Bruins to begin season without Talbot, Smith

Today, both Max Talbot and Jeremy Smith cleared waivers and were designated for assignment.

In Smith’s case, the B’s did as was suggested here previously and assigned him to the Iowa Wild, Minnesota’s Des Moines-based AHL affiliate.

There, Smith is competing with Wild prospect and former Harvard ( and Loomis-Chaffee Pelicans) goalie Steve Michalek, along with former 2006 first-round pick (Calgary) Leland Irving and University of Vermont netminder Brody Hoffman.

The assumption here is that the Wild plan to take advantage of Smith’s AHL experience, but goal crease is a little crowded.

In the meantime, the Bruins can recall Smith or option him back to Providence if they so desire- by assigning him to Iowa, they are not relinquishing his rights, but rather, moving him to a different club so as not to crowd the P-Bruins crease and keep the younger prospects in Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre closer to home.

As for Talbot, he was still with the big club, though he told reporters that he understands hockey is a business and would do what the team asks of him. For now, he’s acting like a consummate pro. The B’s have a month to reclaim him/bring him back up without exposing him on the waiver wire.

About two weeks ago, this blog predicted that Talbot was going to be a lock because of his veteran status, but he did not do enough to earn a spot at camp. This is a reminder of other NHL-experienced players who have come into camp but fallen short in exhibition play- former Capitals captain Chris Clark in 2011 comes to mind- and more recently, Ville Leino a year ago. Of course, neither player was under contract as Talbot is, and last year, Simon Gagne started the season after his successful PTO only to leave the team in a mutual parting of ways that included the passing of his father. Gagne retired officially from the NHL just days ago.

So, as things stand right now, here is your Boston Bruins club on the eve of the official start of the NHL’s 2015-16 regular season campaign, with the B’s set to take on the Winnipeg Jets at home on Thursday:

Forwards (13):

63 Brad Marchand- 37 Patrice Bergeron- 21 Loui Eriksson

39 Matt Beleskey- 46 David Krejci- 88 David Pastrnak

11 Jimmy Hayes- 51 Ryan Spooner- 14 Brett Connolly

23 Chris Kelly- 41 Joonas Kemppainen- 36 Zac Rinaldo

64 Tyler Randell

Defense (8):

47 Torey Krug- 54 Adam McQuaid

45 Joe Morrow- 86 Kevan Miller

52 Matt Irwin- 62 Zach Trotman

33 Zdeno Chara- 48 Colin Miller

Goaltenders (2):

40 Tuukka Rask

89 Jonas Gustavsson

(Is it me or do some of these numbers remind you of the Boston Celtics?)

 

Tryout no more: Bruins ink the Monster to 1-year deal

The Boston Bruins announced today that the team has signed veteran goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to a one-year pact valued at $700,000.

It’s interesting to me how much rage I got on my Twitter feed about the signing. A lot of folks are convinced Gustavsson can’t play at this level, but that’s neither here nor there. The B’s obviously felt that going with a player who has been in the NHL since 2009 made more sense than putting their faith into the game but completely unproven (at the NHL level) Jeremy Smith. Smith was okay in the preseason, but in order to give the Bruins confidence that he should be the one to get the nod as the Boston backup, he needed to play a little better than he did. It was close enough in the performance levels between he and Gustavsson that Boston obviously opted to go with the safer bet in the veteran Swede.

Now, what remains to be seen is what the B’s do with Smith.

Here are the options:

  1. The Bruins carry three goaltenders. With a maximum roster size of 23 players, this means they would either have to carry 12 forwards and 8 defensemen or 13 forward and 7 defensemen. Right now, Tyler Randell looks like he’s going to be odd-man-out if they go with eight defenders.
  2. Assuming he clears waivers (consistent on three of four options), Smith goes to Providence and the Baby B’s try to split time between Smith, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre. This is the least beneficial option for the development of Subban and McIntyre.
  3. Smith and Subban play in Providence, the B’s option McIntyre to their ECHL affiliate, the Gwinnett Gladiators near Atlanta, Ga. On the plus side, McIntyre will likely get a good share of playing time, but it comes at a lower level. Some very good NHL goaltenders began their careers in the ECHL: Jonathan QuickDevan Dubnyk, Braden Holtby, Jaroslav Halak and Scott Darling to name a few all saw some action in the “East Coast League” before they found NHL success.
  4. Subban and McIntyre play for Providence and the B’s loan Smith to another AHL team that would welcome a vet of his ability and experience with open arms.

We’ll find out what happens next, but with final roster cutdowns due by Tuesday afternoon, Don Sweeney and company have some interesting decisions to make.

Zdeno Chara is still “day to day” but expected to be back by the start of the season if not soon afterwards, and with Joe Morrow having to go on waivers in order to go down, it makes more sense to put a player like Randell or Smith on waivers and risking losing them as opposed to Morrow.

In the meantime, Gustavsson isn’t an ideal option as backup, but he’s the best chance Boston has to rest Tuukka Rask by having a player that the coaches (at least initially) will trust to spell. There are 11 back-to-backs on the schedule this year, which is fewer than in 2013-14. The Monster is a better goalie than some give him credit for, but he never really delivered on the promise he showed after a dominant 2008-09 campaign in Sweden before signing with Toronto as a coveted free agent that spring. Still, he’s shown he can rise to the occasion in stretches and is at least someone with an NHL track record if he ends up being needed more than just the occasional start to spell the starter. Perish the thought, but the B’s are putting themselves in position to at least have some NHL games in net in a worst case scenario, but should that come to pass, the B’s are in much bigger trouble than any of us can imagine, and it doesn’t really matter who your backup is at that point.

Final Bruins exhibition game at Washington Capitals previews the 2015-16 NHL lineup

The Boston Bruins are in the nation’s capital tonight to take on the Washington Capitals and nemesis Braden Holtby (assumption on my part- have not seen confirmation he’s starting but given his history vs. the B’s, why not?) in what is the last of the team’s 7-game exhibition schedule. They are 4-2, having dropped their last two matches to Detroit and the NY Rangers after starting 4-0.

