2012 NHL Draft Flashback: Matt Grzelcyk

A knee injury and surgery in May will likely prevent Boston University Terriers captain and Bruins prospect Matt Grzelcyk from beginning the 2015-16 season on time, but the Townie is still expected to be a major contributor to BU’s fortunes when he returns.

I spoke briefly to Terriers coach David Quinn in passing at the NHL draft a few months ago shortly after A.J. Greer was selected, and I brought up Grzelcyk. The surgery didn’t come up, but Quinn was more than happy to heap praise on his defenseman. Many of us didn’t know it at the time, but when BU played in the Hockey East and NCAA tournament, “Grizzy” had already suffered his ACL injury, and was not 100 percent. That’s why some observers may have noticed he wasn’t playing his best hockey in those final games, but he was there for his team and if not for a 3rd period comeback by Providence College in the championship match…woulda, coulda, shoulda.

I first saw Grzelcyk when he skated for Belmont Hill in 2009, before he left for the U.S. National Team Development Program for the 2010-11 campaign. He was such a high-end offensive defenseman at the prep level, but I wondered how he would fare with his lack of size out in Ann Arbor. Well, he certainly made the most of it, even overcoming a pretty lackluster ranking by Central Scouting and other public lists to be a third-round selection of his home town Bruins.

Here’s a profile I wrote on him for New England Hockey Journal about a month before the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. It tells his story as a “little engine that could” defenseman. At the time, the B’s had just signed Torey Krug, but he had yet to make his mark. The two have a lot in common in terms of style and substance- both are undersized, but play with a lot of offensive flair and passion. Grzelcyk is the better skater between the two, but Krug’s shot has allowed him to score 26 goals in his first two full NHL campaigns in Boston.

Some will say you can’t have two smaller defenders on the same blue line, but I contend that when it comes to these two, don’t dismiss the notion out of hand. Grzelcyk will turn pro after this season and likely spend at least one or more years in the AHL. By then, who knows what the makeup of the Bruins defense will look like, but with his speed, vision and offensive upside- I wouldn’t count him out.

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Matt Grzelcyk profile

New England Hockey Journal; May, 2012

Matt Grzelcyk is one of the best 2012 NHL Entry Draft prospects no one is talking about.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound speedy, offensive defenseman from Charlestown, Mass. recently returned home to the Bay State after two years in Ann Arbor, Mich. with the U.S. National Team Development Program. Grzelcyk admitted that it was tough to leave the comfort zone of home surrounded by friends and family, but looking back on it, there is no question that he made the right choice.

“My whole mindset has changed with everything from the training to all the roadies we went on,” Grzelcyk told New England Hockey Journal recently. “I’ve become more mature as a person and the program not only developed us as hockey players, but also developed us as men. I never really thought I’d be the person I am today, but I couldn’t be happier in terms of the confidence I’ve gained and all the great experiences I had.

“It’s sad that it’s all come to an end, but I’m excited about being back home and getting ready for my next big challenge.”

The luggage that brought him back to Boston was a little heavier, as he carried numerous awards and accolades from his myriad international experiences, including the gold medal he won as a member of Team USA’s fourth consecutive championship squad at the World Under-18 Championship.

“The first year (in the NTDP) was a grind, but the second year brought us all together and was just amazing,” he said of his time in the program, capped by achieving the team’s ultimate goal of an U18 title. “I think—it’s just we obviously knew people kind of doubted us. We had an attitude that it was us against the world—everyone wanted us to lose. It felt so satisfying to play those games and come out on top in the end. I can’t even begin to describe it.”

Yet, even though he has that winning pedigree, a blazing set of wheels and is one of the smartest two-way defenders available in the 2012 draft class, he’s only rated the 177th-best North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service and is almost an afterthought when it comes to discussing a defense-rich group of prospects.

“I guess it is motivation,” Grzelcyk said. “I’ve heard it ever since a young age and people telling you that you’re too small to play. I like it, actually. I have nothing to lose and I just take the attitude that if I work as hard as I can, I can block the doubters out.”

The player more commonly known to his friends and hockey observers as “Grizzy” is one of three former players with the Middlesex Islanders minor program available in the 2012 NHL draft.

The team was coached by former Merrimack College star and NHL forward with the Blues and Bruins, Jim Vesey (Charlestown, Mass.). Grzelcyk, along with Vesey’s own son, Harvard-bound Jimmy and close friend and fellow Townie Brendan Collier formed a trio that proved to be inseparable in those early hockey years when the boys were aged 7 to 12. All three later skated with the New England Nordiques AAA summer hockey program as well, helping to form a lasting bond between them.

“Hockey helped us stay out of trouble,” Grzelcyk said. “Coach Vesey—we never really noticed at the time what he was doing for us—we just thought they (Vesey and the assistant coaches) were old guys yelling at us, but he built a strong foundation for us early on. We all realize now how important it was for us to stick together and to apply the fundamentals and skills we learned from them.”

At least one hockey parent with those Islanders teams recently recalled how Grzelcyk and Collier would play roller hockey for a large portion of the day, then skate to the rink on their rollerblades for ice hockey practice. Even then, the duo displayed a passion for the game that was palpable.

“Yeah, we couldn’t get enough of it,” Grzelcyk said with a laugh. “I think Brendo’s probably my first friend and he was really my only friend for awhile. We’re still very close. Growing up, it was nice playing with someone from the same town with the same passion for the game. We’re both not the biggest guys, but when you look at what we’ve been able to do, I think it’s something we’re both proud of—that even when we were told that we could play at certain levels because of our size—we were able to rise above that.”

Collier, who will join his buddy Grizzy at Boston Unversity in 2013, is coming off a second-consecutive Massachusetts high school championship. In 2011, he scored the winning goal in overtime. This past spring, with his team dedicating the season to cancer-stricken coach Chris Serino (Saugus, Mass.), he tallied an important goal in the title match against BC High.

“He was my first friend and when we we’re together we’re inseparable,” Collier said after a recent workout. “You won’t find any pictures of one of us when we were little without the other. Whenever I would go anywhere, I would always ask my mother if Grizzy could come too, and vice versa.

“In all the time we played together he was the best defenseman I ever skated with.”

The two remain close to this day as workout partners in renowned strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle’s local program. With smaller frames under 6-feet, both players understand that they must maximize their core strength to be able to better handle the bigger, stronger and more physical players at the higher levels.

Working in Grzelcyk’s favor, however, is the fact that he skates extremely well, with an explosive first few steps and smooth footwork. If he lacks natural size and strength, he offsets those shortcomings with a brilliant mind for the game, a deft passing touch and the heart and character to bring his best effort to the ice on every shift.

“The first thing is that I try to establish myself as a two-way ‘D’,” Grzelcyk said. “When you look at my size, it has to be about offense., Hockey IQ and smarts. I’m not going to be a physical guy, so I have to be able to move the puck out of my end smartly and help my team transition to offense smoothly.”

The future BU Terrier added that the biggest improvement to his game this season had to do with his timing in terms of jumping up on the rush and pinching in from the point. He’s also worked on adding power and accuracy to his shot.

Having grown up in the shadow of the TD Garden, where his father, John, has been a member of the bull gang for more than 40 years dating back to the historic Boston Garden, it isn’t difficult to see where he got his passion for hockey. John and Kathleen Grzelcyk raised their family of hockey players and Bruins fans in Charlestown, with two older brothers in John and Andrew, plus older sister Julie, who all embraced the game.

Skill. Passion. Character. They are all hallmarks of Grzelcyk’s game, and the NHL is rife with examples of other undersized skaters who have overcome doubts to thrive in the league.

“Grzelcyk is a good player, and it’s so important in today’s game to get the puck out of the zone—he does that quickly and moves the puck well. He’s smart, and smarts can outweigh size,” said an NHL scout for an Eastern Conference team. “You’d never ask him to go up against an Evgeni Malkin or Jordan Staal, but there’s a place in the NHL for a player like him.”

After years of being told he is too small to effectively play defense, Grzelcyk has an international gold medal on display at home to symbolically thumb his nose at the critics. As he embarks on an NCAA career and hopes to one day achieve his dream of playing in the NHL, don’t count against him adding more hardware to the family trophy case.

Matt Grzelcyk was Boston's third-round selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He enters his final season at Boston University in 2015. (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Matt Grzelcyk was Boston’s third-round selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He enters his final season at Boston University in 2015. (Kirk Luedeke photo)

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Postscript: I was riding a cab into Pittsburgh from the airport just before the 2012 NHL draft and my cellphone buzzed…it was Grzelcyk calling me to say he was headed to the Steel City.

We had talked a few weeks before, and he had told me he planned on staying home for the draft as he was an “at risk for selection” player- no kid wants to go to the NHL draft and sit in the stands for a night and entire day and not hear their name called.

“What changed?” I asked him.

“My family adviser got some information and said we should come,” he replied.

After the first round concluded on Friday, I was walking into the Consol Energy Center for Saturday’s rounds 2-7 and there was Grzelcyk, so we chatted a bit. He admitted to being nervous…I remember saying something like- “Well, who knows Grizzy- maybe you won’t ever have to leave Charlestown and Boston?” He laughed and said what a dream it would be if the Bruins picked him.

A couple of hours later, that dream came true in the third round- 85th overall- some 90 selections before Central projected him.

Grizzy has come a long way since, but he knows the biggest task lies ahead- cracking that NHL roster he grew up bleeding black and gold for.

