NHL lands in Seattle…& it’s not just about grunge anymore.

grunge-vs-image-2

OK- identifying Seattle only with the grunge alternative music movement of the early 90’s widely credited with “killing” 80’s hair metal  is selling the fine Pacific Northwest city short, but today, the NHL’s Board of Governors unanimously voted to grant Seattle a franchise, making it the 32nd city in the NHL- to begin playing in the 2021-22 season.

That will be 20 years after the San Jose Sharks became the league’s 22nd team in the 1991-92 campaign, starting a wave of expansion that saw the Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Florida Panthers all join the NHL in 1992 and 1993.

Back then, grunge (defined as a fusion of punk rock and heavy metal with a characteristic “dirty” or “fuzzy” sound) was in its heyday- the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains all taking the music mainstream. To a lesser extent, Seattle bands like Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., Screaming Trees, Green River, 7 Year Bitch (more punk than grunge probably, but from Seattle), Skin Yard, TAD to name a few helped keep the movement popular throughout the decade of the 90’s. It’s also interesting to note that of the “Big 4” of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam is the only frontman still alive (see what I did there?) and even so, he succeeded Andrew Wood, the former lead singer of Mother Love Bone. MLB was the band that essentially became Pearl Jam after his death to a drug overdose in 1990, with guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament  teaming up with Vedder, Mike McCready and drummer Dave Krusen to launch the group who is arguably the face of Seattle grunge (but you can certainly make an argument for someone else).

The city is no stranger to hockey, as the Seattle Metropolitans existed from 1915-24, and won the 1917 Stanley Cup, the first U.S.-based team to capture the silver hardware. You can read up on Seattle’s history of pro hockey teams in a pretty good Seattle Times piece here. More recently, the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds have been in existence since 1985, succeeding the Seattle Breakers (1977-85) after the team sold to new ownership, who instituted the name change. They play at the ShoWare Center in Kent, some 20 miles south of downtown Seattle. The franchise has won a single WHL title in its existence and has never captured a Memorial Cup as champions of the Canadian Hockey League (major junior).

Notable T-Birds alumni include: Glenn Anderson, Mathew Barzal, Ken Daneyko, Tim Hunter, John Kordic, Brooks Laich, Patrick Marleau, Petr Nedved, Chris Osgood, Turner Stevenson and Ryan Walter.  Former Bruins who played for the T-Birds: Zdenek Blatny, Matt Hervey, Jamie Huscroft, Jeremy Reich, Rob Tallas and Nate Thompson.

The Seattle NHL team has a full slate of franchise-building ahead, starting with a name and then all of the foundational work that will go into creating a full front office, plus the hockey operations and business staffs. Hey- anybody looking for a Midwest USA-based amateur scout? Anyone? Bueller?

And, we haven’t even gotten into what the 32nd member of tbe NHL will mean for divisional realignment, but it will all be sorted out in due time.

Hockey and grunge- the NHL came to the Pac-NW 20 years too late to capitalize on the music craze, but you know the old saying- Better late than never. And given the fact that Seattle has a 101-year-old Stanley Cup champion on record, as the late great Chris Cornell would sing (scream?): “I’ve been away for too long…”

 

Nifty’s nifty night in Boston

Middleton retirement

(Image courtesy of NHL.com)

It took a shootout and winning goal on the fourth iteration from rookie Ryan Donato to secure a 2-1 victory for the Bruins against the NY Islanders (Brad Marchand tallied Boston’s lone regulation goal) but the home team closed out a special night in which one of the franchise’s greats had his number 16 officially retired.

Richard D. “Rick” Middleton, known around the Boston Garden as “Nifty” from 1976-88, saw his digits raised to the rafters in a nice pre-game ceremony. The former Oshawa Generals great and first-round draft pick of the NY Rangers was acquired in one of longtime B’s GM Harry Sinden’s heists, sending veteran Ken Hodge to Broadway to rejoin his pal Phil Esposito for the electrifying but inconsistent Middleton, who was still figuring out how to be a pro hockey player in the Big Apple.

It didn’t take Middleton long to figure it out, and he became one of Boston’s true hockey stars in the late 70’s and 80’s. Although often lost in the mix when it comes to Bruins greats over the years, Nifty would end up making three trips to the Stanley Cup finals during his Bruins tenure, and he was a member of the 1979 B’s squad that experienced devastation and heartbreak in Montreal in the infamous “too many men on the ice” game 7. He’s the most recent Bruin to win a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player, earned after the 1981-82 season.

