Studnicka named to 2020 AHL All-Rookie Team

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

The AHL released its 2019-20 All-Rookie team this afternoon and to the surprise of no one, Providence Bruins center Jack Studnicka was the first Bruins prospect named to a top-rookie squad since Austin Czarnik and Frank Vatrano both made the 2016 version.

Studnicka’s numbers were solid- 23 goals, 49 points in 60 games to lead the Baby B’s, but his league-leading 7 shorthanded goals is eye-opening because it speaks to his potential to create offense in any situation.

The 53rd overall pick in 2017 has performed like a first-round selection since the B’s tabbed the former Oshawa Generals captain who finished his OHL career with the Niagara Ice Dogs.

For more on Studnicka, Eric Russo published a detailed article on Providence head coach Jay Leach, sharing the B’s bench boss’s observations on some of Boston’s top prospects playing on the farm. It’s worth a read if you haven’t seen it, and check it out here. Leach had this to say about Studnicka:

“Studdy, for all intents and purposes, had a terrific year. Twenty-year-old kid jumps right in, plays every real scenario. Down the stretch, I was really leaning on him and Cameron Hughes as the guys to seal some games out for us. His competitiveness, his speed, his hockey sense really shone through and was able to be very productive on both sides of the puck. I think he had a terrific year.”

While we’re not sure about the ‘Studdy’ thing (Studs has a much better ring to it), there is no denying that he’s been nails in his first full pro season and that the Bruins were aces in their scouting of him.  Full credit for them recognizing that he was trending up after a strong playoff and U18 performance and was undervalued after struggling to meet expectations early in the season. Sometimes, scouts will move on from a player if he disappoints early on, and if they don’t catch him at the right time when he peaks, could end up missing the boat.

Russo followed up with another piece on Studnicka’s season, interviewing the man of the hour here.

A few highlights:

“There’s not older and younger guys, it’s just more team atmosphere and everyone loved coming to the rink and loved playing together. I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that I really think we had something special down there, the way it was a team-first mentality. Everybody was happy with each other’s success. At the end of the day, we just wanted to win the hockey game.”- Studnicka

“I’m not as strong as a lot of the players in pro hockey,” said Studnicka, who named Patrice Bergeron, Charlie Coyle, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane as players he has tried to learn from. “We kind of keyed on ways to get around that in the offensive zone, whether that’s protecting the puck or holding onto the puck or taking space that you have to separate from your guy in the offensive zone.

“[The organization] just wanted to make sure that I was always approaching the game to play a 200-foot game and not cheating on offense, just making sure that I’m playing the right way and taking care of the defensive zone and the offense will come.”

It is our firm position that Studnicka is ready for the NHL full-time in 20-21 and in a few years, is going to end up being one of Boston’s more respected and productive players. That’s the prediction and we’re sticking to it.

We’ll have more on Studnicka and his selection in the next 3 Amigos + 1 podcast coming soon.

3 Amigos + BN Podcast coming soon

The 3 Amigos will ride again- it’s been nearly 2 months since our last podcast, so we figured we would get together and talk some hockey.

This time, we will be joined by Bruins Network’s Anthony Kwetkowski, so you will all get 4 for the price 1!

As we did before, we are interested in answering your questions, so if you have any for us, please submit those questions in the comments section of this post, or feel free to contact us via Twitter.

We plan to record in the next couple of days, so if you have a question you want us to answer, we’ll need those by Wednesday morning.

 

Off the top of the head: Roman Bychkov

The march through the Bruins prospects stable continues with Boston’s 5th-rounder last June, a flyer pick out of Russia who has the skills to translate to the modern NHL…if he ever comes over.- KL

Roman Bychkov, D Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)

Boston’s 3rd choice (5th round), 154th overall in 2019 NHL Entry Draft

Strengths: Left-shot D is an excellent skater who moves with fluid agility and has some real jump in his first couple of steps. Closes on pucks quickly in retrievals and effortlessly manages his gaps as he backs up against speed. Able to escape an aggressive forecheck with a nifty wiggle/shift and crisp edging to maintain balance and momentum. Superb puckhandler and passer- makes outlets and breakouts look easy. Intelligent and poised with the puck. Activates smartly and brings a confident, playmaking mindset in the offensive zone to step and pinch to boost the possession game. Plays with some jam and F-U…borderline dirty at times, but you have to like the competitiveness- he’s not going to be intimidated.

