Bruins prospects in their draft years 2013-15

Back with part two of the look at Bruins prospects and how they were projected in their draft seasons by Red Line Report.

In case you missed it, I did this exercise with the 2015-16 NHL Bruins roster here...and part 1- the 2010-12 NHL drafts and B’s prospects and free agents in those draft years are covered here.

And…we’re off:


Ryan Fitzgerald, C Drafted: 120 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 52                    Key comment: “Not big but we like the high hockey IQ and bloodlines.”

Observations: RLR rated him high in 2013, and that might have reflected his standing in the first half of the season with the USPHL’s Valley Jr. Warriors, as he had a downward trend heading into the draft. The nephew of Bruins assistant amateur scouting director Scott Fitzgerald is a gritty, feisty if undersized pivot for Boston College, who is coming off his finest NCAA year as a junior. In similar fashion to Seth Griffith, Fitzgerald’s major knocks are a lack of size and dynamic speed for his stature, but he has terrific hockey sense and a nonstop motor. You have to like his bloodlines- dad Tom Fitzgerald played more than 1,000 games and is Ray Shero’s assistant GM with the New Jersey Devils. Ryan grew up around the game and knows what it takes to be a pro. The Fitzgeralds are hockey royalty in New England, so it looks like the 2013 fourth-rounder will go back to BC for his senior year and then sign in spring 2017 when his eligibility is exhausted.


Linus Arnesson, D Drafted: 59  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 75                       Key comment: “As B.B. King would say- ‘the thrill is gone.'”

Observations: A late 1994-born player, Arnesson likely would have been taken in the late first/early second in 2012, but another year of viewing moved him down in the rankings over a lack of offensive potential. With his size and skating, Arnesson at one time looked like a potential top-2 NHL defenseman who might have some power play chops at the highest level, but as scouts got a longer look at him in an extra 2012-13 campaign, it became more evident that the steady Swede was more of a “safe” and unspectacular positional defensive defenseman than one who joins the rush and has the hands and head to be a presence on the score sheet. The good news for the Bruins is that they didn’t draft Arnesson in the late first round, so getting him at the end of the second was decent value for them. He showed promise at the end of 2014-15, when he came over to finish the season in Providence, but this past year- his first full AHL campaign was a bit of a bust as he battled nagging injuries and rollercoaster play. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a future in the Bruins organization, and as a guy who plays a vanilla game, he could earn a recall at some point if the team needs a solid defensive presence. Having said that, he looks like something the B’s already have in abundance: a 4/5/6 player who provides okay depth but best case would be an unheralded second pairing D who puts up at best 15-20 points a season but works well with a more offense-minded partner. The old adage on defense in hockey says that if a player is doing his job well, you don’t notice him. That appears to be the case with Arnesson, but the Bruins were hoping for more than that when they took him with their top choice three years ago (after giving up their first-rounder to Dallas for Jaromir Jagr).


Peter Cehlarik, LW Drafted: 89  (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 111                         Key comment: “Tall & lanky with great hands but feet betray him.”

Observations: This late riser ended up generating some draft buzz and is still an intriguing if oft-forgotten man when it comes to prospect discussions. The Slovak, who has spent the past three seasons playing in Sweden, is a top-six NHL forward dark horse kind of prospect, but he’s also one of those guys who is tough to peg because if he doesn’t make it as a scorer, it’s hard to envision him playing a heavy and responsible enough game to succeed on the third or fourth lines in Boston. His initial first steps are a bit clunky, though with a long, efficient stride, he can work well in open space with good straight line speed. Cehlarik improved his skating from when he was first drafted, but it will never be a strength. He has a quick release that allows him to score goals off the rush- an-instride drive that sometimes handcuffs goalies. He’ll also take the puck in close and shows some pretty fine dangle in getting net minders to open up and commit. Don Sweeney once described the puck coming off his stick as a “slingshot”to me, so there’s that.


Wiley Sherman, D   Drafted: 150  (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 125                 Key comment: “Getting around him is like circumnavigating the globe.”

Observations: Drafted as an identified project, Sherman is similar to O’Gara in that he has a lot of developing to do. The Greenwich, Conn. native is more of a gentle giant at 6-foot-6, but with his wingspan and long reach, along with pretty agile footwork for one so big, he’s tough to beat 1-on-1. He’s not a physical force but is more of a smart positional defender who angles opponents away from his net and sacrifices his body to block shots rather than look for open-ice kill shots and hammering players along the boards. When Sherman has time and space, he’s capable of moving the puck out of his own end, but when the game closes in on him quickly, his processing time lengthens and he can be forced into turning it over. Drafted out of Hotchkiss School, he took an extra year of prep before getting to Harvard, so he’s still pretty raw and will likely take the full two years remaining on his NCAA eligibility before the B’s will assess whether to bring him into the organizational fold.


Anton Blidh, LW      Drafted: 180  (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: One RLR European staffer summed up Blidh succinctly in Newark after the pick was made: “Gritty rugged guy, but no skills.” I’ll admit- have not really seen much to this player in the three years since he was drafted, even when he had a nice 2015 World Jr. tourney for Team Sweden. He’s gritty and rugged, but plays a very simple, straight-line game. It’s a nice fit for what the Bruins like, but Blidh is a dime-a-dozen kind of guy and it stands to reason given where they selected him. He’s not someone who is going to suddenly wake up and start lighting it up, but the team could do a lot worse than Blidh on the fourth line or in a pinch. In other words- as long as you take him for what he is, there’s no reason to get excited.



Ryan Donato, C                        Drafted: 56  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 65               Key comment: “Great bloodlines and hockey sense with soft hands.”

Observations: The B’s grabbed the son of one of their hometown favorites and the pick looks solid two years later. Coming out of his freshman year at Harvard under dad, Ted, the younger Donato also earned a Bronze medal at the 2016 WJC with Team USA. He’s always been a heady, creative playmaking center who is bigger than his dad but doesn’t have the blazing wheels. With the Crimson, Donato showed signs of being on track to be a dominant NCAA scorer in the next couple of years. The B’s can afford to be patient with him and they will- there is no reason to rush him to the big show.


Danton Heinen, LW/RW           Drafted: 116 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: Nobody (outside of the NHL clubs on him) hit on Heinen…not one scouting service had him even ranked, and RLR was no exception. Two years later, Heinen scored nearly 100 points, making an immediate impact as a freshman and then following it up as a sophomore, leading the Pioneers in scoring after a slow start. He signed with Boston in April, giving up his last two years of NCAA eligibility to turn pro. Heinen made positive waves in his first AHL contest with Providence, registering a multi-point effort. He came down to earth a bit in the playoffs, but the British Columbia native looks like an intriguing playmaking wing, who uses his superior vision and creativity to control the flow and tempo in the offensive zone. He looks like a keeper. As for the questions surrounding Heinen and whether he can make the Boston roster right away, it probably wouldn’t kill folks to exert a little more patience and let him at least start in Providence to see how he adjusts to the pro challenges. He’s a talented forward with an intriguing ceiling if he continues his development, but let’s see how Heinen looks at his first pro training camp before penciling him into the Boston opening night lineup.


Anders Bjork,  RW      Drafted: 146 (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 178               Key comment: “Has the skating and the work ethic to make it as a checker.”

Observations: This late-round value pick is coming off a very good sophomore campaign at Notre Dame. He’s quick out of the starting blocks, accelerating quickly and demonstrating a nice short-area burst, which makes him highly effective on the fore check. He’s an energetic player and relentless in puck pursuit, but with the Fighting Irish this season, Bjork showed surprisingly consistent offensive flair, leading the club in scoring. He’ll need to keep putting up the points to project as something more than an ideal third-line forward, so expect him to come down to earth a bit next season, but he certainly looks like a nice value pick in the fifth round for the B’s because of his well-rounded game and smarts.


Emil Johansson, D      Drafted: 206 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: A lack of hockey sense had him off of RLR’s list, but Johansson had a strong finish to the 2015-16 season that might earn him more of a hard look going forward. He’s got a bit of a doughy build and has been knocked for his conditioning in the past. Johansson is a capable skater who moves well laterally, and handles the puck with confidence. When it comes to vision and hockey IQ, we’re not all that sure if he’s got what it takes between the ears to play at the NHL level, but admittedly- he’s made a case to at least be in the conversation. It appears he is leaving his HV71 club for MoDo, so we’ll see what comes next in his development.


Colby Cave, C         Drafted: Undrafted (Free Agent- Boston 2015)

Red Line ranking: 85                  Key comment: “Complete centre is versatile- can excel in any role.”

Observations: Ranked in both 2013 and 2014 RLR draft guides, he’s an industrious two-way center that impressed in Swift Current with 2015 first-rounder Jake DeBrusk before getting signed by Boston before the team made his teammate one of three top-15 picks in Sunrise. He skates well and like Bjork shows some real energy and tenacity when pressuring the opposing puck carrier coming out of the zone. He didn’t put up big numbers in Providence, but had his moments and looks like he could challenge for lower line duty in Boston if he keeps progressing.



Jakub Zboril, D         Drafted: 13 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 26                  Key comment: “Intense, and a physical specimen with a cannon shot.”

Observations: The Bruins missed out on an impressive top tier of defenders in the top-10, instead settling for arguably the next best player in Zboril, at least in terms of talent. Ability-wise, there is no doubt the Czech product could be a top-3 defenseman in the NHL one day, but the consistency and effort levels were at times lacking in his draft season. He took a step back statistically this past year, struggling at the beginning of the season before settling into a more defense-oriented role for Danny Flynn’s Saint John Sea Dogs. Zboril plays with a physical edge and when on his game, he’s as good as anyone, but the wavering intensity and at times nonchalance has led to questions about his commitment. We’ll see if he can mature and figure it out, but there’s a reason he wasn’t a top-10 pick a year ago, and Zboril didn’t help himself a great deal last season. This time around, a bounce-back campaign would be nice, but because he’s a 1997-born player, he either has to make the Boston roster out of camp or go back to the QMJHL. That has led to speculation that he might take his game to Europe in 2016-17.


Jake DeBrusk, LW        Drafted: 14 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 25                  Key comment: “42 goals and NHL bloodlines will attract attention.”

Observations: The son of former NHL enforcer Lou DeBrusk, the Red Deer Rebels forward finished strong with an excellent WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament after a tough year offensively. Dogged by a significant lower-body injury early on, DeBrusk was then traded by Swift Current to the Memorial Cup host city club in late December, where he appeared to be getting his production on track before getting moved around various lines and scoring at a little over a point-per-game clip. It was a step down after scoring 42 goals a year ago, but DeBrusk is still a smart winger with impressive offensive hockey sense, and he showed some opportunistic offense with the spotlight on him in the Memorial Cup last month. As a late 1996-born player, the Bruins have options: he is signed and can spend the next season in Providence, or they can return DeBrusk to the WHL for his overage season. He’s a good kid who has been unfairly maligned because of where he was drafted and the fact that most public scouting lists had him in the 20’s, but he went about 10 spots earlier. Still- 42 goals is 42 goals- watch for DeBrusk to elevate his stock because he’s got the skill, smarts and dedication to be more than the sum of his parts. He’s got to get stronger, which could factor into a decision to send him back to junior, and his skating isn’t subpar, but he could stand to add some quickness in his first few steps. He compensates at this level by reading the play so well and bursting to pucks in open ice, but that will be tougher to do in the pro ranks with the reduced time and space.


Zach Senyshyn, RW        Drafted: 15 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 46                  Key comment: “Love his combination of size, skating and edginess.”

