Bruins prospects update 1/30/17: Re-ordering the amateur prospect rankings

We’re one month into the recent publication of the New England Hockey Journal’s annual Boston Bruins prospects ranking- we always do it in January, so we have about half a season to gauge how the kids look before ranking them.

Well, what can we say? There’s already some buyer’s remorse and after conversations with several people we trust and value as professional talent evaluators, we thought we’d take another stab at the B’s top-10 with a fresher perspective. Consider it an alternate take- a sort of Bizarro World version of the published list, with the impact of other ideas and rationales applied to some of the players who rose and fell.

Ultimately, the exercise reminds us all that opinions are varied. No matter how well you might rank order players, you’re never going to achieve 100 percent consensus, and that should not be the goal. You call it like you see it and you either stick to your guns and stand by your convictions or you don’t. At the same time, it is important in a fluid situation such a hockey season, to maintain room to allow your views to evolve.

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Podcasting New England Hockey Journal’s Bruins annual prospects review: Amateur list

McAvoy1

TSP did this last year, so bringing it back for the 2017 version of the New England Hockey Journal’s Boston Bruins organizational prospect rankings.

You can read the full article at http://www.hockeyjournal.com; a top-20 is broken into a pair of pro and amateur lists. This podcast covers the non-pro futures, plus the HM 11th player who didn’t get an in-print capsule, but is a very good prospect for the B’s down the road.

Want to know who we’re talking about to the tune of about a 45-minute breakdown? Just click on the audio file to listen…

Frederic1

Trent Frederic was Boston’s 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

 

Bruins sign Jesse Gabrielle to ELC

The Boston Bruins announced today (December 11) that the team has signed 2015 fourth-round pick Jesse Gabrielle to a three-year entry-level contract.

This comes as welcome news for some who were already starting to beat the drum on Twitter and other places that the team needed to get off the pot and make it happen. Now, of course, that Gabrielle is in the fold- the focus has no doubt shifted to signing Anders Bjork, the sensational University of Notre Dame junior right wing and 2014 fifth-rounder who has captured the imaginations of B’s fans everywhere by being up near the top of the NCAA scoring list all year. That’s the nature of the beast, we suppose- once you get a player like Gabrielle under contract, the feeling is to move onto the next shiny object…in this case- Bjork.

As far as Bjork goes, he can’t sign an NHL contract and maintain his NCAA eligibility, so the earliest movement we can see on him will be after the Fighting Irish season ends. We’re being told that the Bruins are going to push hard to bring him out of school this spring and they may have to get creative to do it, but we don’t see it being a Jimmy Vesey situation, because Bjork is still more than 1.5 years away from being able to exercise his rights in the CBA as an unrestricted free agent. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about it, or won’t take the same course of action, but the B’s will get a chance to make a hard pitch to him this spring. If he rebuffs them, they may have to recalibrate and eventually prepare for him pursuing free agency, but for now, this won’t be resolved anytime soon, so relax and enjoy the season he’s having. He potted two more goals last night against Boston College including a filthy shorthanded strike. Bjork lacks ideal NHL size, but he’s fast, smart and tenacious- it’s not hard to figure out why he’s generating so much buzz.

Speaking of fast and tenacious- we had an inkling that something was up with Gabrielle this week because he was scheduled to do a 3 Amigos podcast with us on Thursday afternoon, but we got a message from him early that morning that something “really good” had come up and he needed to reschedule until resolved. The initial thought was that he might be getting a shot at Team Canada for the World Jr. tournament, but the other belief that the three of us kicked around was that he was working on a contract. Well done, Jesse and congratulations- he patiently waited for his turn after the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th choices from 2015 signed (the 5th choice- Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson– will be next, as we anticipate him coming out this spring when his BU season ends) ELCs with the B’s, and he can now focus on playing the season without the distraction of a looming June 1 signing deadline.

Gabrielle is tailor-made for what the Bruins want in their forwards: he’s got good (not great) size, but has worked hard in the offseasons to add strength and mass to his frame, and it hasn’t cost him any of his speed. He’s still able to fly up and down the wings and slash into the middle of the ice and unleashing lasers to corners or driving the net and banging home rebounds. Gabrielle relishes physical contact and thrives in the dirtiest areas of the ice. People keep asking about Brad Marchand comparisons…we’ll try it one more time here…

Marchand is the player Gabrielle (a Bruins fan) enjoys watching the most for his goal scoring acumen and moxie/abrasiveness. But, we don’t see a lot of Marchand in Gabrielle- to TSP, he’s more of an Andrew Shaw type without (hopefully) the un-PC, self-defeating bullshit that Shaw has engaged in at times. This is a prime example of why we don’t like making player comparisons to begin with, though. Comparing Gabrielle to Marchand sets the bar high right off the bat, and Shaw is a proven playoff performer who plays with a lot of jam and is an opportunistic scorer also known for meltdowns and selfish penalties. Gabrielle is probably somewhere in the middle between the two, but he’s his own player and one who has potted more goals in the WHL over the past two seasons (59 and counting) with the exception of Tyler Wong (63). At some point, you have to let these players just be themselves without having to picture what they could be in your mind. We’re talking about a guy who scores, hits and fights- you don’t need a name attached to those attributes to get an idea about where Gabrielle might fit in Boston one day.

Gabrielle has done a better job this season of picking his spots and not spending as much time in the penalty box. His overall game is coming along, but the goal scoring continues to move at a nice clip, and the B’s love the edge/skill combo he brings. This is a kid who was deadlifting 450 pounds when he was about 15 years old, so he’s got the natural strength to thrive in just about any role on an NHL club, especially if it means working his way up from a bottom-unit grinder to eventually establish himself as more of a scorer…just like his hockey idol Brad Marchand once did.

Bottom line- Gabrielle has been one of the top prospects for Boston performance-wise since they drafted him in the fourth round some 18 months ago, and it’s nice to see the team get the deal done if nothing else so that we are spared the drama of hand-wringing and the demands of fans to sign him on their convenient timelines while conveniently overlooking the fact that the B’s have managed to do a pretty good job of getting their prospects to sign on the line that is dotted. (There is some Glengarry Glen Ross for you on a Sunday)

 

Bruins Prospect Update 12/05/16: Goal eruption

B’s prospects had quite the weekend in the goal scoring department as the calendar entered our final month of 2016.

Friday night was for hat tricks as Zach Senyshyn (4 goals), Jesse Gabrielle (3 goals) and Joona Koppanen (3 goals) all brought the head covers raining down.

Harvard’s Ryan Donato also had multiple goals, while another Ryan- Minnesota freshman defenseman Ryan Lindgren, tallied his first career NCAA goal, finishing off a 2-on-1 with Rem Pitlick in a loss to Ohio State Saturday night.

Additionally, Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen had a two-goal games for Notre Dame and the Providence Bruins (respectively) Friday night, and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson added a goal in BU’s win over Providence College that same evening.

Senyshyn’s Texas hat trick (if “everything” is bigger in the Lone Star State and 4 > 3, ergo- a four-goal game is Texas-sized) came against the Barrie Colts one year to the day that he performed the same feat- December 2, 2015 against the Sudbury Wolves. In this one, Senyshyn accounted for all of the Soo Greyhounds’ goals, tallying in overtime on a nice spin-around to protect the puck, shake the defender and drive right to the net for his 13th marker of the season in 22 games. He’s ba-a-a-a-ck!

***

Going on a bit of a rant, here- so bear with us.

It can be grating that whenever we post a positive update on either one of Anders Bjork or Jesse Gabrielle on Twitter, people seem to constantly respond with concerns about their signing status. Here’s the TSP take: we fail to see what the big que pasa is right now. Yes, we’re going to use that analogy again- FAST FOOD mentality- to describe fans who can’t ever seem to be happy with what is going on and want to overly dissect and analyze everything down to the gnat’s ass, including wanting every contract move and decision resolved in the immediate. Look, we get it- if we weren’t stressing over what the Bruins might or might not do with their sizable stable of futures on Twitter or elsewhere, whatever would we do with ourselves? At some point, you just have to enjoy what is happening and let the pieces fall when the time comes.

