We took a quick season-ending look yesterday at the B’s pro prospects who are now officially in the offseason (minus a few of the European players- oversight on my part).
It’s time to look at the major junior and NCAA (plus the Euros I didn’t include) players and provide some observations on how their seasons went, signing status and what could be next for them. As Jake DeBrusk and Jeremy Lauzon are still playing, they are not included- we’ll wrap them up after the Memorial Cup is over.
Jack Becker, C (2015 draft- 7th round): Minnesota high schooler when drafted went to the USHL this season with the Sioux Falls Stampede prior to entering University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall. The Mahtomedi native is a pretty raw product, still growing into his frame and developing an underrated skill set. It will likely take him some time to transition into being an impact performer with the Bulldogs, but for a seventh-round pick, there is some interesting long-term potential here. Current status: unsigned.
Matt Benning, D (2012 draft- 6th round): The nephew of Vancouver (and former Boston assistant) GM Jim Benning was a key cog in the Northeastern Huskies’ run to the Hockey East championship. He doesn’t have ideal height, but plays a rugged, physical and smart defensive game and is a little underrated in terms of his vision and passing skills. He’s not going to be a big point producer in the pros, but he plays bigger than his modest 6-foot frame and looks like a future third-pairing guy and special teamer. Currently unsigned, though reports at the end of the season had the Bruins expressing interest in bringing him out of the NCAA on an ELC.
Anders Bjork, RW (2014 draft- 5th round): This sophomore had a breakout season with the University of Notre Dame, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring with 35 points in as many games. He’s a fast two-way winger (he spent most of his time on the off-wing this season) who doesn’t project as a high-end scorer in the pro ranks, but is a versatile, opportunistic three-zone player. He could very well develop into one of the better third-line forwards in the NHL one day, but as a late-round pick with other similar prospects in the mix, there is no reason to rush the Wisconsin native to turn pro. Current status: unsigned.
Peter Cehlarik, LW (2013 draft- 3rd round): The 90th overall pick out of the Swedish Hockey League is a Slovakia native coming off his best pro season. He tallied 11 goals and 20 points in the regular season for Lulea, then followed up with three more tallies in 11 games in the postseason, reaching the SHL semifinals before falling to eventual champion Frolunda. With a 6-foot-1 frame and weighing in at about 200 pounds, Cehlarik has the size to do effective work in the high danger areas and along the walls, but needs to get heavier on the puck. His skating has improved since he was drafted, but he’s still relatively average in terms of his initial burst. Has quick hands and a heavy shot. Current status: unsigned.
Ryan Donato, C (2014 draft- 2nd round):The son of his Harvard coach (and former Bruin Ted Donato) is the Brookline-based Dexter School’s all-time leading scorer (he played there under his uncle, Dan Donato) is coming off a strong freshman campaign. He split 2014-15 between the USPHL, prep school and the USHL. The skilled and cerebral center hails from Scituate, Mass. and earned a bronze medal in the 2016 World Jr. Championship tourney in Helsinki last January. He’s got a real head for the game plus silky-smooth hands and is bigger than his dad was (though not as fast a skater). He’s another project that will take more time to develop, but could challenge for top-six forward status in Boston one day. Current status: unsigned.
Ryan Fitzgerald, C/W (2013 draft- 4th round): Another player with deep local hockey ties and Bruins bloodlines (dad Tom Fitzgerald starred at Austin Prep and Providence College before embarking on a 1,000+-game NHL career). The former Malden Catholic Lancer and Valley Jr. Warrior just posted his best NCAA season as a junior at Boston College, tallying 24 goals and 47 points. Though not possessing ideal NHL size and speed, Fitzgerald is ultra-smart and competitive, often anticipating the play to gain a step on defenders and playing the game with unbridled energy and an edge. He’s often overlooked (guilty here) but has the kind of natural grit and characteristics that lead to pro hockey success. His ceiling might top out on the third line, but he could be an effective contributor there eventually. Current status: unsigned.
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C (2015 draft- 2nd round): Stockholm native spent the two years prior to this one in the USHL with Omaha before joining the BU Terriers last fall. Highly intelligent, slick center immediately impressed his coaches and teammates with his maturity and complete game. Good hands and instincts- more of a set-up man than a finisher, he’s a right-handed shot and plays a similar style to that of Patrice Bergeron. Although he stands at about 6-foot-1, he’s quite lean with a lot of physical maturing to do. He’s on the verge of breaking out in a big way next season as a sophomore and is one of the players the Bruins are eagerly anticipating down the road. Current status: unsigned.
Jesse Gabrielle, LW (2015 draft- 4th round): Surprise! The 105th overall pick last June scored 40 goals for the Prince George Cougars and impressed with his aggressive speed and physical, agitating game. A lack of talent was not the reason he allegedly slipped down to the fourth round, and Gabrielle will get his opportunity to develop and grow within the Bruins organization as he matures and learns more about what it takes to be a pro. Unfortunately, he’s a 1997-born player, so unless he makes the NHL roster out of camp next fall (not all that likely) he’ll have to return to junior for the entire season. He did get three AHL games in with Providence at the end of the year, but did not suit up for the playoffs (no ELC in place). It’s easy to get excited about the 40-goal season, but it will be important for Gabrielle not to take steps backwards this season with expectations now higher. He looks like a future top-9 NHL forward but he’s going to need seasoning first. Current status: unsigned.