Observations: The first big surprise off the draft board in 2015 sparked an immediate wave of negativity from many who had never even seen him play. At 6-2, he can really skate, rapidly exploding to top speed in just a few long strides, and often times blowing by defenders on the outside and taking pucks straight to the net. He went from 26 to 45 goals from his draft season, but there is still significant room for improvement in Senyshyn’s game, and folks should not see failure if he is returned to junior before the next season. Though an impressive physical specimen, Senyshyn still needs to develop a more complete game and avoid the tendency for younger scoring forwards to hang out and wait for their next offensive chance. The payoff on this player could be big so long as people are patient, because he has the natural NHL tools to be a top-six forward one day, but some guys take longer than others, and the B’s can afford to wait a little. Like Zboril, Senyshyn can’t play full-time in the AHL next season if he doesn’t make the Boston roster out of camp.


Brandon Carlo, D                     Drafted: 37 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 41                   Key comment: “Huge with improving puck/skating skating skills. Big upside.”

Observations: The gigantic Colorado product is already a fan favorite and he has all the makings of a dominant shutdown defender who can at some point help get the Boston blue line group pointed in the right direction. Like DeBrusk, Carlo can play for Providence next season, but it might all be moot, as this huge, mobile defender might just break camp and enter the season on Boston’s roster. Not to put a lot of pressure on the Tri-City Americans rearguard, but he’s talented enough to play right away. The big question is whether the Bruins will opt to let him play a bigger role in the AHL before making a decision. Either way, we’re pretty much looking at a player who looks like as solid a bet as any to play in the NHL. The question we’re left with is what kind of impact Carlo will have: on the positive side- he can really skate for a 6-5 player, with speed and agility, and he can fire off cannon drives from the point. Alas, not real sure of the vision and natural hockey sense, but his game is good enough to reach the NHL, even if he tops out as a solid 3-4 shutdown guy at that level.


Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C             Drafted: 45 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 70                   Key comment: “Strong two-way pivot but a bit mechanical.”

Observations: Swedish product is coming off a superb freshman season at Boston University. A lot of observers have drawn comparisons to Patrice Bergeron, which sets the bar pretty darn high for the player known as “JFK” but he sets himself apart with his refined game, smarts and overall poise. Forsbacka-Karlsson showed a natural flair for winning draws and despite not having high-end speed, shows a nice changeup of gears through the neutral zone and often pulled players out of position with a series of deceptive movements and head fakes. With soft hands and a natural knack for threading the needle, the sky is the limit for this kid, who left home in Sweden to adjust to North America in the USHL for two years before joining the Terriers. In hindsight, RLR had him a little low for what he’s shown in the early going.


Jeremy Lauzon, D                          Drafted: 52 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 59                   Key comment: “Vastly underrated blue liner can hit, skate and score.”

Observations: This Red Line favorite went right around where he was projected by our Quebec guys, who saw him surge nicely in the second half. In 2015-16, he took his game up a notch, establishing offensive highs in assists and points, despite fighting through injuries that forced him out of the lineup and hampered his progress in the second half. He managed to return from a horrific skate cut to the neck during the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. His Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the league championship, and he was able to get back to action in the Memorial Cup tournament, dropping the championship game to the London Knights. Lauzon skates well enough, though he’s still addressing his transitory skating mechanics- the pivots and turns can be a little slushy at times. He has a big shot, deft passing touch and will hit and fight to defend teammates when necessary. He could be the best of the three defensemen drafted by Boston in 2015.



Daniel Vladar, G                           Drafted: 75 (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 67                   Key comment: “Poor technique, but he’s 6-5 and a human gumby.”

Observations: When it comes to high ceilings for goaltenders, Vladar was among the leaders in the class of 2015.  He played well for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, splitting the starts and posting respectable numbers, but the Czech native is still raw and years away from staking a claim for NHL time in the crease. Interestingly enough, the Bruins signed Vladar to an ELC, making him ineligible to return to the USHL, and it looks like Vladar could play in the ECHL or AHL next season. Don’t rule out a spot in the CHL despite the ban on European net minders if Vladar’s agents can successfully argue a loophole that establishes North American residency for him over the last 12 months. I guess we will see.



Jesse Gabrielle, LW                        Drafted: 105   (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 132                   Key comment: “Naturally abrasive cuss plays like a burr up under the saddle.”

Observations: At one time thought of as a potential second-rounder, Gabrielle slid to the fourth round, where his favorite team snapped him up.  One year later, he exploded for 40 goals after being dealt from the Regina Pats to the Prince George Cougars last August. Gabrielle is about 5-11, but is a thick and sturdy 205 pounds- he plays like a little wrecking ball, driving through traffic and getting pucks to the net the old fashioned way. He’s also very tough to play against as he dishes out big hits, is nasty along the walls and will go after anyone who crosses him. Gabrielle is an exciting prospect as someone who had modest expectations this season and blew them up. The key for him will be to keep progressing now that he’ll have opponents keying on him and will likely be playing back in the WHL this season as a 1997-born player. Unfortunately, the AHL is not an option for him until 2017-18


Cameron Hughes, C                        Drafted: 165   (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 71                  Key comment: “So underrated, underscouted he may not get drafted.”

Observations: Well, the draft snub didn’t happen- the B’s grabbed him in the middle of the sixth round- but if you put a lot of stock in the Red Line rankings, then the team got a heck of a value with the Alberta native there. 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.


Jack Becker, C/W                                         Drafted: 195 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 222

Observations: The Mahtomedi HS-drafted player and University of Wisconsin recruit had a pretty average USHL season with the Sioux Falls Stampede, scoring eight goals and 22 points in 58 games. He’s got a big frame and has some intriguing skill, but is a long shot to ever do anything of substance in the NHL. We’ll have to take the long view and see how he looks in the NCAA, but all signs point to a slow transition that will take a few years and we might not even have a realistic view on his development path until 2018 at the earliest.



Bruins prospects in their draft years 2010-2012

As a companion post to what I put up yesterday in going back to look at the Boston Bruins’ roster players and how they were projected in the annual Red Line Report June draft guide issues going back to 1999 (Chris Kelly) through 2014 (David Pastrnak), I thought we could also take a quick peek at the team’s prospects…the good, the bad & the ugly and see what is perhaps in store.

My conclusions from yesterday’s exercise- not enough production from the Bruins with their draft picks. Their best players (not including Zdeno Chara-I didn’t have a RLR 1996 draft year ranking for him, or guys like Tuukka Rask who were drafted by other teams) were all beyond the top-50 as ranked by Red Line, which goes to show you that hitting on first-rounders isn’t the be-all, end-all of developing players. However, there is clearly a dearth of high-end talent: All three of Phil Kessel (2), Tyler Seguin (2) and Dougie Hamilton (5) are gone. Boston had a chance to move up to grab Noah Hanifin (3- 2015) but it didn’t pan out, so they went with three picks in the middle of the round instead.

This gets to the heart of some of the concerns and criticisms fans and observers have voiced in recent years. It’s legitimate, but the B’s have also netted some value selections along the way as well.

So, let’s get onto the prospects, shall we? This post will cover most prospects/players still in the system (and in at least one case- on the way out) from 2010-12.


Zane McIntyre (formerly Gothberg), G Drafted: 165 (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 154    Key comment: “Has all the technique of a gerbil on roller-skates.”

Observations: RLR nailed the pre-draft projection, and it is true- McIntyre (who changed his last name in 2014) had some technique issues coming out of Minnesota HS. He had a setback last season, as he struggled to adjust to the tempo and skill level in the AHL, but here’s betting that the soon-to-be 24-year-old will bounce back. The 2015 Mike Richter Award winner as the NCAA’s best goaltender has plus character and hockey smarts, but probably needs to settle down and simplify his approach. The shine is off his star a bit compared to where it was a year ago (and it had to hurt watching North Dakota win the 2016 collegiate title without him), but don’t count him out. McIntyre has shown a penchant for mental toughness, and he’s motivated to prove his worth. Watch for something from him this offseason here on the blog.


Alexander Khokhlachev, C Drafted: 40 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 13        Key comment: “Little Russian offensive whiz is vastly underrated.”

Observations: ‘Koko’ slipped to the second round amidst concerns about his average size and relative skating for his diminutive stature, though for several years, he looked to be near the top of Boston’s prospects depth chart. On the plus side, he’s got high-end creativity and to his credit, evolved his game in Providence, going from a bumpy start in 2013 to becoming (now Boston assistant) Bruce Cassidy’s go-to guy up front with two consecutive productive AHL years. Unfortunately, in albeit limited chances in Boston, Koko could never get it going to stick. The debates are endless over whether he was given a real opportunity, but at some point- you have to look past the coaches and focus on the player. For whatever reason, he made barely ripple despite ample preseason ice time and team sources told TSP that Koko did not respond very well to what the coaches wanted him to do. His goose is essentially cooked in Boston, as he has reportedly signed with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL and will return home to Russia unless the B’s can figure out a way to deal him elsewhere for anything they can get. It’s an unfortunate story for Boston, but the reality is- there is plenty of blame to go around for his inability to make it work here.

Brian Ferlin, RW Drafted: 121 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 245

Observations: As a previously passed-up player in 2010, RLR wasn’t keen on Ferlin despite his highly productive 2010-11 campaign with the Indiana Ice. Despite an awkward-looking skating stride, the Jacksonville native did some impressive work at Cornell in three seasons before turning pro in 2014. He made gradual but steady progress in the AHL as a rookie in 2014-15, earning a late-season recall to Boston, where he played a solid, grinding game on the B’s fourth line. Unfortunately for Ferlin, he suffered a concussion in the 2014 AHL playoffs, and one game into this past season, took another high hit that aggravated that injury, costing him much of his second pro campaign. His challenge is to work himself back into the mix with so many other similar bottom-six forwards in the system.


Sean Kuraly, C Drafted: 133 (5th round- San Jose)

Red Line ranking: 263

Observations: Acquired from San Jose as part of the return for Martin Jones, the Ohio native joins Austin Czarnik as consecutive Miami Redhawks captains in the B’s system. Red Line was not all that keen on Kuraly in his draft year, ranking him significantly lower than where he ended up going. With a big frame and decent skating in a straight line, he isn’t naturally skilled or all that creative offensively. He looks and acts the part of a solid grinder who will likely transition to the wing at the pro level. A solid middle tier player, don’t expect any kind of extraordinary return on investment, and he’ll likely spend at least one full season in Providence, maybe two before he’s ready to seriously challenge for a full-time NHL position.


Rob O’Gara, D Drafted: 151 (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 73

Observations: This Red Line favorite went way beyond where that service projected him, but so far- the Yale grad has lived up to the promise he showed as a Milton Academy junior. A big and mobile shutdown defender, his offensive numbers dropped off in his senior season after a surprising junior year. He’s always been a fine skater with agility and fluid footwork even when a gangly teen, so now that he’s filled out to a solid 6-4, 225 pounds- he has the physical attributes to make a run at the pro level. The Long Island native looked real good in late-season work with Providence in the spring, scoring his first pro goal and demonstrating that he belongs. Watch for him to begin the year in the AHL, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could make the big club with a strong camp and preseason or earn a call up at some point during the season. There isn’t a high offensive ceiling, but with his smarts and skating, O’Gara could stabilize the middle pairing one day.


Austin Czarnik, C Drafted: Undrafted (Free agent- Boston 2015

Red Line ranking: 142      Key comment:  “Yet another skilled, entertaining, feisty little dwarf.”

Observations: RLR was ahead of the curve on Czarnik in 2011, when he was ranked in the top-150, but despite being a talented scorer out of Green Bay of the USHL and later Miami University, no one took a flyer on him. Boston surprisingly won the free agent sweeps after he completed his senior season a year ago, and he immediately formed chemistry with fellow free agent Frank Vatrano in Providence and again in their first pro training camp together last September. Although just 5-7, Czarnik has blazing wheels, superior vision and a gritty, energetic game. All he needs is an NHL chance, and he doesn’t appear to be too far away from getting one.