No sweat.

Point/Counterpoint with Dominic Tiano: Zachary Senyshyn

Zachary Senyshyn Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Zachary Senyshyn Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Every NHL Entry Draft, there is a list of players considered “reaches” because of where they rank on the various public lists prepared by the league’s Central Scouting Service and other independent scouting services whose lists see the light of day, unlike those of the 30 NHL teams. It’s a subjective term, reach, and one fan’s reach is the team that drafted him’s value selection. However, it is a subjective call and every year, someone has to be that first “reach”, and in 2015 it was Zachary Senyshyn, whom the Boston Bruins took with the 15th overall selection, their third consecutive pick in the first round.

Senyshyn’s spot immediately made him a polarizing figure, as most public lists had him projected in the second round and not in the top-15. What ensued was at times the unfortunate by-product of the modern internet age, as pundits, analysts, scouts and would-be scouts alike took to traditional and social media to (mostly) blast the pick. Whether you believe the Bruins screwed up by taking him that early or are more in line with the team’s point of view is a debate that nobody is going to settle some 50 days after the last pick was made at the BB&T Center.

However, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to take a deeper dive on Senyshyn and generate an informed debate about him with my friend and colleague Dominic Tiano, who extensively scouts and evaluates the Ontario Hockey League and other leagues in that major geographical vein of past, current and future NHL talent.

Dom has graciously agreed to engage in taking up the B’s point of view and make the case for his selection at 15 when other more celebrated (at least on the public lists, mind you) players were available. I will debate him on the more conventional wisdom (at least as of today) that he could have been had lower than 15 and that taking him there was not only unnecessary, but cost the team some additional assets. In the end, we will leave it to you, dear reader, to determine whether your existing opinion remains unchanged, or if one of us has managed to turn you the other way.

Zach Senyshyn scouting report:
Senyshyn plays a north/south game with very good size and still room to fill out. He has a very powerful skating stride with quick acceleration in his first few strides and top end speed. He has the ability to beat defenders with that speed one-on- one and the tenacity to drive to the net with the puck.

Senyshyn can throw a big hit but it’s not something he goes out looking for. He will battle along the boards for pucks and wins more of those battles than he loses. He possesses that same work ethic in his own zone. He plays the game in high gear from the drop of the puck to the final buzzer.

At times, Senyshyn has shown to make an excellent pass. His playmaking abilities weren’t really noticeable in his first year, but as he enters year two in the OHL, and playing with more talented players, it’ll be his time to shine.– Dominic Tiano

Point 1 against: Zach Senyshyn is not worthy of a top-15 selection in a talented and deep 2015 draft class.

Kirk: When you look at the various lists that were out there leading up to June 26, Senyshyn was nowhere near 15 on any of them. Does everyone else have it wrong and Don Sweeney and Co. the ones who have it right? I’m not sure who else would have taken Senyshyn in the same spot, but I do know that as soon as Boston made the pick, the NY Islanders boldly and decisively traded up and into the 16th overall spot to take WHL center Mathew Barzal, a player most public rankings had inside the top-10. Right after he went off the board, the other “consensus” player ranked inside the top-15, USHL scoring champ Kyle Connor, was snapped up by the Winnipeg Jets. It would be one thing if those two had continued to slide down the board, but the fact that one team traded a former top-5 selection (Griffin Reinhart) to Edmonton to get Barzal after not initially having a pick until the 3rd round just looks bad for Boston.

At least if they had traded the 15th pick to move back into the late 1st or early 2nd rounds, you could have a debate on the assets the team received in return had they taken Senyshyn at a lower spot. Instead, it appears as of right now that the Bruins were bidding against themselves in drafting a player who may or may not possess the game-breaking ability that others on the table did and it’s a fair criticism to point that out.
Dom: I challenge anyone to tell me Senyshyn was on their list to start the season. He wasn’t even on Central Scouting’s list of players to watch. That said, I readily admit he wasn’t on my list to start the season.

What Senyshyn did do is climb each and every month from start to finish and I dare say had there been another month in the season, he would have cracked the first round on some of those lists. Senyshyn was, without a shadow of a doubt, the player that climbed the highest from the start – and that would also be true if he went in the early second round.
Dean Malkoc is the Bruins scout based in the WHL, and a scout the Bruins put a lot of faith in. But he chose to select Jake DeBrusk over him as well. They are both players Malkoc has watched extensively, In my opinion, there was something about Barzal they weren’t sold on.

As you said, it is a subjective list, and we will never know individual team lists. The Isles moved up and grabbed their guy. It’s been reported that the Leafs were trying to move up to select Senyshyn and once the Bruins selected him they traded down. There is also one other team that would have selected him had the Bruins passed on him. Senyshyn would never have made it out of the teens.

So while it may have been a “reach” according to some of the public rankings, It wasn’t a far reach from where at least two other teams had him pegged.
Point 2 for: Senyshyn scored 26 goals on a stacked, veteran team that was one of the best regular season clubs in the entire CHL. He did this despite a lack of power play time and on the lower lines without benefit of playing with some of the Soo Greyhounds’ top offensive players- what more evidence that he’s top-15 worthy do you need?

Dom: If you take a serious look at his stats and what he was able to accomplish, it is almost jaw dropping. There are very few CHL players in this draft that were able to break double digit goals scored and played the miniscule minutes Senyshyn did.

The argument from fans I get on twitter and other social media the last to weeks is “well he wasn’t even invited to the Team Canada Camp” (World Junior Camp), or has never represented his country. It’s an unfair knock on him when trying to assess the player. He had just turned 18 when Hockey Canada was starting to select players to invite. Making Team Canada as an 18 year old is not a rule, it’s an exception that even the best of the best can’t crack sometimes.
Tyler Seguin never played for Canada at the World Juniors (he was cut before the 2010 tournament). He never played in the Under 18’s (he was playing for the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL playoffs). By no means am I comparing Senyshyn to Seguin. Just proof that it is not the be all, end all when judging a player.

Only time will tell if he can take the next step in the upcoming season. I’m willing to bet on a player that has steadily and continuously climbed and it seems the Bruins are as well. Is there a risk? Absolutely there is. But a risk I would take.

Kirk: 26 goals is impressive given those circumstances, no doubt. And the assumption naturally is that he’d score 35, maybe 40 or more goals this year in an increased role with the departure of some of those veterans. What happens if he’s not up to the challenge or takes a step back offensively? The justification for his upside is mostly predicated on his admittedly impressive production with a smaller sample size of offense. His even strength points per 60 min is hard to argue against- 3.42, which is nearly .50 higher than teammate Gabe Guertler (27 goals, 57 points) who posted an average time on the ice of 17.24 minutes versus Senyshyn’s 11.97 at even strength. Unlike many of his other CHL peers who had two years to develop a body of work, we have just the one season to go on here, and without more of an established pattern to analyze the statistical trends in his game, you’re making a leap of faith that he’ll take a big jump forward in production and not back.

Additionally, the Bruins need scoring help now. Even those in favor of Senyshyn’s promise readily admit he’s a project player who will in all probability need two more seasons of junior and possibly AHL time before we will see him in the NHL lineup. 26 goals or not, that seems like a lot of time to have to wait.

Point 3 against: He played just one OHL season- his draft year- and was in Tier 2 hockey the year before with Smith’s Falls, putting up solid if pretty unspectacular numbers. What makes anyone think that he will blossom into a top-six scoring threat at the NHL level?

Kirk: I look at film of Senyshyn and I wonder about the creativity with him. He’s more of a north-south, straight-line player who takes pucks to the net but doesn’t have much in the way of lateral agility or high-end hockey sense to make everyone else around him better. It’s a subjective call, and maybe he’s one of those late-bloomers that do come around every so often, but even Patrice Bergeron put up big numbers in midget AAA before he moved up to the QMJHL in 2002-03, his only full major junior campaign before the NHL draft. Bergeron’s hockey IQ is one of his best attributes, so what does Senyshyn bring to the table that will allow him to be that top-six forward at the NHL level the Bruins are counting on?
Dom: It’s hard to argue with anything you’ve said here. But you and I have always agreed there is nothing like the eye test.
There have been glimpses of his playmaking abilities throughout the season, and maybe those times it was lacking may have had something to do with his linemates. Does he have high end hockey sense? Of course not. I’d put it at slightly above average. Senyshyn had 19 assists last season. The vast majority, 14 of them, were primary assists. That has to say something.  Again, we’ll have to wait and see. More ice time, experience, top end talent: It’s up to him to take the ball and run with it.
Point 4 for: Senyshyn’s heart, will, determination are exactly what the Boston Bruins look for in a player- when you factor in his size and offensive potential, he’s worthy of the 15th selection.