In the early 80’s Middleton was the linchpin at forward for some very good Bruins teams, but they unfortunately ran into the NY Islanders dynasty.

What could have been a storybook ending for Middleton’s NHL career ended in a sweep by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1988 Stanley Cup final, but on the way, Nifty exorcised some Canadiens demons by being on the first B’s team to beat the Habs since World War Two was ongoing. Middleton’s breakaway game-winning goal in Game 3 at the Garden may be one of his most iconic moments in Boston; although he wore a Jofa helmet and no longer had the long golden locks that flowed behind his helmetless head when he got up to speed for so many seasons, the “old man” still had it and scored one of the most symbolic goals of his career.

Middleton didn’t make it into the Hockey Hall of Fame and in all honesty- he likely never will. But, for a lad growing up watching the Bruins, there was something magical about him. People can grumble about the team retiring his number if they want, but for those of us who saw him in his prime, elevating his play year after year in the midst of the Firewagon Hockey era of the late 70’s and 80’s, Nifty belongs in the rafters.

Thanks to Tuukka Rask’s excellent play in net, and Donato’s slick deke and tuck of the puck inside the post for the winning score- a move that no doubt made Mr. Middleton smile- one nifty, nifty night (to coin a phrase from Jack Edwards) ended the way it should have: 2 more points in the bank and one of Boston’s classiest and more unappreciated stars honored the right way.

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

Here’s the Middleton retirement ceremony highlight video- published on YouTube by the NHL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOCyB2wj6b4

 

 

 

 

 

What, us worry?

Chara4

Zdeno Chara (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

You mean to tell us that since two critical veterans went down with significant injuries, the Bruins are 3-0-2 with 8 points out of 10?

And that, dear readers, is why they play the games.

Given the Boston Bruins’ recent run of wins, welcome news despite not having two of the franchise’s faces out for at least 4 weeks or longer: captain Zdeno Chara and defacto captain Patrice Bergeron. The duo of future Hockey Hall of Famers are more than likely at the top of a short list of players that if you polled fans before the season, were the guys the team could least afford to lose for extended stretches of the 2018-19 campaign.

And yet, as the Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, the B’s pulled out two close wins, a 2-1 OT contest against the underachieving Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Friday and then Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, helping Boston secure the sixth-best record in the NHL to date. Of course, few would have guessed that the Jeff Skinner-led Buffalo Sabres would be sitting atop the league standings as November comes to a close, but that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, let us focus on the Bruins and how they’ve put themselves in position to remain competitive despite suffering through some personnel setbacks that would cripple many teams in any league.

Continue reading

Thursday Flashback: My 1st David Pastrnak feature- Feb 2015

David_Pastrnak

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

If you’re a Bruins fan, then it’s likely you’re indulging on a steady diet of Pasta.

Even if you’re cutting the carbs, is there anyone to be more excited about these days than David Pastrnak? With 17 goals in his first 18 games in 2018-19, we haven’t seen scoring this fierce in Boston since Cam Neely’s 50 goals in 44 games way back when yours truly was a senior in college during the 1993-94 season.

I was in Boston in January 2015 on the night then-GM Peter Chiarelli announced that the B’s would keep the Czech wunderkind in the NHL (thereby burning the 1st year of his ELC), and was lucky enough to sit down with him a day later to do the February 2015 New England Hockey Journal feature for that month.

Even back then, you just knew he was going to be special- he was humble, self-deprecating, and extremely hard-working, with Torey Krug pointing out that the 18-year-old was the first player on the ice at practice and the last one off. I still owe Eric Tosi (now with the Vegas Golden Knights) a debt of gratitude for not kicking me out of the B’s dressing room when he came in after most every other player had left. “Tos” hooked a brother up, and this remains one of my most favorite pieces written in 17 years covering the Bruins for the NEHJ.

Here it is- enjoy the journey back a little less than 4 years ago. He’s smashed expectations and to me- he’s the modern 21st century version of Rick Middleton.

Enjoy!- KL

***

Pasta! Rookie sensation makes a big splash in the Bay State

By Kirk Luedeke

(Originally published in New England Hockey Journal, Feb. 2015)

David Pastrnak’s pro hockey journey has only just begun.

