3 Amigos Christmas 2018 Podcast: Bruins Talk, World Junior Preview

Boston Bruins v New York Rangers - Game Four

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 23: Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins looks on against the New York Rangers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 23, 2013 in New York City. The Rangers won 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With the holiday break upon us, we got the band back together for the first Scouting Post podcast since early September.  In this episode, we talk Boston Bruins and the upcoming World Junior Championship in Vancouver, kicking off on Boxing Day (Dec. 26).

The 3 Amigos- Reed Duthie, Kirk Luedeke and Dominic Tiano bring you our take on the B’s as they deal with injuries but have managed to keep their heads above water, leap-frogging the Canadiens for one of the wild card spots with a 4-0 win at the Bell Centre Monday.  The Amigos give Torey Krug his due, but also talk about his future in Boston. We talk some of the youngsters like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Colby Cave, Jeremy Lauzon and others, analyzing what the opportunities  to get into the Boston lineup might mean down the road for GM Don Sweeney and his options to improve the big roster. Kirk goes on a bit of a rant over David Backes and the way he gets treated by some out there.We also dig into past drafts and the tendency to focus on missed picks/players the Bruins didn’t draft vs. those they did. Dom also breaks down undrafted free agent OHL goalie Kyle Keyser and why he might be the sleeper surprise in net for the B’s who have quietly built up their future net prospects with a solid trio in Keyser, Daniel Vladar and Jeremy Swayman.

On the WJC front, Reed breaks down Team Sweden in detail, while Dom predicts the teams he expects to leave Vancouver with medals.

It’s a solid 100 minutes of commercial-free hockey talk- we hope you’ll stick with it.

Ok- enough with the intro- here’s the audio file. Happy Holidays to all and thanks for listening!

Here’s a link to the podcast on SoundCloud for those who want to listen/download there:

 

What, us worry?

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Zdeno Chara (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

You mean to tell us that since two critical veterans went down with significant injuries, the Bruins are 3-0-2 with 8 points out of 10?

And that, dear readers, is why they play the games.

Given the Boston Bruins’ recent run of wins, welcome news despite not having two of the franchise’s faces out for at least 4 weeks or longer: captain Zdeno Chara and defacto captain Patrice Bergeron. The duo of future Hockey Hall of Famers are more than likely at the top of a short list of players that if you polled fans before the season, were the guys the team could least afford to lose for extended stretches of the 2018-19 campaign.

And yet, as the Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, the B’s pulled out two close wins, a 2-1 OT contest against the underachieving Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Friday and then Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, helping Boston secure the sixth-best record in the NHL to date. Of course, few would have guessed that the Jeff Skinner-led Buffalo Sabres would be sitting atop the league standings as November comes to a close, but that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, let us focus on the Bruins and how they’ve put themselves in position to remain competitive despite suffering through some personnel setbacks that would cripple many teams in any league.

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3 Amigos Podcast: Ask the Amigos mailbag, lots of topics- last pod for a while

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

We brought the band back together for one final podcast before the 2018-19 season- it wrapped up on Labor Day weekend, the final official weekend of the summer before we go back to our busy schedules.

Thanks to all of the supporters who took the time to post some thoughtful questions- this one takes us about 90 minutes to get through.

Will try to put it up on Sound Cloud at some point, but for now- you have to listen to it here. It’s not on iTunes and isn’t going to be- limitations of technology at present.

Thanks for listening and be sure to stick around until the end to hear an important message from Dom.

Here’s the audio- appreciate all of the support!- Dom, Reed & Kirk

 

Another B’s audio cast: Frederick, Studnicka, Zboril, Cehlarik plus Joe Murphy & NJ Devils new/old threads

Hey all- back with another audio cast file (Eric Carmen voice) all by myself

In this 60+ minute audio cast, I continue my Boston Bruins prospect series, going with a couple of centers in Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka, both of whom I have a strong feeling will play for the B’s at some point (unless one or the other is involved in a higher-profile trade, which is possible- you never know). Also covered is 2015 13th overall pick Jakub Zboril, who had a solid 1st pro season- we try to be fair to him here. Last on deck for this one is Slovak forward Peter Cehlarik, who faces an important season after being a late third-round selection in 2013, a draft that hasn’t produced a great deal for Boston.

