Podcasting New England Hockey Journal’s Annual Bruins Prospects Review: Pro list

Heinen

As promised, back with part 2 of the podcasts, bringing you the outlook on the pro players in the Boston Bruins organization.

It’s a pretty solid group from top to bottom, with a couple of forwards and a goaltender at the top, along with a mix of all positions in between.

Hope you enjoy the rundown- as always- we appreciate the support for the blog!

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Rookie report: Bruins-Blue Jackets 10/13/16

Here’s a quick look at how the newest Boston Bruins fared in their NHL debuts.

This is by no means an all-encompassing assessment, but more of some quick observations intended for those who couldn’t see the game or did and either saw some of the same things or might have caught some things I didn’t cover here. It’s also subjective analysis, so there are sure to be disagreements with how I broke the film down. That’s fine…ultimately, we’re in it for discussion or dialogue. This is not intended to be the final word on any of these players, especially after just one game that counts to draw from.

Enjoy.

Rob O’Gara, RD– He played the fewest minutes and didn’t make many costly mistakes. With O’Gara, less is more, so on the plus side, he showed some poise with the puck in terms of moving it to the right teammates to break the play out (for the most part) and played within his limitations. He snuck a wrist shot in on Sergei Bobrovsky in the third period that would have found the far corner of the net- the CBJ’s netminder was able to see the shot so perhaps with traffic in front of the net, O’Gara might have hit the back of the net in his first NHL contest.

On the down side, he tried to do too much at times, giving up position to chase the play and leaving Tuukka Rask without coverage. He forced a couple of passes and was guilty of contributing to a few turnovers, but nothing egregious that ended up with a Blue Jackets score. That’s all pretty minor stuff when you consider that he played within himself and didn’t try to be something he’s not. O’Gara is the Danton Heinen of the defensive youngsters- he’s not as flashy as some of the others, but he’s smart and effective. That’s what the Bruins needed more than anything, even if he had just 13 minutes in change and was protected in terms of the workload.

Brandon Carlo, RD- Like O’Gara, you have to take the good with the bad. He was a little jumpy out of the gate and just needed some time to settle in. He was slow at times to pick up coverage and react to the offensive flow in his own end, on the ice for a power play goal against and again when Seth Jones scored to give the home team a 3-1 lead. On that particular play, Carlo had two chances to get the puck out, but he put both weak clearing attempts (the first bounced back to him for a mulligan, but repeated his mistake) into players with blue uniforms. Instead of clearing the zone, the puck eventually got to Matt Beleskey, who was guilty of turning the play over to Jones for the tally, but it all started with Carlo, and Zdeno Chara as well…both of them had opportunities to make the right defensive plays that would’ve prevented the Jones goal but failed to do so.

On the plus side, he showed much promise with his mobility and play along the blue line. The first Backes goal happened in large part because Carlo knocked a clearing attempt out of the air and held the zone, allowing for the Bruins to keep the offensive pressure on Columbus. If he was a few inches shorter, he probably can’t make that play. He also notched his 1st NHL point by getting the puck in his own end and moving it to Brad Marchand as the Boston sniper was exiting the zone. It ended up being a lone helper on Marchand’s highlight reel, individual effort to score his second goal of the night. As said on this space and on the recent Dump N’ Chase podcast with ESPN New Hampshire’s Mike Grinnell, when you’re dealing with a 19-year-old defenseman in the NHL, there will be ups and downs, and while Carlo made some more obvious mistakes out there than O’Gara did, you can certainly see his potential going forward.

Austin Czarnik, C– With his speed and hands, the undrafted free agent was absolutely noticeable out there, but didn’t have much to show for it on the score sheet. He did not do well on faceoffs, and had trouble getting through traffic in the offensive zone to set up consistent scoring chances. He’s building chemistry with linemates Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes, so it’s too early to definitively assess whether that unit works or not, but with Patrice Bergeron potentially not going back into the lineup against Toronto, we should see another kick at the can. TSP thought the call against him, which led to the Columbus power play goal, was soft- it was a marginal, ticky-tack kind of infraction that NHL referees tend to assess against young players but don’t have the stones to call against veterans. Oh well.

Because of his skill set, Czarnik was noticeable and he deserves to be up with the big club, but there’s room for improvement. He needs to use his east-west lateral shiftiness a little more and find ways to get pucks to the net. Boston’s Little Czar of Hockey has the talent and intelligence to be a fine player in his own right.

Danton Heinen, RW- On the surface, he didn’t accomplish much and like Czarnik was hit with a nothingburger of a penalty, but showed off his impressive vision and soft hands/deft passing touch in several instances. It’s easy to watch the game and deduce that he didn’t accomplish anything, but where we saw flashes of promise going forward was in how he helped the possession game by handling backside pressure and moving the puck decisively and smartly throughout the game. As said before, Heinen is not like Czarnik, who is fun to watch because he can scoot and plays with that uptempo style that is noticeable…the rookie Boston winger will look one way and go the other and likes to slow things down and make a more deliberate play. Both styles work, but one player looks like he’s getting more done, even if he isn’t.

The B’s prevailed in their season opener mostly on the back of key veteran leaders and contributors. It’s a good reminder about why NHL teams don’t clear the decks of half their experienced lineups to make wholesale changes with untested and raw rookie/youngsters. While there was much to be encouraged about, we didn’t see the kind of performances that would lend themselves to thinking that all four will stay on the roster over the long haul going forward, but they proved they can play at this level. Even as veterans start to return and the coaches/management staff have to make decisions, the ability to see them in an audition setting is good news for the Bruins going forward.

Overall, it was a solid and encouraging showing that is sure to boost some confidence, especially presiding over a win in his first big league game. Had the B’s lost, you know that talk would have shifted to the number of young, inexperienced players in the lineup and the effect their mistakes had on the team’s performance, but the two points started it all out on the right foot.

Time to go- Bruins raise curtains on 93rd season with new faces, youth movement

New Englanders tend to be realistic (pessimistic?) by nature, so while the focus has been on the defense and the potential for gaping lanes that skill teams will find available to them, as the 2016-17 NHL season begins for the Boston Bruins tonight in Columbus, Ohio, there’s some excitement swirling around the big league debuts of four players in the lineup.