Bjork is well on his way to his best season in college? No, we’re afraid he’s going to “pull a Vesey” even though he’s still some 20 months away from August 15, 2018- the absolute earliest date that he could walk away from the Bruins and become a free agent. Gabrielle on another 40+ goal pace for the second consecutive season in the WHL? Dammit, Bruins- why haven’t you signed him already??? Never mind the fact that the B’s drafted six major junior players in 2015 and have successfully signed the first five…Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn, Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon. Gabrielle is next, and they have until June 1 to make him a “bona fide” offer to retain his rights. It’s going to get done, folks- he grew up cheering for the Bruins and they’re the team that put their faith in him when everyone else passed until the mid fourth round. If it doesn’t happen and the B’s lose one or the other somehow, then we’ll be totally wrong and you can remind us of this post all you want. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Look- there’s no guarantee that the Bruins will sign both of Bjork and Gabrielle, but there are no indications that it won’t happen either. They’ve got 27 goals between them with room for a lot more, so for now, our advice is to enjoy the fireworks and don’t sweat the small stuff. Rookie salary caps and the like have put an end to the days when Hall of Fame-caliber junior players like Kyle Wanvig could just refuse a team’s offer and fax machine jams could result in them going back into the draft. Yes, the CBA allows for players like Jimmy Vesey and Matt Benning to name a few to become free agents and sign elsewhere, but those experiences are making teams like Boston wise to playing the longer game so that they don’t lose the assets. Again- there is no reason to assume that Bjork is in the same place Vesey was in terms of how he approaches his pro hockey future, so until he actually turns down an offer from the B’s, we should just let it play out for now. There is such a thing as paralysis by analysis, after all.

Or, to coin a popular phrase from the 1980’s, “Frankie says…relax.”

 

Amateur Prospects as of 12/05/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 23 16 11 27 32
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 16 11 15 26 8
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 22 13 8 21 15
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 17 6 10 16 10
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 16 5 11 16 22
Ryan Donato, Harvard

 

ECAC- NCAA 11 7 7 14 8
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 14 3 10 13 14
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin

 

Big10- NCAA 14 2 10 12 6
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 14 1 11 12 14
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda

 

QMJHL 12 2 9 11 6
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin* Big10- NCAA 8 4 6 10 8
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls**

 

USHL 17 2 3 5 28
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St.

 

WCHA- NCAA 16 0 4 4 16
Wiley Sherman, Harvard

 

ECAC-NCAA 11 0 4 4 8
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota

 

Big10- NCAA 14 1 2 3 47

* Injured

Pro and European Prospects

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 20 12 17 29 2
Peter Cehlarik, Providence

 

AHL 16 8 5 13 6
Danton Heinen, Providence AHL 12 7 5 12 0

 

Matt Grzelcyk, Providence

 

AHL 22 1 10 11 6
Anton Blidh, Providence#

 

AHL 19 5 4 9 22
Colby Cave, Providence

 

AHL 22 3 6 9 11
Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 22 3 6 9 11

 

Colton Hargrove, Providence

 

AHL 19 3 5 8 22
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF

 

Sweden- Elite 18 3 4 7 6
Austin Czarnik, Providence#

 

AHL 2 1 2 3 0
Sean Kuraly, Providence

 

AHL 13 1 2 3 11
Rob O’Gara, Providence

 

AHL 17 0 2 2 2
Chris Casto, Providence

 

AHL 19 0 2 2 20
Oskar Steen, Farjestad

 

Sweden- Elite 19 1 1 2 2
Linus Arnesson, Providence

 

AHL 18 0 1 1 4
Brian Ferlin, Providence

 

AHL 1 0 0 0 0
Justin Hickman, Providence

 

AHL 7 0 0 0 7
Zane McIntyre, Providence

 

AHL 5 3 0 0.93 .965
Dan Vladar, Providence

 

AHL 6 3 0 (3) 2.84 .914
Malcolm Subban, Providence

 

AHL 11 1 6 (5) 3.12 .897

# Czarnik, Blidh recalled to Boston

Tyler Randell, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant > age 25- not listed

On Anders Bjork and other prospect notes (Senyshyn, Donato, McIntyre and Kuraly called up)

After a two-goal, five-point weekend (two games), University of Notre Dame junior right wing Anders Bjork sits atop the NCAA scoring list one month into the 2016-17 hockey campaign.

The fifth-round pick in 2014 has come on like gangbusters going back to last season after originally being projected as more of a grinding defensive-type forward coming out of the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 team. The Wisconsin native always had impressive speed and agility, but his slick hands and a noteworthy offensive hockey IQ have him as the topic of frequent discussions in the scouting community as a classic late-bloomer. Obviously, if anyone had seen this coming from Bjork (whose father, Kirt, and NHL cousin Erik Condra, were also standout members of Fighting Irish teams of old), the former Chicago Mission standout would have been drafted much higher than the 146th overall selection.

Bjork plays with urgency and pace- you notice him on just about every shift because he’s moving his feet- either attacking into the teeth of defenses or pressuring the opposing puck carrier as a relentless forechecker who forces turnovers with his feet and instincts.

Watch the highlight video here, and on the last goal you can see how aggressive he is at using his speed and stickhandling skills to take the puck to the net and the poor netminder doesn’t have a chance here with some grade-A maneuvering to finish off the play.

We saw some of this last year in the WJC when Bjork joined fellow B’s prospect and 2014 draft selection Ryan Donato with two goals apiece to secure the bronze medal. Admittedly, TSP wondered if it was an aberration, but we need no further proof- Bjork is for real. Where once we thought his ceiling was a solid third-liner good for 15-20 goals, there’s the potential for a good deal more if he continues his upward trajectory. An added bonus is Bjork’s versatility- he can play any forward position.

Of course, his 7 goals and 16 points in 8 games has created immediate discussion of Bjork “pulling a (Jimmy) Vesey” on Twitter and other Internet locales. Not to be glib or dismissive, but…really guys? That kind of talk is premature, predicated on the assumption that because other successful NCAA players have opted to wait out the four-year rights-owning period by the drafting club, that Bjork will do the same thing.

It’s possible that Bjork could do just that, but he’ll have to wait until August 16, 2018 to become an unrestricted free agent and because he’s playing so well, you have to imagine that the Bruins will do all in their power to sign him this spring, when his season is officially done. This is not to say that Bjork will sign or politely rebuff the attempts as Vesey did in the spring of 2015 when he was coming off a 30+ goal season at Harvard. If Bjork does that, then the B’s will have a precedent for what could transpire and all bets are off- they’ll have to protect the asset and do what they can to get something back for him. However, that’s a bridge we can cross later- it’s November 1- we’re still months away from the team even being in a position to tender Bjork an opportunity to turn pro. However, nobody should just assume that because Vesey took the action he did, that Bjork will opt for the same.

Now, in order to get him to commit, the B’s might need to get creative an offer Bjork a spot with the NHL club right away and the chance to burn a year off his three-year ELC the way Torey Krug did when he chose Boston as an unrestricted free agent in 2012. Sometimes, you have to give to get, but this is the new reality of CBA-permitted tactics that players and their advisors can leverage to their advantage. A fifth-round pick getting max rookie money and a chance to be an RFA one year earlier is a pretty enticing deal- it’s easy to project that someone might just wait it out until 2018, but there’s risk involved with suffering a major injury or going through a lackluster campaign that could diminish the bargaining power.

Bottom line- we’ll eventually find out, but let’s get past the whole “Bjork could pull a Vesey” trope and enjoy the 20-year-old’s season for what it is: a breakout performance that signals the latest impressive find for the Bruins, whose scouts (led by college scouting chief Ryan Nadeau) have mined the NCAA ranks for promising talent.

Other B’s prospect notes-

The Bruins announced today that with Patrice Bergeron a game-time decision (when it rains it pours) tonight against the Florida Panthers (and David Pastrnak serving the second of a two-game suspension, plus David Backes still injured) former San Jose Sharks prospect Sean Kuraly has been called up to the big club.

Kuraly, who was acquired on June 30, 2015 as part of the deal that sent Martin Jones to the West Coast for a first-round pick (Trent Frederic), is a big-bodied forward who can play either center or wing. He’s got good feet and hands, but the offensive hockey sense probably has him projecting more as a third/fourth-line guy. He had a strong training camp, however, and played well enough to earn the look. In eight AHL games, he has just one assist.

