Bruins draft Four long-term prospects

The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is in the books, and without a first-round pick, many observers expected that the Boston Bruins’ effort in an unprecedented October event due to COVID would be relatively quiet.

Picking at 58th overall, the B’s once again did things their way by not selecting one of the top remaining first-year draft eligible players, but by taking a late-blooming defenseman out of the USHL. With only five total draft choices (no 1st- Ondrej Kase, no 4th- Marcus Johansson) due to trades, the team dealt its final seventh-round pick (213th overall) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for that club’s seventh in 2021.

Here’s a quick look at Boston’s four selections, with more to follow as there will be prospect profiles developed for all.

Mason Lohrei

Rd. 2/58 Mason Lohrei, LD 6-5/210 Green Bay (USHL)- Ohio State (2021-22)

Pronounced: LOHR-eye. January 2001 birth date left-shot D was passed over in 2019 after spending his second season at Culver Military Academy, but obviously impressed the Boston scouting staff as a USHL rookie in 2019-20 with Green Bay.

A big, long, rangy defender who can get up the ice with a smooth, powerful stride, Lohrei is a very good passer/puck-mover who led the league in assists by a blue liner with 29. He has the physical tools to be a top-4 defenseman in the NHL, but does not have the junior hockey experience of a lot of his peers. Good defensive awareness and plays with some jam.

Upside: You can’t teach this kid’s pure size and reach- he’ a good skater who plays the prototypical modern defensive NHL style with the ability to handle pucks under pressure. Has improved significantly in the past several years, and puts in the work/plays with bite. He’s definitely a Boston Bruins-type player and while he wasn’t on our radar largely because he was a second-year eligible who wasn’t a serious draft prospect in 2019, he should have been this time around- he demonstrated a fine 2-way game in his first USHL season, and will be even better in his second campaign before heading to the Big Ten and OSU.

Downside: Did the B’s have to make the selection at 58? How many other teams were seriously on Lohrei there, and with some highly-regarded first-year draft players still on the board like Will Cuylle, Daemon Hunt, Ty Smilanic, Jean-Luc Foudy, Jeremie Poirier and even local prep star D Ian Moore, the decision to spend the first pick on Lohrei was a curious one. All of those players were drafted within 17 spots after the B’s took Lohrei.

Did you know: The B’s had another former Culver Military Academy (Indiana) standout in defenseman Barry Richter, who played parts of several seasons in Boston in the mid-90’s.

Rd. 3/89 Trevor Kuntar, C-LW 6-1/203 Boston College (Youngstown- USHL)

Solid pick, and one we previewed this week before the draft.

Like Lohrei, Kuntar is a 2001 who was passed up a year ago. Unlike Lohrei, Kuntar played three full years of junior hockey before moving on to BC this season and is a lot more refined and experienced.

A USHL tender player out of the Buffalo Jr. Sabres organization in 2017, Kuntar had to pay his dues and did not immediately meet expectations in the league for his first two seasons before blossoming last year and finishing in the top-10 scorers. Kuntar is the second Youngstown Phantom to be drafted by Boston in the last 3 drafts (Curtis Hall– 2018)

With a thick build and natural strength, Kuntar can bull his way to the net, but also possesses the speed and puck skills to create offense in space. He competes hard and was clearly stung by not being drafted a year ago, as he played the 2019-20 campaign with a burr under his saddle and established himself as one of the league’s top players.

Upside: With about 150 games of junior experience, he should be able to make an impact right away with the Eagles. He has a tremendous shot- a pinpoint, lightning release with a heaviness that he can blow by goalies from the outside. He also has soft enough/nifty mitts to score goals in tight. He was a lethal weapon on the PP, and has some nastiness to his game that the B’s love, with the versatility to play both center and wing, though he’s probably more likely to be a winger in the pros.

Downside: Kuntar may not be much more than a solid 3rd-line NHL player at his best, with the potential to be a Sean Kuraly-like 4th-liner. High floor, which is good, but don’t expect him to evolve into a major scorer- he’s more of a three-zone forward with jam.

Did you know: His dad, Les, was a pro goalie and Montreal Canadiens draft pick in 1987 who played at St. Lawrence Academy and had a cup of coffee in the NHL in the early 90’s.

Rd 5/151 Mason Langenbrunner, RD Eden Prairie HS (MN)- Harvard (2021-22)

The son of B’s player development director and 2-time Stanley Cup winner Jamie Langenbrunner, the 2017 Boston draft runner gets his own team jersey after a solid Minnesota high school season. He left Cloquet HS for the Twin Cities powerhouse Eden Prairie team and is slated to be back for his senior year of HS, unless COVID wipes out the season in Minnesota. His USHL rights are held by Sioux City.

Just making the 2020 draft cutoff age with a Sep 14 2002 birth date, Langenbrunner can really skate and has a good head for the game with solid details typical for the sons of former pro players.

Upside: With good size, mobility and puck game, he’s a right-shot D to complement Lohrei and is a long-term project type of player, but there is some promise here as a 2-way guy with a pro-style game.

Downside: The B’s do have a history of picking players related to members of the organization, which tends to raise eyebrows. In 2012, they selected Matt Benning (nephew of then assistant GM Jim Benning) and a year later, grabbed forward Mitch Dempsey (then assistant GM Don Sweeney’s nephew) in the final round. Benning worked out, though with another team as he exercised his free agent rights to sign with Edmonton (was not qualified this week), while Dempsey did not. Time will tell here, but Langenbrunner looks the part of a NHL prospect.

Did you know: Langenbrunner played two seasons in the Upper Midwest Elite League, the top amateur proving ground in Minnesota for top high school players in that state, plus Wisconsin and the Dakotas. It’s the tune-up circuit that begins in August and runs up through October before all the players return to their high schools for the scholastic hockey season, and an indicator that he is one of the top talents at that level.

Rd. 6/182 Riley Duran, C Youngstown Phantoms- USHL (Lawrence Academy)- Providence College (2021-22)

Boston closed out its draft with another Youngstown player and local prep standout from Woburn, Mass.

Lawrence Academy’s top scorer (22 goals, 44 points in 27 games) has a nice 6-2 frame and can really skate and score. He oozes pro potential, and will get the opportunity to demonstrate his potential in the USHL this season before he joins a top Hockey East program next fall.

Upside: Duran has the talent to develop into an eventual pro player and could be more than the sum of some impressive parts. He’s got superb wheels and acceleration, and can handle pucks at speed with a pro-caliber release.

Downside: He’s raw and coming out of prep, so he’ll have a steep learning curve ahead. If Duran makes it in Boston, it will be a years-long process.

Overall analysis:

The Bruins do things their way.