Injuries to Patrice Bergeron, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller have opened the door for a pair of forwards in Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen, and a defense duo of Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara to get their first taste of NHL action against the Blue Jackets. Bergeron is expected back in the lineup for the weekend action versus Toronto and rookie sensation Auston Matthews, who last night became the only player ever to score four goals in his first NHL game. McQuaid and Miller will be out a little (in the former’s case, a lot for the latter) longer, so we temper the eagerness with which we greet the young rookies with the belief that perhaps half of them have a realistic chance of staying on Boston’s roster for the duration of the season.

In Czarnik, the B’s have a fast and skilled little (emphasis needed) center who was snubbed in the NHL draft, but looks like a pretty savvy pickup after four years at Miami University, the last two of which he wore the captain’s ‘C’. He took a high hit from behind that targeted the head in the final preseason game by Philadelphia defenseman Radko Gudas (he got a six-game layoff from the NHL’s department of player safety) but cleared the concussion protocol in time to play in his first big league game. Czarnik is a classic little engine that could as a player who always had to overcome size bias to work harder than just about everyone else to hone his skills and three zone game. After a 61-point first year in the AHL, he’s made the initial cut to stick in Boston, and that’s the stuff NHL dreams are truly made of. Czarnik is an exciting buzzsaw of a forward- he zips in and out of lanes and can put the shake n’ bake on less-agile defenders. When the puck is on his stick, he brings a similar kind of playing style to that of Brad Marchand. Note- we’re not saying he is the next Marchand, but you can see it in the way he uses his speed, vision and hands to create and give opponents fits. He’s not the abrasive agitator Marchand is, but Czarnik is a big man trapped in a little man’s body who plays the game with heart and energy. Fans love an underdog, and when coupled with Czarnik’s electrifying offensive element, it’s not hard to understand why so many are jumping on the AC Train.

More was expected of Heinen and he entered training camp as a prohibitive favorite to win a spot with the big club, but he is also a feel-good story. Passed over in his first year of NHL draft eligibility in 2013, the British Columbia native hit a significant growth spurt and then opened eyes as captain of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles. The Bruins liked Heinen enough to snatch him in the 2014 draft’s fourth round despite his being an almost complete unknown in NHL draft pubs. The rumor at the time was that several other teams were hoping to steal Heinen later on, not the least of which was none other than the Montreal Canadiens. That story isn’t verified, but damn- it feels good to B’s fans to hear it. Heinen is a thinking fan’s hockey player- he’s not especially fast or dazzling in the way he handles the puck, but he goes to the right spots, moves it to the correct spaces and plays a quietly effective and productive three-zone game. He’s the quintessential Claude Julien-style forward because he’s both intelligent and efficient. If you’re expecting to be entertained by Heinen, you’ll probably wonder what the hype is about, but if you watch the wall work, the way he slices through layers of defenses and puts himself in position to make plays at both ends of the ice, you’ll gain an appreciation for him.

On the defensive side of things, Carlo is a favorite of those B’s fans who religiously follow the NHL draft and Boston’s prospect development system. Picked 37th overall in 2015, he looks like a brilliant pick in hindsight as his natural 6-foot-5-inch size, mobility and reach instantly jump out at you. Back in 1997, a young Hal Gill caught the eye of fans because he was 6-7, and was the biggest cat in the NHL before some guy named Zdeno Chara showed up on Long Island about a year later. The thing about Carlo is that while he’s not quite as tall as Gill, he’s a better skater and has long arms, therefore brings a similar reach. Fans are excited about Carlo because he’s big and fluid and does a real good job of keeping opposing forwards from walking straight to the net…a turnstile he is not. The jury is out on how much offensive hockey sense/creativity Carlo has, but he’s certainly not limited in terms of being able to handle the puck and join the rush. Having said all that, there will be natural growing pains as is with the case with any 19-year-old defenseman, but to the Coloradan’s credit, he impressed a year ago in his first NHL training camp and exhibition season and then carried that forward to make the Boston Bruins before age 20. He’s not a snarly, intimidating beast on the physical side, but he will rub guys out and is sure to be well-liked in the dressing room because he’s got an even-keeled personality.

Last but not least is O’Gara- a TSP personal favorite going back to 2010-11 when he left the Long Island Royals AAA midget program to win a prep championship with the Milton Academy Mustangs. The B’s drafted him with the final selection of the fifth round, and he was described by then-assistant GM Don Sweeney as a “big piece of clay” that required a great deal of molding and shaping. Five years later, the 23-year-old Yale grad might not be a finished product, but he’s close enough and tonight will earn a status no one can take away from him- NHL player. O’Gara is a good skater- it’s less about speed and stride with him than it is fluid and agile footwork, which allows him to pivot and change direction quickly and efficiently. He’s got size and reach…and he can make an effective outlet pass to aid in the transition game. Like Carlo, there are sure to be mistakes and mishaps, but O’Gara is smart and motivated- he’s a quick study and character guy who has been around long enough that he understands the system and is ready to prove himself. It might mean more of an apprenticeship in Providence when other players return, but for now, O’Gara has earned the opportunity and will begin on the second pairing with Torey Krug on the right side (ROG shoots left, so it speaks volumes about the level of trust he’s earned that the Boston coaching staff is fine with him playing his “off” side).

David Backes will skate on a line tonight with Marchand and David Pastrnak if nothing changes between now and puck drop, and with Bergeron out (albeit temporarily), maybe bringing in an experienced veteran center wasn’t such a bad idea after all. David Krejci has a great deal to prove, and with Heinen and Ryan Spooner flanking him, there’s no shortage of offensive creativity on that unit. Spooner’s speed is a welcome addition to the lessened pace of Krejci and Heinen, but the trio provide quite an intriguing matchup on paper. All three of them are or have been centers before, so that’s a line that gives Julien a lot of flexibility and versatility.

Czarnik will likely test his NHL mettle with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. Beleskey doesn’t have the high-end skill to put up big numbers (and he’d be on the top two lines in any event if that were the case) but he’s gritty and should develop some chemistry with Czarnik. Hayes is the wild card- the B’s desperately need a revival from him this season much like Reilly Smith had with Florida a year ago. It would be foolish to think that Hayes doesn’t want to make it work in Boston, but he’ll have to shrug off the external pressures and get down to the basics by just doing what he does best. He doesn’t have either of his linemates’ wheels, so it will be interesting to see if they have some set plays to leverage Hayes as a trailer into the zone with his soft hands and big shot.