It started out with bus rides to a small rink in a small, blue collar European city, followed by two years in Sweden before the young prodigy with the infectious smile and a world of potential arrived in Boston last fall. The 18-year-old Czech Republic native has energized the Bruins with his mix of talent and unbridled passion for the game.

He’s a rare find in the modern era of the NHL: a teenager who is immediately ready to contribute, yet somehow managed to slip past the decision-making cycles of those early-drafting teams who could have benefited from his services and maturity the most. Instead, the Bruins landed Pastrnak in the bottom five selections of last June’s NHL Entry Draft and in just eight months since, he’s managed carve out a niche with the big club.

On Jan. 15, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli announced that the kid everyone expected would be in Sweden playing pro hockey is staying in Boston beyond the 10-game window that will toll the first of a three-year Entry-Level Contract signed last July.

“Right now I’m going to be with the team but I just need to keep working hard,” said Pastrnak. “I try to play my best and don’t think about anything else, just try to do all for the team and just play hockey.”

For anyone who saw Pastrnak’s electrifying play in a two-game stretch where he potted four goals, the decision to keep him up was a no-brainer. The B’s now have an opportunity to develop their young prize while also getting some immediate bang for the proverbial buck.

“He’s been a real pleasant surprise in terms of his coachability and willingness to learn the other things that successful NHL players can do,” Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney said recently. “We’re encouraging him to round out his game while still maintaining that 1-on-1 skill that he brings, but we need to have a little patience to see him get stronger. “

Although the 6-foot, 172-pound right wing is sure to face a season of peaks and valleys as he adjusts to the daily grind of the NHL, legions of Bruins fans clamoring for more skill in the Boston lineup have quickly embraced his electrifying style of play and obvious speed and puck skills as a man dying of thirst would take to an oasis in the desert.

The speedy Pastrnak has been forced to grow up fast in the face of personal tragedy. His own back story and the rapidity with which he’s emerged as the NHL’s youngest gun speaks to a remarkable talent, character and maturity that belies his youth.

Born and raised in the Czech Republic city of Havirov, Pastrnak grew up around the game. He said that his father, a former professional hockey player in their native country who also spent a couple of seasons in Germany, put him on skates for the first time at age two-and-a-half. By age three, he was playing competitive hockey.

But if Pastrnak’s love of the game today shines through in much of what he says and how he carries himself on and off the ice, he didn’t necessarily start out as a fanatical devotee of the sport.

“My mom told me that sometimes I didn’t want to go to practice so she (would) just leave me (at home),” Pastrnak said. “My parents were never like, ‘ you have to go practice’ they always asked me: ‘do I want to go practice?’ and I said yes or no, but if I said no, I stayed home. I think that’s an important thing too, because right now some parents are just pushing their children to play hockey all the time and that’s maybe how they stop liking it, you know?”

Pastrnak wanted to be a goalie when he first started playing, but the cost of equipment and his own father’s influence as a forward changed his mind pretty quickly in his early minor hockey days in Havirov.

Built as a coal-mining town after the Second World War, the city’s some 77,000 inhabitants work hard for all they have. With just one hockey rink in town and a single professional team (AZ Havirov) that plays a rung below the Czech Republic’s top league, it’s not surprising that those humble roots and beginning for Pastrnak have allowed him to identify with a lot of what Boston stands for and certainly a lot of the die-hard fans who come out to cheer on their Bruins.

“I live on the beginning of main-street going through the whole city and at the end of the street is (the only) hockey rink,” said Pastrnak. “I always went there on the usual bus with all the people because we didn’t have a car. It’s a small town and the only sport in Havirov is probably hockey, so we have a really good crowd and fans there.”

He began his hockey developmental path in his native Havirov, rising through the pro club’s corresponding minor system until age 16, when his father and family encouraged him to make the big step of leaving home for a higher level of competition in Sweden.

In 2012, he landed in Södertälje, an industrial city about 20 miles to the southwest of the Swedish capital Stockholm. Pastrnak’s new locale was known for being the headquarters and manufacturing base fro the Scania AB truck company as well as former tennis great Björn Borg’s hometown.