Dom: Talent will only get you so far in this game. If you lack the heart, the will, and the determination, you won’t get far at all. Senyshyn has this in spades. The Senyshyn situation reminds me a little of Torey Krug. The latter has always had to prove people wrong when they said he couldn’t play at the NHL level – and he continues to have to work at it. Krug uses it as motivation. Senyshyn I’m sure knows some of the things that have been said surrounding his draft slot. He, like Krug has the will, heart and determination, and the work ethic I might add, to use it as motivation. As I said earlier, he plays the game in high gear and he plays it the right way. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and has the sheer will to take that puck to the net at whatever cost. He also has the determination to play the game in his own zone as well. Add that to his talent, and I see future success.
Kirk: Heart and character are important, but you can’t measure those attributes with a radar gun or with analytics and advanced statistics. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important, but with the pretty regular hockey sense/creativity is the drive and passion going to be enough for Senyshyn to be an impact offensive performer at the NHL level?  The Krug comparison is interesting…unfortunately for Senyshyn, he’s bigger and was drafted a lot higher than people expected, so he’s going to face an entirely different kind of pressure.
Point 5 against: Bruins GM Don Sweeney said the team fielded offers to trade the 15th pick, but that his scouts pushed to take Senyshyn there. He should have overruled them and exercised his decision-making as general manager to get more assets over netting a riskier player so early.

Kirk: With all due respect to Boston’s scouts, what if they’re wrong here? The safer strategy, barring staying pat to take Barzal or Connor or even someone like a Colin White (if you aren’t sold on those two) at 15, would have been to trade the pick and move down a bit while adding an extra second- and maybe even a fourth-round picks in the process. In 2003, the Bruins moved down from 16 to 21 in exchange for San Jose’s 1st, 2nd and 4th selections, so you figure Sweeney was going to get similar value this time around. By moving down, there was still a pretty good chance they could grab Senyshyn later in the 1st and then would have had a few more kicks at the can either to leverage this deep draft or perhaps move a pick or several of those extra selections they acquired part of a package for a deal involving a roster player, solid prospect, or more futures in the 2016 or 2017 drafts.
Dom: While an argument can be made about the Senyshyn selection, I’m not so sure that one could be made to trade down and add picks. The Collective Bargaining agreement allows teams to own the rights to 90 players – signed or unsigned. With the extra picks the Bruins just had, and the extra picks next season (and any more they may acquire in potential trades) they have to keep a keen eye at where they stand.
The CBA also limits the number of signed players at 50 (with some Canadian Major Junior exceptions). The problem with “too many draft picks” is that at some point, you’re going to have to sign them or lose them.
With the trade you suggest, the Bruins would have had 12 picks this year. Add that to the 9 picks next year and the 5 last year and half your contract limit is going to be used to sign those players within a 3 year span or lose them.
I don’t think that played a role in their decision, but I’m sure they were cognizant of it. I for one am happy his scouts pushed Sweeney to select Senyshyn.

In closing, I’d like to say thanks Kirk for involving me in this. It was fun. The good thing is that this debate will go on for a few more years before we truly know where it stands. I think I speak for both of us when I say fans should wish Senyshyn all the best and enjoy watching him develop into an NHL player.

Kirk’s note- I hope the readers enjoyed the debate. Just because I played the role of devil’s advocate does not mean I am personally against the Senyshyn selection. I think the main point that Dom has effectively made here is that he’s a talented enough player with character that despite going against the grain, the Bruins went with their own feelings here and they might have it exactly right. If they don’t, well, Senyshyn will unfortunately be linked to another Zach who didn’t turn out so well for the team- Zach Hamill. Because the pick used on him was one of the three acquired for Dougie Hamilton, it will continue to be message board and Twitter fodder for hardcore fans who pay attention to the draft for years. Thanks again, Dom- for providing your perspectives on this exercise.

Scouting Dispatches: Twitter mailbag #2

Happy Saturday, folks. Just watched Canada win their eighth consecutive Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tourney championship- congratulations to the Under-18 team for continuing to run the table with a dominating 7-3 gold medal-winning triumph over Sweden (it wasn’t even that close, folks). They’re truly the best draft eligible talent every year and Canada can send their best players because they don’t have to compete with the major junior/CHL playoffs in April when the Under-18 Championships are held. More on that later…I’ll post some thoughts and notes on some key standouts, as six out of Red Line Report’s top-15 for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (as of June)  were on Team Canada, with Sweden boasting two more to round out the top-20.

I’m back with another “Ask Kirk” Twitter mailbag. Every 2 weeks or so, I hit up the followers on Twitter to see what they have, so thanks to those who submitted questions. I don’t get to them all, but if your question didn’t get answered, keep plugging away. The first edition of this we did got some pretty good traffic and insights/debate, so if you don’t agree, feel free to comment or hit me up on Twitter.

Keep checking back on the blog this weekend as well, as I will be posting a “point/counterpoint” feature on Bruins first-round draft pick Zach Senyshyn with my friend and guest columnist- Dominic Tiano– one of the most knowledgeable OHL evaluators around.My RLR colleague Mark Staudinger will also be in to provide some detailed analysis on a pair of Bruins prospects he just watched at Team Canada’s WJC summer evaluation camp in Calgary- the Two Jakes- Jakub Zboril and Jake DeBrusk.

So- onto the mailbag. We’ll do this again around the beginning of September, so keep the questions coming. You can also submit them here via the comments feature if you’re not on Twitter.

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Don Sweeney wants B’s D to be more systemically mobile to create faster up-ice transition. Can Claude Julien & current D roster make that happen? BB Bruin @waltorr4

Thanks Walt- Overall team speed on defense is still an issue, as Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and even Torey Krug don’t bring much in the way of open-ice speed and mobility. You do have a couple of real good skaters in the mix to earn jobs with Joe Morrow and Colin Miller, but neither are all that proven at this point. Zach Trotman is mobile for such a big man, but that’s all relative- he’s not going to put defenses on their heels in the neutral zone with his speed- it’s not there either. Matt Irwin has NHL experience and provides nice depth, but he doesn’t have rockets on his skates and I see him as more of a depth guy than someone who is going to be a major contributor this season.

That’s why the clamoring for Cody Franson in some circles seems to be counterintuitive at this point, because Franson is more of the same in terms of being a clunky skater who will take away from the back line’s quickness, even if he is a veteran at this level. I don’t see him as a great fit at this point, but the Bruins are still in the mix for him, so we’ll see how that goes.

I think that if the Bruins are going to succeed in making a faster transition, they’ll rely on the favored Julien method of quick D-D passes in the defensive zone followed by a longer breakout pass to try to hit the quicker forwards in the neutral zone with speed.

Having said that Krug is not a pure burner with a top skating gear, but he is the team’s best rearguard in terms of his quickness, agility and ability to handle the puck through traffic. He gets the puck out quickly using his vision and stickhandling to shake forechecking pressure and carry the puck out on his own. He’s exhibit A for how skating isn’t everything to a fine transition game, but there isn’t enough speed right now on the other pairings. That could change with a trade or if both Miller and Morrow find a way to stick this season.

The D is going to struggle to generate a speed rush in my view, though- that will have to come more from the faster forwards like Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak and so on.

What are chances of midseason Chara trade? Michael Dunn @mikedunnfamily

I’m thinking dealing Chara falls somewhere between slim and none…with the caveat that if he asked out, Sweeney would probably accommodate that request. However, while I could be wrong, even with his declining play, I just don’t see the team trading him, Mike.

In my view- Chara is worth more to the Bruins than he is to other teams at this stage of his career. Sure- a contender would love to add him to the mix, but whatever they would offer to Boston is not going to make the B’s a better club today. And, of course- there’s that thing called a no-trade clause that complicates things. Yes, the Bruins could likely get Chara to waive it for the right destination, but limited landing spots mean that you’re getting less in return.

Unless he wants out, I see him finishing his career in Boston.

What do you see for Joe Morrow this season? Will he get an extended look in Boston, or another year in Providence? Brian briand_82

This is an important season for Morrow.

He was drafted in the first round four years ago because he could really skate and move the puck…the Bruins desperately need to add more of that element to their back end, especially with Dougie Hamilton now in Calgary.

Morrow will be 23 before January, and he’s physically ready to take the next step to playing NHL minutes in my view. With his puck skills, cannon shot and quick feet, he’d be an asset given what the team currently has, but the experience is working against him.

In his limited stint with Boston last season, I got the impression he was playing it overly conservative and safe, either on orders from the coaching staff or on his own initiative because he didn’t want to get stapled to the bench. While he performed okay in that role, that’s not really what the Bruins need from him. My advice would be to open it up, play to his strengths and give the team more of what they currently lack, as they don’t really need another solid shutdown type, but more of a defender who will jump up into the play with his wheels and be a consistent threat with the man advantage.

He has the tools to do it, but I don’t know if he’ll have a long enough leash or will even beat out new acquisition Colin Miller at camp. Miller’s production has been significantly higher in the AHL than Morrow’s has, but the latter put up better numbers in junior and was a top-30 pick. This will be an interesting camp battle for sure.

What do you think of Yale’s chances this year!! Can D win championships ? Bob Rittmeyer @bobrittmeyer

I’m not the best person to ask, but the Bulldogs are contenders every year it seems, and they manage to get into the NCAA championship mix despite not having much scoring, which puts tremendous pressure on the defense and goaltending.

I’ve always been impressed with Rob O’Gara’s size, skating and character, and he took a major step forward offensively last season- they’ll need him to keep that up. I also feel that Frank DiChiara should be some NHL club’s property at this point, and this could be a breakout year for him with a possible big free agency payoff if he decides to turn pro in the spring. He’s always been an opportunistic scorer and he has a pro build and power game already. Ryan Hitchcock is another underrated forward who can do just about everything- I was surprised nobody drafted him in 2014 or 2015, but scouts tell me his size scares them off.

Do they have enough horses to go all the way? I’ve always had time for Chicago prospect John Hayden, and Yale is a balanced group. They’re not favorites, but as they showed in 2013, once they get in, they’ll have a chance to knock off some of the more celebrated teams.