Weaknesses: Average size- (as is case with most his age) lacking in functional strength. Needs to improve his defensive reads and show more assertiveness when defending the rush. Stick is just OK- will get caught in passivity at times, allowing puck carriers to get around him and generate shots on net.

Overall analysis: When you’re picking second-to-last in every round and didn’t have 2nd and 4th selections, a player like Bychkov is an interesting swing of the draft bat. Playing in Russia’s top junior league, he’s a productive 2-way defenseman and power play weapon who is a breakout machine and uses his superb mobility and skills to get pucks north and in transition. If he were a little bigger and more effective in his own end, you would’ve heard a lot more about him in pre-draft circles, but he was solid at the 2018 World Jr. A Challenge and while not a star player on a loaded Russian team that lost the gold medal game to Team USA in Bonnyville, we like Boston’s thinking here.

Projection: Bychkov is a project player who has an intriguing ceiling if he can mature and better develop his defensive play, because he’s aces in terms of having the wheels and with the puck on his stick is a difference-maker at this level. He’s going to need time to play pro hockey in Russia and then likely break in slowly with Providence in a couple of years. When you’re talking about a pick that happened closer to the 6th round than the 5th, this is a player you can get behind to track going forward.

While we’re not seeing top-3 D potential at the NHL level right now, the tools are there for him to evolve into something closer if he addresses the shortcomings in his raw, but projectable game. Think of him as a similar kind of player to a poor man’s Vince Dunn– offensively capable, but the defense is a work in progress and not going to play a lot of minutes early on. Let’s face it- if teams felt he had that kind of potential (Dunn was a second-round pick), he would not have been on the board at 154, but he’s not one of those safe/high-floor players either- we get the sense that Bychkov will play his way into the mix with Boston, or we won’t ever even see him get close. But that payoff could be worth the wait.

***

Not much video out there on Bychkov that I am allowed to post, but here’s a YouTube clip from his 16-YO season- he’s No. 8 and on PP watch his lateral mobility and quick release to get the puck to the net from the point for the tip-goal. Smooth. (At about 2:25 of the video)

Again- on first Russian goal vs Finland (second assist), you can see how poised he is in the offensive zone- aggressively pinches down and works the puck to the net; after a rebound, the play is finished off. Easy to talk about, harder to execute.

May 15, 1967: Schmidt, Bruins pull off the “most lopsided trade in NHL history”

Espo Hodge

As the 1966-67 season concluded, significant change was about to happen in the National Hockey League, as it prepared to double in size from six teams to twelve. Expansion meant the end of the NHL’s Original Six era, but at the same time, something special was brewing in Boston.

After years of waiting in eager anticipation, the sad-sack Bruins and the club’s fans were rewarded with the 18-year-old hockey prodigy Robert Gordon “Bobby” Orr. The precocious blueliner arrived to remarkable fanfare in an age well before the proliferation of the internet and social media, more than living up to the hype that followed him down from Canada. Having been touted as a player who could help reverse Boston’s fortunes on ice, the rookie Orr took no time to establish himself in the NHL, going on to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best first-year player. However, superb as Orr’s performance was, hockey is a team game, and he was just one man. His presence alone was not enough to secure a finish better than fifth for the first time since 1959.

The Bruins had been moribund for the entire decade of the 1960’s, finishing sixth, or last in the field five of seven years before Orr suited up for his first professional game. Prior to that, the B’s had not won a Stanley Cup championship since 1941, the season before the league’s Original Six era began in 1942-43. Long gone were the championships authored by stalwarts like Eddie Shore, Aubrey ‘Dit’ Clapper, Cecil ‘Tiny’ Thompson, Lionel Hitchman, Milt Schmidt and Frank ‘Mr. Zero’ Brimsek. An entire generation had grown up in Boston without a championship in hockey, and the pressure was on to make the team competitive again. Or, at the very least, get out of the shadow of a powerhouse they shared the Boston Garden with.

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2006: Turning Point

Brad_Marchand

Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

(This is a re-worked and updated story done for the New England Hockey Journal in 2011- KL)

If ever there was a year that altered an NHL franchise’s destiny, 2006 was the pivotal one for the Boston Bruins as we look back nearly a decade-and-a-half later.

As the calendar flipped over to January 2006, the post-lockout campaign was a disaster.

