We’re one month into the recent publication of the New England Hockey Journal’s annual Boston Bruins prospects ranking- we always do it in January, so we have about half a season to gauge how the kids look before ranking them.
Well, what can we say? There’s already some buyer’s remorse and after conversations with several people we trust and value as professional talent evaluators, we thought we’d take another stab at the B’s top-10 with a fresher perspective. Consider it an alternate take- a sort of Bizarro World version of the published list, with the impact of other ideas and rationales applied to some of the players who rose and fell.
Ultimately, the exercise reminds us all that opinions are varied. No matter how well you might rank order players, you’re never going to achieve 100 percent consensus, and that should not be the goal. You call it like you see it and you either stick to your guns and stand by your convictions or you don’t. At the same time, it is important in a fluid situation such a hockey season, to maintain room to allow your views to evolve.
Consider this list an evolution of opinions, sketched out on a napkin at Buffalo Wild Wings recently…and now, loyal reader, we give the list to you:
- Charlie McAvoy (NEHJ list: 1)- He’s still No. 1, though he’s not without room for improvement. When it comes to straight-up NHL potential, he’s certainly got it in spades. He’s still figuring things out, though. He doesn’t always make the best decisions and will put pucks into danger areas. McAvoy might not always play with a sense of urgency that a situation calls for, but these are minor quibbles- when it comes to talent and what the Bruins need on the back end, he’s got the right stuff.
- Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (NEHJ list: 3)- The more we look at JFK, the more enamored of him we become. With the 20-year-old Swede from Linkoping (pronounced Linch-hoping) , it’s about details, details, details. He’s always been someone who’s played up levels because of his skill and maturity. He’s uber-smart, too- his tremendous work ethic on the ice translated in his Omaha-area high school where he took AP classes and finished with a 3.9 GPA even with English as his second language all of the demands of hockey on his time, staying up until the wee hours making sure his homework was done. He’s a hell of a smart hockey player, and he’s only getting better. He’ll start out on the third line right away, but this is someone we fully envision one day being the team’s second-line pivot. Don’t focus on the scoring numbers- his recent hot streak proved that he can score some pretty goals- look at the little things he does. We have yet to meet one hockey person who doesn’t think JFK is going to make an NHL impact, and in this day and age when the draft is so important to a team’s ability to manage the salary cap, getting this kid at 45th overall is going to be big- he should have gone in the first round.
- Anders Bjork (NEHJ list: 4)- With this Notre Dame standout (who’s already set yet another career-high in points with 38) it’s all about the v-word: versatility. Bjork can play either right or left wing. He’s a superb skater with excellent hockey IQ, the hands to score and a high willingness to compete. He can do it all. People are afraid that he won’t sign, but our guess is that it will be a non-issue and the moment the B’s sign him, fans will just move onto the next concern. Realistically speaking, Bjork is a legitimate talent who was a steal in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
- Trent Frederic (NEHJ list: 8)- We. Got. It. Wrong. That a lot of other folks did too is of little consequence, but the 6-2, 205-pound true freshman center is only going to get better after being a consistent scoring presence and two-way performer for the Wisconsin Badgers. Now, it completely makes sense that the B’s drafted him at 29th overall, and to be quite honest- it’s hard to imagine that we saw him as a 4th-liner at max a la Kyle Chipchura, but that’s where we had him. The sky is the limit, and watch for this kid to be a key cog in the 2018 USA WJC squad that will defend its gold medal in a year. Big centers who can skate and have Frederic’s pure athletic ability (he reportedly threw a football 50 yards according to one scout who saw it) have a place in the modern NHL, and while he’s got a ways to go, he looks like a solid pick despite the criticism and negative buzz (present company included).