Tim Schaller is back up with Boston with Bergeron out and may get a chance to skate with Noel Acciari and Dominic Moore, but the guess here is that Riley Nash will round out the fourth line. It’s not a nasty unit in terms of abundant physicality, but they’ll all grind it out and bring some veteran smarts to go with Acciari’s exuberance.

Defensively, the Bruins need their veterans- Chara, Krug and John-Michael Liles– to provide some glue for the younger guys- Carlo (Chara), O’Gara (Krug) and Colin Miller (Liles) as they shake out the butterflies and deal with the immense difference in speed, skill and pace from what they are used to. Chiller got enough action in last year, and Joe Morrow is also around to step in should anyone get hurt or falter, but this is an untested bunch and the biggest source of consternation with the 2016-17 Bruins.

Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin were the tandem in Boston’s net the last time the B’s went to the Stanley Cup final series in 2013, so there are no concerns with the talent or experience. They can’t carry a team on their backs, though- so everyone will have to row hard in the same direction. If the talent gap becomes too great, then Sweeney will have to act at some point.

That’s all going to have to wait for the time being, because this is what the B’s are going with to begin the new season.

As the Dropkick Murphys so aptly like to belt out- drop the puck…it’s time to go. (Thanks BruinsBabe176)

B’s rookies making hay in preseason

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Help coming in the form of Brandon Carlo? He’s ready for the NHL grind.(Kirk Luedeke photo)

The Boston Bruins iced a largely untested lineup Thursday against a more experienced and closer-to-opening-night roster in Columbus versus the Blue Jackets, and the kids skated away with a 2-1 regulation victory.

After carrying play for the first 40 minutes, the Baby B’s found themselves on their heels a bit- they did get goals from Matt Beleskey (1st period on a deflection of a Colin Miller point shot) and Seth Griffith (on a beautiful sauce pass from Jake DeBrusk) to make it 2-0 Boston in the third.  When Brandon Saad beat the D with his speed and Malcolm Subban with a bullet shot to make it 2-1, the home team put on a furious surge, but Subban proved up to the task and stopped everything else that came his way including a last-second Zach Werenski would-be equalizer.

After the game, Boston head coach Claude Julien was effusive in his praise of multiple young players, with most of his positive waves going to defenseman Brandon Carlo and DeBrusk. We’re less than a week from the start of the 2016-17 regular season, and you have to think that Julien was encouraged by what he saw last night on the road. Sure- veterans with bigger-ticket contracts will still likely benefit from the economic reality and make the team ahead of young, lower-cost guys who can go down to Providence without being exposed on waivers, but one of the more important purposes of these exhibition games is to give the coaches a sense of who they would want in the lineup should a veteran get injured, underperform or find himself headed out of Boston in a trade or transaction. The B’s win over Columbus likely earned some respect, even if it may not have been enough to solidify NHL roster spots for a few of the standouts.

Even though many observers tend to seek an egalitarian viewpoint when it comes to deciding who makes it and who goes down, not to mention a natural, shall we call it- an “implicit bias” to want to see shiny new toys up with the NHL club, the league’s salary cap system often makes that a tough balancing act. It is easy to blame coaches like Julien for wanting to ice “binkies” (read: safe, experienced but low-upside veterans)- in lieu of accepting risk with younger, more skilled guys who are also more prone to making mistakes and potentially costing the team points.

The truth is- it isn’t that simple, and management/ownership gets a vote, too. Right or wrong- it doesn’t make sense to spend millions of dollars on one-way contracts in the minors and while you can criticize the wisdom of signing players like Riley Nash and Dominic Moore, there is no shortage of fans and media types who would have blasted the team for putting too much stock in young, untested players. NHL teams have always hedged against putting too much trust in the youth movement, it’s just that the modern era of cost certainty makes some of those moves look bad in hindsight. At the same time, just because a rookie plays well in the preseason does not mean he’s ready for primetime (Cameron Mann, anyone?). And so- it does become a balancing act in terms of deciding whether the value lies in having a young player with the NHL team in a smaller role but benefiting from being at the highest level and immersed in that big league culture on and off the ice, or whether he’s better off playing more minutes in expanded situations in the AHL. Because entry-level contracts are two-way deals, it makes more economic sense in many instances for management and coaches to send the player down for more seasoning at the ‘AAA’ equivalent level.

Having said that, here are many of the Boston rookies (or at least those still with the team as of today) and where we think they stand as the team will make its final cuts in the coming days and ice a lineup next week that will undoubtedly look different from the one that will take the ice in Game 82. Whether the B’s will be looking forward to the postseason at that point or we’re headed back to the drawing board for another disappointing offseason is the great hockey adventure that will unfold over the next six months.

The locks (or who we think will see action in Boston at some point in 2016-17, even if they don’t make the NHL roster out of camp)

Noel Acciari, C- This versatile forward played 19 NHL games with the B’s to close out 2015-16 and is already a trusted agent with the coaching staff. His challenge is to make the opening night roster with the additions of other similar, but more experienced NHLers having been brought in during the summer months. We think he can do it, but going back down to Providence for a spell might help refine this more defensive, grinding center’s offensive skills. He hits hard, but clean and has been a revelation after being one of multiple free agent signings in the spring of 2015.

Brandon Carlo, D- The B’s are lean on right-shooting defenders, so while the soon-to-be 20-year-old is pretty green and raw yet, with his size, reach and mobility- he just might have done enough to grab a roster spot out of the gate. Even if the 2015 second-rounder (acquired with the first of two draft picks for Johnny Boychuk) doesn’t earn his way into the top-six defensive rotation on opening night, we expect that he’s close and should get an opportunity to see playing time when inevitable injuries or other situations occur. He shouldn’t be seen as a dominant two-way D/savior kind of player, but he’s still developing and could eventually become a solid NHL No. 3 who already has advanced shutdown type potential.