The “so what” to this is if I were a betting man (which I’m not, btw)- this is probably the closest thing to the opening night roster that we’ve seen as this is the final opportunity for Claude Julien and his staff to get a look at the guys they’ll put their hopes in at least to begin the year. With Zdeno Chara injured, it is as of yet unclear as to whether he will be back in time for opening night and if the team will carry eight defenders to begin the season.

Here’s the forward lineup (according to the Bruins Twitter):

Matt Beleskey — David Krejci — David Pastrnak
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron —Loui  Eriksson
Jimmy Hayes —Ryan Spooner — Brett Connolly
Chris Kelly —Joonas Kemppainen — Zac Rinaldo
Max Talbot — Tyler Randell

The defense pairings:

Torey Krug-Adam McQuaid
Matt Irwin-Kevan Miller
Colin Miller- Zach Trotman
Joe Morrow

Guessing that a rotation of Max Talbot and Zac Rinaldo will be how Julien plays it in the first 30 days or so, at least until injuries open up a regular spot for one of them or performance (lack thereof) forces a change. That likely means that Tyler Randell is odd man out and the team could try and slip him through waivers with the possibility that another team claims him after the years the B’s spent developing him. That will depend on how many defensemen the B’s decide to go with.

The video game set will sigh and groan that Matt Irwin is in the lineup over Joe Morrow, but he comes with the most NHL experience between the two if not the intriguing offensive skill set Morrow provides. You figured it was coming.

We’ll see how the squad fares at the Verizon Center tonight and get back to you.

 

More Bruins to Providence: Koko, Ferlin, Blidh make sense in AHL for now

The Boston Bruins announced their latest round of roster transactions on Thursday here.

To the surprise of very few, three young promising forwards were included in a group of more seasoned minor leaguers.

Alex Khokhlachev, who is entering his third full AHL campaign after finishing the end of the 2012-13 season in Providence after splitting the year between the KHL in his native Russia and the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, was unsuccessful in earning a spot with the team, at least for now, as we are a week away from the start of the 2015-16 regular season.

Koko is a talented center who played with some hustle, but his inability to get on the score sheet resulted in his having to go down. The NHL isn’t a video game in which you take the players that have the highest number rating next to their names and load them up on four lines and away you go. While skill is very important, what also comes into play is how effective a player is in the role the team expects him to play.

Fans can sit on message boards all day long and talk about how they *feel* or *think* a player like Koko on the B’s fourth line makes more sense than veterans such as Max Talbot and Chris Kelly, but that is irrelevant. What matters is what the Bruins coaches and management *know* and that is- Koko is not ready for a full-time contribution in Boston. They make the decisions- right or wrong- and it wasn’t hard to see that Koko’s struggles to generate offense no matter his linemates or ice time in the preseason made it a relatively easy choice for Don Sweeney and Claude Julien to make. Koko’s time in Boston/the NHL will come. Or it won’t. People will disagree with management’s decision on this one. Or they won’t. But it’s pretty apparent that the 22-year-old just didn’t build enough of a case for himself to generate a robust debate.

Don’t be so sure that the B’s will trade him right off the bat, though. They were reminded of an important lesson last year with the handling of Ryan Spooner, and it usually doesn’t make sense to sell low, which is where Koko’s value is right now.

Anton Blidh was on the bubble and close, but again- with no shortage of gritty wingers on the Boston roster, it was a tough sell to expect him to stay up with the club as a spare part at this stage of his development when he could play a lot of quality minutes in the AHL. He’ll be back.

It was much of the same thing for Brian Ferlin– he scored a nice goal in Detroit last weekend, and showed flashes of his ability to chip in on offense, but he’s also young and still learning the game. As was the case last year, he’s on the short list of callups to Boston if players get hurt or underperform.

Still on the team- Tyler Randell. And good on him. The former Belleville Bull and Kitchener Ranger has never made it this far in an NHL camp with Boston and is making a case to stick, or at the very least, make the roster as the extra forward. The hard-nosed winger is legit tough- he won’t bring much offense to the table, but he at least has NHL-caliber hands so as not to be a total liability. The B’s would have to put him on waivers to send him down to Providence and there’s a good chance a team without as many lower-line depth forwards as Boston has right now would pluck him away much like what happened with Nate Thompson back in 2008. We’ll see if he can force the team to keep for now, but this has been a solid showing by Randell, who scored a goal in a win over the Rangers last week and fought gargantuan D Dylan McIlrath so that much smaller Zac Rinaldo wouldn’t have to.

Tommy Cross was waived and will likely pass through and report to Providence. He’s a top person and solid minor league defenseman. He impressed a lot of people with his camp effort- the former 2007 second-rounder is a good skater with a hard point shot and is one of the top character types around. Based on what I saw, if the Boston defense depth chart takes a hit this season, I could see Cross being given an opportunity at some point. He’s earned it.

Torey Krug, David Krejci and Tommy Cross at training camp. Photo by Alison Foley

Torey Krug, David Krejci and Tommy Cross at training camp. Photo by Alison Foley

Rangers down Bruins in spirited contest, 3-2

Brett Connolly scored a pair of goals including one just 40 seconds into Wednesday’s contest, but the Boston Bruins dropped their second exhibition game in as many tries after starting the preseason 4-0.

As pointed out to me on Twitter by several B’s fans, the Rangers were icing a lineup much closer to their NHL roster than Boston was, so there is room for praise for the job the Boston squad did in keeping the lead until the last 3 minutes or so of the second period and then coming back to within one goal late in the final frame. In the end, however, it wasn’t enough.

The B’s lost in regulation, but the teams played a 5-minute 3-on-3 overtime session that failed to generate a score, despite the Rangers getting a power play after Alex Khokhlachev was assessed an obstruction foul.

Fans will need to get used to these kinds of games going forward this season- yes, the team was without many of its top players last night, but even with a full roster, the Bruins will be challenged to score goals on the regular basis. They will have to cash in on the opportunities they do create (and those given them by opponents) and outwork other clubs in order to make the playoffs.