Already, the team traded its captain and 1997 first overall pick Joe Thornton. Soon, it would fire GM Mike O’Connell and head coach Mike Sullivan. The B’s finished out of the playoffs with the fifth-worst record. Free agent signings supposed to help put the B’s in contention like Alexei Zhamnov and Dave Scatchard were complete busts, with a grand total of 40 games and five goals in Boston between them.

The franchise had stumbled badly in a decade since the bottoming-out of 1997 that had netted Thornton and Sergei Samsonov. That new era that began with so much promise when the latter took NHL Rookie of the Year honors and the late Pat Burns helped lead the B’s back to the postseason in 1998 was about to be officially done when Samsonov was dealt to Edmonton at the trade deadline in a few weeks. Although few realized it in 2006, a series of critical trades, hires, signings and events paved the way for Boston to become a championship city once again.

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Cameron Hughes: Then & Now

Cameron Hughes, C Providence (AHL)/Boston Bruins (NHL)

Hughes then:

March 25, 2016

He stands only about 6-foot and has an extremely light frame that won’t fill out all that much as he matures, but Hughes is gritty and willing to stick his nose in. He’s not ultra speedy, but moves well laterally and brings shifty elusiveness, especially in traffic. Hughes only tallied five goals, and has been more of a passer/playmaker at every level, but his vision and creativity are impressive attributes.

May 5, 2016

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.

June 11, 2016

A highly creative and skilled playmaking pivot, Hughes impressed RLR staffers going back to the 2013-14 season when he was a standout in the AJHL with the Spruce Grove Saints. Unfortunately, Hughes had the double whammy in his draft year of playing on a poor Wisconsin Badgers team, coupled with being physically under-developed in going up against the bigger, stronger, older NCAA competition. Hughes had a better offensive season as a sophomore and showed some flashes of NHL-caliber ability (he could work his way up to second-line center one day, as crazy as that might sound today), but the consistent production wasn’t there for him. Under a new coach and perhaps being a year older and a better surrounding cast, watch Hughes to open up some eyes this coming year.

May 16, 2017

Hughes has always been more of a set-up man than finisher, but with his offensive potential, it makes sense to hold onto him, put him in Providence and see what happens next. Of course- with so many prospects in the pipeline and a 50-contract limit for Sweeney and cap/roster management-centric assistant GM John Ferguson Jr. to work against, it’s also possible that Hughes might not make the final cut.

The key thing here is that Hughes has taken positive steps every season since being drafted, and as long as he continues to produce and play well as one of Wisconsin’s veteran leaders, there’s the chance that even if the B’s have to make a tough decision regarding his future in Boston, they can still leverage him for a future asset(s) they can kick down the road. Or- Hughes will play so well this season that the team keeps him and moves another player(s) out to give the team enough of a buffer to sign him and keep him in the system.

It’s one of those things you file under: “a good problem to have.”

Cameron Hughes now:

The Wisconsin Badgers former captain signed his ELC with the Bruins at the conclusion of his senior season in 2018, and he’s had modest offensive success at the AHL level. His rookie season (28 points in 52 games) was better than this past year when his production fell off (16 in 44), but that was impacted by a concussion he suffered taking a big hit (from former Providence and Bruins D Tommy Cross)  that forced him out of the Providence lineup for a time. He made his NHL debut on Nov. 4, playing in one scoreless game with the Bruins against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A high-end playmaking/passing center, it’s hindsight now, but Wisconsin didn’t do him any favors by bringing him into the B1G 10 as a 17-year-old true freshman. He was physically underdeveloped, and it took him some time to get going- a year in the USHL would have likely served him much better, but it’s water under the bridge. Had Hughes gone to the ‘U’ there’s a good chance he would not have fallen into the sixth round, where the Bruins got a pretty good value pick after he was projected to be a top-3-round pick entering the 2014-15 season.

He still has the wheels, pure skill and brains to create offense. He’s a shade under 6-feet in height, and is still pretty light on the scales at about 170 pounds. His shifty, crafty style of play is noticeable on the ice, as he sees the ice well and is often able to elude checkers to find seams in defenses. Unfortunately, he’s also susceptible to taking big hits and this past season, it caught up to him.

Outlook: 

Hughes has the talent and IQ to be a solid depth forward at the NHL level, but isn’t likely ever going to develop into a top-2 line guy. Our biggest question with him has always been: is he a ‘tweener?

Hughes was not a prolific goal scorer even at the lower levels; not once in four years at Wisconsin did he ever produce double digit tallies (nor did he have a point-per-game season in Madison). Nevertheless, he’s always tallied some strikes that are jaw-dropping in nature, and so he has it in him to score a bit at the highest level, even if it’s not going to be a regular occurrence.