Austin Czarnik, F- What else can we say about the little buzzsaw who keeps opening eyes around the organization? Czarnik might be just 5-9 (barely…and that’s in skates), but he’s a speed demon who has the creativity and puck skills to be an offensive threat while is smart and defensively aware enough to thrive in Julien’s system. The biggest question with Czarnik is whether he’ll make it as a center or be employed at wing, where he’s been practicing, but the Bruins love versatile guys who can play anywhere. He was called up late last season but didn’t make his NHL debut. This year, he’s going to get into the historical ledger at some point, even if his role is yet to be determined.

Danton Heinen, F- The first-year pro has been a nom du jour in Boston hockey circles for a while now, as he put up two very good NCAA seasons with Denver University before signing last April. He’s not flashy or dynamic the way Czarnik is…Heinen doesn’t have the seek-and-destroy (without headhunting) mentality of Acciari or Beleskey, either…but he’s fast enough to make plays at both ends and strong enough to excel in the wall work and net-front power needed for the modern NHL. Just when you start to say to yourself “what does this guy do?” he’ll make a sweet dish or bury a quick strike to the back of the net. Julien loves guys like Heinen, and the organization has been highly impressed with Heinen’s mature and refined game for some time now. With Frank Vatrano in recovery from foot surgery, opportunities are there for players like Heinen to take advantage of.

On the cusp (don’t count them out, but likely headed to Providence to begin the season)

Jake DeBrusk, LW- It’s no secret that we’ve been bullish on DeBrusk since before the 2015 draft and perhaps Bruins fans are starting to see flashes of why after he suffered through an agonizing injury last year that left stat watchers ignorantly ranting about him on Twitter and the Internets. Part of why DeBrusk has caught flack in some circles of Boston fandom is something completely foolish that he can’t control- the old covetous attitude of wanting different players taken at the 14th spot instead of him. That’s life and sports- and to be honest- there is an honest argument to be made for several guys whom Boston could have had, but didn’t, Unfortunately, that kind of what-if stuff is counter productive, so have it, but you won’t see it here at TSP. Instead- DeBrusk continues to show off a high-end creativity and offensive skill that saw him net 41 goals in his draft year. Last night’s pass to Griffith for the game-winner was subtle and perfect- he protected the puck from the defender who was hooking and obstructing him to no avail. DeBrusk pulled away and then put it in the one spot his teammate could get to it and fire the shot home. That was a hockey player’s move and DeBrusk is a hockey player. He’s got some rounding out to do in his game and should get a chance to do that in the AHL rather than being forced into the NHL’s bright lights right away.

Sean Kuraly, F- Czarnik’s Miami University (the Brotherhood!) teammate was acquired on June 30, 2015 in the deal that sent Martin Jones to San Jose. He’s a big guy who can skate quite well for his size and has underrated hands, but probably lacks the higher-end vision and hockey IQ to be a top-six NHL forward. Having said that, the Ohio native brings the kind of traits to the table that the Bruins value: he’s heavy on the puck, willing to grind and take hits needed to gain and maintain puck possession and will go to the greasy areas of the ice. He’s been impressive after a pretty lackluster senior year scoring-wise in which more was expected, but a member of the Bruins organization told TSP back when the team acquired him that they envisioned him as a 3rd or 4th-line checking winger, so in that regard- Kuraly is on target. Because he can go down to Providence without being put on waivers, he’ll likely need that chance to play and develop rather than be a spare part in Boston, but he could get a shot at the big time at some point.

Rob O’Gara, D- We agonized over putting the 23-year-old Yale product in the locks section, but in the end- the belief here is that he’s more valuable in the AHL soaking up big minutes in all situations and developing under Kevin Dean rather than sitting in the press box in Boston. Barring a rash of injuries, O’Gara needs to be playing a lot at this stage and he’ll get that chance in Providence moreso than if he slots into Boston, where the left side is pretty well established between Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, John-Michael Liles and even Christian Ehrhoff, who is in on a tryout but is a left-shooting D. O’Gara’s going to be a good one- he’s shown that time and time again in college, his brief AHL look last spring and in a few impressive spots here in the preseason. But, we don’t think his NHL time is quite now.

Malcolm Subban, G- Give him some credit- the first-round pick in 2012 showed some poise and moxie against Columbus in preserving the win he was handed when he came into the game after Anton Khudobin. Tuukka Rask and Khudobin are Boston’s 1-2 goalies this year, but Subban is showing the coaches that he’s got the stuff to come up and be a backup goalie if someone should get hurt. He’s such an athlete…but that’s also been the knock on him, as he tends to overcompensate for flaws in his technique through his athleticism. As he continues to gain experience and get better in dealing with in-game situations, Subban is looking more and more like he could one day start to fulfill the potential Boston saw enough of in him to grab him where they did. But, he’s also hit setbacks in each and every year of his pro hockey career, so this is huge season for him to stay healthy and be ready to go if Boston needs him.

Not likely

Brian Ferlin, RW- He’s a good guy and you feel for him given the concussion he suffered in April 2015 and its lingering effects. Unfortunately, Ferlin brings a certain lower-line appeal in a sea of players who have the same style and relatively low ceiling. He’s a big-bodied winger who has some untapped offensive tools (he was Kuraly’s USHL teammate with the Indiana Ice), but needs more time to work that out in the AHL- the B’s can’t really afford to keep him around based on the talent and experience levels of others fighting for the same position on the team.

Don’t forget about…

Seth Griffith, RW- He’s technically not a rookie, but he’s still in the mix and last night backed up what he’s been good at (at least in the AHL)- finding  the back of the net. We still can’t help but think he’s a ‘tweener, but he does have sweet hands and a good offensive mind. Ultimately, he’d have to be put on waivers to be sent down to the AHL, so that could mean the Bruins will keep him at the expense of someone else who doesn’t have to clear. Or- he could be included in some kind of trade package going forward. Either way, Griffith is still scrapping for a job and that’s a credit to him after he got injured a year ago and lost his shot at the NHL. He’s a superb player for Providence, but the jury is still very much out as to whether that excellence can translate to the highest level.

Bruins extend Marchand to team-friendly deal; drop 1st preseason game in SO

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Brad Marchand looks to be a Bruin for life after re-signing for eight more years effective in 2017 (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Monday was an exciting day for the Boston Bruins and their fans, as news of the long-awaited Brad Marchand extension popped in the morning to the tune of eight years and $49 million, with an average annual cap hit/value of $6.125 million. That comes in under projections, many of which had the former 2006 third-rounder exceeding $7M per season.