It’s one more opportunity for a young player to get a look, but perhaps we should be thankful that the Bruins are 4-4 instead of much worse given the adversity they’ve dealt with in the early going. Ruck up- injuries are a part of the game, so you have to deal with it as best you can, but the depth is being tested.

***

2015 first-rounder Zach Senyshyn is off his 45-goal pace from a year ago, but cut the kid some slack- he dealt with mononucleosis over the summer and then an emergency appendectomy right before the start of rookie camp. It’s not an excuse, but anyone bagging on the kid is probably looking for a reason to be negative at this point.

In a perfect world, Senyshyn would be on pace for 55-60 goals, but that isn’t reality- hockey is an imperfect game played by imperfect humans. Just because you expect certain things to happen doesn’t mean a player is a failure if your statistical expectations aren’t met, and unless you’ve been through the double-whammy of mono and appendicitis in the span of weeks, you probably ought not to be talking about how well he should or shouldn’t be playing. Just sayin’. Sometimes, just because you can vomit forth an uninformed opinion on something, doesn’t mean you should.

Senyshyn is still a fine NHL prospect albeit one who isn’t getting the expected points, so critiquing the lower-than-expected numbers is fair game, while writing him off is not. We’re a little over a month into the season…chillax, folks.

***

Ryan Donato began his sophomore season with a bang, netting a pair of goals in a lopsided victory over Arizona State in a weekend series. Wiley Sherman also registered a pair of assists. The ECAC regular season officially begins on Friday. With Donato’s high-end hockey sense and hands, watch for him to put up a lot of points this season, but undrafted 23-year-old senior Luke Esposito bagged 2 goals and 6 points against the Sun Devils to take the early scoring lead for the Crimson.

***

I like what Zane McIntyre is doing for the Bruins. Technique has never been his strong suit- it’s always been about the compete and battle level with him. He deserved a better fate against the NY Rangers last week, he earned a longer stay in Boston because he gave his team a shot in that game. McIntyre struggled at times last season with the pace and skill of pro hockey, but what has benefited him most throughout his hockey career is his personality and a mental toughness that allows him to play the role of both workhorse and backup.

We are all seeing how important an effective Tuukka Rask is to this Bruins club, but McIntyre has done pretty well in his limited audition to show that he is capable of being an NHL goaltender, even if his time is not quite now.

Here’s the updated stats charts:

Amateur Prospects as of 11/01/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 8 7 9 16 2
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 11 6 8 14 12
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 6 3 5 8 4
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 5 2 5 7 2
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 9 3 4 7 12
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 9 2 5 7 6
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 10 4 2 6 10
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 6 1 5 6 6
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 5 0 4 4 4
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls USHL 11 2 2 4 8
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda* QMJHL 2 1 2 3 0
Ryan Donato, Harvard ECAC- NCAA 2 2 0 2 0
Wiley Sherman, Harvard ECAC-NCAA 2 0 2 2 2
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 8 0 1 1 8
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- NCAA 6 0 0 0 2

* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)

Pro and European Prospects

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Peter Cehlarik, Providence AHL 5 2 2 4 4
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 8 2 1 3 2
Austin Czarnik, Providence# AHL 2 1 2 3 0
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 10 1 2 3 6
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 8 1 2 3 2
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 7 1 0 1 5
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 8 1 0 1 4
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 8 0 1 1 2
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 8 0 1 1 9
Oskar Steen, MoDo Sweden- Div 2 3 0 0 0 2
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 5
Rob O’Gara, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 0
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 7 0 0 0 6
Zane McIntyre, Providence# AHL 3 1 0 0.44 .977
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 5 0 4 4.50 .857
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 2 1 0 2.97 .917
Brian Ferlin, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0

# Czarnik, McIntyre recalled to Boston

*Brian Ferlin- injured

** Tyler Randell, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant > age 25- not listed

Boston Bruins prospect roundup #1: Frederic, Hughes lead Sunday hit parade; Bjork & Gabrielle en fuego

The Boston College Eagles and Wisconsin Badgers Sunday tilt (the teams split the weekend series in Madison after Wisco triumphed Friday night) featured three Boston Bruins prospects and all of them made an impact in BC’s 8-5 win in what was a highly entertaining game.

The larger story for the Bruins is that the reports of freshman center Trent Frederic’s unworthiness as a first-round pick may have been greatly exaggerated, as he currently leads the Badgers in scoring with six points in four games, posting a goal and three helpers in the Sunday loss. Full disclosure- your TSP founder was one of the critics of the selection, admittedly not seeing much top-six NHL forward potential at the U18 championship last April (and this despite Frederic getting a hat trick in one of the round robin games vs. Latvia). Red Line Report had Frederic outside the top-100 and didn’t see him as much more than a fringe fourth-liner, but the perception began to change when talking to former coaches and players who knew him better than any of the talent evaluators who buried him in the rankings.

There’s much hockey left in the season, but Frederic certainly appears to be silencing the critics in the early going.

Here’s what to like about him (film study of two games): Long, powerful stride gets him up the ice quickly…smart and patient; handles the puck well and makes good decisions in where he moves it. Creative. Uses his big frame to drive the net and is effective around the net.

Frederic has an aggressive offensive mindset- more than I (and others) gave him credit for. On JD Greenway’s first collegiate goal to tie the game (after BC had taken a 2-0 lead) in the second period, Frederic led a 3-on-1 that materialized quickly in the neutral zone because he jumped on a loose puck and caught the BC defense flat-footed. Granted, it was a 3-on-1 advantage, but Frederic showed an immense amount of patience to let Greenway drive to the far post before putting a perfect pass on his blade for the easy score. This apple came after Frederic had tallied to get the Badgers on the board, and he would add two more assists as the home team got within a goal of the Eagles after going down 6-2 at one point in the second period.

But Frederic wasn’t only Wisconsin Badger who turned heads in a losing effort Sunday…

Cameron Hughes, who was drafted by the B’s in the 2015 draft’s sixth round scored as pretty (and filthy) a goal you will see late in the second period to make it a 6-3 game when he wheeled back after a turnover in the high slot of the BC zone got him the puck alone in front of Eagles netminder (and Leafs 2016 third-rounder) Joe Woll. Hughes pulled the puck behind him and through his legs and then roofed the shot up under the crossbar. Forget it…just see the play for yourself and then imagine trying to do that at top speed as Hughes did.

The Alberta native is in position to break out in his junior season after some growing pains as a freshman and sophomore. Always ultra-talented, Hughes arrived in Madison at an alleged 140-150 pounds as a freshman and he wore down pretty early, according to one source close to the Badgers program. As a result, where he was once thought of as a top-60 prospect for the 2015 NHL draft, he fell all the way down to the mid-sixth round where Boston pounced. It’s looking like a solid value pick for the B’s in hindsight- Hughes is more of a passer/playmaker but that goal will be replayed over and over, and shows a deft finishing touch that the 19-year-old hasn’t gotten much credit for.

Not to be forgotten in the game was BC senior and alternate captain Ryan Fitzgerald, who was visible with his energy and two-way play and tallied a late empty-net goal by outworking his opponents on the back wall and then beating everyone to the front of the vacated cage. That play is what makes the 2013 fourth-rounder such an effective three-zone presence for the Eagles. He scored the goal through sheer will and hustle, and that it came via an empty net should not diminish the impact of the play itself.

Anders Bjork and Jesse Gabrielle have begun the season like gangbusters for their respective teams/leagues. It’s funny, because Bjork (5th round) and Gabrielle (4th round) weren’t drafted in the top-100 picks in 2014 and 2015, and yet they’ve been two of Boston’s most productive prospects over the past full season and about a month into the new campaign. It isn’t just about giving the team and scouts credit- give a lot to the two guys who took the later selection as motivation and have both put in the work off the ice to make sure the on-ice performance translates. If I’m Don Sweeney, I’d better get hot on signing both of these players. Bjork will have to play out his NCAA season first, but Gabrielle has between now and June 1 to come to terms- he’s done enough to earn that NHL entry-level pact in our view.

