Off the top of the head: Dan Vladar

After a couple of days away, here’s the next in the Boston Bruins prospect series. We’re not doing these in any particular pecking order, but trying to do some players who aren’t as well known. If there is anyone you want to see on here sooner rather than later, let us know in the comments section.

Dan Vladar, G

6-5/190

Boston’s 7th choice, 75th overall in 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Current team: Providence Bruins (AHL)

Previous team: Atlanta Gladiators (ECHL)

Strengths: Physical attributes are as good as it gets: He’s tall, lean and athletic. Moves fluidly with good footwork. His at-post skill set (play near and behind the net, below the circles and cross-crease movements) are very good. Length of legs and upper torso mean that he excels with the butterfly, 1-leg down vertical-horizontal and 2-skate at post techniques to deny scoring chances in close and from behind the net. Uses his hands to cover the top portion of the net well. Good worker who wants to improve and puts in the time to work on the details. Highly respected person and teammate- sunny disposition and well-liked in the room. Between the natural talent and the attitude, there’s still much to like about the 22-year-old who does a lot of things you can’t teach.

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Jeremy Swayman: Hobey Baker award finalist

University of Maine junior goaltender Jeremy Swayman along with with University of North Dakota forward Jordan Kawaguchi and University of Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Scott Perunovich were named Hobey Hat Trick finalists for college hockey’s top award- the Hobey Baker.

Swayman, who recently turned pro, signing with the Bruins in March, edged out fellow Hockey East Hobey hopeful John Leonard of UMass for the league’s player of the year honors. Leonard, a dangerous finisher who starred at Springfield Cathedral HS and played in the USHL with Green Bay before becoming a Minuteman, will leave school to sign with the San Jose Sharks.

The last Hobey Baker winner who played for the Bruins was Boston College defenseman Mike Mottau, who took the hardware in 2000, and skated in just eight regular season and playoff games for the B’s in 2011-12.

We recently did a comprehensive review of Swayman on this blog, and while he’s a long shot to come away with the hardware when the 2020 Hobey Baker winner is announced on April 11, he had an amazing season with the Black Bears.

Consistency has been the name of the game with Swayman, as he jumped from midget AAA in Colorado to the USHL to completing three superb NCAA seasons all in the span of just five years. He did it with just one year of junior hockey under his belt, which is a path less travelled for most goalies, who typically need more time developing at the tier 1 and tier 2 junior levels before making the jump to college. Now, with one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, Swayman is ahead of the curve again, signing a 3-year deal with the Bruins and getting his professional apprenticeship underway. This is one more indicator that despite the lack of pre-draft hype, the Bruins did a find job of scouting a player who should have been on more radars, or at least, should have gotten more attention than he did.

There are a lot of things to like about Swayman, but in watching more film, he excels at the concept of transition through SPOT (popularized  by Columbus Blue Jackets goalie coach Jim Corsi. Yes, THAT Jim Corsi.)- Square, Prepared and On Time. When it comes to the transition game in net, it’s about the goalie answering one critical question: how can I get there (to the right spot) on time to make the save? Playing an entire hockey game in net is like going SPOT to SPOT over and over again. The best goalies at any level are the ones who are the most skilled, athletic, and aware; consistently able to make the first save, and then at least one more, all while managing the controlled chaos around their net. Sounds easy, right?

At TSP, we tip our caps to the job Swayman has done this season at Maine and over the course of his college career. He’s going out a winner, regardless of who comes away with the big prize.

And also not to be forgotten- Daniel Vladar, who was having a tremendous season with Providence until the rug was pulled out from under him and the rest of his team as the AHL had to shut it down. And there is also Kyle Keyser, just a few months younger than Swayman, whose first pro campaign got derailed by injuries, but is also one of the more impressive in a long line of undrafted free agents the Bruins have signed in recent years.

Yes, when it comes to goaltending and the Bruins, it seems that the kids are all right.

 

Podcast: Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network breaks down B’s prospects

The Scouting Post is pleased to present a 2-hour and change discussion with Anthony Kwetkowski– Bruins Network on his excellent work as a Boston Bruins prospect analyst.