The term is perhaps the only sticking point; the new contract expires when Marchand is 37, and is a bit risky- but the reality is that the B’s not only have locked in their top goal scorer (37 goals) with their top player, Patrice Bergeron (who wears No. 37) in the prime years of his career, all spent in Boston since breaking in as a full-time NHLer in the 2010-11 season.

This is a big win for GM Don Sweeney, John Ferguson Jr. and the Bruins- after Marchand’s outstanding showing at the World Cup of Hockey in the past couple of weeks, there was buzz that his chemistry with Sidney Crosby might see the Pittsburgh Penguins come calling, but the reality is- the Bruins and Marchand had been working on this extension for weeks. It was something the B’s knew needed to get done and Sweeney set about doing it, breaking up each year with a blend of salary and signing bonuses. The signing bonus ($24M of the $49M total compensation package over the life of the contract) is interesting because it is guaranteed during a work stoppage where the standard base salary is not. It also allowed the team to break up Marchand’s compensation structure in that he is getting front-loaded pay to the tune of $8M per season in the first couple of years, and then it goes down to $7M, $6M and $5M at various points per before closing out at $4M at the end. Those numbers combine to lower the cap hit to a manageable AAV.

Bottom line: the B’s have both Marchand and Bergeron ($6.825 AAV), their top two forwards, under long-term contracts for just a combined $13M. When you compare that to other top duos around the league- mainly Chicago’s Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane combo of $10.5M AAVs for $21M total per annum- it’s pretty solid work by Boston’s front office.

Marchand has proven he’s a huge piece of this team’s fortunes, and he’s also grown up considerably after putting himself in difficult situations on and off the ice in his junior career and earlier in his Boston years. Last year, he was the MVP (in our view here) and with goal scoring at a premium, he’s shown that he’s absolutely worth the commitment. Boston needs to get more production (and health) out of David Krejci ($7.25M AAV), but Marchand and Bergeron represent some impressive savings that Sweeney can leverage elsewhere on the roster.

Marchand could no doubt have gotten more on the open market if he had held out, but the pride of Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia has found a home in Boston and wanted to stay. He’s certainly not getting paid peanuts, but he earned this deal and he’s taken the kind of contract that will help his team be competitive, rather than force the B’s to break the bank.

Fans have every reason to be excited.

***

The first preseason game is in the books, and the B’s kids dropped a shootout contest to the Columbus Blue Jackets after Danton Heinen deflected a Brandon Carlo point shot home to tie the game 2-2 early in the 3rd period.

It’s probably apropos that these two combined on the tying goal because they’re the ones who are thought to have the best chance of making the Bruins out of camp of the new crew of rookies. Carlo is huge, mobile and played a poised and effective game last night that drew post-contest raves from Boston assistant and former Providence Bruins bench boss Butch Cassidy. Heinen is just so smart and you can see his hockey sense on display with the way he works the walls and the front of the net. He had a memorable assist against the New Jersey Devils rookies on a Jake DeBrusk goal by going in for the puck then backing out for the return pass and feeding it over to DeBrusk for the one-timer. That vision, anticipation and soft passing touch are why we’ve been pumping Heinen’s tires here at TSP and could very well land him an NHL job right away given Frank Vatrano’s recent foot surgery (which happened yesterday, btw- start the three-month recovery clock now).

Carlo is so big and smooth- he’s not going to come in and dominate as a major two-way threat, but he’s showing that he could earn a role with the big club right away and help to stabilize the right side, unless the coaches feel that top minutes in Providence takes priority. He’ll have the rest of the preseason to determine that decision, but so far so good.

Jimmy Hayes scored Boston’s other goal off a nice pass from DeBrusk- he’s been impressive at the rookie camp as well and is probably ticketed for Providence (but don’t be surprised to see him in Boston at some point).

Anton Khudobin started the game and gave up two goals in two periods, while Zane McIntyre played the third and 3-on-3 overtime periods before giving up Sam Gagner’s shootout goal to end it. He looked poised and effective, which is a needed shot for his confidence going into the new season.

Heinen

 

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series 2: the Right Wings

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

After a bit of a hiatus, we’re back to continue the 2016-17 Boston Bruins season preview by breaking down each position and analyzing where the B’s sit going into the new hockey campaign.

We started out with the centers, and if you haven’t seen it yet and listened to the companion podcast, you can check that out here.

Today, we’re looking at the right wings- another pretty solid position of strength for the B’s. Loui Eriksson is gone, having signed with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1, but the B’s signed David Backes from the St. Louis Blues on the same day. The conventional thought is that Backes will remain in his capacity as a center, but with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci solidly established as the 1-2 punch up the middle, it makes quite a bit of sense that the B’s will take their 5-year, $30 million investment and put him over on the right side with Bergeron and left wing Brad Marchand, who tallied 37 goals last season.

Expected to skate on the right side with Krejci is fellow Czech and David- David Pastrnak. After an electrifying NHL debut in the latter half of the 2014-15 NHL season, the 25th overall pick in 2014 struggled out of the gate last year and then was felled by a foot injury that cost him about 30 games and much of his offensive jump and effectiveness. This is an important season for the David Squared duo, as a healthy and productive Krejci and Pastrnak will be needed to take some of the pressure off of the top line.

Third line is where there could be some opportunities for change. Right now, Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes is the guy to fill that spot on paper. Even with the disappointing season a year ago, Hayes should not be written off yet. Consistency was the biggest thing with the 6-5, 215-pound former second-round pick in 2008. When on his game, Hayes is capable of scoring goals and adding offense both off the rush and in close where he uses his gigantic frame and long arms to pounce on loose pucks. Hayes was an easy scapegoat last year, and he does need to own the fact that when the team needed his offensive production the most, he went largely MIA down the stretch. Having said that, he’s young (turns 27 in November) and talented enough to raise his game and surpass the 20-goal mark, but he’ll have to get back to basics and start with the little things that brought him success in Florida, when he tallied his career-best 19 goals in 2014-15. When you look at Hayes’ possession stats, there’s a case to be made that he’s more effective than he gets credit for, and given his contract structure when compared to others around the NHL, he didn’t exactly embarrass himself. Hayes is never going to be a top-level player, but he has more to offer and if the B’s can get it from him this season, he can be an asset.