On the pro side, it’s been a disappointing start for the Providence Bruins, but not altogether unexpected when you consider that they’re without Frank Vatrano (though he likely would’ve made the Bruins out of camp), Alexander Khokhlachev (KHL), Seth Griffith (lost on waivers to Toronto) and a couple of key youngsters in Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen (both in Boston) plus Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara on defense (also in Boston). We expect to see one or more of those latter names back at some point, but give goalie Zane McIntyre a lot of credit- he’s gotten off to a great start after his final 2016 start left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. He’s outplayed Malcolm Subban by a wide margin…some of it is Subban’s fault, but the team has some holes, so there are going to be some bumps in the road this season.

Bruins Amateur (NCAA/major junior/junior) Prospects as of 10/17/2016

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 4 5 5 10 2
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 6 5 4 9 6
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 2 4 6 2
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 6 2 3 5 2
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 5 4 0 4 8
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 1 3 4 4
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda* QMJHL 2 1 2 3 0
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 3 1 2 3 2
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 4 1 2 3 2
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls USHL 7 2 1 3 6
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 3 0 2 2 0
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- NCAA 2 0 0 0 0
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 4 0 0 0 2
Ryan Donato, Harvard** ECAC- NCAA 0 0 0 0 0
Wiley Sherman, Harvard** ECAC-NCAA 0 0 0 0 0

* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)

** ECAC regular season begins November 4, 2016

 

Pro and European Prospects as of 10/17/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 7 0 2 2 6
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 2 1 0 1 0
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 3 1 0 1 4
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 2
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 0
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 0
Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 2
Oskar Steen, Farjestad BK Sweden- Elite 8 1 0 1 4
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 7
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 15
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 2
Zane McIntyre, Providence AHL 2 1 0 0.57 .969
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 2 0 2 4.18 .857
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 0 0 0 0.00 .000
Peter Cehlarik, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0
Brian Ferlin, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0

* Peter Cehlarik and Brian Ferlin- injured

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series 2: the Right Wings

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

After a bit of a hiatus, we’re back to continue the 2016-17 Boston Bruins season preview by breaking down each position and analyzing where the B’s sit going into the new hockey campaign.

We started out with the centers, and if you haven’t seen it yet and listened to the companion podcast, you can check that out here.

Today, we’re looking at the right wings- another pretty solid position of strength for the B’s. Loui Eriksson is gone, having signed with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1, but the B’s signed David Backes from the St. Louis Blues on the same day. The conventional thought is that Backes will remain in his capacity as a center, but with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci solidly established as the 1-2 punch up the middle, it makes quite a bit of sense that the B’s will take their 5-year, $30 million investment and put him over on the right side with Bergeron and left wing Brad Marchand, who tallied 37 goals last season.

Expected to skate on the right side with Krejci is fellow Czech and David- David Pastrnak. After an electrifying NHL debut in the latter half of the 2014-15 NHL season, the 25th overall pick in 2014 struggled out of the gate last year and then was felled by a foot injury that cost him about 30 games and much of his offensive jump and effectiveness. This is an important season for the David Squared duo, as a healthy and productive Krejci and Pastrnak will be needed to take some of the pressure off of the top line.

Third line is where there could be some opportunities for change. Right now, Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes is the guy to fill that spot on paper. Even with the disappointing season a year ago, Hayes should not be written off yet. Consistency was the biggest thing with the 6-5, 215-pound former second-round pick in 2008. When on his game, Hayes is capable of scoring goals and adding offense both off the rush and in close where he uses his gigantic frame and long arms to pounce on loose pucks. Hayes was an easy scapegoat last year, and he does need to own the fact that when the team needed his offensive production the most, he went largely MIA down the stretch. Having said that, he’s young (turns 27 in November) and talented enough to raise his game and surpass the 20-goal mark, but he’ll have to get back to basics and start with the little things that brought him success in Florida, when he tallied his career-best 19 goals in 2014-15. When you look at Hayes’ possession stats, there’s a case to be made that he’s more effective than he gets credit for, and given his contract structure when compared to others around the NHL, he didn’t exactly embarrass himself. Hayes is never going to be a top-level player, but he has more to offer and if the B’s can get it from him this season, he can be an asset.

If Hayes falters, rookie forward Danton Heinen could fill the void on that third line. A fourth-round pick in 2014, Heinen spent two highly productive NCAA seasons with Denver University before turning pro with Boston last April. The British Columbia native by way of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles is a slick, cerebral playmaking wing who can skate on each of the forward positions, but saw his most production as the RW on the famed “Pacific Rim Line” last season with Toronto free agent signing Trevor Moore and Sharks second-rounder Dylan Gambrell. Heinen could be best served by playing a lot in the AHL, but of all the prospect forwards in camp this month, he’s the one guy who has the best mix of skill, maturity and a three-zone game- all of which should combine to impress Claude Julien and the other Boston coaches (Joe Sacco, Jay Pandolfo, Bruce Cassidy).

On the fourth line, the B’s added free agent forward Riley Nash in July, and as a rugged, versatile forward, the 27-year-old right-shooting former first-rounder in 2007 is good for about 20-30 points while playing that grinding, checking style that is valuable on the bottom unit. There’s not much to get excited about here, but the former Cornell Big Red point-per-game guy gives you NHL experience, physicality and the example that will help to build team cohesion.

Like Backes, we previewed Peter Mueller at center, but in all likelihood, he’ll compete for a roster spot at the RW position as the eighth overall pick in 2006 has spent more of his pro career flanked out wide as opposed to playing in the middle. Temper expectations with him, but if he plays well and earns a contract, his presence allows B’s GM some flexibility to add assets in a potential trade deal for a much-needed defenseman. Mueller has the size and hands to be an effective bottom-six player, but one only knows how he’ll look after spending the last three seasons in Europe. At one point, he looked like an NHL star, so it’s not a bad risk to take as a PTO invite to camp- nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Other right wings in the mix vying for NHL jobs are Seth Griffith, Brian Ferlin and Tyler Randell– all impact performers for the Providence Bruins. Of the three, Randell is the one who is best positioned to come out of camp with a job- he scored six goals in 27 NHL games last season- his first taste of big league action after being drafted in 2009 (and shot an unsustainable 33.3 percent as well). He’s rugged and tough- even though he lacks speed, the B’s can carry him as a 13th forward and plug and play him into the roster as needed. I like that he showed enough to stick around long after other players likely would have been given up on.

Some of the prospects that fans are eagerly looking forward to are 45-goal man Zach Senyshn, drafted 15th overall in 2015. Although he’s struggled with mono and a recent emergency appendectomy that will cost him the rookie tournament portion of camp. He’s big, fast, skilled and ready to take a big next step forward. This year is probably not Zach’s year to make it in Boston, but that’s not a knock on him- not everyone can play in the NHL as a teen, but the patience will likely pay off- he’s a player.

Also talked Swedish forward Oskar Steen, who is listed as a center but plays right wing and projects as a wing at the pro level in North America. Steen is a Bruins-type of player and was a favorite of scout and former Boston cult hero P.J. Axelsson.

Also not covered in the podcast, but Notre Dame right wing Anders Bjork had a very good sophomore season, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring (35 points in as many games). He’s a gritty, fast, high-energy player, but also showed off some impressive offense. Watch for the Bruins to try and sign him this spring to avoid him going back to school for a fourth year and becoming a free agent in 2018. It will be interesting to see what the Wisconsin native does.

Justin Hickman also has promise as a second-year pro as a big power forward who can bang and add some offense after struggling a bit to find his niche. Don’t count the former Seattle Thunderbirds captain out- he was a sought-after undrafted free agent and shows a willingness to scrap and fight for his team.

Now, you’ve read the post- listen to the podcast (I also talk a little 2017 NHL draft and Shane Bowers)! Will be back in this week to break down the left wings next. Thanks for reading/listening.

 

 

Bruins post-development camp prospect check- the Amateurs

McAvoy2

We’re back with part 2 of the mid-summer look at where the prospects in the Boston Bruins organization stack up.

As previously mentioned in part 1 when we reviewed 23 of the prospects who will play in the pro hockey ranks this coming season, this is a subjective list based on multiple inputs to include (but not limited to) live viewings and film study, input from members of the Bruins organization and some sources around the NHL not with Boston, media and fan observers who attended the recent development camp in Wilmington from July 12-15.

