Quick Hitter: B’s go with Finnish 2-way D in 1st

Urho Vaakanainen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

The Boston Bruins passed on several high-profile players including touted Finnish forward Kristian Vesalainen to select countryman and left-shooting D Urho Vaakanainen in the first round of Friday’s NHL Entry Draft in Chicago.

A smooth-skating defender who describes his own playing style of one similar to NHL All-Star Roman Josi, Vaakanainen has spent the last two seasons playing pro hockey in the Finnish SM-Liiga. Tall, with a thin build, the 18-year-old was a member of Finland’s gold medal and silver medal-winning U18 teams in 2016-17, and also played on the 2017 WJC (U20) squad that woefully underperformed in Canada last winter.

Described by one NHL scout as a player whose “skating is first-rate; he can pivot and cut decisively in tight spaces and change direction on a dime,” the same talent evaluator also said that Vaakanainen “may not possess the high-level hands and offensive hockey IQ to be a top scoring presence on an NHL blue line.”

In going with Vaakanainen, the B’s bolstered the left side of their blue line while passing on some popular names up front who were projected to be good fits in pre-draft analysis, namely the big and talented Vesalainen (whose slide ended with Winnipeg at 24), Ryan Poehling (Montreal) and Robert Thomas (St. Louis).

“I’m a great skater, I can move the puck, I have a great first pass,” Vaakanainen said after his selection. “I’m a complete package- a two-way defenseman and steady guy.”

The newest Bruin said he expected to be a first-round selection but admitted that Boston was a surprise in that he’d had little contact with the team outside of the draft and scouting combine interview he had with the club in Buffalo late last month.

“Just try to get some strength and get my shot better,” he said when asked about areas of improvement. “Working on the offensive blue line.”

His 2 goals and 6 points last season speaks to some of the reasons Vaakanainen might have been under the radar as a 2-way defender, but he had a productive U18 tournament this spring and you can bet that the B’s are banking on him to perhaps develop a more prolific offensive element this coming year when he is expected to play a key role with SaiPa in his third pro season before his NHL teams looks at possibly bringing him over.

Vaakanainen has the measurables of a modern NHL D-man, and in fairness was ranked as a first-rounder in several draft publications and lists while also finishing (no pun intended) as the 8th European skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service. He might not have had some of the buzz surrounding some of his other peers, but the Bruins quietly tabbed him as their man and were able to get him.

Day 2 begins at 9 local in Chicago with the B’s currently set to make 5 more selections in the 2nd, 4th, 6th & 7th rounds (they own Florida’s seventh pick in addition to their own).

 

 

 

 

 

Colin Miller to Vegas; Bergeron wins 4th Selke

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Colin “Chiller” Miller (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

And so begins the debate and Chiller watch- as the Boston Bruins officially saw 24-year-old defenseman Colin Miller snapped up by the newest NHL franchise- the Vegas Golden Knights at Wednesday night’s NHL Awards Show and Expansion Draft.

Miller is a good player, but as your TSP founder explained in Monday’s audio file on the expansion draft, GM Don Sweeney made a roster-building choice over keeping someone he didn’t value as much to protect an asset. As strange as this may be for some to grasp- not every move can be made with accruing more assets in mind. Now, the matter will be complicated by rumors that the Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to trade for Miller, and depending on what that potential return could be, that will be the next friction point in the polarized Chiller vs. Killer debate. We welcome it.

As said earlier- the gap between the two is not that big. Chiller is younger, more talented and carries a better cap hit (at least for one more season). Killer doesn’t measure up on paper, but the games aren’t played on paper. He’s an ideal third-pairing D who makes the Bruins tough to play against and you need those guys to win in the NHL. It may not earn you much street cred on message boards and subreddits, but the coaches obviously trusted Killer, or else he wouldn’t have been in the lineup ahead of Chiller when the rubber met the road in the playoffs. Building winning hockey teams means sometimes choosing a less-skilled player who brings more of a complete body of work and who is trusted in key situations over someone with greater talent but who struggles with decisions and making the right plays. That the Bruins valued Killer over Chiller? That’s for the GM to explain if he chooses to do so, but at TSP- we don’t have a problem with it.

Now, with both Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller back on the roster, it remains to be seen if Sweeney can move one of them to free up some cap room and streamline the team going forward. Both players are good soldiers, but one of them probably should move on at some point.

We’ll see what happens next.

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Patrice Bergeron won his fourth Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward tonight, joining Canadiens star Bob Gainey as the only player to win four of those awards. As a finalist in 2013 (barely losing to Jonathan Toews) and 2016 (ditto to Anze Kopitar) he might be on a six-year streak had a few votes not gone his way.

But seriously, is there anything this guy can’t do? He’s Boston’s Mr. Everything.

Oh, and he did it all this season, while playing with a hernia.

He’s headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame when it is all said and done- he’d be a lot closer to 1,000 career games and 1,000 points had he not missed an entire year and a half to lockouts and most of another to a concussion thanks to a hit from behind.

Bergeron is Boston’s heart and soul.