You can understand the criticisms when they go off the board like they did with Lohrei, but in fairness- he’s an accomplished player at a high level. They may have been bidding against themselves to take him as early as they did, but you take the player you want where you want him, and they weren’t willing to roll the dice and wait. He’s committed to a top hockey program and all signs point to him at least being a solid/serviceable pro one day.

The issue the B’s are facing is that they aren’t drafting much in the way of higher-end talent because of where they are picking each year. 2015 was an obvious missed opportunity for the team now five years later, but when you look at first glance what teams like Minnesota, Ottawa, Los Angeles etc. did over the past couple of days, the Bruins are facing an uphill slog down the road as their veteran core continues to age, and there isn’t a whole lot of true play-making top talents in their system.

Sure, the Jack Studnickas, John Beechers, Jeremy Swaymans, Jack Ahcans, and Jakub Laukos of the world look promising, but the lack of picks and pick position is going to put a tremendous strain on Boston’s ability to keep up with the teams who are able to underwrite any draft misses with multitudes of other quality players and prospects. It is not unfair or being negative to point out that neither of Jakub Zboril or Urho Vaakanainen look like top-4 NHL players, and that since 2018, the Bruins have drafted just one player in the top-30- Beecher.

At some point, Sweeney and Company probably need to avoid the temptation to deal away picks and start figuring out how to get assets back/start being more aggressive at the draft so that they can land some more premium prospects. Thinking that they can draft someone like Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci in the second round or later every year is easy in theory, but much harder to pull off.

In the end, the B’s have their process and they put in the work. All four of the players they drafted have the size, skating and skills to be pro players, even if they might not have a readily apparent high-end projection. That could change going forward, or they could fall short. Solid is about the best way to describe each of the four players, but is “solid” going to allow the Bruins to continue to be among the league’s top teams in the next five years?

When it comes to pedigree and boom factor, it looks like Boston’s Class of 2020 is a lot more of the same of what they’ve been doing for about four years now, and that means we won’t know for quite some time.

Reed Duthie: B’s 2020 Draft Preview- Europe

Continuing the 2020 NHL Entry Draft preview series, Reed Duthie checks in with his look at players from Europe who could be Boston draft options from the late ’01/’02 (up to Sep. 15) birth year class.- KL

As the Amigos go through a look at the 2020 NHL Draft and who may be on the board when the Bruins make their picks, we’re going to take a look at potential Bruins from across Europe.

Pick 58 – Zion Nybeck, RW/LW (HV71 / SHL)

In an era where Bruins fans are screaming for offensive creativity and high-end offensive talent, Zion Nybeck is would be the prototype that fans have wanted. One of the most exciting pure talents the Swedish junior system in many years, Nybeck as adept at making plays as he is finishing them. Playing in the J20 level at just 16 years old, Nybeck would dazzle in the 2018-19 season recording 17 goals & 26 assists for 43 points in 35 games against competition up to 4 years his elder. The 2019-20 season would see another rise as the 17-year old would dominate the J20 level recording an astounding 27 goals & 39 assists for 66 points in 42 games as well as making his SHL debut at just 17 years old recording a goal in 15 games playing limited minutes. On track to spend the 2020-21 season in the SHL, Nybeck will climb prospect rankings quickly with his combination of speed and puck handling ability. The only downside to Nybeck’s game comes from his size, 5’8” 176 lbs, but at a similar size to Alex DeBrincat and a better skater, it won’t be at all surprising to see Nybeck in the NHL within just a couple of seasons.

HM: Roni Hirvoinen, C (Assat / SM-Liiga), Kasper Simontaival, RW (Tapparra / SM-Liiga), Emil Andrae, D (HV71 / J20), Theodor Niederbach, C (Frolunda, J20)

Pick 89 – Samuel Knazko, D (TPS / U20 SM-sarja)

Born in Trencin, Slovakia, the same hometown and Bruins captain and future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara, Samuel Knazko may not have the same size as the Bruins leader but he sure has his attitude. Leaving home and the Dukla Trencin U20 program at the age of 16, Knazko arrived in Finland looking to up the competition level and make his name for NHL scouts. At 6’1’’ 190lbs, the left shot defender already has ideal NHL size and projects as a real powerhouse on the backend while bringing strong skating ability and next level vision on the rink, able to fit the puck through the eye of a needle to find teammates. Knazko is yet to make his SM-Liiga debut and may be a couple seasons off arriving in North America but if his development stays on its current track, Knazko would be a player well worth waiting for.

HM: Alexander Pashin, RW (Toplar / MHL), Oliver Tarnstrom, C (AIK / J20), Alexander Nikishin, D (Spartak / KHL)

Pick 151 – Ilya Ovchinnikov, C (Avtomoblist Yekaterinburg / KHL)

Born on October 31, 2001 Ovchinnikov only missed the cut off for the 2019 NHL Draft by a few weeks and it may have been for the best for him moving forward. The talented center who captained the Spartakovets Yekaterinburg U18 squad until he was called up as a 17-year old to the Avto Yekaterinburg MHL squad where he would post 4 goals & 13 assists for 17 points in 48 games. 2019-20 would be an even better season for Ovchinnikov as he posted 6 goals & 9 assists for 15 points in 31 games in addition to seeing 19 games, albeit scoreless, in the KHL. Ovchinnikov would open the 2020-21 season with 2 points in 2 games in the MHL before heading to the KHL once again and has since posted a goal & an assist in 8 games for Avtomoblist. An adept playmaker having racked up assists at the junior level playing against competition his own age, Ovchinnikov is a strong skater and at 5’11” 175lbs has decent size to go with it. Although there is always concern with Russian players making the jump to North America without a transfer agreement between the leagues, Ovchinnikov may just be worth be the risk as he’s already shown he can play in the professional ranks as an underage player.

HM: Florian Ellis, C (Jungadler Mannheim / DNL), Lucas Ramberg, D (Lulea / J20)

Pick 182 – Erik Noren, D (Orebro, SHL)

A potential late steal, Erik Noren has gone far under the radar but brings both leadership qualities and tremendous skills. Another late-2001 birthdate (October 11, 2001) Noren has been a leader at every level on his way up the ranks in Sweden, serving as captain at the U16, J18 and an assistant captain at the J20 level to open this season. Noren would see his break to the SHL in the 2019-20 season 9 games at the professional level while seeing 6 games off the start of the 2020-21 season and appears to have made his claim to a spot on the Orebro blueline moving forward. Fleet of foot, the 6’0” 183lbs left shot rearguard is a defense first player who will make sure the puck is moved crisp and clean out of his own end and has tremendous instincts behind his own blueline. Noren will need time in the SHL and there is hope he could continue to develop his offensive game but he already appears to be a player who could play in the North American pros.