This is just one view and take- there will no doubt be disagreement, but I would offer that even if the Bruins as an organization released their own rankings of where they think their prospects stack up from 1 to 40-something, folks would still take issue with it. We would live in a mighty boring world if everything was definitive and we agreed on everything.

So, with that in mind, here is the supplemental podcast (complete with Dirty Harry theme music from the early 1970’s) and the write-ups on the kids expected to spend the season in the amateur ranks for 2016-17.

The Amateurs (NCAA and CHL/major junior)

  1. Charlie McAvoy, RD  Plus: The 14th overall pick has the skating and sense to become a legitimate two-way presence on the blue line in the NHL one day; watch for him to take a significant step forward in his development during his sophomore season at Boston University. Minus: He’s only about 6-foot tall; lacks the kind of ideal NHL height for the position, and needs to keep honing his judgment and decisions as an aggressive offensive player who can at times get too far up the ice.
  2. Zach Senyshyn, RW Plus: A year after tallying 26 goals on the bottom line and without much special teams time, the 15th selection in 2015 scored 45 goals to lead the Soo Greyhounds; he’s a big, explosive and skilled scoring presence on the right side. Minus: The goals are great, but the 19-year-old has work to do in his 200-foot game; he has a tendency to wait for the next scoring chance or let others go and get him the puck.
  3. Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, RC Plus: When it comes to maturity, poise and a complete game at the center position, no prospect brings more promise than the BU sophomore; he’s already earned an ‘A’ on his sweater, and has drawn positive comparisons to Patrice Bergeron for his pure intelligence and playing style. Minus: The Stockholm native and 45th overall pick from 2015 does’t seem to have the kind of exciting and dynamic offensive upside of others in his draft class, but he’s one of those players who will likely play 10-15 years as a key cog because he can do a little bit of everything.
  4. Jeremy Lauzon, LD Plus: Underrated no more after a 50-point season (he only played in 46 games due to WJC camp and injuries); 2015 second-rounder has skill, smarts and some jam/toughness as a two-way D prospect who keeps getting better. Minus: He gets lost in the sauce a bit with all of the competition for blue line jobs in Boston; had a tough time staying healthy with a variety of injuries including a serious skate cut to the neck that could have severed a nerve and ended his career.
  5. Ryan Donato, LC (Scituate, Mass.) Plus: Coming into his own after a strong freshman season at Harvard; was one of Boston’s real standouts at the development camp, showcasing his high-end hockey sense and hands throughout. Minus: Still several years away from competing for an NHL job; needs to keep developing the physical aspect of his game and must continuing moving forward in his three-zone progress.
  6. Jake DeBrusk, LW Plus: High-end hands plus very good hockey IQ/offensive creativity make DeBrusk a legitimate scoring threat every time he has the puck on his stick; good attitude and drive- overcame a debilitating lower body injury early in the season to finish strong in the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament. Minus: His size and strength are pretty average and he might be ‘tweener right now in terms of not quite being ready physically for the pro hockey grind- could return to the WHL for his overage season.
  7. Jakub Zboril, LD Plus: Came to camp leaner and in better shape with more jump and energy than was reported a year ago; when on his game has all the tools in the toolbox to be a No. 2 or 3 two-way NHL D with some bite and nastiness on the physical side.  Minus: At times loses his focus and appears disinterested; the positive strides last week are encouraging, but Zboril still has to prove that he can maintain his intensity and consistency over a longer period of time. He has impressive big league potential if he can put it all together.
  8. Jesse Gabrielle, LW Plus: Surprise (maybe not to him and his supporters) 40-goal scorer after being picked in the fourth round a year ago plays the kind of scoring game with an edge that Boston fans love; has worked himself into excellent shape and added strength and mass since being drafted. Minus: Will have to guard against a letdown season now that WHL opponents will be keying on him this year; as a ’97-born player he has to make the Boston roster out of camp or go back for a full season with Prince George- he can’t play in the AHL on a full-time basis yet.
  9. Ryan Lindgren, LD Plus: All-around skilled and hard-nosed defender is a proven leader and player; Minnesota product has no flaws in his game and could be the captain-in-waiting of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers if he spends enough years there. Minus: He’s only about 6-feet in height, so given his physical nature, he will face some limitations in certain matchups and could pay the price physically; there isn’t a ton of dynamic upside here.
  10. Ryan Fitzgerald, LC (North Reading, Mass.) Plus: Feisty, gritty center erupted offensively as a junior with his finest season for BC- will contend for the 2017 Hobey Baker Award. He’s got terrific hockey sense and a nonstop motor that inspires teammates and infuriates opponents. Minus: The size and skating concerns have followed him since before the long-time Massachusetts minor hockey standout was drafted at the end of the fourth round three years ago. Might need to move to wing to thrive as a pro.
  11. Anders Bjork, RW Plus: One of the top performers last week at development camp with his speed and energy, it all comes after he surprisingly let the Fighting Irish in scoring as a sophomore last season. Minus: Bjork is an interesting player to watch- he was a late fifth-round pick in 2014 and could be one who tries to leverage  path to free agency if the Bruins are unable to sign him this year.
  12. Trent Frederic, LC Plus: The polarizing pick in the 2016 draft’s first round has settled concerns down some with his fine size, athletic ability and willingness to roll up the sleeves and get to work. He’s a strong two-way player and solid citizen who might just be scratching the surface in terms of his offensive game and potential. Minus: There’s not a lot to get excited about here- Frederic has impressive physical tools but is raw and might not ever be much more than a bottom-six forward assuming he reaches the top rung of the pro hockey ladder.
  13. Wiley Sherman, LD (Greenwich, Conn.) Plus: Huge (6-7) defender is such a fluid, impressive skater for one so big and that’s always been his calling card going back to his days at the Hotchkiss School.  Minus: Scouts are divided on his long-term potential: the physical tools are on another level, but can Sherman react and process the game effectively enough to thrive in the NHL?
  14. Cameron Hughes, LC Plus: Highly skilled, creative playmaker was a late-round pick out of the Wisconsin Badgers and showed solid progression in his sophomore season with 25 points in 32 games- watch for his production to go up with new coaches who will lean on him. Minus: He’s a smallish player trapped in a light 6-foot frame that isn’t going to get all that bigger based on the body type; while talented, he can be neutralized by teams with size and mobility on the blue line.
  15. Matt Benning, RD Plus: Smart, opportunistic defender who plays bigger than his 6-foot frame and has been a standout at Northeastern over the past three seasons. Minus: Benning was not asked to attend development camp, and according to the ProJo’s Mark Divver, that could be a harbinger to his imminent departure from the organization either via trade or by pursuing similar action by Kevin Hayes, Mike Reilly and Jimmy Vesey to play out the NCAA string in 2017 and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
  16. Cam Clarke, RD Plus: Smooth-skating intelligent rearguard can move the puck and excels with extra time and space as a PP QB; he’ll get a chance at premium playing time right off the bat at Ferris State. Minus: He’s still quite raw and observers pointed to times during the development camp when he was a little behind compared to other players. Clarke was drafted in the fifth round as a known project, and the payoff will take time if at all.
  17. Joona Koppanen, LC Plus: Big (6-5) center has the skating and smarts to make the NHL one day in more of a defensive, shutdown role; he’s seriously considering the NCAA path, which would be a good step for him.  Minus: There’s just not a whole lot there in terms of hands, offensive skill and long-term potential beyond being a serviceable bottom-liner and journeyman.
  18. Jack Becker, RC Plus: 6-foot-3 power center as some impressive finishing skills, especially in close when time and space are lacking; shows some intriguing offensive potential in flashes after a solid but unspectacular USHL season in Sioux Falls. He scored a memorable breakaway goal in the camp-ending scrimmage. Minus: University of Wisconsin-bound 2015 7th-rounder was once described as “thorny” by a scout in that he’s got a lot of developing ahead, and like Clarke- was said to struggle at times in camp last week with the pace and demands of the drills.
Trent Frederic was Boston's 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Trent Frederic was Boston’s 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Quick hitter: Bruins d-camp wraps with a 6-5 scrimmage

Truth in lending,  TSP wasn’t in attendance this week at the final Boston Bruins development camp shindig until next July’s event moves to the team’s shiny new facility in Brighton, but based on various inputs I’ve gotten from fans and hockey people in attendance at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, the organization has some strength in talent coming.