Audio post: Bruins options for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft

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Hello, all- as promised…back with the second part of what we started on Monday, which was an in-depth look at the players the Boston Bruins made available to the Vegas Golden Knights (VGK) for tonight’s Expansion Draft.

In this one-hour audio post, founder Kirk Luedeke looks at some players that make sense for the B’s in the first couple of rounds. Is one of your targets on his list? Listen and find out. While this is a Bruins-centric blog, fans of other teams welcome- he just might cover some players you are interested in and want to know more about.

 

Post script- Only guy I missed from my New England Hockey Journal Bruins draft preview is Czech C Filip Chytil. Chytil has good height, length and is an excellent skater who plays with pace. He’s typically projected in the 40’s and beyond, but he was a late riser after a strong U18s and overcoming some injuries. He’s probably overvalued at 18, but we’ve seen teams grab dark horses before, especially in a draft like this one. Chytil is a first-round talent at least, and TSN’s Craig Button pushed him into his 1st round in his last edition. So, Chytil’s not in the audio file, but should the B’s (or your favorite team) end up with him- here you go.

New England Hockey Journal June issue: Boston Bruins Draft Preview

http://www.hockeyjournal.com/nehj_201706/index.html

 

Audio post: Bruins and the Expansion Draft (Also debating Colin vs. Kevan Miller)

Here’s an audio post (non-3 amigos) where your founder covers his thoughts on the Boston Bruins list of available to the Vegas Golden Knights in this week’s expansion draft.

We start with the available forwards and go down the list with points about each for your consideration.

Also engaged in a conversation on Twitter about wisdom of protecting Kevan Miller over Colin Miller, so the counterpoint of Killer vs. Chiller is presented here for your awareness and agreement or disagreement. Bottom line- building winning teams is not just about stockpiling talent, and there’s no guarantee that the B’s could get enough of a return to justify losing their perceived value K. Miller brings vs. the other Miller.

Here’s the audio file- It runs a little over an hour. Sorry, you have to listen to it on the site. Will try to post it to Soundcloud at some point for ease of download.

As always- thanks for reading/listening.

 

Bruins 2017 NHL Draft Primer

Your TSP founder posted this on the Boston Bruins Reddit yesterday, so it might as well go up here:

What: 2017 NHL Entry Draft

When: Round 1- Friday June 23 (6 pm EST), Rounds 2-7 Saturday June 24 (beginning at 9 a.m. EST) Televised on NBCSN

Where: United Center; Chicago, IL

Bruins selections: (6 total- R1, R2, R4, R6 R7x2)

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3 Amigos Podcast: What’s Next for the Bruins (Pt 15)- the Finale

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The 3 Amigos are back with a 90-minute podcast in which we put the finishing touch in the “What’s Next” for the Bruins series at this blog. It’s now June and that means expansion draft and NHL Entry Draft, with July giving way to the major roster-shaping period.

Listen to the pod for an idea of the shape we think the team is in and what challenges and key events Don Sweeney is focusing on. We also talk Anders Bjork, who the Vegas Golden Knights might pluck from the roster, NHL draft options, and myriad other things.

You can listen here:

Bjork signs 3-year ELC

Anders Bjork is in the fold- the Boston Bruins announced the signing of one of their prized prospects today to a three-year entry-level contract.

There isn’t a great deal more to say that hasn’t been covered on this blog space about the now former Notre Dame Fighting Irish star. He has exceeded expectations to date and while the B’s wanted to sign him earlier and get him into the big lineup at the end of the regular season and possibly playoffs, ND’s extended run to the Frozen Four put the kibosh on that.

The offseason and a trip to the World Championships where he played sparingly with Team USA gave the B’s another opportunity to get his name on a contract, and so now it will be interesting to see where in the lineup he ends up. It won’t be just handed to him, but we have to think there were certain discussions that convinced him to forego his senior season and a chance to test unrestricted free agency (where the Blackhawks were already rumored to be circling like vultures) to stick with Boston.

Of course- Bjork has said publicly that the B’s said and did all the right things (you can check out his interview with CBS Boston.com’s Matt Kalman here), so ultimately- fans should give both sides credit here for getting a deal done and one of the organization’s top prospects into the pro ranks where he could have a chance to make an immediate impact. Just don’t ask us to project where he’s going to be in the Boston lineup- it’s late May. Let’s see what happens next, first.

Now, it’s onto the offseason, the expansion draft, entry draft and what should be a decision point for Don Sweeney to perhaps make a trade or three to free up some breathing room in the organization while upgrading his NHL roster in the process. He has the organizational assets to do something, and with Bjork on board, flexibility to pare things down a bit and streamline.

This whole re-tooling on the fly thing seems to be working out well enough…

 

Dominic Tiano: Windsor Spitfires- 2017 Memorial Cup Champions

Editor’s Note- Dominic Tiano is here with his thoughts on Windsor’s third Memorial Cup (CHL) championship in 9 years, plus an opinion addressing comments about the storied tournament’s format. Based in Stratford, Ontario- there aren’t many out there with a better handle on the OHL than Dom- enjoy. -KL

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2017 Memorial Cup

Photo credit: Aaron Bell/CHL Images

The Windsor Spitfires have captured 2017 Master Card Memorial Cup with a 4 – 3 victory over their Ontario Hockey League cousins, the Erie Otters. 2017 marked the 99th addition of the Memorial Cup, putting it up there with the Stanley Cup (1892) and the Grey Cup (1909) for longevity in North American team sports trophies.