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Audio post: KL on Bruins organizational rankings, 3 prospect assessments, Hlinka-Gretzky Cup & more

Zachary Senyshyn of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

(Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

As the summer winds down, figured an audio post to cover more ground than a typical written narrative is the way to go.

In this 60+ minute audio segment, TSP weighs in on some of the Boston Bruins organizational rankings and why it’s a fool’s errand to put much stock in any of them . We also do a three-year on B’s prospects, looking at Ryan Donato, Zach Senyshyn and Jakub Lauko. Plus, we talk about the recently completed Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, the annual first real jump into the NHL draft tracking process. It’s sure looking like the late 2000/2001 birth year is shaping up to be a pretty good draft class!

Enough of the intro- here’s the file.

 

Bruins prospect of the week 3: Urho Vaakanainen

We’re back with another installment of the B’s prospect series. This time, we’ll swing back over to a player who is closer to playing NHL games, and the 2017 first-round selection’s time could be closer than we think.

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Urho Vaakanainen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Urho Vaakanainen, LD

Born Jan. 1, 1999 (Finland)

6-1/185 Shoots: Left

Background Summary

The 18th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft was a bit of a surprise pick by the Bruins given that there were some higher profile players on the board at the time, including Finnish countrymen Kristian Vesalainen (24- Winnipeg) and Eeli Tolvanen (30- Nashville), dynamic scoring forward Kailer Yamamoto (22- Edmonton), heavy/skilled forward Ryan Poehling (25- Montreal) and impressive 2-way center Robert Thomas (20- St. Louis). However, the 19-year-old entering his fourth season of pro hockey serves as yet another example of the B’s sticking with their own process and how they evaluate talent.

Unlike many of his peers, Vaakanainen had played in the Finnish SM-Liiga (pro) at age 16 and 17, competing against men while the bulk of his fellow draft picks were playing junior hockey (he first played 25 pro games with the Espoo Blues in 2015-16 before switching to JyP for the 2016-17 campaign). The left-shot defender was just one of three skaters on his JyP HT Jyvaskyla squad under age 20 (Sami Niku-19, Jerry Turkulainen– 17) with a fourth teen being goalie Vaini Vehvilainen (also 17). Although billed as a two-way defender, Vaakanainen’s point totals were (understandably) modest in his rookie pro season (41 gp 2-4-6 +5), but the B’s praised his skating, mobility and potential in Chicago after making the selection.

Shifting over to SaiPa Lappeenranta last season, Vaakanainen was the youngest regular on the roster by a couple of years. He upped his production to 11 points (43 games) and got a liberal share of playing time for one so young, leading all SaiPa D with a +8 rating.

CBS Boston reporter Matt Kalman has a good article published in June that covers Vaakanainen’s season with SaiPa and speaks to several of his veteran pro teammates for an interesting perspective on him. It’s worth checking out here.

Scouting Post first saw him in Grand Forks, N.D. as a member of the eventual gold medal-winning squad at the 2016 Under-18 World Championship. He put up a respectable 1-2-3 line in 7 games and was part of a larger core of late 1998 and 1999-born players comprising that Finnish defense a year before their NHL draft (Miro Heiskanen, Juuso Valimaki, Oskari Laaksonen) . He also earned silver at the 2017 U18 tourney, doubling his production to 6 points in 5 games. The rare player who skated for his country in both the World Junior (U20) and U18 tournaments in the same season (2017), also played for Finland at the 2018 WJC.

The B’s signed him to a three-year entry level contract on June 13 and he is expected to spend the year in Providence of the AHL, but the door is open for him to potentially win a spot on the NHL club either out of camp or at some point this season.

Talent Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

2018-19 Projection

Signs point to an AHL campaign with Providence, a level of competition comparable to what he’s spent the last two full seasons skating in. This means that there shouldn’t be a huge learning curve- he’ll have to transition to playing on the smaller ice surface where he won’t have as much time and space to read, process and react, but Vaakanainen’s natural confidence and adaptability to the pace/tempo, an aspect that often confounds junior-to-pro players, isn’t expected to be a factor.

Don’t rule out UV breaking camp with the big club, either, especially if some unforeseen injuries take a toll as was the case a couple of years ago because of the aforementioned pro experience in his native Finland. The B’s won’t force the issue, but the thinking here is that the Boston brain trust will be more comfortable will trying him out if he gets off to a strong start and can make consistent plays at both ends.