Jake DeBrusk scored the winning goal for team white today in a 6-5 intrasquad 3-on-3 scrimmage, while Danton Heinen and Cameron Hughes each tallied twice for their respective teams as black blew a 5-2 lead to give up four unanswered goals. Other scorers in the scrimmy were Ryan Donato, Cam Clarke, Jesse Gabrielle, Sean Kuraly, Anders Bjork and Jack Becker based on tweets from CSNNE’s Joe Taggerty and the Bruins Twitter account.

Heinen garnered a lot of positive attention in his second B’s development camp (he did not attend in 2014 after being drafted because he was in Denver taking summer classes). He’s  seen time at both left and right wing while at DU and could earn an NHL job at RW coming out of camp and preseason if he isn’t sent down to Providence to start the year. He’s not overly big (but he’s not small either), nor is he an explosive skater (but he’s not slow), but he’s got tremendous hands and hockey IQ/creativity. Heinen is the kind of forward who projects as someone who will eventually play on the top-two lines, but he has enough strength and a 200-foot game to work his way into an NHL lineup on the lower lines the way Brad Marchand did once upon a time.

The British Columbia product’s short-area game is impressive- he does the grunt work and digs pucks out from along the walls and works plays to the net, hitting teammates in prime danger areas or taking it in himself and finishing with a nifty-quick release he can paint corners with. Hype is always something that seems to follow young players around because so many fans want to see the “shiny new toy” in the NHL and don’t want to wait and allow the prospects to gradually develop in the minors first. Honestly- and we really need to wait until September before we get too far ahead of ourselves- if there is a forward who could make a serious run at an NHL job sooner rather than later- it is Heinen. But if he starts the year in Providence and not Boston- that’s all fine, too. He has less than 10 games worth of pro experience under his belt, after all.

DeBrusk also received praise for his scoring in this camp- he did a little of it last year, scoring a memorable goal on a behind-the-back shot that made a lot of highlight reels.  But when it all comes down to it, DeBrusk has been unfairly maligned after being a surprise 14th overall selection a year ago. He’s a skilled left wing with a little bite and jam to his game, and when you add it to his natural knack for finding the back of the net and making plays from the wing, that makes him an attractive asset in Boston’s system.

Jakub Zboril by multiple reports has the look of a player who was drafted in the top-15 last year, and that’s great news. He’s reportedly leaner and sleeker than he looked a year ago, and impressed observers with his skating and hands- which is something that helped him to be drafted before his Saint John teammate Thomas Chabot, a higher-end offensive defenseman (18th overall to Ottawa) in 2015. Now, development camp drills and scrimmages are all fine and well- it’s encouraging to know that a player of Zboril’s ability and potential showed up and impressed- but the real test lies ahead in September, when he’ll need to raise the compete quotient with all of the veterans and play exhibition contests against guys wearing different colors. I’m an optimist by nature, so willing to take a positive outlook on Zboril going forward, but I refuse to get excited about development camp- I did that with Jared Knight and Ryan Button once upon a time and learned an important lesson about the dangers of putting too much stock in drills and internal scrimmages. Players don’t make teams on the strength of what they do in July, but a good showing can go a long way towards setting expectations in the fall, so good on Zboril for demonstrating some fire and hunger. It’s something we need to see more of from him, not less.

As for top pick Charlie McAvoy, the rising BU sophomore did everything he needed and then some- if anyone had questions about his status as a first-round pick in June or his intriguing NHL potential, he reportedly answered those. He’s thick through the torso and trunk, but is such a smooth skater with excellent vision and puck skills. He’s a rock and very tough to separate from the puck- McAvoy could be on the verge of breaking out big time this coming season when coaches David Quinn, Albie O’Connell and Scott Young hand him the keys to the big red Ferrari that could be the 2016-17 Boston University Terriers and turn him loose. No pressure or anything, kid- but everyone is quickly figuring out why the Bruins were so smitten with the Long Island native, and the hype around him is legit.

Even 2014 7th-round defenseman Emil Johansson is getting some love for his skill and poise. Interesting and a positive development for sure, but again- remember what I said earlier about not putting more stock in development camp showings than is warranted. It’s nice that he came into Wilmington this week and impressed- he’ll be one to follow with Djurgarden of the SHL this season, but let’s pump the brakes a bit before we bring out another shiny toy here. It sounds like he’s given the B’s plenty of reasons to sign him, so we’ll see where it all leads. I’ve only seen Johansson on film, so my perspective is limited, but have never been that overly impressed with his reads and the way he processes the game, but from the sounds of it, he was very good at handling the F1 and F2 pressure this week and getting the puck out quickly and decisively. Every NHL team needs defenders who can do that from the top of their rotation to the bottom.

In net, the goalies never get a lot of love in these development camps because they tend to get exposed more than the position players do. Daniel Vladar got a lot of positive reviews for his size, athletic ability and good positional work- he was coached last year by Peter Mannino, former Denver University standout who had cups of NHL coffee with the NY Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets before finishing out a minors career and joining the Chicago Steel. Vladar is a nice kid- impossible to root against and according to Mark Divver, there will be no QMJHL for him this year. He’s expected to play in the ECHL (don’t rule the AHL out completely) or possibly play in Europe somewhere.

There’s so much to talk about and many other players who did well and stood out, but I wasn’t there, so will add some links by those who were present and close the book on Boston’s 10th annual development camp.

 

UPDATE 7/16- As promised, here are some links to stories and features associated with Bruins development camp:

First up is Mike Sage’s (Puck Sage) blog top-10 player rundown from the week. I first met him back in 2010 development camp, and his thoughtful hockey blog goes against the grain. Mike just calls things as he sees them, which is refreshing, because there is so much of a tendency to fall in line with a few voices out there, but he is always someone who has challenged some of the conventional views out there. Besides- he and I are kindred spirits when it comes to what we value in our players, so you’ll find us agreeing more often than not. He gives college players like Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and the very intriguing Wiley Sherman very high marks for their showings this week.

Bruins Development Camp Top 10 Performers

I missed this nugget from Joe Haggerty on Thursday. Good food for thought especially on Anders Bjork– he’s that Swiss Army knife kind of player that the B’s treasure on the lower lines, but with his speed and unexpected sophomore offense, he could end up being much, much more. Boston may need to sign him soon so as not to risk losing him as a free agent in 2018. As a fifth-round pick, he stands to make a lot of coin (and by that I mean not only the max AAV on an ELC, but with added performance bonuses that can boost the contract value and pay him closer to a first-round pick than what Boston would ideally want to slot him with based on existing salary structure) on the open market if his game keeps progressing and he opts to stay at Notre Dame all four years. The Bjork situation is one to watch- as a Wisconsin product who plays his NCAA hockey in Indiana, he has no real attachment to the Boston area, and you might see the B’s have to offer him a perk such as letting him burn a year off his ELC to get him to forego the path to free agency. We’ll see, but a lot of it will depend on how well he plays as a junior with the Fighting Irish.

http://www.csnne.com/gallery/boston-bruins/Bruins-Development-Camp-Day-3-Thoughts-and-observations

Friend DJ Bean had a nice piece on the growing pool of quality young defensemen in Boston’s system. Outside of possibly a Brandon Carlo, and/or perhaps Rob O’Gara (who wasn’t at d-camp) and Matt Grzelcyk (who was) the odds of a Jakub Zboril or Jeremy Lauzon and Charlie McAvoy contributing to Boston’s fortunes this year are pretty long. That’s not to say it is outside the realm of possibility that should McAvoy have a tremendous season on Comm. Ave that the B’s won’t sign him in the late spring and he could get some NHL games in like Torey Krug did at the end of 2011-12, but I wouldn’t count on it. Bottom line, though- the organization is putting together a pretty strong group of prospects on the blue line that could be arguably in the top third of teams around the NHL. For all the love the Dallas Stars get these days, go look at their D prospects cupboard and tell me you’re impressed with those players as a whole. Unless you’re a delusional Stars fan, you’re grudgingly concede that the Bruins have quietly assembled a promising cohort, which gets some extra credit when you throw Sherman, Ryan Lindgren and Emil Johansson in there (not to mention forgotten 2013 2nd-rounder Linus Arnesson and even undrafted Chris Casto, who could get a look in Boston this year, too).