What would be the Best, most realistic, 7 DMen for the Bruins? Willy @willysteam

Well, barring any trades, signings or surprises- Chara, Seidenberg, Krug and McQuaid are all locks given their contracts and veteran status with the team. That leaves three open spots between Trotman, Irwin, Colin and Kevan Miller and Morrow. Tommy Cross and Christopher Breen are still hanging around as well, but I don’t envision any scenario where either player makes the team out of training camp.

Trotman is on a one-way deal this season and he played 27 NHL games last season after having an up-and-down (mostly down) year in Providence. Trotman played better in limited situations in Boston, including getting his first NHL goal, the late winner against the Red Wings in front of friends and family (he’s from Indiana but went to HS in Novi, Michigan). He’s one of the strongest men on the team, and he can move the puck pretty effectively even if he won’t ever put up big offensive numbers. I think he’s got the inside track for the fifth spot and only a horrendous performance or trade will derail him from starting the year in Boston.

For the sixth and last regular position in the three-pairing rotation, I like Colin Miller’s chances of winning that one. He scored 19 goals in the AHL last year, can really skate, and has outproduced Morrow in the pros to date. He’s also a right shot, which helps balance the blue line, while Morrow is another left-side shooter. Now, if it isn’t Miller, I think Morrow wins that job because he’s a toolsy D that Julien and the coaches are familiar with after 15 NHL games last year. Flip a coin- neither is subject to waivers at this point of their careers, so they can be recalled and sent down without fear of being poached by another team.

That leaves Kevan Miller and Irwin (maybe Morrow or Colin Miller) to fight it out for the seventh and resident press box denizen position, waiting for an opportunity to open up. Miller’s toughness and NHL experience means he’s probably the first to go in and if the team faces a more physical contest, he’d likely dress as a 7th D when needed, with Irwin becoming Providence’s top defender and veteran leader, first on the recall list if the blue line gets into trouble.

How do you think UMass-Lowell is going to do this year? A solid veteran team returns Gary Whittick @bigwhitt1956

I alluded to it above, but  projecting NCAA winners is not really what I’m best at. I’m not a college hockey analyst the same way others are, so you’re probably better off asking someone like Mike McMahon, Andy Merritt or one of the many other college hockey scribes out there who have far more collective knowledge than I do about the Riverhawks’ chances in 2016. I tend to focus on individual prospects and in the process get a feel for how their teams perform overall. Because Lowell has not been a landing spot for NHL prospects of late, I haven’t followed them as closely as others.

Having said that- the good news is that they’re a solid club. The bad news is- they play in the Hockey East and I don’t see a Connor Hellebuyck-like presence in net for them to help keep up with the conference powers, even with a seasoned, balanced squad. I mean no disrespect to Kevin Boyle, who is a solid stopper and will get some attention next spring come free agency time, but I look at the roster and it looks like a solid top third team again.

I like what Norm Bazin is doing there and had time for incoming freshman Ryan Dmowski– a former prep standout at the Gunnery who put up some nice numbers in the USHL last year despite not getting drafted. He doesn’t have the greatest speed, but he’s got a nose for the net and finds ways to finish off plays down around the blue paint. Keep an eye on him.

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Well, that about does it- thanks again for the questions and thanks for supporting the Scouting Post!

Final thoughts on USA World Jr. evaluation camp

The hopefuls for Team USA’s 2016 World Jr. (under 20) squad closed up shop at Lake Placid over the weekend, closing out the event with a 32-player roster (whittled down from the original 39 invites) powering USA to a 6-1 win over Finland.

Here is the final USA roster:

http://worldjuniors.usahockey.com/page/show/1909970-2015-final-u-s-national-junior-evaluation-camp-roster

Here are some random thoughts on players I feel are worth mentioning. Because of my work with Red Line Report, I can’t go into too much detail, but here’s hoping we can give you enough of a tease to get an idea of what some of these players bring to the table for the 2016 NHL draft, and for those players already drafted- more insights into what your favorite (or not so favorite) NHL club might be getting in a few years if not sooner.

2016 NHL draft candidates

Scott Eansor, C- Small, speedy undrafted buzzsaw center out of Seattle of the WHL showed some versatility and tenacity here. Watch for him to boost his production this season and get a look in next June’s draft in his final window of eligibility. He’s got some moxie to go with his opportunistic approach and did not look at all out of place in this setting.

Auston Matthews, C- He made it official last week- the Arizona wunderkind will be skating in Switzerland for the Zurich Lions of that nation’s top pro league. Matthews then gave Zurich fans a glimpse of what is in store against Finland with a highlight reel goal just 53 seconds into the final exhibition contest, skating through three defenders at the offensive blueline and then finishing off the play with a filthy backhand shot that snuck in past the short side post. The 2015-16 hasn’t even started yet, but Matthews is doing everything to justify the pre-season prediction that he’ll be the top overall pick in next June’s NHL draft.

Chad Krys, D- The youngest player on the final roster played well for Team USA, showing some impressive poise with the puck. The BU recruit (his dad also played there) ranges anywhere from being projected as a first- or second-round pick on various public lists, but if he plays the entire season like he did in Lake Placid, he looks bound for a top-30 selection.

Charlie McAvoy, D- New York native is my pick as the top Empire Stater for the NHL draft. He’s got good size, vision and keeps things pretty simple. NHL clubs are looking for two-way players on defense- it’s no longer enough to simply defend or score- the most sought-after guys are the ones who can do both. McAvoy fits that bill and will likely get better as he continues to mature and fill out.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW- This winger needs no introduction to American hockey fans who remember how big of an impact his dad, Keith, had as a premier power forward in the 1990s. He led USA with 8 points in the games and he was a shark around the net, pouncing on loose pucks and demonstrating that killer instinct that goal scorers all possess. He’s not one of those coast-to-coast types, but when the play breaks down in front of the net and the puck is pinballing around, he has that natural ease for getting his stick on it and putting it into the cage.

Drafted players

Paul Bittner, F (Blue Jackets)- Big, skilled Portland Winterhawks winger slipped to the second round and Columbus pounced. With his physical tools, he has the potential to flourish as a top-six power winger in the NHL one day- he just needs to be more consistent and use his natural size and strength to his advantage more. But, after camp, you could see why some were projecting him as a first-round pick.

Anders Bjork, F (Bruins)- The 2014 fifth-rounder closed out the event in style, bagging a pair of back-to-back goals in the second period. He’s not a high-end scorer, but there is some natural hockey sense and opportunism in his approach. He takes straight lines to the net, puts himself in areas where rebounds occur and manages to outwork opponents to loose pucks. Bjork has the makings of a solid third-line NHL winger.

Brock Boeser, F (Canucks)- Vancouver’s top selection made his bones offensively in the USHL with Waterloo, and his hot stick carried over. Whenever the offense was flowing, Boeser seemed to be involved, setting up plays or finishing them off. He’s not a dynamic, flashy player who jumps off the screen at you, but you noticed him because he’s smart and made sure he was in the middle of the play.

Jeremy Bracco, F (Maple Leafs)- The final pick of the 2015 draft’s second round is such a skilled offensive player. His vision and creativity is off the charts and he brings such a dangerous element to any line he’s skating on. I don’t even care anymore that he doesn’t have a game-breaking explosion- he looks plenty fast to me when he’s taking pucks to the net or dishing through a maze of sticks to a wide open teammate. Bracco is going to make more than a few teams sorry they passed on him.

Brandon Carlo, D (Bruins)- It was a solid camp overall for Boston’s first of three second-round picks in June. Don’t make him into something more than he is right now, which is a superb defensive player with the size and skating to perhaps develop into more of a threat offensively. I thought he looked very strong in the games he played in, and the B’s desperately need an infusion of size and fluid skating on their blue line. He was a very good value pick at 37, but let’s not put him in the Hall of Fame just yet.

Erik Foley, F (Jets)- If anyone was wondering going in who this kid is, they have a much better idea now. He showed on more than one occasion that his skill level allows him to keep up with some of the bigger names in the draft. Foley’s heart and hustle are what make him such a good prospect- he’s not afraid to do the dirty grunt work along the walls or pay the price in front of the net. But, he’ll also take the puck down the ice and beat the goalie with a wicked shot, too. Winner.

Dylan Larkin, F (Red Wings)- Man, this guy is smooth. If he isn’t tearing it up at the WJC next December/January it will be for one reason only: he’s skating for the big club in Detroit and has bigger fish to fry in the NHL. Larkin’s speed, skill and sense will make him a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t imagine the Wings will keep him in the minors for very long if at all.

Jack Roslovic, F (Jets)- This American sniper knows how to finish around the net and showed off his instincts and intelligence throughout. Another example of a player who isn’t going to make the eye-catching play but just finds ways to put the puck in the net, it’s hard to imagine that the Jets came away with Roslovic, Kyle Connor AND Foley. With that trio, they’re living that Dawes song- it’s a little bit of everything.

Jake Walman, D (Blues)- Providence College standout with dual citizenship really brought his two-way game to the mix. It’s a case of the rich getting richer with Walman, who looks about to emerge as a NCAA force after being a solid value selection in the third round in 2014.