If Hayes falters, rookie forward Danton Heinen could fill the void on that third line. A fourth-round pick in 2014, Heinen spent two highly productive NCAA seasons with Denver University before turning pro with Boston last April. The British Columbia native by way of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles is a slick, cerebral playmaking wing who can skate on each of the forward positions, but saw his most production as the RW on the famed “Pacific Rim Line” last season with Toronto free agent signing Trevor Moore and Sharks second-rounder Dylan Gambrell. Heinen could be best served by playing a lot in the AHL, but of all the prospect forwards in camp this month, he’s the one guy who has the best mix of skill, maturity and a three-zone game- all of which should combine to impress Claude Julien and the other Boston coaches (Joe Sacco, Jay Pandolfo, Bruce Cassidy).

On the fourth line, the B’s added free agent forward Riley Nash in July, and as a rugged, versatile forward, the 27-year-old right-shooting former first-rounder in 2007 is good for about 20-30 points while playing that grinding, checking style that is valuable on the bottom unit. There’s not much to get excited about here, but the former Cornell Big Red point-per-game guy gives you NHL experience, physicality and the example that will help to build team cohesion.

Like Backes, we previewed Peter Mueller at center, but in all likelihood, he’ll compete for a roster spot at the RW position as the eighth overall pick in 2006 has spent more of his pro career flanked out wide as opposed to playing in the middle. Temper expectations with him, but if he plays well and earns a contract, his presence allows B’s GM some flexibility to add assets in a potential trade deal for a much-needed defenseman. Mueller has the size and hands to be an effective bottom-six player, but one only knows how he’ll look after spending the last three seasons in Europe. At one point, he looked like an NHL star, so it’s not a bad risk to take as a PTO invite to camp- nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Other right wings in the mix vying for NHL jobs are Seth Griffith, Brian Ferlin and Tyler Randell– all impact performers for the Providence Bruins. Of the three, Randell is the one who is best positioned to come out of camp with a job- he scored six goals in 27 NHL games last season- his first taste of big league action after being drafted in 2009 (and shot an unsustainable 33.3 percent as well). He’s rugged and tough- even though he lacks speed, the B’s can carry him as a 13th forward and plug and play him into the roster as needed. I like that he showed enough to stick around long after other players likely would have been given up on.

Some of the prospects that fans are eagerly looking forward to are 45-goal man Zach Senyshn, drafted 15th overall in 2015. Although he’s struggled with mono and a recent emergency appendectomy that will cost him the rookie tournament portion of camp. He’s big, fast, skilled and ready to take a big next step forward. This year is probably not Zach’s year to make it in Boston, but that’s not a knock on him- not everyone can play in the NHL as a teen, but the patience will likely pay off- he’s a player.

Also talked Swedish forward Oskar Steen, who is listed as a center but plays right wing and projects as a wing at the pro level in North America. Steen is a Bruins-type of player and was a favorite of scout and former Boston cult hero P.J. Axelsson.

Also not covered in the podcast, but Notre Dame right wing Anders Bjork had a very good sophomore season, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring (35 points in as many games). He’s a gritty, fast, high-energy player, but also showed off some impressive offense. Watch for the Bruins to try and sign him this spring to avoid him going back to school for a fourth year and becoming a free agent in 2018. It will be interesting to see what the Wisconsin native does.

Justin Hickman also has promise as a second-year pro as a big power forward who can bang and add some offense after struggling a bit to find his niche. Don’t count the former Seattle Thunderbirds captain out- he was a sought-after undrafted free agent and shows a willingness to scrap and fight for his team.

Now, you’ve read the post- listen to the podcast (I also talk a little 2017 NHL draft and Shane Bowers)! Will be back in this week to break down the left wings next. Thanks for reading/listening.

 

 

Oil change- Benning to Edmonton & other musings

Today’s news made official what had been rumored for a while now- that former Bruins prospect defender Matt Benning has signed an Entry-Level Contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

Benning inked a deal with the team his dad, Brian, played for (albeit very briefly) and with the GM who drafted him in 2012- Peter Chiarelli.

The younger Benning, nephew of former B’s assistant GM now Vancouver head manager Jim Benning, was a solid if unspectacular player who showed some promise as a lower-end defender with some untapped potential.

Matt Benning doesn’t have much in the way of size, but like Noel Acciari, he hits hard and clean, separating opponents from the puck but not taking himself out of plays or hurting his team with undisciplined, selfish antics. Benning is a good puck distributor; not blessed with a killer shot, it was nonetheless pretty heavy, and he showed progression in his offensive game. Where Benning really established his value was with his smart, effective positional play.

So, while he wasn’t a higher-end prospect who spent a lot of time at the top of Boston’s prospect depth chart for defense, he has a shot at developing into a solid role player at the NHL level given his smarts and bloodlines.

Now, how & why did this happen? To put it simply- Benning took the Blake Wheeler option.

The NHL’s CBA stipulates that a non-major junior player’s rights are held for four years after the team drafts him. That doesn’t include NCAA eligibility, so if a player is drafted in 2012, plays a year of junior hockey before going to school, he can either play all four years in college, which extends his team’s hold on him, or if he turns pro at anytime after that four-year mark, the team must sign him within 30 days of his formal relinquishment of any remaining college eligibility or he becomes a free agent.

So, like Wheeler, Benning came out of school after three years and left NCAA time on the table, but because he spent a full year in the USHL (winning a championship with the Dubuque Fighting Saints- a team Chiarelli had part ownership in at the time and still might to this day), was able to leverage free agency to go wherever he felt was the best fit for him. It’s not about loyalty- it’s about using the tools at one’s own disposal to choose a preferred destination, which is not something every player is able to benefit from.