It was difficult for Pastrnak to leave when he did because his dad was battling cancer at the time. On the one hand, the teenager knew going to Sweden meant he would have a much better chance of landing on the NHL’s radar, but on the other, he didn’t know just how much time Milan Pastrnak had left. Unfortunately for David and the rest of his family, his dad lost the fight against the illness in May, 2013.

That personal loss saw the younger Pastrnak emerge as a force the following season, his draft year, opening eyes with his play with Södertälje’s top pro club, competing in Sweden’s Allsvenskan or second division. It was then that he dedicated every goal, every point to his father’s memory- beginning a personal practice of kissing his hand and pointing to the sky when he found the back of the net. As the calendar flipped over to 2014, Pastrnak had made the Czech Republic World Junior Championship team and was cruising to be selected in the June entry draft’s first round.

“At that time it was easy because my dad and my mom and everybody told me to just go there because it’s the best for you and just improve,” he said of leaving home. “It doesn’t matter how old I was –it was an important move and I don’t think I would be here if I didn’t go to Sweden.”

Riding the wave of a strong performance in the storied Under-20 tournament at the tender age of 17, Pastrnak soon took a big hit that knocked him out of the lineup for several months with a concussion. Although he was able to make it back to be a part of the Czech Republic’s silver medal-winning entry at the 2014 World Under-18 Championship in April, he wasn’t himself.

The lack of playing time in a stretch of about 80 days, a key period when NHL scouts are solidifying their views, and the mediocre performance in the event that left teams with their last impression of him didn’t help his case. More than one talent evaluator has said since that the missed games and subpar U18 showing factored into his draft day slide being projected as a top-15 pick entering the season.

Of course, there are positive stories of Pastrnak at this time, too. He arrived in Toronto for the NHL’s annual pre-draft combine, but the airline lost his bags, so he had to borrow clothes from fellow Czech and good friend Petr Vrana for his initial interviews. He took it all in stride, exhibiting none of the nervousness one would expect and made a positive impression on the teams he interviewed with.

Boston was one team in particular that was sold on his potential and attitude. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli spoke openly on the draft floor in Philadelphia after the team snagged Pastrnak with the 25th overall selection that the team tried to move up from that spot to get him. That attempt was unsuccessful, yet the B’s still got their man, and with hindsight being 20/20, they’re real glad they did.

Management wasted little time in getting Pastrnak signed to a three-year deal after he shined at their July prospects development camp, and made it clear to him that with some work, there was a pathway to the NHL as soon as the upcoming season.

“Since I’ve been drafted I just try to do the best what I can to show they picked the right player,” he said after a recent game in Boston. “And (it’s) just kind of motivation to show everybody, even the 24 teams in front of (Boston) which picked another guy, so it’s kind of motivating to work hard and show the mistake to everybody.”

A shoulder injury suffered in early training camp sessions prevented the team and its fans from getting an extended look at Pastrnak in the preseason, but he immediately established himself in Providence.

“It’s his foot speed, ability to make plays, putting defenses on their heels and second effort on the puck,” Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked about the things Pastrnak did in the AHL that will keep him in Boston. “He plays better away from the puck than when he got there in training camp. There’s guys who come down here and they take it to heart what you tell them and there’s other players who are like, ‘when I get (to Boston) I’m an offensive guy,’ and they don’t get it- there’s a Bruins way and that’s just the way it is.”

Growing up, Pastrnak idolized current Boston linemate David Krejci, 10 years his senior. With the announcement that the B’s were keeping the rookie beyond the audition window, Krejci commented about his new “Czech buddy,” a line rounded out by hulking left wing Milan Lucic, whose heavy game own Serbian roots make him a welcome part of the trio.

“It’s not set in stone that we’re going to play together for the rest of the year, but for now the last couple of games have been pretty strong games, so as long as we keep working on things in practices and working hard in games there’s a pretty good chance we’ll stick together,” Krejci said.

Beyond the obvious natural ability and gifted hands, Pastrnak’s intelligence and willingness to learn and improve his overall game have not only resonated with the coaching staff, but with the players in both Providence and Boston as well.

“He’s got all the talent in the world and I think that energizes this team when a guy like him comes in and he’s always smiling, he’s always have fun and he’s always looking to get better,” Boston defenseman Torey Krug said after a team practice. “I think he’s still on the ice right now- he’s always the last one off the ice and I think that’s what makes the young players that stick…that’s what makes them special.”