Having said that- here are some notes on some of the players:

Brett Connolly- He accounted for all of the offense last night, and it was the best of the three preseason games we’ve seen from him. His second goal was batted baseball style out of midair and into the net, displaying some excellent hand-eye coordination. On the downside, he’s still turning the puck over and making some mistakes to nitpick, but you could see last night why he was a top draft pick five years ago. Connolly is more than capable of scoring 25 goals this year for Boston, but Claude Julien will stress attention to detail with him to mitigate some of the mistakes he makes with and without the puck.

Zach Trotman- Last pick in 2010 played a strong defensive game and assisted on Connolly’s second tally by denying a Rangers clearing attempt at the blue line and throwing the puck to the net. He may not be the most instinctive of defenders, but Trotman’s 6-4 height and 220-pound frame, along with his mobility allow him to make plays at both ends of the ice. Sometimes, you wonder about people’s expectations- it isn’t like Trotman was a first- or second-round selection and recognized talent to play a prominent role. He was a developmental project player from the get-go and has worked hard to put himself into the NHL picture in Boston- some of these same critics fall all over themselves to praise Koko who has yet to turn any of his flashy plays into production, yet Trotman came through with a statement game last night. It’s the internet and all, but my guess is that on opening night- No. 62 will be in the Boston lineup and No. 76 won’t.

Colin Miller- I think we’ve seen enough- the former Kings prospect is an NHL player, and the Bruins will benefit from his skating, puckhandling and big-time point shot. On one particular sequence in the second period, the puck was thrown to the net as he was cutting to the short side. It hit his skate, but even at speed, Miller was able to corral it with his stick and get a shot off. Henrik Lundqvist made a terrific save, but it was the kind of effortless-looking play that is much harder for most to pull off. Miller belongs on this team, end of story.

Joonas Kemppainen- The Finnish free agent has the look of a solid fourth-line center with his faceoff work and disciplined play in all 200 feet of the rink. He’s not a dynamic skater, but as a big guy, he doesn’t have to be. He uses his stick effectively to disrupt plays on the penalty kill and has been in the right position throughout the preseason. He’s not a player who will bring a lot of offensive production to the table, but his heavy game is well suited for the bottom line and with the right wingers, so long as that unit can chip in and play some quality minutes, the B’s are on the right track.

Jimmy Hayes- He was active and involved in the play all night. He’s not as skilled as younger brother Kevin, but he brings more tenacity and “want to” in my opinion. The team had him wearing the ‘A’ last night, and Hayes continued his solid if unspectacular play in the preseason, tallying a helper on Connolly’s first goal. He’s clearly enjoying being a Bruin, and he’s a valued addition on a team that is going to need every ounce of his talent and 6-6 frame to get some gritty, dirty goals on any given night.

Ryan Spooner- Boston’s third-line center showed off his ability to work the wall last night, at one point during a power play in the second period generating quality scoring chances from both sides of the ice. Koko just missed sending him in alone on a breakaway during the 3-on-3 overtime session, and he might have ended it right there. Spooner is at his best when pushing the pace of the offense and backing defenses up with his speed. Unfortunately, he also made a poor decision late in the second period to make a cross-ice pass after gaining the offensive zone that was deflected away and resulted in a rush the other way that saw J.T. Miller put the Rangers up 2-1 with about 37 seconds remaining on the clock. Those are the kinds of plays that will get any player a stern talking to from the coaches- it was risky and ended up being costly. He did have an assist on Boston’s second goal of the night, however.

Alex Khokhlachev- At some point the energy, hustle and skill plays need to amount to points on the board and it’s just not there. It seems to me that there is an element of fans who want him on the team no matter what, and I can understand that- everyone has an opinion, and he’s undoubtedly more talented than a couple of the veterans who are likely to beat him out for a spot coming out of camp. But one wonders if Max Talbot was showing the same kind of energy, would people go out of their way to praise him as seems to be the case for Koko? For a guy who made it clear that he sees himself as an NHL player, he sure hasn’t been able to find away to produce, and that’s going to be the difference when he is optioned to Providence to start the year. The B’s can and will almost certainly bring him back up at some point (unless Don Sweeney trades him elsewhere- but the kind of value Koko will get at this stage is anyone’s guess), but enough of the grasping at straws- potential is just that- potential…until it is realized through tangible results. It would be one thing if he was scoring a point or three each night he went out there, but he’s not doing that. In the end, it doesn’t matter what any of us on the outside think- Boston management and coaches have the power to decide, and in Koko’s case- it’s pretty simple: where’s the beef? There is no denying the skill, but the team rightfully expects more from him.

Adam McQuaid- The most memorable play of the night from him came on Miller’s late second period goal when he backed up too much in the Boston zone, giving the Ranger forward the time and space to rip a wicked shot into the net, taking the lead. You love McQuaid’s character and toughness, but his mobility and decision-making at times will result in plays like this one. During the course of the season he’s going to make some plays and give some up- if not for the AAV on his contract extension, few would have any issue with his presence. It’s the nature of the beast in this modern cap world.

Jonas Gustavsson- Playing in just his second contest since coming to camp on a PTO, it was a good news/bad news kind of game for the veteran. He was victimized on the first goal, which came on a screen and deflected in off of Trotman’s skate. But he was beaten cleanly on a shot by Miller to break a 1-1 tie, and in the third period, was unable to get across the crease when Rick Nash’s attempted pass was blocked by Matt Irwin. Nash, doing what top goal scorers like him do, grabbed the puck as it bounced back to him and popped it into the yawning open side as Gustavsson was caught by the shortside post. Neither Gustavsson nor Smith have been outstanding in exhibition play, but they have been serviceable. Gustavsson held the fort later in the game and in the OT when the Rangers were on a 4-on-3 man advantage, so flip a coin between the two for Boston’s backup spot. It’s close, and with Smith under contract, he just might get the nod.