HM: William Hallen, C (Frolunda / J20), Simon Andersson, C (MODO / J20)

Pick 213 – Isak Garfve, C/LW (Mora, Allsvenskan)

A late (REALLY LATE) riser, Mora’s creative centerman Isak Garfve represented Sweden at the 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup scoring a pair of goals in 5 games but never seemed to pick up much traction in rankings despite his size, skills and leadership. Standing 6’3” 195lbs, Garfve represented Mora J18 as captain, for parts of 2 seasons before being called up to the J20 level where he posted 33 points in 36 games as a 17-year old in the 2019-20 season. Garfve would go onto play 7 games for Mora in Allsvenskan but a tremendous camp to start the 2020-21 season where he showed his skill & will combination to earn a regular place with Mora may go a long way in seeing the talented Swede jump into the end of the NHL Draft.

HM: Matias Rajaniemi, D (Pelicans / U20 SM-sarja), Calle Spaberg Olsen, RW (Rogle / J20)

B’s U.S. Junior/Prep/HS Draft Preview

Here’s a quick hitter with some names of top USA-based junior, prep and HS players for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

Out of Range

Barring the Bruins trading back into the 1st round or getting up into the 2nd from near the end of the round, these players won’t be available to the team when they make their first selection at 58th overall:

Jake Sanderson, LD 6-2/186 U.S. NTDP (USHL)- Like his dad Geoff, the 2-way defender is a glorious skater. While not all are sold on his capacity to be a 1/2 at the NHL level, we have no doubts after watching him since he took the Team USA Selection Camp by storm in March 2018, after having been a top player in Canada’s prep league. He’s explosive, dynamic and a sure puck handler who can impact the game in all three zones. Whoever drafts him will be getting a star player for years to come once he turns pro from North Dakota in a year or two. It won’t be long…

Brendan Brisson, C 5-11/180 Chicago Steel (USHL)- The league’s top rookie tore it up on a stacked Steel team that was on pace for record wins when COVID shut everything down. Now at the University of Michigan, he’s an excellent skater with superb skills, offensive instincts and a willingness to go to the greasy areas for points.

Dylan Holloway, C 6-0/195 University of Wisconsin (NCAA)- Late ’01 was a top Tier 2 Canadian player over the past several seasons and did not disappoint as a true freshman in Madison. Although the Badgers underacheived as a team, Holloway showed off his all-around NHL game- skating, scoring and solid 2-way instincts.

Sam Colangelo, RW 6-1/205 Chicago Steel (USHL)- Power winger and former Lawrence Academy standout formed a nasty 1-2 punch with Brisson on the Steel and is all over the map largely because he doesn’t always turn the wheel. However, there is no doubt that the Northeastern freshman and late ’01 has a pro-caliber skill set and when he matures, could become an impact forward at the highest level.

Thomas Bordeleau, C 5-9/180 U.S. NTDP U18 (USHL)- Small but dynamic offensive creator is the son of former NHLer and Nashville player development guru Sebastien Bordealeau. Fast, talented and plays with pace- superb passer/playmaker who may lack pro size, but plays a bigger game and finds ways to create magic from the mundane.

2nd-round possibilities

Ty Smilanic, LW 6-1/175 U.S. NTDP U18 (USHL)- First-round talent struggled with injuries in his draft season and doesn’t always bring his best on every shift. However, there is no denying the fact that the Colorado native has been among the best players in his peer group for years, and he showed off his impressive size, skating and puck game for two years with Team USA. He’ll need to mature, but there’s some solid boom potential here.

Blake Biondi, C 6-1/199 Hermantown (Minnesota HS)- The 2020 Minnesota Mr. Hockey is a scoring machine at that level and if you just watch him playing against other single-A programs in the state, he’s a dominant force, leading his team to the state championship game before falling in OT to the Mahtomedi Zephyrs. However, he began the year with Sioux City in the USHL and had trouble establishing himself at that level. His skating will need to improve at the next level (he’s at Minnesota-Duluth), but he’s got elite hands and the vision/IQ to make plays. He’d be a bit of a reach at 58 in our estimation, but he’s also got high-end potential, and the B’s have a track record of players at UMD- Biondi would make sense.

Eamon Powell, RD 5-11/165 U.S. NTDP U18 (USHL)- After watching success of other smallish, speedy and skilled defenders in their organization, the Boston College freshman from Syracuse would make a ton of sense here. He was the yin to Jake Sanderson’s yang. He’s fast, smart and efficient- would be a very good value pick at the end of the 2nd round, because he’s more than the sum of his parts. Outstanding in retrievals, Powell is a human breakout machine and will be a solid complementary NHL piece for some time.

Mitchell Miller, LD 5-10/190 Tri-City Storm (USHL)- While not as defensively sound as Powell, Miller is more of an offense-minded defender who loves to rush the puck and can get up the ice quickly. A superb PP QB at the USHL level, his best hockey is in front of him. He’ll need to continue working on his strength and off-ice conditioning, but this guy can wheel and impact the game offensively- just needs coaching and time to develop/mature. There’s more risk/reward with this player, and he might be able to be had at the end of the third round.

Dylan Peterson, C 6-4/192 U.S. NTDP (USHL)- We think this player would make a perfect Bruin and might be the victim of unmet expectations at the Program. He can really move for such a big man and has the vision and skill to make a lot of plays in the o-zone- the production just didn’t come with the potential. He can be a bit on the perimeter at times, but he’s like a poor man’s Joe Thornton in terms of the way he plays and if he can find some confidence and scoring at BU, he could be a solid value at the end of the 2nd round.

Best of the rest:

Wyatt Schingoethe, C 5-11/200 Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)- Prototypical 200-foot center can do it all. May not possess ideal NHL size, but not afraid to get his nose dirty. Very good in the faceoff circle and plays a smart, responsible 2-way game with underrated offense. On the downside, he’s inconsistent and did not have the kind of anticipated impact in the USHL after being a dominant AAA player coming up through the storied Chicago Mission program. He’ll have a chance to get his development on track at Notre Dame.

Landon Slaggert, C 6-0/190 U.S. NTDP U18 (USHL)- Good, hard-working center who doesn’t have Schingoethe’s skill, but brings a similar 200-foot game and works his bag off. Good skater- always turns the wheel. Not a big NHL ceiling, but the kind of guy you win with.

Carson Bantle, LW 6-4/205 Madison Capitols (USHL)- We think he’s under the radar given his size and scoring. He’s a clunky-looking skater, but can really get there and has a rocket of a shot. Classic power forward. Captained the worst team in the league, but but up consistent production playing in all situations. Would be a good value pick anywhere after the 2nd round- off to Michigan Tech.