He moves his feet, skates with his head up and has some impressive net-drive moves to get to pucks and put them away. His best attributes are his vision, hands and work ethic. He was captain at Wisconsin and is a respected member of the teams he’s on.

At this stage of his development, he’s got an opportunity to make more of an impact at the AHL level as he continues to gain pro hockey experience. If he can use his positive attributes to play an effective three-zone game, he could make a push to establish himself on the lower lines in Boston at some point.

Realistically, it’s a pretty crowded field, and the impression we’re left with is that he might be more of a journeyman player who will need a change of scenery to set himself up best to be an every day NHLer. For a sixth-round pick, he’s done well, but we’d be surprised if he beats out other centers in Boston’s system (including his Wisconsin and current Providence teammate Trent Frederic) to carve out a niche in the Black and Gold.

 

Here’s a replay of his greatest NCAA goal, scored against Boston College in the fall of 2016. Warning- Filth factor is an 11 on the 10-scale:

Here’s a fun video from Wisconsin days with Frederic…

Boston Bruins 1979 Draft Flashback: Ray-sing the Stakes

Bourque

As the decade of the 1970s drew to a close, the United States struggled through a sluggish economy, long gas lines, and growing tensions in the Middle East with ominous warning clouds gathering over Iran and Afghanistan. 1979 also marked the year in which the Boston Bruins held the most important and impactful draft in the team’s history.

            Even if the fruits of the ’79 entry draft (the first year of the name change after having previously been known as the NHL amateur draft since 1963) did not result in a Stanley Cup championship in Boston, each of the seven players the B’s drafted saw NHL action. In fact, the elements of that wildly successful class of players ensured that the B’s remained contenders throughout the entire decade of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s, with a pair of Stanley Cup final appearances in 1988 and 1990, as well as three more trips to the conference final series between 1983-1992.

            The fact that the 1979 NHL draft class as a whole is considered to be the greatest of all (though 2003 will challenge that assertion when all is said and done) underscores the importance of Bruins GM Harry Sinden and his scouting staff’s tremendous haul, the centerpiece of which was a defenseman who would go on to be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest offensive producers in NHL history with 1,579 points in 1,612 career games with the Bruins and Colorado Avalanche: Raymond Bourque.

            The Bruins could have called it a day alone with the selection of Bourque, but they went on to add a pair of 200+ NHL goal scorers in Keith Crowder and Mike Krushelnyski, while landing one of the powerhouse Brandon Wheat Kings’ biggest stars in Brad McCrimmon, who would go on to be one of the top stay-at-home defensemen, with more than 1,200 career big league games under his belt.

            Although this group was unable to secure hockey’s ultimate prize for Boston, the B’s Class of ’79 is rivaled only by the 1980 and 2006 team drafts as the most critical in franchise history.

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Throwback Thursday: Tim Thomas interview circa 2001

Here’s another article lost to cyberspace when HockeyJournal.com went to a different format in 2007. Luckily, it lives on in the archives, and it’s an interesting exercise to go back and look at Tim Thomas in his first Bruins training camp and preseason nearly 19 years ago. Who knew how good he would end up being? Well, if you were paying attention to the early results, the signs were there. Enjoy. -KL

2002-03-Pacific-Titanium-Tim-Thomas-Rookie-Card-99

How Tim Thomas looked when he first arrived in Boston as a free agent in 2001

Teaser: When the Boston Bruins released their 2001 Training Camp roster, goaltender Tim Thomas’ name met with very little response from the fans.  Thomas, a former standout at the University of Vermont, has taken a most diverse road in his quest to stop pucks at the NHL-level, and one thing you quickly realize about the Michigan native is that he is a survivor.  His experiences playing hockey in North America and in Europe, playing hockey at some of the highest levels, have given Thomas a unique perspective that very few major league goaltenders can even begin to comprehend.  Join HockeyJournal.com’s Kirk Luedeke, who talked to Boston’s travelin’ man about the differences of playing at home and abroad, his childhood heroes and where his impressive preseason performance in net for the Bruins could take him.

***

            In the mid-nineties, Michigan native Tim Thomas was an outstanding goaltender and All-American from the University of Vermont.  After his stellar career with the Catamounts wrapped up, Thomas turned pro, but the one-time Quebec Nordiques draft choice seemed to get lost in the shuffle and dropped off most North American hockey radars.