Colin White, F (Senators)- White is looking more and more like a real nice roll of the dice at 21 for Ottawa. There’s a lot to like about him- he can skate, play a 200-foot game, is great on draws…but the offense that went missing earlier in the season is making its way back. Watch for him to be a regular story at BC with the Eagles.

The third Jake: Forsbacka-Karlsson

My desire to be clever with the Jack Nicholson tie-in to the previous post, plus the fact that center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson was not participating in the Canada-Czech Republic game means he deserves a post to himself.

JFK is donning the scarlet and white, but don't be surprised if he trades that for the black and gold soon enough.

JFK is donning the scarlet and white, but don’t be surprised if he trades that for the black and gold soon enough.

The Stockholm native who came to the U.S. two years ago was a smart pick by the Boston Bruins, who snatched him up with the 45th overall selection. Other guys the B’s have landed at that precise position have done alright for the team: there’s Ryan Spooner in 2010, Patrice Bergeron in 2003 and Henry “the Medicine Hat Machine” Kuster in 1996. Wait, what?…Okay, so two outta three ain’t bad. (Kuster was a member of another disastrous Bruins draft class which pre-dated 2007 by 11 years but was just as unproductive.)

‘JFK’ who is taking his game to Boston already- though he’ll be plying his trade on Comm. Ave vs. Causeway Street- is a slick, promising two-way pivot who has Bruins hockey written all over him. The Bruins like to break down draft prospects into the 5 S’s: Size, Skating, Shot, Sense and Spirit (read: character, work ethic, toughness, leadership- the key intangibles) so, I’ll give a swag on him- watched him live at Omaha last season and many times on film including a little online action at Bruins development and USA national eval camps, so here we go:

Size: His listed 6-1, 195 vitals are a tad generous, but he’s got long limbs and will have enough strength to hold his own. He doesn’t have the frame to pack on much more mass, and it probably would work against him in so doing. He just needs to work on his upper- and lower-body strength as best he can while maintaining a healthy playing weight.

Skating: He’s an average skater who has a long enough stride, but lacks suddenness in his first few steps and does not possess a top-end gear. He moves pretty well laterally, and has the ability to jitterbug through lanes with an easy agility that makes him a difficult mark to line up in the open ice. Let’s face it- he’s not going to be a burner, but neither is Bergeron. He just needs to improve his short-area burst as much as he can and he’ll be mobile enough to succeed at the next level.

Shot: He doesn’t shoot the puck enough, but the raw tools are there for him to find the back of the net more often than his 26 times in 110 career USHL games with the Lancers. He kind of reminds me of an early NHL Adam Oates in that he’s always looking to dish and hit that open man for a prime scoring chance rather than unleash it himself.  He’s got a pro-caliber release and is pretty accurate with it, so getting more pucks on net will be key for him. When it comes to passing and puck skills, he’s smooth and efficient, carrying the biscuit with confidence and able to feather touch-passes for tap-ins or zip sauce feeds through traffic for the one-timer. He’s at his best when keeping it simple instead of employing cute toe-drags or dangles that work at the lower levels. As the late and legendary American coach Herb Brooks once said- “You’re not talented enough to win on talent alone,” and that applies to JFK.

Sense: JFK’s bread and butter- he’s intelligent and creative. He is what you would call an instinctive 200-foot player in that he can read the play, sense where the puck is going and put himself in position to make plays both offensively and defensively. He’s got that knack for understanding where he is in terms of time and space and can seamlessly transition from defense to offense in a heartbeat. He’s smart and disciplined enough not to make low percentage plays and is unselfish with the puck.  If he had that explosive initial burst, you’d see JFK zooming off on more breakaways… He’s extremely adept in the face-off circle, using a quick stick and some savvy strategies to win the bulk of his draws. As he gets stronger, he’ll get even better. I don’t know that he’ll be a top scoring threat in the NHL, but he’ll be one of those dependable role guys who makes his bones more in the playoffs at crunch time as opposed to putting up big regular season numbers.

Spirit: He’s a nice kid who speaks flawless English and is also a good teammate. He isn’t shy about naming Bergeron as the player he most tries to emulate and being around PB37 (when he eventually turns pro) will be great for JFK. He’s not a particularly gritty, fiery or tough to play against kind of guy, though. If you’re looking for urgency or someone who can really push the pace of a game the way a revved up Bergeron can (go back and watch Game 7 vs. Toronto in 2013 if you don’t know what I’m talking about), you’ll be disappointed with Forsbacka-Karlsson. He’s competitive, but not fiery…he skates hard, he’s just not coming at opponents in relentless fashion or putting defenses on their heels. He’s consistent and steady in his approach, and that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Outlook: This is a solid prospect- the kind of player you eventually win with, but he’s not flashy and isn’t going to come in and win a bunch of scoring titles. Fans should be patient with him, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him earn a big enough role as a freshman under David Quinn at BU this season because of his ability to play a disciplined game and excel on the PK. I see him as an ideal third-line center one day who might do some damage against other third-line units and lower defense pairings, but he’s going to take a while to develop and get himself in that kind of position to contribute.

Ask not what this prospect can do for you…ask what you can do to be patient and watch him grow.

A brief word on the two Jakes

Jakub Zboril and Jake DeBrusk, the 13th and 14th overall selections in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, faced off against one another last night as Team Canada took on the Czech Republic at the World Jr. Summer Development Camp in Calgary. The home team shelled the Czechs to the tune of a 7-1 score after the visitors tallied first- Brayden Point (surprise- another quality Tampa prospect) had a big night with a pair of goals and five points. Neither DeBrusk nor Zboril figured in any of the scoring.

It’s not a bad time to go back and revisit the two players that the Bruins have a lot riding on.

Zboril was not a surprise or issue at 13 because he was pretty solidly in the second tier of defensemen available after you got past Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski. Depending on the rankings you were looking at going into the draft, his size, skating ability and puck skills put him in the running to go that early, even if most of the public lists had him hovering around 20-28. The B’s wanted at least one defenseman in the opening round, and he was their guy. I have no problem with where he went or why, but there is some risk associated with the pick

There are a couple of things that kept Zboril perhaps from not grading higher than a 20-something ranking. No. 1- he missed significant time last season to a knee injury, including missing the annual CHL Top Prospects Game. That in itself isn’t a huge concern, but the fact that his father lost a promising pro basketball career to wonky knees is certainly something to watch for.

The other thing that is a little more troubling for me at least, and I saw this with him on film plus have been given similar reports from a couple of NHL scouting sources whose teams interviewed him…attitude. Let me be clear- no one is saying Zboril is a bad kid, but let’s just say that he doesn’t exactly set the ice on fire with his drive and hustle either. He rubbed at least one team official the wrong way at the scouting combine in Buffalo with his demeanor and answers in interviews. Maybe chalk that up to a bad fit between player and team, but Zboril has a lot to prove and high expectations to live up to.

The Bruins cannot afford a talented player who shows up to Boston on cruise control, so how hard he works and applies himself will be a key observation point for me.

DeBrusk, who went one pick behind Zboril, was another selection that raised eyebrows because he was consistently ranked on public lists in the 20’s. The Bruins need offense, and he produced it last season to the tune of 42 goals at Swift Current. He’s one of those guys who just always seems to be around the puck. I’ll let Red Line Report scout Mark Staudinger explain more:

“He has all the tools to play out wide and should utilize the opportunity. My only issue is whether he is a top 6 or middle 6 forward at the next level.”

Staudinger, who is in attendance at the Team Canada camp in Calgary this week, also provided me with this scouting report on DeBrusk back in May for the New England Hockey Journal draft preview issue:

Scoring winger constantly patrols the sideboards with purpose, driving sharply into edges making strong cuts to elude contact or head straight into contested areas. Great in transition, using good acceleration with a strong first step to take off in the neutral zone frequently driving past opposing defenses to get in alone on the goalie. Staggers perfectly, trailing a play to become an outlet for teammates, positioning himself to be in place for rebounds or second chance efforts. Strong on his stick in scoring areas, forces the puck towards the goal keeping feet churning through traffic. Zero hesitation; shot gets the puck off his blade promptly with pinpoint accuracy and strong torque  coming off the stick. Offensive zone cycle game must continue to improve by learning how to work more set plays down low- it will create further sustained puck possession.

So, can DeBrusk eventually make the NHL as a first- or second-line scoring winger? That’s the million dollar question, as DeBrusk was able to find a way to finish off plays in every conceivable fashion last season- in tight, from the outside, stick on the ice and flashing a quick release, or using his quick stick in close to deke goalies out of position. He scored a memorable goal on Zane McIntyre at Bruins development camp last month.

But, there are lingering questions about the skating and the overall game with him. He’s on the average side when it comes to size and he lacks an explosive, dynamic element to his game. It seems that if DeBrusk isn’t scoring, he’s not doing much else to help and that’s going to be a major area for him to address in his development going forward. In short, he also has a lot to prove in the WHL this season- to show the Bruins that last season was no fluke and that they were right to pass on the more highly-touted (and ranked) Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor to take him. Again- when it comes to rankings, Barzal and Connor were higher than DeBrusk on the public lists, but teams do things differently, and the B’s obviously didn’t see it the same way.

“I’m amped up- it seems like I’ve had seven Red Bulls or something right now,” DeBrusk said right after his selection. “It’s an experience- once in a lifetime- and I’m super happy about it.”