Brock Faber, RD 6-0/195 U.S. NTDP (USHL)- Not flashy or dynamic, but solid in all areas. Good puck-mover who has solid size and can really wheel and move pucks crisply and efficiently. The best may be yet to come- we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Minnesota native drafted higher than many are projecting him to go.

Colby Ambrosio, RW 5-9/170 Tri-City Storm (USHL)- Explosive, dynamic, deadly scorer is a top-four round talent. When it comes to the power play, he was nearly automatic last season- an NHL-caliber release with pinpoint accuracy and the hockey sense to find quiet ice. Top-level catch-and-shoot skills. Issues are size/strength and too much showboating and diving/antics that detracted from an otherwise superb offensive performance. Boston College has a talented player and if he plays there the way he did in Kearney, there will be some electric surges at the Heights this season.

Ian Moore, RD 6-3/180 St. Mark’s School (MA Prep)- Skating with the Chicago Steel this season, the prep standout from Concord, Mass. can pretty much do anything he wants. Size, skating, intelligence- ability to move pucks, quarterback a PP and be a top penalty killer. Committed to Harvard. Wouldn’t be a bad second-rounder, albeit a long-term project, but his value increases from 3rd round and on.

Brett Berard, RW 5-9/160 U.S. NTDP U18 (USHL)- Small but fast winger is a disruptive presence all over the ice. Relentless forechecker and smart- noticeable on every shift. Providence College frosh has the makings of a versatile, bottom-line pro winger with pace and jam, though it will take time for him to get there.

Trevor Kuntar, C-LW 6-0/200 Youngstown (USHL)- Passed over in 2019 after two largely disappointing seasons with the Phantoms, Kuntar exploded in his third year, piling up points and playing with a lot of fire and jam. Heavy game and Bruins-like attributes. May not have high-end NHL scoring potential but brings a solid floor with him.

Sleepers

Ben Meehan, LD 6-0/195 Cedar Rapids (USHL)- Massachusetts native and former Dexter star blew up in the USHL over the first half, racking up goals and points, plus being a top PP weapon, until an injury ended his season halfway through. His defensive game is a bit of a mystery, but the guy can really skate and has a big-time shot.

Zakary Karpa, C 6-2/185 U.S. NTDP (USHL)- Big, rangy center was in a bit role with Team USA, but was turning the corner at the end of the season when COVID hit. Instead of going into Princeton, he’ll spend the 20-21 season with the Omaha Lancers. He’s tall, lanky, can really skate and pass/shoot. Already a strong defensive center, there’s some offensive upside here for any team that takes a late-round flyer on him. Son of former NHL D Dave Karpa.

Nick Capone, C 6-2/210 Tri-City Storm (USHL)- Big right-shot center is at UConn this season but has some sneaky offensive skill to go with a large, strong frame and some physicality/nastiness. Tough to play against, but also received several league suspensions for crossing the line- will need to rein it in. Will need to improve his skating- mainly his initial steps and small-area game, but he’s not that far off and brings reasonable speed when he’s going north-south and driving the net.

Patrick Guzzo, C 6-1/205 Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)- Whenever we bring up his name, all we hear are crickets. Why? He’s big, powerful and has an undervalued offensive tool kit. Ox-strong, he moves well for a big man and goes hard to the net. Was overshadowed by flashier players in Waterloo last season, but has a solid pro-style game and pedigree. We’d take him as early as the 4th/5th round, but he might not get drafted at all…crazy.

Matt Gleason, RW 5-8/170 Cretin-Derham Hall (MN HS)- Another Minnesota HS star who will play for the Chicago Steel, he’s small but can absolutely fly and is a scoring machine. Plays a high-energy skill game and will be hard for NHL teams to pass up.

Jakub Dobes, G 6-4/201 Omaha Lancers (USHL)- Czech native who spent the last several years in North America has NHL size/athletic ability. Showed immense potential at times last season, split between the NAHL (Topeka Pilots) and USHL. When he sees the puck, he stops it and uses tremendous east-west lateral agility to make highlight reel saves. Promising, but raw- bubble pick.

Re-post: B’s OHL Draft Preview- Dominic Tiano

This was originally posted by Dominic Tiano on April 23rd. Now that the NHL Entry Draft is upon us this week, here is his post refreshed and brought up for air. The only edits were to the actual draft positions, which reflect Boston’s 2nd-round exit at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, moving five spots earlier than projected when the B’s finished with the NHL’s best regular season record.- KL

The Boston Bruins don’t have a first-round pick because of the deadline deal that brought Ondrej Kase to Boston. They also don’t have a fourth-round pick – traded to New Jersey that saw the Bruins acquire Marcus Johansson near the 2019 trade deadline.

That leaves the Bruins with 5 picks at the draft. My area is of course, the Ontario Hockey League, so that’s where we will focus for now:

Photo credit: Terry Wilson/OHL ImagesZayde Wisdom of the Kingston Frontenacs. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

ROUND 2, 58 OVERALL – ZAYDE WISDOM – KINGSTON FRONTENACS – RIGHT WING

Forgetting the fact that the Bruins have been looking for a second line right wing for some time now, Wisdom fits the bill as both a right winger and best player available.

Wisdom is a good skater with good speed and is markedly improved from a year ago. He is able to get on the forecheck quickly and create havoc. He darts into lanes quickly and without hesitation. He’s a small guy at 5’9” but built like a tank. Quite simply he is the little engine that can with a motor and work ethic that never hits pause.

Wisdom is not afraid to go to the dirty areas, in fact, he has a superb net front presence. You’ll find he parks himself in front of the blue paint and yes, he is hard to move. But he’ll also score the majority if his goals from the top of or in the paint. But he also has an excellent shot and release that can beat a goaltender from the high slot or coming down his wing. Frankly, with his ability to find open ice combined with his shot, we are a little bit surprised he doesn’t score more of those goals.

Wisdom has also improved on his puck possession and has learned the importance of maintaining possession in today’s game. He is strong on his feet and hard to separate from the puck. His body is always in a good position to protect the puck. We would like to see his playmaking skills improve. To put it in hockey terms, would like to see his hands catch up to his feet and his head.

ROUND 3, 89 OVERALL – RORY KERINS – SAULT STE MARIE GREYHOUNDS – CENTER

Kerins plays the game the right way and is actually an accomplished 200-foot player. He has no fear of getting into the higher danger zone area in the slot area. He can score the dirty goals or beat you with his shot. He’ll battle along the walls, and has surprising strength at 5’10”. He has the ability to be an effective forechecker. If there is an area that I feel he could improve it’s adding an extra gear. That would help him in getting on the forecheck quicker. Despite his willingness to go into battle, he does it the right way, and the Greyhounds recognized that by awarding him the Dr. Bill Kelly Award as the Most Gentlemanly Player.