            Until now.

            Four years and five different professional leagues later, Thomas, 27, is making a serious run at the backup duties on the Boston Bruins, impressing spectators with the kind of veteran poise you would expect of someone who has seen significant ice time in the National Hockey League.  The only problem with that assertion is that Thomas has never played a single minute in the NHL.  You’d never guess that by watching him, however.

          In camp, Thomas was virtually unbeatable in scrimmages and during the club’s annual Black and White game played at Ristuccia Memorial Arena in Wilmington.  Then, when the team went 2-0 to start the 2001 exhibition season in Detroit and Montreal, Thomas played nearly 60 minutes (58:55) in both contests, giving up just one score while facing 34 shots on net.

            “I had two pretty good showings (in Detroit and Montreal), I suppose,” Thomas told HockeyJournal.com in what appears to be a real talent for understatement.

            Thomas’ performance has arguably been the most impressive of any Bruin at camp this year, coming out of nowhere to make a name for himself despite a lack of fanfare.  In fact, even his number would seem to indicate that the team had little confidence that Thomas would be able to stick, assigning him decidedly un-goalie-like number 70.

            “That’s the number they gave me,” said Thomas, who wore number 32 in college and is also partial to number 37.  “Both of those numbers were taken, so I just kind of went with it.  So far, the number 70 has been working out for me, so I’m not in any hurry to change it.”

            In fact, Bruins goalie Matt Delguidice was the last Bruin netminder to wear those digits in a regular season game when he appeared in a few short minutes of relief during the 1990-91 season (he later switched to 33), but Thomas hopes he can successfully bring 70 back from hiatus.  If his play thus far is any indication, he’s well on his way.

            “It’s gone pretty well for me, but the guys who’ve been playing in front of me deserve most of the credit,” he said.  “It has been one of those things where you’re getting the kind of defense that allows you to see the shots and then do what a goaltender must do, and that’s stop the puck.”

            Thomas turned pro in 1997-98, and spent time in the ECHL, IHL and even went over to Finland’s Elite League with HIFK Helsinki, where he was a stellar 13-4-1 with a 1.64 goals-against-average and .947 save percentage in 18 games.  Since then, he has played for the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, the Detroit Vipers, and most recently, AIK Solna in the Swedish Elite League last year, where he posted a very solid 2.48 GAA in 43 games against some of the best skaters that country has to offer.  Thomas’ extensive travels throughout hockey cities in North America and Europe, have given him a perspective that few can appreciate.

            “It has been unique seeing it all,” said Thomas on the various leagues and talent levels he’s been exposed to in his professional career.  “The AHL and IHL were two very different leagues.  The IHL had older, more experienced players and most teams in the ‘I’ played a defense-oriented style.  It was pretty much dump-in, dump-out, and if you were watching it from the bench, it could get quite boring.

          “The AHL featured younger, more skilled players, and I think the hockey there was definitely more offense-based.  I’m not saying the defense was bad, but because the guys were younger, I think the game was much more free-flowing in the AHL and that probably had a lot to do with the fact that overall, the players on both the offense and defense were younger than the guys in the IHL.”

            Thomas found the bigger ice surface in Europe to be both a hindrance and a help for obvious reasons.  “In Sweden and Finland, the size of the ice surface makes a difference,” he said.   “That extra second of time and space gives the players over there the kind of room to create and make things happen, and they always use that extra time.  As a goaltender, you have to really be able to see the play develop and react to it quicker because the skaters are skilled and have more room to make plays.”

            For a goaltender like Thomas, who isn’t much of a puckhandler, the larger ice surface gave him more time play the puck behind the net, something he doesn’t get in North America with the smaller rinks and skill players.  “I only really like to play the puck when forced.  Even at UVM, we had a bigger surface than most, so after competing in Europe, I’ve had to get used to having less time when I leave the net. I’ve talked to Coach (Robbie) Ftorek about this, and I realize that I have to improve my play with the puck.”

            Thomas grew up in Michigan, but his idols on the ice weren’t the traditional Detroit Red Wings players that one would immediately assume he would look up to.  Instead, Thomas emulated his goaltending heroes on the Flint Generals (IHL), Steve Penney and Rick Knickle, who at 37, became the oldest player to ever debut in the NHL when he came up for a cup of coffee with the L.A. Kings in 1992-93.  As for Penney, Bruins fans who remember the 1983-84 postseason no doubt curse his name whenever they hear it.  Penney was Montreal’s rookie netminder who stunned a high-powered Bruins squad in a major upset, yet never achieved much success in the NHL after that.