http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/hockey/bruins/dj-bean/2016/07/16/prices-young-defensemen-steep-bruins-trying-develop-n

Here’s some of the video clips the team itself produced:

Development Camp recap:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-recap/t-277437088/c-44387103

B’s futures do community relations:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-community-events/t-277437088/c-44384403

Matt Grzelcyk weighs in:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-community-events/t-277437088/c-44384403

Ryan Fitzgerald discusses having a chip on his shoulder as one of the more unheralded prospects in the system:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/locker-room-raw-ryan-fitzgerald/t-277437088/c-44381603

The Baby B’s take a trip to Fenway Park:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-fenway-park/t-277437088/c-44381503

Ryan Lindgren talks about his first day at camp and friendship with fellow 2016 draft pick Trent Frederic among other things:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-fenway-park/t-277437088/c-44381503

Jake DeBrusk discusses the difference between last camp to this one and his progress- you can see how bright and likable a guy he is from his answers: https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/locker-room-raw-jake-debrusk/t-277437088/c-44381303

B’s correspondent Eric Russo has more on Brandon Carlo, who is a hot name heading into the fall along with Danton Heinen, as members of the youth movement who will push for NHL jobs this year. We’ll see how they look in September, but am told both impressed the team’s brass in Wilmington and that’s where it all starts:

http://bruins.nhl.com/club/blogpost.htm?id=47225

 

 

2016 Boston Bruins development camp pt. 2: the forwards

Back with the second part of the 2016 Bruins development camp series.

We previewed the goalies and defensemen who will be in Wilmington from July 12-15, and looked back at 10 years of development camps- a tradition that started in Boston during the summer of 2007 with some big names: David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask. Adam McQuaid was there as well.

This post takes a closer look at the 13 forwards who are in town for the event. Ryan Fitzgerald is the “old man” of the group at forward (goalie Zane McIntyre is the organization’s most senior prospect in his seventh camp)- the North Reading native was drafted 120th overall in 2013 and just completed his junior season at Boston College, his finest to date.

2016 Bruins development camp forwards at a glance (2015-16 club in parentheses):

Jack Becker, C/RW (Sioux Falls- USHL): This versatile skater can play the center or wing position and we’ll have to see how Tony Granato opts to use him this season at the University of Wisconsin. Boston’s last choice in 2015 was drafted as a highly raw prospect out of the Minnesota high school (Mahtomedi HS) ranks, where he battled mononucleosis early on to emerge as one of the more impressive power forward prospects at season’s end. At 6-3, 200 pounds, Becker is on the slow boat to Boston as a player who might not ever come close to playing for the big club, but it will be interesting to see how he develops if he can add an extra few steps to his skating and eventually earn a bigger role with the Badgers. He’s likely to have a bit part in his first two years at Madison.

Anders Bjork, RW (University of Notre Dame- NCAA): The 2014 fifth-rounder just completed his sophomore year in South Bend, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring (12 goals, 35 points in as many games). Drafted as more of a grinding/checking presence, the Wisconsin native has shown more of an offensive element than originally projected. Bjork can play either wing and skates with real speed and quickness- his edge control is outstanding, and he drives the net and can also score goals off the rush, catching defenders flat-footed and blowing by them in space. Don’t expect that scoring to continue in the pro ranks, but every team needs capable bottom-six forwards who can chip in with the offense, and with Bjork’s smarts and opportunistic offense, he fits that category nicely. Watch for him to take off even more as a junior, and he might have an outside chance at a contract offer next spring if he puts up another big year on the scoring ledger.

This is pretty sick goal by Bjork in the 2016 WJC bronze medal game…what was I saying about the scoring not continuing at the next level? Wow. Watch the way he goes forehand-backhand then forehand again and roofs it under the crossbar with no room to work. Sniper’s move.

Here’s a nice video from Notre Dame featuring Bjork’s cousin and Fighting Irish alum Erik Condra:

Jake DeBrusk, LW (Swift Current/Red Deer- WHL): It was a good news/bad news season for the 2015 draft’s 14th overall selection. After a quick offensive start in Swift Current, DeBrusk suffered a debilitating injury early in the year that not only shelved him for several weeks, but hindered his play after he returned. He got a reprieve when the Broncos traded him in late December to the Memorial Cup host team Rebels, where he netted a hat trick in one of his first games in Red Deer. Alas, Brent Sutter spent a lot of time tinkering with his lines and DeBrusk’s offense paid the price, as his goal total dropped to half as many as he tallied en route to being a top-15 pick. Still, he stayed with it and raised his production level in the WHL playoffs and at the Memorial Cup, where he looked every bit a first-round prospect. He’s not a dynamic skater, but is quick enough to find open spaces. DeBrusk has excellent hockey sense and will often get the jump on opponents because his anticipation is so instant. With superb hands and the ability to score goals any which way, he’s dangerous with the puck on his stick anywhere in the offensive zone. As a late 1996-born player, DeBrusk can either return to the WHL for his overage season or spend the full year in the AHL with Providence. That decision will likely come down to how he looks at development camp in July and then again at main camp and the NHL’s exhibition play a few months from now. Weekend at Bergy’s put together this highlight clip from DeBrusk’s 2g, 3-pt performance against Calgary in the Memorial Cup:

His dad was a tough customer when he played and that’s not really Jake’s game, but he will drop ’em:

Ryan Donato, C (Harvard University- NCAA): The rising sophomore and second-round pick from 2014 had a strong first collegiate season. The all-time leading scorer for Dexter School in Brookline, Mass. is one of the most creative and skilled offensive prospects in Boston’s system who dominated the prep circuit and then opened some eyes in a limited USHL stint in Omaha at the end of the 2014-15 campaign. He’s bigger than his dad at about 6-1 (he gets his height from his mother’s side of the family) and doesn’t have the same blazing wheels Ted Donato did, but gets an undeserved rap for being an average skater. The younger Donato is highly cerebral and instantly processes the game, often putting himself in position to make a play before it develops. With his slick hands and underrated finishing skills, watch for him to make noise in the ECAC as one of its most dangerous offensive players.

Donato talks USHL after his first game with the Omaha Lancers back in spring 2015:

Ryan Fitzgerald, C (Boston College- NCAA): As the local standout enters his senior year on Chestnut Hill, watch for his scoring numbers to erupt as a bona fide Hobey Baker contender in 2017. Like Donato, Fitzgerald thinks the game at a high level with elite vision and offensive hockey sense. The biggest obstacle for the multiple state championship winner with Malden Catholic is his below average size, but the eldest of Tom (and Kerry) Fitzgerald’s four sons (brother and BC teammate Casey was just drafted by Buffalo with the 86th overall pick in June) is a feisty and gritty player who isn’t afraid to go into the high traffic areas and get his nose dirty. His skating is above average and he’s quick and elusive as opposed to having jets on his feet in the open ice. Fitzgerald is a slasher who is fearless in the way he goes to the net and will take a hit to make the play. He’s often overlooked in the discussion of Bruins forward prospects, but he’s primed for a huge NCAA season and should sign and turn pro in the spring after being a nice value pick for Boston at the end of the fourth round three years ago.

Ryan Fitzgerald’s 2013 NHL combine post-testing interview:

Trent Frederic, C (U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18- USHL): A significant “off the board” selection for Boston at 29th overall in Buffalo, Frederic will get his first opportunity to show Boston brass and the fans in attendance what he’s about. A big (6-2, 205) and athletic center, Frederic played on Team USA’s third line at Grand Forks in the Under-18 tournament after being the second-line pivot for much of the year (Windsor’s Logan Brown took his spot in April). There isn’t much in the way of flash or dynamic offensive ability in the St. Louis native’s game- he skates with a powerful stride but doesn’t have the quickest initial steps or fluid acceleration (though he is fine in a straight line). Frederic can handle the puck well enough, but you aren’t going to see much dangle or ability to score off the rush. Much of Frederic’s offense happens when he crashes the net and bangs in loose rebounds. His physical style- the Wisconsin Badgers recruit finishes his checks and protects the puck well- should translate well at the next level. He got high marks for his character and ability to play well on special teams, along with the way he performs in the faceoff circle. He’s got a big frame that might still be growing, and he gives the Bruins something they lacked in their system at the center position: size and strength. He compares his own playing style to that of childhood hockey idol David Backes, who could be his Boston teammate at some point, and also patterns his play after Detroit grinder Justin Abdelkader. Frederic is more of a banger than a scorer, so he’ll have his work cut out for him to win over those who wanted to see more skill drafted at that late first-round position.