He put up more than a point-per-game scoring clip in Providence to begin the season, earning an initial five-game stint in Boston near the end of November (1 assist). However, Pastrnak’s coming out party came in a two-goals each outburst against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in back-to-back games last month. Even if he might not be a consistent presence on the scoresheet night in and night out, Pastrnak certainly showed why the B’s were so high on him after the draft.

“He’s definitely a great player,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Pastrnak’s ninth game, the win over the Rangers. “We all want him here and I think the decision that was made was pretty unanimous. As a coach, I want him on my team.”

Boston veterans like Patrice Bergeron, who was exactly where Pastrnak is some 12-plus seasons ago when he made the Bruins as an 18-year-old rookie, are happy for the youngster’s success and what he’s bringing to the team dynamic.

“I’m really happy for him and it’s well deserved,” said Bergeron. “Like I said before, he’s one of these kids that wants to learn, he wants to get better. He’s excited and happy to be here and I think we’re seeing a shell of what he can be and that’s something very special and we’re all here to help him and teach him the way I guess, but so far he’s been great and doesn’t need much help.”

The young boy who rode that bus down Havirov’s main street so many times is now a Boston Bruin, but the smile that could power the TD Garden jumbotron and his natural exuberance is very much ingrained in the fabric of who Pastrnak is as a player and person.

As he continues to grow and develop into the player his father always knew he would be, that natural love of the sport Milan Pastrnak helped foster in David will allow him to carve out his own legacy in Boston, one his dad would be proud of.

“I was there one day (being new to the NHL) and I was having a lot of fun, and I know he’s having a lot of fun,” Krug said. “He can help our team win right now and that’s why he’s here. That’s the biggest thing.”

Farewell to Adam McQuaid

McQuaid2

Adam McQuaid (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

9/11/18…the end of an era. Adam McQuaid was traded to the NY Rangers today for Steven Kampfer, a 2019 4th-round pick and a conditional 7th-rounder.

The truth is- for those who understand the realities of the salary cap world of the NHL, this move was bound to happen, and it’s somewhat surprising that it didn’t occur one or two years ago. The clock started ticking when Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney signed the veteran defender and genuine good guy to a four-year, $2.75 million per contract extension on draft day- June 26, 2015. While some might be loathe to admit, it was the beginning of the end for a nine-year career in the Black and Gold for the former 2nd-round pick-turned Stanley Cup champion in 2011.

For those who got to know him and valued the sheer effort, grit, toughness and character that he exemplified, it is with respect that we bid him farewell as he departs for Broadway and a better opportunity to keep playing at the highest level.

McQuaid, who was originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets out of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves in 2005, was acquired by then-GM Peter Chiarelli for a fifth-round pick prior to the June signing deadline in 2007 (C-bus would subsequently trade that selection to Dallas, who used it to take captain Jamie Benn– go figure), and that unheralded acquisition would go on to give the B’s some very good mileage.

The book on McQuaid was that he was a big, but fairly immobile throwback defender with tremendous toughness and character. A player like him today would be a long shot to even be drafted into the NHL because his boots were so heavy back then, but 13 years ago, the league still had a lot of time for players like him. I liken the continued decline of the “stay-at-home defenseman” (read: big, tough, but skating-deficient player) to the history of the battleships. At one time, those floating fortresses were a staple in navies around the globe, designed to go toe-to-toe with other dreadnoughts on the high seas with its big guns, but eventually rendered obsolete by the implementation of naval airpower and submarines that could kill them at a distance.

McQuaid, who spent a couple of seasons in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, had to put in a lot of work to improve his skating, and in his third pro season, it was starting to look like the lack of mobility might prevent him from ever establishing himself in Boston. However, he got the call during the 2009-10 campaign, and the rest, as they say, is history.

He proved himself as a warrior on ice- willing to do whatever the team required of him, and though his playing style often took a toll on his body, McQuaid was as tough as they come on the Boston blue line during his tenure, he took on all comers, often the other battleships teams around the NHL had on their roster. He blocked shots. He did the tough work along the walls. He didn’t score much, but was the quintessential defensive defenseman in a league that is seeing fewer and fewer open spots for guys at the position who excel only at defense. These days, clubs are placing more and more of a premium on defenders who have the size, skating and skills to impact the game regularly at both ends of the ice. This is not to say that defensive defensemen will become extinct much like the enforcer has, but players like McQuaid will find it harder and harder to establish themselves in the modern NHL and the direction it is evolving into.