Zac Rinaldo- Continues to play his high motor game and drive opponents crazy with his hitting and stickwork. He took a goalie interference penalty and then was reminded of that with a hard, borderline vicious hit from Dylan McIlrath that he bounced back from. With his speed, he creates scoring chances, ringing a shot off the post at one point in the final period, but the production has not and never will be there. Rinaldo is there to bring energy, agitate, draw penalties and get opponents off their game without hurting his own team in the process. There is a segment of Boston fandom that will simply not reconcile that role with his past transgressions nor the price Boston paid to acquire him, but that’s fine- as is the case with McQuaid- he’s here like it or not.

Tyler Randell- Drove to the net and worked the corners effectively. When McIrath tried to go after Rinaldo during a scrum in front of the Rangers net, Randell intercepted the New York defender and the two dropped the gloves. Both players got some shots in, and it looked like a draw, but given what Randell gave way to in terms of height and reach, the bout further enhanced his reputation as a nasty forward who can fight it out with the heavyweights.

Tommy Cross- I have to give the former BC captain and 2x NCAA champion credit. He played hard and smart last night. He’s a longshot given the players the B’s have on the roster, but his character has never, ever been a question mark. Last night, he played with effort, pace and got some good shots on net from the point. He’s an NHL-capable defender in a reduced role, but the question for him is opportunity- can he get it in Boston?

Brian Ferlin- Good player, but what on earth was he thinking in OT when he went to the bench for a chance with the Rangers in possession of the puck at center ice? That resulted in a 3-on-1 but somehow, the B’s survived it and transitioned back the other way, with Koko just missing sending Spooner in on a breakaway. But, Brian- yikes!

Kids go down, some vets come up as 2015-16 B’s roster comes into focus

The Boston Bruins announced that forwards Austin Czarnik and Frank Vatrano, along with defensemen Linus Arnesson and Chris Casto, were sent to Providence on Tuesday.

Interestingly, the B’s brought some previously relegated players in fowards Brandon DeFazio and Ben Sexton, along with minor league defenseman Chris Breen.

This puts the current count of forwards on the roster at 20, defensemen at 11 and the B’s are carrying three goaltenders. Dennis Seidenberg is injured and won’t be available for about the first eight weeks of the season, so the D count is really at 10 right now, with Breen and Tommy Cross expected to go back down to Providence if the team opts to go with eight defensemen out of the chute (including the banged up Zdeno Chara).

The moves are not all that surprising- Czarnik, Vatrano and Arnesson all show intriguing promise, but they are all entering their first full pro season after all seeing limited action in the AHL last spring. I know that fans love their shiny new toys, but these guys need to be playing, and they weren’t going to be getting a lot of playing time in the NHL, even if they made the roster. And by the way- to keep a young forward on the big club means that the B’s would in most cases have to place another veteran on waivers. No big loss in Max Talbot you say? Well, he most likely would not be claimed, but the B’s value his experience and leadership more than a lot of the folks watching the games, so let’s just say that paying him nearly a million dollars to play in the AHL is not the best use of team resources, regardless of how he has looked in some limited preseason action.

As for the recalls, they’ll get a chance to play in the final couple of preseason contests and likely go back down.

The guys pushing for spots at forward need a strong push here at the end to make their case: Alex ‘Koko’ Khokhlachev has shown that he’s got some legitimate skills, but we’re still waiting on the production to take shape. Even when Ryan Spooner was trying to make the B’s in his previous two exhibition seasons, he was scoring goals and points in the preseason. Koko has done some good things, but the pucks haven’t been going in for him. At this rate, he’ll be one of the final cuts, but will go down to begin the year in Providence.

Tyler Randell is an interesting case. He’s a late-round pick from 2009 who never really stuck around in preseason much for fans to get a handle on, but has done the grunt work down in Providence as an enforcer. He’s a player with a good set of hands- he once scored 4 goals for the Kitchener Rangers during a 2012 OHL playoff game against the Plymouth Whalers (who featured Washington power forward Tom Wilson). Randell’s not much of a skater, but the guy can fight and he could find a spot for himself with his toughness. He wouldn’t be an every game player, but could slot in when the B’s needed to add some bite to their roster. I keep seeing Randell linked to Shawn Thornton as a comparable player and I won’t go there other than to say that they are two different players and fans have to understand that Thornton came to the B’s as an established NHL veteran who was added as much for his character as he was for the toughness he displayed. Randell’s not there yet, so temper the expectations- he’s still growing and learning as a player.

I’ve been impressed with Anton Blidh– he’s fast, gritty and energetic. He’s always moving his feet and qualifies as a grinding agitator type. It might be a situation where the B’s feel like he’s better served getting more minutes in Providence initially and then bringing him up when the inevitable injury happens up front, or he could very well make the Boston roster to start the season. These last couple of games will be critical for him, but because he can go down and not be subject to the waivers process, the team at least has options with Blidh. He’s on the bubble and close, but I predict he’ll start the year in Providence. Ditto Brian Ferlin, who has played well in preseason, but will find himself the odd man out on the right side with a chance to go back to the AHL and play top-two line minutes and in all situations.

Finally, I’m sold on Joonas Kemppainen to start the year as Boston’s fourth-line center. He’s mature, smart and does the little things for the position. I like his faceoff work and he does a nice job of making the right reads coming out of the zone and moving the puck to the open spaces on the ice. He’s not going to wow you in any one area, but I can see why the Bruins signed him out of Finland at age 27.

The final roster picture is coming into focus, but after the sluggish night against Detroit in the 3-1 loss Monday, that’s a harbinger of more nights to come. Loui Eriksson’s goal was too little, too late and the offense will have to overachieve to score regularly this season by the looks of it.

Would like to be proven wrong, but even in Boston’s victories, the cup of offense has not runneth over.

More cuts on Sunday as 4-0 preseason Bruins roster takes shape

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney announced today that eight players under NHL contract have been sent down to Providence of the AHL. Defenseman Chris Breen and forward Brandon DeFazio were put on waivers yesterday and designated for assignment- they both cleared today and will participate in the Baby B’s camp. Defenseman Ben Youds, on an AHL deal, was released from Boston camp (PTO) and sent to Providence. You can read the transaction announcement here.