`            “I had no idea about Penney beating Boston,” said Thomas.  “But then again, I always paid more attention to the IHL.  Ray Leblanc (1992 U.S. Olympic Team) is another goalie I remember following when I was younger.  When he played, he was a pure butterfly goalie despite the fact that he wasn’t all that big of a guy.  I also watched Eddie Belfour coming up when he played for Flint’s big rivals in Saginaw.”

            Thomas is quick to point out that while he watches a lot of goaltenders, he doesn’t copy their styles, preferring to adopt his own system of what works best in game situations.

         “I think the tendency for a lot of young kids nowadays is to copy their favorite goaltender,” he said.  “I’ve never been one to copy others, because I think you have to find your own style.  I may do something that someone else does, like dropping my stick to cover the puck with my blocker glove the way (Dominik) Hasek does, but that’s because its an effective technique that works for me in certain situations.  I won’t just try to play like somebody else though, because I have to find my own way.”

            Thomas indeed has been forced to find his own way.  The kind of way that has taken him through a host of pro leagues on two different continents.  Many people, including Thomas, say that his varied experiences of seeing so many different players and styles will undoubtedly help him reach his ultimate goal of playing in the NHL.  He realizes that the while differences and subtleties that he picks up from watching skaters of different nationalities and the way they interact on the ice will likely help him in the long run, he must focus on the present and by continuing to play at such a high level, he’s opening eyes in Boston.

            Thomas’ road to a potential roster spot on the Boston Bruins has been quite unusual in the making, but the young goalie is nonplussed.  “It seems I have a taste for the unorthodox,” he said.

          His travels in pro hockey until now have been quite unorthodox, but as long as he keeps stopping pucks as well as he’s been able to since donning the Black and Gold, there’s a good chance that nobody else in Boston will care how he goes about it.

Tim Thomas USHHOF induction speech:

NHL video of Thomas’ top-10 saves

Reed Duthie: Off the top of the head- Oskar Steen

Reed Duthie is back with another deep-dive on a European Bruins prospect- this time, Oskar Steen, who just completed his first North American pro season. The Off the top of the head and Then & Now prospect series are exclusive to The Scouting Post and we hope you are enjoying the analysis of B’s futures. -KL

oskar-steen-2020-32

In the 6th round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft the Boston Bruins used the 165th overall selection on an exciting talent from Karlstad, Sweden who had seen a breakout year jumping from Farjestad BK U20 in the SuperElit to Farjestad BK senior side in the SHL.

Immediately upon his selection Oskar Steen became one of the most intriguing prospects in the Bruins system.

As a 17-year old in the 2015-16 season, Steen was outstanding in the U20 circuit, collecting 8 goals & 24 assists for 32 points in 33 games finishing 2nd on his team, behind only August Gunnarsson who was playing his 19-year old season. Steen earned a callup to Farjestad BK in the SHL for a 17-game run where the diminutive but offensively gifted 17-year old would register 6 assists and even appear in five SHL playoff games.

Beginning the 2016-17 season, Steen clearly showed the brass for Farjestad BK and the Bruins that they had something special, recording 11 points in just 8 games at the U20 level before spending the rest of the season in the senior ranks, skating in 47 games for Farjestad BK and another 4 for legendary Swedish side MoDo in Allsvenskan (where he played with future Bruins draft pick Victor Berglund) and appeared in all 7 playoff games for Farjestad BK. Steen would spend he 2017-18 devleoping in the SHL recording 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points in 45 games for Farjestad BK and appeared in another 5 playoff games for the club but was able to strut his stuff at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships recording 4 points across 7 games playing a key role as a #2 center in Sweden’s silver medal performance.

It was the 2018-19 season that would see Steen kick his game into another gear, leading Farjestad BK in points by a forward with 37 and finishing 2nd on the team to Joakim Nygard in goals with 17 across 46 games following it up with 7 points in 14 playoff games. That run was enough for the Bruins to transition the centerman to North America for the shortened 19-20 season but Steen would show signs of the type of player he can be, finishing his AHL rookie campaign with Providence scoring 7 goals and 16 assists for 23 point, good for 8th on a fairly loaded Providence roster, while showing his durability playing in 60 games (only Ryan Fitzgerald & Josiah Didier played in more, 61 each).