Noel Acciari, C Drafted: Undrafted (Free agent- Boston 2015)

Red Line ranking: NR

Observations: Though not ranked by RLR in the 2011 draft guide, the service was onto him, listing him in the January issue as a player who played a very heavy and physical, but clean game. Four years later, Acciari parlayed that into the captaincy at Providence College and a national championship before signing with his childhood favorite Bruins. Undaunted by the prospect of being an undrafted free agent in a sea of like players, Acciari played hard for Providence and if not for taking a slap shot to the face that broke his jaw, would have made his NHL debut even sooner than he did. Acciari played 19 big league games (1 assist) but impressed with his adept faceoff skills, ability to hit hard but clean (ask Brooks Orpik about that) and ruggedness and mature character as a rookie. He did a fine job as Boston’s fourth line center, and he’ll never be one to put up much in the way of points at the NHL level, but more production would be welcome.


Seth Griffith, RW Drafted: 131 (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 52       Key comment: “Average size, skating…all he does is light the lamp.”

Observations: Ranked later in the 2011 draft guide, Griffith was even more impressive  the following year, and like Jimmy Vesey, parlayed a superb 18-19-year-old season into a draft ticket in Pittsburgh after being snubbed. Griffith has a smallish frame and is not a dynamic skater, but boy- can he ever score! He finished near the top of the AHL in scoring last season and has an uncanny creativity and knack for generating offense. The biggest issue holding him back is the fact that he might be a classic ‘tweener: a highly effective AHL performer, but simply not fast or strong enough to be a top-six winger in the NHL, while lacking the ideal tools to be an effective bottom-six forward. He’s a heck of a talent, but might not be the right kind of fit to thrive in Boston. The key question is if that is in fact the case- can Don Sweeney leverage him into a helpful return, or will he be lost to another club for little to nothing?


Malcolm Subban, G Drafted: 24 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 69                Key comment: “Catches pucks as though they are live grenades.”

Observations: The RLR staff were not fans, as evidenced by Subban’s third-round projection. Boston surprised by grabbing him in the top-25, which was an eyebrow-raiser at the time, mainly because the Bruins didn’t need a goalie and you could make a convincing case that he wasn’t the best player on the board. In fairness to Boston, the talent level in 2012 dropped off a steep cliff in the first around 20, so Subban wasn’t a terrible gamble to make, but he’s struggled to establish himself as the team’s future option in net. Last season, he suffered a lower body injury and then was pretty rotten in his first month of play as he worked through some movement issues. However, in early December through the end of January, it was  as if someone flipped a switch- he played the best hockey of his pro career to date. Then, during warmups against Portland, he took a shot to the throat, fractured his larynx, and was lost for the rest of the season. That’s simply how things have gone for Subban, but he might just get the opportunity to be Rask’s backup this season. The talent is there- even if the luck and playing experience hasn’t been. RLR’s low draft ranking reflected questions about his technique and overall long-term potential…he has yet to prove them wrong for the skepticism.


Matt Grzelcyk, D  Drafted: 85  (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 237

Observations: This Charlestown native is another lower-ranked player that the B’s took much earlier, though in the Boston University captain’s case, he looks a lot better than where he was projected. A standout at Belmont Hill Academy before leaving Massachusetts for the National Team Development Program in 2010, the small but speedy and smart offensive blue liner was not a big riser at the draft, and Grzelcyk originally didn’t even plan to go to Pittsburgh to attend in person until he caught wind that it would be well worth his time. After the Bruins selected Subban in the opening round, they didn’t have a pick again until the late third round, and that’s where they grabbed him. He’s had his injury challenges- losing significant time to shoulder and knee surgeries, but with his wheels and natural offensive instincts, he could contribute at the NHL level one day after an AHL apprenticeship first.


Matthew Benning, D Drafted: 175 (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: At the time, there were whispers of nepotism when the B’s drafted assistant GM Jim Benning’s nephew out of Spruce Grove of the AJHL, but to his credit, the younger Benning is legit and has worked his way into becoming one of Boston’s most underrated prospects. Although he has just average height, Benning is a punishing hitter who moves around the ice initiating contact.  He’s got the vision and a soft touch on the puck to be effective in the transition game, and he also showed some improved power on his point shot this season for the Huskies. He’s not a flashy or dynamic offensive presence, but he chips in with key production, as he did in helping the Dubuque Fighting Saints to the USHL’s 2013 league championship. Banning is positionally savvy with a willingness to do the dirty work and like his dad, Brian, might be one of those players who goes on to fashion a solid if unspectacular NHL career because of his versatility and smarts.


Colton Hargrove, LW  Drafted: 205 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: The rugged, older Texas power forward was picked up late and had very low expectations headed to Western Michigan University, but he has improved his offense in each season since the B’s grabbed him in the final round. With his big frame and natural strength, Hargrove showed some unexpected offense this season, doing some grunt work out in front of the opposition net and getting rewarded for it. Sweeney said that Hargrove put in diligent work last summer to improve his conditioning for the AHL and it paid off for him. He’s still a work in progress and will likely top out as a grinding third-line wing (at best) if he makes it to the NHL, but has the makings of a capable power forward and depth player for Boston. He needs to take the next step in 2016-17 and not regress after the pleasant surprise that was his rookie pro campaign.


Justin Hickman, C Drafted: Undrafted (Free Agent- Boston 2015)

Red Line ranking: 153               Key comment: “Strong centre with big shot is not the sum of his parts.”

Observations: The Seattle T-Birds standout was on the radar back then, but wasn’t picked up. The B’s ended up winning a bidding war for his services as a free agent 18 months ago, when he had to shut down his final WHL season for shoulder surgery. His rookie pro year was a disappointment in Providence, but reflects being eased back in more than anything. He didn’t play all that much and the production was certainly nothing to write home about, but Hickman has a natural edge and perhaps an untapped scoring skill set that could manifest itself as early as next year. Having said that- he was an undrafted free agent, so temper the expectations. (Of course- the next guy on the list didn’t have much in the way of expectations and look how that turned out…)


Frank Vatrano, LW Drafted: Undrafted (Free Agent- Boston 2015)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: What a story- from the outhouse to the penthouse! Very few were on Vatrano in 2012 not because he didn’t have talent, but because he was overweight and didn’t show the requisite work ethic to give teams confidence in taking a draft flyer on him. Those clubs are all regretting that now, as he not only was a goal-per-game guy as a rookie AHLer (36) but even impressed in stints with the big club. Vatrano rededicated himself in the offseason and came to rookie camp in September about 20 pounds lighter, looking like a completely different player. He always had that laser wrister that struck fear into opposing goalies, but he didn’t always move his feet and without the right conditioning, took longer to recover in between shifts. Now, he plays with manic energy and uses his quickness to dart into skating lanes and get himself into scoring position. He was like a mini-Midas last season- practically everything the East Longmeadow native- we like to call him the Springfield Rifle- touched…turned to gold. He’ll have a lot of scrutiny on him in the new season- he won’t sneak up on people like he did this year, but some guys just have “it” when the puck is on their stick, and Vatrano is one. When you hit on an undrafted free agent like the Bruins did with him after just one full year at UMass, then it takes the pressure off of the lack of success the team has had at the draft.

Coming soon: Bruins prospects in their draft years, 2013-15.




Bruins prospect updates- the Pros

Most of the Boston Bruins’ are in offseason mode. Note, I said most- not all.

Jake DeBrusk’s Red Deer Rebels were eliminated from WHL championship play by the Brandon Wheat Kings, but by virtue of being the Memorial Cup host city, they’ll be playing May hockey once the three CHL champions are decided.

Jeremy Lauzon, who dodged a major scare after taking a skate blade to the neck a few weeks back missed Rouyn-Noranda’s third-round playoff series win over the Moncton Wildcats. He may or may not be back for the President’s Cup series against the Shawinigan Cataractes. The deeper the Huskies go, the better the chance that the B’s may see one of their three second-round picks back in action, but that will depend on medical clearance and the player’s long-term health takes precedence over the desire to have him in the lineup today.

For everyone else, it’s about preparing for the 2016-17 season. I’m breaking up the prospects list into pro and amateur sections, and sliding all of the recent NCAA signings and players who are projected to be playing in the AHL season next year onto the pro side.

B’s pro prospects

Noel Acciari, C (undrafted free agent- 2015): The former Providence College captain finished the season with the big club, playing 19 NHL games down the stretch and impressing with his skating, smarts and effort. The single assist with the B’s is  an indicator that offense will not be Acciai’s strong suit, but given more time to center the bottom line as he gains experience, more production will come. He’s an overachiever who is strong on draws, hits everything forcefully but cleanly, and immediately earned the respect and trust of coaches. He broke his jaw when he took a Chris Casto shot to the face earlier to the season or else, as reported by Providence Journal veteran reporter Mark Divver, Acciari would have made his Boston debut even earlier. He’s signed through next season (pending RFA) at a $792.5k cap hit.

Linus Arnesson, D (2013 draft, 2nd round): The Swedish defender had tougher first full North American season than projected, dealing with nagging injuries for most of the year. Never a player who was thought of as having a high offensive ceiling, he’s mobile and savvy, but more was expected of him. With a year under his belt, Arnesson is a player who could see a Boston opportunity via recall at some point next season if there are injury issues on the B’s blue line, but if he can stay healthy, the focus will be on continued development. Arnesson is under contract through 2017 (pending RFA) at a $817.5k hit.

Anton Blidh, LW (2013 draft, 6th round): Gritty, abrasive forward doesn’t bring much in the way of points potential, but if you’re looking for a grinding energy winger who forces turnovers and plays a heavy game, Blidh’s your guy. Having said that, the B’s have no shortage of forwards who fit in this category, so there’s not a big buzz factor here. He’s got two more years on his ELC (2018) with about a $784k cap hit.

Brandon Carlo, D (2015 draft, 2nd round): One of Boston’s more eagerly anticipated prospects after being the 37th selection in June 2015, the late ’96-born Colorado native is eligible to spend the 2016-17 season in the AHL if he doesn’t make the Boston roster out of camp. At 6-foot-5, he’s highly mobile and a premium shutdown type defender. The jury is still out on his offensive instincts/vision to develop into a higher-end two-way threat at the NHL level, but make no mistake- this guy will play. Last fall, Carlo signed a three-year ELC that will keep him under contract through the 2019 season (RFA) at a rate of $820k per.

Chris Casto, D (undrafted free agent- 2013): Casto posted his best pro season to date, but has the look of a journeyman pro at the AHL level and it’s hard to see him beating out those higher on the depth chart to make a go of it His ELC is up and there’s a good chance that the B’s will allow the former University of Minnesota-Duluth star to hook on with another team.

Colby Cave, C (undrafted free agent- 2015): After signing with the Bruins a year ago, Cave showed some promise in Providence as an effective two-way forward with speed. He’s not a top-six project, but could in time establish himself on the lower lines. With two more seasons left (2018) on his ELC before Cave becomes a RFA ($655k), the former WHL captain is in the fold at a nice rate.

Austin Czarnik, C (undrafted free agent- 2015): The AHL’s leading rookie scorer with 61 points had opened eyes this season. Despite his small stature, he’s a plus-skater with superb puck skills and the hockey IQ to provide offense. He nearly willed Providence to a victory in Game 3 of their sweep at the hands of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and is a solid bet to see NHL time with the Bruins next season. He’s signed through 2017 at a rate of $817,500 (RFA).

Brian Ferlin, RW (2011 draft, 4th round): He was greatly impacted with concussion woes this season, his second pro campaign after a promising 2014-15 year that saw him earn a late stint in Boston. A bottom-six winger who can skate and excel in puck possession, Ferlin needs a bounce-back campaign in 2016-17. His ELC ($875k) is up and he is a restricted free agent.

