B’s-Caps game notes: Pasta night at TD Garden

The Boston Bruins played their second preseason game of the exhibition schedule, getting both goals compliments of David Pastrnak in a 2-1 OT win against the visiting Washington Capitals.

We got our first game look at new Bruin Matt Beleskey, who skated on a line with Czech Davids- Krejci (with both helpers on the goals) and Pastrnak.

There wasn’t a great deal of flow to this one, and the game was scoreless in the first 40 minutes before getting some offense in the final frame. Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre combined to make 26 stops and secure the win, making the B’s 2-0 in exhibition play.

Here are some notes on the players who caught my attention:

Goaltenders

Malcolm Subban- Solid outing for the 21-year-old, as he stopped all 17 of the shots he faced in 29:43 of action. He seemed to be a little hopped up at first, but settled in nicely and made one memorable shorthanded stop on Jay Beagle, showcasing his natural blend of quickness and power. Subban has come a long way from when he first turned pro and was all over the place technique-wise. He still plays deep in his net, but when you’re as fluid and fast as he is, it isn’t as much of a glaring deficiency as some would have you believe. Even with the 100 percent save percentage- there are still plenty of things to work on, and there’s no better way to do that than down in the AHL as opposed to sitting at the end of the Boston bench.

Zane McIntyre- He was beaten on what appeared to be a screen by Nate Schmidt’s seeing eye shot during a Caps PP but other than that, the first year pro handled business, stopping 9 of 10 shots he faced. He’s a lot more together stylistically than he used to be, employing better economy of motion in his game and letting the puck hit him more than he did earlier in his junior and college careers. The NCAA’s top goalie has not looked out of place so far, but it’s pretty evident that he’s not ready to be an NHL backup and will benefit from the playing time and seasoning in the minors.

Defense-

Linus Arnesson- He looked very good in both rookie games and had another effective, unspectacular outing tonight. He’s a smooth skater who plays with a maturity and poise beyond his years when it comes to his own end. He understands positioning and can get the puck out quickly. I don’t see much in the way of an attacking defender who will put up a lot of points, but he can get up the ice well enough and will be able to evolve into an effective penalty killer because of his feet and defensive awareness. He is what he is, I think- just a solid defenseman who will give you a good effort and consistent, steady play. He doesn’t need to be rushed into the NHL lineup, nor should he be viewed as a real difference maker when he eventually arrives in Boston. Put simply- you win with guys like Arnesson, but fans should avoid making him into something he is not: a top-level two-way D.

Torey Krug- The Michigander was wearing an ‘A’ on his sweater and that will soon become a permanent accessory on his game attire. He’s skating with a lot of confidence and bringing that edge that is important for him even if he doesn’t possess ideal NHL size. With Krug it’s about smarts and effort- he’s getting better with his reads and making the right decisions under pressure, and nobody will outwork him for a puck, even if they might be able to win a physical battle. I could go on and on, but won’t- he’s going to keep improving and for those who haven’t figured it out yet- be a core contributor to Boston’s fortunes for a long time. He led all blue liners in ice time tonight with nearly 24 minutes and his regular season time will surely increase as he eases into that top-four role he’s earning each day with his work on and off the ice.

Kevan Miller- If people are looking for excuses to write off this free agent find and former captain at the University of Vermont, Miller isn’t giving much room there. He played his brand of physical hockey, keeping things simple and preventing the Caps from getting much going offensively with some hits and good breakups. The Californian is a no-frills, bottom-pairing kind of guy, but he’s tough and cheap. He’s back after missing the second half of the year with shoulder surgery.

Joe Morrow- I liked his game tonight. Morrow is at his best when using his piston-like stride to vault up the ice and push the offensive pace from the back end. He’s got to do a better job of hitting the net with that big point drive of his, but you can see the way he can make tough passes with relative ease and Morrow brings the much needed mobility and puckhandling skills to the defense if he can make the big club and stick.

Forwards

David Pastrnak- Scored Boston’s regulation goal with a flourish after taking a Krejci pass and beating Philipp Grubauer with a nifty backhand. He followed that up by scoring the OT goal in 3-on-3 play just 12 seconds in, securing the win. He’s tracking to be a special player- he’s got that rare blend of natural talent plus the attitude, work ethic and charisma to be a franchise presence in Boston. We saw it in flashes last year as a rookie. This time around, as long as he can stay healthy, he’ll score with more regularity, but the big breakout is on the short horizon. It’s hard not to get caught up in the hype with this kid (and he is a kid- just turned 19 in May), but if you’ve been around him for just 30 seconds, you can see why the B’s treasure him (and why, in 2017- they’ll be opening up the checkbook- big time).

Anton Blidh- What is Claude Julien to do? This guy looks like the real deal for your bottom line right wing position, even with the veterans under contract. The Swedish sixth-rounder in 2013 brings a lot of speed, tenacity and relentless forechecking to the mix, even if he may lack the offensive toolbox to be a top-six forward at this level. He was grinding it out early, drawing penalties and attracting notice for his verve and finishing of checks when there wasn’t a lot of flow to this game. Because he can be sent down without being placed on waivers, chances are- Blidh (pronounced “bleed”) will begin the year in Providence. However, if he keeps playing like this, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the team as a 13th forward.

Austin Czarnik- Carried over his strong showing at the rookie tournament in Buffalo in this one. Little waterbug is so fast, skilled with the puck but shows off the little things away from the puck as well that should endear him to the Boston and Providence coaches. As a player who was skipped over in the draft because of his size, he’s going to have to put in twice the effort, but if the early signs are any indication, Czarnik will be an immediate impact performer for Butch Cassidy and might even play his well into an appearance or two with Boston sooner than anyone thinks. With the team so deep with centers, his time might have to be down the road, but plenty to like here.

Zach Senyshyn- He didn’t have any points tonight, but I continue to like with the big, eager winger brings to the table. With his long, loping stride- he’s rangy and gets up and down the ice so well that he can catch defenders flat-footed if they don’t watch their gaps with him. The Soo Greyhound just needs to keep things simple- take pucks to the net and do the things he’s known for and that got him 26 goals playing on the lower lines in the OHL. The more people who see him play, the less we hear about what a “reach” he was because you can’t teach his size or willingness.

Alex Khokhlachev- It was a mixed bag for him. I thought he looked pretty poor on Boston’s first power play opportunity but he seemed to relax as the game went on and showed his talent off in flashes. Again- flashes aren’t enough, here- he’s got to find ways to produce and pointing to the linemates is just making excuses at some point. If you want to beat out the guys ahead of you on the depth chart, you have to leave the coaches with little choice but to keep you- has he really done that in the two games thus far? Not enough to the degree needed, in my view.

David Krejci- If the B’s get this healthy version of their longtime top-2 center, then they’re on the right track this year. You figured he would come back hungry and motivated after last year essentially being a wash and he was on it tonight, with two primary assists on the only goals his team produced. Now, we’ve seen just 4 goals in two exhibition wins for the B’s, but in this one, you wanted to see some offense from the club’s top unit and they delivered. It’s pretty cool to think that when a young David Pastrnak was looking up at his room’s wall in Havirov and seeing a photo of Krejci pinned up there, he probably never imagined he would one day be getting the puck direct from his hockey hero. That one is just entering his prime and the other has a world of talent to take full advantage is an exciting thought for Boston fans.

Justin Hickman- Dropped the gloves in the second period against Tyler Lewington and scored the takedown after some punches exchanged, but that’s the toughness and presence that the former Seattle Thunderbirds captain was expected to bring. His skill is a work in progress, and he’ll likely not be a major factor down in Providence this season as he’ll gravitate towards the grunt work as he gets acclimated to that level, but he skates well enough and brings the kind of physicality that the B’s value. Watch for him to develop into a Providence fan fave pretty quickly, and he’ll score some nice goals down there, even if they don’t come in bunches.

Frank Vatrano- He came close to scoring in the first when the B’s were on the PP with that shot of his…ooh la la. What can you say? The kid’s release and heavy, accurate drive is just sublime. He’s getting quicker and will round out the rest of his game as he’s allowed to develop in the minors. B’s just might have a real homegrown diamond-in-the-rough here.

Matt Beleskey- Oof. He’ll get better, but it looked like he was trying a little too hard. He did win kudos early in going to Krejci’s defense in a scrum- he’s not afraid to stick his nose in and defend teammates even if he doesn’t have Milan Lucic’s size or toughness. Needs to go have fun, loosen up on the stick and cut down on the turnovers/forcing of the play. You see the chemistry that Krejci and Pastrnak already have- he’ll benefit from it too, if he just lets the play come to him a bit and doesn’t overthink it. This is why we have a preseason schedule…

Addendum to Khokhlachev observations

I went back and looked at film of last night’s 2-0 preseason win for the Bruins before work this morning just to make sure I wasn’t being too hard on Boston center Alex Khokhlachev. I don’t think I was unfair, but I do want to drill down a bit and focus on what I saw last night so as to generate a more honest discussion.

I don’t want this to turn into a “he’s a hater” kind of situation because Koko deserves credit for some strong play in a game where a lot of players were still shaking the rust off. I also feel like sometimes there is this echo chamber where the kid can do no wrong and a certain segment of fans can’t get past this desire for him to be on the Boston roster, regardless of whether he currently has the attributes and 200-foot game to make it work, or not so much. And, let’s be honest here- there’s only a few opinions that matter enough to influence Koko’s current situation: that of the Boston Bruins brass and coaches.

So, in the spirit of debate, here is some additional analysis, and believe me- I welcome disagreement here. We’d live in a mighty boring world if everyone agreed with what everybody else had to say on a topic. And whether you think this is right, wrong or something else entirely- I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

What he should sustain: The kid can play hockey. He was visibly skating hard and hustling…that deserves specific mention, because he’s always played the game with noteworthy energy and exuberance. I saw a couple of instances, especially in the first period, where his effort resulted in underrated moves at his own blue line to spring the break out by not hurrying the play and taking what was given to him. I also felt that he put in a good effort on the defensive side of the puck- he’s getting there and he deserves the opportunity to show what he can do in a lot of different situations.

Koko is not a burner on the ice, but he’s got some nifty agility and a very good short-area burst, which makes him so slippery and tough to contain when he starts jitterbugging back and forth with the puck. My issue with him sometimes is that he overhandles it and in turn, passes up available space when a less is more approach might work out better. He’s quick and aggressive- you could see that last night as he was looking to transition to the attack every time he was around the puck. At the same time, he still needs to recognize when the windows of a scoring chance open up and capitalize on those.

He’s one of the most creative players on the Bruins and you could see that from him last night. It didn’t pay dividends, but there were a couple of plays early on where he and Seth Griffith combined in the offensive zone on some quick developing chances. Unfortunately for Koko, hockey is a results-oriented business and he didn’t cash in.