DeBrusk made a comment at the draft that is important to keep in context, especially given the remarks about Zboril and his interview with a different NHL club. DeBrusk said that he got a “good vibe” from the Bruins and had an idea they were interested in him because his interview went so well with them; he said he had the Bruins in his top-three wish list after the interview. The same might hold true for Zboril- he might have felt so good about interactions with other teams that he just wasn’t feeling it with this other club whose scout I spoke to. We don’t know how many interviews he had done up to that point, or if he was just having a bad day in general. Food for thought.

Anyway- in closing, DeBrusk and Zboril addressed clear needs for the Bruins- in terms of their offensive upside and potential to generate scoring chances. DeBrusk doesn’t quite have the ideal speed dynamic, but he makes up for it with a shifty elusiveness around the net and the hockey IQ/creativity to put the puck in the net. They are both quality prospects and for good reason- they, along with Zach Senyshyn, are going to be highly important to Boston’s fortunes if the Bruins are expected to get back on track in the next few years.

No pressure or anything, guys.

Observations from USA World Jr. Evaluation Camp

I’ll keep this short and pithy, but watched streams of the two exhibition games at Lake Placid yesterday between USA White-Finland and USA Blue-Sweden.

Brandon Carlo, D USA White (Bruins)- Has the look of a modern prototype shutdown defenseman: big, fluid skater, positionally sound, tough to play against. He’s not a baggage-smasher type, but he uses his 6-5 frame and natural strength to knock opponents off the puck. I was also impressed with his confidence when handling the puck. He made quick outlets or grabbed it in the neutral zone and advanced it smartly up the ice. He’s not all that instinctive in the offensive end and doesn’t walk the blue line like top two-way defenders tend to, but he did have an assist on Sonny Milano’s second goal of the day. Keeper.

Anders Bjork, RW USA White (Bruins)- He was rotating in with Ryan Hitchcock (Yale- undrafted) so he didn’t take a regular shift. I noticed him more on the PK, where he used his speed and quick stick to pressure the Finnish puck carrier and break it out the other way. He’s an effective forechecker and energy player.

Scott Eansor, C USA White (Seattle Thunderbirds- eligible 2016)- Small ’96 from Colorado can really skate and hustle- he was buzzing all game and creating scoring chances, finding the back of the net once. Reminds me a little of Tyler Johnson back in 2010- undrafted little plucky kid from the WHL who got things done. It was one game, and he’s not an offensive dynamo in the WHL (14 goals, 37 points in 72 games) but I want to see more.

Erik Foley, LW USA Blue (Jets)- No surprise here, but this is a player I have been high on for some time and he showed it on one particular play with fellow Bay Stater Colin White, when Sweden got sloppy on the PP and White forced a turnover, streaking up the left side. When the lone Swedish defender leaked over to his side, he then hit Foley in stride in the middle of the ice- Foley walked in alone and buried it for the shorthanded marker. Throughout the game, Foley did what he is known for- grind it out along the walls and help USA’s cause in puck possession. He’s a hard worker and his goal showed he has the hands/skills to match. Jets stole one.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Sweden (Bruins)- It was a tale of two games for JFK, and not sure what happened. In the first two periods (especially the second) he was effective and energetic, making solid plays on both sides of the puck. He assisted on a second period tally by breaking up a USA chance in his own end and then transitioning the play from defense to offense with some shifty skating in the neutral zone followed by an on-target pass. In the third period, he saw his shifts reduced and didn’t accomplish much for the limited time out there. Don’t know if it was an injury or what, but it was curious.

Conor Garland, RW USA White (Coyotes)- Typical game from the undersized but skilled agitator from Scituate. It didn’t make it into the final copy of the 2015 Red Line Report draft guide, but here is what I submitted for him as an award nomination for pest/toughest player to play against- He’s like the mutant baddies in the new Mad Max movie- relentless, just keeps coming at you with the quick stick and the yapping until the puck’s in your net or you blow up, whichever comes first.

Chad Krys, D USA White (Eligible 2016)- Impressive game from the Nutmeg Stater and BU recruit- he skates very well and was poised, confident with the puck. He was effective on the point, getting shots through on net and it was his point drive that Eansor capitalized on in the 2nd period. Like many young players, he needs to guard against trying to do too much at times- he allowed a couple of turnovers because he didn’t make the smart, simple play, but he looked like a top-30 pick in this game and is someone to watch at the NTDP this year.

Auston Matthews, C USA White (Eligible 2016)- The pure skill and talent jumps out at you. It wasn’t a dominant performance by Matthews and he reminded me a little of Jack Eichel last year on a few shifts in that he seemed to be revved up and trying to do it all himself. He’s got that long, fluid stride and anticipates the play so well, often getting the jump on a defender because he has that elite vision and sense for where the puck is going.

Sonny Milano, RW USA White (Blue Jackets)- He put a stamp on the game with his first goal to tie it up- streaking in alone and putting a series of moves on the Finnish netminder before closing out the play. He then tallied again in the final frame on another jailbreak play, beating the Finns with his speed and flashing his lightning release.

Jesse Puljujärvi, RW Finland (Eligible 2016)- Currently projected as a top-5 candidate next June, this wasn’t a great showing for the big Finn. He did assist on Patrik Laine’s goal to open the scoring, but was largely ineffective in terms of sustaining offensive pressure or making the kinds of plays you would expect of someone with his talent. He showed it in flashes- on one shift late in the game, he took the puck off the faceoff and bulled his way through 2 USA defenders only to have the puck knocked off his stick before he could shoot. It was only one game- the ability is there. Looks like one of those big horses who can take control of the flow on one shift, but it didn’t happen yesterday.

Alex Tuch, RW USA Blue (Wild)- Snarly, effective game from the skilled New York and BC power winger. Milano and Tuch were their state’s first two players off the board in 2014 and they showed why yesterday with pretty disparate styles. Tuch’s team was on the receiving end of a loss, but he created space for himself and his linemates and stood out, especially in the second period.

Scouting Post Dispatches- Twitter mailbag #1

I want to thank everyone who submitted questions to me for the first edition of the electronic mailbag of questions. If you want to participate in this effort that we’ll do every two weeks or so, shoot your question to my Twitter account @kluedeke29 or use the comment feature on the blog itself to make your query.

1. Who is leading in the race for backup goalie and how short will their leash be?- Tyler @tylerbingham123

As a former beer league goalie, I’ll give this one a shot.

The current backup situation invites a lot of risk in my view. On paper, Jeremy Smith makes a lot of sense because of his low cap hit and the fact that the Bruins can afford to let him sit for long periods while Tuukka Rask makes a lot of starts. Smith was the most dependable option in net last year in the AHL, but that’s also the issue with him- he has no NHL experience, which essentially puts them right back to square 1 where they were a year ago when they gambled on a similarly inexperienced Niklas Svedberg to be the No. 2.

Some might point to the idea that Svedberg was a serviceable player who was poorly used, but the bottom line is that Claude Julien had very little confidence in him. There are compelling statistical arguments that Svedberg wasn’t utilized properly, but be that as it may- a good backup goaltender enjoys the trust of the coach and team to spell the starter in a lot of different situations. That Julien seemed almost perversely unwilling to use Svedberg when it appeared Rask needed a break the most is beside the point if you believe that going to the well with Rask repeatedly cost the Bruins a playoff spot in 2015. Part of what helped the Bruins earn the President’s Trophy the season before had to do with backup Chad Johnson and Julien’s willingness to give him starts and ease the starter’s burden. Johnson can’t be a starter in this league, but he was an effective backup in his one season with the B’s.

The question becomes- will Smith find himself in a similar predicament to Svedberg? Can the Bruins afford to have a repeat of last spring, when Rask went on a hockey-like death march of consecutive starts without rest because the head coach was not willing to put the backup in? This is the same kind of scenario the Bruins are inviting with Smith and Malcolm Subban or Zane McIntyre as well- all three are capable options on paper, but none are established NHL players- with Subban alone of the trio even having seen a minute of big league action.

On Subban- I just feel he’s better off playing his way into a more prominent role in the AHL with Providence while McIntyre apprentices behind him. Heck- McIntyre might even wrest more starts away from him like Smith did a year ago, but as fine a goalie as Zane looks like coming out of college as the NCAA’s top goalie last season, he’s still in his very first pro year. Expecting him to just go right to the NHL and then have to sit behind Rask most nights is not a realistic option in my view.

So- I think Smith makes the most sense as B’s backup as of July 31, but I still think the team will look to add someone with more of an NHL body of work, either as a bargain bin signing or training camp invite with the option to sign before the season if the coaches feel good about him. Who that is at this point is anyone’s guess- I thought Jason LaBarbera would be someone to fit the bill, but the best of the free agents are gone, so the team might just feel like going with Smith or one of the other kids depending on things go at camp and preseason is the best option. We’ll see, but I’m a believer that younger guys like Subban and McIntyre are best served by playing and not spending the bulk of their time opening and closing the door to the bench for their NHL teammates. We’ll see.

2. If Koko pushes Spooner out of 3C job, what happens with the two of them? Leave Spooner there and try Koko on wing? Jbench @jacobbench

The short answer to this question is that I don’t see Alexander Khokhlachev beating Ryan Spooner out of the 3C job anytime soon.

