Farewell to Adam McQuaid

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Thoughts on “the Trade”- 30 years ago today Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles helped to transform hockey in the USA

 

https://www.tsn.ca/the-trade-30-years-later-1.1155314

(Video posted to YouTube by CBC)

August 9, 1988…

I was 16 and in Florida visiting my grandparents with about a month left before my junior year in high school. I walked into the house that afternoon after a visit down to New Smyrna Beach, and my grandfather, a big baseball and football fan but who didn’t know (or give) a whit about hockey, greeted me with the last news I ever expected to hear.

“Hey, Kirk- did you hear that Wayne Gadsby just got traded?”

I must’ve stared at him blankly, because he followed up with: “You know? That hockey player from Canada?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the largest percentage of hockey players in the NHL were from Canada, but my brain was beginning to process what he’d just said.

“Wayne Gretzky got traded?” I said.

“Yes! Gretzky…that’s the one! They’ve been talking about it a lot on the TV and radio…”

He started to tell me what he knew about the deal…Los Angeles Kings…cash and young players…but his words were like the teacher in Charlie Brown (Wah-WAH-Wah-Wah-Wah.) My mind was racing: Gretzky, the Edmonton Oilers’ four-time Stanley Cup captain and face of hockey, the only player in the history of the game to score more than 200 points in a season not once, not twice, not three times but FOUR times…had been dealt in the prime of his life at 27 years old. My goodness, I thought as the realization hit me- if my grandfather Merlin in Florida is talking about this trade- how enormous of an impact is Gretzky to Tinseltown going to have on the NHL and hockey?

The truth is…in my teenage mind, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend it.

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Sunday Flashback: 2013 B’s-Pens playoff column “Sweep dreams will end the Steel City nightmare”

An old friend recently reminded me of a column I wrote in 2013, after the Boston Bruins had taken a 3-0 series lead over Sidney Crosby and the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final (you remember- the guys who were anointed Stanley Cup champs when they scooped Boston on Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline?) Alas, the B’s were unable to close the deal against the Chicago Blackhawks, who earned their second of three rings between 2010-15 against the Black & Gold, but he asked me to dig the piece up and so here it is- in its raw and unedited glory prior to being posted on HockeyJournal.com.

All of my old work at NE Hockey Journal that was not in the printed issues is gone forever from the Internet, as no archive exists given the different format changes the website went through over the years since I started covering the Bruins there in the summer of 2000. All I have left are the files on my computer and so, on occasion, I’ll bring out the dead and we can take some trips in the Wayback Machine to save you any time otherwise wasted with a Google search- the old stuff no longer exists online.

Enjoy the column…in the 5 years hence, the Penguins have fared certainly better than the Bruins, with a pair of championships in 2016-17, but I have to admit- this one was a ton of fun to write. -KL

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Sweep dreams will end the Steel City nightmare (June 7, 2013- HockeyJournal.com)

For some reason, one particular ‘s’ word has somehow evolved to be on par with the one goalies don’t want you using before the shutout is actually in the books.

But say the word ‘sweep’ when your team is up 3 games to none, and everyone starts to get that queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach. In Boston, it’s understandable, given that we are just three years removed from a historic collapse against another team from the Keystone State after building a commanding series lead.

This column is not for the superstitious (another s-word since we’re on the subject), so if you’re one of those types, then you probably should stop reading now. However, if you’ve got an iron constitution and will in line with Gregory Campbell, or don’t take yourself (or sports) too seriously, then forge ahead.

On Friday, the Boston Bruins will sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins to take their place in the Stanley Cup final series for the second time in three years.

There it is. Carve it in stone or put it up in lights…it’s happening, folks.

Just as the B’s exorcised the demons of their agonizing 2010 seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in style with a sweep of their own just one year later, Boston can revisit history on Friday at the TD Garden. That was important, because it put an exclamation point on the Olde Towne’s first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years. That 2011 Cup victory was a euphoric rush for the Bruins and their fans, but does anyone deny that crushing the Flyers on the way to the summit of hockey supremacy made it all the sweeter?

Two years later, the Bruins have stunned the mighty (and heavily favored) Pittsburgh Penguins in capturing the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final series. This opportunistic, lunchpail group of Black and Gold-diggers have laughed in the face of the vaunted Steel City juggernaut thanks in large part to goaltender Tuukka Rask’s otherworldly performance in net and gritty production from stars like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton.

In short, the B’s have taken everything the Penguins have thrown at them and then counterpunched to the tune of an 11-2 drubbing on the scoreboard. In those three games (and almost two extra periods), the front line skaters like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang have combined for a grand total of no points between them.

It’s as if Dean Vernon “Zero Point Zero” Wormer were staring down Bluto Blutarsky as we speak.