What needs improvement: As I mentioned in the recap- for all the hustle, he didn’t get a great deal accomplished last night. All of the skill and talent in the world isn’t going to get you far if you can’t find a way to break through and actually score/finish off the play. Koko obviously needs more time and opportunities to shine in Boston- but if you’re coming to the table and using his offensive abilities as the big selling point- even the most ardent supporter has to grudgingly admit that he was given the ice time last night and was unable to make that lasting impression on the score sheet.

The creativity with Koko is key, but I believe he has a tendency to overthink and try things less likely to work instead of making a simple play and allowing it develop into something more dangerous. We saw it from him a few times last night when instead of dishing at the blue line when the Devils D was backing in or at least trying to move the puck as he approached the top of the circles, he held onto the puck and was forced around the back of the net where the defense was able to re-set.

Koko is entering his fourth full season as a pro and I’m not sure that he’s figured out yet that sometimes playing that straight ahead game beats getting cute or trying a lower percentage play just because he can.

I would like to see the B’s try Koko out with wingers who bring more speed to the mix. He and Griffith are a little similar in that they are smaller players who don’t possess the dynamic, game-breaking speed you want from guys of their style. As a result, the two sometimes have a tougher time gaining separation, and therefore have to rely on their hands and hockey IQ to make plays. A speedier linemate would allow Koko to stretch the ice more with his great passing ability and then trail the play into the offensive zone as the defense collapses back, giving him more time and space to operate where he is most dangerous.

The last word: I don’t have a problem with Koko centering Boston’s bottom line, but he needs to win that position on something more than simply the argument that he’s more talented than other bottom-liners ergo- he should have the job. I know this might come as a shock to some observers out there, but there’s a lot more to building a winning team than simply plugging in the most talented players and sending them out there. I’m not trying to be facetious here- but some players are simply better suited to the demands and responsibilities of playing on the penalty killing units and garnering the tougher, more physical assignments that fourth lines typically face when matching up against opposition lower lines.

Koko has a world of potential. By virtue of his offensive prowess and the fact that the B’s went out of character to draft a Russian player earlier than they had since the Yury Alexandrov experiment didn’t work out, people are excited about him. I’ve watched him enough to know that he’ll go long stretches in games without accomplishing a whole lot, but can then break things open with a memorable shift or three. Unfortunately, that has meant that he has not been able to crack the Boston lineup at center, where the club is deep and more is expected at that position than simply scoring and playing a flashy style.

Will the B’s give him a chance? That is not for me to say, though if he keeps working hard and finds ways to put up points with the solid play, he’ll do more to earn a spot on the team than he will standing in front of reporters and lamenting the lack of opportunities he feels he’s not been given to date. At the same time, the team should have learned a valuable lesson about handling assets from the way things went with Ryan Spooner last year. Leadership should sit Koko down and make it clear to him that they see him as part of the solution in Boston if that is truly the case. If not, then the latest might have sped up the timetable on the next shoe to drop.

Skill alone is not enough of a reason to simply grab a spot on the team, even if the video game-playing set can go out and score 50 goals with him on skating on the bottom line. It would be one thing if he was tearing it up and outplaying everyone ahead of him on the depth chart, but can anyone really argue with a straight face that he has? In fairness- it is still very early, so with six more exhibition games ahead before the start of the regular season, we shall soon see how serious Boston is about getting him into the mix and seeing if he can, in fact, win a spot on the NHL club to begin the year.

As dying Ranger Captain John Miller said to the young man he was charged to bring home in Saving Private Ryan: “Earn this.”

Of course, in Koko’s case, that might end up being a whole lot easier said than done.

B’s blank Devils in first preseason game of 2015-16

Hockey is back!

Just a couple of days after the NHL opened up main training camps around the league, the exhibition games started, with the Boston Bruins taking on the New Jersey Devils in a home game at Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence R.I. Sunday evening.

The Black and Gold got a pair of power play goals from free agent addition Matt Irwin on defense, as he and fellow blue liner Colin Miller made strong cases for themselves in the first real glimpse fans got of them. Goaltenders Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith split the game down the middle and combined to pitch the shutout, with Gustavsson making 18 saves and keeping the Devils from taking advantage of a quicker start.

It was just one preseason game, but Boston’s biggest area of concern going into the season is on defense- and the performances of Irwin and Miller might be bringing that picture into focus more.

And here are the player notes (not quite covering everyone):

Boston Bruins

Goaltenders

Jonas Gustavsson- The Monster did not let anything by him on his watch, though he did knock the puck into his own net after Adam Henrique gloved down a drive inside the crease. Referee Chris Rooney was on hand to waive the goal off, however. The veteran Swedish netminder did a good job of staying square to the shooter and tracking the puck during his 30 minutes of action last night. As is the case with him on occasion, he got overly aggressive and came out of his net, nearly getting caught for what would have been an open net goal during one sequence in the second period, but his defense bailed him out. This was the kind of performance Gustavsson was looking for as a player in camp on a PTO- he has NHL experience and the ability/mentality to be the right kind of backup for Tuukka Rask.

Jeremy Smith- Came in halfway through the second period and picked up where Gustavsson left off, doing a nice job of smothering rebounds and using his glove to good effect. People forget, but Smith was once a second-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2007, so he entered the pro ranks with some promise that he appears to be on the verge of putting together in terms of reaching the NHL. He came into the B’s organization a year ago with hopes of providing a veteran presence in the AHL while Malcolm Subban took on a bigger role for Providence, but “Smitty” played so well that he ended up with a lot more starts than originally planned. He could win the backup job coming out of camp in a few weeks, but he would still represent risk for Boston given his lack of NHL experience.

Defense

Matt Irwin- The former UMass rearguard from British Columbia could not have asked for a better first look in a Boston uniform. Though not a speedster, he moves well laterally and has some impressive offensive instincts. The first goal he scored happened in the second period when he slipped in from the point, took a perfect pass from Ryan Spooner, and put a shot past former Union goalie Keith Kinkaid. His second goal was a point blast after his D partner Miller put a pass right into his wheelhouse, and Irwin didn’t miss. He had eight shots on goal and could have had at least a hat trick if not 4 goals- that’s how involved he was in the play. Don Sweeney talked about how Irwin impressed the team with his power play work on the San Jose Sharks, so credit the pro scouts who recommended him- he did not look out of place. Granted- it’s just one preseason game, but Irwin looks like a player.

Colin Miller- When the B’s traded Milan Lucic to the Kings, Miller was the one piece coming back (not counting Martin Jones– Marty, we hardly knew ye!) that could pay immediate dividends and based on last night, we’ll be seeing Miller in Boston. The first thing that jumps out at you is his skating- he can really scoot, and is capable of pushing the pace when he has the puck. In the offensive zone, he shows a lot of poise and handles the puck with confidence, using his vision and offensive IQ to make the right passes and find open space. He and Irwin were highly effective on the power play all night, as the B’s not only tallied twice, but did a pretty good job of maintaining possession and generating scoring chances, even the ones that didn’t go in. Miller even made a highlight hip check that would have made old school and Hall of Fame B’s defenseman Leo “Billy Boy” Boivin proud.

Miller is still learning the defensive aspect of the game, but Miller brings something the B’s are in desperate need of- speed/mobility and puck skills from the blue line to go with a big, powerful shot. He no doubt impressed Claude Julien, Doug Houda and the Boston coaches last night. He’s a right shot, which makes him even more appealing when it comes to balancing the defense pairs and available talent. Miller delivered the goods last night as advertised with assists on both Irwin goals.

Zach Trotman- It was a solid night for Trotman, who showed off his NHL experience with an effective game in his own end, not allowing much to get by him and using his size/mobility combo to keep the Devils away from the front of his net. It was more of a case of what you see is what you get from Trotman, and while he was not impactful to the degree that Irwin and Miller were, he didn’t hurt himself last night. Being a right shot helps, and he’s been projected as Zdeno Chara’s opening night defense partner. We’ll see how that goes, but for now he’s still tracking.

Jakub Zboril- You can certainly see the skill and potential on display with Boston’s top draft choice in 2015, but he’ll go back to the QMJHL this season with plenty to work on. The first thing that catches your eye is the skating- he powers into top speed with an impressive first few steps and generates enough momentum that he can beat opponents with his glide in open ice before churning up more speed to gain the opposition blue line. He wants the puck and handles it with confidence. I thought there were a few times when he got to running around as a result of missed opportunities to make the simple play, but he’ll get there.

Brandon Carlo- I saw some people singling him out for a strong performance last night, and honestly didn’t really see it. It’s not to say he played poorly- he didn’t, but again- I guess I don’t get the urge to go out of the way to heap praise on a solid player with promise, but who isn’t in any position to win an NHL job this season. This is not a knock on him at all as Carlo’s size and mobility are very good- he has NHL tools and he played a pretty mistake-free game. An old saw says that if you don’t really notice a defenseman then it means he did his job pretty well. He’s got a real active stick, controls his gaps well and is not afraid to throw his body around. He’s looking like a very good value at 37th overall, but no need to rush him- the payoff will come in due time.

Tommy Cross- It was a gritty, energetic performance from the Connecticut native and former high second-round pick of the Bruins in 2007. The Boston College captain has one of the best characters and personalities of anyone, but he hasn’t lived up to his draft position. Even if he makes the NHL (which is a tall order at this stage of his development), it’s hard to envision him doing it as more than a bottom pairing guy , and with the surplus of similar type defenders ahead of him in the pecking order, it’s hard to see it happening for him in Boston. That said, he made good reads, was involved all night and even got into several scraps, including one fight at the end with Seth Helgeson. If his goal was to send a message to the B’s brass that he’s still here and willing to work for it, he certainly succeeded.

Forwards

Ryan Spooner- It was a good game for the projected third-line pivot to begin the season. His primary assist on the winning goal was vintage Spooner- he took the puck over at the right half-wall and used his puck skill and shifty elusiveness to create space for himself while his teammates helped collapse the Devils PK in front of the net. Then, spotting Irwin leaking in from the blue line, got the puck cleanly to him through traffic so he could make a play on it and put the B’s in front. That’s what Boston most needs from Spooner, and he had his speed game going all night, working well with Jimmy Hayes. He solidified his case as a roster regular last night with his overall play, especially with the man advantage.

