The Boston Bruins announced a couple of NCAA/college player signings this week, coming to terms with 2017 fourth-round selection and University of Maine/Hockey East Player of the Year Jeremy Swayman along with undrafted free agent University of Minnesota-Duluth senior defenseman Nick Wolff on three-year and one-year entry-level contracts.
Going to break the analysis into a then and now, as both players have been talked about on TSP, so we can see what was said before and where we are in the near year since they were both last mentioned in a writeup of Bruins development camp in July.
So here’s the skinny on what we think about Swayman and Wolff, starting with the 111th selection three years ago in Chicago. We’ll follow up with a separate blog post breaking down the Wolff signing and what B’s fans can expect from him going forward.
Jeremy Swayman then:
July 2019- He’s a fourth round pick attending his third development camp, so naturally, more was expected of the Maine Black Bear, and he delivered. We talked to one Hockey East assistant coach whose team has been stymied by Swayman’s play in the last two seasons, so there is a lot here in terms of natural size, ability and the mental toughness to keep his team in games while playing in such a competitive conference. In Boston this past week, Swayman showed that he’s continuing to progress in his development and growing as a goaltender as he gains experience and fills out. Between Swayman and Kyle Keyser, the B’s have a couple of goalie prospects who are not high draft picks. Daniel Vladar was a 3rd-rounder in 2015 and is still hanging around, but his development has been slower and there were always some concerns with Vladar’s overall game, particularly in the areas of how he reads the play/sees the ice. Swayman appears to have the edge right now and it will be interesting to see where he is in his progression when he signs and turns pro.
June 2017 (B’s draft recap)-
Talent analysis: High-end athlete with good size who probably isn’t finished growing (his dad is 6-6) checks all the boxes for a developmental project goalie. Excellent quickness and great hands- glove and blocker are effective at catching pucks or directing them away from danger areas. Gets a good lateral push and tracks pucks well. Put up very good save percentage and GAA numbers (.914, 2.90) on a non-playoff USHL club, and was often lost in the spotlight of other bigger-name goalies playing in that league. Needs to be more patient at times- gets caught trying to do too much and will have to put in the work to refine his game and keep getting better. Says all the right things, but the proof will be in the continued progression and body of work.
Pick analysis: Textbook case of the perception of the “shallow” 2017 NHL draft, where many of the more conventional and established names on public lists were passed on by teams who scouted their own players and went with a lesser known commodity in Swayman, an Alaska native who played for a tougher-to-see USHL club. Originally thought to be spending another year in junior, TSP confirmed that Swayman will play at the University of Maine next season. That may or may not be the best for his development, but the B’s and fans will likely have to get used to what could be a bit of a rollercoaster for him in terms of strong vs. shaky outings and stretches of play. Swayman’s pure physical package means that he’s bound to have some quality starts that will generate buzz, but he’s also likely to have some rougher stretches that will underscore the time and patience needed to properly develop a goaltender in this day and age.
Two words: value pick!
Turns out, the Bruins knew what they were doing by drafting a good goalie on a bad team. You never know how that’s going to work out, because bad teams create a situation for goalies where they see so many shots/scoring chances and expectations are lowered, so that can mean a player like that could have trouble succeeding on better teams when they can’t work into the groove and rhythm of seeing a high shot/scoring chance volume and have to be focused and mentally tough enough to make saves when the defense breaks down in front of them, even though it isn’t often compared to the less-talented teams.
Swayman’s experience in Sioux Falls prepared him for similar pressures he’d face in Orono with the Black Bears, who haven’t been a Hockey East power in about two decades, but aren’t a bottom-feeder either. The thing is- even at draft time when a lot of us were surprised that he was selected ahead of Cayden Primeau (Canadiens- 7th round), he nevertheless checked all the boxes: good size, athletic ability, able to track pucks well and also brought a battler’s mentality. When you go back and look at that Stampede team, which finished with the third-worst league record in the always-tough Western Conference, they had a tough time scoring goals, yet he posted a .914 save percentage while sporting a 7-18-3. He also had 10 empty-net goals credited against out of 18 regulation losses- which is key, because it speaks to the fact that although his team often came out on the short end of the final score, Swayman gave them a chance to win just about every night.
When it comes to goalies- the most important stat is wins. However, without the talent in front of them, the wins aren’t going to be there. All you ask of your man between the pipes every game is to give you a chance to come away with two points. In junior hockey, Swayman did that despite the lack of W’s in his one USHL season, but he carried it over to his three years in Maine.
