BOSTON – Three games is hardly a substantial sample size.
But Jack Ahcan and Oskar Steen are grateful for the taste of the National Hockey League they received last spring. And as the Bruins prospects – who are both taking part in this week’s Rookie Camp – get set to make an impression on the Boston brass this fall, they’ll both be aiming to draw on their experiences.
“The first one definitely was [nerve-racking], just getting out there with the guys, being in the locker room, all the pregame stuff,” said blue liner Ahcan, who made his NHL debut on March 18 in Buffalo, just two days after Steen played his first game in Pittsburgh.
“Once you get out there, you kind of just slowly get used to it. By the third game, it came nicely. Obviously, it’s not easy playing in the NHL but you kind of get your feet underneath you and it’s awesome.”
Ahcan played two more games with the big club on April 11 against the Capitals and May 11 in Washington during the Bruins’ regular-season finale. Steen also played in that last game against the Caps and made a noticeable impact highlighted by a heavy check on former Bruins captain Zdeno Chara in the opening minutes.
“It was big for me to play a game up there in the NHL, a lot of good players to play against,” said Steen, who got 17 minutes of ice time. “It was a good experience for me, especially the last game I played a lot of minutes.”
While both players know there is plenty of competition heading into training camp, they’ll be doing their best to crack a spot on the B’s Opening Night roster.
“It’s always good players on every team. Just battle and try to get a spot up there. It will be hard. I will try to do my best and see how it goes,” said Steen, who noted that he is comfortable playing both center and wing.
Neither player boasts much size – Steen checks in at 5-9 and Ahcan at 5-8 – but their lack of height and brawn hardly has them discouraged, as both view their strength on the puck and low center of gravity as being among their greatest assets.
“It’s really just about body position,” Ahcan said of combatting the size and strength of his opponents. “Torey [Krug] was obviously really good at it. Watching him growing up was very helpful for me. There’s a lot of undersized defensemen. [Jared] Spurgeon on the Wild is one of the guys I used to watch. Also, Matt Grzelcyk.”
Providence Bruins coach Ryan Mougenel understands when people compare Ahcan and Grzelcyk from a size perspective but made clear that there is a sharp difference between the two players.
“Jack has that strength and that ability to box a player out. Is he always gonna win that battle? Probably not,” said Mougenel. “But Grizz is just smart. He’s not getting in those net-front battles, he’s fronting pucks and he’s defending with his feet and his stick. That’s something that I think Grizz is exceptional at. That took time for him to develop.
“The one thing about Jack is he has the IQ to do that. He’s built a little bit differently than Grizz. He’s really built almost like a fire hydrant. He’s strong and stocky and he gets under sticks…he’s not someone who defends differently than guys with size.”
Mougenel credited Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney and Director of Player Development Jamie Langenbrunner for their work in identifying Ahcan during his four-year college career at St. Cloud State and subsequently inking the blue liner to an entry-level contract in March 2020.
“He’s a pretty special player,” said Mougenel. “[They] did a great job of recognizing a player who is obviously undersized but possesses a ton of skill and true to the Bruins fabric of who they are – he’s a competitive player, real great skating ability, has it in his DNA to commit and complete plays.”
Ahcan, who hails from Savage, Minnesota, played 19 games with Providence in 2020-21, notching a goal and nine assists in his first professional campaign.
“He’s a player for me in the American League that I relied on heavily for minutes – played heavy, hard minutes, he played on that top power play unit. He did a lot of things last year that I was really impressed with,” said Mougenel.
“Another guy that’s putting his time in on the American League. There’s things in his game that he’s got to get better at just like all of us. The one thing that I love about Jack is he’s gonna make an impact on the game no matter what.”
Mougenel also had high praise for Steen, who is set to enter his third full campaign in North America. The Sweden native, drafted by the B’s in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL Draft, has collected 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) in 83 games for Providence over the past two seasons.
“Like a lot of guys that come across – Oskar is no exception – it takes a year to get really familiar with the pace, the size, the strength, and the mindset,” said Mougenel. “I think the one thing about Steener is he’s a competitive, in your face, abrasive – I think his identity is exactly what you saw in that Washington game.
“I think he has the ability to get under an opponent’s skin, he has the ability to get underneath and inside. I think that’s one of his biggest attributes.”
Mougenel said that Steen is “full of life” and someone that everyone likes to be around and root for, which is another important intangible when it comes to fitting into the Bruins system.
“That’s one of the staples of being a Bruin,” Mougenel said of being a great teammate. “He’s well on his way. I think he’s gonna be knocking on the door. I think he’s ready, he’s hungry, he’s got a taste of the NHL and he wants to stay there. It’s up to him now. That’s part of the deal, these guys that put the work in. But now it’s up to them.”