Alex Khokhlachev- He raised some eyebrows this weekend with his comments about wanting more of a chance to play in Boston. While his sentiments understandable, he didn’t exactly help his case last night. While his supporters and the folks whose answer to any attempt at meaningful debate when it comes to Koko these days seems to be “SKILL!” are no doubt pointing to the flashes of ability he showed last night. I thought that he looked mighty good at not accomplishing a whole heck of a lot against New Jersey, however. Koko is a very good offensive talent…but he’s not as elite as some make him out to be in my mind at least, and he’s got room for improvement…at the tender age of 22. If he (or his agent) is trying to force Boston’s hands for a better situation where he doesn’t have as many impediments to playing center and getting to the NHL is therefore easier, you can get where he’s coming from, but it isn’t like the B’s have buried him. He should be willing to stick it out and continue to work. An injury here or there and he’ll get his chance. But if you’re pointing to last night as proof positive that he’s earned that chance right now, don’t really see it. He’s shown his offensive skill in flashes, but this is a results-oriented business and he didn’t get them last night.

Jimmy Hayes- It was a nice first game for Hayes who went up and down the wing as advertised and helped on Irwin’s second goal by setting up in front of Scott Wedgewood as the point shot came in. He’s not a snarly, physical presence, but Hayes uses his big frame effectively. Spooner nearly hit him with a nifty behind the back pass on a third-period rush that if, on target, likely would have found the back of the net. The Dorchester native certainly looked the part of a Boston Bruin last night.

Brett Connolly- If Hayes played well on Spooner’s left wing, then Connolly did not have a very good showing over on the right. He did not show much in the way of the skating and speed that he’s known to possess and seemed to have a hard time handling the puck cleanly or getting to open spaces. Let’s face it- when you’re the sixth overall pick, and a team gave up two second-round picks for you, a lot more is expected. We can chalk it up to rust and it being the first action of the new season, but Connolly did not send any kind of message that he’s ready to supplant David Pastrnak or Loui Eriksson on the top-two lines. Where’s the beef?

Jake DeBrusk- Boston’s first forward choice showed some good things last night, but he’s clearly not ready for prime time and will go back to Swift Current soon. On the plus side, he’s active in the offensive end and instinctively reacts as the play develops by getting to the right spots on the ice to make something happen. He also played with some jam, as on one third period play, he fired a shot that Wedgewood made a good save on, then went right to Devils defender Eric Gelinas behind the net and got in his face after Gelinas gave him a little tap, with the two engaging in a quick scrum/wrestling match that the refs broke up before it escalated. I liked the feistiness from DeBrusk, because that’s not really his game. He’s a polarizing player because like Connolly, much is expected of him offensively, so he’ll have to translate the flashes of talent into production here soon.

Joonas Kemppainen- At 27, he had the look and feel of a mature, poised pro forward last night. He didn’t make any real eye-opening plays, but did the little things well like protecting the puck, going to the net and supporting his defense when the play went the other way. He’s not going to wow you, but the B’s could do much worse than entrusting a fourth-line spot to him. We’re still getting the book on him, but Kemppainen has the tools at least to compete- we’ll see where the rest of the exhibition season takes him.

Brandon DeFazio- I thought the free agent depth pickup played a real solid game- he was noticeable and played with energy and jam, showing a willingness to do the dirty work and stick up for teammates. Clearly acquired to be one of Providence’s veteran leaders this year, the former Clarkson Golden Knight who got two NHL games in last year with the Vancouver Canucks did not look out of place as a gritty grinder. He looked like he wanted to kill Tuomo Ruutu near the end of the game, which was good- Ruutu took out Seth Griffith with a knee-on-knee hit in the second period and Boston’s prospect did not return, a fact that was not lost on the Bruins. The refs kept DeFazio from engaging Ruutu, but he showed the willingness to battle- I liked what I saw.

Seth Griffith- Tough night for him, as he began the game playing with Koko and the two did combine to generate a couple of nice scoring chances early. Unfortunately, while on the power play in the second period, he took a knee-on-knee hit from Ruutu and that was the end of his night- hopefully, he did not suffer a serious injury on the play, but we’ll soon find out.

Max Talbot- The veteran did his thing, though it is pretty clear that he’ll make his bones on the bottom line and the team won’t get much in the way of offense from him. On the wrong side of 30, he’s lost a step, which means he has to work that much harder to generate scoring opportunities, but he’s still a feisty, savvy defensive player who understands his role and will be a good example for the younger players around him.

Zac Rinaldo- Well, what can you say about the most polarizing of all the new additions in the offseason? He had one memorable play when he took a Ben Sexton pass and blew by Devils defender Reece Scarlett before cranking a shot off the post. Had it gone in, it would have been a highlight reel goal, but even so, it demonstrated that even if Rinaldo lacks the pure skill and hockey sense to be a productive player, he can still put opponents on their heels. When on his game, he plays with energy, hustle and forces opponents to play with their heads on a swivel. That’s a good thing…so long as he does not cross the line. He drew several penalties which is what the Bruins were looking for. When he’s putting his club shorthanded with stupid, undisciplined plays, however- that’s when he’ll get in trouble.

Devils notes

It was the second loss to the Bruins in a week for New Jersey, who appears to be in for another tough season under new head coach John Hynes. Like Boston, they don’t have a great deal of high-end talent, so they have to out-work their opponents and depend on great goaltending from Cory Schneider to steal games for them. I thought both of Kinkaid and Wedgewood played well tonight- they made some stops that kept the score close and their team in the game.

Pavel Zacha was the sixth overall pick in last June’s draft and showed flashes of why that was the case even if he’s still pretty raw yet and didn’t have anything to show for it. He’s got size and skating but used his vision and anticipation nicely on a few plays where he got in behind the defense. With a little more patience, he might have been able to turn those flashes into goals. The Devils sure look like they got a player with him, and while there are sure to be ups and downs, he’s going to make that pick pay off for them.

I was also impressed with forward John Quenneville last night. The Brandon Wheat Kings star had some jump in his play and demonstrated a nice blend of creativity and skill. He was on Boston’s list in 2014, and had Pastrnak not been there, they might have gone with Quenneville at 25. He went to them with the final pick of the first round, 30th overall.

Damon Severson will build on a solid rookie year that saw him get off to a hot start offensively before injuries took a toll. He is mobile, smart and involved in the offensive flow. He was a real power play threat with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and will continue to see time with the man advantage in the NHL.

Scouting Dispatches: Twitter mailbag #4

Frank Vatrano, UMass Minutemen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Frank Vatrano, UMass Minutemen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Boston Bruins training camp is in full swing after the rookies had their day in Buffalo over the weekend, going 1-0-1 in 2 exhibition games against the Devils and Sabres. Frank Vatrano certainly turned heads with his performance, but now, all eyes are on the B’s veterans who are back and looking to build on last year’s disappointing non-playoff finish.

With that in mind, let’s get to your questions. As always- thanks for sending them along. I try to answer one per person, so if I didn’t get one because you sent multiple entries, try again next time.

If you had to pick one dark horse that’d surprise all and force his way onto roster (now or later in year), who would it be?– Jason Silva @JasonSilva67

Honestly, I’m not sure there are many “dark horses” who are in line for a big opportunity this year unless the bottom falls out of things injury-wise.

We’re getting a closer look at the three first-round picks from 2015 and they all look like they need to go back to junior.

Based purely on the rookie camp, my dark horse is Frank Vatrano– the former UMass standout scored three goals in two games including the OT-winner against the New Jersey rookies when he helped to force a turnover deep in the Devils’ end, then cut right to the net where linemate Austin Czarnik found him with a shot he tipped home. If the B’s suffered an unusual rash of injuries or just wanted a shakeup up front for game or two, Vantrano would be an interesting player up front because of his hands and energy. I cannot say enough how impressive he’s been over the last couple of seasons after playing just one NCAA game in 2013-14.

Realistically speaking, though- we’re probably not going to get a David Pastrnak-like breakthrough this year. Free agent Joonas Kemppainen was signed last spring on the heels of his Finnish league championship run. He’ll turn 28 this year and so I wouldn’t really call him a surprise- the B’s brought him on board I believe with every intention of getting him some time with the big club as a natural center who plays a strong three-zone game. If he makes the roster out of camp, it will be more by design than overachieving on his part.

David Pastrnak, Emil Johansson and Zane McIntyre take a break during 2014 Bruins development camp (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak, Emil Johansson and Zane McIntyre take a break during 2014 Bruins development camp (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Where do Pasta, Hayes and Connolly play?- Matt Kalin @katomck1981

David Pastrnak is firmly entrenched on David Krejci’s right side for now, and I think the Bruins will try to capitalize on the potential those two have together, not just as fellow Czech Republic natives but because they both bring elite creativity and offensive vision to the mix and Pastrnak’s speed and tenacity is a perfect match for what Krejci brings when on top of his game. Matt Beleskey on that left side filling the spot vacated by Milan Lucic is a good call- he’s not as big as Lucic, but will bring the physicality to help address the loss of time and space ML17 used to bring.

I’ve seen that Jimmy Hayes (normally a RW) is over on the left side flanking Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly in early B’s camp sessions, and I think that is an intriguing trio for sure. I thought that perhaps the B’s would move Loui Eriksson over to the left side on third line to allow one of Connolly and Hayes to move up to the second line behind Pastrnak (if you slot the Krejci line at the top, that is). However, it looks like Claude Julien and Co. want to keep Eriksson with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and Eriksson (a left shot) playing on his off-wing.

What’s interesting to me about a Hayes-Spooner-Connolly third line is that this has the potential to be a model example of the new trend towards NHL clubs icing more of a top-9 attack, with three balanced and skilled scoring lines to aggressively attack opposing defenses as opposed to the older top-six/bottom-six design. Connolly was drafted 5 years ago to be a scoring wing, while Hayes is coming off a career-best 19 goals for Florida. Spooner was taken in the same draft as Connolly, and believe me- it wasn’t to be a grinder. If the B’s can figure out how to get enough ice for all three forward units, that third line could give other teams fits, allowing a clamp-down line of Chris Kelly and Max Talbot (and Joonas Kemppainen?) to grind it out and spell the top-9 forwards.

Jared Knight – any NHL upside at all at this point ? Thanks- @pprohaska

If Knight makes the NHL, it will be as a bottom-six, grinding forward in all likelihood.

It’s been a tough road for him over the past three seasons, so the team did him a big favor by getting him out of there and providing a change of scenery. I thought he played with more confidence in the AHL when he went out West, and so I would not rule him out of eventually earning an NHL job. The issue with him is- will he ever justify his draft position as the 32nd overall selection? That might be a bridge too far, as he’s a rugged, hard-working winger but does not appear to have the natural scoring ability to be an NHL-caliber top two line guy.