Assets:

Hockey IQ – An incredibly intelligent player, Steen has the ability to read the play well ahead of the pace and react quickly because of it. His advanced mind for the game has allowed him to successfully transition from the junior level to the senior level in his home country of Sweden and then transition again to the AHL all while still being an effective contributor in multiple facets.

Versatility – From using his tremendous intelligence for the game and from his developmental time with Farjestad BK, Steen has developed a very well-rounded game. A contributor for all 200-feet of the ice, Steen is a danger with and without the puck and can play in both power-play and short-handed situations and excel in any situation on the ice.

Speed – Excellent skater with quick acceleration, though his stride will begin somewhat short Steen quickly accelerates and lengthens his stride relying on his low center of gravity and powerful legs to drive him to full speed (think Sami Kapanen).

Vision/Distribution – Though not afraid to shoot the puck, as evidenced by his 17-goal outburst in his final SHL season, Steen is at his best with the puck on his stick locating his teammates with pinpoint passes to free them into open ice and scoring opportunities. Many of Steen’s scoring opportunities have come from defenders overplaying the pass and allowing him to use an ever-improving shot and release to find the back of the net.

Weaknesses:

Size – Not as big of a hindrance as it once was but standing 5’9’’ & 187 lbs, Steen is certainly not the biggest bear in the forest. Steen is able to use his bowling ball-like frame effectively, though he won’t go out of his way for contact he won’t avoid it either, relying on his strong balance, low center of gravity and smarts to win battles. Against larger defenders Steen can be simply outsized but is crafty enough to be able to beat them one-on-one.

Organizational Depth – If Steen were a natural winger his path to the Boston Bruins would be much clearer, however as a center he finds himself in a logjam behind the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle & Sean Kuraly at the NHL level with fellow Providence teammates Jack Studnicka & Trent Frederic knocking on the door and 2019 1st Round Pick John Beecher a little further away.

Future:

A steal of a 6th round pick, Don Sweeney and the Bruins staff (*cough* P.J. Axelsson *cough*) must be commended for finding such a talent late in the draft and for having a hand in quickly developing him into a player who could knock at the door of an NHL spot as early as the 2020-21 season. Steen profiles as a player who could contribute in the middle-6, and brings the type of versatility the Bruins like with a serious offensive flair. With the depth at center in the organization, it would likely benefit both Steen and the Bruins to transition to the wing. A natural right-hand shot, Steen has the intelligence and versatility to excel on either wing and would very quickly cut down his time to an opportunity with the Bruins.

He is a player to keep an eye on, a versatile and skilled  forward with jam who could be another late-round, homegrown talent that could contribute in multiple faces of the game moving forward as the Bruins look to develop their next core of talent.

Oskar Steen with a nice shorty in his final Swedish season before signing with the B’s

 

Urho Vaakanainen: Then & Now

The prospect series returns on Tuesday with a then and now look at Boston’s top selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.- KL

Urho Vaakanainen: Then

June 24, 2017:

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.”

August 9, 2018:

Talent Analysis

Although not overly tall and having a relatively lean build, Vaakanainen plays with a long stick and uses his reach effectively. He’s got fluid feet: very good initial burst, an effortless stride and is crisp and balanced on his edges. This is a player who can move well in all directions- what is known as a “compass skater” in scouting parlance- and has the explosive first couple of steps and quick, smooth direction change that translates well in the short area game, something becoming more and more critical for NHL defenders going forward. Forwards who try to drive wide on him with speed will almost always run out of room to the far wall before they can make that sharp net drive- his feet are simply too good for that.

Intelligent and poised, UV sees the ice and is capable of defending the rush and keeping opponents away from the front of his net with an active stick. An economy of motion player, he is patient and will often allow skaters to take themselves out of lanes because he moves so well and keeps his stick in passing lanes.

Vaakanainen is not an exceptional player with the puck on his stick. When we scouted him at the U-18s two years ago, he moved pucks efficiently, but kept it pretty simple with higher percentage breakouts, a style in stark contrast to Charlie McAvoy, who is dynamic when in possession of the puck and can carry it out on his own when he has ice in front of him. This is not to say UV doesn’t have any skill, but he tends bring a simplified approach- he gets back quickly on retrievals and can then move the puck to the right areas. Where we have seen him get into trouble is when an aggressive forecheck either with an explosive F1 or 2-skater attack gets in on him quickly and forces UV to make faster decisions. In order to maximize his impressive skating, he’s going to have to be more decisive and avoid the temptation to hold onto the puck too long or just try the blind rim, which can lead to d-zone turnovers. He doesn’t have a heavy or overpowering shot- he tends to score by using a quick-release snap shot that he gets off his stick quickly versus an exaggerated windup and clapper. We’d like to see him try and get more pucks to the net, however.

