Scouting dispatches: Twitter mailbag # 3

I’m back with a third edition of the Twitter hockey mailbag, where I solicit questions and followers hit me up on a variety of topics. This week’s mailbag has a little bit of everything, with some questions about the Bruins (mostly about prospects), some draft queries related to Auston Matthews and the process itself. Thanks as always to those who took the time to submit and if I didn’t get to a question you asked- apologies but keep trying.

 

Here’s the mailbag:

Since you focus on prospects, what is the organization doing wrong in prospect development and who is responsible?- Olsonic @BruinsScience

I won’t lie- wrestled with this question because of the way it is worded. Instead of trying to simply approach the question by answering what I think is “wrong” with the process, I’ll also attempt to point out some things I feel the team is doing right.

First of all, the Bruins are a long way from the old days when they would typically draft a player and then spend little to no time interacting with them as the majority of them returned to their junior clubs or played in the NCAA before they were ready to compete for a Boston job. There are some tough stories involving players like 1989 first-round draft pick Shayne Stevenson that would be hard to wrap your head around given the investment the B’s and all the other teams now (smartly) make in player development to help set the conditions for an eventual NHL payoff. Stevenson was a cautionary tale, but he was far from the only promising player to never reach his big league potential, and the Bruins are hardly the only NHL team to move on from a talented young player because something was just not there to justify the expense.

In getting to your question- prospect development is not a black and white issue. It depends on a lot of different factors, only some of which are- overall talent/ability, draft position, character/work ethic, maturity, and a big one I don’t think enough people put weight into- the drafting team’s roster opportunities. In a perfect world, every first-round pick would just show up to camp, plug right into his allotted position and go off to enjoy success, but the world we live in is far from perfect.

Without writing a book here, I get the consternation over departures of young core players like Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, but simply pointing to the team and trying to allocate responsibility to any one individual is an exercise in futility. Could the teams have done things differently to keep both players in the fold? Perhaps. Could the players have done more to instill confidence in their commitment to the team and/or expressed more of a desire to be in Boston over the long haul? Possibly. When you’re dealing with people and personalities, developing prospects becomes more art than science, so the best thing the Bruins can do is try and capture lessons learned from disappointments and successes alike.

The Bruins spend considerable time and resources working with their prospects and trying to bring them along at a pace that will set them up for success when it eventually is time for them to be pros and make a run at an NHL career. Player coach Jay Pandolfo joined the team in a full-time capacity last season to mentor the youngsters and his own experiences having come up through the ranks at Burlington High and Boston University before winning several Stanley Cups. A respected defensive forward who spent most of his nearly 900-game NHL career with the New Jersey Devils means he has a broad base of experience and wisdom to impart. He was a second-round pick as an offensive player at the lower levels but had to reinvent himself as a defensive forward to keep younger, more skilled players at bay for years as he skated in the big show. I think he’ll continue to relate well to Boston’s prospects and provide a good example for them going forward.

In the end, no matter how good a team’s developmental program is or how much money they pump into it, not everyone is going to play in the NHL with the team that drafted them, and unfortunately, some high picks will fall off along the way. If we only ask what’s wrong with something while not making an effort to find out what’s right in any given situation, it’s a good bet that we’re missing out on a significant part of the equation.

 

How good is Austin Matthews [sic]? Better than Eichel?- RJ @mrshark444

I’d say an acronym that fits for Auston Matthews is PDG- Pretty (Darned) Good. He’s got the size, skating and offensive skills to be a threat on each and every shift. He’s still developing his 200-foot game, but there’s a reason he’s the early favorite to be the NHL draft’s top selection next June. He looked the part of a top NHL prospect at the USA WJC camp last month, and I can’t wait to see how he acquits himself in Switzerland’s top pro league this year.

As far as him being “better” than Eichel, that’s not something I’m interested in tackling right now. Those two will have a chance to settle that debate in the NHL eventually, and I’ll leave it to them to let their play do the talking when the time comes.

 

(Joe) Morrow, (Zach) Trotman, and (Colin) Miller- what areas do they need to work on to make the NHL roster, respectively?- Chuck Finley @cnjs5kpj

I would not be surprised to see all three on the Boston roster at some point this season, but the chance of the trio being in the lineup at the same time is less likely to happen in my view.