Additionally, the B’s returned their remaining junior players to their respective teams, with Jakub Zboril (Saint John- QMJHL), Jake DeBrusk (Swift Current- WHL) and Brandon Carlo (Tri-City- WHL) all going back to the CHL. The B’s released Zach Senyshyn (Sault Ste. Marie- OHL) and Jeremy Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda- QMJHL) prior to the weekend’s slate of games.

In the spirit of and with a nod to the always outstanding Mike Reiss and his Patriots blog at ESPN Boston throughout the NFL training camp leading up to the final cuts day before the start of the 2015 NFL season, here’s the remaining players- locks and bubble guys along with a little analysis on what it all means going forward.

Centers

Locks: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner, Chris Kelly, Max Talbot (5)

On the bubble: Joonas Kemppainen

AHL-bound: Alex Khokhlachev, Austin Czarnik, Zack Phillips

Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci…Krejci and Bergeron…Boston’s 1-1A center punch is well entrenched, and I won’t fool around with the argument I see some people engage in over who is the B’s 1 and 2…it’s a pretty meaningless debate, because without one or the other, the team’s in deep trouble. Ryan Spooner hasn’t had a great deal of time to establish himself with new linemates, but he’s been an opportunistic scorer with the man advantage and is clearly the No. 3 man in the center pecking order. Even if the B’s might opt not to use Chris Kelly and/or Max Talbot at center, expect the team to retain both as veteran options for the bottom line with the ability to play the wings- they’ve done it before. Joonas Kemppainen has been a solid if unspectacular presence in the exhibition games he’s suited up for, and he’s effective on the draws, plays a mature two-way game, and has the size and strength to start the year as the team’s fourth-line center if that’s the plan. Austin Czarnik has been a revelation in his first pro camp after signing with the B’s last spring, using his speed, smarts and quick hands to make an impact in all three zones, but he’s better off playing on Providence’s first or second line and on both PK and PP units. If injuries take a toll on the B’s depth, don’t be surprised to see him get a chance at some point this season. If not, he’ll make it tough to cut him next year with a full season under his belt. Alex Khokhlachev, for all his talent, just hasn’t been able to find the production in his game. He’s without a doubt more talented than Kelly, Talbot or Kemppainen, but building an NHL roster isn’t just about plugging in the most skilled guys on the bottom line and expecting them to thrive. He’s improved his overall game, but if Koko had found a way to actually…you know…score some goals, then you might have more of an argument than the simple “SKILL!” that I have people hit me with onTwitter quite a bit. The B’s need to figure out how to best use him or trade him, but just because he said he doesn’t want to play in Providence forever does not mean he’s ready for primetime now. He’ll have  a few more chances before the final cuts come in, so if ever there was a time for him to impress the brass with a breakout individual performance, it’s now. Zack Phillips was waived yesterday (and cleared) but is still with the team, where he is rehabbing an injury.  Even if he had played in any of the preseason games, it’s hard to see Phillips being in the mix for a center job given how deep the team is at that position right now.

Right Wings

Locks: David Pastrnak, Loui Eriksson, Brett Connolly

On the bubble: Anton Blidh, Tyler Randell

AHL-bound: Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith

David Pastrnak is not only a sure thing, he’s the most exciting combination of pure speed/scoring talent *and* character since…well…quite a long time. He’s similar to Bergeron in terms of the kind of impact he could have on this franchise, but he’s a higher-end scoring winger and will eventually put together some impressive numbers. I don’t know if he’s quite ready to bust out with the All-Star production this year, but he’ll give it his all. Loui Eriksson plays the off-wing and will go about his business being the smart, stealthy scoring presence he was a year ago when he finished second on the team in goals. However, if the B’s are going south in the standings, don’t be surprised to see Sweeney try and move Eriksson to a contender- his current contract is up next summer and it’s doubtful he’ll be back. Brett Connolly has not had a great preseason thus far, but the team gave up a pair of second-round picks for him and has high hopes. Unlike impatient fans who expect instant near-perfection, the B’s will give Connolly a chance to see if the 2010 draft hype was real or not. Listed as a left wing but shifting over on the right  side thus far, Swedish pest Anton Blidh has impressed with his speed, energy and grit. He’s the kind of guy who could start the season right away on the bottom line, but as a young player on the first year of his ELC, he can be sent down to Providence without being placed on waivers, whereas other players can’t, so he might need to bide his time in the AHL as a third-liner who can grind it out. Tyler Randell has yet to even come close to making the NHL roster since the B’s drafted him late in 2009, but he’s in the mix because of his sheer toughness and ability to make the odd offensive play. Randell’s feet are an issue and he’ll have to be waived to get sent down, so the B’s might carry him as an extra forward to spot play when facing the more rugged teams (which admittedly are decreasing rapidly in number). Brian Ferlin scored a nice backhand goal off a turnover against Detroit and impressed in a small sample size call up a year ago, but like Blidh, he can go down without waivers, so the B’s would rather have him playing a lot than the limited time he’ll get on the bottom line. He’ll be among the first to be recalled if injuries hit. Seth Griffith’s sprained MCL suffered in a preseason game essentially means he’ll rehab the injury but likely go down to start the year and work his way into shape and consideration to be brought up when that time comes.