You can follow his work and observations on Twitter at: @BruinsNetwork

In the podcast, we cover a lot of topics, starting out with a look back at the 2010 NHL draft, where Anthony caught the B’s prospects bug with the Tyler Seguin draft. We then  take a macro look at the Boston Bruins’ ability to draft (Jake DeBrusk) and sign impact players as undrafted free agents (Torey Krug, Noel Acciari, Karson Kuhlman), following up with an assessment of the 2019-20 AHL Providence Bruins. We then drill down to key AHL prospects, with AK breaking down detailed notes on Providence players  Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Zach Senyshyn.

We also talk about organizational rankings around the NHL- how they are done and why the Bruins are consistently down near the bottom of rankings from the last two years.

Players also covered/analyzed in the podcast: John Beecher, Nick Wolff, Jack Ahcan, Cooper Zech, Victor Berglund and Quinn Olson.

It was a fun discussion and we’ll have him back again- thanks again to him for coming on and providing such depth of knowledge of these players. Here’s the file:

BruinsNetwork

Off the top of the head: Jakub Lauko

The prospect series continues with a quick look at Czech forward Jakub Lauko and what he brings to the table.

Jakub Lauko, C/LW

2nd selection, 77th overall in 2018 NHL Entry Draft

Current team: Providence Bruins (AHL)

Previous team: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)

Strengths: Top skater; explosive/elite burst, balance, and the ability to beat defenders wide with straight line speed, or rapid edging/direction change- can turn on a dime. Wins a lot of foot races to loose pucks and has the shifty, slippery elusiveness to get around players 1-on-1. One of the best pure skaters in hockey at any level. Good size: 6-foot-1 frame that is still filling out- just had his 19th birthday last week. Pin-point, flash release on his shot; nose for the net- when he shoots the puck in close, good things happen. Good worker who competes and is willing to embrace a 200-foot responsibility- not one-dimensional.

Weaknesses: Lacks high-end puck skills, vision and offensive hockey IQ, which could cap his offensive ceiling at the NHL level. Lean and light- suffered a concussion in early December after taking a big hit in an AHL game that required a gurney to take him off the ice. Returned to action for the World Jr. Championship tournament late in the month, but suffered a lower body/MCL injury that cost him the rest of the competition, plus all of January and February before returning for four AHL games in March prior to the season-ending COVID-19 situation for the league.

Overall analysis: Getting Lauko in the third round two years ago was very good value for the B’s. He came over to North America to play major junior in the QMJHL, winning the 2019 Memorial Cup championship and subsequently turning pro. His skating and ability to play with pace allowed him to play in the AHL, but his offensive production was indicative of his youth and a middle-of-the-pack skill set. Even though Lauko is a dynamic, game-breaking talent with his wheels, he doesn’t appear to have the hands or creativity to be a top tier scorer at the NHL level. What he can be is an effective 2-way forward who can provide secondary offense and will be a capable three-zone player and penalty killer. He’s got a genuine personality and is well-liked, so he’s easy to root for. Where his draft day fall to the third round raised some eyebrows at the time, it is now apparent that his average hands/skills contributed. Having said that, he’s a solid middle tier prospect who will upgrade his team’s speed/energy and be a good complementary piece- not a driver.

Projection: Capable middle-six forward and PKer at the NHL level; might play more wing than center in the show- time will tell. With only 22 AHL games under his belt, he’s going to need more time in Providence. If the injury bug hits in 20-21, Lauko could see time in Boston as a recall player, but the best thing for him until then will likely be to continue his development track on the farm where he can get quality minutes and play in a variety of situations. At age 19, he’s still quite young, and it’s possible he could raise his offensive profile going forward. However,  his NHL ceiling looks to be about 20 goals/40-45 points at this stage, and that would make for a successful third-round draft choice.

NHL video extended highlights of Sep 23 preseason Bruins-Flyers game. Lauko is 94 and takes opening faceoff, later scores at about 2:10 with a nice self-pass off the wall and a sharp-angle shot.

Here’s Lauko’s 1st AHL goal vs the Rochester Amerks- goes to the net: right place, right time

Dominic Tiano: A Look Back at the Man They Call ‘Studs’

 

Jack Studnicka of the Oshawa Generals. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

(Photo credit: Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Guest post by Dominic Tiano:

As most of you know, my priority is the Ontario Hockey League and the NHL Draft because that’s where my eyes are mostly focused. And when my fellow Amigos suggested that I compare what I said back in 2017 about Jack Studnicka to where he is now, I couldn’t resist even though I could have been way off the mark.