Morrow has the skating, passing and shot you look for in the more offense-minded defensemen, but the irony with him in his 15-game audition last year is that he looked more like a conservative, stay-at-home D playing more not to lose than opening it up and giving his team the chance to benefit from what he does best- pushing the pace and running the power play. Now, it’s certainly possible that Claude Julien and Doug Houda told Morrow to keep it simple, but I think that if he’s going to be a regular this year, he’ll have to show more flash in terms of using his speed to lead the rush and back defenses up. He needs to be more assertive in the offensive end, because the B’s have plenty better defense-minded players than Morrow- they don’t need another one.

Trotman needs to keep raising his execution level while playing situational hockey for the Bruins. He’s big and pretty fluid for his size, but he’s not all that physical nor projects as a consistent point producer, so he’ll have to be most effective at even strength to earn the coaches’ trust. That means he’s going to have to play a smart positional game, use his long reach and strength to keep attackers to the outside and cut down on the mental mistakes that have at times have been noticeable. I like his chances of grabbing a 5/6 role right out of camp the best of the three.

Miller is interesting- he’s a late bloomer; a latter-round pick who has superb skating chops and a big shot who is coming off a far more productive AHL season than the one Morrow, a former 1st-rounder, just had. He’s mature and talented enough to make the big club right away, but the B’s will have to balance how he performs at camp and preseason with the kind of role they want to give him. He’s not known as a particularly instinctive player, so while he has the wheels and howitzer, there’s much more to it than that, so he’ll have to demonstrate enough of a defensive awareness so that they keep him up rather than try to get him more seasoning in the minors.

How’s Peter Cehlarik coming along?– John C @JohnnyRiingo

Cehlarik had a better 2014-15 campaign than he did the year before, when he bounced around to several teams in different leagues and never settled in. I see him playing one more year in Sweden with Lulea and then signing and coming over to North America either at the end of this year or for the start of 2015-16 to play in Providence or possibly Boston.

On the positive side, I like the Slovak’s size, long arms and shot release and accuracy. He’s one of those players who can make an electrifying play with the puck on one shift and then score a mundane, take-out-the-garbage kind of goal a few minutes later. He’s got some dangle and creativity with the puck.

He’s not a plus skater, but he does have a long stride, so he tends to look like he’s gliding around sometimes. He’s not all that heavy on the puck and I know that different Bruins scouts have told me that they want to see a little more “want to” in his game at times.

The Bruins don’t have a lot of similar players to Cehlarik in their system, but I don’t know that he projects to be a high-end, top-six forward in the NHL, even if the tools are there. He’s an intriguing player, but I want to see how he adjusts to the North American game first.

How mad should I really be that the B’s gave away Dougie Hamilton?– Lundeaner @Deaner1000

The Bruins didn’t “give away” Hamilton, though I understand where you are going here.

If your point is to be mad because they didn’t get NHL players who are known commodities at this level and are ready to step in and perform right away, that’s a legitimate gripe. Whether salary cap dictated what direction the B’s went in when Don Sweeney made the decision to move him or something else, that Boston defense took a step backwards and there’s no sugarcoating that.

However- I’d just offer up that once upon a time (in 2002), people griped about the Bruins letting Bill Guerin “walk for nothing,” only a funny thing happened a year later- they used the compensation pick for him on Patrice Bergeron and the rest is history. They used the 45th pick on him in 2003 and this past June, one of the three picks they got from Calgary for Hamilton was No. 45- Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson– who reminds folks of a young Bergeron. Zachary Senyshyn and Jeremy Lauzon are two more players who could one day help turn the trade in Boston’s favor.

With the Hamilton trade there is no question the B’s accepted a lot of risk on the return from Calgary and it might end up on the negative ledger in the long run. I’m certainly not going to try and sell it as a win for Boston in September 2015, so if you want to be mad, I won’t try to stop you. But, if the scouts got it right with those three players, we might not be too concerned that Hamilton is out in Western Canada in about 3-5 years…that’s a big “if” though, and with jobs potentially on the line- the B’s must get something out of these three picks.

 

Any chance Noel Acciari and or The Planet’s kid play on the 4th Line this season? Can’t see Chris Kelly down there all year– Mark Clinton @mark_clinton

Is there a chance? Sure- there’s always a chance, but how much of one is the question, and I’m not sure Acciari will be at the top of the list of players to be called up to Boston in his first pro season, with a bit of a glut of more experienced wingers to choose from.

Does he have the maturity to do it? I think so- he’s someone I have followed since his days as a Kent Lion and Acciari’s game lends itself to fourth line duty. By the same token, unless he’s so much better than everyone else vying for fourth line duty, I’m of the opinion that the chance to play more of a role in the AHL is probably more beneficial to Acciari at this stage of his development.