The smart money says that developing him in Providence makes the most sense, but the player should get a vote here, and the expectation is that he might not look that out of place. GM Don Sweeney alluded to the fact that he might not have been in ideal condition for the development camp in late June, so that will be something to watch.

At the end of the day, we think UV is a safe selection- he’s going to play in the NHL, and even if he doesn’t reach the desired production Boston sees him capable of providing, he’s probably going to be a solid middle-of-the-roster player who gives them success at the 18th overall spot of the draft. If you wanted more boom potential from the pick, you’re left wanting more, but he’s a good player.

(Here’s SportsNet’s analysis after the B’s made the pick- some interesting observations)

 

Urho Vaakanainen factoids

Born in Joensuu, but raised in Jyväskylä.  Father, Harri, played pro hockey in Finland.

Vaakanainen’s coach at SaiPa, Tero Lehtera, is the uncle of NHL forward (PHI in 2017-18) Jori Lehtera.

In pre-draft interviews, Vaakanainen said that he patterns his game after Hampus Lindholm and Roman Josi.

His 109 total games in the Finnish SM-Liiga (comparable to the AHL) is 41 more than Jakub Zboril’s AHL total of 68 last season…the B’s 2015 1st-rounder is 2 years older than Vaakanainen.

 

Bruins Prospect of the Week 2: Curtis Hall

Back with the next installment of BPOW- figured it makes sense to alternate between more advanced/mature, more NHL-ready guys and those who are further away from competing for spots in the big show.

This week, we focus on 2018 fourth-rounder Curtis Hall, who spent the last two seasons playing for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL.

(Video clip of an early-season 2-goal game from Curtis Hall vs the Central Illinois Flying Aces, posted on YouTube by HockeyDraftCentral)

Background Summary

The B’s grabbed the Cleveland (Chagrin Falls), Ohio native in the fourth round, 119th overall in the June NHL draft, adding an intriguing if long-term option at center.

Although born in New Jersey, Hall was raised in the Buckeye State, spending 8 years with the Cleveland Barons minor hockey program before he signed a USHL tender with Youngstown in 2016. USHL teams are allowed to recruit and sign a maximum two exceptional “futures” players (must be 16 in their respective futures draft year) rather than wait for the draft and hope those players are available to them when their draft turns come. In exchange for signing tender players, teams surrender their 1st-round futures draft pick (and second in the event the team signs two tender players). The catch is- tender players must play a minimum of 55 percent of their USHL team’s games at age 16, and cannot be traded at any time during that first season after agreeing to the tender.

Hall played 59 of Youngstown’s 60 games in 2016-17, scoring 7 goals and 21 points while being broken in slowly. He nearly doubled his goal total to 13 in his second USHL season, but did not quite have the anticipated production and impact, cooling off after a hot start. Hall did have an effective Clark Cup playoff performance, helping lead Youngstown to the championship series with wins over the Dubuque Fighting Saints (3-0 series sweep) and U.S. NTDP Under-17 team (3-1) before falling to the Fargo Force in a 3 games to 1 loss.

Prior to his first USHL campaign, Hall committed to Yale University, and he will begin his freshman season in New Haven this coming fall. He also participated in the U.S. Junior Hockey Showcase in Kamloops, and was among the first roster cuts, but could be in good position to earn a spot for the 2020 World Junior Championship USA squad.

Talent analysis

Hall has impressive pro tools- he’s 6-foot-3, and about 200 pounds with room to add mass onto his lanky frame. He’s got length and good athletic ability. This is not to say he’s a physical player who embraces contact, but Hall has the natural size and strength to get to the net and power through traffic.

With a fluid, powerful stride, Hall can drive wide with speed in the open ice, forcing defenders to backpedal. When Hall comes down your side with a full head of steam, your footwork had better be flawless- he can slip a stick check and go right to the net because he’s so fast and powerful. His first couple of steps could improve- because of his size, he can get a little exposed in the short-area game where agile and quick stops/starts and initial explosiveness are critical, but this is a quibble. As far as his skating goes, Hall is on the higher end of the spectrum and will be noticeable for his ability to play with speed especially when he is in space.

We’ve seen some reports questioning Hall’s hockey IQ, but disagree with that- he reads the play and anticipates well, often getting himself in position to receive breakout passes or return to his own zone to deny opponents time and space in the middle of the ice. He’s not a playmaking offensive center who is dynamic and creative, as much as he’s a smart, efficient 200-foot guy and former pro hockey player’s son who has good habits.