The deal appeared to be one of those “my bust for your bust” things- where neither Knight nor Zack Phillips, who was quite the hot shot going into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, sneaking into the late first round, got off on the right foot and things seemed to compound for them. Phillips is more skilled than Knight is, but his lack of pure foot speed works against him. I expect Phillips to be a key cog in Providence’s machine this year, and who knows? If he’s productive enough, he might get a brief look at some point. Realistically, though, like Knight- Phillips is an unenviable position right now as a high draft pick who still needs to prove he can play at the AHL level before we even start talking about the NHL.

I’ve known Knight since the B’s drafted him and he’s a quality person with a great attitude. If anyone can reinvent himself to be that gritty lower-line forward who skates up and down the wing and chips in some modest offense while playing a strong 200-foot game, it is him. I wish him the best.

What do you think about (Joonas) Kemppainen and his potential fit on the team?– davrion @davrion

I think the signing made sense from a pragmatic standpoint- the B’s have an opening for a bottom-line center and the 27-year-old Finn has spent nearly a decade in the pro hockey circuit there, meaning that instead of taking an NHL-inexperienced skill player who is probably ill-suited to play the fourth-line center role as Alexander Khokhlachev is, they’re hedging their bets with an older, more mature player who is more refined and has the intelligence, size and pro hockey experience to come right in and not look too out of place.

I don’t know how effective Kemppainen will be…the B’s have had mixed results when they have brought over older European forwards in the past, but I don’t buy the Carl Soderberg comparisons I’ve seen cropping up on the internet, either. Soderberg was talented, and a lot more was expected of him offensively, but he ultimately played too passive a game and his personality was not a great fit in the room. Kemppainen is quiet and perhaps shy, but I’m told by people who know him that he’ll earn respect because he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him. Plus, having Tuukka Rask around will help him adjust to North America and the B’s dressing room culture.

I like the move- it’s a no-risk attempt to infuse a winner who possesses the size and two-way game (and perhaps some underrated offensive ability) on the checking unit without taking a square peg and forcing it into a round hole. This is not an indictment of Koko, but if people are honest with themselves, they know that expecting him to thrive on the fourth line when he’s a player who is at his best in scoring role (just don’t ask me who he’s going to beat out to provide that in Boston as of today) is a tall order. You don’t call an electrician if your toilet needs fixing…the same principle applies here, so Kemppainen seems like a much better fit at least to start the year. Whether he has the ability to keep the job, however…we’ll find out soon enough.

Could you see Ryan Spooner having a 2008-09 Krejci-esque year (70 points) in his third line role w/ good line mates & PP time?– ETD51 @ETD51

I try not to set expectations on players today based on what others did in the past.

Spooner is to be lauded for seizing the opportunity presented him at the end of last year to establish himself as one of the few bright spots on the 2014-15 Boston Bruins.

Having said that, even though the two players’ (David Krejci and Spooner) numbers are similar at the same age and experience level, unless something happens to move Spooner up to the top two lines for a big chunk of the 2015-16 season, that 70 points is going to happen for him on the third line.

He’s a talented player and if he gets 50 points on that third unit, it will be a big win. Scoring is so down around the league- Jamie Benn won the NHL’s points title last year with 87- so thinking that a third-line player on any team, let alone one that struggled mightily to generate consistent offense a year ago is going to hit 70 points in this current environment (unless there is a major swing of the pendulum that is) isn’t very realistic.

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Do you see Subban being traded or will he be the backup goalie all year?- Chris @FribbleLover

How about…neither?

I think the B’s would certainly entertain any offers they get for Malcolm Subban, but they aren’t just going to deal him for the sake of doing so.

I’m also not sure Subban wins the backup job in Boston this year after as yet not having established himself as an AHL starter.  I’m not a believer in young (and he’s not even 22 yet) goalies sitting and watching games as a backup during a critical development period in their careers, and I just don’t think the Bruins are going to put Subban in that situation when he could be starting and honing his technique/building confidence at the lower levels.

As for trading Subban, I’ve said this before- the value they would receive for him right now is not likely to justify the effort. Hold onto him and see how he performs in this important third season since he turned pro. If a team comes along and wants to give the B’s a good return for him, they’d be silly not to consider it, but while I’m sure more than a few teams would be happy to take him off of Boston’s hands for a song, that’s what I believe they want to give up. That doesn’t help Boston. Remember- the B’s once hoodwinked Toronto in getting Tuukka Rask even-Steven for Andrew Raycroft. How did that work out for the team that gave up an at-the-time unproven goalie talent for an established commodity?

Patience, young Grasshopper. Resist the urge to play fantasy hockey GM questing for shiny new toy returns and leave Subban where he is for now. The B’s used a top-30 pick on him for a reason.

I would like to know the upside/possibilities of Brandon Carlo?- Anthony Amico @anthonyamico

Carlo looks like the prototypical modern NHL defender: big at 6-foot-5, mobile, physical with a long reach and an ability to make a strong first pass.

I’m not sure that I buy into the over-the-moon excitement I’ve seen about him in some circles on the Internet, however.

Don’t misread that remark into believing I’m not high on the kid, but some fans have let the hype machine get out of control already, with some penciling him into the NHL lineup and I think we have to slow the roll on him. Given the other veteran and other pro defenders vying for spots, it would take a jaw-dropping camp and exhibition performance from the 18-year-old Colorado native to leapfrog some of the guys ahead of him on the depth chart. I fully expect he’ll be back in the WHL this year, but as a late ’96 birthdate, he’ll be eligible to play in Providence for the 2016-17 hockey season, at least.

As for Carlo’s upside, he has a big shot from the point, but I wonder about the vision and offensive creativity that is needed to emerge as a true-blue, top two-way threat at the NHL level. Instead, I see Carlo as more of a solid middle pair defenseman who can shut down opposition offenses because he moves well and uses his stick and physical strength to keep forwards to the outside. He’s also on the snarly side and will be his team’s captain this year at Tri-City, so there is a lot to like about the kid.

Just temper the expectations and don’t be in such a rush to see him in Boston- all in due time.

Brandon Carlo- "shiny new toy?" (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Brandon Carlo- “shiny new toy?” (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Keys to the kingdom: Tuukka Rask

When it comes to the hopes for an entire hockey season, Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has the keys to the kingdom. As he goes, so goes any optimism that the team that was a Stanley Cup contender just two seasons ago can be more than a middle of the pack team in 2015-16.

Tuukka Rask: the calm before the storm (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Tuukka Rask: the calm before the storm (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Rask’s journey from former first-round selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs a decade ago to Boston farmhand and Tim Thomas’ backup to NHL elite performer and workhorse has been a model of consistency and patience. Even though he was the 21st overall selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, he wasn’t rushed to the big league before he was ready, but instead given an opportunity to compete in his native Finland’s top pro league and play most of the high profile international tournaments before he played a single professional game in North America.

When the Bruins acquired him for one-time Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft in 2006, Rask had already forged a sterling reputation as one of the most promising young goalies in the world. Little did anyone know that aside from Thomas’ injury-riddled 2009-10 hockey season which opened the door for Rask to emerge as an NHL regular and playoff starter, it would be another six years before Rask finally stepped into the limelight as the No. 1 for Boston, a distinction he put an exclamation point on when he won the 2014 Vezina Trophy.

Then (2005 draft and beyond): Rask entered the 2004-05 season as a favorite to be a top-30 pick. Just the year before, Rask had shined for Team Finland at the Viking Cup in Alberta, impressing scouts with his athletic ability and penchant for performing under a barrage of shots.

He made the 2005 Finnish World Jr. squad which competed in Grand Forks, N.D. (when Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel all made significant splashes) at age 17, but struggled on the big stage in that tournament. Still, his stock was high entering the draft that summer (the actual event was not held in usual fashion due to the lockout) and Toronto pounced on him with the 21st pick- right in front of Boston, who reportedly were set to make Rask their selection despite having drafted fellow Finn Hannu Toivonen just three years earlier.

They ranked him 14th overall and the third-best goaltender available behind Carey Price and bust J.P. Levasseur, but here is some of what Red Line Report had to say about Rask in 2005: Bit of an engima all year- very inconsistent. The old Rask we know and love plays with confidence and swagger. Squares up to shooters very well. Goes down into butterfly early but still manages to cover top corners due to great size and flexibility. Exceptionally athletic and acrobatic. Covers a lot of net and moves smoothly side-to-side…but there were times throughout the season when he came unraveled and couldn’t make big saves to keep his team in games.

This scouting report, written more than 10 years ago, could be published tomorrow and it would describe Rask in 2015 to a tee. But part of what makes Rask special is that he is so athletic and able to make stops that lesser goalies can only dream of doing. He didn’t just walk in and sit around while everything fell into place- it took time, work and patience both on Rask’s part and that of the Bruins to gradually develop him, with two full AHL years after the team signed Rask in 2007 (with brief NHL callups sandwiched in there) before he graduated to being Boston’s full-time backup in 2009-10.

When Thomas struggled with a debilitating hip injury that few knew the extent of until after he made his triumphant return to the world stage in 2010-11, Rask filled the void by taking away the top job and getting the nod for Boston’s round 1 playoff series against the higher-seeded Buffalo Sabres. He was superb in dispatching the Sabres in six games, and followed that up by keying Boston to a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in round 2. Alas, the wheels completely fell off and Boston suffered a historic (since helped by San Jose’s similar collapse to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014) come-from-behind defeat in seven games, with Rask and an injury-decimated B’s team dropping four consecutive games including a blown 3-0 lead in Game 7 at home.

Rask’s stumbles opened the door for Thomas to return with a vengeance after surgery fixed his hip and the veteran went on to have a historic year for Boston, winning a second Vezina Trophy since 2009 and far more importantly, winning the 2011 Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Along the way, Thomas exorcised the demons Rask could not keep at bay with a four-game sweep of the Flyers to avenge the previous spring’s embarrassment.

That meant another season- 2011-12- as backup (and a late-season injury curtailed Rask’s playing time that year even more)- but set the stage for an ascendance when Thomas decided he no longer wished to play for the Bruins and announced he would sit out the 2012-13 season.

Pro goalie consultant and USA Hockey regional scout Justin Goldman wrote a prophetic piece on Rask over at his Goalie Guild website back on August 27, 2012, leading off with this gem:

For a highly-touted prospect of Rask’s caliber, the pressure to win rises interdependently with expectations. Regardless, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’ll transition from being an “elite backup” to a “workhorse starter” smoothly. He’s not a kid anymore, he has a healthy dose of NHL experience, and he has witnessed both the drama of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the “highs and lows” of an 82-game season.

You can (and should) read the entire post here.

Indeed, Rask followed that path albeit through the challenges of a lockout-shortened season in 2012-13, but leading his team’s charge to the 2013 Stanley Cup final series, where the B’s lost a hard-fought six-game tug of war to the Chicago Blackhawks. That performance affirmed Boston’s belief in Rask and set the stage for an eight-year extension worth an average of $7 million per season, signed in July of that year.