I guess we’ll find out. I wouldn’t have a problem with Acciari getting that chance, but without seeing how he looks in camp or performs at the AHL level, it’s not a hill I am going to die on either way.

 

How should the Bruins manage their goalie assets? Do B’s have any chance at getting a reasonable return, or is best bet to develop?- Greg Babbitt @babbitt_greg

The two are not mutually exclusive and it’s about doing what management feels is going to make the team better.

That’s why instead of keeping a more proven Martin Jones in the fold right after acquiring him from the Kings, they moved him for other assets while saving the money re-signing him would have counted against the cap. Part of that no doubt was to accommodate Jones’ desire to have a chance to start somewhere, which wasn’t going to happen this year in Boston barring an injury, but part of it was deciding to get a solid, closer-to-being-ready NHL prospect and a potential lottery pick next June for a guy who would have been sitting more than playing.

Throwing out the fact that they don’t currently have a proven NHL commodity to back up Tuukka Rask, they have three solid assets and I’m not sure trading one makes a whole lot of sense right now given how little depth they truly have if Rask gets injured. Daniel Vladar is not pro-ready, so beyond Jeremy Smith, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre, there isn’t a large safety net for contingencies. I still think they’ll bring a veteran with some level of NHL experience into the mix before camp- either through invitation or with a low-cost, take-the-minimum-while-you-can money so as not to throw their backup hopes behind a trio of guys who have less than one NHL game between them.

As for the reasonable return versus developing them question, I’ve never understood the segment of fans that immediately jumped up and assumed Subban would be traded when the B’s signed Rask to his big extension in 2013. When the Bruins acquired Rask in 2006, the B’s had Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen as their goalies entering the 06-07 season, and even when Thomas continued to perform at a high level as the starter (except for his injury-riddled 2009-10 season), Rask had to bide his time. Why wouldn’t the B’s employ a similar patient approach to Subban and/or McIntyre while their veteran continues to be the No. 1 in Boston?

It all comes down to protecting the club against catastrophe, and that’s what the team will be facing if it loses Rask for an extended period anytime soon. If you don’t think you can get the kind of return that justifies the investment you’ve made in a player, there is nothing wrong with holding onto him and seeing if he can deliver on the promise that prompted the team to draft him in the first place. At that point, he either wins a bigger job with the NHL squad or he increases his trade value, but there’s no set answer that applies universally.

I believe the Bruins have done it the right way, but I also thought Niklas Svedberg would succeed as the backup a year ago based on his AHL track record in Providence.

 

What are the most important attributes you look for in prospects? Personally think hockey sense & work ethic should trump all– Hash Marks @hash_marks

Thanks for the question- I enjoy getting ones like this.

Those are two important attributes for sure, but in the end, I’m of the belief that you can’t apply a cookie cutter-type approach when it comes to evaluating players, so I do my best to evaluate them on their own merits without introducing too much personal and preferential bias into the process up front.

Hockey sense and work ethic will likely result in a smart hockey player who is driven to succeed, but based on his position, would a lack of size and skating be enough for those areas to overcome those deficiencies? I’ve seen some players who possessed elite hockey sense never reach the NHL because they were smaller and couldn’t skate well enough- it happens and some guys have the misfortune to get drafted by NHL teams whose systems aren’t the right fits for their strengths and weaknesses.

I’m a big proponent of the “foxhole test” in terms of asking whether you’d want to go to war with a player to measure that individual’s character and mental toughness. Because of my military background and a few trips to the big sandbox, I often find that I have some pretty high standards in that regard, but there are always a few guys each and every year who answer the foxhole test question with a resounding yes in my mind. At the same time- you have to be able to skate and up and down a 200-foot sheet of ice and put a vulcanized rubber disk into a 4 x 6-foot cage past a highly athletic and (often times) tall guy with octopus-like arms and whose gear would make Sir Lancelot jealous. How hard someone works or ferocious their character may help them do that, but I’m not sure that “trumps” other attributes that might lend themselves to being a better scorer or defenseman. So- while I don’t disagree that hockey sense and work ethic are key components in the evaluation process, I’m not ready to definitively say that those attributes  are enough to take precedence over the other skills/tools in a vacuum.

It’s a balancing act, and every team and the scouts they employ do things differently than everyone else. How much of a difference varies, but it’s a big reason why drafting future NHLers tends to produce such varied results, especially in the later rounds when so many of these players hit their stride later and end up being better pros than a lot of guys taken ahead of them.

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