It is the third consecutive Memorial Cup victory for an Ontario Hockey League franchise, just the third time a league has captured three straight under the current format which began in 1984. The Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League captured the Cup back to back in 1987 and 1988 while the Swift Current Broncos won in 1989. Only three teams participated in 1987 as the OHL decided to send just one entry.

The Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League captured the Cup in 2011 followed by the Shawinigan Cataractes – the last host team to win before the Spitfires – in 2012 and the Halifax Mooseheads in 2013. It’s the Spitfires third championship, trailing only the Oshawa Generals (5) and the Regina Pats (4) for cup victories.

The biggest complaint I receive, and I admit they come mostly from friends south of the border, is that they think the format is ridiculous and there should be no such thing as a host team. The CHL has in the past tried neutral sites, but they, for the most part, were unsuccessful. One must remember the CHL is a business and it requires revenue to be sustainable.

So, fans ask me then “why can’t one of the three championship teams host?” Well, simply put, you can’t organize an event like the Memorial Cup in a matter of days. You can’t organize hundreds of volunteers, you can’t plan the off-ice events, you can’t sell tickets in advance, the list goes on and on. I’m not going to explain what the Memorial Cup stands for, that information is out there, but many Canadians are not ready to exclude the men and women who serve in our armed forces. And before the CHL names a host city, they make sure that the team that hosts is competitive and has a chance to win.

I’m not going to let that take away from the Spitfires accomplishment.

They went a perfect 4-0 in the playoff. They defeated three league champions, including the Otters twice. The Spitfires have won 12 consecutive Memorial Cup games (tying a CHL record) going back to 2009, their first of back to back Cup victories. Heading into the final, they hadn’t trailed at any time until the second period, but those two Erie leads were short lived.

In a season when Logan Brown (Ottawa Senators – 11th overall in 2016) and Logan Stanley (Winnipeg Jets – 18th overall in 2016) missed 33 games apiece, Gabriel Vilardi (top prospect for 2017) missed 19 games, Mikhail Sergachev (Montreal Canadiens – 9th overall in 2016) missed 18 games, they remained competitive in the Western Conference that included the Otters, London Knights, Owen Sound Attack and the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds.

With all due respect to Saint John and Seattle, they didn’t have to battle through the competition Erie and Windsor did.

For the first time this season, the Spitfires had a full roster and everyone was healthy. Much was said about their 44-day layoff and how prepared they would be after the longest layoff in Memorial Cup history.

Much credit goes to head coach Rocky Thompson, who came up with a plan, brought people in from outside the organization to help train, and kept his team in top condition. Thompson is an analytical coach, and I’m not talking advanced stats. He analyzes situations and he adapts quickly, but most importantly, his players hear his message and they execute. It was never more evident then it was in the third period versus the Otters once they took the 4-3 lead. Thompson is the first coach to win a Memorial Cup before a league championship.

It all began for the Spitfires on Friday May 19th when they opened against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Champion Saint John Sea Dogs winning 3-2. You can watch highlights here

http://ontariohockeyleague.com/video/saint-john-2-windsor-3-gm1-highlights .

On Sunday May 21st, they defeated the Western Hockey League champs Seattle Thunderbirds handily 7-1. You can watch those highlights here

http://ontariohockeyleague.com/video/windsor-7-seattle-1-gm3-highlights .

On Wednesday May 24th, they completed the trifecta of league champions, defeating the Otters 4-2 and getting a birth in the finals while the Otters and Sea Dogs had to battle for a spot in the final. Highlights of the win over the Otters can be seen here

http://ontariohockeyleague.com/video/windsor-4-erie-2-gm6-highlights .

Master Card Memorial Cup Individual award winners:

Dylan Strome won both the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as Most Valuable Player and Ed Chynoweth Trophy as leading scorer.

Michael DiPietro won the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy as the Most Outstanding Goaltender.

Anthony Cirelli won the George Parsons Trophy as the Most Sportsmanlike Player.

DiPietro was joined by teammates Sergachev and Vilardi on the all-star team. Strome was joined by teammates Taylor and Darren Raddysh.

You can catch highlights of the game here

http://mastercardmemorialcup.ca/video/erie-3-windsor-4-final-highlights

Memorial Day repost- What Saving Private Ryan can teach us about Sacrifice

Editor’s note- Published this back in November for Veteran’s Day 2016, and bringing it back for Memorial Day.- KL

I had a chance to watch Saving Private Ryan again over the weekend for the first time since it came out in 1998, which might be surprising to some. The reality is- after doing multiple combat tours in Iraq (with the 3rd and 1st Infantry Divisions and 1st Cavalry Division) and another in Afghanistan (again with the 1st Cavalry Division) from 2004-2014, the movie wasn’t high on my list of things to see again because I didn’t know how I would react to some of the visceral images and a host of emotions the film was sure to evoke.

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