So, lets go back to March 5, 2017 when I first wrote this:

I don’t believe Studnicka is an offense first player, which I see tagged to him plenty. He puts as much attention to detail on the defensive side as he does on the offense. He plays in all situations and takes key faceoffs for the Generals. He’s quietly become the Generals’ top face off man at 53%. It’s his extremely high compete level that makes him pay attention at both ends.

Studnicka has good size – although adding bulk will be key for him. He is an excellent skater who has an explosive first step and decent top end speed who can change direction with ease. He possesses very good vision with high quality playmaking skills with an ability to set up his teammates. His shot is underrated in my opinion. His release is deceptive and accurate and he puts every shot on goal with a purpose.

Studnicka can be elusive in the offensive zone. He can break away from coverage almost undetected and put himself into scoring positions. He has very good puck skills and strong possession skills. Although he needs to add some muscle, he will not shy away from the hard areas. Once he gets stronger, it will become an area where he wins more often than he loses because of it – and his work ethic.

If anything has changed in three years its that he has improved even on the skills he was already good at. Yes, he was deemed as just an offensive player in many circles back then, but not to these eyes. What has impressed me most is that he continues to put the work in, even in areas he excels at. And that continued work defensively has only made him stronger in that area. He was one of the best penalty killers in the AHL and while he took care of his own zone, he was a threat to score while down a man each and every time.

While he was already a “polished” skater in the faceoff circle, that wasn’t enough for Captain Jack. Much like Patrice Bergeron – he has similar traits to the Bruins Alternate Captain – he continues to work at it to become even better. For Studnicka, like Bergeron, good is just never good enough.

All that hard work has paid off for Studnicka as he quickly moved up to the top of the Bruins prospect rankings, something I am sure even Jack didn’t think would happen this quickly.

If there is one area that I would have liked to see accelerated in this process, it’s adding bulk to his frame. While every part of his game – the IQ, vision, skating, 200-foot game, faceoff success, offense, penalty killing – are NHL ready, adding some extra bulk to his frame this offseason will prepare him for the long grind of the NHL season.

With the extra long offseason for Studnicka, the opportunity is there to put in the work. What we do know 100%, is that he will put in that work.

Off the top of the head: Jack Ahcan

Continuing the Bruins prospect series where we do quick break downs on players based on what we know about them through viewings and have read recently- not a comprehensive deep-dive but just enough information to get the conversation started.

Jack Ahcan, LD

Undrafted; Signed 2-year ELC; March 2020

Current team: TBD (Providence Bruins AHL- expected)

Previous team: St. Cloud State Huskies (NCHC)

Strengths: Outstanding skater; dynamic speed, small-area burst/first-steps, straight-line speed and superior edgework and agility. 4.5/5 out of 5 skater. Very good puck skills; can skate pucks out of danger on his own or hit any range of passes to kickstart the transition game into high gear. Good vision and hockey sense; can anticipate/read/react to help him defend or distribute pucks when he joins the rush or runs the PP. Activates at the right times. Good stick. Leader- was team captain as a senior and plays with pace and jam- a little engine that could type.

Weaknesses: Undersized; will have to be smart in how he plays the position/employs his stick- won’t be able to match up physically with most of the players he’ll find himself in 1-on-1 battles with. Shot is an area for improvement- release is quick/snaps off his stick and is accurate/low for net-front tips and deflections, but power/velocity is a work in progress.

Overall analysis: A coup for Boston- he probably should have been drafted at some point, so the Bruins did very well to sign him away from teams like Colorado. The Avalanche had an inside track due to his attendance of their development camp/previous relationship. Boston employed team effort approach, leveraging multiple connections in Minnesota (Player development director Jamie Langenbrunner) and their NCAA scouting staff (Scott Fitzgerald, Brett Harkins), a scout with junior coaching connections (Doug Leaverton) and players (Charlie McAvoy– WJC roommate and Tuukka Rask– same player agency) to land their target. Ahcan may not have size, but he brings all the attributes NHL teams desire in smaller players, regardless of position. He’s fast, skilled, smart and competitive- don’t be surprised if Ahcan is playing games in Boston at some point this season.