The Bruins will sweep because even if they decisively won the first two games on the road in Pittsburgh by a combined 9-1 score, the Penguins showed some remarkable pluck by battling back in Game 3 to give the B’s all they could handle.

Aside from a Krejci puck off Matt Niskanen’s skate that got behind Tomas Vokoun at the 1:42 mark, the Penguins netminder was near flawless. Until Bergeron took a Marchand feed (thanks to a play along the boards by veteran Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr that would have made Peter Pan’s pirate nemesis proud) and put a dagger in the hearts of the Pittsburgh hopeful just after midnight in Boston.

By all rights, the Penguins should have won. But the hockey gods…ye gods…frowned on Crosby and Co., allowing the Bruins to hand flightless fowl a soul-crushing loss.

And so- the B’s are in position to not only sweep the Penguins, but to put the screws to one team that has been every bit the villain of any in the Boston franchise’s history.

Back in 1991, it wasn’t Crosby, but Mario Lemieux who led his Penguins back from a 0-2 deficit in the Wales Conference championship series. That club, complete with a 19-year-old rookie wunderkind in Jagr, smacked the B’s down in six games en route to easily handling the Minnesota North Stars for the first of two consecutive Stanley Cups. It was Ulf Samuelsson, however, who’s dirty hit on Boston legend Cam Neely hastened the end of No. 8’s Hall of Fame career.

A year later, the Bruins got a rematch in the Wales final, but without Neely (still suffering the after effects of the Samuelsson low blow), the high-flying Penguins blew Boston out of the water in a sweep. The series was punctuated by a highlight reel goal of Lemieux turning Ray Bourque inside-out, outside-in on the way to a back-breaking goal.

It has been 21 long years since the two teams met in the playoffs, but for many Boston fans, the Pens are still a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Matt Cooke’s blindside hit on Marc Savard in 2010 is only the tip of the iceberg, but the incident served as a flashpoint to escalate the rivalry between the teams.

Many cannot ignore the fact Pittsburgh not only landed a franchise player in Malkin in 2004, but also struck gold with the top lottery pick in the cancelled season a year later, essentially handed another hockey king in Crosby. Some won’t forget that when Ray Shero was on the verge of becoming the GM of the Boston Bruins in 2006, he opted for a more promising situation in Pittsburgh at the last minute.

If hell hath no fury like a Bruins fan scorned, then Iginla is the newest Boston target. In a much-publicized aborted trade fiasco, Iginla, the Calgary Flames and Penguins humiliated Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins. In what everyone but Iginla thought was a done deal, the Calgary captain instead elected to lift his no-trade for the Steel City only, leaving the Bruins holding the bag.

If you know the ever-simmering cauldron of intensity that is one Cameron Michael Neely, then you know that the way Pittsburgh embarrassed Boston by scooping Iginla and seeing the B’s snubbed so publicly must have re-ignited his burning desire to pay them back one hundredfold. So far, his team is doing just that.

Even if Iginla is proving that the best trades are sometimes the ones you don’t make, the smugness with which the Penguins and their fans swooped in to exult in the bitterness of Boston’s disappointment cemented that team’s status as Public Enemy No. 1.

If having a villain to focus your angst and anger is a cathartic, then consider the Penguins the therapist you have on speed dial.

The Bruins are in position to sweep away the nightmares of two crushing playoff defeats more than two decades ago. They’re poised to erase the visceral disgust of having lost so many prime years of Neely’s playing career to one of the dirtiest and unaccountable players in history.  They’re on the verge of gaining the ultimate revenge against all of the real and perceived slights that have accompanied one of the most heralded teams on paper in quite a few years.

They say revenge is sweet.

Or is it sweep?

It’s not over yet, but the best thing the Bruins can do is close the deal in Game 4 and put the bitterness behind them once and for all.

(As a bonus- Here’s the brilliant HNIC opening for Game 3 after the B’s won both games in Pittsburgh to Radiohead’s classic “Karma Police” with some amazing juxtaposition of imagery & lyrics)

 

Bruins Prospect of the Week 2: Curtis Hall

Back with the next installment of BPOW- figured it makes sense to alternate between more advanced/mature, more NHL-ready guys and those who are further away from competing for spots in the big show.

This week, we focus on 2018 fourth-rounder Curtis Hall, who spent the last two seasons playing for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL.

(Video clip of an early-season 2-goal game from Curtis Hall vs the Central Illinois Flying Aces, posted on YouTube by HockeyDraftCentral)

Background Summary

The B’s grabbed the Cleveland (Chagrin Falls), Ohio native in the fourth round, 119th overall in the June NHL draft, adding an intriguing if long-term option at center.