He justified that investment with his Vezina Trophy as part of Boston’s President’s Trophy march in 2014, but aside from an elite January 2015 run, struggled to maintain his form and consistency, finishing with season totals far below his norm. Even with that, the B’s missed the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, which leads us to where we sit today.

Style analysis: Rask is the prototypical modern NHL goaltender: He’s a tall, lean, long-limbed butterfly style stopper who possesses the tremendous reflexes and competitive drive to thrive at the highest level. From a technical standpoint, he’s nearly flawless- he stays square to the shooter, tracks the puck effortlessly, reads the developing play and utilizes a smooth yet explosive side-to-side push to negate cross-ice puck movement and scoring chances. He does have a tendency to sometimes get away from the less-is-more economy of motion that top netminders employ to max benefit.

Here’s Goldman on that:

Like many naturally gifted reflex-based goalies, Rask has a tendency to over-amplify his movements. In some instances, he ends up in less-than-perfect positioning on rebound chances, or in scramble situations.

For him, there is such a thing as being too urgent in the crease. So when it comes to his recoveries, his post-save mechanics, or tracking pucks and staying square in frenzied situations, less is often more. When I look back at my scouting reports over the years, and when I dissect video, I come to the conclusion that sometimes he works way harder than is really necessary.

Overall, Rask’s style lends itself to providing shooters and elite finishers with the predicability that they can sometimes exploit to their advantage by putting the puck where they know the goalie can’t stop it. But scoring is down around the league less because the equipment is bigger and more because there has never been a period of time in the NHL when the league has had more top-shelf athletes and competitors playing the position. Rask is a poster boy for the modern NHL goaltender with his swagger and ability to make tough saves look easy.

On the mental side, Rask looked tired and worn down by the end of the season, which is something to keep an eye on. He played in a franchise record-tying 70 games last year and at one point, appeared desperately in need of a break when Malcolm Subban took the start against St. Louis. When Subban was chased from the B’s net early in the second frame, a clearly flustered Rask had to come into the game in relief. The key takeaway here is that we cannot forget that these guys are not robots and even the best need time to step back and recharge the batteries.

Now: Entering the third year of his pact and at age 28, Rask is the linchpin of the B’s new season.

Though critics will point to his lack of a Stanley Cup championship when debating his impact on the salary cap, even the most ardent, but intellectually honest of his critics will concede that Rask represents Boston’s best chance to make the playoffs *this* year, and as any savvy hockey person will tell you- whether in transition or in complete rebuild, if you don’t have a top goaltender, no matter what you do, you’re not likely to get far.

The key to Rask’s success lies not only with a defense that admittedly has more than a few questions headed into the new year, but also with whom the B’s will turn for backup duties. Niklas Svedberg didn’t work out, but if veteran (and fellow) Swede Jonas Gustavsson plays well in camp and the exhibition season, he’ll likely get a one-year deal at the minimum to provide that capable relief. His biggest issue is durability, which might also provide several of the youngsters with a brief chance to show their mettle in the NHL on a limited basis. But for Rask’s and the team’s sake- the best bet is to go with Gustavsson.

The Bruins need that cocky swagger back from Rask, and he enters the season in his prime years, best positioned to put forth his best effort. We’ll soon find out if that will be enough.

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Encouraging signs for B’s rookies in Buffalo

The Boston Bruins rookies went 1-0-1 at the 2015 prospects tournament hosted by the Buffalo Sabres, giving up a 2-0 lead to drop a 3-2 contest in OT against the host club after beating the New Jersey Devils in sudden death the night before.

Was able to catch a bit of both games (albeit limited viewing) so you’ll have to take the observations with a grain of salt, as I was not in attendance at either contest.

Overall, the B’s youngsters handled themselves pretty well- for a group that didn’t bring a lot to the table in terms of high draft pedigree, the feeling surrounding the Boston prospects is that they are a game bunch that doesn’t have a lot in the way of elite (at least through the NHL draft) pedigree, but has made some good picks in recent years and did a particularly nice job last spring at plucking some key free agents out of the NCAA, major junior and European pro ranks.

Here’s a quick look at some of the players that stood out- not going to give a recap of everyone mind you- just some players that caught my eye for various reasons:

Noel Acciari, C- The Johnston, R.I. native played so well that he earned his own post on the blog last night, but he stood out in both games in a good way, scoring a goal on the first night and nearly potting another one on a breakaway that Sabres goalie C.J. Motte barely got his left pad on. He doesn’t have top-six NHL forward upside, but Acciari has the right stuff to eventually develop into a bottom-line staple with his physicality, intelligence and grit.

Linus Arnesson, D- The Swede was featured in the camp preview last week and he showed off his trademark poise and smoothness, even getting a rare goal when he pinched in from the point and wired a pass home through a scree to give the B’s a 2-0 lead last night. He’s going to play in the NHL- it’s just a matter of when. Given Boston’s current situation on the NHL blue line, there is zero need- none- to rush him. Better to let Arnesson play prime minutes in the AHL first and if injuries create problems, don’t be surprised to see him in limited fashion, because he’ll earn a look. Come next year, he’ll be in the hunt for a more established position, but it might not be until 2017-18 that he’s most ready for regular NHL duty.

Anton Blidh, RW- Agitating Swede plays a North American-style game already and skates up and down the wing hard, forcing turnovers with a strong forecheck and finishing hits all over the ice. He didn’t translate his efforts into offense, but he’s not an overly skilled scoring prospect- just a smart, physical, opportunistic player who reminds me a bit of a young Vladimir Sobotka. He took a big hit from Jake McCabe in the second period of the Buffalo game that seemed to turn the tide of the contest.

Austin Czarnik, C- Was mildly surprised that the B’s landed the Miami University captain last spring after he finished an outstanding Red Hawks career at Oxford, but not because I didn’t think he could play but due to the fact that I thought other clubs would beat them out for his services. Although barely 5-7, Czarnik has jets on his skates and plays with that slippery waterbug elusiveness that is important for undersized guys in pro hockey. He’s a character player who grabbed attention with his energy, hustle and ability to make plays in both games. His forecheck was the difference on Frankie Vatrano’s OT winner against the Devils, and Czarnik also assisted on both Boston goals against the Sabres. He’s always going to have to fight to be given the credit he’s due, but players like Johnny Gaudreau have proven there is a place for small but talented and driven guys in the NHL- Czarnik could get there.

Jake DeBrusk, LW- The 14th overall pick in 2015’s spot here is not meant to be a slam on the kid, or to justify the opinions of those who were against the selection- he just appears not ready to seriously compete for an NHL job at this stage of his development. There is a lot to like about DeBrusk- you can see that he senses the offensive flow of a game and can get himself in position to generate scoring chances, but whereas Vatrano cashed in and brought a more polished approach to his game in the o-zone, DeBrusk seemed to be pressing. DeBrusk is not yet 19, and he’s done some nice things in the WHL- I’ll see how he develops this season and performs going forward, but this player is going to take time. If we were all being honest with ourselves on draft night, we knew that he would be a project player.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW- The 2015 fourth-rounder didn’t have a terrible showing, but I didn’t see much of the offensive ability advertised of him in his draft year. I did see some undisciplined stuff that he’s equally noted for, and if you like the Brad Marchand-type guys, Gabrielle carries promise. However, more was expected, and a good bounce back season in the WHL with Prince George (his third club since the start of 2014-15) is a solid place to start.

Justin Hickman, RW- Big-bodied, rugged power forward was another free agent pickup by the B’s last year and his surgically-repaired shoulder seems to be holding up well- he fought defender Brady Austin at the beginning of the third period vs Buffalo, giving a good amount away in terms of size and reach. He’s got to improve his first couple of steps, but this is a player who earned the respect of several NHL clubs that were in on his services, and his straight-line game and ability to create space for his linemates will translate well in Providence.

Zane McIntyre, G- He got tagged with the loss, but the Buffalo Sabres badly outplayed the B’s in the final 30 minutes and if not for the 2010 sixth-round pick, this one would have ended in regulation with a loss. His transformation from that raw, unrefined high school goalie at his first Boston development camp to a poised, unflappable goaltender who is impressive with his positioning and economy of movement in the crease has been remarkable. This is why teams need to be patient with goalie prospects- the payoff may take some time, but in McIntyre’s case, he could very well end up being worth the wait.

Zach Senyshyn, RW- Boston’s third first-round selection showed off his impressive skating and ability to get the puck up the ice quickly on the wing. He used his big body to protect the puck and showed promising offensive potential in flashes. On the downside, there were times when he seemed unsure of himself and his inability to make a play in his own end to clear the zone resulted in Buffalo’s first goal of the night. There is a tremendous amount of potential with this player, who like his fellow first-rounders, needs time to develop and will likely take some leaps forward (and a few steps backwards along the way) with the Soo Greyhounds as his role expands. He looked like a first-round pick out there, and while it would have been great for him to have more of an impact in the scoring (he did assist on Zboril’s goal along with DeBrusk), he was solid overall.

Frank Vatrano, LW- Like Acciari, Vatrano got his own post the other night and led all B’s rooks with 3 goals- unleashing his NHL-caliber shot last night from the right circle to open the scoring. You can’t teach what this kid has- he instinctively finds the seams in defenses and gets into prime scoring position. Then, as it is much easier said than done, when you put the puck on his stick, he finishes plays. You have to think that Butch Cassidy will keep Vatrano and Czarnik together at least to start things out in Providence, as the two showed excellent chemistry together at this tourney.

Daniel Vladar, G- The more I watch him, the more I am coming around to Boston’s third-round choice. He is legitimately huge, but his fluidity and quickness for one so big is eye-opening. He’s one of those guys who when dialed in is so tough to beat, and he showed it against the Devils by shaking off a couple of early goals to make key saves down the stretch and get the game to overtime, where Vatrano finished it off. “Darth Vladar” is worth stashing and letting progress on a gradual timeline much like the Bruins did with McIntyre. Seeing 2008 third-rounder Mike Hutchinson’s success with Winnipeg also serves as an important teaching point as well. Kladno native looks like a keeper.

Jakub Zboril, D- The NHL tools are clearly there for Boston’s top pick, and he showed off his good wheels and ability to make things happen offensively, finding the back of the net against New Jersey as a power play expired. I don’t think he’s ready for prime time, but it should not take long before he’s knocking on the door for a job in Boston. His biggest challenge will be to play with consistent urgency back in the QMJHL this season and not take nights off. Several scouts from other teams were a little turned off at the way he carried himself during the interview process, but the B’s seemed to love his swagger, so the onus will be on him to reward Boston’s faith by moving forward this year.