Projection: Smart signing that serves as a hedge as Torey Krug’s potential unrestricted free agency draws closer and the expansion draft looms a little further in the distance. The Bruins could lose a good, young D in the expansion draft, so bringing in a player like Ahcan helps to shore up the organizational depth to help guard against that. The inevitable comparisons to Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and other smallish D around the NHL is inevitable, but Ahcan’s all-around body of work (he was USHL defenseman of the year, was a member of the USA gold medal-winning 2017 World Jr. team, received numerous NCHC honors) and his skill set, along with work ethic and leadership intangibles, make him an impressive add given his status as a UDFA.

Watch for him to start out in Providence of the AHL, where he’ll get a chance to earn a significant slice of playing time and special teams play. As an NHL D, his ceiling could be as a solid 3/4 and PP contributor. He’ll have to overcome the stigma associated with being on the smaller side and being undrafted to boot- much like Krug has had to do (and let’s face it- some fans have never gotten on board with No. 47), but when you talk about the hackneyed word (at least in scouting parlance) upside, Ahcan has it.

Here’s a dated profile from his freshman season and also interviewed is then-SCSU (and USA WJC coach) Bob Motzko

 

Off the top of the head: John Beecher

In this new series, will break down what we know about Bruins prospects and bring you up to speed. It’s “off the top of the head,” so there’s really not much else to it- not spending time scouring the internet to look at what others are saying, but just giving the wavetop look and trying to project what might come next.

John Beecher, C/LW

1st selection, 30th overall in 2019 NHL Entry Draft

Current team: University of Michigan (B1G 10)- rising sophomore

Previous team: U.S. NTDP U18

Strengths: Pro-style frame at 6-3/210 pounds- will get bigger and stronger. Terrific skater: plus-acceleration and first-step quickness; can blow by defenders in a straight line and has the agility to go east-west/pull defenders out of skating lanes. Hard worker who can do strong work along the walls when he’s on the flank or drive through the middle of the ice. Excels in puck possession, where he uses his big frame and natural strength to shield the puck and soften defenses up with an effective cycle game. Hard, heavy shot- dangerous below the dots.

Weaknesses: Puck skills are not high-end; isn’t going to carry it through traffic or beat many top D with 1-on-1 moves when he’s facing a tight/hard gap. Vision/offensive IQ is average- not overly creative. Can create space for linemates, but not a line driver. Not a punishing physical presence- long fuse and not afraid of contact, just doesn’t use his natural size to seek and destroy- inconsistent with finishing his hits.

Overall analysis: Generated a ton of excitement over the summer when he shined at Bruins development camp and in the Summer Hockey Showcase with Team USA, using that as a springboard to make the 2020 WJC team. Always kind of lost in the constellation of stars that comprised the USA ’01 birth year, Beecher is a surefire NHL player because of his physical attributes. With his size, speed and ability to get up and down the ice and drive right to the net, he’s tailor-made for the modern game, but he doesn’t have the pure offensive skills or instincts of other USA teammates like Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield and Matthew Boldy (to say nothing of 1st overall pick Jack Hughes). He scored .5 points per game as a true freshman at Michigan, which isn’t bad given his role. Unfortunately, he’s also the victim of inflated expectations that come from being a first-round NHL pick and one who got hyped because of the summer he had. He’s exactly a week away from turning 19, so this is an example of the hype train getting out of line with realistic expectations. All in all, he didn’t have a bad first NCAA season and he’ll get the opportunity to do more as a sophomore.

Projection: Beecher looks like a rock-solid eventual 3rd-line NHL center, but could move up or down the lineup and make an impact first on the wing. It’s not going to happen quickly for him (he’ll likely follow Trent Frederic’s blueprint and get seasoning in the AHL first), but he’s a good fit for the type of team the Bruins are all about: mobile, heavy on pucks and potentially has an untapped offensive dimension to his game. He’s not the physical, tough-to-play against type of forward like Frederic or Nick Ritchie, but as someone who has seen it firsthand, Beecher has it in him to grab the puck and skate down the ice like a runaway freight train…when he dips his shoulder and goes to the net it’s a thing of beauty.

He’s a complementary piece in our view, but the perfect kind of supporting cast player for a team like the Bruins, whose systems and style will suit him perfectly. The B’s could have drafted more skill at the 30th pick with someone like Bobby Brink, but Beecher is solid and after Jack Studnicka, represents the best the B’s have in the prospect pipeline at forward.