Frederic’s U18 highlights from bigwhite06:

Jesse Gabrielle, LW (Prince George- WHL/Providence- AHL): The stealth bomber of Boston’s prospects… A year ago, Gabrielle was quietly snapped up in the fourth round (105th) and was traded by the Regina Pats to the Cougars in August. When the WHL season began, Gabrielle went off, finishing with 40 goals and impressing with dramatic improvement in his three-zone game. TSP had a chance to briefly speak with Gabrielle in Buffalo, where he was supporting good friend and workout partner Wade Allison (Philadelphia Flyers- 52nd) and the Saskatchewan product looks to be in tremendous physical shape. An abrasive, fast-skating winger who relishes physical contact and doing the work in the greasy, grimy areas of the rink, Gabrielle struck fear into opposing goalies with his laser release and an aggressive, finisher’s mindset. His favorite player is Brad Marchand, and while this blog normally tries to avoid comparisons- a more appropriate NHL player whose style is a better fit for the 19-year-old is two-time Stanley Cup champion (with Chicago) and new Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw. Gabrielle’s throwback style is tailor-made for Boston, but he would have to make the Bruins roster out of camp or return to the WHL for the full season. Motivated and ready for the physical challenge, if there is one player at this development camp I wouldn’t want to go into a corner against (ever), it’s Gabrielle…he’s not forgotten about his wait at the draft and it showed in his play last season, as he’s a pure buzzsaw but with some legit skill to boot. He just needs to keep raising the bar and forcing his way into the conversation with continued focus and dedication to his craft.

Gabrielle takes on a much bigger, but not as adept fighter in Ondrej Vala:

Danton Heinen, LW/RW (Denver University- NCAA/Providence- AHL): Like Gabrielle, Heinen was also a fourth-round pick (2014) who joined the Boston organization with little fanfare, but who scored 36 goals and 93 points in 81 collegiate games over two seasons with the Pioneers. As reported first at the Scouting Post last March, Heinen relinquished his remaining NCAA eligibility to sign a three-year contract with the Bruins after his team reached the Frozen Four and tallied a pair of assists in his first professional game with Providence. The left-shooting winger played both sides in college and came out of junior hockey (BCHL) as a center, so he brings the kind of versatility that Boston loves. He’s not an elite skater, but gets from point A to B pretty well and surveys the ice like a chess master, often diagramming plays well in advance and making magic from the mundane. His most memorable game last season was a five-point effort against eventual NCAA champion North Dakota, which demonstrated his excellent puck skills and offensive instincts. Although a shade under 6-1, he’s added mass to get up around 190 pounds, and even if he doesn’t make the NHL roster right away, will have every opportunity to be an impact AHL player with the P-Bruins. Heinen projects as a top-six NHL playmaking forward with 30+ goal upside, but also has the natural smarts and versatility to find a spot on the bottom two lines as well.

Cameron Hughes, C (University of Wisconsin- NCAA): Another cerebral, playmaking center- Hughes was a strong value selection in the 2015 draft’s sixth round after entering the season with top-90 hype. The Alberta product is a smooth-skating, slick-passing pivot who can speed the tempo up or slow it down. Unfortunately, he has extremely average size at just about 6-feet in height and a light frame that won’t get much bigger or stronger than he is now at about 170-ish pounds. He showed off some dynamic, high-end scoring potential when he was skating for the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints, but had a tough first NCAA season on a terrible Badgers team. He made some key strides as a sophomore, but under a new coach and system, this could be the year that Hughes breaks out. Although not very big, he’s another similar player to Fitzgerald in that he plays with an edge and isn’t afraid to take the puck into high traffic areas, even though he knows he’ll get blown up. Another project player who may or may not even get offered a contract when he exhausts his NCAA eligibility in 2018, Hughes was a good flyer to take so late in a deep draft.

Joona Koppanen, C (Ilves Tampere- Finland Jr.): Massive (6-5) center is more of a clampdown pivot who clogs up the middle and is difficult to play against as opposed to someone with intriguing potential/offensive ceiling. He’s got some athletic ability and agility for one so big, but needs to improve his initial steps and direction change to thrive at the next level. Koppanen is a deft performer at the faceoff dot, where he uses a quick stick and his large body to win key draws, especially ones in his own end. If you’ve got the lead late in a game and are looking to shut the other team down, Koppanen is a guy you want out there. Having said that, he’s not very skilled and at the most, is a long shot to establish himself as an effective fourth-line NHL center one day. Considering where he was taken, the team could have done worse, but there isn’t a great deal here to get excited about, either.

Sean Kuraly, C (Miami University- NCAA): One of two assets that came back to Boston when Don Sweeney flipped goaltender Martin Jones to the San Jose Sharks after the 2015 draft (the Frederic first-rounder was the other piece), the RedHawks captain had a disappointing statistical senior season. His production dropped from 19 goals as a junior to just six in 2016, and he may not ever be more than a third-liner assuming he is able to play his way into the NHL. On the positive side, the Ohio native is a big-bodied forward who can play an effective 200-foot game. He showed flashes of some nifty offensive ability back in 2013, when he was a member of Team USA’s gold medal-winning World Jr. Championship squad, and his 31 goals in sophomore and junior years at Miami mean that he’s not without talent, though he doesn’t possess much in the way of standout skills that would translate into a top-six scoring role at the highest level. He’s a decent skater and will do the grunt work in tight and along the walls, but will likely need to carve a niche for himself in the minors first.

Mark Naclerio, C (Brown University-NCAA/Providence-AHL): The two-year captain for the Brown Bears signed an ATO with Providence last spring after finishing his college career with 100 points. Also a captain at Avon Old Farms, Naclerio was a member of the Winged Beavers’ 2010 prep championship squad. He’s not overly big or skilled, but plays with a lot of heart, energy and opportunism. At AOF, the Milford, Conn. product scored a lot of points off the rush, but became more of a quick-strike player in college, often drifting through defensive layers to pounce on loose pucks or deflect shots in from the outside. He’s on an AHL deal at present, so he’s not technically a Boston prospect, but hard work and productivity with Providence this season could see him earn an NHL deal down the road.

Oskar Steen, RW (Färjestad BK- Sweden): At 5-9, 187 pounds, Boston’s sixth-round pick in 2016 is built like a bowling ball and plays an energetic style despite a lack of high-level talent. Smart and rugged, Steen gets a lot of his points through sheer will and effort- he’s not going to dazzle anyone and how well his ability will translate as he tries to break into the NHL one day is anyone’s guess. He did manage to suit up and play in 17 pro league games for Färjestad BK (6 assists), in his country’s highest pro league, so there’s something to be said for that. At 165th overall, there were worse choices for Boston to make at that spot than Steen, who was said to be current scout and former B’s fan favorite P.J. Axelsson’s desired target at that spot. Axelsson, who was drafted 177th overall in 1995 and went onto to play nearly 800 NHL games, all with Boston, knows a little something about what it takes to make an impression when drafted later on, as does GM Don Sweeney. At this stage, the bottom line for Steen is: why not?

The team announced that due to family, school and travel requirements, BU sophomore Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson will not attend this year’s development camp. Zach Senyshyn, who is also recovering from a bout with mono, also is not expected to participate.

The Bruins released the development camp schedule last week:

BOSTON BRUINS 2016 DEVELOPMENT CAMP SCHEDULE AS OF JULY 6:

(Locations and times are subject to change)

Tuesday, July 12 (Wilmington, MA)

-Off-ice testing (Not open to media), Ristuccia Arena, 9:00 a.m.

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 11:00 a.m.

Wednesday, July 13 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Thursday, July 14 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Friday, July 15 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.