 

 

Get to know Noel Acciari

When the news broke last spring that the Boston Bruins had signed free agent center Noel Acciari, few outside of Providence College and Hockey East circles were familiar with the Friars co-captain, but after a strong showing at July’s development camp and this week’s rookie tournament in Buffalo, fans are coming around to the 23-year-old Rhode Islander’s potential.

One thing that jumps out at you when watching Acciari is how smart and opportunistic he is. I go back to the 2010-11 New England prep season when he was captain of Kent School under then-head coach Matt Herr (after starring at Bishop Hendricken High). There were other higher profile skaters on that  Lions squad- 2012-eligible Cristoval ‘Boo’ Nieves and manchild D Mike McKee were seen as pro hockey prospects. Yet, when watching that team, it was Acciari who established himself as a model of consistency and performance. Acciari led the club in scoring that year with 31 goals and 52 points in 27 games (the Lions went 21-6), while helping get his team to the NEPSIHA championship game, losing a nail-biter to Rob O’Gara and the Milton Mustangs.

Here is what Red Line Report had to say about Acciari back in January 2011 (two months before the championship loss):

Captain of the best prep school in the New England region is right in the middle of all the action for his team. Has a somewhat choppy stride, but is an all-out hustle and energy player who always seems to get where he needs to be and wins the races for loose pucks- never shy about being first into the corners.

He took a redshirt freshman season with his hometown Friars in 2011-12, and built his body of work on consecutively improved seasons between 2012-15, posting 11, 22 and 32 points respectively. It isn’t the offense that makes Acciari so valuable- he was an effective prep-level finisher (49 goals in 53 career games), but in the pro ranks, he’ll be more of a grinding, hitting defensive forward who has the moxie and hockey IQ to provide opportunistic secondary scoring for his team.

Providence College teammate and Calgary Flames goalie prospect Jon Gillies considers Acciari one of his closest friends, admiring the Johnston, R.I. native’s tenacity, toughness, leadership and smarts.

“I think the best thing out of all of this is that as good a player as Noel is, he’s an even better person and leader,” Gillies told Scouting Post during the offseason. “Between him and Ross (Mauerman) this year, I don’t think there’s ever been as clear cut choices for two captains as Ross and Noel were. You couldn’t have picked anyone else- you couldn’t have made a case for anyone else- (Acciari) was just incredible. On the ice, off the ice- the example he set and not only was only was he one of the hardest working guys on the ice, but  every day he set the right example off the ice by keeping things in control and keeping it in perspective by knowing when the time to talk was and when the time came to lead through actions for us. He’s one of those people that you just can’t say enough good things about.”

Acciari stood out throughout his NCAA career as a player who created space for his teammates by hitting opponents hard, but playing the game cleanly and not taking a lot of liberties or developing a reputation as a cheap-shot artist as other players who are relatively average in size (5-10, 205 pounds) tend to do as a survival instinct.

“It would be easy to discount Acciari because he doesn’t have a big draft pedigree and was lacking in a lot of the tools we look for at the highest level, but that is a mistake,” one NHL scout based in New England told me last year when I asked him about Acciari’s potential to generate big league interest via free agency. “I’ll guarantee you that there are teams on him because he’s so gritty and driven and plays such a mature, disciplined 200-foot game. I like him a lot.”

The Bruins apparently did too, not wasting much time in getting his ink on a two-year entry-level contract, even though Acciari had one more year of NCAA eligibility left. In the end, going out as a champion and getting to sign with his favorite NHL club was too big a temptation to pass up.

Not surprisingly Acciari scored Boston’s first goal of the prospect tourney Sunday night against New Jersey when he took a feed from Colton Hargrove and fired a shot home to cut the Devils lead in half, 2-1 in the second period.

“There weren’t a lot of people happier to see Noel sign with the Bruins than I was,” said Gillies. “I kind of went through that process with him of seeing what his options were, as I had already signed with Calgary so he just had questions that he bounced off me and things like that. But as a local kid- being able to sign with his hometown team after playing for his hometown college and if he starts in the AHL next season he’ll be able to stay in Providence- a place he’s grown up- I don’t think you can dream of any thing better as a kid growing up. You can’t write a better script than that and I’m so happy for him.”

Here’s betting that Bruins fans will be reading along with that script real soon- Acciari is a blue collar player that everyone can get behind.

2014-15 season highlights…not just goals- check out his clean hit to standup the puck carrier at the blue line at 0:35.

Vatrano shines in debut

I had very limited viewing of the Bruins rookies’ victory over the Devils’ futures last night in Buffalo, but former U.S. NTDP and UMass Minuteman Frank Vatrano had a pretty good outing, scoring a pair of goals including the OT winner just 12 seconds in during 3-on-3 play.

He wore an ‘A’ in the contest last night and is someone who seems to have come a long way from the doughy teen whose shot struck fear into goalies at the NTDP, but had some issues that prevented him from playing at his original NCAA commitment- Boston College- before getting his development back on track in Amherst.

Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy had this to say after the game:

“Frankie spent a little time with us [in Providence] last year, so he’s around the pro game — I think it helped him out,” said P-Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy. “Even though he didn’t play a ton of games, just being around it can really help in your development the next year.

“I think once the puck drops, like everyone else, we all like good hockey players, whether they’re picked in the first round or walk-ons, for lack of better term. I think you’re going to appreciate what they do.”

You can read the entire article by Jess Isner over at the B’s main site here.

The East Longmeadow native is a natural scorer who is more quick than open-ice fast, but as his goals demonstrated last night, he has a knack for slipping through seams in defenses and getting pucks to the net. The OT goal happened so quickly because Austin Czarnik used his speed to close quickly on a New Jersey defender after the B’s dumped it on off the center ice draw. The Devil d-man appeared to lose an edge, and Czarnik was able to come away with the puck and throw it back out high in the offensive zone. The resulting shot was tipped into the net by Vatrano, sending the B’s rooks back to their hotel happy.
Vatrano is one of those guys who doesn’t get much fanfare because he wasn’t drafted, but he can flat-out score. Watch him do his thing from last season courtesy of Minutemen Athletics:

In net, Daniel Vladar stopped 37 of 40 Devils shots. He’s got some developing to do, but the early returns are good on the third-rounder, who is huge in net and moves with a fluidity that belies his 6-5 height. Watch for him to be a top ‘tender in the USHL this year with the Chicago Steel.

Noel Acciari and Jakub Zboril had the other Boston goals.

They finish the prospect game action tonight with their match against the host team Buffalo Sabres, who feature former BU mates Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues. With the amount of early draft picks Buffalo has been amassing since 2013, the host club has a significant advantage on paper, at least.

Zane McIntyre will get the call in game 2.

NHL 2015 rookie camps/player watch list- Western Conference

Back with part 2 of the rookie camp player watch list, going out West. As mentioned before- these are players I’m familiar with- either through scouting them or interviewing them in their respective draft years. I don’t claim to have a monopoly of knowledge, but share these observations a time when they are getting a chance to compete with and among their peers- before the veterans show up and camps formally begin next week.

Anaheim Ducks

Brandon Montour, D- Former UMass defender left after just one season but has live wheels and impressive puck moving ability. He was drafted in 2014 as a third-year draft eligible out of Waterloo of the USHL and may have been that league’s best d-man in 2013-14. He’s 21 and ready to handle the physical demands and rigors of pro hockey after just one season in the Hockey East.

Nick Ritchie, F- Massive power forward has bigger upside than his older brother Brett after being drafted out of the Peterborough Petes of the OHL in 2014. Tremendous core strength means he generates power few can match when he decides to drive the net and works up the speed to take the puck straight in. Gets some real torque on his shot and hides his release point well. Effort level and intensity comes and goes- if the light ever comes on for him he could be a force. People said the same things about Ryan Getzlaf back in 2003, after all.

Arizona Coyotes

Nick Merkley, F- What a gamer! Although undersized and lacking a top gear, he’s an elite passer and finds ways to generate offense as evidenced by his great WHL playoff and Memorial Cup run last spring. He was a steal for the Desert Dogs with the final pick of the opening round, a player who was projected to go anywhere from the around the top-15-20 picks but slid down to 30. To get Dylan Strome and Merkley in the same round and with Max Domi ready to take his game to the big show, Arizona is building some serious firepower up front.

Calgary Flames

Rasmus Andersson, D- Talented Swede was Calgary’s top selection (after trading three picks to Boston for Dougie Hamilton) in the second round, just after the B’s opted for Jeremy Lauzon, and he’s an interesting prospect. A superb power play presence and puck mover, he uses his vision and soft hands to distribute with the added time and space. His skating- especially the transitions and lateral movement- is an area that needs improvement, but he was a productive player in his first OHL season.

Jon Gillies, G- A Scouting Post favorite, he went out on top at Providence College, playing a huge role in his school’s first ever NCAA title last April and will likely spend the year with the Stockton Heat of the AHL. With his huge frame, he doesn’t allow much daylight in the net and he’s a competitive battler. Scouts have knocked him for not being an elite athlete, but when you look at his numbers- they don’t lie.

Chicago Blackhawks

Graham Knott, F- Excellent physical tools are brought into question when it comes to the hockey sense and overall competitiveness. If he develops a little more “want to”, Knott certainly has the talent to be an NHL regular and Chicago will have done it again by landing a quality forward without a top-round selection, but several NHL scouts questioned his ability to process and decisions at times when he was with Niagara of the OHL this past season.

Colorado Avalanche

Conner Bleackley, F- I liked the Red Deer Rebels captain as an option for the B’s in the 2014 draft’s first round, but Colorado grabbed him earlier (not that it would have mattered, as David Pastrnak was Boston’s guy all along). Scuttlebutt with scouts I spoke to at the 2015 NHL draft is that Bleackley was not ready to go for his first pro camp and his play suffered last season. This is a key opportunity for him to put a better foot forward and justify the team’s faith in him- he’s a leader so don’t count him out on that score.

Dallas Stars

Jason Dickinson, F- The player chosen by Dallas with the pick Jim Nill got from Boston in the 2013 trade deadline deal for Jaromir Jagr, Dickinson hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers in the OHL, but has been pretty consistent as a scorer over the past year. Knocks on him entering his NHL draft was a lack of intensity and a tendency to go long stretches at Guelph without doing much and then scoring in bunches. Felt he was a reach at the end of the 1st round, but there’s no doubt he has the skating and tools to justify that pick going forward.