Kerins also has very good hockey IQ. He has shown he can be a good playmaker. He can slow down and wait for a play to become available and make a good pass, with a very good ability to lead players with a pass by putting it into areas they can skate into. However, judging how his playmaking skills are is difficult. The Greyhounds are a young team that need to gain some experience. And they didn’t muster up a whole lot of offense this season, just 253 goals and that ranks 14th in the OHL.

Defensively, Kerins understands positioning, whether it’s getting his body or stick into lanes, or understanding where he needs to be and is always prepared for the breakout. The coaches have the trust in him to take key defensive zone draws and use him on the penalty kill.

ROUND 5, 151 OVERALL – VILLE OTTAVAINEN – KITCHENER RANGERS – DEFENCE

Ottavainen got off to a blazing start, causing most of his offensive damage in the first 15 games scoring 4 goals and 6 assists in that time, but managed just 5 assists in the remaining 38 games (and two of them came in one game). So, any questions surrounding his adapting to the North American ice should have been laid to rest in those first 15 games, right? So, what happened?

Well, for one Ottavainen saw his ice time drop as the season progressed, especially after the Rangers acquired veteran Holden Wale in a trade with the Soo Greyhounds. As a player though, you have to make the most of the opportunities presented to you. It’s no fault of his, Wale was just a very experienced OHL’er

If you are a reader of some of the independent draft publications available to you, there are a couple questions regarding Ottavainen. One of them is his first step speed. Well, he has such a long reach, he keeps the opposition close enough that he effectively uses that reach to his advantage. Defensively, there isn’t much need for him there, but it could help the transition game. But he is such a mobile and agile skater that I don’t see the lack of blazing speed as an issue.

Another issue is his questionable decision making. I don’t really buy into that. He is one of the youngest defenders in the draft class and he has shown the ability to make very good passes and his playmaking skills are very good and he moves well enough to jump up into the play. Did we mention he has a booming shot? As he gains experience and confidence, this won’t be an issue, and maybe playing pro in Finland is a blessing in disguise. (Signed to play with Oulun Karpat of the Finnish Elite League next season).

ROUND 6, 182 OVERALL – JAMES HARDIE – MISSISSAUGA STEELHEADS – LEFT WING

No draft eligible player likes to shoot the puck more then Hardie. He led the draft class comfortably in shots on goal and finished fifth in goals per game with .58. He has an NHL caliber shot and release and not every shot is an attempt to beat the goalie. He creates a lot of second-chance opportunities just by putting the puck in the right place so that the goaltender can’t eat it up.

Hardie’s skating is fine technically, but he doesn’t generate a lot of speed both in fist steps and top flight. But he is capable of finding openings and sneaking into them, however, he doesn’t always drive to the high danger zone in front of the net. But he is dangerous with space as evidenced by his powerplay abilities, finishing third among draft eligible players.

Hardie is a goal scorer that needs to round out the rest of his game. He’ll require patience and a good development program that will help him in achieving the necessary tools to play at the NHL level.

ROUND 7, 213 OVERALL – LOUKA HENAULT – WINDSOR SPITFIRES – DEFENCE

Henault is a mobile two-way defender who has his head on a swivel when in possession of the puck, almost always seemingly surveying the ice and looking for the best options available. He’s a good skater that has good mobility both north-south and east-west. He walks the offensive blue line very well and creates lanes by doing so. And he can jump up the wall and make pinches when he needs to.

Henault is known for his shot. While he hasn’t shown that he can overpower goaltenders with it, he usually finds the target and he doesn’t try to score, but to put it in areas where he can create rebounds and second chance opportunities. The fact that the bulk of his assists were primary assists speaks to that and his passing abilities.

Defensively, Henault was steady on the backend for the Spitfires who still have a young and somewhat green blueline. He understands positioning, uses his stick well to defend, and is willing to battle in all the hard areas. And he is effective at moving the puck out of his zone.

Henault is one of those players that doesn’t excel at any one thing, but you get an honest effort and steady performances at both ends of the ice.

Henault was passed over in 2019 and is re-entering the draft.

Overrated/Underrated

We’re back with a quick hitter on some of the current Bruins on the roster and where we see things as Oliver Ekman-Larsson rumors are picking up steam, Torey Krug appears to be moving on and big changes are on the horizon.

These may constitute unpopular opinions, but what the heck- today’s as good a day as any to shake the trees a bit!

Overrated: Brandon Carlo

OK- we’re not out to dump on the guy, but watching Bruins fans twist themselves into knots over discussions about him being involved in trade talks like he’s some kind of untouchable player is a bit much. He’s a good, solid defensive defenseman. But here’s the thing- can he run a PP? Nope. Not special. In fact, he’s comparable to former Bruin Kyle McLaren– a nice complementary piece, but not a driver you refuse to consider trade offers for. Our fear is that his/his agent’s ask on the next contract negotiation process will shift him from being a good value player to exceeding that current bargain rate/savings, and that’s a problem. By the way- 0 goals, 1 assist in 13 playoff games…sorry, but that’s not worth the wailing and gnashing of teeth we’re seeing on Twitter and elsewhere. Newsflash- Carlo is a good right-shot D with size/mobility and so when Don Sweeney calls teams to talk trade options, his name is going to come up. It doesn’t mean the B’s are shopping him, but it also does not mean the team refuses to consider moving him if the return is right. Besides, relax guys- reports are that the Boston GM has politely but firmly rebuffed the Carlo ask thus far- we don’t expect he’s going anywhere…for now.

Underrated: Jeremy Lauzon

Since the days when Adam McQuaid displaced 2003 1st-rounder Mark Stuart on the Boston roster because his cap hit (at the time) was significantly lower, the Bruins have done a nice job of finding bargain defenders who come in and round out the club’s blue line depth at a low rate, while working their way up in the lineup. Lauzon is the latest ‘D’ to step into the breach, as the 2015 2nd-rounder is a hard-nosed, tough-to-play against type who moves well and has made some skill plays against the backdrop of a modest offensive output. No, he’s not 6-5 like Carlo is, but at some point, if the latter prices himself out of feasibility for the B’s, Lauzon is a player who could come in and assume a similar defensive role. Granted- Carlo is a right-shot and Lauzon is a lefty, but we’ve seen him play on the right side in the past and he’s capable of doing it, even if many coaches prefer to build L-R defensive pairings. Lauzon’s pro production is comparable to that of Carlo, and he comes in at a fraction of the cost. You obviously want to keep both in the lineup, but that’s going to be up to the guy who’s making almost $3M now and will probably be looking for $4.5-5 on his next deal in 2021. Besides, if you’re not crazy about Lauzon being up to the task, don’t forget Connor Clifton, who doesn’t have Carlo’s pure size or shutdown ability, but can fly and plays with real jam. And…he’s a righty.