Hall possesses a pro-caliber shot and release- the puck comes off his stick in a blur and is hard/heavy and accurate. He’s a legitimate threat to finish off plays when he uses his large frame to get inside position and establish a netfront presence. While not overly skilled with the puck/able to dangle through a maze of sticks, he’s a serviceable offensive player who is a capable two-way presence who projects to be either a third- or fourth-line pivot eventually.

2018-19 projection

Hall joins the Yale Bulldogs and expectations here are that he will break in gradually as he adjusts to the faster pace and older players he’ll face in the ECAC. Because he has the reputation as a two-way player, he’ll put himself in position to earn more playing time depending on the transition from junior to NCAA D1 hockey.

Fans should not expect big numbers in his first year, but those who take the time to watch Yale games can best gauge Hall’s progress and development by looking at his ice time and what situations he’s playing in. Internet scouting is not going to cut it- we’re not looking at an elite offensive talent here- so temper the expectations and be patient, as Hall is probably a three-years at Yale minimum player, possibly all four.

Curtis Hall factoids

Curtis Hall’s father, Michael, is a former pro hockey player- he spent four years at Bowling Green State University and was a member of the ECHL’s Trenton Titans when the younger Hall was born during the 1999-00 season. Mike Hall played 18 games with the Providence Bruins in 2000-01.

Played in the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (now the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup), the 2017 All-American Prospects Game, 2017 World Jr. A Challenge, and 2018 USHL Top Prospects Game in Kearney, Nebraska- checking all the boxes for pre-draft showcase events during the 2017-18 season.

Even though Hall had already signed his tender with Youngstown, he was invited to and attended the U.S. NTDP 40-man camp in spring 2016. Former Bruins scout and current Chicago Steel GM Ryan Hardy was then the NTDP’s Director of Player Personnel and extended the invitation to Hall.

Was also drafted by the OHL’s Flint Firebirds in the 10th round of the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.

 

 

 

Bruins prospect of the week: Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson

Going to start a new feature here on the blog until the season gets underway by taking a snapshot of the various prospects in the Boston Bruins pipeline by providing analysis and updates on the players and what we think their NHL future might resemble.

First up, is 2015 2nd-round selection Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, center; aka- JFK.

Hope you enjoy, will try to post these every Sunday/Monday to help get us through the rest of the offseason.

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JFK

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, C

6-1/190 Shoots: Right

Background summary

The native of Linkoping, Sweden played two years of junior hockey in the USHL with a team that’s near and dear to my heart- the Omaha Lancers. JFK was the 45th overall pick, one of three selections acquired from the Calgary Flames for Dougie Hamilton (Zach Senyshyn and Jeremy Lauzon round out the trio).

Since 2000, only three players drafted directly by NHL teams out of Omaha have been selected higher than JFK: Louis Leblanc (18-2009/MTL); Nick Petrecki (28- 2007/SJS) & Patrick Wiercoch (42- 2008/OTT) out of a total of 27 players (BU forward Patrick Harper– NSH/2016 and Minnesota-Duluth freshman Noah Cates- PHI/2017 are listed under their high school teams but both finished their respective draft seasons with Omaha and are rolled into the count). As far as the Omaha Lancers go, JFK has a pretty solid NHL draft pedigree, with 110 career USHL games (26 goals, 86 points).

Here’s a JFK highlight video posted by the USHL right before the 2015 draft, most of you have no doubt seen it, but for those who haven’t…

After two seasons at Boston University (78-24-39-63), JFK turned pro with the B’s making his NHL debut on the last day of the 2017 regular season, a loss to the Washington Capitals. Thus far, it is the young pivot’s only big league action, but he had a solid rookie pro season in Providence of the AHL, playing in 58 games 15-17-32 line and a goal in four playoff contests. He was sidelined by a concussion this season, which forced him out of 20+ games and given a concussion history, this will be something to keep an eye on.

Talent analysis

JFK is a cerebral two-way center. He was knocked in his younger years for lacking pace/urgency in his game, but this is an area he’s showed improvement in since early 2014. He’s strong in the faceoff circle and has excellent vision/hockey sense as a forward who is reliable across all 200 feet of the ice surface. While he’s not a burner in the open ice, he’s quick and agile, often reading and processing plays to get a step on defenders to gain time, space and separation.