According to veteran ProJo hockey writer Mark Divver, who had talks with a Bruins source, the B’s wanted Benning to return for his senior year and would have signed him next spring, but to the kid’s credit, he probably looked around, saw all the younger defensemen in the system, and realized that cracking the Boston roster would be a tough sell. Now, some will ask why the Bruins couldn’t just trade him for something, but this isn’t Jimmy Vesey we’re talking about here, so there’s little chance any team would offer so much as a seventh-round pick for a guy who may or may not sign there a month after he notifies the NHL that he’s leaving school (which is what Benning did), when they could just wait Boston out and make their pitch for Benning like anyone else. Given his history with Chiarelli, it isn’t all that surprising that he ended up in Edmonton, though.

TSP had time for Benning- he was lost in the sauce a bit here, but was a solid player for a sixth-round pick and it wouldn’t surprise to see him establish himself in the NHL as a role guy at some point. Or not. Even with expansion looming, breaking into the top hockey circuit is a tough racket- here’s to wishing Benning the best. He leveraged his options as the CBA allows and Boston has plenty of other players to focus on.

You can’t sign ’em all. Here’s to Benning finding his way out West- he’ll attract some attention at camp next month.

***

A veteran NHL scout texted yours truly the other day to lament the fact that his team didn’t draft Charlie McAvoy when they had the chance. “We (effed) up…” is how the note began and went downhill from there. In a nutshell- his team had McAvoy in their sights and passed him up for someone else. Now, there’s a little second-guessing going on. Happens all the time, especially once the post-draft euphoria wears off and the real scrutiny begins.

McAvoy is generating a lot of buzz and rightfully so- having a brilliant WJC evaluation camp will do that for you when so many NHL guys are watching. But- let’s pump the brakes here and remember that player stocks fluctuate. The 14th overall pick in last June’s draft has a mountain of expectations heading into his sophomore season at BU- he needs t build on his outstanding second half and take his play to the next level, while staying healthy. His presence at the 2017 WJC in Canada this winter will be a big test, too- the kid has broad shoulders, so the prediction here is that he’ll continue to build excitement among the fans who take the time to follow prospects much like Dougie Hamilton did after being drafted 9th overall in 2011.

But as for my NHL scout friend and his team’s buyer’s remorse- that stuff happens when your pick has an “ehhh” development camp, but the message was only half serious. It was more like- Boston landed a nice player at 14 than anything else. We can sit around and get excited about analysis and discussion, but the real rubber will meet the road in the coming season when McAvoy gets a chance to prove himself.

***

Being told by a solid (non-Bruins) source that he believes that Boston is quietly working on a trade for a defenseman, but no details are forthcoming. If you haven’t already, you can read my post about the Boston D- the elephant in the room for thoughts on possible targets.

Wouldn’t be surprised to see them bring in another veteran forward as well. Some will question that, and it’s the nature of the beast- especially since it could block a younger (yet unproven) player from a roster spot in October, but teams hedge their bets and look to build depth (to stave off the injury bug) and foster training camp competition.

Watch for the B’s to extend a training camp invite to an experienced, and as-of-yet signed player. Can’t tell you who that might be, but some name-recognition guys still out there (who might appeal to Boston-  by no means a comprehensive list and in no particular order) are: Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Santorelli, Shawn Horcoff, Alex Tanguay, David Jones, Tyler Kennedy, Patrik Elias (he’s already 40 but hard to imagine him playing for anyone else after spending all of his 1,240 NHL games and 1,025 points with the Devils), Dainius ZubrusMike Richards. Did I really type that name? Well, he is only 31, but yeah- slim pickings for sure.

I know, I know- there are some of you who will look at that list and immediately want to comment that none of them are needed. I get it- save yourself the trouble by not shooting the messenger, please- I’m just passing on what I’m being told. If we see another veteran forward brought in, don’t say you weren’t warned, and we’ll analyze who that someone is if/when it happens.

***

What Bruins player are you most intrigued with entering the season?

For me, it’s rookie Danton Heinen, who was a surprise fourth-round pick out of the BCHL in 2014, but went on to post two very good offensive seasons at Denver University before signing with Boston last April.

He’s a winger, but played center in junior, so he’s played all three forwards in the last three seasons going back to 2013-14. The Bruins and coach Claude Julien do love their versatile guys, don’t they?

But what stands out about Heinen is his smarts and offensive creativity. He’s not this explosive, dynamic presence who grabs the spotlight and demands your attention when he’s on the ice, but when you watch him closely, he’s always around the puck and tends to own the walls when a possession battle is up for grabs. Heinen has a deft passing touch and he’s no slouch with the puck on his stick when it’s time to pull the trigger, either.

Watch for him to make the big club out of camp, and he wouldn’t be a bad option to try out on that third line right out of the hopper.

 

 

 

Report: Keith Gretzky to Oilers as assistant GM

Multiple reports on Twitter to include the esteemed Bob McKenzie have Bruins amateur scouting chief Keith Gretzky heading west to join former B’s GM Peter Chiarelli as part of the Edmonton Oilers braintrust. I chatted with a Boston team source who didn’t confirm it, but indicated it was a done deal, so all we do now is wait for the official announcement.

Gretzky, who joined the B’s scouting staff during the 2011-12 season after being let go from his previous post as chief scout for the Arizona Coyotes. Gretzky was promoted to the head scout position in Boston in August 2013, replacing Wayne Smith.

The move is not all that surprising, as Chiarelli brought the younger brother of Wayne Gretzky to Boston as a scout and then elevated him to head up the team’s drafting efforts after two seasons in a crossover capacity.

In the three drafts since, more optimism accompanied Boston’s efforts. Gretzky and Co. hit immediately on David Pastrnak, who slipped to 25th overall. However, every other player from that 2014 draft class looks promising as well: Ryan Donato enters his sophomore season at Harvard and is primed for bigger things in Cambridge. Danton Heinen has done nothing but impress after being an unknown plucked out of the BCHL in his second year of NHL draft eligibility, posting two prolific scoring years as Denver University. Heinen could win a job in Boston right away given his skill level and versatility. Anders Bjork was a fifth-round find and gem, who led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in scoring as a sophomore, and even seventh-rounder Emil Johansson shows promise for being a late pick.