Left Wings

Locks: Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Zac Rinaldo

AHL-bound: Frank Vatrano

Brad Marchand led the team in scoring a year ago and he’s going nowhere- will keep riding shotgun with Bergeron to consistent effect over the past several seasons. Boston’s big-ticket free agent Matt Beleskey hasn’t set the world on fire in his first couple of preseason outings, but he’s done and said the right things. Working with Krejci and Pastrnak means that he’ll have plenty of chances to find the back of the net, but expectations need to be tempered- the B’s need him to stay healthy more than anything else right now. Local boy makes good in the case of Jimmy Hayes, who has used his enormous 6-foot-6 frame to good effect and done pretty well skating with Spooner. He’s going to grunt it out in the trenches, but he looks like an ideal fit in Boston’s top-9, playing over on the left side after being a right wing in Florida. Zac Rinaldo was acquired with a third-round pick, so even the most ardent critics will have to grudgingly admit that he’s here to stay for now at least, and we’ll see how much of a role he’ll have on the team going forward. If the B’s opt to use Kelly on the left wing of the fourth line, then Rinaldo will have to move around. Thus far, he’s drawn more penalties than he’s taken and played his patented physical style.  Frank Vatrano, along with liney Czarnik, has been a revelation, but he’s not ready to take on a full-time NHL role. He’s better off playing a lot of minutes in all situations and building his confidence by unleashing that killer shot down in the AHL for now, but watch for him to get some looks if he’s productive and keeps playing hard in all zones.

Defense

Locks: Zdeno Chara (inj.), Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Zach Trotman, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, Matt Irwin, Kevan Miller *Dennis Seidenberg (inj.)– 8-week timetable for return (mid-to-late November)

On the bubble: Linus Arnesson

AHL-bound: Tommy Cross, Chris Casto

The Bruins are hoping Zdeno Chara is ready to begin the season after taking a hit the other night in action against the NY Rangers and leaving the game in the first period. Torey Krug has stepped up in his absence, scoring the OT-winning goal against Detroit and playing with the confidence and heart of a much bigger man. Adam McQuaid is safely entrenched on the Boston roster, and Zach Trotman is also a solid bet for now as a known entity, even if he does not possess the uptempo game and sexy upside that Colin Miller and Joe Morrow bring. Both offense-minded blueliners have impressed in the preseason and the injury situation means they will both likely make the cut. Matt Irwin and Kevan Miller bring veteran ability and know-how to the mix, and if Claude Julien was serious about carrying eight defenders to begin the year (he said that even before Chara got banged up) then these are your guys. Linus Arnesson has played very well- his ice time against Detroit was notable early for how much of the first 20 minutes was played on special teams and he did well in all situations. However, with more experienced options in play, the expected move is for him to go down to the AHL where he can develop and thrive in a top role. Experienced farmhands Tommy Cross and Chris Casto will help Arnesson form a nucleus of a relatively young but game defense corps in Providence.

Goaltender

Lock: Tuukka Rask

On the bubble: Jeremy Smith, Jonas Gustavsson

And then there were three…with both of Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre being optioned to Providence today, this leaves it between Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith to be Tuukka Rask’s backup. Gustavsson just returned to the team after dealing with a personal matter, so he hasn’t had much playing time outside of an 18-shot, 18-save half of work in Boston’s first preseason contest against the New Jersey Devils. Smith has been a little up and down, struggling to find his game against the Rangers, but digging in and making some key stops at crunch time to preserve a 4-3 shootout win after letting in some softies to fall behind 3-1. In Gustavsson (who is on a PTO and would still need to be signed if the B’s like what they see), the team gets an NHL-experienced backup who has proven he has the tools to be a capable starter should something happen to Rask (knock on wood, please). On the downside, ‘the Monster’ has had injury issues, so even if the B’s go with him this year, there is a chance he’ll end up on IR at some point, meaning the team has to go deeper into the bullpen. As for Smith, he’s a one-time second-round pick from 2007, so at one point, he was seen as an impressive pro prospect, but he has zero NHL experience, so the B’s are going right back where they were a year ago when they went with the unproven Niklas Svedberg, who could not win Julien’s confidence to spell Rask more than once in a blue moon. It would be one thing if Smith had completely shut everyone down thus far in exhibition play, but he hasn’t done that. He also hasn’t been as bad as some folks have shared with me online, either. At the same time, Gustavsson’s effort was in a very small sample size…but then again- you know he can stop pucks at the NHL level, at least. My guess: Gustavsson stays, Smith goes down to the AHL, and at that point, the B’s will probably need to either option McIntyre to the ECHL or figure out another AHL team for Smith- three goalies in Providence is not the kind of situation Boston wants.

Boston’s hockey Czar: From land of the Buckeye to the Bay State- Czarnik jolts B’s offense

Austin Czarnik's 2013-14 Miami University Redhawks captain sweater (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Austin Czarnik’s 2013-14 Miami University Redhawks captain sweater (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Truth in lending: When the rumors began circulating last spring that the Boston Bruins were close to signing Miami University captain Austin Czarnik as a free agent, I was skeptical.

It wasn’t that I felt it would be a bad signing given that he is barely 5-foot-8 on skates or that I had many doubts about Czarnik’s overall offensive game as evidenced by his run to being a Hobey Baker finalist as a junior in 2014. Even though his numbers in 2015 were a little down from the season before (he scored six of his 9 goals in the final 10 games of the season), the Michigan native raised his stock at crunch time, picking up his goal production right before and during the NCHC and NCAA tourneys.

No, I just didn’t really believe that the Bruins would aggressively pursue and secure the winning bid for Czarnik’s services, so I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention until it was a done deal. Nearly six months later, I can now unequivocally say: My. Bad.

It’s not like his success at every level is all that surprising…just take a look back in April 2011 at when I and my colleagues at Red Line Report ranked him 6th on a list of 12 USHL players for the 2011 NHL draft and just two spots ahead of him was on Johnny (B.) Gaudreau. And no, the three guys ahead of Gaudreau are nowhere near as good as he turned out to be, so it isn’t like scouting is an exact science.

Here is what our USHL guy (now employed by an NHL team, I would add) had to say about Czarnik then:

Undersized but fast and energetic two-way centre. A dynamic penalty killer. Has developed a reputation as a clutch goal scorer. Has quick hands and 1-on-1 ability. Not a dirty player but can be a pest with his speed and relentless puck pressure- a highly disruptive player.

And…you get the message.

Czarnik and liney Frank Vatrano have been dynamite for the Bruins since the rookie camp fired up a couple of weeks ago. They led the Baby (or is it future?) B’s in scoring at the rookie tournament in Buffalo with three assists (Czarnik) and three goals (Vatrano) in two games. From there, Claude Julien kept them together and they’ve continued to play well in a couple of exhibition contests with the big club.