Forsbacka Karlsson is not what you would call a classic top-2 line forward, but he projects as a quintessential third-line pivot who has the potential to play up or down the lineup in pinch. He has an excellent stick- able to make on-target passes from either side of the blade and has shown that he can find the back of the net in bunches, even if he is not all that consistent a goal scorer when compared to others in the system.

He’s a natural penalty killer, but doesn’t look to be on track to see much power play time at the highest level (at least not for a while), though he does have the head and hands to be able make good use of the added time and space the man advantage affords.

The biggest area of concern for JFK has to do with his injury history (two significant concussions) and a lean frame which is probably not going to see much more mass packed on as he nears the end of his physical growth cycle.

JFK isn’t a dynamic player- you have to watch him to appreciate the details of his game. But, he’s where he needs to be and is able to speed up and slow down the pace when he’s in the middle of the ice and making the play flow through him. If you expect an electrifying center who will bring you out of your seat on every shift, he’s not it. He is, however, highly effective in the middle of the ice, which is where most games are won and lost.

2018-19 Projection

Entering the third year of his entry-level contract, the expectation is that the Bruins would like to see him make a case for the third-line center position, but don’t expect them to force the issue. He showed signs of being up to the task last year with Providence and was developing nicely until the injury setback.

If he doesn’t win a spot on the third or even fourth line in Boston coming out of camp, he’ll go back down I-95 to Providence, where he should be able to score at around a point-per-game pace and would likely be on a very short list of callups if the need arises.

However, given how hard Boston worked to get him to leave school in spring of 2017, the thinking here is that he’ll be given ample opportunity to earn an NHL job in October. If he doesn’t, then it will be interesting to see what comes next in his development.

JFK factoids

Turns 22 on Halloween.

Both parents are lawyers in Sweden.

JFK and fellow Bruin Ryan Donato teamed up in Ralston, Nebraska for a very brief time, as Donato joined the Lancers after he and Dexter Southfield came up short in the New England prep school championship to Salisbury School Crimson Knights in 2015. Unfortunately for Omaha, JFK took a head shot in their first game together in the Lancers lineup and he ended up missing the final 10 games of the regular season and USHL playoffs.

3 Amigos Podcast: Bruins summer update- free agency, draft & rumors

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Thanks to the requests of multiple blog readers, the 3 Amigos decided to reunite in the offseason and last night, the boys did a solid 70+ minutes worth of hockey talk focusing on the Boston Bruins.

While we won’t be as prolific on the blog as before, this is an opportunity to maintain the connection with those passionate fans who helped support us from 2015 to late summer 2017, when the blog went dormant due to job obligations. The truth is- being at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas served as a good reminder that you can’t completely walk away from that which you have done for the past 18 years. It was summer 2000 when the New England Hockey Journal hired TSP founder Kirk to cover the Bruins, and after covering nearly every draft since then (minus those when overseas), it was strange not to be working at this most recent draft.

Still- am grateful for all the words of support and encouragement, and fortunate to have two good friends in Dom and Reed who agreed to get the Amigos back together and do some more audio work. The best part of it was just being able to interact with them again, and we have some more things in store for future efforts.

So, enough of the background- here’s the audio file and will post it up on Soundcloud as well.

For those who want to download and listen on Soundcloud, go here:

 

3 Amigos Podcast Ep. 11: Bruins NHL Draft recap with 2nd-rounder Jack Studnicka & Free Agency preview

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The 3 Amigos are back with our post- 2017 NHL Entry Draft wrap-up show featuring Boston’s 2nd-round selection (53rd overall) Jack Studnicka, center for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Dominic Tiano worked with the Gennies to have Jack join us, and he talks about myriad topics, including his final U16 season (before being a 1st-round OHL draft pick) with Belle Tire under coach Kyle Krug, father of B’s D Torey.

Reed Duthie, Dom and myself not only interview Jack, but also break down all of Boston’s picks and discuss possible free agent targets as the annual open market derby begins Saturday, July 1.

We didn’t talk Noel Acciari’s 2-year contract extension announced yesterday, but Acciari has been a solid undrafted free agent addition, and he even showed an ability to generate some important offense down the stretch last season.

Here’s the audio- it clocks in at a little over 90 minutes. We know the audio isn’t the greatest but again- this is three guys doing this because we enjoy it- not because we’re the highest-tech operation. We appreciate your time and support in listening- we know there are plenty of other podcast options out there.