Not a physical defender, UV manages his gaps well, using his lateral agility and long reach to angle effectively and close off skating lanes in the middle of the ice, where attacking forwards are at their most dangerous. The lack of physicality and bulk means that he’ll likely need support from his forwards when the puck gets down low and along the walls.

Overall, the offensive projection is still a work in progress- the B’s don’t need him to shoot the lights out or rack up assists as long as he can help speed the transition game to break pucks out while also keeping the opposition to the outside. His pro experience gives him a refined game, maturity and poise beyond where  many of his peers are- he doesn’t turn 20 until January and many of the guys picked in the same draft are going back to junior for one more year.

Urho Vaakanainen now:

Two years into his North American pro career, Vaakanainen has been a mixed bag so far.

His rookie pro season, split between Providence of the AHL and Boston was derailed with concussion issues, but he showed promise, putting up nearly a half a point per game in the AHL with the Baby B’s- solid production for a player in his first campaign. That was likely a reflection of his several years in the Finnish SM-Liiga, which compares favorably to the level of play seen in the AHL, so unlike junior players who face a transition to pro hockey, Vaakanainen’s transition was more in line with the smaller ice surfaces here versus what he competed on at home.

He made his NHL debut, playing sparingly in Boston before getting hurt (thanks to a dirty Mark Borowiecki elbow when Vaakanainen went to the net looking for a rebound), and missing a bulk of the 18-19 hockey season, with just 32 total appearances split between the show and minor league.

He played more games in 19-20 with Providence, getting into 54 before the AHL season was postponed in March due to COVID-19 (it was officially canceled yesterday). His production. however, was down significantly from where it was the year before, with the same amount of points, but with 24 more games played. He got into five NHL games with the B’s, again playing sparingly as a depth piece during his call up.

When drafted, Vaakanainen was talked about by the team as a 2-way defenseman and other hockey sources touted his offensive upside, but to be frank- we never really saw it. He’s more of a smooth, efficient defender who can chip in offensively and is mobile in retrievals and breakouts, but isn’t the prototype 2-way defender who joins the rush, quarterbacks the power play and is a consistent impact performer at both ends of the ice.

That is not a knock on him, but at the same time, he was not a significant offensive presence in 84 pro league games with JYP and SaiPa in his native Finland, and we’re doubtful that his point production is going to be all that significant at the NHL level. That is not to say that he won’t be a successful defenseman, but expectations should be tempered.

He can skate and move pucks, and has a good stick- those attributes will all help him establish himself as an everyday D at the highest level. We would like to see more of a competitive side and edge to his play- at times, the pace looks pretty average and he’s not all that tough a player to go up against. There are some intriguing positives, and his superb skating is a top carry tool. But we’d be lying if we said we didn’t expect more from him in year two. Granted, the injuries have set him back, but at some point, potential needs to translate into tangible results.

Outlook:

At this stage, he looks to project as more of a middle-of-the-roster depth player than a true blue 1/2 NHL D. You can certainly take that, but given where he was drafted and what some of the other options were at the time, if we redid the 2017 draft’s 1st round, he’s a bubble guy in our view.

The 20-21 is going to be a critical one for Vaakanainen. Smooth and efficient is fine- but on a relatively crowded Boston blue line, you’d like to see some more assertiveness and pop to be comfortable projecting that he’ll develop into an NHL regular. He’s still plenty young and there’s a lot to like, but he’s got his work cut out for him.

***

Sportsnet Clip then: When B’s selected Vaakanainen (note the comments after the pick- not much about offensive upside- all about his defense/stay-at-home acumen as Miro Heiskanen’s D partner in international competition)

NESN video on his 2018 development camp

Here’s the Borowiecki elbow- no call. Bravo to Billy Jaffe for calling out the officials’ incompetence on this one. Ladies and gentlemen- your moern NHL referees- where they can stand mere feet away and watch a flagrant foul but since it happens to some unknown Finnish rookie? No call. But boy- hook some 1st class NHL citizen away from the play with no impact, and you’d better believe the whistle is coming out…gross.