In getting to know McQuaid off the ice, he was a quiet, but articulate and engaging person. He seemed to relish his status as a role player- never desiring the spotlight or much of the credit for Boston’s success in his time there, but not shrinking away from the media or treating the process to occasionally give the scribes what they needed as a chore. A few times I would stray away from B’s dressing room scrums to talk to McQuaid because I found that he was not only open and approachable, but had some of the best insights on his teammates and the game writ large. He was the typical hockey player who made time for his community and was great to the fans; look no further than his relationship with Liam Fitzgerald- the famed Boston “Fist Bump Kid” for more on that…and he did it without seeking attention or accolades- it’s just who he is.

But make no mistake- McQuaid’s easy-going demeanor and humble nature belied a simmering, volcanic force of nature if you tried to run one of his guys. More than one NHLer found out the hard way that they had a tiger by the tail when they went toe-to-toe with No. 54.

In the end, it was a parting of ways that was bound to happen, and was several years in the making. As much as the team loved and respected his service, with just one year left on his current deal, re-signing him would have been challenging. 98.5 the SportsHub’s Ty Anderson has an excellent article that is worth reading that breaks it all down. You can be a huge McQuaid fan who was taken by surprise with the announcement, but better understand the reasons behind it after reading Anderson’s piece.

With a defensive unit consisting of Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, John Moore, Kevan Miller and Matt Grzelcyk, where did McQuaid fit? On the wrong side of 30 and having played more than 70 games in a season just twice in his career due to injury (and one lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign), it became the law of diminishing returns for the team and the right thing to do for the player, who would have accepted the likely fate as a healthy scratch, but had earned (and deserved) more than that.

As for Kampfer, he returns to the team that had acquired him from Anaheim in 2010 and was a black ace for during that magical Stanley Cup run a year later. He counts 670k if he’s on the NHL roster, but provides valuable experience and depth plus a $2.75M cap savings if he isn’t. The 4th-round pick recoups the selection the B’s traded away their fourth to Chicago for Tommy Wingels at the last trade deadline. It’s shaping up to be a deep and talented draft at first glance, so that’s a solid asset that the Boston scouting staff should be able to put to good use. We’ll find out somewhere around…2023?

So, the Rangers get a veteran defender who makes them harder to play against. Ryan Spooner gets a friend and teammate to join him on Broadway and the B’s room and culture takes a hit for now.  Will the door now open for some of the youthful defenders on the farm in Providence? The answer to that question will come out eventually.

But for now- I’ll just address the newest Ranger and say- thanks for the memories and all the best…except when you’re playing your old club.

 

 

 

 

3 Amigos Podcast: Ask the Amigos mailbag, lots of topics- last pod for a while

IMG_1906

Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

We brought the band back together for one final podcast before the 2018-19 season- it wrapped up on Labor Day weekend, the final official weekend of the summer before we go back to our busy schedules.

Thanks to all of the supporters who took the time to post some thoughtful questions- this one takes us about 90 minutes to get through.

Will try to put it up on Sound Cloud at some point, but for now- you have to listen to it here. It’s not on iTunes and isn’t going to be- limitations of technology at present.

Thanks for listening and be sure to stick around until the end to hear an important message from Dom.

Here’s the audio- appreciate all of the support!- Dom, Reed & Kirk

 

Ask the Amigos

We’re going to try and get the band together for one last podcast…

Here’s the chance to ask Dom, Reed & myself questions about hockey- B’s, prospects, scouting, pretty much what you want covered, we’ll try to blow into.

Just post a comment to this post with your comment and first name/location where you are, and we’ll try to address it in a future audio file.