Czarnik, who turns 23 in December, came out of the USHL first with the U.S. NTDP U17 and U18 teams from 2008-10 and then the Green Bay Gamblers in 2011 without being drafted and went on to a strong collegiate career under coach Enrico Blasi in Oxford, Ohio. He earned the captaincy as a junior and finished his four years in that elite NCAA program with 169 points in 159 games. After fielding multiple offers last spring, he went with Boston, who brought him out to Providence on an amateur tryout agreement (ATO) where he posted a pair of assists in three AHL contests.

With his explosive speed and slippery agility, Czarnik is tough to get a bead on when he’s got the puck and is attacking into the teeth of defenses. He’s gritty and feisty- he won’t shy away from doing the grunt work, even though he’s often overmatched physically and will often come out on the short end of those contests of strength. However, when it comes to smarts and wills, he tends to wheel out from the corners with the puck and can either take to the net himself and score the goal, or find the open man for a quality scoring chance.

Here’s some of the evidence:

And here, he victimizes future B’s teammate Zane McIntyre with a hat trick last season:

With or without the puck, he makes a positive contribution and if only he was a little bigger, Czarnik would already be a household name.

In short, we figured he’d be good, but to have the kind of impact he’s made thus far says a lot about his character and drive. A lot of times, a player with the talent and the “want to” will go on to reach the pinnacle of success in the sport. That’s where Gaudreau has come from, and it’s not a stretch to say that Czarnik might be headed down a similar path. Not comparing the two, because Gaudreau is a bigger talent, but the two have a lot in common given their playing styles and physical attributes.

As the old adage goes- when you’re a big guy in hockey you have to prove that you can’t play…a little guy has to prove he can.

Czarnik has shown himself to be a player thus far at camp. Because of the team’s current makeup at center, it probably is best for him to be sent to Providence where he can play top minutes in the AHL in every situation as opposed to playing behind Boston’s 1-2-3 situation with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Ryan Spooner. However, should the team lose manpower at the position, don’t be surprised to see Czarnik get a look with the big club at some point.

Providence fans had best enjoy the Little Hockey Czar while they can- he might not be the biggest player to ever darken the doorstep of the TDGarden, but with his speed and skill level, it won’t be long before he arrives.

(Kirk Luedeke photo)

(Kirk Luedeke photo)

B’s go to 3-0 in preseason; Chara leaves with UB injury while Morrow impresses

The Boston Bruins are undefeated in exhibition play with three wins, coming back from a 3-1 deficit tonight against the NY Rangers to score two third period goals including the tying tally from Ryan Spooner with 54 seconds left and Jeremy Smith out for the extra attacker. After a scoreless overtime including 4-on-3 power plays for each team, the B’s got shootout goals from Spooner, Frank Vatrano and Brad Marchand to pull out a 4-3 victory that doesn’t count in the standings.

The biggest news on the night was the loss of captain Zdeno Chara in the first period. He made contact with Rangers forward Ryan Bourque (youngest son of B’s legend Ray). The play did not look like much, but Chara left the ice after 1:57 in three shifts and did not return. The team announced him out with an “upper body injury” and did not have an update after the game.

It goes without saying that should the B’s lose Chara for any extended period of time after already being without veteran Dennis Seidenberg for the first two months of the regular season, they are in trouble deep. We’ll find out soon enough, I guess. But for now- the positives:

Ryan Spooner- Boston’s 23-year-old pivot scored the equalizer when the Rangers allowed him to walk in from the right half-wall to the top of the circle where he sent a low shot through several guys in front. The puck was on target at Rangers goalie Jeff Malcolm’s five-hole and gave the B’s a shot at OT with less than a minute remaining. Spooner followed that up in the shootout with a nice snipe after making a quick hip fake as he came in at an oblique angle before beating Malcolm far side over the blocker. If you like pure speed and skill, Spooner has plenty of both. He’s figuring out who he is as an NHL center and as long as he’s scoring and working hard, Claude Julien will be happy with him, even if he doesn’t always make the right decisions or plays in his own end.

Joe Morrow- The Pens first-rounder in 2011 had a good game, blasting a shot from the point that Tyler Randell tipped home to give the B’s a 1-0 lead while playing a good aggressive transition game and hustling back, blocking shots and playing hard on defense. He made a particularly good play to sacrifice his body late in regulation to block a shot that could have put the game out of reach just before Spooner tied it. He nearly won it in the final second when he jumped in from the point and fired a rebound on net, but the shot hit Bourque and did not go. He was solid in OT, poised when the B’s were down a man and then later working the point well with fellow D-man Colin Miller. If this was a statement game that Morrow wants to play in the NHL full-time this season, he made it.

Austin Czarnik- I said this on Twitter: he’s a player. I’m liking the Michigan native and former Miami University captain more and more each time I see him, and I had a lot of time for him when he was in the NCAA. He was instrumental on Boston’s second goal- anticipating that a Rangers clearing attempt would not get past the blue line and turning on the jets to zoom into the zone and get to the puck first. He then walked to the middle of the slot and fired a shot that hit the post. Jimmy Hayes had fallen down in front of the net and appeared to interfere with the goalie Malcolm, but the puck squirted out and defenseman Brandon Carlo buried it. In the regular season, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault would be able to mount a coach’s challenge on that play, and he probably would win, but not tonight. Back to Czarnik- he might be small, but he’s so fast, smart and creative with the puck. He’s always making something happen. I thought Julien should have put him out for the 4-on-3 Boston had at the end of OT. As it stood, he was finally put out in the last 11 seconds and the B’s mounted a furious assault on the Rangers net with him out there buzzing around…coincidence? I think not. I’m still surprised that the Bruins were able to beat out other suitors for this guy, but you can see why other teams were on Czarnik, at least.