- Zach Senyshyn (NEHJ list: 2)- Still a very good player who can really score goals, but his complete game needs more attention. If he doesn’t make it as a finisher at the next level, what is he going to be? Unlike Bjork, who is a top defensive forward in addition to being the Fighting Irish’s top point-getter, Senyshyn doesn’t have the same kind of three-zone acumen and work ethic. Make no mistake- we’re still high on Senyshyn, but he’s got to keep working on the finer things and it will fall into place for him. Don’t rush the shiny new toy to the NHL roster- the payoff- when he’s ready- will be worth it. He’ll be eligible for full-time AHL duty next season (with the Soo Greyhounds being one of the top OHL teams, unless they suffer a playoff upset, we doubt he’ll be available to come up to Boston’s farm team this spring) and he’ll have a chance to make the big club, even if he’ll need a real strong camp and preseason to make the cut.
- Jeremy Lauzon (NEHJ list: 9)- We lowered him on the list because of injury woes and concerns that had caused him to miss 30+ games going back to last season, but an excellent WJC performance on Canada’s silver medal-winning squad (in limited minutes) plus reminders that he has a history going back to the QMJHL of neutralizing some of that league’s top offensive talents reminds us that he’s still a heck of a young defenseman with the all-around game and tenacity to be a solid NHL contributor for a long time. He’s a complete defenseman and high-end character guy- we hear that at least one NHL team was furious that Boston took him where they did, betting he would drop to them at the end of the round and now having serious remorse that they didn’t snap him up when they had a chance.
- Ryan Lindgren (NEHJ list: 11)- The biggest riser on the list. Some NHL guys see him as a ‘tweener who has peaked already (we don’t agree), while others are much higher on him (that’s more like it). He was real good at the WJC in helping USA win gold, though he missed the deciding game vs. Canada. Ultimately, he reminds of a Keith Ballard with better hockey sense. He brings the same kind of size/skill level/tenacity, but he’s more instinctive perhaps than Ballard was. We don’t think there will be too much of a long wait before Lindgren is making an impression in the NHL. Don’t read too much in the low numbers- he’s a true freshman asked to play more of a defensive role and to be honest- he’s not going to be a big point-getter at any level. What he will do is play sound, tenacious and hard-nosed defense, with an ability to chip in offensively. Love this guy.
- Jesse Gabrielle (NEHJ list: 5)- He’s still scoring and playing that ideal heavy game out in the WHL with Prince George. Moving him to 8 is more about bringing several other guys up. JG is the kind of player that the Bruins value and you have to give him a lot of credit for working as hard as he did to improve his body and overall game, earning a three-year NHL contract back in December with the B’s.
- Ryan Donato (NEHJ list: 7)- See Gabrielle, Jesse for rationale of the drop of a couple of spots. Donato has improved and gives the B’s a player with attributes comparable to David Krejci. He’s at 11 goals- just 2 away from his entire total from last season, so the progress is there. We’ve always been high on Donato and still are- he’s on a longer timeline but believe he’s going to get there.
- Jakub Zboril (NEHJ list: 6)- We’ll be honest- we gave Zboril more benefit of the doubt than he deserved. This is still a talented guy, but you can read more about some of the misgivings and why we think he’s at risk for never living up to the potential that saw him drafted 13th overall on this blog right here. The truth is- we’ve just never been sold on his work ethic and willingness to compete, and so this ranking better reflects what we really think. Would love to be proven wrong, so we’ll open the door for Zboril to do just that.
Amateur Prospects as of 01/30/17
|Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George||WHL||42||23||19||42||62|
|Zach Senyshyn, SSM||OHL||39||28||13||41||23|
|Anders Bjork, Notre Dame||HE-NCAA||26||16||22||38||10|
|Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU||HE- NCAA||26||10||14||24||16|
|Jakub Zboril, Saint John||QMJHL||30||6||18||24||30|
|Ryan Donato, Harvard
|Ryan Fitzgerald, BC||HE-NCAA||22||6||14||20||30|
|Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin
|Trent Frederic, Wisconsin||Big10- NCAA||16||7||11||18||22
|Jack Becker, Sioux Falls
|Charlie McAvoy, BU||HE-NCAA||25||3||12||15||41|
|Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda
|Cameron Clarke, Ferris St.
|Wiley Sherman, Harvard
|Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota