With Massachusetts native Frank Vatrano getting the honor last month (and what do you know- he was up to the big club shortly thereafter) we’re staying in the Bay State this month with Boston College junior Ryan Fitzgerald winning a close race between Prince George Cougars forward Jesse Gabrielle and crosstown NCAA rival Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson.
The intent for the SPBPOTM is not to stick with the hometown guys, but North Reading native Fitzgerald earned it with his consistent offensive play, impact on special teams with power play and shorthanded scores, and an overall energy and hunger to prove himself. The 2013 fourth-round selection is currently second on the Eagles in scoring behind freshman and Ottawa first-rounder Colin White.
Fitzgerald’s highlight game happened against Michigan State on Nov. 13, when he scored a pair of goals (one into an empty net) and added two more assists for the first four-point night of his NCAA career in a 6-4 win over the Spartans.
The former two-time Massachusetts state champion at Malden Catholic played a season of junior in the USPHL with the Valley Jr. Warriors before entering BC for the 2013-14 season. Going into the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Fitzgerald was widely projected as a second-round pick, but concerns about his size and lack of breakaway speed might have conspired to give his hometown Bruins a superb value with the penultimate pick of the fourth round (120th overall).
Like his father, Tom, who played more than 1,000 career NHL games after being a first-round pick of the NY Islanders in 1986 (and finished his playing career with the B’s two decades later), the oldest of three sons plays a scrappy, energetic game. If he’s not blazing fast, Fitzgerald uses his high-end hockey sense and anticipatory instincts to get the jump on opponents. Constantly in motion, he creates turnovers with an active stick and reads the play before it develops, getting himself into position to set up and finish plays.
Fitzgerald’s ties to the Bruins are not just restricted to his father’s brief stint in the Black and Gold. His uncle, Scott Fitzgerald, is the team’s assistant director of amateur scouting and is hitting his scouting stride again after suffering life-threatening injuries in a vehicular accident in early 2013. A younger brother, defenseman Casey Fitzgerald, is a freshman at BC and was not selected in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
With 10 goals and 19 points in his first 12 games, Fitzgerald is off to the best start in his three impactful seasons on Chestnut Hill. He scored 30 goals in 78 games of his first two NCAA seasons, so the consistency and ability to finish has been evident from day one.
The Bruins will be patient with Fitzgerald and allow him maximum time to develop, and when he turns pro, expect for him to spend time in Providence of the AHL before he’s ready to try his two-way game at the NHL level and follow in his dad’s footsteps.
Gabrielle, who has 16 goals and 25 points in 26 games with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, is having his finest WHL season to date after beginning with the Brandon Wheat Kings before a mid-season trade to the Regina Pats in 2015. Dealt to the western outpost of Prince George over the summer, Gabrielle has been a productive, gritty forward who isn’t afraid to bring some nastiness to the mix. He’s scoring, hitting and fighting. He’s bigger than his idol, Brad Marchand, and therefore able to assert himself more on the physical side. Also like Marchand, he’s still working on reining in the emotions at key moments and not putting his club behind the 8-ball with undisciplined play. The fourth-round selection who played Minnesota high school hockey before major junior is looking like an impressive value pick on the back end of Boston’s 10-player 2015 draft.
Forsbacka-Karlsson or “JFK” is having a strong freshman campaign after being Boston’s fifth choice at 45th overall last June. The slick and heady playmaking Swede spent the last two seasons in Omaha of the USHL, adapting to the smaller North American ice surface and dealing with the challenges of travel and play in a rugged league, so don’t expect him to hit the “rookie wall” that affects other young players who enter the NCAA out of the less-demanding prep/high school ranks. With four goals and 13 points in his first 14 games for BU, he’s playing a mature, refined game that has earned Terriers coach David Quinn’s trust out of the gate. One NHL scout who saw him recently came away impressed with how much better JFK looked in the Hockey East than he did a year ago in the USHL.