Frank Vatrano- Providence fans watching these games have to be getting excited for the duo of Vatrano and Czarnik…they are making for a magical little pair of skilled offensive players. Vatrano played a solid game, but he scored a jaw-dropping goal in the shootout when he rifled a top shelf shot past Malcolm high to the glove side. On the reverse angle, you could see the puck just explode off Vatrano’s stick in a blur…that’s the vaunted release I’ve been oozing over. But the tiny little spot in the upper corner he then hit…with Malcolm in position to make the glove save…this is a kid who is a pure goal scorer with a move like that. The only thing better would have been if it came against Henrik Lundqvist.

Jeremy Smith- If you looked at the box score, you might think Smitty had a tough night. Not so. Yes, he was beaten for a couple of goals that he wanted back, especially the one he got a piece of but knocked into his own net. However, with the game on the line, he dug in and got the job done. I like his talent and mental toughness…I have little doubt that Smith can be an effective backup, but as a player who’s never seen a second of regular season NHL action, there’s some risk associated with him. However- the more you watch him, the more you realize that he’s a competitor and can probably play at this level. Whether the B’s are willing to accept that risk or go with the safer bet in Jonas Gustavsson…that’s what we’ll find out in the remaining preseason contests.

Colin Miller- He had another strong preseason game, showing off the big-time shot, passing and skating skills he was noted for. I saw someone say on Twitter at some point that the Kings hitching their wagon to Slava Voynov over Miller might have been a huge mistake. I guess we shall soon see, but he has that instinctive, aggressive and attacking mindset when he gets the puck. He was dropping bombs from the point in OT and with Morrow, the two did a nice job of keeping the puck away from the Rangers PKers. If Miller can translate his solid preseason play and production in the NHL going forward, this will have been one of those trades that benefits both teams. Milan Lucic is very likely going to go off in Tinseltown in a contract year and new setting back on the West Coast where he is happiest, so Miller’s success will be a big win for Boston if it comes together for him.

Tyler Randell- One tough motha…he got things going with a deflection of Morrow’s point shot in the first period. Then followed it with a spirited fight with Brett Bellemore that was pretty one-sided with Randell scoring some big blows before the takedown. Randell did not complete the Gordie Howe hat trick, but it was a solid showing from the 2009 sixth-rounder, whose skating has held him back, but has a nice set of hands for scoring the odd goal on occasion and fighting.

Brandon Carlo- When the B’s made some cuts today, the 18-year-old Tri-City Americans defender was not one of them, a nice vote of confidence. He had a solid outing, scoring a goal by stepping up from the blue line in the third period to pull his team to within one.  He’s got a long reach and does a good job of keeping opponents to the outside. He’s still pretty raw and will get a lot better, but this has been a nice camp experience for him so far.

Brad Marchand- It was nice to see him back together with Patrice Bergeron again. Marchand used his speed and shiftiness all night, but came through at the end when he put an off-speed shot through Malcolm’s leg in the shootout to secure the win. He was wearing an ‘A’ tonight.

Zac Rinaldo- Another game, another standout performance in terms of energy and getting under the opposition skin. He was running around drilling Rangers in the third period, and drew the attention of New York tough guy Tanner Glass. Rinaldo declined Glass’ offer to dance, but then nailed Tommy Hughes with a clean but big-time hit that sent the Ranger flying. Glass went right after Rinaldo and got assessed the roughing minor. Rinaldo is a punk…but he’s Boston’s punk. You shouldn’t play the game like you have eggs in your pockets, but at the same time, Rinaldo has to watch the line and not skate over it. Some people will always have problems with the way he plays, but in two preseason matches, he’s been effective at doing his thing. Time will tell if he can prevent the meltdowns that have contributed to his negative perception around the league, and he came mighty close to penalized for contact with a linesman, who was escorting him to the Boston bench.

The B’s sent Zach Senyshyn back to Sault Ste Marie of the OHL today, along with defenseman Jeremy Lauzon, who returned to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL but was not in their opening night roster against the Quebec Remparts. Goalie Daniel Vladar (Chicago-USHL) and Prince George (WHL) forward Jesse Gabrielle were also returned to their junior clubs.

Colby Cave and Colton Hargrove were sent to Providence, along with AHL contract guys Andrew Cherniwchan, Eric Neiley, Frankie Simonelli, Max Everson, Max Iafrate and Matt Ginn.

Seidenberg to miss 8 weeks; opportunity knocks for Miller, Morrow

The Boston Bruins announced this morning that veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg will undergo surgery tomorrow to repair a herniated disc in his back.

While losing one of the team’s experienced defenders is another step backwards for the B’s, who traded Dougie Hamilton in the offseason, it means for the first two months of the season and perhaps longer, the club will be able to better determine if youngsters Colin Miller or Joe Morrow are ready for primetime.

Miller impressed in his first preseason game Sunday night, notching a pair of power play assists in Boston’s 2-0 win against New Jersey in Providence. He showed off the kind of mobility that Boston desperately needs, moving the puck accurately and using his lateral movement to open up lanes through the Devils’ PK.

Morrow was not as productive last night in the B’s 2-1 OT win over Washington at home, but played a strong game from the back end as well. He’s always been a fine skater and puck mover going back to his WHL days at Portland, but in 15-game audition in Boston last season, Morrow seemed to play more inside of a defensive shell. If the B’s can unshackle him and let him accept a little more risk by doing what he does best- taking the puck and going with it- the team might be able to address the capability gaps opened up with Hamilton’s departure.

Seidenberg out of the lineup means the team does not have to make tougher choices based on who has to go on waivers (Trotman, Morrow, Kevan Miller) and who doesn’t (Colin Miller). If worried about losing a player on the waiver wire, the B’s can now hold onto the players and carry them without the hand being forced. They will have to allocate the cap hit associated with every player on the roster, however- and that’s something to keep an eye on.

We wish Seidenberg well in a speedy recovery, but as of today- Boston’s opening night defense depth chart might look a bit like this (should the Bruins opt to carry 8 defenders as Claude Julien hinted at this week):

Zdeno Chara

Torey Krug

Zach Trotman

Adam McQuaid

Matt Irwin

Colin Miller

Joe Morrow

Kevan Miller