Seth Griffith, RW (2012 draft, 5th round): Providence’s top scorer (23 goals, 77 points in 57 games) saw some very limited time in Boston this season and is still on the bubble in terms of proving whether he can break into a top-six forward role or might be a ‘tweener as someone who puts up points in the AHL, but has trouble establishing himself in the NHL. He’s got the hands and head to score, but the lack of size and speed make it a challenge for him. Griffith’s ELC ($759k) is finished and he’ll likely be tendered a qualifying offer, but whether the B’s dangle him as part of a trade package at some point remains to be seen.

Matt Grzelcyk, D (2012 draft, 3rd round): The Boston University captain signed a two-year (thru 2018) NHL contract worth a reported $858,750 per season (RFA) at the conclusion of his NCAA season. It was a tougher year for the Townie, as he dealt with starting the season late after knee surgery, only to injure his other knee shortly after coming back. His excellent speed and puck-moving ability will make him one of Providence’s top threats in all situations if he doesn’t win an NHL job out of camp next fall.

Colton Hargrove, LW (2012 draft, 7th round): A pleasant surprise, finishing sixth on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 30 points in 66 games. A big, rugged forward- Hargrove’s improved conditioning helped him to have success, but after a productive and impressive middle stretch of the season, he cooled off at the end. There is one more season left on his ELC, which pays him a $737,500 rate (RFA)

Danton Heinen, RW/LW (2014 draft, 4th round): After a tough start offensively, the British Columbia native erupted in the second half of the year for Denver University, finishing as the team’s top scorer and helping DU reach the Frozen Four. He’s a slick, playmaking wing who posted a pair of assists in his pro hockey debut with Providence and is a darkhorse to break camp with the NHL Bruins on the opening night roster come October. He’s signed through 2019 at a $872.5k cap hit.

Justin Hickman, LW (undrafted free agent- 2015): The Seattle Thunderbirds captain did not have the anticipated impact after missing the rest of 2015 to shoulder surgery and signing with Boston. He’s a hard-nosed winger with underrated scoring ability, but took a while to adjust and adapt to the demands of the AHL. Heavy on the puck and willing to play a physical, grinding game- watch for him to take on more of a consistent role next season, with about 15-20 goals at the AHL level a reasonable target to aim for. Hickman is on an ELC that keeps him a Bruin through 2018 at an (unconfirmed per General Fanager) $700k hit.

Alexander Khokhlachev, C (2011 draft, 2nd round): Despite making a difference in the AHL for much of the season, the 40th overall selection was not able to do much with the limited ice time he was given in Boston. There’s not much else can be said that hasn’t been already at TSP- he’s talented enough to be an NHL forward but hasn’t translated being an impact performer on the farm to the big show. Koko’s ELC has expired and he is expected to either be traded to another organization or pursue his Europe options with St. Petersburg, which owns his KHL rights.

Sean Kuraly, C (trade with SJS- 2015): The Miami University RedHawks captain signed for two years (thru 2018 at a $809k cap rate) after finishing a disappointing senior year. Acquired from the San Jose Sharks last June as part of the return for goaltender Martin Jones, Kuraly has good size and skating ability to be more of a two-way center or wing who is heavy on the puck and does the grinding work on the bottom-six.

Zane McIntyre, G (2010 draft, 6th round): A TSP favorite since before he was drafted in 2010, it was a season of ups and downs for the rookie pro. The former star at University of North Dakota has some work to do on technique and mechanics after being exposed at times during the regular season. His performance in Game 3 was a particular disappointment, but he has the drive to roll up the sleeves and get to work, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to the adversity next year. He’s signed through 2017 at a $975k cap hit (RFA).

Colin Miller, D (trade with LAK- 2015): The NHL tools are clearly there for the one-time Kings prospect picked up last draft day as part of the Milan Lucic trade. Although not tall, Miller has a thick build and has the skating and puck skills to be a solid NHL defender, but he also has to show he can think the game enough to log bigger minutes and take care of his own end. Miller’s ELC ($602,500) expired and he is RFA. Expect the B’s to extend him a qualifying offer and we’ll see what happens next.

Rob O’Gara, D (2011 draft, 5th round): Four-year starter and NCAA champion at Yale University finished up his eligibility this past March and signed a two-year ELC worth $925,00 per through 2018.A big (6-4), mobile defender who is sound positionally and can move the puck effectively, O’Gara may need developmental time in the AHL, but could one day join Boston’s blue line to form a pretty good shutdown presence with Carlo.

Malcolm Subban, G (2012 draft, 1st round): After a rough beginning due to a lower body injury, Subban was playing the best hockey of his pro career over a two-month stretch in the AHL when he took a shot to the throat in warmups. A fractured larynx cost Subban the rest of his season and means he has to hit the reset button, so to speak. He’s talented enough to win the Boston backup job this fall, but experience and an extended run as an AHL starter have continued to elude the 24th overall pick. His ELC runs  for one more season at about $863k before he becomes RFA.

Frank Vatrano, LW (undrafted free agent- 2015): The crown jewel of undrafted free agents last year tore apart the AHL (36 goals, 55 points) in 36 games with Providence, and still found time to make an impressive showing in Boston, where he finished the NHL season. The Springfield Rifle (no, I’m not calling him the “East Longmeadow Rifle”- that doesn’t have anywhere near the ring) added eight more goals in 39 games while exhibiting the speed and gusto that is sure to produce more offense at the highest level. Vatrano’s transformation and sheer impact this season earned him AHL co-Rookie of the Year honors (with Colorado prospect Mikko Rantanen) and set him up as a potential key contributor in Boston going forward.

Daniel Vladar, G (2015 draft, 3rd round): After finishing a solid USHL season with the Chicago Steel, the 75th selection last June is a giant (6-foot-6) project with impressive athletic ability. On the flip side, Vladar needs work with his technique and is still pretty raw- it remains to be seen whether he will be in the AHL, ECHL or possibly Europe next season. While not impossible, NHL is about as long a shot as it gets for Vladar at this stage of his development. Signed a three-year contract in late April worth $742,500 annually.

(Source for contract updates:


Maxim Chudinov, D (2010 draft, 7th round): After reports that the small, speedy and feisty defender wanted to sign and come over to North America, his St. Petersburg SKA team in the KHL just announced that he agreed to another two-year contract extension. Though it does have several reported provisions to give him an out if he gets an NHL offer or if his salary isn’t paid on time, the Bruins lose his exclusive negotiating rights on July 1. It looks like Chudinov won’t justify Boston’s decision to draft him six years ago, though the door isn’t completely closed. His agent is former NHL defenseman Petr Svoboda. If you can read Russian, here’s the extension announcement:

(h/t to Dominic Tiano for the update)



Bruins roundup: Czarnik, Griffith up; Tanev to Jets

I’ve been focused on the Jimmy Vesey situation but some key events happened yesterday directly and indirectly related to the Bruins.

The news broke Wednesday morning that Providence College senior forward Brandon Tanev came to terms with the Winnipeg Jets on an entry-level contract that would pay him max money, and take him through the end of the season. Say what?  Great news for the player- he plays fewer than 10 NHL games for a non-playoff club and immediately becomes a restricted free agent (RFA) up for a second contract that will bump him up but put him that much closer to unrestricted status. Good for Tanev, who took the long road but scored the NCAA championship-winning goal a year ago and brings pure speed, grit and a mature two-way game to Winnipeg.

The Bruins wanted Tanev and were reportedly talking to him as late as Tuesday night, but with their playoff race so tight, they couldn’t afford to give him what Winnipeg could. Consider it turnabout from a year ago, when the Bruins successfully wooed Seattle Thunderbirds captain Justin Hickman away from Winnipeg. Like Tanev, Hickman was an undrafted player who had been to Jets development camp and because he was a major junior player, even went to their main camp in 2014. However, in January 2015, when he had to shut it down for season-ending shoulder surgery, the Bruins came calling and he turned down Winnipeg’s offer to sign with Boston. In Tanev, the Jets returned the favor- not that this was a driving force behind the decision, he was a prime target for them and a lot of credit goes to Winnipeg’s Mark White, former Brown University coach and now employed by them as a scout and someone to help that team develop more of a foothold in New England.

Tanev is a good player and would have been a nice add for Boston, but for that kind of a deal, I can understand why the B’s weren’t the ones he went with. The team is right to focus on the players whose rights it already controls- Matt Grzelcyk and Danton Heinen– and they can also turn their eyes to a much bigger prize in Vesey later this summer. DU winger (and Heinen’s Pacific Rim linemate) Trevor Moore could be a target, but I’ve heard major interest in him on the part of the Toronto Maple Leafs and they have more contract room to sign him plus the opportunity to slot in sooner to boot. Regardless of where Moore ends up, he’d be a good get for Boston, but he’s not in Vesey’s class, and it’s likely a situation similar to that of Tanev where they try but won’t be able to win what could be a bidding war for the small but skilled Californian’s services. We’ll see.

The Bruins made emergency recalls yesterday to Seth Griffith and Austin Czarnik.

As mentioned previously on TSP, David Krejci is obviously banged up, but Ryan Spooner did not make the trip to New Jersey. Spooner’s injury is not major, but the team is being cautious with him, so Czarnik appears to be the center fill-in and may become the third NCAA undrafted free agent to play for the Bruins this season (Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari being the others). Talk about getting bang for your buck! Czarnik was Miami’s captain (interestingly enough- his RedHawks successor Sean Kuraly just signed his ELC with the Bruins this week- let’s hear it for the Brotherhood)

UPDATE: Czarnik returned to Providence as of Thursday afternoon, so it looks like his NHL debut is turned off. For now.

You really have to hand it to the Bruins scouting staff- namely Scott Fitzgerald and Ryan Nadeau– for being so instrumental in finding these gems a year ago. Vatrano (did you know that he’s another player the Jets had interest in- they invited him to a development camp in summer 2014 but he was injured and did not attend) has had a jaw-dropping rookie pro season to say the least. Acciari came in at the beginning of the month and stabilized the bottom line with his speed, savvy and ability to play a clean physical game even if there’s not much in the way of offense. Czarnik, who showed off tremendous chemistry with Vatrano in the rookie tournament and NHL exhibition before continuing the magic in Providence, is a small but ultra-skilled and fast center with high-end hockey sense. He’s a forward version of Torey Krug in terms of his character and dedication to the sport, so it will be interesting to see how he looks with the big club- if not for his size, he would have been drafted and a known commodity coming out of the NCAA.

More to the point- he’s earned this chance to come up and see his first taste of the NHL by traveling and practicing with the big club. We’ll have to see if he makes it into the lineup against St. Louis on Friday, but it’s no doubt an exciting time for Czarnik and his family, and validates his decision to sign with the B’s last year when other teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs were reportedly wooing him as well. It is also telling that Boston did not bring Alex Khokhlachev up in lieu of Czarnik. That should pretty much signal the end of Koko’s tenure with the Bruins- right, wrong or indifferent- he just never quite did enough to stick. We’ve gone over it and whether you feel like he wasn’t given enough of a chance is really moot at this point. One can only hope that the organization can get some kind of asset back in return, but if he bolts for Russia that might prove problematic. In the meantime, Czarnik deserves the audition and he’ll infuse speed, skill and energy into the Boston lineup assuming he plays.

You can question Boston’s draft record in spots, but when the team can plumb the undrafted free agent ranks for players like this trio, it elevates the organization and underscores that it is a team effort and the foundational building blocks and resources are being spent wisely. We’ll see what lies ahead for these youngsters, but the early returns are encouraging.

Griffith is back for the second time this season and it would be good for the former London Knight to give the flagging Boston offense a jolt.