Overrated: Jake DeBrusk

Look, when he’s on his game and scoring, everyone loves DeBrusk- he plays with a speed and infectious energy that is easy to fall in love with. And there is no denying that he’s scored some pretty big goals for the B’s since he broke in as a full-time player in 2017-18. However, he’s proving to be a streaky scorer and the simple question we would pose to those who don’t agree that he’s overrated is: when he isn’t scoring, what exactly is he doing out there? It’s an old hockey coach’s saw that if a player’s scoring touch dries up, then the one-dimensional guys will be the first to take a seat and ride the pine if they don’t bring something else to the table. This is why players like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are so valuable (and are paid accordingly)- they make an important impact when they aren’t generating offense. Even the most ardent DeBrusk supporter would have a hard time denying that you have to look for him when he’s not scoring (unless they’re a little deluded, that is). So, JDB has got to find a way to expand his game and bring more value to the table when he’s not scoring goals off the rush…especially if he wants to get paid.

Underrated: Cameron Hughes

We think that the B’s are wasting the window of opportunity with Hughes by keeping him at center where there is a logjam and would be much better suited to trying him at wing, where he could use his speed and creativity to generate scoring at a bargain rate. Always smallish, slight and lacking in strength going back to his days with the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints and in the NCAA, the team knew it would be a longer process to get Hughes into the NHL, but he’s been pretty effective in the AHL thus far since turning pro out of the University of Wisconsin in 2018. Hughes isn’t a volume producer offensively, but he’s tallied some pretty unreal goals over the years, and it’s much easier to take a center and make him a wing versus the other way around. With another year on a deal that pays him under $800k, why not try him in the big lineup and see what happens?

Overrated: Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak

$9.25M invested in goaltending should give you more than the Bruins got in the 2020 playoffs.

We know that both can play, but with the way things went with Rask, can the team trust him to be there when they need him? And Halak, as valiant an effort as he gave, simply wasn’t good enough to make a difference against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

It’s a lot of coin to have tied up in goaltending, and the Bruins are right to expect a better ROI. This is why no one should be surprised that trade rumors are starting to pick up around Rask. You can be opposed to the idea of moving him, but given that he’s in the final year of his contract, plus a track record of leaving the team and/or not being available at times, there should not be any kind of shock that his name is coming up at this stage.

Underrated: Jeremy Swayman

Give him some time, and a longer-term solution for the Bruins might be in house.

It would be foolish and unrealistic to think he can come in and challenge for a spot in Boston right away, but his NHL debut may not be that far away and if we’ve learned anything about the NCAA’s top goaltender, he has a proven record of performance at every level thus far, and should make a quick transition to the AHL.

Boston probably needs a temporary bridge in net this year and maybe next if they end up moving on from Rask, but Swayman is a player who should be closely watched going forward, along with dark horse prospect Kyle Keyser.

Dominic Tiano: The Dollars and Sense of the Boston Bruins Offseason

Guest post by Dominic Tiano

The Boston Bruins season didn’t end as they or their fans had hoped it would when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Bruins in 5 games in the second round of the NHL Playoffs. Since then, we’ve heard President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney talk about “change”. We’ve heard Zdeno Chara speak about wanting to return for the 2020-2021 season. And of course, there are the few words spoken from both sides of the Torey Krug situation.

Depending on where you look (and it’s more about the rosters that different cap sites use) the Bruins have around $15.5 million in cap space to use this offseason. That’s around the 10th most in the league so, there is an opportunity for some movement there.

The Bruins were charged with a performance bonus overage of $1,928,445 in which they can take the cap hit entirely during the 2020-2021 season or split it over 2 seasons. For this conversation we have chosen the latter.

Below you will see our roster comprised of players under contract, restricted free agents and players that will require waivers to be sent to the AHL or other leagues. Some of you will certainly ask “where is Karson Kuhlman?” (much to the chagrin of my fellow Amigos, he is absent). Well Kuhlman does not require waivers, that is until he plays 11 more NHL games, so it is likely he will begin the season in Providence (or elsewhere depending on which leagues will be paying).

Our roster also doesn’t include Chara, Krug or Joakim Nordstrom, all unrestricted free agents. (We don’t believe Nordstrom will be offered a contract to return).

If both Chara and Krug return, it will almost certainly cost the Bruins over 50% of the cap space they have today. That will also mean that they would have to loan two bodies to other leagues to get down to the 23-man roster. That would leave the Bruins somewhere between $5 million and $8 million to sign RFA’s Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril, Matt Grzelcyk and Zach Senyshyn. That’s certainly do-able, but leaves little to no room to improve on the forward group.

If only Chara were to return, that may paint a rosier picture as they would have in the $14 million range to sign the RFA’s and fill that green square next to Charlie McAvoy as Chara’s days there should be over and to improve on the forward group.

It is imperative that the Bruins find a way to move out John Moore and his $2,750,00 cap hit as Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon have shown they are ready to play bigger roles on the backend. Not to mention that it may be time to see if Zboril can play, even in a bottom pairing role. In the end, the extra $2.75 million can only help in improving the squad overall.

Then there is Nick Ritchie and his $1,498,925 cap hit and what to do if he is not able to break the lineup next season or has not taken the necessary steps to do so. The obvious answer would be to loan him to another league and save $1,125,000 of his cap hit. (This is an increase from last season because of the increase to the minimum league salary to $750,000. (Minimum league salary plus $375,000 is the new cap relief). This would put the Ritchie cap hit at $373,925 while costing the team $2 million in real dollars – his salary for 2020-2021.

What might make more sense for the Bruins in terms of both real dollars and in cap hit is a buyout. But because the buyout window is not yet confirmed, the Bruins would have to make a premature decision on Ritchie.

Why might it make sense?

CapFriendly and its buyout calculator will explain. Because Ritchie is under 26 and only 1/3 of his remaining salary would have to be paid, the Bruins would only have to pay $666,667 in real money. Where it gets a little complicated is the cap hit, which would be spread out over two seasons. Next season, the Bruins would receive a credit of $167,742 and a cap hit of $333,333 in 2021-2022.

Effectively what this does is removes Ritchie’s cap hit for 2020-2021 and gives them a small credit to use towards the bonus overage incurred. In other words, $1,666,667 more cap flexibility next season for a cap hit of $333,333 in 2021-2022.

Then there is the situation surrounding Tuukka Rask. Others have called it a dilemma. There are conversations among fans and media about retirement. There are many that believe the Bruins should trade him.