Here’s the USHL interview (Ben Gislason) with him after the Bruins called his name in Vancouver.

Ask the Amigos: Quarantine Podcast 2020

IMG_1906

Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Dom, Reed and Kirk got together for a 3 Amigos reunion, making sure to practice social distancing in the process.

We’ve got more than 2 hours of (mostly) hockey talk, breaking down questions that readers submitted. A lot of it centers around uncertainty around David Krejci and Torey Krug going forward, Jack Studnicka’s promising early returns, and a look at how expansion might impact the NHL and Boston Bruins in 2021.

We recorded the audio before news of the Jack Ahcan signing broke, so we don’t have anything on the newest free agent signing for the B’s, but you can check out the quick-hitter we posted on him here yesterday on the blog.

So, let’s go- here’s the audio file. We’ve also posted it over at SoundCloud so that you can listen on the go…

SoundCloud download:

Report: St. Cloud D Jack Ahcan signs with B’s

Per award-winning NCAA beat writer Brad Schlossman/Grand Forks Herald (and retweeted by Elliotte Friedman), St. Cloud State Huskies senior defenseman Jack Ahcan is signing with the Boston Bruins after a superb college career. The signing is for a reportedly two years.

Although small in stature, Ahcan (uh-SHAWN) plays a big game: he’s explosive and dynamic on his skates- able to play with a lot of pace and has real skill from the back end to move pucks, along with some jam for one who is around 5’8″. He’s highly capable on special teams and has a little bit of both Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk to his game. His style also reminds of Los Angeles Kings rookie Mikey Anderson. If you’re going to be an undersized D in pro hockey, then you need the kind of attributes he possesses.

Don Sweeney and company are doing this less than a week after signing fellow undrafted NCHC standout  6-5 hard-nosed D Nick Wolff– some thunder to Ahcan’s lightning. Oh yeah- and like Wolff- he wore the ‘C’

Scott Fitzgerald, who handles a lot of the NCAA work for the B’s, and amateur scout Doug Leaverton, who was Ahcan’s assistant coach with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids Rough Riders in 2015-16, are likely key behind the scenes players to getting this done. He previously attended Columbus, L.A. Kings and Colorado development camps, so there was undoubtedly some interest around the NHL for him. (Edit- Big assist to Charlie McAvoy as well, per Mick Hatten in TheRinkLive.com. McAvoy and Ahcan were teammates/roommates on the USA WJC gold medal-winning squad in 2017- McAvoy apparently was key in selling the St. Cloud d-man on choosing Boston over Denver.)

We’ll break some film down on him and give a more detailed analysis in a bit, but for now, this is one more sign that the B’s aren’t resting on their laurels and with NHL expansion looming/another draft a year-plus from now, it makes sense to hedge the bets and infuse the organization with some flexibility to offset what is sure to be a good player heading to Seattle. (We talk about that on the upcoming 3 Amigos podcast)

 

Analysis: Nick Wolff Then & Now

The Boston Bruins got their guy, it appears.

University of Minnesota-Duluth senior captain and left-shot defenseman Nick Wolff signed a 1-year entry-level contract with the B’s this week after four seasons with the Bulldogs. The former Eagan High School standout who spent a couple of seasons in the USHL playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers before heading to the NCAA attended the previous two Bruins development camps and had turned down other opportunities a year ago to return to Brighton. Given his close friendship with college teammate Karson Kuhlman, it seemed fait accompli that Wolff would sign with Boston if they wanted him, and so this was expected.

Here’s the breakdown on what Wolff brings to the table and what fans might expect from him going forward.

Nick Wolff then:

July 2019 (TSP Development camp recap)- Two-time NCAA champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is big and a nasty, tough competitor who helped anchor a suffocating defense in the NCHC last season. He’s massive at 6-4, and the skating isn’t a strength (especially when Scott Perunovich is flying around the same ice), but he’s a smart defender who uses his size, strength and stick effectively. The assistant captain from 2018-19 was rumored to be considering turning pro in the spring, but opted to return for his senior season, and he should sign a pro contract in the spring of 2020. Wolff attended B’s development camp a year ago and despite numerous offers by other teams opted to return to Boston in 2019. He’s a throwback type…if you liked Adam McQuaid, Wolff is a guy you’ll have time for as a defense-first, physical, hard-to-play against glue role D.

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