The 2012 fifth-rounder is still looking to carve a niche for himself and there’s no doubting his natural knack for scoring and impressive stick. If ever there was a time for a player vying for a role in the NHL and opportunity was there for the taking, it is now for Griffith.

The Blues are on a major roll and Boston’s chances on paper aren’t good. However, with some new blood and a great game from Tuukka Rask, anything is possible.

TSP SPD Podcast: Bruins road trip update, Frank Vatrano & 4 guys for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Hi, gang-  been a little under the weather, but feeling improved, so I cut a podcast early this morning in time for your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Focus is on the Boston Bruins during their West Coast road swing after dropping the first game to San Jose by a 3-2 score. Things get no easier with matches against L.A. and Anaheim. They go back east and get a little time at home before going to the Big Apple and Madison Square Garden to play the NY Rangers next week. This is a pivotal six points up for grabs.

We also go into Frank Vatrano and the fantastic season he’s having. The Springfield Rifle has 31 goals in 31 AHL games and while B’s fans are clamoring to get him on the big roster and playing again, I attempt to explain why that hasn’t happened yet. Hint- it’s not always a simple talent swap between Vatrano and Jimmy Hayes and/or Brett Connolly.

Finally- I close out the 40-minute podcast with some thoughts on four players I think are on Boston’s 2016 draft watch list: three defensemen and one impressive forward. It’s still difficult to narrow the focus, but I think if the B’s could get any one of these guys let alone two with their multiple first-round picks, they’ll be in good shape. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out who I’m talking about, though.

So, thanks for listening and I do promise to get these posted over at iTunes so you can download and listen to them on other formats. I’ll carve out time to do that and post a notice on the blog. As always- appreciate the support and feedback.

Happy St. Paddy’s Day and enjoy the podcast!

B’s prospects deep dive 6: Griffith, Khokhlachev, Ferlin & Czarnik

After a few days of hiatus (and a solid B’s home win Saturday afternoon against the New York Islanders) TSP is back with another update on the Boston prospects. This post’s focus area is on the upstart Providence Bruins, who are a solid third place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division with a 30-19-9-3 record. What could have been a devastating loss when Malcolm Subban was hit with a puck during warmups nearly two months ago was mitigated by depth- Jeremy Smith and Zane McIntyre have ably filled in since then. The Springfield Rifle- Frank Vatrano– (profiled earlier in the series) has done much of the heavy lifting offensively, with a remarkable 31 goals in 31 AHL games this season, his first as a professional after signing with Boston out of UMass a year ago.

Here’s the deep dive on some of the key P-Bruins players making things happen this season:

Seth Griffith, RW

The AHL’s No. 2 scorer behind former Bruin Chris Bourque (but Griffith’s 63 points in 48 games have happened in 11 fewer contests than Bourque’s 66 points) has continued to roll in the Providence offense as he has done since starting the 2015-16 hockey season a little late due to a lower-body injury suffered in a preseason game with Boston. The former London Knights star and fifth-round pick in 2012 (acquired from Tampa Bay for Benoit Pouliot) has proven himself to be a dangerous scoring option at the AHL level but is still looking to carve a niche for himself in Boston.

Griffith has outstanding hockey sense and silky-smooth hands, which has allowed him to produce at every level to date, and he even invigorated the offense-starved B’s a season ago when he was called up and like Frank Vatrano flashed promising scoring chops before cooling off and being returned to the AHL (he scored 12 goals and 31 points in 39 AHL games in ’14-15).

Although Griffith lacks the pure speed and extra gear to separate in the open ice, he compensates with the natural instincts and feel for the flow of the game. He’s able to quickly dart into spaces in the offensive zone and use his excellent puck skills and lightning release to get pucks to the net and find teammates in scoring position.

At just 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, Griffith doesn’t have the size and ideal explosive element to his offensive repertoire but is smart and finds ways to make plays when the puck is on his stick. He must continue to develop and refine his game away from the puck, however. He’s smart enough to understand positioning and his responsibilities within Boston’s possession system, but without the size and strength to fight through defenders, he often times must outwit bigger, stronger opponents in puck battles along the walls. He does use his lacrosse background to good effect in terms of how he slips through seams in traffic and bounces off of would-be checkers to establish position in front of the net.

Current assessment: The dreaded “‘tweener” tag is still hanging around Griffith, but if the Bruins could figure out a way to get him into the mix for more of an extended look, it might prevent a mistake of letting him go only to see him blossom into a top-six NHL forward in another team’s colors.

Even without dynamic stopwatch speed, Griffith has shown in the past that he can still go end-to-end and score the highlight reel goal. To whit (and granted, the Devils D didn’t do their job and put Cory Schneider in a tough spot here but full marks to Griffith for making this play happen start to finish):

It’s high time to determine the way ahead for Griffith and the clock could be running out given out the situation at forward and the other options that GM Don Sweeney must choose from. Having said that- he’s a top scorer in the AHL and we’ve seen him demonstrate a real killer instinct around the net. If there isn’t a future in Boston, here’s hoping the Boston brain trust can figure out how to properly leverage Griffith for the kind of return the team can build around.

Alex Khokhlachev, C

This polarizing figure among the Boston fanbase is the organization’s biggest enigma. In Providence, he’s producing at a 1.13 points-per-game clip (18-33-51 in 45 gp), playing in all situations and proving himself as an exuberant player who finds ways to make a difference.

Contrast that version of “Koko” with the guy who comes up to Boston and has a hard time contributing and making an impact at the NHL level. To simply point at linemates and ice time, thereby blaming the Boston coaches as the root cause of his lack of success is a lazy argument that does not take into account that with his natural talent and ability, even the limited action does not square with the wholly lackluster impressions he’s made in the NHL. Greater opportunities are earned, not given- just ask Noel Acciari.

Koko is a player who on talent and skill alone should have enjoyed more big league success by now, but that production and impact has eluded him. It’s possible that he has put much pressure on himself during his various stints in Boston and that self-imposed stress accounts for his inability to demonstrate any kind of real effect. It is also possible, that he has been unable to take the coaching he’s been given and translate into his on-ice play in the NHL to date. Whatever it is- there is such a dichotomy between the Koko we see scoring big goals and making brilliant passes in the AHL- it’s hard to project what he is right now.

In similar fashion to Griffith, Khokhlachev doesn’t have the size and speed that NHL teams embrace, but he’s got enough ability with the puck that he has developed into one of the more consistent scoring threats at the AHL level. He’s creative and can push the offensive pace when on top of his game. He will go stretches where he is ineffective, but he can just as easily blow a game open with a shifty move at the blue line or a nifty slip of a check inside the zone to fool the goalie with his blurry-quick shot or find a linemate for a layup.

Current assessment: As is the case with Griffith, the Bruins will soon find themselves making a decision on Koko. In fairness to the kid, he just wants to be able to show what he has at the NHL level, but it isn’t like Boston has buried him, either. It’s not a simple matter of just taking the most skilled players and plugging them any old place on the roster- there is still a need for grit, hustle, determination and effort.

Khokhlachev’s lack of a consistent game away from the puck is what has held him from earlier NHL opportunities when his offense was more of a need. Now, with the majority of the forwards finding ways to contribute, there isn’t much for a player of his style and position to do other than to keep producing in Providence and be ready should the team determine he’s worthy of another chance and summon him once more up I-95.

If the Bruins could somehow tap into the AHL version of Koko and see that level of energy and…here’s the key now…production- then things might be different. As it stands, he’ll likely be moving on and one can only hope that if he does the team won’t rue the day he didn’t get more of a look in Boston. There’s certainly a segment of fans out there who won’t let them forget it.

Brian Ferlin, RW

It’s been a tough year for the 2011 fourth-rounder who parlayed a solid rookie pro season in ’14-15 into a spring cup of coffee with the Bruins, where he did not look at all out of place on Boston’s fourth line. Unfortunately, a concussion suffered in the 2015 AHL playoffs bled into this season, as he played one game at the beginning of the 2015-16 AHL campaign before being lost for much of the schedule. With just eight games played total (three goals), Ferlin is still getting his timing and all-around play down, though he’s putting in the effort to be the heavy player his Providence coach Bruce Cassidy went out of his way to praise last season. He even got into a fight (though some will cringe at what that does for a guy coming back from post-concussion syndrome as Ferlin has endured) yesterday in Providence’s loss to Utica.

A big-bodied power forward at 6-2 and about 215 pounds, Ferlin is a straight-ahead player who has surprising agility and a deft touch with the puck as an underrated passer from the right side. He’s not overly creative or dynamic- more of a stick-on-the-ice and drive the net kind of winger. A superb athlete- his father played NCAA baseball- Ferlin grew up in the Sunshine State and left home to play in the USHL for the Indiana Ice (with fellow B’s prospect Sean Kuraly) before spending three seasons with the Cornell Big Red. A ’92-born player who was passed over in his first year of eligibility, Ferlin has worked hard to improve his all-around play and understanding of the game after being a player who was often counted on to just go out and score in minor hockey.

Current assessment: The concussion setback may have prevented Ferlin from seeing some NHL games this season, as the fourth line in Boston has been a bit of a revolving door all season. Right now, the priority is getting him back into game shape and making sure he’s able to continue to play effectively without suffering any after effects of his extended layoff.

That might mean he doesn’t get a chance to see NHL action this season, but in the longer run that may pay off for Boston. In any case- he’s not a high-end scoring type, but showed effectiveness as a heavy on the puck/possession style forward who is able to cycle the play down low and establish a net-front presence. If he can develop his shot and goal-scoring touch, he could eventually challenge for third-line duty somewhere.

Austin Czarnik, C

The Michigan native and former Miami University Redhawks captain might be just 5-9 and maybe 170 pounds soaking wet, but man- can he ever motor!

In retrospect, no one who saw the right-shooting center in the NCAA should be surprised at the fact that the AHL rookie has produced at nearly a point-per-game pace with 15 goals and 46 points in 53 games this season. He skates up the ice at a blistering pace, revving a never-stop motor into the red with his fast feet and eternal energy source from within. When you talk about small players needing to be dynamic, Czarnik fits that prototype. He explodes to top speed in just a couple of rapid, slashing strides and is also able to jitterbug through open space, daring bigger defenders to stay with him.

When the puck is on Czarnik’s stick, it’s almost like an extension of his own arm- he can handle it at top speed and takes it in and out of traffic with the effortless balance and grace of motion. He’s not a prolific goal scorer, but he knows how to finish plays off around the net and isn’t afraid to shoot pucks when the lanes are there. A superb passer who can make on-target feeds from both sides of his stick blade, Czarnik makes those around him better.

Alas, with his size- he’s got to be a consistently special player in order to find success at the highest level. His work ethic and hockey IQ will go a long way towards helping him get there. Czarnik does not have the strength to assert himself in the o-zone, but he is willing to go into the dirty areas and pay the physical price to make a play.

Current assessment: Boston’s cup runneth over…at least right now when it comes to the center position. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Ryan Spooner are pretty entrenched up the middle as things stand right now, and Acciari has certainly made a convincing case to remain in Boston for now as a stabilizing force on the fourth line (just look at the ice time and special teams work Claude Julien has already given him), so it is difficult to project where and when Czarnik will fit in up in Boston.

Given that he’s made a career out of proving the doubters wrong, I wouldn’t count against him. He may be small, but he’s fast and simply dynamic…the NHL has room for players like Czarnik in the right role and given time to develop his all-around game, which was already pretty strong coming into the pro ranks.

Here’s his first career pro hat trick, which came against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in December (video courtesy of the Providence Bruins):



B’s prospects deep dive 4: Fitzgerald, Donato, Bjork & Hargrove

The Scouting Post is back to continue the ongoing deep-dive on Boston Bruins prospects coming up through the system as we enter the final days of the 2015-16 hockey season across the various professional and amateur leagues.

