Scoring the first NHL goal is always a special moment for a hockey player and it was no different for rookie Boston Bruins defenseman Jack Ahcan.
It was an important goal, too, as Ahcan’s first NHL score tied the game at 2-2 in the second period in an eventual 4-3 win for the Boston Bruins over the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden on Thursday night. The rookie blueliner managed to snare a loose puck away from Blackhawks defenseman Riley Stillman, passed it to himself through Stillman and then easily beat Kevin Lankinen while moving side-to-side in the slot and throwing it back past the goaltender’s back shoulder.
Jack Ahcan’s first NHL goal was a thing of beauty. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/zTZ986lgHW
— NHL (@NHL) March 11, 2022
Just watching Ahcan down that low in the offensive zone to help create the turnover and instant offense brought memories of the similarly undersized, skilled Torey Krug doing the same things on offensive instinct and skill when most D-men would just stay out by the point on the man advantage.
“Yeah, I was down low, which is not probably where I should have been, but I went down for the puck and (Brad Marchand), gave it to Marchy, and it kind of bounced and I chipped it over the defenseman’s stick and got in the slot and just kind of shot it in. Went in,” Ahcan said. “It’s just such a great feeling. You picture it over and over again in your head before it actually happens. I don’t think once it was like that.”
The 24-year-old Ahcan was playing in place of Matt Grzelcyk, who has missed the last couple of games with injuries and illness and was actually not having a great game until the goal turned things around. He’d been on the ice for a pair of Blackhawks goals earlier in the game, and that perhaps helped spark the improvised power play moment that ended with his first career lamp lighter. It’s that mix of tenacity and skill that again has drawn parallels with Krug, even if Ahcan hasn’t yet shown the kind of offensive production potential that Krug has managed since entering the NHL.
“He’s got to play to his strength, and when he has the puck on his stick, he has to be moving and making plays that result in opportunities at the net, and I thought he started doing a better job of that in the second period – scored a goal, made a play down low to Marchy,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Transition game, every touch, he has to value. It’s like when Grizz came up. You’re bread and butter is going to be passing the puck up the ice and giving the forwards some transition opportunities in those areas, and he has to make sure he is very clean with those. Otherwise, if he’s not, then most teams are going to prefer a bigger body to do the other things, so that’s where he has to be good, and we’ll keep working with him on it.”
It could be a game-changer for the Boston Bruins if Ahcan can really develop down the stretch and hone his puck-moving and offense from the back end after posting six goals and 21 points in 34 AHL games for the Providence Bruins this season. Ahcan was good on Thursday night with three shot attempts, a hit and a takeaway in 15:51 of ice time, and now he’s got a souvenir after Brad Marchand made sure to get the game puck from his first NHL goal immediately afterward.
The best part? It’s going home to mom.
“My mom probably wants it, so I’ll give it to her,” said Ahcan. “I don’t want all the attention to be on me. But you do have to kind of soak it in, [your] first NHL goal. It was kind of a weird thing, cause it’s like, ‘Let’s get back to this game and win this game.’ “But everybody was so happy for me, and they’ve all been awesome to me lately and actually since I’ve signed. It was just kind of overwhelming. Like I said, it was pretty sweet.”
Ahcan’s wide smile as he talked about his first career NHL goal spoke volumes, and there’s undoubtedly more to come for the skilled young puck-moving defenseman.