Cole Ully, F- Undersized and underweight at 18, Ully has always had the speed and “want to” coming out of the rugged WHL with the Kamloops Blazers. He’s the anti-Dickinson if you will- a kid who has the skating and shot if not the more ideal pro size but has a non-stop motor and a knack for finding the net in key situations. He’s gotten stronger and added more mass to his light frame, but he’s always going to be challenged in the rougher areas of the ice, where his compete and grit will give him a chance to win puck battles. Speaking of battles, he’s not afraid to drop the gloves to defend teammates- he’s willing to earn respect the hard way.

Edmonton Oilers

Leon Draisaitl, F- In hindsight, Draisaitl wasn’t ready for prime time when he began the 2014-15 NHL season in Edmonton, but the experience has made him a much better player and he was in beast mode during the WHL playoffs with Kelowna. He’s the sturm to McDavid’s drang, and these two are going to give the Oilers a wicked 1-2 punch up the middle for years to come, giving the rest of the league much turmoil and emotional heartache to face as they mature into stars.

Connor McDavid, F- What more can you say about McDavid that has not been mentioned already? I’ll just share an observation of him from Sunrise on draft weekend. The day after going 1st overall, he was back in the building doing some kind of promotional events, and I happened to be walking into the BB&T Center with him. He eschewed the attention and almost seemed embarrassed by it. A few minutes later- he was quietly by himself taking a breather from what he knows will be the bright lights and attention that will follow him for the duration of a long NHL career. I thought that touch of humility- not coming off like he is bigger than the game or his team- was a good sign that the NHL’s next big thing deserves the spotlight, even if he doesn’t really want it.

Los Angeles Kings

Valentin Zykov, F- The rich get a little richer with this plum of a forward that Red Line projected in the first round in 2013 (26th), but slid down to the Kings at the 37th selection. He’s got a thick, pro-style build and can really skate and shoot the puck. He’s expected to be a big-time contributor to the AHL’s Ontario Reign. He missed the WJC last year due to injury, but is on a mission to prove himself and don’t be surprised if he sees some NHL action at some point this season- legitimate top-six scoring potential as a left wing in my view after splitting the year between Baie-Comeau and Gatineau of the QMJHL.

Minnesota Wild

Mike Reilly, D- The former Columbus prospect out of Shattuck St. Mary’s in 2011 declined to sign with the Blue Jackets and inked a deal with his home team Wild, where he makes his pro debut this season and might do enough to earn an NHL job coming out of camp. Although not blessed with a lot of size, he’s a premier puck mover with his mobility and vision as his 36 helpers in 39 games with the Golden Gophers attest.

Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr had this to say about Reilly in the always excellent Russo’s Rants blog by Minneapolis Star Tribue Wild beat writer Mike Russo:

He’s highly competitive,” Flahr said of Reilly. “His bread and butter is going to be his offense, but he needs to learn to take care of his own end, and I thought he did that, especially later in the game. Early I thought he was pressing a bit trying to do too much, which is totally normal in these things.”

Flahr said when Reilly began to settle down his play influenced the game.

“He made a lot of things happen for the back-end, and generated a lot of chances because of his mobility, and ability to get up ice and make plays,” Flahr said.

 

Nashville Predators

Juuse Saros, G- Little goalie that could is a rarity in this day and age- a sub-6-footer between the pipes vying for NHL time among the freakishly athletic redwoods that are in vogue. Gritty little competitor just stops the puck and has some Tim Thomas (on the ice) compete in his game. He gets his pads down fast and brings a never-say-die mentality to every scoring chance. I was a big fan in his draft year and believe he’ll reach the NHL despite the lack of size. I love this guy and if they don’t already, Preds fans will too.

 

St. Louis Blues 

Robby Fabbri, F- Boy, the Blues got themselves some terrific value with Fabbri a year ago at 21, when scouting lists like Red Line had him ranked in the top-10. He was part of Canada’s WJC gold medal-winning team, but missed the medal games due to a high ankle sprain after making an impact during the round robin portion. He’s a tremendous competitor who doesn’t seem bothered by his diminutive size, although some point to the injuries he’s had as indicators of what lies ahead as he moves into the more rugged pro ranks. Me? I love heart-and-soul guys who go out and get it done- he’s one of those types and more.

Tommy Vannelli, D- 20-year-old Minnesotan who left his home state to play in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers is a truly gorgeous skater who can rev it up in his own end and push the offensive pace whenever he leads the rush. He’s always been rangy and aggressive- grabbing the puck and going with it- scoring a respectable 35 points in 44 games, a chunk lost to injury. He’s a talented player who only appears to be scratching the surface of his potential but will be given time to continue to grow and develop and won’t be rushed.

San Jose Sharks

Pat McNally, D- Former Vancouver pick in 2010 was a defense partner for fellow New Yorkers and Boston prospect Rob O’Gara at Milton Academy in 2010-11, and his riverboat gambler ways are what drew me to O’Gara in the first place- as he often found himself covering for McNally. When moving forward McNally has always been a threat, charging up the ice and in prep- he used his wheels and feared shot to score a lot of goals. His all-around game, however, has been more of a work in progress and he remains a project with some upside. We’ll see if the Sharks can harness his potential going forward, as this swashbuckler won’t get away with doing some of the things he did at lower levels now that he’s a pro.

Timo Meier, F- Boston was reportedly about to draft its first Swiss player in team history with Meier, whose heavy style and scoring chops would have been a fine fit. The Sharks beat them to the punch, grabbing the QMJHL standout inside the top-10 and Meier will probably become a reliable and dependable scorer for them in time.

Vancouver Canucks

Jake Virtanen, F- When Jim Benning left Boston to take the reins as Vancouver GM a year ago, it wasn’t a big surprise that he used his first draft choice on the big and skilled forward who has a natural knack for scoring goals. He took a step back in 2015 with Calgary of the WHL after being the sixth overall selection- only tallying 21 goals and barely registering a point-per-game. With more expected, watch for the 19-year-old to rebound this year with his speed and shot.

Winnipeg Jets

Nikolaj Ehlers, F- Wow, what a player! This top-10 selection in 2014 is an absolute stud who is going to make the rising Jets even faster and more dangerous offensively than they already are, which is saying a hell of a lot. You don’t want to overuse the word “special” to describe too many prospects but that’s what this Great Dane is. Turn him loose and as Mr. T used to say- pity the poor fool who lets Ehlers get a step on him…goodbye!

Nic Petan, F- The “Rainmaker” was a steal in the 2013’s second round and was such a consistent scorer for the Portland Winterhawks, registering 300 regular season points in the last three WHL seasons with playoff years of 28, 28, and 28 points in just 59 total games. Although smallish, he’s explosive and such a deft stickhandler and creative presence that he’s always a threat on each and every shift. The guy just knows how to find the back of the net, as evidenced by his 2015 WJC performance for Team Canada. Be afraid, goalies- be very afraid…

Eric Comrie, G- This stud goalie prospect fell a bit in 2013 because he suffered a serious injury, but he put together a great follow-on campaign with the Tri-City Americans in 2013-14, then looked pretty strong in a handful of AHL games when his junior season ended last spring. With his fluid athleticism and near-flawless technique, he’ll be pushing for quality NHL starts before too long.

NHL 2015 rookie camps preview/player watch list- Eastern Conference

With rookies reporting to their NHL clubs for the annual rite of passage before the veterans show up next week to begin the real work of building towards that opening night roster next month, it’s time to take a look at some of the kids who will be competing in prospect tournaments this weekend and may one day contribute to the fortunes of their NHL clubs. Some of them might be doing that as early as this season.

I’m breaking the preview up into 2 parts- each by conference, starting in the East. There is no particular method to my madness other than to focus on players I have more personal and professional familiarity with. That might mean that certain highly-touted rookies don’t get a mention- that will be by design. I can’t cover every single prospect and some that are not highlighted might come off as snubs to some readers- that is not my intent.

This blog attempts to give you my insights based on what I observe and know, not what someone else writes about or observes unless I cite that particular source. If there is a particular player you want to see covered, let me know and I’ll hit up NHL guys I know who will have the firsthand knowledge of those individuals. Unlike other analysts out there who try to cover every player, league and geographic region in hockey, I simply don’t do that.

Thanks for reading- watch for the Western Conference watch list later this weekend.

Boston Bruins

Austin Czarnik, F- Small but speedy and offensively gifted forward was a nice free agent get for Boston last spring after captaining Miami University the previous two seasons and earning Hobey Baker finalist honors as a junior. The Michigander is not going to break on through to the NHL right away, but he could be an instant impact player offensively for Providence in the AHL.

Justin Hickman, F- Rugged power center was another undrafted pickup a year ago in January after shoulder surgery forced him out of his overage WHL campaign as captain of the Seattle Thunderbirds. He had a quietly solid development camp in July, but was not cleared to participate in the scrimmage to further protect that shoulder. A Boston team source expressed optimism that Hickman will surprise at his first Boston NHL camp (he previously attended Winnipeg Jets training camp) and with his heavy game and underrated scoring potential, watch for him to be another Providence youngster who is in line for an immediate role.

Eric Neiley, F- This Pennsylvania native and Dartmouth College product may have just average size and skating ability, but he once put up 40 points in just 10 games (due to injury) as a senior prep player at Phillips-Exeter. He’s a dangerous and creative player with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. If he can do enough to impress, there might be an NHL contract in the offing down the line.

Frank Vatrano, F- The former Boston Jr. Bruins standout missed out on some D1 hockey while working a transfer to UMass, but the wait was worth it as he fired home 18 goals in his only full season with the Minutemen before turning pro. Although short in stature and of stocky build, he worked hard to come to camp with a leaner frame. The end result: he’s quicker, more agile and still has a lethal stick, especially between the hash marks. He’s got 20-goal NHL upside in time if he can stay driven and develop his all-around game.

Linus Arnesson, D- The Swede came over late last season to finish out the year with Providence of the AHL, where he was solid if unspectacular. He’s got fine size and mobility, but isn’t going to wow you in any particular aspect of his game. He’s more of a defensively savvy blue liner who can move the puck out of trouble and does well in puck retrieval, but don’t expect him to join the rush much or put up many points. You win with guys like him, but he’ll benefit from time in the AHL before he’s ready for full-time NHL duty.

Zane McIntyre, G- McIntyre has won top goalie awards at every level from high school (Frank Brimsek- Minnesota), junior (USHL) and the NCAA (Mike Richter). Now, he is entering the pro ranks and it will be interesting to see what the Bruins will do with him in his first year. To maximize his playing time, the ECHL might be the best fit for him, but an excellent camp and exhibition season will make it tough on the brain trust. Depending on what happens with Jonas Gustavsson and his PTO, there probably isn’t enough net for all three of Malcolm Subban, Jeremy Smith and McIntyre, so this rookie tourney will be key to the 23-year-old making a good first impression.

(Good UND-produced video and segment on McIntyre at the 7:00 mark.)