Today’s edition features a trio of collegians and one rookie pro. Enjoy. Will keep steadily cranking these out while balancing the NHL/Boston schedule and work requirements. I appreciate the support and feedback as always.

Ryan Fitzgerald, C/LW

The Boston College junior is a versatile, energetic and productive forward who has taken a step ahead in his third NCAA season after being a fourth-round selection of the B’s in 2013.

The son of New Jersey Devils assistant GM and former NHL forward and 1986 first-round pick (NY Islanders) Tom Fitzgerald (his uncle, Scott Fitzgerald, is the B’s assistant director of amateur scouting)is an extremely bright two-way player who has the hockey intellect and will to compete to make his impact felt as an effective 200-foot player. Along with younger brother (and freshman defender) Casey, Fitzgerald is leading the Eagles to greater heights this season after a step backwards in 2014-15. A Beanpot Trophy was only beginning, as BC looks to take the positive momentum forward in the quest for Hockey East supremacy and an extended run in the NCAA tournament that will culminate in Tampa at the 2016 Frozen Four next month.

Although undersized, Fitzgerald is strong  and feisty- he doesn’t shy away from traffic or taking the physical punishment often doled out along the walls. He will initiate contact and take a hit to make a play, but will also draw and take penalties with his edgy play. He doesn’t have the high-end straight line speed ideal for one of his 5-foot-10, 180+-pound frame, which is said to be one of the reasons his draft day stock dropped him down to pick 120. He is slippery and elusive, which allows him to shake defenders inside the blue line and slide through seams in the offensive zone. The good news is that even without the ideal size and speed, Fitzgerald has been able to make an impact all three seasons up on the Heights because he’s so smart and has silky hands with a lightning release and a nose for the net.

Fitzgerald plays with a lot of passion and energy; you notice him when he’s on the ice and he has a bit of an agitator streak in that he can get opponents off their game with his relentless energy and ability to forecheck and disrupt opposition attempts to generate a transition game with speed. With an active stick and ability to fill skating and passing lanes, Fitzgerald often creates his own chances through hustle and hard work.

Current assessment: In the midst of his best single season, Fitzgerald recently netted his 50th career goal at BC and is doing all the things the B’s want to see from him. As good as his numbers look right now (20 goals, 40 points in 33 games), the real questions about whether he can parlay his smarts and energy into a solid bottom-six NHL role one day won’t be answered until he turns pro. Whether the B’s look to sign him this year or let him return for his senior year is not known at present, but current projects are for him to go back for a fourth season and complete his senior season at BC. In the meantime, he’s gaining valuable experience and confidence by being able to contribute more consistently to the Eagles’ attack and he’s clearly growing under the tutelage of Coach Jerry York and the staff there.

Ryan Donato, C

Freshman pivot and 2014 second-rounder out of Dexter School in Brookline is having a rock solid first NCAA campaign at Harvard playing for his dad.

A brilliant prep player in four seasons from Scituate, Donato was often on a whole different level from his peers, lighting it up in his junior year (37 goals, 78 points in 30 games) en route to being a top-60 selection of his hometown NHL team. He produced nearly a two point-per-game pace over his entire time at Dexter, scoring 99 goals and 129 assists for 228 career points in 115 prep games playing for his uncle, Dan Donato. He finished the 2014-15 season with a flourish, skating with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers and scored five goals and 10 points in eight contests.

At 6-foot-1, Donato is taller than Ted, and he says he gets his height from the other side of his family, which produced an NFL linebacker uncle, West Point wrestling captain cousin and of course his mom, Jeannine- a standout soccer player as an undergraduate student at Villanova. The younger Donato doesn’t move on the ice with the pure speed his father had as a player, but he’s not a poor skater, either. He’s improved his first couple of steps and uses his tremendous hockey sense to read and anticipate, often getting the jump on defenders to loose pucks in the open ice. Donato has a powerful stride and can bull his way to the net when he needs to. As he gets stronger and grows into his frame, he’ll be that much tougher to contain.

When it comes to pure offensive skill, passion for hockey and natural leadership- they don’t come in much more of a complete package than Ryan Donato. He grew up around the NHL and the Bruins and what has always impressed me the most about him is how when he was at Dexter, opponents would go hard after him every night, knowing that the best path to success was through shutting that team’s star center down. The flaw in that plan was relatively simple- Donato was too good a player to be contained and often burned them anyway. He did it most nights drawing double coverage and taking a lot of slashes, hooks and obstruction fouls, but he rarely lost his temper and put his team at a disadvantage by retaliating.

He took a major step forward in silencing any doubters this past winter, when he was named to the Team USA World Jr. (Under-20) Championship squad, beating out several other higher-profile (and earlier) draft choices because of the versatility he provided. Donato did not look a bit out of place and used the honor in representing his country in Helsinki (and earning a bronze medal in the process) to validate his place as a top NHL prospect, albeit one that is still pretty early in his growth.

Donato is not yet a dominant offensive player in the NCAA with the Crimson, but he’s certainly showed he belongs and is on track to raise his production considerably with an expanded role as key upperclassmen move on. His 11 goals and 17 points in 27 games include his first collegiate hat trick and are just scratching the surface of what he’ll likely do there going forward.

Current assessment: It is almost cringe-worthy in hindsight that Boston’s selection of Donato at the end of round two in Philadelphia drew any criticism whatsoever.  He’s justifying his draft position’s value and the B’s faith in him with his performance in Cambridge, but make no mistake- Donato is on a longer developmental path, as there is no need to rush his development or force him to turn pro sooner than necessary. He has a potential ceiling as a top-six forward who will likely play center but could convert over to the wing depending on how the B’s are stacked up the middle when his time comes to compete for a big league job. With Donato’s natural creativity and slick hands, it makes the most sense to keep him at center and develop him as a potential heir apparent when Boston’s star pivots are in the final years of their successful careers. As of now, however, the focus is on his work at Harvard and becoming a top-flight player in the NCAA.

Anders Bjork, RW

The Notre Dame sophomore is having a breakout year in South Bend with the Fighting Irish after being a fifth-round pick in 2014.

One season after posting a solid seven-goal, 22-point performance as a freshman (41 games in a bottom-six role), the Wisconsin native and former U.S. National Team standout has 11 goals and 32 points in as many games as one of his team’s more consistent wingers.

Bjork has average size at 5-foot-11/pushing 6-foot and 185 pounds, but is a speedy and instinctive player who thrives on the forecheck and forces opponents into making mistakes with his wheels and effective stick. He sees the ice well and reads/reacts quickly to the developing play. He’s tenacious and very good at being the disruptor who forces errant passes and finishes his checks.

He’s a curious specimen- not projected to be a high-end scorer at the pro level, but perhaps undersold in terms of his quick hands and ability to finish off plays. He scored a pair of goals (along with Donato) in USA’s bronze medal-clinching game against Sweden at the WJC and one of them was of the highlight reel variety. You be the judge…is he underrated as a scorer or what?

(video posted by Weekend at Bergy’s)

He’s done that a few times in the NCAA as well…he can be explosive and put a defense on their heels as he takes the puck right to the net, so to get his level of talent in the fifth round looks like pretty solid value for Keith Gretzky and his team of amateur scouts.

Bjork is plays a good all-around game. He’s smart and opportunistic…he takes his defensive responsibilities seriously and is a natural leader. Watch for him to emerge as one of Jeff Jackson’s go-to guys in 2016-17. Come to think of it- he’s there already.

Current assessment: Bjork is not a natural scorer, but his NCAA production is encouraging as he further develops his effective 200-foot game as an ideal checking line winger with some upside. Realistically, he’s not going to be a prolific 30-goal or more guy in the NHL, assuming he gets there, but a consistent 15-20 level of production is not out of the question. A prototypical Boston Bruins-type player, Bjork isn’t all that big, but he plays big. And has a big heart. And is very smart. Like Donato, there is no need to rush him, but at some point, the B’s will have to figure out how to work him in the mix as a guy you win with.

Colton Hargrove, LW

The 205th overall selection (seventh round) of the 2012 NHL draft is surprisingly scoring at a .5 points-per-game pace in his very first rookie pro season with the Providence Bruins after signing with the B’s last spring at the conclusion of a third year at Western Michigan University.

The Rockwall, TX native was always a rugged, aggressive power forward with soft hands around the net. but officials in the Bruins organization told me recently that his dedication to improving his conditioning has been notable in his success in the AHL this season. Hmmm…where have we heard that one before?

Coming into camp leaner last fall meant that he picked up a step from what is a bit of a plodding skating stride, and he’ll never burn defenders in the open ice. However, on the cycle and down around the front of the net, Hargrove uses his big 6-foot-2 frame to box out would-be checkers and establish a presence outside the paint. He’s been effective at getting his stick on loose pucks in front and has a terrifyingly heavy drive when he has the time and space to uncork it at full throttle.

And while he has a long fuse, once angered, he’s a nasty fighter who can do some real damage if he gets his left hand free. Southpaw. He’s a good hitter and effective along the walls and in front of the net.

He’s answered questions about his fitness and drive, now Hargrove just needs to keep learning the finer things to build trust with his coaches and the ability to adapt to the higher demands of a Claude Julien-coached team if he can earn his way up to a shot with the big club.

Current assessment: Hargrove still has much work to do on his all-around game, even if the offense is coming around well- 13 goals and 25 points in 50 AHL contests this season. However, when you look at what Tyler Randell has done in very limited minutes for Boston, Hargrove has impressed observers in his very first professional season and brings the kind of lower-line potential with what could be a higher ceiling.

The 23-year-old isn’t likely going to evolve into a high-end power forward, but he’s got the right kind of Triple S combination of  size-scoring-snarl to get a longer look in the Bruins organization.



Springfield Rifle: Frank Vatrano nets 3rd hat trick in AHL this season

When you look at what Frank Vatrano is doing for the Providence Bruins this season, it just doesn’t add up.

After all- he’s an undersized, formerly chunky kid who didn’t even get drafted, right? How is it possible that he’s on the verge of hitting the 30-goal mark (in the AHL) in his first pro season and is leading that league in goal scoring? It doesn’t seem to compute, and yet here we are- the undrafted free agent who played just one full season of NCAA hockey with the UMass Minutemen before signing with the Boston Bruins a year ago- is the hockey story of the year. He has to be.

Vatrano’s 29 goals are two more than (former UNH star) Mike Sislo’s 27, but here’s the thing: Vatrano has done it in 26 *fewer* games than Sislo’s 54 with the Albany Devils. That’s simply astounding.

I posted an update on B’s prospects yesterday that featured Vatrano and joked that he had “cooled off” with “only” 26 goals in 27 AHL games headed into yesterday afternoon’s home contest against the Portland Pirates. Then, he not only lit the lamp three times for the third time (including a Texas hat trick- 4 goals- in there) this season and fourth when you include the three-goal game he posted for the Boston Bruins against Pittsburgh in December, but he became only the third player in AHL history to tally three unassisted goals and the first since Michel Picard of the Prince Edward Island (PEI) Senators in November of 1994.

To put it another way- he is simply killing it and can score whether someone is setting the table for him or he’s having to create his own offense. Don’t believe me? Just look at yesterday’s three tallies and decide for yourself (video thanks to the excellent Weekend at Bergy’s Bruins blog)

On the first one, he gets some good puck luck as he comes around the back of the net on a wraparound and it goes in off of someone else. The second goal comes off of an intercepted pass at the blue line and he beats Pirates goalie Mike McKenna with a wicked snipe that has become his trademark calling card. The third goal- in overtime- comes when he puts on a burst of pure speed at center ice, blows by the defender in the offensive zone and buries another of his shots to close it out.

