lose any significant players and are buoyed by young talent. They’re likely out of Boston’s league right now.

Canadiens – Some question Montreal’s possession merits, yet the Habs’ results have been satisfactory so far.

Senators – A clash of fading veterans in Boston and up-and-comers in Ottawa made for an exciting stretch run in 2014-15. Expect a sequel.

Red Wings – A franchise experiencing comparably large front office changes, although Detroit made some key additions instead of subtractions this summer. These two veteran-heavy teams may just battle it out in the bubble.

Panthers – The Bruins must watch out for a team brimming with young talent and familiar faces from the past in Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo.

Sabres – Much improved, yet it’s an open question regarding how far Buffalo must go to merely be respectable again.

Maple Leafs – Lottery fodder, you’d think

Metro considerations

Capitals and Islanders – Two teams that may only climb further out of Boston’s reach in the race for playoff spots.

Rangers – Could this team be a little vulnerable? Martin St. Louis’ retirement and Carl Hagelin’s trade lowers the skill level a bit, while a regime change is in order with Jeff Gorton taking over GM duties for Glen Sather. One would think that the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners hold an edge over Boston, perception-wise.

Penguins – Pittsburgh was right there with Boston as far as almost missing a playoff spot goes. The Pens’ outlook sure looks different with former Bruin draftee Phil Kessel in the mix, though, right? If it does come down to these two teams, just imagine Kessel being the deciding factor.

Blue Jackets – A dangerous team that almost seems like it’s being built in the bruising, Bruins’ mold.

FlyersDevils and Hurricanes – You’d think these teams will struggle in 2015-16, but at the same time, it’s dangerous to write these franchises off entirely. Still, you’d think that the Bruins would pass them by.

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Looking at the East teams, do you think the Bruins might make the playoffs? Could they even threaten to win the Atlantic or, conversely, fall into the lottery? It’s an interesting outlook when you try to ponder Boston’s place compared in this mix.

Bruins’ biggest question: Is the blue line good enough?

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It was no coincidence that the Bruins missed the playoffs after trading Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders in October.

Boychuk’s departure left a big hole in Boston’s top four, one that became even more pronounced when Zdeno Chara was injured a short time later.

Now consider that young Dougie Hamilton is gone from the B’s, too. Last season, Hamilton led all Boston d-men with 42 points in 72 games, while logging an average of 21:20 per game.

Minus Boychuk and Hamilton, the Bruins have been left with Chara, who’s 38, Dennis Seidenberg, who’s 34, plus Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Matt Irwin, Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, and Colin Miller.

Of those nine defensemen, only two — Chara and Seidenberg, neither young anymore — have ever averaged more than 20 minutes per game in a full NHL season.

Hence, the ongoing speculation that GM Don Sweeney will sign a veteran free agent, someone like Cody Franson, Christian Ehrhoff, or Marek Zidlicky. (The B’s were believed to be in talks with Mike Green, before he signed with Detroit.)

But regardless if that happens or not, expect the Bruins to make some tweaks to their system.

“At times, we probably got a little bit too stationary on our breakouts,” Sweeney said, per the Boston Globe. “We need to be in motion a little bit.”

Of course, for any system to be successful, it needs the right horses. And as it stands today, the Bruins’ stable of defensemen is more questionable than it’s been in quite some time.

Related: Vote on whether the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window has closed

Poll: Has the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window closed?

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Back in 2013, the last time the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final, their leading playoff scorers were, in order, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchard, Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, and Johnny Boychuk.

Of those 10 players, only four — Krejci, Bergeron, Chara and Marchand — remain on the roster. And Chara is 38 years old now.

Add to the fact Dougie Hamilton is gone too, plus the fact the Bruins missed the playoffs last year, and it’s no surprise that many feel their Cup window has closed.

But you won’t hear new GM Don Sweeney say that. Not with youngsters like Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, and Alex Khokhlachev up front. And not after picking up 27-year-old Matt Beleskey in free agency.

Remember that the NHL is a young man’s league. Teams that aren’t constantly refreshing their lineups are teams that get into trouble.

“I don’t think it’s a rebuild. We didn’t strip this down,” Sweeney said in June, per NHL.com. “We have a tremendous core group of guys that are going to obviously carry an even heavier load here in the short term while these other kids can come in and start to take footing.”

OK, time to vote:

Related: Zach Trotman is looking to make the leap

Looking to make the leap: Zach Trotman

For the second straight season, the Boston Bruins must absorb the loss of a key right-shot defenseman after Dougie Hamilton was traded to Calgary.

That prospect is unsettling for the Bruins’ short-term outlook, but it opens the door for young players to sink or swim. Torey Krug may be getting the most prominent bump from this situation, but more will be expected from youngsters like Zach Trotman.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien said as much while discussing new GM Don Sweeney’s tweaks in late June.

“I can’t go into the year saying it’s going to be tough, I need to be optimistic, I need to believe,” said Julien. “We have guys who can skate, the Joe Morrows are down there, the [Zach] Trotmans, and there’s some more time here to maybe add if we need to.”

Trotman, 24, has already got his feet wet a bit at the NHL level, playing in 27 games in 2014-15. He also played a couple in 2013-14.

The blueliner only averaged 16:24 minutes of ice time last season, but people seemed impressed with how he handled an elevated role after Hamilton was injured in late March.

While Krug may carry a heavier burden, Trotman could very well enjoy a prominent role as Zdeno Chara’s partner, as the Boston Globe noted. That’s already quite the accomplishment for a guy who was “Mr. Irrelevant” of the 2010 NHL Draft, going 210th overall out of Lake Superior State University.

Trotman isn’t the only young guy to watch on the blue line, as Joe Morrow and Colin Miller (another right-handed shot) may also get their chances.

Meanwhile, up front, Bruins fans will definitely be curious to see if Alexander Khokhlachev can make the leap from AHL star to NHL regular.