At this point, Spooner has done a lot to earn Claude Julien’s trust as someone who has grown up a lot over the years he’s been in the organization and finally started putting the offense together when the team needed it the most. Koko needs to prove he can do the basic things the team expects of him, so until that happens, it does no real good to fret over what to do. I will say that Koko is probably better suited to transition to wing and be effective there, and if he’s going to break camp and enter the 2015-16 on the NHL roster, that’s probably his best chance to do it unless Spooner gets hurt or plays so poorly against a lights-out showing from Koko.

That’s not impossible, but  it is a tall order. I think Koko fell victim to the hype machine that often occurs in the internet age- he simply wasn’t ready to compete for NHL time at 18, but that didn’t stop overzealous fans and analysts like myself from being dazzled by his offensive talent and overlooking the glaring defensive deficiencies in his game. He’s come a long way since 2011, but the team tried to trade him in the past and you can’t overlook that. If he is as valuable to the Bruins as he is on Twitter to a select group of folks- he would not have been in play. It’s the old adage that says if they traded you once- they’ll do it again. It would be great for Koko to establish himself as a Bruin, but as far as trade-worthy commodities go, he’s one of the few pieces that could fetch something of value right now.

3. Where do you see Mark Jankowski projecting to in an NHL lineup? Thoughts on John Gilmour as well please Nigel @red_monster

Jankowski still has top-six  NHL forward potential in my mind, and he was really starting to come on when Providence College needed him to. With an earlier-than-projected draft position comes high expectations, so I believe realistically, if he makes it in Calgary it will be more of a third-line center role. When you look at who is ahead of him on the depth chart, third line duty with the Flames would be a win for him and the team.  I do like that there is still room for growth and development with him, even if he’s fallen short of some of the lofty goals envisioned of him three years ago with his pure points and production, which has admittedly not been what everyone was hoping for. He’ll have to continue to get stronger and play heavier if he’s going to make it in Calgary, though.

Gilmour has the makings of a serviceable pro who is going to have to put in the work at the lower levels. He has good all around ability, but because he has less-than-ideal size for the position, he’ll have his work cut out for him. I personally think Gilmour is a journeyman big leaguer/solid AHL player at best, but I love it when players prove prognosticators wrong. He’s a winner, and if he uses that as a springboard to bigger things, more power to him.

What Bruins dman is most likely to slot alongside Chara? Greg Babbitt @babbitt_greg

Barring a change, I could see the team trying big Zach Trotman there to see if it can work. He lacks experience, but showed big league ability in flashes last season and if he keeps things simple, his mobility and long reach would make for a solid defensive partner. He’s a right shot and while not a physical, snarly kind of player, with more experience and the benefit of skating next to one of the game’s all-time greats much like young Kyle McLaren did with Ray Bourque two decades ago, Trotman might be a quiet but effective internal solution to that which has vexed the Bruins since Johnny Boychuk was sent to Long Island…kind of like what happened in 2009 when Johnny Rocket came to town and established himself as an NHL defenseman when some had all but written him off.

If the Bruins want to infuse more offense with Chara, then Colin Miller also makes sense there. He doesn’t have a lick of NHL experience, but he skates extremely well, would add another right-shot, howitzer cannon from the point, and seems to be a player who would thrive next to Boston’s captain, especially on the power play. He’s not as big as Trotman, and his hockey sense is a bit of a question mark right now, but Miller could be the one who takes that top pairing job if not on opening night, but perhaps as the season progresses.

Assuming Miller plays for the Bruins this season (I believe he will) the Barry Pederson for Cam Neely trade will continue for Boston into a third decade as the Glen Wesley-Sergei Samsonov-Milan Lucic branch continues to bear fruit.

4. I’d like to see Hamilton/Saad stick with their teams for longer. But do scouts think the current model is bad for development?- brimcq @mcqbri

It’s not something I’ve discussed with scouts or management types to be honest, but it makes for an intriguing topic.

Ever since the league instituted cost certainty- the salary cap- in 2005, we’ve seen the game’s economic landscape evolve over several trend lines. For a while, it was long-term frontloaded deals that allowed for teams to bury or move them at short money later on. Now, it’s the dissipation of second or bridge contracts for key performers coming out of entry-level contracts or ELCs in favor of significant dollars- those used to be reserved for top tier talents, but I think we’re seeing a paradigm shift with players like Dougie Hamilton and Brandon Saad whose cap-crunched teams are either forced to move them or the player is able to leverage the lack of cap flexibility for a change of address. This drives the talk of the NHL’s middle class getting squeezed, which is becoming more and more prevalent as clubs will have bigger ticket contracts and then have to rely on cheaper ELCs or bargain basement deals with little room for the middle ground/solid veteran types who typically clock in at around $3-4M a the current (and rising) market rate.

Hockey is a business- it always has been. But the days where owners and teams held the cards are long gone, so I think that teams and players/their representatives will continue to evolve with each emerging economic trend. I don’t blame Hamilton for seeking a situation he thought would be better for him, and in Saad’s case, they made a decision that they could not afford him at the going rate- that was a tough business decision that more and more teams will have to make if things continue. But, both situations have jolted teams and fans alike into the realization that you can’t simply assume restricted free agents will remain all that restricted for long depending on a team’s salary structure and how much they have invested in the veterans.

At some point- you wonder if the ever-rising salaries and the kabuki dances teams go through to stay cap compliant will kill the golden goose and force a seismic sea change, but it hasn’t happened yet.

5. With the Bruins prospect pool now overflowing who would be consider the 5 untouchables in the organization.- Mike O’Connor @mike77ca

The Bruins have quantity in their system for sure. The quality of the prospects is very much up for debate, however so it will be interesting to see how the 10 picks from 2015 plus the others from previous years perform and develop in the new season.

I don’t know that when it comes to prospects there is ever truly an “untouchable” because if another team is willing to pay a king’s ransom for an unproven player, I believe a savvy GM will often times make that deal. Of course- that position is becoming tougher to defend for the precise reasons I explained above as economics and the importance of landing impact players on 3-year (max) ELCs becomes ever more critical for teams who want to win the Stanley Cup. It’s hard to imagine the Edmonton Oilers or Buffalo Sabres parting with either one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel for any offer given that reasoning, but I do believe that GMs have to at least listen and think hard about a team that comes in with high-end NHL players to offer, not the proverbial two dimes and a nickel for a shiny quarter kind of trade. In the end, the money and cap play much bigger roles than ever before.

The Bruins don’t have a McDavid or Eichel so to speak, so their situation is different. I’ll take a stab at it and offer these three players up in an effort to answer your question:

1. Danton Heinen, LW Denver U.- I have it from several sources that the one name teams asked about repeatedly at last winter’s deadline was the 2014 fourth-rounder who finished as the NCAA’s third leading freshman scorer. He may not have ideal size or speed, but his hands and hockey sense are top-shelf. As a late bloomer, Heinen has the look and feel of a classic diamond-in-the-rough who is going to one day play very well for the Bruins, so unless a team wants to give up the moon and stars for him, don’t expect him to go anywhere. His upside will also likely drive the team to court him to come out of school earlier because ELC term and CBA loopholes will force them to act.

2. Zane McIntyre, G Providence- The B’s are all-in on this kid, and he showed loyalty to them by not exploiting free agency to get the biggest money or a better opportunity to start elsewhere. Now, folks will say there is no room for sentiment in pro sports and they’re right, but I just feel like that Bruins are sold on the soon-to-be 23-year-old’s potential, character and all-around ability. They want him to be a part of the organization, so unless a team comes in to blow their doors off with an offer, he’s as close to untouchable as you will get. Besides, unproven non-NHL goalies don’t tend to fetch enough of a return from teams to make dealing him at this point worth the effort.

3. Jakub Zboril, D Saint John- He’s the top pick, he’s signed and the Bruins think he is going to be a future top-2 defender for them. Both Don Sweeney and Scott Bradley used the word “elite” to describe his ability, so you can be sure the B’s had him higher on their list than the 13th spot where they took him. They’re not going to turn around and flip him without seeing if all that potential they’re banking on starts to pay off for them. You can almost throw Zach Senyshyn into this same category as well- they have a lot riding on him and want to prove that he was worth the risk they took by grabbing him in the top-15. It’s hard to imagine a team coming in to offer the Bruins a top-6 NHL forward for a raw prospect like Senyshyn, so they’ll sit back and see if their gut instincts about him are proven correct.

That does it for this first edition- thanks to everyone that submitted questions and I hope we can do this again in a couple of weeks. You can follow me on Twitter at @kluedeke29

Dog Days of Summer- Franson, WJC National Eval Camp & Ivan Hlinka

We’re at that point in the offseason where there simply isn’t a whole lot going on hockey-wise. The top free agents are signed and off the market, many of the 30 NHL teams’ personnel are taking what little time off they can before annual August events pull them back into rinks and onto the job for the 2015-16 season.

Here are a few notes to keep us all centered, especially as NFL training camps open up and the pending football season grabs a lot of the headlines (not touching Tom Brady or Deflategate, though folks- and many of you are probably glad for that).

Cody Franson to the Bruins would certainly bring a player with name recognition to the team, but I’m not sure it’s the right kind of move for the long term.

Now, we have both Franson and Don Sweeney admitting that the two sides are in talks (among others) and I know that back in 2005, he was high on Boston’s draft list- they contemplated taking him in the 2nd round (they went with flash in the pan Petr Kalus instead). Some of you may remember that coming out of the lockout, the ’05 lottery was a snake draft, meaning that the B’s had the 22nd selection of the first round, then the order reversed in the second, giving them 9th pick and then back to the original order in the 3rd and so on- like the fantasy drafts for those who are into that sort of thing. So, the B’s contemplated taking Franson as early as 39, and then were hoping he would fall to them with the 22nd pick of the 3rd round. They got close, but it didn’t happen and they ended up with Finnish bust Mikko Lehtonen (later traded to Minnesota as part of a package for Anton Khudobin) instead.