Had Vatrano not played 30 NHL games with the big club from November to January, we might see him on the verge of 50 markers. Having said that- he realized his dream in reaching the NHL in his very first professional season and we can all rest assured that it won’t be long before we see him in Boston again.

At this point, though, when you have such a mature outlook the way Vatrano does, that’s of secondary importance given how well he’s playing in Providence and how much more dangerous he makes his team when he’s in the lineup. Here’s his response to the Providence Journal’s Mark Divver when asked if Vatrano wonders what he needs to do to get back up to Boston/the NHL?

‘It’s something I can’t control. I’ve just gotta keep doing my thing down here. When the time is right for me to go up, the time is right.’

You can make a good argument that he should be back up with the big club now. However, with the forward lines rolling of late pretty well, it’s just as well that he’s being allowed to spread his wings and dominate the way he is in the AHL. It’s not a matter of if Vatrano will be back in the NHL but when.

Not bad for a guy who was passed over repeatedly in the draft but who went to work over the summer to reinvent himself as a dedicated professional.

We talk about a movie being produced for John Scott and his All-Star weekend experience, but what about Boston’s own “Springfield Rifle”? I don’t think Hollywood could script this improbable path from the Boston Jr. Bruins to the NHL Bruins any better than what Vatrano has accomplished on his own this season.

As we enter the final month of the AHL season, we’re now eagerly left to wonder- how high can Vatrano soar?

We’ve already seen some impressive stuff from the soon-to-be 22-year-old. It looks like a lot more is in store.

Here’s his first NHL hatty:




B’s prospects deep dive 2: Vatrano, Zboril, JFK & Subban

Due to the overwhelming response on the first end-of-regular season Boston Bruins prospects deep dive I did on Friday, I’m back with another iteration. I’m limiting these to five players maximum, not only because they can get pretty unwieldy in terms of reading with 2,000+ words a pop, but because they take some time to put together. If you don’t see the B’s prospect you’re most interested in, hang in there- I will get to every one of them between now and the next 1-2 weeks when the CHL and NCAA playoffs begin in earnest. Everything will build towards and culminate in an end-of-season ranking- similar to the one I did in the January issue of New England Hockey Journal.

So, without further ado- here’s the second deep dive. As always- appreciate the support and feedback.

Frank Vatrano, LW

The undrafted free agent from East Longmeadow, Mass. left the University of Massachusetts after his first full season nearly a year ago to sign with his childhood favorite Boston Bruins and became the Cinderella story of the 2015-16 hockey season.

In the span of a year, Vatrano reshaped his physique, tore apart the AHL with a four-goal game and multiple hat tricks en route to a goal-per-game performance (he’s cooled off a bit of late and “only” has 26 goals in 27 AHL games), and then earned his first NHL opportunity, debuting against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre and netting his first big league goal. He would eventually score his first NHL hat trick against Pittsburgh later on and although he was optioned back to Providence, he’s shown immense promise going forward.

Since his days in minor hockey and the Boston Jr. Bruins (as well as two years with the U.S. National Team in Ann Arbor), Vatrano has been a goal scorer. He’s long had an NHL release, which he showed off in dazzling fashion during the exhibition season last fall and then proved it was no fluke when he began terrorizing AHL goalies with Providence to begin the year. He has a natural nose for the net and sublime hands, which allow him to exploit gaps in defenses and find open spaces where he can get his heavy, accurate shot off with a minimal amount of time to work with. Vatrano is a born shooter- he generates a tremendous amount of torque and power on his shots and can pick the corners at will. He also has superior reflexes and hand/eye coordination to get his stick on shots for deflections and batted pucks into the net.

Not tall and with a naturally stocky build, Vatrano dedicated himself to improving his conditioning in the offseason after seeing a few games in Providence at the end of the 2015 campaign (5 games- 1 goal) and having a “come to Jesus” with the Bruins in his exit interviews. The results were staggering, as he not only saw the improved ability to take extended shifts and recover faster, but also picked up some speed and quickness in his first few steps. He’s got such a good hockey IQ that he can recognize developing plays well and explodes to the puck in just a few strides.

His defensive game is still a work in progress, but there is no denying that the will is there. He often hustles on the back check and has shown impressive open ice speed in winning foot races back to his own end for loose pucks. He’s one of those players who was previously asked to go out and score, so it’s not a question of whether he’s committed to playing more of a complete game, but just getting him the experience and situations that will allow him to be more effective when he inevitably returns to Boston for his next chance.

Current assessment: Vatrano is the top prospect in the pro ranks in the B’s organization. He’s proven that he can find the back of the net in the AHL and NHL and at this point is better off playing an extended role in Providence as a first liner and top power play ace. His 38 points in just 27 games in the AHL shows a dominance at that level that nobody, even his most ardent supporters, could have predicted at this time a year ago. Vatrano is a good kid (he turns 22 in a week) who is living the dream of being a Boston Bruin- he played at the Gillette Stadium in the 2016 Winter Classic- and is sure to build more experiences and memories. The good news for the B’s is that their offense has not been an Achilles heel this season, so Vatrano can spend more time getting the development in seasoning he needs rather than being more of a spare part and lower line option in Boston. This sets the conditions for him to go in and earn a top-9 NHL billet and gives the team some options to perhaps make some critical moves on defense by leveraging roster assets, knowing that players like Vatrano are in the system and could be ready to make the full-time jump next fall.

Jakub Zboril, D

Statistically speaking, it’s been a disappointing year for Boston’s top pick last June (13th overall- acquired with the draft choice that sent Milan Lucic to Southern California). A brutal start in September and October put the Czech native behind the 8-ball and while he’s shown improvement in his all-around play since he returned to the Saint John Sea Dogs from the World Jr. Championship in early January, there’s no getting around the fact that the production isn’t where it should be for one of his talents.

On the plus-side, Zboril has the physical attributes of the prototypical modern NHL defender: Good size, superb skater with a powerful stride/quick first few steps and an impressive glide, hard, heavy shot.  He has the natural vision and instincts to be a two-way threat and power play quarterback where he uses his agility to navigate the offensive blue line with ease and fires pucks to the net. Physically speaking, Zboril plays the game like a North American player- he’s known for throwing big hits and getting extra shots in (that often earn him extra time in the box). He’s obliterated surprised opponents in the past who made the mistaken assumption that Zboril was a soft Euro and dropped the gloves only to find they had a tiger by the tail.

All of these traits should endear him to the Bruins and their fans- it’s precisely what the team needs most in terms of upgrading the NHL roster’s blue line. However, many things in life are rarely so simple as that, and in Zboril’s case- there is more nuance here than meets the eye.

Even when he was rising on the team’s radar last year as the first of the second tier of defenders available in 2015 (it’s not really a secret that the Bruins coveted Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski and tried unsuccessfully to maneuver themselves into the top-5 and 10 to get one of the two) that Zboril came with some warts. Even though the B’s jumped on him with the first of three consecutive picks, his natural effort levels and compete  were a question mark. What’s interesting to me is that in some circles, Zboril was given high marks for his work ethic and hustle, but when I broke him down in film study, I saw a player who went through stretches of passive, even disengaged/uninterested play. Often times- that’s a simple thing: ineffectual waving at a forward as he skates by in the lane instead of gapping up and forcing him wide or disrupting his speed/momentum with body contact.

Current assessment: This season, the shift-to-shift inconsistency and wavering intensity levels have been more of the same with Zboril, unfortunately. He will demonstrate immense promise on one shift, revving up with the puck in his end and blitzing through the neutral zone to fire a shot on net or dish to a teammate in prime scoring position. Or, maybe it’s closing quickly with an opposing puck carrier and knocking him on his keister with a solid body check or deft poke check with his stick. But then a few shifts later, he’s gliding around, not asserting himself or taking advantage of opportunities to push the pace or impose his will in the same way.

The good news is- he just turned 19 at the end of last month and there is time for him to mature and develop more of a consistent game with coaching and experience. The question is becomes, however- does Zboril have it in his intangibles to be the player he *could* be given his prodigious natural gifts? That’s the proverbial $64,000 question, and why drafting and player development is an inexact science. On pure ability alone, Zboril could have been playing in Boston this year, but he’s got more work to do at developing his positional play and of course- on the aforementioned intangibles.

It’s no accident that the B’s tried to move up last June to take someone else- they likely saw the same things. Zboril is one of those boom-or-bust players and the reward with him could be key in the next 1-3 seasons, but just as the team has the responsibility to work with the player to put him in a position to succeed within the organization, the player also needs to raise his compete and do what is asked of him.

There is no doubt that Zboril should have been a first-round pick last June and that the B’s not only upgraded their prospect pool at the defense position with him but brought in the kind of high potential player you want as opposed to a safer but limited upside option. It is a bit intriguing that the B’s could have drafted Zboril’s Sea Dogs teammate Thomas Chabot instead (he went a few picks later to Ottawa) and Chabot is having a far more impactful season as Saint John’s No. 1 D, but that’s water under the bridge. Woulda, coulda, shoulda- if if’s and but’s were candy and nuts it would be Christmas every day of the year.

What happens with Zboril going forward will be interesting to watch. Unfortunately, as a 1997-born player drafted out of the CHL, he either makes Boston’s roster next fall or has to go back to the QMJHL (or he could opt to play in Europe) but AHL and Providence is not available to him as a developmental path in 2016-17.


Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”


Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C

Taken with the 45th overall selection last June, “JFK” is one of the two second-rounders the B’s got from Calgary in the Dougie Hamilton trade (Senyshyn and D Jeremy Lauzon round out the three-pick haul for Boston) has been one of Boston University’s top adds this season.

He’s coming off a two-game sweep of UMass, the second game of which he scored a pair of goals and added an assist, which brings him to 9 goals, 28 points in 36 games for the Terriers as a freshman. He’s fourth on the team in scoring- tied with senior Matt Lane in points but Lane has 14 goals.

JFK has come as advertised this season: he’s a smart, smart player who brings a polished, advanced game for one who only turned 19 in the fall. He’s a good skater- quick to accelerate and smooth in the open ice. He’s faster than he looks, but doesn’t bring an electric presence with his skating. Often times- he might appear to be kind of gliding and coasting, but then he’s used that rangy, loping stride to slip by the defender at the blue line and is making a pinpoint pass to set up a scoring opportunity.

The Stockholm native, who spent two seasons in Nebraska playing in the USHL at Omaha getting used to the smaller ice surface and more rugged, physical nature of the North American game, has what scouts call 360-degree vision.  That’s the rare ability to not only see the entire play in front of him, but also a penchant for understanding what is behind him and on the periphery, so he often makes flawless drop passes or dishes that many other players simply aren’t capable of executing. He is most often compared to (by others I would point out) Patrice Bergeron, but while that’s a valid style comparison, I don’t think he’s as heavy on the puck at this stage of his development as Bergeron was even at a young age. However, the smarts, attitude and general ability to excel in all three zones appears to be there and JFK quickly earned David Quinn and his staff’s trust this year.

JFK was knocked in junior hockey for not playing with a lot of pace and urgency, and I can see those observations at times with BU this year. He’s not a player who is buzzing around the zone the way other high-energy forwards do, but he’s an economy of motion type who has the hockey sense and skill set to do a little more with less. It’s not going to win him many style points, but it’s effective. He’s slick and creative- your mind starts to wander a bit in terms of what he’s bringing to the table and all of the sudden he’ll make a play and bring your focus right back to what all the talk has been about.

He’s legit.

Current assessment: As one who advocates patience and not rushing prospects into the fray so to speak, I would not be at all surprised if the Bruins try to coax JFK into turning pro right away. With Bergeron and David Krejci about to both be on the other side of 30 (Bergeron turns 31 in July, Krejci hits 30 late next month), the B’s need to get another quality center into the pipeline sooner rather than later, even with the success Ryan Spooner is enjoying this year.