Cameron Hughes, C (2015 draft- 6th round): Entering the 2014-15 season, Hughes was thought of as top-three round prospect after starring with Spruce Grove of the AJHL, but he was underdeveloped physically and playing for a poor team in the Wisconsin Badgers. Things improved for Hughes this past year (5 goals, 25 points in 32 games), though Wisconsin was still below .500, costing head coach Mike Eaves his position. The Edmonton native is an above average playmaker who sees the ice beautifully and sets the table well. Watch for him to take the offense up a notch as a junior, but he needs to keep adding weight to his skinny frame, and will likely be asked to shoot the puck more. Current status: unsigned.
Emil Johansson, D (2014 draft- 7th round): After a pretty mediocre regular season, Johansson heated up in the final games and SHL playoffs, flashing the promise he had shown at ages 16 and 17 before being a late pick in 2014. He’s only an average-sized defenseman by pro hockey standards, but skates well, with good straight-line speed and lateral agility. Observers question his hockey IQ and ability to process the play quickly enough to be an impact player, but after going without a goal in the first 40 games, he tallied five in the final 16 (10 plus 6 playoff contests) for HV71. Expectations are still where they ought to be for a seventh-round pick, but he’s produced more in Swedish pro than 2013 second-rounder Linus Arnesson did. Current status: unsigned.
Zach Senyshyn, RW (2015 draft- 1st round): After scoring 26 goals as a fourth-liner with very little power play time, the 15th overall selection netted 45 in a much bigger role with the Soo Greyhounds. With his 6-foot-2 size, he’s an explosive skater who regularly beats defenses to the outside and displays a knack for jumping on openings and finishing off plays. He’s got a lot of work to do on his overall game, yet. The biggest knock on Senyshyn right now is his shift-to-shift consistency and a tendency to hang back looking for scoring chances rather than going into his own end and doing the grunt work for loose pucks with regularity. That’s not to say he’s a lazy player- he’s not- but he won’t beat out some of the other older, more advanced right wingers in the system with the goal scoring alone. It will be interesting to see how he fares at the July 12-15 development camp and then in September with the rest of the veterans now that he knows what is expected of him. He played like a first-round pick after the B’s were hammered in the court of public opinion for taking him where they did, but even with the big boost in offense, he’s not ready for primetime. Like Gabrielle, he can’t play in the AHL this season if he doesn’t make the NHL roster in October, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the B’s keep Senyshyn for an extended period and then send him back before he hits the 10-game limit. That will depend on him and how he looks in the fall. He’s already signed his ELC- a three-year pact at $925,000 per season, which goes into effect either when he begins playing in the AHL regularly or passes the 10-game mark in the NHL. It does not toll while he is still in the OHL.
Wiley Sherman, D (2013 draft- 5th round): Huge 6-foot-6 defenseman had a solid sophomore season, scoring his first three NCAA goals after not finding the back of the net in 2014-15 with Harvard. The former Hotchkiss Bearcat is still quite raw and remains a significant project who is nowhere close to making a case for an NHL job in Boston. He’s a good skater for one so big and has capable puck-moving ability. However, when the game closes in on Sherman and he’s forced to make decisions under duress, that’s when things start to go off the rails for him. You can’t coach his size and tremendous wingspan and reach, and it bears noting that there isn’t much of an offensive ceiling for him, but he could develop into a capable bottom-pairing guy with the investment of more work and patience. The Greenwich, Connecticut native is a good guy with a fine disposition, but doesn’t bring the kind of nasty, snarly temperament that would be embraced in Boston. Current status: unsigned.
Jakub Zboril, D (2015 draft- 1st round): Boston’s top choice (13th overall- acquired with the pick from Los Angeles for Milan Lucic) has the tools to be a top-three NHL defender but he raised some concerns after an average season. The Czech had a much better 2014-15 campaign, when he overcame an MCL injury to post 33 points in 44 games. This season, he missed time to some nagging injuries and the World Jr. tourney, but only managed 20 points in 50. Zboril had a much better playoffs with 10 points in 17 games as the Saint John Seadogs advanced to the third round of the QMJHL postseason before falling to Shawinigan. When on his game, this player can skate, shoot, pass and hit; he makes opponents pay the price for real estate in front of his net and has the skill and swagger of an effective two-way D at the highest level. Unfortunately, Zboril can go long stretches where he appears passive and disengaged. That lack of consistency was the biggest reason why he wasn’t ranked in the top tier of defenders in the 2015 draft class, and has stood in stark contrast to teammate and fellow first-rounder Thomas Chabot (Ottawa- 18th overall), who really emerged as Danny Flynn’s go-to guy on the blue line this season. Zboril has the talent to play in the NHL right now…but is the maturity and self-discipline there? We’ll soon find out, but as a 1997-born player drafted in the CHL he has to make the Boston roster or go back to the ‘Q’. This is why we’re hearing whispers that Zboril may opt to play in Europe somewhere, but with that season beginning before NHL training camp starts up, any such decision will likely have to wait. He signed his ELC with Boston last summer- three years at $925k with the same caveat in place as Senyshyn (and Brandon Carlo/Jake DeBrusk’s ) deal.
*Should Carlo and DeBrusk play in the AHL next season, their ELC first year will toll for the 2016-17 season.