EDIT: We recorded the podcast last night- the comments are officially closed- thanks to all who submitted! Watch for the show to air early next week after the long Labor Day weekend- KL

Another B’s audio cast: Frederick, Studnicka, Zboril, Cehlarik plus Joe Murphy & NJ Devils new/old threads

Hey all- back with another audio cast file (Eric Carmen voice) all by myself

In this 60+ minute audio cast, I continue my Boston Bruins prospect series, going with a couple of centers in Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka, both of whom I have a strong feeling will play for the B’s at some point (unless one or the other is involved in a higher-profile trade, which is possible- you never know). Also covered is 2015 13th overall pick Jakub Zboril, who had a solid 1st pro season- we try to be fair to him here. Last on deck for this one is Slovak forward Peter Cehlarik, who faces an important season after being a late third-round selection in 2013, a draft that hasn’t produced a great deal for Boston.

Continue reading

Audio post: KL on Bruins organizational rankings, 3 prospect assessments, Hlinka-Gretzky Cup & more

Zachary Senyshyn of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

(Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

As the summer winds down, figured an audio post to cover more ground than a typical written narrative is the way to go.

In this 60+ minute audio segment, TSP weighs in on some of the Boston Bruins organizational rankings and why it’s a fool’s errand to put much stock in any of them . We also do a three-year on B’s prospects, looking at Ryan Donato, Zach Senyshyn and Jakub Lauko. Plus, we talk about the recently completed Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, the annual first real jump into the NHL draft tracking process. It’s sure looking like the late 2000/2001 birth year is shaping up to be a pretty good draft class!

Enough of the intro- here’s the file.

 

Bruins prospect of the week 3: Urho Vaakanainen

We’re back with another installment of the B’s prospect series. This time, we’ll swing back over to a player who is closer to playing NHL games, and the 2017 first-round selection’s time could be closer than we think.

IMG_1900

Urho Vaakanainen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Urho Vaakanainen, LD

Born Jan. 1, 1999 (Finland)

6-1/185 Shoots: Left

Background Summary

The 18th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft was a bit of a surprise pick by the Bruins given that there were some higher profile players on the board at the time, including Finnish countrymen Kristian Vesalainen (24- Winnipeg) and Eeli Tolvanen (30- Nashville), dynamic scoring forward Kailer Yamamoto (22- Edmonton), heavy/skilled forward Ryan Poehling (25- Montreal) and impressive 2-way center Robert Thomas (20- St. Louis). However, the 19-year-old entering his fourth season of pro hockey serves as yet another example of the B’s sticking with their own process and how they evaluate talent.

Unlike many of his peers, Vaakanainen had played in the Finnish SM-Liiga (pro) at age 16 and 17, competing against men while the bulk of his fellow draft picks were playing junior hockey (he first played 25 pro games with the Espoo Blues in 2015-16 before switching to JyP for the 2016-17 campaign). The left-shot defender was just one of three skaters on his JyP HT Jyvaskyla squad under age 20 (Sami Niku-19, Jerry Turkulainen– 17) with a fourth teen being goalie Vaini Vehvilainen (also 17). Although billed as a two-way defender, Vaakanainen’s point totals were (understandably) modest in his rookie pro season (41 gp 2-4-6 +5), but the B’s praised his skating, mobility and potential in Chicago after making the selection.

Shifting over to SaiPa Lappeenranta last season, Vaakanainen was the youngest regular on the roster by a couple of years. He upped his production to 11 points (43 games) and got a liberal share of playing time for one so young, leading all SaiPa D with a +8 rating.

CBS Boston reporter Matt Kalman has a good article published in June that covers Vaakanainen’s season with SaiPa and speaks to several of his veteran pro teammates for an interesting perspective on him. It’s worth checking out here.

Scouting Post first saw him in Grand Forks, N.D. as a member of the eventual gold medal-winning squad at the 2016 Under-18 World Championship. He put up a respectable 1-2-3 line in 7 games and was part of a larger core of late 1998 and 1999-born players comprising that Finnish defense a year before their NHL draft (Miro Heiskanen, Juuso Valimaki, Oskari Laaksonen) . He also earned silver at the 2017 U18 tourney, doubling his production to 6 points in 5 games. The rare player who skated for his country in both the World Junior (U20) and U18 tournaments in the same season (2017), also played for Finland at the 2018 WJC.

The B’s signed him to a three-year entry level contract on June 13 and he is expected to spend the year in Providence of the AHL, but the door is open for him to potentially win a spot on the NHL club either out of camp or at some point this season.