Getting back to Franson- he was in prime position to cash in as an unrestricted free agent at mid-season, having the best year offensively of his career, but when the wheels fell off in Toronto and he was moved to Nashville for a premium return, he was unable to get going on a playoff team. That’s a red flag, and he’s a cautionary tale for the cap era, giving teams pause in locking him up for term and value because depending on which version of Franson you get, it’s the kind of signing that can make or break a team trying to contend.

On the upside, he’s an effective power play performer and physical defender who uses his 6-5 frame and long reach well enough. On the downside, he’s not all that mobile (the B’s have enough issues with team speed, thanks) and is not the most instinctive of players. To me- he’s more of a complementary piece who looks good on paper but isn’t talented enough to be a real difference maker. Some would argue that his performance in Toronto means that he plays better on a poorer club than on a good one, but I need to take a deeper look at some analytics on this one.

Should the Bruins end up signing Franson, I’ll do just that, but for now- I think the team is better off preserving the some $4 million it has in cap space and maintaining some flexibility to make an in-stride course correction without being up against the cap ceiling, which is what signing Franson will entail.

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The annual Team USA National Junior Evaluation Camp will get underway next week, and it’s a pretty good group of players attending this year’s event in Lake Placid August 1-8.  A complete roster of the invites can be found here. 

The Bruins have two prospects attending: 2015 second-rounder Brandon Carlo and 2014 pick Anders Bjork. Carlo played for Team USA at the 2015 World Jr. tourney and acquitted himself well as a late ’96 who had just turned 18 when he played. Bjork made it to the national evaluation camp but was cut from the squad. My guess is that the savvy two-way forward who finished his first season at Notre Dame makes it this time around because of his speed and versatility, but he’ll have his work cut out for him.

Carlo is a lock after having made the last WJC entry and with his 6-5 and condor’s wingspan, USA will need him. He’s an intriguing prospect because of his pure size and mobility (contrast that to Franson for example). It’s going to be interesting to follow the Colorado native in 2016.

Also attending are New England favorites Noah Hanifin (Hurricanes) and Johnathan MacLeod (Lightning) on defense; Colin White (Senators), Erik Foley (Jets) and Conor Garland (Coyotes).  Connecticut native Chad Krys is a 2016 draft eligible and will also be in attendance. He is my top area native for the draft class going into the season as an effective two-way defender.

Several other high-profile Americans for 2016 are at the camp as well- Auston Matthews (who made the cut a year ago at 17) will attract a ton of attention, of course. Matthew Tkachuk is on the roster as well, and is taking his game north to the OHL and Dale Hunter’s London Knights this season.

The 2016 WJC takes place from December 26, 2015-January 5, 2016 in Helsinki, Finland.

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The Ivan Hlinka select tournament is the annual NHL draft’s 1st/2nd round primer and is happening from 10-18 August in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia.

Here’s the USA roster for the Hlinka. Many will note that the National Team Development Program kids are not in this group, so this is a good place to explain why that is. The NTDP typically competes in the bulk of the Under-18 tournaments throughout the course of a season, but the Hlinka tourney is one time that USA Hockey takes a roster from all over the country with players that are not in the NTDP.

Bruins fans may not know that Zane McIntyre was USA’s goalie at the Hlinka tourney in August 2009. For him, it was his first real taste of international competition, and he used it as a springboard to greater success at the World Jr. A Challenge in the next couple of years after Boston took him in the 6th round in 2010. And of course- Johnny Gaudreau– anything but a household name in August of 2010, tore it up for USA and led them to a silver medal (along with the stellar goaltending of Harvard star Steve Michalek).

Canada owns the Hlinka because they can send their best under-18 players from the CHL without missing out on those who are often in the playoffs during the annual under-18 championship tournament each April. If you look at Canada’s roster for the Hlinka, it is literally a “who’s who” of top-60 picks for the next draft (and in some cases, the following year).

Once the Hlinka happens, the CHL is right around the corner and before you know it, summer is over and the 2015-16 hockey season is underway.

So, enjoy the dog days– boating, backyard barbeques and whatever you enjoy in the summer months, because winter is coming.

Koko at crossroads

Alexander Khokhlachev has presented the Boston Bruins with a key decision point.

Whether the skilled Russian forward known more popularly as “Koko” establishes himself as a long-term option for the team or moves elsewhere is a situation that will likely resolve itself at some point this season. In the meantime, for a club that struggled mightily to score goals in the non-playoff 2014-15 NHL campaign, the 40th overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft certainly provides GM Don Sweeney and head coach Claude Julien with a viable option on offense if the rest of his game is deemed sufficient enough to play in Julien’s system.

Koko is an NHL talent who many would argue should already have established himself in the big show by now. Whether you calk that up to a lack of opportunity (valid point) because of entrenched veterans on the NHL roster, or buy into what his coaches talked about as recently as last January by saying that the dangerous if one-dimensional Muscovite needs to round out his game, Koko is a player who needs to make his mark this season.

“It’s not there to be a regular in the NHL right now to be perfectly honest,” Koko’s AHL coach, Bruce Cassidy, told me in early 2015. “I’ve told him that, Claude’s told him that; he needs to address that and he’s working on it, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy when you’re an offensively gifted (forward). You want the puck and you want to get going and it’s just changing some of those habits, and that takes time.”

Four full years after the B’s went out of character to grab the OHL product with the Windsor Spitfires earlier than they had drafted a Russian native since whiffing on defenseman Yury Alexandrov with the 37th overall pick in 2006, the clock may be ticking on Koko, but as Ryan Spooner demonstrated last season, he’s far from done.

You might recall that after making the Bruins roster out of training camp last October after a productive training camp that also drew its share of criticism from Julien over defensive concerns, Spooner saw very little ice time before being demoted to Providence after just five scoreless games with minimal minutes on ice. Throughout the course of the year, other forwards were summoned to Boston from the AHL, but Spooner remained in the Rhode Island capital. Through it all- while battling injuries that shelved him for weeks around Christmas with trade rumors swirling around him, Spooner didn’t sulk and insisted he wanted to make things work in Boston if the team would give him another chance.

That change came late in the regular season, when veteran center David Krejci suffered another in a series of physical setbacks that essentially made it a lost year for him. Spooner came up and made the most of it, scoring his 1st NHL goal in memorable fashion- a sudden death strike against New Jersey when every point was at a premium for Boston. He went on to finish out the year in the NHL, scoring a respectable 8 goals and 18 points in 24 games with the Bruins. In just a matter of weeks, Spooner went from a player many (present company included) thought was fait accompli to be wearing another uniform after the NHL trade deadline, to the productive, dependable center he had been projected as when he was first drafted in 2010. Now, Spooner isn’t ever going to win a Selke Trophy, but he’s addressed his overall game enough to earn Julien’s trust, and to make it on this team, that’s critical.

Koko and Spooner aren’t the same player. Spooner is faster- he pushes the offensive pace and is at his best when attacking defenses and putting them on their heels with his speed or operating from the half wall with the man advantage where he is a maestro in puck distribution. Koko is more of a shifty waterbug, compensating for a lack of dynamic wheels with high-end puck skills and a killer instinct around the net. I’ve seen him go long stretches of not accomplishing much, only to break a game open on consecutive shifts. The promise is there, and Koko’s exuberance and energy are a credit to what Boston saw in him when they called his name. Cassidy understands better than most that his young charge can break a game open in an instant. If Koko is ready to do the little things his coaches all say he was working diligently to address, then he’ll be in his corner come October to make that  big jump.

Sweeney, too, has recognized a shift in Koko’s perspective in the years he has developed within the B’s system.

“With Koko it’s a matter of addressing the little things,” Sweeney said in December of last year. “He generally played above the puck, but he’s now making a concerted effort to work below the puck and in the defensive zone to make sure he’s supporting the play when it comes back and is ready to then transition to offense.”

So, wither Koko? He has his work cut out for him at center with an expected healthy Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Spooner and possibly Finnish free agent Joonas Kemppainen ahead of him in the pecking order because of the latter’s experience and better fit on the bottom line. Unlike Spooner, who simply could not make things work when moving to wing, Koko might be able to pull that off in Boston. He may not have any points in his 4 career NHL games, but he did fire home the winning shootout goal in a game against Columbus last year, so given an opportunity to play consistently in Boston, his 1st NHL point isn’t long in coming.

The question is- can Koko break through and finally establish himself right out of the gate for the first time in his pro career. That’s something we can’t answer in late July and history is not on his side- the Bruins have tried to trade him before and if not for Jarome Iginla’s decision in 2013 to pass on Boston for the Steel City, Koko likely would have played more NHL games- with the Calgary Flames- than he has with the Bruins.

But- the kid’s got game. And he is a kid- he won’t turn 22 until right before training camp. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make, and the Iginla deal falling through might have been the Hockey Gods telling the Bruins not to give up on a player whose best attribute is something sorely missing from a year ago.

If Koko comes to camp crisp, then there is no reason to think that he won’t get his shot to make it in Boston.