Buffalo Sabres

Jack Eichel, F- The excitement is palpable, as the 2015 Hobey Baker winner and second overall pick left BU after just one year to turn pro. Unless something unforeseen occurs, Eichel is expected to play the season in Buffalo and will energize the town and team with his superb speed, hands and all-around game. Eichel is both skilled and mature enough to earn new coach Dan Bylsma’s trust, and although the vast majority of Sabres Nation was hoping for Connor McDavid, if there ever was a year to have the second pick in a draft, 2015 was it.

Justin Bailey, F- I’ve been tracking with interest this Buffalo native’s since his draft year (2013) when he impressed with his pure potential even if he was (and still is) a raw, developing prospect. The son of a former NFL player, Bailey was raised by his mother, Karen, who infused old school values into his upbringing. Bailey also benefited from being around members of the Sabres like Matthew Barnaby and Daniel Briere, who got to know the family and helped stoke his passion for hockey at a young age. Like Boston’s Ryan Donato, Bailey is living the dream of being a prospect for the team he grew up cheering for and having a personal connection to. With his 6-3 frame, and NHL-caliber tools, he has the makings of an eventual NHL power forward.

Carolina Hurricanes

Noah Hanifin, D- Carolina fans unfortunately will have to wait a little longer on Hanifin, who is not participating in the team’s annual venture to the Traverse City, Mich. Rookie tournament due to injury. Like Eichel, Hanifin left the Hockey East after just one season but several NHL scouts tell me they think he can play in the big show right away. We’ll see if he can put his nagging injury behind him in time to have a strong camp and preseason, but everything about Hanifin to date in his young career indicates he will do just that.

Brett Pesce, D- Former UNH standout and 2013 third-rounder is a rangy defender from New York who didn’t quite elevate his offense as expected, but was a solid contributor to the Wildcats in his three seasons at Durham. He’s a hard-nosed defender with size and underrated puck-moving skills who doesn’t give up real estate willingly and will likely become an effective shutdown presence in the NHL after some minor league apprenticing.

Sergey Tolchinsky, F- Speedy little Russian waterbug was passed over in the 2013 NHL entry draft despite putting up a fine season at Sault Ste. Marie with the Greyhounds, only to earn a free agent contact. He’s so skilled and dangerous, reminding of another little Russian named Sergei- Samsonov- who should have been a bigger NHL star than he was, but never really fully recovered his magical hands after wrist surgery. Filthy move at this summer’s development camp…

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

Sonny Milano, F- The Long Island product switched NCAA commitments from Notre Dame to Boston College, then jumped to the OHL with Plymouth last summer. After a solid first campaign there, he’s shown that his offensive ability is among the best in his peer group, but his overall game still might give his coaches fits at times. He’s a dynamic scorer, but must be more careful not to turn the puck over and guard against taking bad penalties.

Mike Paliotta, D- Chicago’s third-round selection in 2011 went on to captain the University of Vermont, which pulled an upset in the Hockey East quarterfinals last March over favored BC. Sent to the Buckeye State as part of the Brandon Saad trade this summer, Paliotta is a smart defender who isn’t all that flashy but makes good decisions with and away from the puck. He’ll boost the transition game after some time in the minors.

Detroit Red Wings

Dylan Larkin, F- The Wings’ top pick in 2014 left the Wolverines to turn pro and could very well be skating for the big club in October. Skilled and creative, Larkin can do a bit of everything as a plus-skater who is defensively responsible. Given how active and difficult he is to contain on the rush, he has the makings of a perennial All-Star and local that the Motown fans will really get behind.

Florida Panthers

Mike Matheson, D- When it comes to defensemen who are absolute naturals at moving the puck up the ice, Matheson is right up there with the best. The former Boston College star is a tremendous skater who generates top speed but also masters his edges for effortless lateral glide and shiftiness to avoid the forecheck. He can make the crisp outlet and loves to join the rush. He’s not a finished product by any means, but has improved his overall defensive play coming out of college. He was not a major point producer, but does those things for the transition game that the top teams use to great effect.

Colin Stevens, G- After backstopping Union to the 2014 NCAA championship this season was a step back for the New Yorker and former Boston Jr. Bruin. He signed with Florida last spring and with his live, athletic 6-2 frame, he’ll have time to grow into his body and develop at the minor league level. He’s a winner who can steal games for his team and will be a fine netminder in the AHL soon.

Montreal Canadiens

Nikita Scherbak, F- The Habs got excellent value with the big Russian horse out in Saskatoon (since traded to Everett) of the WHL last year. He’s added solid mass to his 6-2 frame, topping out at around 200 pounds entering the season but he’s a very good skater and talented forward who competes hard and brings with him many North American attributes. Like the Bruins with David Pastrnak in 2014, the Canadiens somehow ended up with a promising power forward who should not have been available to them that late in the opening round. Bruins fans will soon know this kid’s name and not in a good way.

New Jersey Devils

Pavel Zacha, F- The stats this last season with Sarnia weren’t much to write home about, but the Devils wasted no time in jumping on the uber-skilled Czech who will likely mature into a more productive player at the highest level. One NHL scout based in Ontario told me that he just oozed talent and potential every time he saw him but for some reason, it wasn’t clicking for him. The Devils desperately need a marketable, exciting young star and they appear to have it in Zacha. He seems to have the tools and right stuff to make the jump to the NHL right away.

New York Islanders

Mathew Barzal, F- I’ll admit it was a surprise to stand there in Sunrise and watch the Bruins make three consecutive picks at 13, 14 and 15 and not once call the undersized but electric Seattle forward’s name. When peeling back the onion a bit with team sources and those outside Boston familiar with him, we’ll chalk it up to concerns about some of the injuries he’s dealt with in the WHL and questions about the kind of fit. However, given how quickly the Isles traded (twice I would add) into the first round to grab Barzal at 16, this is going to be someone Bruins fans who follow the draft and prospects closer than the rank and file do, lament for years to come if he develops into a Claude Giroux-type star in Brooklyn.

Michael Dal Colle, F- He was a treat to watch in leading the Oshawa Generals to the 2015 Memorial Cup championship this season. The playmaking winger is so smart and productive- he’s got a great release and stealthily attacks defenses, getting into prime scoring areas or setting the table with effortless ease. He’s a major part of a dangerous group of forwards that will be coming up to take advantage of the presence of John Tavares in his prime (Speaking of Tavares, didn’t he used to skate for the Gennies? Sho ’nuff he did).

 New York Rangers

Brady Skjei, D- A major offensive threat he is not, but the big and fluid Minnesotan is going to be one of those dependable minute-munching 3-4 d-men who skate in the NHL for years. Coming out of the NTDP there was thought that he might develop more of a scoring punch, but the lack of that element should not sell him short as a premiere defensive player and character leader type who can move the puck and will be someone his coaches trust to send out and protect a lead late in the game. Those players are valuable, even if they don’t always get the respect they deserve.

Ottawa Senators

Matt O’Connor, G- Even with the breakthrough of Andrew “the Hamburglar” Hammond this past winter in Canada’s capital, the Sens went out and signed the best free agent goaltender available on the market. O’Connor’s misfortune in the third period of the NCAA title game loss to Providence aside, he’s got the size, athletic ability and maturity to rebound from BU coming up just short and develop into a solid pro. He doesn’t give shooters much net, and is a competitive gamer.

Philadelphia Flyers

Ivan Provorov, D- The Flyers got their man by standing pat and letting the Russian come to them last June. An interesting story as a kid who left Russia a few years ago and played minor hockey in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before jumping to the USHL and then north to the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, Provorov was seen as the best defenseman available in the 2015 draft, ranked by some ahead of Hanifin. With his mobility, smarts and puck skills, he’s a prime candidate to shine in his first pro camp and make a tough decision on the Flyers brass to keep him or return him to junior- he’s poised, mature and polished for one so young.

Travis Konecny, F- Along with Barzal, the Ottawa 67’s captain was one that Bruins fans who follow the draft were hoping the team might jump on with one of three first-round picks. Although undersized and didn’t get off to a great start last season, the Flyers made a move to go and get him. If he gets his development back on track to where it was entering 2014-15, Philly fans will have a lot to cheer about with his speed, offensive upside and energy.

Travis Sanheim, D- Another WHL standout defender who rode the wave a year ago of a superb performance in the Under-18 championship tournament to a top-20 selection in 2014. The Calgary Hitman has all of the key tools NHL clubs want in a defender including a fearsome point drive. He parlayed his success into a spot on Canada’s gold medal WJC squad last winter and along with Provorov and Samuel Morin, might turn the defense position from an area of concern in Philly to one of strength if all three pan out as expected.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Daniel Sprong, F- Arguably one of the 2015 draft’s most pure talents on offense, Sprong’s 200-foot game was lacking and a big reason he fell into the second round. However, put a kid like him on the Penguins and you have the potential for it not to matter a whit because of how dangerous he is when the puck’s on his stick. I didn’t think he was a good fit for what Boston is doing, but he makes total sense in the Steel City. They don’t come much more flashy and slick than this Netherlands product.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tony DeAngelo, D- The tremendously skilled yet undersized offensive defenseman has gotten into trouble for his mouth in the past, but his 25 goals and 89 points in just 55 OHL games speak for themselves. The Philly-area native is a sublime skater with the vision and elite hockey IQ to push the offensive pace. Tampa rolled the dice a bit by grabbing him 20th overall a year ago, but he’s on the verge of paying that decision back in spades.

Adam Erne, F- 2013 second-rounder and Connecticut native was injured when his Quebec Remparts needed him most last spring, but when healthy, Erne has the offensive talent and big body to excel in puck possession. He plays a rugged style but needs to cut down on undisciplined penalties. When at his best, he’s dropping his shoulder and driving hard to the net- he’s a load to contain and is built for the modern NHL. Erne is the kind of player that will make an already difficult team to play against that much tougher.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Mitch Marner, F- This skilled and gritty gamer had a monster season in the OHL with the London Knights, leading the new-look Leafs front office to go with him fourth overall. There is a lot of pressure on him to get the Blue and White back on the road to respectability, but he didn’t average 2 points per game by accident. He plays with the kind of intelligence and all-around savvy that should see him thrive in that organization and embrace the enormous expectations that come with a player of his draft pedigree and background. He’s got some physical maturing ahead, but there’s a lot to like about him- winner.

Washington Capitals

Madison Bowey, D- The latest graduate from the Kelowna defenseman factory out in the WHL, Bowey has it all- size, skating, skill, shot and sense. He’s a poised puck mover who plays the game with some jam and has enough confidence to keep things simple. In hindsight, given how much Bowey’s development has taken off since the 2013 NHL draft, it’s hard to figure how the Caps got him in the second round.