In college, he played nearly the same workload in terms of games he did in the USHL, facing a similar shot volume and though unable to go back and do a comprehensive study on the actual scoring chances (grade A or otherwise) he faced versus the pure shot totals (which for obvious reasons, don’t paint anywhere near a complete picture), the educated guess based on the consistency of his statistical body of work and the available film packages, Swayman is every bit as good an NHL prospect as a lot of other peers who were drafted earlier and have a more established pedigree.
The thing with Swayman is consistency. You’re looking at very little variance in his numbers over the last four years- a remarkable sample size given the usual disparity you tend to see with goaltenders who move up from junior. With the exception of the jump in win totals from Sioux Falls to Maine, the workload, goals against, shots against/saves, and save percentages are all close from year to year, which subjectively speaks to an ability to stop pucks and maintain the sharp focus to track and translate that focus into wins and statistical excellence. The one outlier is the crashing of his GAA to 2.07 this season after hovering in the high 2’s in each of the previous three campaigns.
All in all, it should not be a surprise to anyone that he’s had success in the NCAA, culminating with his best year as a junior and Hobey Baker award finalist.
Style analysis: With Swayman, we’re looking at a typical modern “butterfly” goalie who likes to get down to take away the bottom portion of the net, but he does a good job of keeping his torso and hands upright, to guard from over-the-shoulder shots to the top corners. He’s not just a blocker with his hands- does a good job of watching pucks all the way into his glove and softly directs shots off his blocker away from high danger areas- to the corners of the rink.
I like that he can recover back to his feet quickly and is able to maintain visual contact with the puck so that his feet are set and he can make an athletic save up out of the butterfly as you can see in the posted highlight packages. One thing you often see younger goalies struggle with is making the decision about when to get back to their feet, and so a lot of times, they’ll stay on their knees, which is inviting trouble for themselves. You see, the butterfly is a save tactic designed to be employed to stop the immediate/primary shot, however, secondary shots then become the main threat to the goaltender who is in the butterfly if he is unable to kill it and get a faceoff. As traffic picks up around the crease, it becomes tougher for a goalie to maintain that visual sight line to the puck that is so critical to making the next save when he stays down on his knees. This is why athleticism and instincts are so important to the position: knowing when to go down, recover, and then being able to reset on your skates in an instant before the smart, skilled shooter sees you moving and is able to hit the holes your body naturally opens up for him as you move are essential elements for any top performer.
As he moves on to the pro game, Swayman has room to work on refining his skills and putting some focus on his puck touches- while the trapezoid has all but eliminated the advantages that skilled puckhandling netminders like Ron Hextall and Martin Brodeur among others enjoyed, goalies still need to be able to come out of their net to slow down/stop the hard rims/clears and can alleviate pressure around their own net with smart. effective touches rather than retreating into the paint and hoping the D will take care of things. The goalie is always the last line of defense, but anything he can do to further mitigate the threats for goals against is worth employing in the kit bag.
Given that there are only 31 goalies in the world (soon to be 32) who can be an every day player for an NHL club, that leaves a miniscule window of opportunity to earn that coveted spot as No. 1. Based on what I see, Swayman could one day get there. He’s looking more and more like, at minimum, he’ll be a capable backup NHL goalie one day.
Conclusion: The B’s might have something special here with the Alaska native. He’s not Gigantor in net, but for me, being about 6-3/200 pounds as currently listed on the Maine hockey website is more of the perfect size for a goalie because at some point, the 6-5 or taller guys give up some fluidity and agility in their crease, and the long torso doesn’t necessarily make up for that. Swayman has a compact but wide stance- he plays big in his net; he tracks the puck and reads the play, sets his feet for the first shot then recovers quickly and can make the highly athletic save. He looks like he’s more patient and controlled than he was when he was under pressure to do it all with Sioux Falls, but still got plenty of work between the pipes in Maine. When you take the impressive fundamentals he has and look at just how consistently good he’s been in the last four seasons without a hiccup, that all adds up to someone who can take things pretty far. Next up for Swayman: the AHL and Providence Bruins- it’s time to grab that next rung on the ladder of dreams to the NHL.
Here’s his latest Hockey East Player of the Year video package from a quick YouTube scan:
This is a Hockey East highlight clip from 2018-19: Check out the save he makes at 1:35 on Giles, then he robs Sabres prospect Casey Fitzgerald coming out of the box at around the 2-min mark, and then he holds on with some cardiac arrest-inducing scrambles to preserve the 2-1 win at about the 3-min mark
Here’s film from November of this year against BU- nothing eye-popping, but watch how controlled his body movements are, especially on his 2 saves against Ducks first-rounder Trevor Zegras at about the 1:35 mark.
Interview with Swayman from beginning of the season…