Although born in New Jersey, Hall was raised in the Buckeye State, spending 8 years with the Cleveland Barons minor hockey program before he signed a USHL tender with Youngstown in 2016. USHL teams are allowed to recruit and sign a maximum two exceptional “futures” players (must be 16 in their respective futures draft year) rather than wait for the draft and hope those players are available to them when their draft turns come. In exchange for signing tender players, teams surrender their 1st-round futures draft pick (and second in the event the team signs two tender players). The catch is- tender players must play a minimum of 55 percent of their USHL team’s games at age 16, and cannot be traded at any time during that first season after agreeing to the tender.

Hall played 59 of Youngstown’s 60 games in 2016-17, scoring 7 goals and 21 points while being broken in slowly. He nearly doubled his goal total to 13 in his second USHL season, but did not quite have the anticipated production and impact, cooling off after a hot start. Hall did have an effective Clark Cup playoff performance, helping lead Youngstown to the championship series with wins over the Dubuque Fighting Saints (3-0 series sweep) and U.S. NTDP Under-17 team (3-1) before falling to the Fargo Force in a 3 games to 1 loss.

Prior to his first USHL campaign, Hall committed to Yale University, and he will begin his freshman season in New Haven this coming fall. He also participated in the U.S. Junior Hockey Showcase in Kamloops, and was among the first roster cuts, but could be in good position to earn a spot for the 2020 World Junior Championship USA squad.

Talent analysis

Hall has impressive pro tools- he’s 6-foot-3, and about 200 pounds with room to add mass onto his lanky frame. He’s got length and good athletic ability. This is not to say he’s a physical player who embraces contact, but Hall has the natural size and strength to get to the net and power through traffic.

With a fluid, powerful stride, Hall can drive wide with speed in the open ice, forcing defenders to backpedal. When Hall comes down your side with a full head of steam, your footwork had better be flawless- he can slip a stick check and go right to the net because he’s so fast and powerful. His first couple of steps could improve- because of his size, he can get a little exposed in the short-area game where agile and quick stops/starts and initial explosiveness are critical, but this is a quibble. As far as his skating goes, Hall is on the higher end of the spectrum and will be noticeable for his ability to play with speed especially when he is in space.

We’ve seen some reports questioning Hall’s hockey IQ, but disagree with that- he reads the play and anticipates well, often getting himself in position to receive breakout passes or return to his own zone to deny opponents time and space in the middle of the ice. He’s not a playmaking offensive center who is dynamic and creative, as much as he’s a smart, efficient 200-foot guy and former pro hockey player’s son who has good habits.

Hall possesses a pro-caliber shot and release- the puck comes off his stick in a blur and is hard/heavy and accurate. He’s a legitimate threat to finish off plays when he uses his large frame to get inside position and establish a netfront presence. While not overly skilled with the puck/able to dangle through a maze of sticks, he’s a serviceable offensive player who is a capable two-way presence who projects to be either a third- or fourth-line pivot eventually.

2018-19 projection

Hall joins the Yale Bulldogs and expectations here are that he will break in gradually as he adjusts to the faster pace and older players he’ll face in the ECAC. Because he has the reputation as a two-way player, he’ll put himself in position to earn more playing time depending on the transition from junior to NCAA D1 hockey.

Fans should not expect big numbers in his first year, but those who take the time to watch Yale games can best gauge Hall’s progress and development by looking at his ice time and what situations he’s playing in. Internet scouting is not going to cut it- we’re not looking at an elite offensive talent here- so temper the expectations and be patient, as Hall is probably a three-years at Yale minimum player, possibly all four.

Curtis Hall factoids

Curtis Hall’s father, Michael, is a former pro hockey player- he spent four years at Bowling Green State University and was a member of the ECHL’s Trenton Titans when the younger Hall was born during the 1999-00 season. Mike Hall played 18 games with the Providence Bruins in 2000-01.

Played in the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (now the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup), the 2017 All-American Prospects Game, 2017 World Jr. A Challenge, and 2018 USHL Top Prospects Game in Kearney, Nebraska- checking all the boxes for pre-draft showcase events during the 2017-18 season.

Even though Hall had already signed his tender with Youngstown, he was invited to and attended the U.S. NTDP 40-man camp in spring 2016. Former Bruins scout and current Chicago Steel GM Ryan Hardy was then the NTDP’s Director of Player Personnel and extended the invitation to Hall.

Was also drafted by the OHL’s Flint Firebirds in the 10th round of the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.

 

 

 

On Rick Middleton’s No. 16 going to the rafters

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

The Boston Bruins announced Tuesday that Richard D. Middleton aka Rick Middleton aka ‘Nifty’ the right wing who starred for the team from 1976-88, will have his number 16 retired in a game later this November (29th- vs the NY Islanders). The longtime New Hampshire resident and Bruins Alumni fixture is deeply touched by the gesture, which comes three decades after he skated off into the sunset (more on that later).

The former Oshawa Generals star broke into the NHL with the NY Rangers, who selected him in the 1st round, 14th overall, in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft. Middleton was also picked by the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the rival WHA that same year, going in the second round, 21st overall.

The trade is right up there with Cam Neely as one of former Bruins GM Harry Sinden’s best heists, sending the over-the-hill Ken Hodge to Broadway for the 22-year-old, who put up 90 points in two seasons with the Rangers. The catalyst for the deal was believed to be Phil Esposito, who was dealt to the Rangers the season before in a blockbuster, which sent Brad Park and Jean Ratelle to the B’s. Espo wanted his old (no pun intended) reliable right wing back, and Middleton was rumored to be a bit of a wild card off the ice…his -38 in 1975-76 certainly didn’t help.

So, Middleton headed off the Boston and after a couple of solid, if unspectacular years (by the standards of the 1970’s), he took off, posting 38, 40, 44, and 51-goal seasons from 1978-82. He peaked in 1984 with a 47-goal, 105-point year (finishing second to Barry Pederson’s 116 points) but the Boston offensive juggernaut was silenced in the opening round of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens and Steve Penney, who sent them out with a whimper in 3 games (no points for Nifty). The year before, Middleton had posted a playoff season for the ages (33 points in 17 games), leading the Bruins past two rounds of the playoffs including the memorable 7-game affair against Buffalo where he registered a team-record (for one series) 19 points. Unfortunately, the B’s ran into the NY Islanders dynasty in the spring of 1983. Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith & Company dispatched them from the Wales Conference final in a series that never seemed that close, en route to a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, leaving so many B’s fans to wonder…what if?

Middleton’s production steadily declined after that career 105-point campaign, due in part to age and injury, but he did preside over the historic defeat of the Montreal Canadiens in 1988, a first for any Bruins team since 1943. Middleton’s breakaway game-winner in Game 3 (2-0), to put the B’s up 2-1 in the series after splitting the games in Montreal was a fitting coda for a man who had been a part of so many heart-breaking losses to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge during his entire Bruins tenure. He split the captaincy with Ray Bourque that year, wearing the ‘C’ for home games, until his retirement after the B’s were swept by Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers (their 4th NHL title since 1984) giving way to Bourque’s sole leadership from 1988 until his trade to Colorado in the spring of 2000.

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, Nifty was an ubiquitous presence in my budding love of hockey and the Bruins. Although not a pure burner, his golden locks (later shiny pate as his hair thinned and ultimately gave way to a Jofa helmet late in his career) looked like they were on fire as he would bob and weave through the neutral and offensive zones, often putting on a display of stickhandling prowess at impossible angles and contortions, ending with pucks in the back of the net or sublime back-door feeds for gift-wrapped tap-ins for his lucky linemates. The Mike Krushelnyski-Pederson-Middleton line racked up 111 goals in 1983-84…a number that seems awe-inspiring some 35 years later.

Although Middleton’s scoring numbers paled in comparison to Gretzky’s (The Great One scored 100 more points than Middleton’s 105 in 83-84 just for perspective), or Mario Lemieux or Bossy to name a few, he was a veritable King Midas for the B’s, creating magic from the mundane and turning pucks into goals. But don’t take my word for it- Channel 38 once paid tribute to him with a highlight reel video now on YouTube to America’s “You Can Do Magic” and I had it recorded on VHS and must’ve watched it 1000 times…

Ignored by the Hockey Hall of Fame, 30 years after he retired, taking his number out of circulation is a welcome move for those who watched him (and maybe a good percentage of fans who didn’t, but who appreciate history). Sure- there are some who may be opposed to the honor (it is the 11th so number retired by the B’s) but that’s just a curmudgeonly nature of New Englanders at work- deep down, even the grumblers get it. After all- we’ve seen Peter Douris, Jozef Stumpel, Randy Robitaille, Ken Belanger, Marco Sturm and most recently, Kaspars Daugavins (in 2012-13), wear the digits in the intervening years. None hold the distinction and cachet Middleton did, and in the end- it’s just a number. It’s time to admit that he wore it well…better than anyone in the Black and Gold. As his 402 goals as a Bruin can attest, he could finish plays off just as easily as he set the table, and was the heir to Espo as the next pure scoring forward to put on the spoked B.

If the Bruins can take the time to honor for a player who grew up and matured in Boston as a model of consistency and was the face of the franchise at least up front for the better part of a decade, then why not?

It’s about time.