Certainly, any team would welcome $7 million in cap space, but in this case the Bruins would have to find another goaltender capable of carrying the load as the number one goaltender, and what is that going to cost? And if you trade him, what are you bringing back in salary and how much are you going to spend on a replacement netminder? Until Rask and the Bruins come to a decision, this is just all moot right now.

We’ve seen how performance bonuses can affect the cap. Let’s turn our attention to Rask’s partner, Jaroslav Halak. The Bruins 1-B netminder is set to earn $1,750,000 in salary for next season with a $500,000 signing bonus for a cap hit of $2,250,000. Halak is scheduled to earn a performance bonus of $1,250,000 for playing in 10 games, a bonus he will surely attain barring a season ending injury early on. The Bruins should and probably will keep an eye on that as to not have a bonus overage for 2021-2022.

No one knows for sure whether Sweeney will turn to the free agent market or go the trade route, although he is talking to other teams. He could use both options and still infuse some youth from within, for instance, Trent Frederic centering the 4th line over Par Lindholm. Jack Studnicka also showed these playoffs that he’s about ready to make a push for a roster spot.

There is certainly room for maneuvering and this should prove to be Sweeney’s most active offseason since 2015.

Bruins-Lightning Aftermath: The Better Team Won

Brad Marchand

As was the case in 2014, the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins bowed out in the second round, this time to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The series ended with a 4 games to 1 victory by the ‘Bolts, who after stumbling in periods 1-2 of Game 1, turned around and carried play for pretty much the rest of the series.

The Lightning used a combination of superior speed, skill, toughness and disruption to prevent the Bruins from ever really mounting much of a serious challenge.

Boston could have won Game 2, but the goaltending from Jaroslav Halak was average, and after losing in OT given a major momentum swing with Brad Marchand’s late equalizer, the B’s were completely overmatched in sudden death and what could have been a 2-0 series advantage, swung decidedly into Tampa’s favor.

The Bruins were blown out in Games 3-4 and though they showed some real fight in Game 5, it wasn’t enough. As he had done for much of the series, defenseman Victor Hedman ended Boston’s season with an outside shot that got through Halak with Torey Krug battling in vain at the top of the crease.

Game over, season over. What next?

The loss of Tuukka Rask two games into the playoffs certainly didn’t help, but the B’s simply didn’t get enough from their entire roster against Tampa.

There were too many passengers- not enough big-game guys to make up for the ability for Tampa to get to the net and score a lot of goals on tips, deflections and redirections.

You can’t say enough about what Zdeno Chara has meant to the Bruins franchise, but he played too much and was exposed. Jon Cooper’s crew aggressively attacked him every time he had the puck and he simply couldn’t move quickly enough or get rid of pucks fast enough without costly turnovers. It’s tough to limit the captain and 1st ballot HHOFer’s minutes, but that needed to happen and didn’t.

The Boston defense as a whole was porous and simply not effective enough at both ends of the ice. With little offensive production and too many defensive miscues to overcome, the defensive corps wasn’t able to make enough plays in front of Halak.

As for Halak, he wasn’t good enough after a strong Game 1 performance. He gave his club a chance in Game 5, but Games 2-4 were average at best, and average doesn’t win championships. Without a strong defensive effort, it was going to be a long road to hoe for the veteran Slovak, and he needed to steal a couple of games to win the series. Didn’t happen, especially given a lack of offensive support.

Aside from Marchand, Boston’s offense was consistently inconsistent and there wasn’t enough scoring from the forwards. Ondrej Kase seemed to be around pucks for grade A scoring chances, but…no finish. Jake DeBrusk’s streakiness is an issue, because if he isn’t scoring, he isn’t doing much. David Pastrnak didn’t generate enough scoring given his talent. Patrice Bergeron was great defensively, but struggled to impose his will on the offensive side. David Krejci had a critical tying goal in Game 5, but was held off the scoring for a large swath of the series. Injuries impacted Boston’s depth up front and the team simply didn’t get enough from Nick Ritchie, Kase and others they counted on to be difference makers when it mattered.  And so on.

We could go on, and in the coming days, there will be more detail spent to looking at what went wrong and where to go from here. It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially given the way things ended in 2019, but there are positives to analyze as well. Don Sweeney and Company will take the time to assess and move forward. There is no other alternative given the circumstances.

Time to let the dust settle and see what happens next. More to follow…

Brutal

Not much else to be said after the Boston Bruins dropped back-to-back games to the Tampa Bay Lightning to fall behind in the series 2 games to 1.

Jaroslav Halak wasn’t great in Game 2, and was downright brutal in Game 3, getting the hook after four goals allowed.

But he had a lot of help- the team could have won Game 2, but squandered the opportunity and then was listless, with no push in Game 3, especially when falling behind early.

Sure, the on-ice officials certainly didn’t help matters with a ticky-tack call that led to a power play goal head coach Bruce Cassidy called out after the game. Then there was the egregious interference by the linesman on Jeremy Lauzon at the defensive blue line which led to another goal.

The Bruins just couldn’t get out of first gear, and Dan Vladar’s NHL debut in relief of Halak looked more like Malcolm Subban’s first taste of big league action as the team did very little in front of him and the ‘Bolts’ goals kept piling up.

The Boston PK needs help- it is too passive and the goaltending hasn’t helped, but the series will be over quickly if the B’s don’t A. find a way to stay out of the box, and B. employ a more aggressive scheme to disrupt and prevent Tampa from setting up- their offensive shooters are killing it. And, this is a team that doesn’t have Steven Stamkos in the lineup, either.

Boston needs to find a way to slow down Tampa’s speed game through the neutral zone and must get a better performance from the defense, which has been far too loose and ineffective in the last several games, including the third period of Game 1.

It’s just a 2-1 deficit but given the way the last two games have gone, it seems like much worse of a situation for the B’s. It’s time to see what the team can do to respond. Perhaps putting sparkplug Karson Kuhlman into the lineup and bringing Connor Clifton will give them some needed juice.

No place to go but up.

Anthony Kwetkowski: B’s-Lightning Series Analysis

Here’s a guest post written by Anthony Kwetkowski of Bruins Network where he takes on several areas of the Bruins-Lightning matchup and gives his thoughts on what could happen. The B’s are up 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, but things can change quickly. Our thanks to AK for contributing this piece.- KL

Style of Play:

As opposed to the Carolina Hurricanes, knocked off by Boston in five games, Tampa plays with similar speed, but also more precision and skill. Tampa, while able to play a similar run and gun style to Carolina,  thrives along the boards, working the puck inwards toward the attacking zone. In certain cases, this style will work with and against Boston— I’ll elaborate. For some of Boston’s slower players, Zdeno Chara and Nick Ritchie, Carolina’s runs and gun style really seemed to overwhelm and render them ineffective at times.

This precision style has a chance to be a better matchup for Chara and Ritchie because of their positioning and size. Tampa, as they work the puck inwards from the boards, will have to work a bit harder to get the puck through the likes of someone like Chara who’s as positionally sound as they come. Ritchie, who was simply ineffective against Carolina, is looking for a rebound series as he’s slated to play in Game One. He’s not nearly as sound as Chara, but he does possess good reflexes and hand-eye coordination, which might help him be effective in this series. Not saying these players will prevail, but I definitely see the line of thinking from Boston by inserting Ritchie again right now.

 

Skill:

In terms of pure, natural skill and talent, Tampa usually receives the nomination over Boston in these categories, but I think it’s closer than some suggest. While Tampa obviously has the ultra-skilled types in Kucherov, Stamkos*, Point, Hedman, Sergachev, Cirelli and more, Boston has their own ultra-skilled types in Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, McAvoy, Krug, Krejci and now Kase. Tampa’s deadline additions, Coleman and Goodrow, will certainly be useful in their quest to compete with Boston’s middle-six types in Coyle, Bjork, DeBrusk, Kase and Ritchie. However, I think Boston is actually on par with Tampa is regards to skill, they just possess skill in different areas.

Boston obviously has their heralded “perfection line” leading the charge, but what about David Krejci? He was arguably Boston’s best player in the Carolina series and that bodes very well for them. Krejci, in my opinion, has been playing like a No. 1 center throughout the playoffs thus far and that presents a problem for Tampa. Though shutting down Bergeron’s line can heavily influence a series, that’s not nearly as pressing if lines two and three are rolling on all cylinders. Krejci and Coyle have both been dominate, so that presents quite the mismatch for Tampa as Boston’s redundancy plan is currently in full effect.

Size:

With a defensive core largely compiled with players standing over 6’1”, Tampa has more size than Boston does. This is definitely part of the reasoning to roll with Ritchie in the lineup to start as well. I don’t think size is as important in this series as some are suggesting, Boston will have their hands full— they can handle it. How? Well, the same way they’ve been handling it, by grinding and hustling by the likes of Coyle, DeBrusk, Kuraly, Clifton, Nordstrom, Wagner, Marchand and McAvoy. These players stood out in the Carolina series and possess the necessary elements to combat Tampa’s size.

Goaltending:

Unfortunately for Boston, Tuukka Rask opted out of the playoffs in the middle of the Carolina series, citing personal and family reasons. Rask, who historically performs very well against Tampa, won’t be available for this series, leaving Jaroslav Halak as the No. 1 starter moving forward. While Halak ultimately got it done against Carolina, he needs to be sharper and has his work cut out for him against Tampa. I think Tampa definitely has the goaltending edge right now, especially since Halak was shaky and inconsistent against a lesser opponent in Carolina. I expect to see Tampa test Halak early and often, which might prove to be problematic in the series. Boston needs to try and limit the amount of rubber that Halak sees by clogging passing lanes and thwarting Tampa’s high-end precision plays.

Outcome:

Before Rask had opted out, I’d probably have decidedly picked Boston to win, but without him? I think there are concerns for goaltending. Could Halak return to mid-season form quicker than he’s on track for currently? That’s the million dollar question and if he does, then I think he can handle Tampa. It won’t be easy, though, especially if the teams have to play back-to-back games in G6 and G7. Goaltending aside, I think the Bruins have an overall edge to Tampa and will be performing better than some are giving them credit for. Remember, this is two seasons in a row now that the Columbus Blue Jackets have given Tampa fits. Tampa ultimately won this time around, but that high-end grinding game really wears them down.

Columbus plays a style similar to Boston, but with less talent and less efficiency, in my opinion. That’s why Boston beat a better Columbus team last year in six games. These grinding elements are persistent in Boston’s game and Tampa will absolutely have their hands full. If Boston can play to their potential and fire on all cylinders, I predict they will ultimately defeat the Tampa Bay Lighting.

*Steven Stamkos has been battling some injuries in recent months and who knows what his availability will be. As of this moment, he’s not expected to be ready.

Bruins drew first blood thanks to Halak

Halak

That’s the way (uh huh uh huh) Halak it (uh huh uh huh)

With apologies to 70’s disco icon Harry Casey aka KC (and his Sunshine Band), Jaroslav Halak was the difference in a 3-2 Boston Bruins victory in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the second-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning.

He shut out the ‘Bolts for nearly 50 minutes, putting up a especially impressive second period whitewash with the Bruins up by a pair of goals by Charlie Coyle (late in the 1st) and David Pastrnak, allowing the Black and Gold to go up by three on Brad Marchand’s early third period tally.

A pair of Victor Hedman goals, the first of which was certainly stoppable, weren’t enough for Tampa to complete a comeback, giving the B’s a crucial win to bolster their confidence.

Halak, thrust into the spotlight after Tuukka Rask left the team and Toronto bubble to attend to important family matters, is showing just how valuable he is by providing the Bruins with a 1a-caliber starting backup. With a lesser No. 2 on the roster, Rask’s sudden departure would have been a death sentence. Instead, Halak is reminding everyone of his first NHL playoff foray a decade ago, when he was integral in helping the Montreal Canadiens reach the conference final, upsetting the heavily-favored Washington Capitals that spring, the 2009-10 President’s Trophy-winning squad.

Halak won’t win many contests on style points, but he gets the job done. A throwback type netminder who is well below the NHL’s height average, Halak is a pure battler who uses his instincts to square up, set his feet and let pucks hit him. He might not operate with the cool, Ice Man-like demeanor of Rask, but he’s been lights-out since stepping into the starter’s crease in Game 3 of the B’s-Carolina series, winning 4 straight contests.

Halak is just the fourth goalie over age 35 to post four straight playoff dubs for the B’s, joining esteemed company in Gerry Cheevers, Eddie Johnston and Tim Thomas.

The B’s didn’t execute a textbook gameplan on Sunday; they were in control and cruising but sagged in the last 10 minutes and opened the door for their opponent. They’ve got to tighten up defensively, and for the love of Pete- work on hitting an empty net!

But, in this case at least, their goalie was the difference- the x factor. Halak bent but didn’t break- and if not for him, Boston would not have had a strong lead to protect.

Not since the days of Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin has the team enjoyed a one-two punch of veteran goalies who can deliver the wins at crunch time.

There’s room for improvement, but for now, Halak is getting it done. The rest of the team has an opportunity to follow suit, as we have yet to see the best hockey from this group, who were the NHL’s top team when the league got paused in March.