Talent Analysis

Although not overly tall and having a relatively lean build, Vaakanainen plays with a long stick and uses his reach effectively. He’s got fluid feet: very good initial burst, an effortless stride and is crisp and balanced on his edges. This is a player who can move well in all directions- what is known as a “compass skater” in scouting parlance- and has the explosive first couple of steps and quick, smooth direction change that translates well in the short area game, something becoming more and more critical for NHL defenders going forward. Forwards who try to drive wide on him with speed will almost always run out of room to the far wall before they can make that sharp net drive- his feet are simply too good for that.

Intelligent and poised, UV sees the ice and is capable of defending the rush and keeping opponents away from the front of his net with an active stick. An economy of motion player, he is patient and will often allow skaters to take themselves out of lanes because he moves so well and keeps his stick in passing lanes.

Vaakanainen is not an exceptional player with the puck on his stick. When we scouted him at the U-18s two years ago, he moved pucks efficiently, but kept it pretty simple with higher percentage breakouts, a style in stark contrast to Charlie McAvoy, who is dynamic when in possession of the puck and can carry it out on his own when he has ice in front of him. This is not to say UV doesn’t have any skill, but he tends bring a simplified approach- he gets back quickly on retrievals and can then move the puck to the right areas. Where we have seen him get into trouble is when an aggressive forecheck either with an explosive F1 or 2-skater attack gets in on him quickly and forces UV to make faster decisions. In order to maximize his impressive skating, he’s going to have to be more decisive and avoid the temptation to hold onto the puck too long or just try the blind rim, which can lead to d-zone turnovers. He doesn’t have a heavy or overpowering shot- he tends to score by using a quick-release snap shot that he gets off his stick quickly versus an exaggerated windup and clapper. We’d like to see him try and get more pucks to the net, however.

Not a physical defender, UV manages his gaps well, using his lateral agility and long reach to angle effectively and close off skating lanes in the middle of the ice, where attacking forwards are at their most dangerous. The lack of physicality and bulk means that he’ll likely need support from his forwards when the puck gets down low and along the walls.

Overall, the offensive projection is still a work in progress- the B’s don’t need him to shoot the lights out or rack up assists as long as he can help speed the transition game to break pucks out while also keeping the opposition to the outside. His pro experience gives him a refined game, maturity and poise beyond where  many of his peers are- he doesn’t turn 20 until January and many of the guys picked in the same draft are going back to junior for one more year.

2018-19 Projection

Signs point to an AHL campaign with Providence, a level of competition comparable to what he’s spent the last two full seasons skating in. This means that there shouldn’t be a huge learning curve- he’ll have to transition to playing on the smaller ice surface where he won’t have as much time and space to read, process and react, but Vaakanainen’s natural confidence and adaptability to the pace/tempo, an aspect that often confounds junior-to-pro players, isn’t expected to be a factor.

Don’t rule out UV breaking camp with the big club, either, especially if some unforeseen injuries take a toll as was the case a couple of years ago because of the aforementioned pro experience in his native Finland. The B’s won’t force the issue, but the thinking here is that the Boston brain trust will be more comfortable will trying him out if he gets off to a strong start and can make consistent plays at both ends.

The smart money says that developing him in Providence makes the most sense, but the player should get a vote here, and the expectation is that he might not look that out of place. GM Don Sweeney alluded to the fact that he might not have been in ideal condition for the development camp in late June, so that will be something to watch.

At the end of the day, we think UV is a safe selection- he’s going to play in the NHL, and even if he doesn’t reach the desired production Boston sees him capable of providing, he’s probably going to be a solid middle-of-the-roster player who gives them success at the 18th overall spot of the draft. If you wanted more boom potential from the pick, you’re left wanting more, but he’s a good player.

(Here’s SportsNet’s analysis after the B’s made the pick- some interesting observations)

 

Urho Vaakanainen factoids

Born in Joensuu, but raised in Jyväskylä.  Father, Harri, played pro hockey in Finland.

Vaakanainen’s coach at SaiPa, Tero Lehtera, is the uncle of NHL forward (PHI in 2017-18) Jori Lehtera.

In pre-draft interviews, Vaakanainen said that he patterns his game after Hampus Lindholm and Roman Josi.

His 109 total games in the Finnish SM-Liiga (comparable to the AHL) is 41 more than Jakub Zboril’s AHL total of 68 last season…the B’s 2015 1st-rounder is 2 years older than Vaakanainen.