That’s probably an alarming prospect to the BU team and its fans, and I won’t say that it’s a done deal by any stretch, but I have been hearing a lot of positive buzz on JFK this year and because he plays that position that the B’s could have a developmental opening for in Providence next season, it would makes sense from an organizational standpoint to see that push come when the NCAA season is done.

Bottom line- Forsbacka-Karlsson is mature and plays a refined enough game that he could make a seamless jump to pro hockey now, but if the team and player feel it is in his best interest to return to school, he’ll be the top center and a good bet to take it to another level in 2016-17. Either way, he’s a top prospect who may not have a huge NHL ceiling in terms of offense, but is the kind of forward who will play for a decade-plus and bring consistent production and the kind of 200-foot play that a winning foundation is built on.

Malcolm Subban, G

It was a tale of two seasons for Boston’s top choice in 2012, but Malcolm Subban was playing the best hockey of his professional career when a shot in warmups hit him up under the mask and fractured his larynx. That serious injury will end up costing him more than two months of the season, but the team and its fans should be encouraged by what he put together in December and January before suffering that personal misfortune.

Always a brilliant athlete whose physical prowess in the net was clearly on display, Subban’s development has been steady and methodical because he came to the position late after years on defense and needed significant coaching on technique. He’s come a long, long way since the draft and is on the cusp from establishing himself as an NHL regular in Boston with the backup spot up for grabs next season.

I’ve always admired how explosive his movements are in net- Subban’s pads are some of the quickest in pro hockey and can be tough to beat down low when he’s able to keep his legs horizontal and seal the posts from east-to-west. He’s always been one who plays deep in his net, and the good news is- he has the athletic ability to get by with that, even if he’s been consistently coached to play out at the top of the crease more and improve his positioning to reduce shooting angles. When you play along the goal line, your margin of error goes down, so this is something that Subban has continued to work on. His glove is has shown significant improvement since he turned pro for the 2013-14 season, and Subban has all the tools to not only make the NHL, but establish himself as a starter at the highest level eventually.

He battled through a LBI that cost him the month of October to start the AHL’s regular season and was rusty when he got into the Providence crease for November. Things went from bad to worse, as the focus seemed off and his statistics- especially the save percentage plummeted down near the bottom of all AHL goaltenders. There were whispers about the attention to detail and willingness to work at addressing the flaws in his game and things seemed to snowball. To Subban’s credit, however, he righted the ship in December and earned the trust of Bruce “Butch” Cassidy and Kevin Dean in Providence- getting the bulk of starts and rolling off some impressive victories in both December and January.

Just as he had truly seized the No. 1 job in Providence for the first time in three pro seasons there, he took the shot in the throat in Portland and has been on the shelf since, opening the door for Jeremy Smith to return to the PB’s. Both Smith and Zane McIntyre have done a good job of keeping the good times rolling.

Current assessment: Subban is maintaining a good attitude about the injury and the corresponding rehab, which required surgery and established an eight-week minimum timetable for return around the beginning of April. It’s unfortunate that he’s had to take a step backwards, but the Bruins can afford to be patient given that Providence is getting good goaltending from Smith and McIntyre right now.

Back when Boston signed Tuukka Rask to his big ticket extension, a lot of folks engaged me wanting to know when the B’s would trade Subban. I think this injury should serve as a reminder of the importance of goaltending depth in any organization. Just because you have an established No. 1 like Rask does not mean it is mutually exclusive for a player of Subban’s potential to succeed in Boston as well. While that won’t preclude the Bruins from entertaining offers for him if they come in, it would have to be about value and given the elite-level showing Subban brought before his injury, he looks to be ready to take that next important step next season as Rask’s backup.

For now, we’ll wish him great speed and success in his recovery- it will be interesting to see how the long layoff affects Subban and how slowly he’s integrated back into the lineup when he returns. But, after two mostly up-and-down years in the AHL, he’s finally really turning the corner and establishing himself as the player Boston thought enough of to pick in the first round for only the third time in the team’s history (Evgeni Ryabchikov was the first in 1994 and it wasn’t pretty; Hannu Toivonen in 2002 at least brought Carl Soderberg in trade, but the track record in net for 1sts= not great).

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back in a day or two with the next installment with some of the “ministers of defense” in the prospect ranks: Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Zane McIntyre and Jeremy Lauzon











Bruins prospects update 2/15/16

Frank Vatrano continued his goal scoring blitzkrieg in the AHL since being returned to Providence late last month. He’s only a few markers off the AHL lead, but in far fewer games. The kid is a keeper.

Unfortunately for Providence, Malcolm Subban suffered a fractured larynx during warmups in Portland eight days ago. He had successful surgery but faces a minimum eight-week layoff before he’ll even be able to be an option to return to the nets. That prompted a recall of Jeremy Smith from the Iowa Wild and both Smith and Zane McIntyre have done well to keep the P-Bruins rolling.

Jesse Gabrielle leads all Bruins prospects with 35 goals and 67 points for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. Zach Senyshyn is second in goal scoring with 33 tallies for the Soo Greyhounds.

Ryan Donato notched his first career NCAA hat trick over the weekend, while Ryan Fitzgerald continues to produce for BC- he now has 16 goals and 35 points- a new career best in points and just one off to Colin White for the team lead. Notre Dame RW Anders Bjork scored a highlight reel goal over the weekend as well- he continues to add to his breakout sophomore season.

On the defensive side of things, Jakub Zboril’s play is steadily improving and he’s now getting some production to go with his physical, edgy play. Jeremy Lauzon is back in action after dealing with a nagging groin injury that has limited his participation since January. Harvard sophomore Wiley Sherman did not find the back of the net at all during his freshman season, but already has four goals and has tripled his points totals. He’s raw but with his 6-foot-6 size and good mobility, he’s an intriguing project player to watch for the long term.

And now for the update:


Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 40 Goals- 16 Assists- 35 Points- 51 Penalty Min- 22 +/-   5

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 38 Goals- 15 Assists- 26 Points- 41 Penalty Min- 8 +/-  -6

Austin Czarnik, C Providence Bruins

GP- 41 Goals- 13 Assists- 23 Points- 36 Penalty Min- 14 +/-  3

Frank Vatrano, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 19 Goals- 20 Assists- 10 Points- 30 Penalty Min- 8 +/-   7

Four goals and four assists in his last five AHL games for Vatrano to keep his stick red hot.

Colton Hargrove, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 41 Goals-12 Assists- 9 Points- 21 Penalty Min- 49 +/-   7

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 49 Goals- 10 Assists- 10 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 10 +/- -6

Chris Casto, D Providence Bruins

GP- 45 Goals- 5 Assists- 12 Points- 17 Penalty Min- 35 +/- -5

Tommy Cross, D Providence Bruins

GP- 38 Goals- 2 Assists- 13 Points- 15 Penalty Min- 61 +/- -4

Zack Phillips, C Providence Bruins

GP- 39 Goals- 5 Assists- 9 Points-14 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -14

Noel Acciari, C Providence Bruins

GP- 36 Goals- 6 Assists-7 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 15 +/-  5

Anton Blidh, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 47 Goals- 9 Assists- 3 Points- 12 Penalty Min- 27 +/- -3

Anthony Camara, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 29 Goals- 0 Assists- 5 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 37 +/- -1

Justin Hickman, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 39 Goals- 3 Assists- 2 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 36 +/- -4

Linus Arnesson, D Providence Bruins

GP- 35 Goals- 0 Assists- 3 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -3

Brian Ferlin, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 4 Goals- 1 Assists- 0 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 2 +/-  2

Ferlin is back from a concussion after missing all but one of the previous games on Providence’s schedule- he tallied his first goal of the season last week.

Malcolm Subban, G Providence Bruins

GP- 27 MIN- 1635 GA- 67 GAA- 2.46 Spct- .911 W- 14 L-8 OTL 5 SO- 1

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 20 MIN- 1146 GA- 55 GAA- 2.88 Spct- .892 W- 8 L- 6 OTL- 5

Jeremy Smith, G Providence Bruins

Iowa: GP- 23 MIN- 1326 GA- 65 GAA- 2.94 Spct- .911 W- 5 L- 14 OTL- 3

Providence: GP- 2 MIN- 120 GA- 4 GAA- 2.00 Spct- .925 W- 2 L- 0 OTL- 0



Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 52 Goals- 33 Assists- 16 Points- 49 Penalty Min- 20 +/- 3



Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 33 Goals- 5 Assists- 32 Points- 37 Penalty Min- 56 +/- 28

He’s back in action and has played 4 games (2 assists) since the last update as he works through constraints of a nagging groin injury.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 35 Goals- 4 Assists- 12 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 36 +/- 9

With four assists in his last five games, Zboril is getting more done on the score sheet after a brutal statistical start.



Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 57 Goals- 35 Assists- 32 Points- 67 Penalty Min- 86 +/- 8

With 11 points in his last six games, Gabrielle has elevated his overall game at the right time.

Jake DeBrusk, LW Red Deer Rebels

SCB: GP- 24 Goals- 9 Assists- 17 Points- 26 Penalty Min- 15 +/- -5

RDR: GP- 21 Goals- 8 Assists- 16 Points- 24 Penalty Min- 13 +/-  13

With eight points (seven assists) in his last six games, DeBrusk is often a forgotten player in major junior this year, but his more balanced offensive game is a good sign for the future, even if his goal numbers are way down from a year ago.

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 35 Goals- 2 Assists- 17 Points- 19 Penalty Min- 69 +/- 0



Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 29 Goals- 16 Assists- 19 Points- 35 Penalty Min- 39 +/-  21

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish (HEA)

GP- 28 Goals- 11 Assists- 18 Points- 29 Penalty Min- 4 +/-  24

Danton Heinen, RW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 28 Goals- 12 Assists- 15 Points- 27 Penalty Min- 4 +/-   8

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University Terriers (HEA)

GP- 30 Goals- 7 Assists- 16 Points- 23 Penalty Min- 16 +/-   1

The scoring has cooled a bit for the BU freshman, but he’s still a high riser and strong bet for eventual NHL success as a top two-way center.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University Redhawks (NCHC)

GP- 28 Goals- 6 Assists- 13 Points- 19 Penalty Min- 31 +/-   4

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

GP- 18 Goals- 8 Assists- 8 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 28 +/-  11

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University Crimson (ECAC)

GP- 23 Goals- 10 Assists- 6 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 18 +/-   5

Four goals in five games including a hat trick for Donato since last update.

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)

GP- 23 Goals- 3 Assists- 13 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -10

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University Huskies (HEA)

GP- 30 Goals- 4 Assists- 9 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 25 +/- -6

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard University Crimson (ECAC)

GP- 25 Goals- 4 Assists- 5 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 8 +/-   8

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University Bulldogs (ECAC)

GP- 23 Goals- 1 Assists- 7 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 39  +/-  2




Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden)

GP- 36 Goals- 9 Assists- 8 Points- 17 Penalty Min- 2 +/-   4

Cehlarik established a new personal season high for  goals  in the Swedish Hockey League (formerly the elite league) to date, eclipsing his 6 goals in 46 games last year.

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (Sweden)

GP- 40 Goals- 0 Assists- 5 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 12 +/-  2

Maxim Chudinov, D St Petersburg SKA (Russia)

GP- 54 Goals- 8 Assists- 9 Points- 17 Penalty Min- 87 +/- -9



Daniel Vladar, G Chicago Steel (USHL)

GP- 19 MIN- 1106 GA- 39 GAA- 2.11 Spct .922 SO- 3; 6-7-4

Played one game since last update- a shutout.

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)

GP- 40 Goals- 5 Assists- 8 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -11