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.

 

 

 

The Last in Line- Cameron Hughes & Jack Becker

With the Boston Bruins having six picks in the top-52 selections of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and just five more scheduled for rounds 3-7 (the B’s moved their fifth-rounder to Minnesota in exchange for the Wild’s fifth in 2016), there hasn’t been a great deal of attention placed on the four players the team took later on.

However, if the club believes that its first and second rounds will build a future foundation of promise, the selections of forwards Cameron Hughes and Jack Becker could tip the scales towards 2015 being a seminal draft class for this franchise. We have a long way to go before it can compare to Bruins hauls in 1979, 1980 and 2006, but the value and upside the team and others feel it got from this duo of raw-but-talented players is encouraging.

Hughes, acquired with the 165th overall selection in the sixth round, came into the season with the promise of being a top-two round selection according to scouts. A product of the Spruce Grove Saints of the tier 2 Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), the same club that brought Matt Benning to the 2012 draft, Hughes is a Western Canadian who passed on the traditional major junior route to play in the NCAA for the University of Wisconsin last season.

Here’s an except on him from the 2015 Red Line Report draft guide:

“We really like this slick centre’s vision and imaginative playmaking with the puck. Plus, he’s a very gritty, feisty kid who never backs down from a physical confrontation despite his mediocre size- aggressive attitude.”

That’s the kind of skill set that resonates with a team like Boston, whose president, Cam Neely, has talked repeatedly of infusing that “hard to play against” mantra back into the organization.

“He probably made the jump to Wisconsin too early,” said an NHL scout highly familiar with both Huges and Becker. “Had he stayed in junior another season he probably would have gone earlier- perhaps end of the second round or solidly in the third because he would have put up bigger numbers.”

The scout went on to say that he thinks Hughes arrived in Madison at about 140-150 pounds and the lack of strength showed. It isn’t that he didn’t get a lot of opportunities at first, but that the lack of physical readiness when playing against mostly 20-23-year-old men wore the 17-year-old true freshman down. Being on a poor team didn’t help Hughes much, either.

“He’s a creative playmaker,” the scout said. “He’s very intelligent and competitive and skilled. He doesn’t back down from anything, kills penalties, blocks shots and then will skate down to the other end of the ice and score. If there is something I think he could work on it’s his skating. He’s not a poor skater, but when you look at a player with his average size, you want him to be a little quicker and faster out there.”

Hughes demonstrated his impressive skill set at Boston’s development camp last week, standing out for many of the things the scout described, and as he grows and develops physically, watch for him to break out in a big way for the Badgers if not this year, certainly as a junior.

Mark Staudinger, who covers Western Canada for RLR, keeps going back to what Hughes did at Spruce Grove last season as a far better indicator of his potential than the one over-his-head physically year at Wisconsin:

“He was so skilled and smart,” Staudinger said of Hughes in the 2014 AJHL playoffs. “But he’s a tough little SOB, too. He sticks his nose in, fights hard along the boards and wins puck battles against bigger guys because he’s so tenacious.”

Becker, who was Boston’s final selection in the seventh round at 195th overall, is a different animal from Hughes.

The Mahtomedi High School (Minnesota) forward is the son of Russ Becker, whom the NY Islanders drafted in the 11th round, 228th overall in the 1984 NHL draft as a Virginia, Minnesota HS standout who went on to play at Michigan Tech. Cousin Aaron Miskovich was a 1997 Colorado Avalanche draft pick and had a brief pro career, so there are some bloodlines in the mix.

“I saw him earlier in the season and he was this tall kid who was really lanky, couldn’t skate very well, but people told me to just watch- that has the highest work ethic of any player in Minnesota and teams will be kicking themselves for not drafting him,” the NHL scout said. “I went back to watch Becker in April and I was shocked at how good he was.”

Becker was felled by a bout with mononucleosis early in the season, usually a harbinger of a ruined year. But to Becker’s credit, after recovering from the illness, he came back strong to play his best hockey.

“He plays a straight-ahead game,” said the scout. “He goes through people and right to the net. He gets his points by going straight in to to the blue paint and has the hands to score goals in tight. What I like about him is that he has NHL habits already: the stops and starts, he gets back quickly when the play goes the other way, he goes to the net and stops. Those things you don’t tend to see at the high school level when kids can dominate without doing the little things that are so important at the next level.”

Good friend and Red Line scout Dan Shrader saw Becker multiple times this season and smartly listed him in the RLR final rankings.

“He’s not a facilitator but is a great crash and bang type,” Shrader said. “He’s terrific with the give and go net drives. He’s a bit thorny (in his development) and needs time but could be a player when all is said and done. No one in Minnesota high school hockey crashed the net harder than Becker this year.”

Becker will spend a season in the USHL and then is off to Wisconsin where he might get an opportunity to team up with Hughes in the 2016-17 season.

In all honesty, past trends show that you can’t bank on great production from players taken in the latter rounds of the NHL draft, but in Hughes and Becker, the B’s appear to have a duo that are only beginning to scratch the surface of their potential. As the old saying goes- time will tell.

To take it on home, here’s their ‘Last in Line’ anthem from the great Ronnie James (RIP):

Watch this Guy: Jeremy Lauzon

For obvious reasons, Jakub Zboril and Brandon Carlo are getting the most attention as the No. 1 and 2 defensemen drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2015. However, Jeremy Lauzon of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, chosen by the B’s with the second of two second-round picks acquired from Calgary in the Dougie Hamilton trade, could be the one player who goes on to have the best NHL career of the three.

Lauzon was probably more under the radar than he should have been going into the draft, as he was the goals leader among all Quebec Major Junior Hockey League defensemen with 15 (he had a 12% shooting percentage as a 17-year-old, which should improve over the next two major junior seasons). This reminds a bit of Patrice Bergeron in 2003, who posted a solid season and was ranked 28th among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, yet generated quizzical looks and in some circles- yawns- when the Bruins snapped him up at 45th overall. The rest, as they say, is history.

As a Red Line Report scout and editor, I admit that I do tend to have blinders on when it comes to certain areas, as aside from a few online viewings, I was not all that familiar with Lauzon for much of the season. However, as we got into March and April, I noticed that Kyle Woodlief and our Quebec/Maritimes area scout started talking about the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder more and more. By the time I read Lauzon’s scouting report in our 2015 NHL Draft Guide published in early June, I was sold on Lauzon as a Boston Bruins type of player. I even posted this on a private message board I contribute to way back on June 21- a little under a week before the draft:

“RLR sleeper who will likely go lower than his #59 ranking in the draft guide. Very good skater with excellent footwork, scored the most goals of any draft eligible defender in the ‘Q’ and plays with a rugged edge- tough to play against and will fight to defend teammates. Fits the bill of being the kind of player the Bruins say they want to add to the mix. Would be a perfect prospect for them if he shot right as opposed to left, but you can’t always get what you want.”

As for that last sentence, it’s a very minor quibble, and who knows? By the time Lauzon is ready to compete for a job in Boston, the cup might runneth over in right-shot defenders and his left-side drive could be a welcome addition.

Here’s what I like about the kid: He’s tough to play against. Too often, fans get dazzled by pure talent and skill, or fixate on production. Not that those things aren’t important- they most certainly are. But the rare player is the one who brings the skill and the passion/propensity to give their all and be a difficult opponent. This is what has made Bergeron (and no- I’m not just comparing them because they both were drafted out of the ‘Q’) so valuable to the franchise in his 12 years with the B’s, and let’s face it- had he been a great skater in 2003, they wouldn’t have had a prayer at drafting him in the middle of the second round because he would have been a household name in that deep class that will produce multiple Hall of Famers.

With a PPG ratio of 0.6 and accounting for 16 percent of his team’s total offense last season, that’s a solid jumping off point for a player who is expected to get better offensively over the next couple of years as he continues to mature and gains a more prominent role on the Huskies. Lauzon was anything but a household name, but even my colleagues at Red Line didn’t think he would go to the B’s as early in the draft as he did:

“When conversation turns to all the great QMJHL d-men this year, this guy never even garners a mention. Why?”

That snippet accompanied Lauzon’s listing as RLR’s 4th-most underrated player entering the draft, so if RLR and the Bruins are right, the value looks pretty solid. He can skate, shoot, pass and score. He can defend. He’s a rugged player not afraid to take the body and fight if need be, though that’s not something he excels at. In short- he’s precisely the kind of player Boston fans value, so remember the name and keep track of him. In about three years, you might be glad you did.

So, why might Lauzon be the best between Zboril (13th overall) and Carlo (37th overall)? Like Zboril, Lauzon brings similar size and a mix of offense and defense. He’s more of a consistent competitor in my view, despite some reports of Boston’s top choice being “ultracompetitive” (I wouldn’t go that far based on what I saw in film study). Carlo is a massive rearguard who excels in a shutdown role, but I don’t know that he has the offensive skill/sense to be much of a consistent points producer. That leaves Lauzon as the best combination of the three- not as talented as Zboril or as big/defensively savvy as Carlo, but solid across the board and a gritty, hard-to-play against -d-man.

Here’s a good video profile done by John Moore of Sports by Moore back in October…you can get a sense of Lauzon’s fluid footwork/mobility, poise with the puck and check out the solid but clean hit he puts on a kid, dropping him near center ice. As Lauzon adds mass and gains strength, he’ll be able to impose himself more physically as he progresses up the ladder.

Right now, Lauzon is seen as more of an afterthought by most because he wasn’t as known a commodity or one of the draft’s sexiest names going in. However, to get a player of Lauzon’s skill set and potential at 52 speaks to the quality and depth of the 2015 class overall.

Boston Bruins prospects update- Jr/NCAA

Boston Bruins prospects update- Amateur

Earlier, we took a look at the AHL/European pro prospects in attendance at Boston Bruins development camp this week, but the bulk of the recent draft picks from 2013, 2014 and 2015 are still playing in the major junior and NCAA ranks.

This post covers the players who were in Wilmington, Mass. this week (those who did not attend due to injury or other commitment are not included) and is intended to scratch the surface of what each brings to the table for the organization. Enjoy!

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL); 6-3, 190

Acquired: 7th round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Lanky Minnesota high school product is about as raw as it gets at this stage, but could bring some long-term boom potential if he continues to progress. Felled by a bout with mononucleosis this season, he came back strong to finish the season at Mahtomedi High and then played a couple of USHL games at Sioux Falls. He lacks initial burst and agility in his skating, but crashes the net hard and scores goals the old fashioned way. Watch for this son of a former NY Islanders draft pick to make noise at Wisconsin eventually.

 Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA); 6-0, 200

Acquired: 6th round, 2012 NHL Entry Draft

Vancouver GM Jim Benning’s nephew didn’t find the back of the net last season, but was one of the Huskies’ top players for his all-around game and ability to move the puck effectively. For someone with pretty average size for a defender, Benning activates smartly on offense, takes care of his own end without fanfare and has a knack for making contact in the open ice. There isn’t a whole lot here to get excited about, but the NHL needs rugged, dependable blue liners of his ilk. If you are a believer that “less is more” with defensemen, Benning fits that category as someone who makes the right plays and uses his natural hockey sense to make it look easy.

 Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA); 6-0, 180

Acquired: 5th round, 2014 NHL Entry Draft

Smart, speedy two-way forward took some time last season to adjust to the NCAA with the Fighting Irish, but came on strong in the spring. Look for bigger numbers and contributions from this former U.S. NTDP star who may not have the silky hands to put up major points, but uses his speed to back defenses up and has the vision/hockey IQ to make plays offensively. He didn’t make a lot of noise at camp this summer, but for a player of Bjork’s style, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Brandon Carlo-

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

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City; 6-5, 210

Acquired: 2nd round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Enormous rearguard has an even bigger reach; this value selection (acquired with one of the picks in the Johnny Boychuk trade) brings fine mobility and agility for such a big kid. Concerns about his offensive game may have dropped him down to 37, but he skates with his head up and can advance the puck effectively enough even if the production doesn’t develop as hoped. Where Carlo’s real value lies is in his size and quickness as a player who will be very difficult for opponents to get around and make them pay for every inch of real estate with a physical, hard-nosed style. Don’t expect him to win a job with the Bruins this season, as the team will likely want him to keep playing prime minutes in the WHL under all situations. Carlo appears to be the latest example of “shiny new toy” syndrome- that phenomenon where fans glom onto a name and seem to obsess over him making the NHL right away- but if he does happen to join the Bruins out of the gate, it will take a phenomenal training camp and preseason, and not what he did at Ristuccia in July.

 

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current (WHL); 6-1, 180

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The son of former NHL enforcer Louie DeBrusk finished 6th in the WHL with 42 goals playing alongside fellow Bronco and B’s prospect Colby Cave (35 goals) last season. Much bigger things are expected of this natural finisher, who can find the back of the net from just about anywhere on the ice. DeBrusk is not a power forward, but more of a skill forward who uses his offensive instincts and quickness to make things happen around the net but is far from a finished product in terms of his complete game. He has quite a bit of physical maturing to do, but the natural scoring tools are there for him to evolve into a top prospect.

 

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University (ECAC); 6-1, 190 (Scituate, Mass.)

Acquired: 2nd round, 2014 NHL Entry Draft

The most dominant scorer in prep hockey a season ago took a step back offensively at Dexter School as a senior, but sacrificed numbers in leading his team to the championship game before falling to Salisbury. Ted Donato’s eldest of three sons finished the year with a flourish in Omaha of the USHL, registering more than a point per game and showing off his creativity and dynamic game-breaking ability on numerous occasions. Although his top speed is not like his dad’s, the younger Donato projects to be a more dangerous scorer, and will get a chance to prove it with the Crimson.

 

Ryan Fitzgerald, LW Boston College (HEA); 5-10, 180 (North Reading, Mass.)

Acquired: 4th round, 2013 NHL Entry Draft

The rising junior has two productive scoring years with the Eagles in the books, and will be even more dangerous offensively this season. Although not blessed with a lot of size or blazing speed, the nephew of Bruins assistant scouting director Scott Fitzgerald has elite vision and some of the softest hands of any Boston prospect. Because he slipped down to the end of the fourth round in his draft year, the two-time state champion with Malden Catholic doesn’t get as much attention as other players with higher draft pedigrees, nor is a development camp a great setting to display what Fitzgerald does best, but his smarts and energy will carry him far.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University (HEA); 6-1, 185

Acquired: 2nd round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

“JFK” wasted little time in telling media at the draft that the NHL player he most tries to emulate is Patrice Bergeron. Like Boston’s three-time Selke Trophy winner and franchise center, this Swedish import plays a polished defensive game in addition to a pretty underrated offensive skill set. He’s got quite a bit of physical developing ahead of him with the Terriers, but film study reveals a player with slick hands and a knack for making plays in key situations. A superb faceoff man, watch for Karlsson to earn David Quinn’s trust early on with key defensive zone draws. He’s been knocked for not playing with as much pace and urgency as his talent level will allow, but seems to be making strides in addressing that shortcoming as he goes forward. A recent discussion with a member of the Bruins organization kept going back to JFK’s natural smarts and intelligence- he certainly showed that at camp and should draw positive attention to himself on Comm. Ave. this year.

JFK

Jakob “JFK” Forsbacka-Karlsson, 45th overall, 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Regina (WHL); 6-0, 200

Acquired: 4th round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Built like a spark plug and with the fiery, agitating demeanor to match, this draft choice could one day turn out in similar fashion to the one NHL player Gabrielle tries to pattern his play after: Brad Marchand. He may not have Marchand’s high-end speed and stickhandling ability, but can blow the puck past goalies and has a high motor. He’s a little bigger and stronger than Marchand, and able to be more effective along the walls and down in the dirty areas, where he uses his strength to fight through checks and maintain possession. The Saskatchewan native who grew up rooting for the B’s needs to prove he can work as hard off the ice as he does on it, but was a solid value choice at 105th overall.

 

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University (WCHA); 6-0, 180

Acquired: 4th round, 2014 NHL Entry Draft

Perhaps one of the 2014’s draft’s true stealth picks, the former Surrey Eagles (BCHL) captain burst onto the scene for the Pioneers last year to finish 15th in the nation in scoring as a freshman. Bigger things are expected this time, which could be a challenge for the slick, heady playmaking wing who shows an excellent grasp of how to play with and without the puck. Appearing in just his first development camp (he was enrolled in classes at DU a year ago), Heinen showed the fans in attendance what the buzz building from last year was about with a standout performance, making high-end passes and plays look pretty routine.

Cameron Hughes, LW University of Wisconsin (Big Ten); 5-11, 170

Acquired: 6th round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

If there is one player in the current Boston draft class that could pull off a surprise like Heinen did a year ago, it is Hughes, who was an offensive star for the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints in 2013-14 before landing with the Badgers and being relegated to a smaller role in Madison. A speedy, intelligent forward who also plays with energy and grit despite not having an abundance of size, he’s the model type of player the Bruins talk about having. If the unproductive freshman season was a reflection of a lack of opportunity, then watch for Hughes to breakout offensively as a sophomore and earn a lot more positive attention. He’s relatively undersized at present, but has room to grow and add strength in the coming years.

Sean Kuraly, C/LW Miami University (NCHC); 6-2, 200

Acquired: Trade with San Jose- 2015

The RedHawks’ captain this season was acquired along with a first-round pick in the trade that sent goaltender Martin Jones to the Sharks late last month. While not a high-end prospect the Ohio native is big, skates well, and plays a strong two-way, grinding game. He scored 19 goals a year ago, so he might be primed for a bigger offensive jump this season. Realistically, Kuraly projects more as a third-line winger in Boston if he reaches the NHL, but has the makings of a solid forward who will be tough to play against and can move around up front as the coaches need him to.

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL) 6-1, 195

Acquired: 2nd round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

This Red Line Report favorite for his combination of size, skating, shot and smarts didn’t get a lot of advance billing throughout the season, but started to generate buzz before the June NHL draft. In addition to being the QMJHL’s top goal-scorer among draft eligible defenders, Lauzon also displayed a physical, edgy side to his game as well, making him the kind of ideal fit in Boston if he can translate his junior success at the pro level. The 52nd overall selection will likely spend two more years in the ‘Q’ but don’t be surprised if he makes a run for an NHL job shortly thereafter, as he appears to have the blend of skill and moxie that every team looks out for.

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC) 6-4, 215

Acquired: 5th round, 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Like Zane McIntyre, the Long Island native is one of Boston’s longest-tenured prospects, having been chosen four drafts and five B’s development camps ago. The tall, relatively lean defenseman still has more room to add mass and will likely hit his peak playing weight at about 225 pounds as he continues to mature. At 22, O’Gara is an advanced player who has superb skating and footwork and has also continued to develop as a fine puck-mover even if he isn’t projected to put up big numbers at the pro level. A smart player and tireless worker, he’s returning to Yale for his senior season and is expected to sign with Boston after his final game. Also like McIntyre, O’Gara would qualify for the free agency loophole, but has had such a good experience with the Bruins, he’ll likely stay true to the club that has believed in him all along.

Zachary Senyshyn, RW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-2, 195

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The 2015 NHL draft’s first true off-the-board pick has the natural skills to eventually justify the selection, even if the Bruins took an acknowledged risk with other more established players on the board. The good news: the Ottawa-area product is a fine skater who can beat defenders wide with his speed, takes pucks to the net and has the hands to find the back of the net with regularity. On the downside- scouts question his natural creativity and there is significant risk associated with him if he does not take the next anticipated step in the OHL with the departure of several key veterans he was playing behind. Although he isn’t an intimidating presence on the ice, Senyshyn is saying and doing all the right things and demonstrated his raw, but promising talent at development camp.

Daniel

Daniel “Darth” Vladar- 3rd round, 75th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago (USHL) 6-5, 190

Acquired: 3rd round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

This massive netminder from the same Czech program that produced Jaromir Jagr 25 years ago has major long-term potential, but will need to address holes in his game and refine his technique before he sets foot anywhere near NHL ice. An outstanding athlete, “Darth Vladar” has the natural quickness to make beating him on the first shot a chore, but gets into trouble when he doesn’t square up to the shooter or allows pucks to get through him/his equipment when in position to make the save. A good kid with a solid work ethic, coming to the USHL and possibly going the NCAA route will help him adapt to North American hockey, but some observers feel that he lacks a natural feel for the play, and falls prey to allowing goals because he is late reacting to where the puck is coming from. Vladar is a good flyer to take in the mid-third round, especially after the B’s watched what Mike Hutchinson, their third-rounder in 2008, did for the Winnipeg Jets this season.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John (QMJHL) 6-2, 190

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Boston’s top pick last month, 13th overall, has already signed a three-year Entry Level Contract (ELC) with the team, but that won’t affect his timeline to the NHL unless something unforeseen occurs. On the positive side, Zboril has all of the key attributes you look for in the modern big league defender, and his skating and vision in particular makes him someone who will be able to carry the puck and run the power play down the road. Reviews on his work ethic however, are mixed, and he had issues with his knees last season, something he unfortunately has in common with his father, who reportedly saw a promising athletic career cut short because of. Make no mistake- Zboril’s booming point drive and ability to distribute the puck with ease, not to mention a snarly, physical side to the way he defends made him a solid choice for the Bruins, but like the other two first-round selections, he carries some risk that will bear close watching as we go forward.

AHL contract/invites

Here are some notes on a few of the development camp invited players I’m familiar with/who stood out in live and online viewing during the past several seasons and at development camp.

Max Iafrate, D Providence (AHL) 6-3, 215

Al Iafrate’s son got a lot of attention for his family pedigree and like his dad, he can scoot-n-shoot. However, Max is not his father, and after going undrafted while playing in the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers, he signed an AHL contract with the P-Bruins. With his size and physicality, the younger Iafrate is an intriguing player to watch if he can make better decisions and keep things simple. Putting him out with someone like Tommy Cross could make for a mighty interesting duo.

 

Frank DiChiara, RW Yale (ECAC) 6-2, 218

The rising Yale junior has been a favorite of mine since the 2012-13 season, when the Ronkonkoma, N.Y. native helped lead the USHL’s Dubque Fighting Saints (he was on the team with Matt Benning) to the Clark Cup. Although he went undrafted, DiChiara is a big-bodied winger who uses his size and soft hands to find the back of the net and generate offense. He’s not an ideal skater, but if he can improve his initial quickness, his straight-line speed and natural strength will appeal to NHL clubs come free agency time because he has a nose for the net. In addition to Benning, DiChiara is a current and former (in minor hockey) teammate of Rob O’Gara and the two are close friends.

 

Brien Diffley, D Boston University (HEA) 6-2, 200 (Burlington, Mass.)

Honestly thought this ’95 defender who posted a solid freshman season with the Terriers would get drafted last month. What you see is what you get with Diffley: he skates and moves laterally well, has an active stick to disrupt passes with, fills lanes and willingly blocks shots- in other words, he does all the little things you need your back end to do. There is not much in the way of upside, but if you’re looking for a safe, steady defenseman, there aren’t many undrafted options out there better than Diffley is.

 

Mike Vecchione, LW Union College (ECAC) 5-10, 185 (Saugus, Mass.)

After winning a state championship at MC with Fitzgerald, this smallish but talented and creative winger spent two years in the USHL before winning an NCAA title with Union College in 2014. Speed is the name of the game with Vecchione, who has explosive initial quickness and has an impressive glide. He’s also a savvy two-way forward who shows hustle and diligence on the back check and with his defensive responsibilities. With 33 goals in his first two college seasons, he is primed for a major breakthrough this year and big bucks as a free agent.

Boston Bruins prospects update- July 2015

With the final session of the Boston Bruins development camp in the books, it’s time to take a quick snapshot of where things are shaping up with about 60 days before the organization’s young players (minus those in the NCAA) will return to Boston for rookie and main training camps.

Given my admittedly limited online viewing of the development camp on-ice sessions available, here are some notes and observations of the players in attendance at Ristuccia Memorial Arena, supplemented by my own previous viewings of many of these players live and via streaming. More seasoned veterans like Malcolm Subban, Alexander Khokhlachev, Joe Morrow and Brian Ferlin to name a few were not present, while other players such as BU and Harvard defensemen Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) and Wiley Sherman (Greenwich, Conn.) were injured.

Overall, there is some promising potential in Boston’s system, but fans were not treated to a dynamic breakout performance like they were a year ago when David Pastrnak introduced himself in memorable fashion. It’s a solid if unspectacular group, with several players such as Denver sophomore Danton Heinen, WHL defender Brandon Carlo and Harvard-bound center Ryan Donato (Scituate, Mass.) opening some eyes with consistent performances all week. Goaltender Zane McIntyre won the 2015 Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s best goaltender, and did not take advantage of the loophole to maximize his coin by declaring himself a free agent, instead signing with the Bruins. He is in his sixth and final development camp with the team, breaking the unofficial mark of five, set by Tommy Cross (Simsbury, Conn.).

The B’s trifecta of first-round picks showed off their talents in flashes, but underscored the conventional thinking on draft night that none appear to be ready to grab an NHL job out of the gate. Things could change for them between now and October, but realistically, this is going to be a deliberate process for each one of Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn. All three show promise but anyone hoping for a repeat of David Pastrnak from a year ago should temper their expectations for a longer timeline.

In part 1 of this 2-part series, we’ll look at Boston’s pro prospects, likely ticketed for Providence, and those playing overseas in the 2015-16 season. Part 2 will focus on the bulk of the camp attendees, still in the amateur ranks playing junior in Canada and the U.S. and college hockey.

Providence/pro prospects player capsules

Noel Acciari, RW (Johnston, R.I.); 6-0, 200

Acquired: Free agent, 2015

So, what do you do for an encore when you win a national title with Providence College? Why, you sign with the NHL team you always dreamed of playing for in the Bruins, of course! Perhaps one of the most unnoticed but key free agent signings of the past several months, the former Kent Lions and Friars captain plays a throwback, hard-nosed style, leveling opponents with clean hits but not engaging in unnecessary fisticuffs. The Hockey East’s top defensive forward is a crafty shooter who doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to finish, especially in clutch situations. However, where the Rhode Island native truly excels is in making life tough on opponents whenever they’re looking for space and can’t shake loose from this relentless forechecker who generates turnovers. He’s a player you go to war with.

Anton Blidh, LW; 6-1, 190

Acquired: 6th round, 2013 NHL Entry Draft

This gritty, agitating Swede is more of a bottom-six, in-your-face disruptive force on the ice. Blidh opened some eyes last winter with an impressive performance at the World Jr. (U20) tournament, and despite a lack of ideal size, his playing style is tailor-made for the Bruins and what he will face in the AHL next season. He’s not the most skilled forward, but he’ll force opponents to keep their heads on a swivel and he’s proven he has an opportunistic scoring touch when he generates turnovers. Blidh came out of the same Swedish team and system- the Frolunda Indians- as long-time fan favorite and current Boston scout P.J. Axelsson. He’s an industrious, abrasive player who catches your attention because he’s constantly in motion, and he has the makings of a solid bottom-six forward who will see time on the penalty kill.

Peter Cehlarik, LW; 6-2, 200

Acquired: 3rd round, 2013 NHL Entry Draft

The skilled scoring winger from Slovakia has spent the last three seasons playing pro hockey in Sweden is on the verge of being ready to try his hand in North America but is expected to spend one more year overseas with Lulea. He does not play a physical style, but uses his large frame to navigate traffic and establish a net-front presence when on top of his game. With an accurate shot and quick release, he has 20-30 goal potential in the NHL, but must show more dedication to a three-zone approach and improve his consistency and intensity.

Colby Cave, LW/C; 6-1, 200

Acquired: Free agent, 2015

The Swift Current Broncos captain is a versatile, underrated forward who can skate at center or the wing and brings a tenacious disposition to the ice with him on every shift. The B’s have looked to the WHL both in the draft and via free agency this season and the undrafted Cave was a solid get who is a two-way player with the intelligence and character to be more than the sum of his parts. Cave isn’t going to wow you with his skill level or earn a lot of “top player” honors in a development camp setting, but he’s fast off the mark and will give you a consistent effort and a heavy, effective 200-foot game that is so important in the NHL these days.

Colton Hargrove, LW; 6-2, 215

Acquired: 7th round, 2012 NHL Entry Draft

This rugged Texan does not bring much pro scoring upside to the table, but with his toughness and ability to finish around the net, he’s worth keeping an eye on. After improving offensively in each of his three seasons at Western Michigan he’ll likely see a limited role in Providence, where he’ll need to make the most of ice time and practice opportunities to pick up a step or two. With Tyler Randell already on hand to provide nastiness and occasional offense, Hargrove is going to have to put in the work, something that has been said he’ll need to improve as a pro.

Justin Hickman, RW; 6-3, 215

Acquired: Free agent, 2015

Multiple teams were in on the Seattle Thunderbirds’ captain (picking up on a trend here, Bruins fans?) who chose Boston in January after he had to shut it down for the rest of last season for shoulder surgery. The undrafted Hickman is back and ready to go for the 2015-16 campaign as a big-bodied power forward who needs to improve his first couple of steps but is tough to play against. He creates space for his linemates and does the grunt work along the walls and in front of the net, though will need time to work his way to the NHL. He’s a fierce competitor who isn’t flashy but will drop the gloves to defend teammates and is going to make his money in the greasy areas of the ice by paying the physical price to open things up.
Emil Johansson, D; 6-1, 195

Acquired: 7th round, 2014 NHL Entry Draft

The two-way defenseman who plays for HV71 has a pretty good skill level for being a seventh-round selection but often leaves you wanting more from his play. He’s a fine skater in a straight line and backwards, but his footwork is not the smoothest, and he struggles to move as well laterally. He can fire the puck well from the point and makes the first pass effectively enough. Johansson’s overall hockey sense and awareness is questionable, as he struggles with making decisions under pressure and can get to running around in his own end.

Joonas Kemppainen, C; 6-2, 200
Acquired: Free agent, 2015

Finnish pro league standout and champion had a fine playoff run and World Championship performance, earning a Boston contract this spring. Tall and thick-bodied, the 27-year-old is more of a defensive (though not all that physical) type who chips in key goals and timely offense than a consistent scoring center, but he might be an ideal bottom-line pivot. He’s accomplished at winning draws and a recognized penalty killer for his smarts and strong defensive awareness. Unfortunately, he injured his hamstring in Finland shortly before development camp started, so fans were unable to get much of a look at him.

Zane McIntyre, G; 6-2, 200

Acquired: 6th round, 2010 NHL Entry Draft

The NCAA’s best goaltender and Hobey Baker finalist in 2014-15 added another stellar season to his resume, and is finally ready to embark on his pro career five years after the B’s drafted him. McIntyre has done tremendous work to improve his technique and fundamentals over the past half decade, but his promise continues to lend itself to his battler’s mentality and emotional toughness that allow him to shake off bad goals and make key saves at crunch time. He’s still improving his skills, but there is so much to like about McIntyre, who has made a career of playing well in any situation, whether serving as a backup or playing every game as he did for the Sioux last year.

Frank Vatrano, LW (East Longmeadow, Mass.); 5-10, 205

Acquired: Free agent, 2015

The B’s may have leveraged the hometown advantage in landing the UMass Minuteman who tallied 18 goals (36 games) in his first and only full season in the NCAA before deciding to turn pro. A natural scorer with a wicked release and nose for the net, Vatrano came to development camp on a mission and in outstanding shape- having shed a few extra pounds for added quickness. The former U.S. National Team standout appears ready to make an honest run at a primetime role in Providence and perhaps something more next season and beyond.