Gretzky’s 2015 draft could pay big dividends for Boston as well, even if some of the choices in the first round were not popular ones at the time. With 10 picks thanks to the Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic trades, the B’s have a bevy of prospects with a trio of second-rounders who have generated buzz in their own right. Time will tell whether not picking one or two of forwards Kyle Connor, Colin White and Mathew Barzal will hurt Boston in the long term, but Boston’s first six choices all seem to be developing, with 37th overall pick Brandon Carlo having the best chance to play in the NHL this season. Zach Senyshyn and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson show real promise at key forward positions (RW, C) and the B’s appear to have some potential in huge but lithe goalie Daniel Vladar (3rd round) and agitating winger Jesse Gabrielle. The B’s can’t employ all 10 of their draft picks from 2015, but they’re going to hit on a few at least.

This past June, Gretzky and his scouts went with Charlie McAvoy over Dante Fabbro– both will play at BU this season, but don’t be surprised to see McAvoy headed to the pro ranks sooner rather than later. Early returns on his Team USA development camp in Plymouth, MI this week are good and Ryan Lindgren (taken 49th) overall has really stood out. “He nearly killed a kid,” with a hard but clean open-ice hit, according to a text I got from an NHL scout on Saturday. The same individual also singled McAvoy out as the “best player on the ice.”

Gretzky caught some heat for the Trent Frederic pick and some of his subsequent comments where he admitted that the B’s don’t see the 29th overall selection as a top-six forward. He probably didn’t articulate that as well as he could have, but if we learned nothing from the Senyshyn pick the year before, it’s probably best to see how Frederic does going forward before casting judgment.

If Gretzky’s work with Boston was promising, then his track record in Arizona is more of a mixed bag. The Coyotes didn’t hit on a great deal of picks the team made on his watch, but the point I would offer up is that not every scouting staff in the league is the same. Just like the teams themselves- some clubs are more talented than others, and there’s always a multitude of factors that go into drafting. Even so, some in the business point to Gretzky’s tenure in Arizona, and with the jury still out on his Boston body of work, you just have to take it from there.

Boston could promote from within- Scott Fitzgerald is the club’s assistant director of amateur scouting and has recovered from a serious car accident in 2013 that nearly cost him his life. Dean Malkoc has also impressed as one of the club’s workhorse scouts who goes all over from his Western Canada base of operations to look for talent. Ryan Nadeau has done tremendous work in the NCAA ranks and elsewhere. B’s GM Don Sweeney could also bring in an experienced chief scout from the outside. It will be interesting to see.

All that is left to do is congratulate Gretzky for the promotion and move up. It hurts Boston, as he appears to have done fine work for the club in his five seasons here. He’ll join an Edmonton organization flush with major talent after winning the Connor McDavid sweeps a year ago and then falling into Jesse Puljujarvi at fourth overall in Buffalo. Old friend Lucic is in town, and we’ll see what Gretzky can do to help develop the talent in the system and identify new players down the road.

In the meantime, changes in Boston continue to shape the front office and Sweeney has another key hire ahead.

 

Boston Bruins post-development camp prospect check- the Pros

Heinen

The purpose of this two-post series is to make a quick snapshot of where one analyst sees the Boston Bruins’ professional prospect depth chart stacking up after the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and this past week’s development camp. We’ll start with he professional players who are expected to be in Providence or in the North American and European pro ranks this season. On Monday, we’ll hit the amateur (NCAA and junior players).

Caveat up front- I did not personally attend development cam this year, so am basing my assessment on feedback from members of the Bruins organization, media and fans who were there in person to see the players. I have seen every prospect on the list, either on film or live, so the bulk of this assessment comes not from four days of on-ice drills and a 3-on-3 scrimmage, but from a season and in several cases, multiple years worth of evaluation. Note- I am only covering players aged 25 or under, so that takes Tommy Cross out of the mix on this list for those who might be wondering. Noel Acciari  and Chris Casto just make the cut as December 1991-born players.

Here we go, and I’ve done an audio file to supplement the limited write-ups below, so for all you Bruins hockey junkies, there’s more content in this post than ever…tell your friends!

The Pros (AHL, ECHL or Europe)

  1. Frank Vatrano, LW (East Longmeadow, Mass.) Plus: Put up mind-boggling numbers with 36 goals (55 points) in as many AHL games, while adding another eight goals in 39 NHL games with the big Bruins. The undrafted free agent turned himself into a sleek scoring machine as a rookie pro and is primed for a bigger Boston role this year. Minus: Without ideal NHL height, Frank the Tank will have to maintain a high-energy pace and work in all three zones to maximize his potential.
  2. Danton Heinen, RW Plus: After two high-end scoring years as a collegian, he put up a pair of assists in his second AHL game last spring; with his genius-level hockey IQ and slick hands, the 2014 fourth-rounder could earn an NHL job right away. Minus: He’s about 6-foot and not even 200 pounds, so he’s going to have his hands full with the increased speed and physicality of the pro game.
  3. Brandon Carlo, RD Plus: Like Heinen, Carlo’s on a positive trajectory at making the Bruins right away- he’s 6-5 and can really skate and move, already a beast in his own end, something Boston lacked down the stretch a year ago. Minus: Not all that instinctive in the offensive end; could stand to play a lot of minutes in more of a top role and on the power play to try and tease more offensive production and build confidence.
  4. Rob O’Gara, LD Plus: At 6-4 and north of 220 pounds, this premier shutdown/defensive mind can also skate extremely well for one so big- his speed and footwork has always been advanced, and the rest of his game has come along quite well in the five years since he was drafted in the fifth round. Minus: More of a “safe” prospect than one you would assign talk of high “upside” or “ceiling” to, O’Gara isn’t quite the physical specimen Carlo is (they’re close), but he may be a more complete defender when all is said and done.
  5. Colin Miller, RD Plus: “Chiller” has top-shelf skating, passing, shooting skills; showed off some offensive flair in his first NHL campaign, putting up a respectable 16 points in 42 games despite not having an overabundance of ice time/becoming a spare part in the season’s second half. Minus: The former LA Kings farmhand has a lot of work to do on the defensive side in terms of processing/making better decisions and improving his three-zone play.
  6. Austin Czarnik, C Plus: Dazzling offensive center impressed in his first rookie pro year with 50+ points to back up his tremendous speed, lightning-quick hands and ubermensch-worthy vision/hockey sense. Minus: At barely 5-8 (and that’s probably being charitable) the former Miami RedHawks captain wasn’t drafted, and will have to overcome size concerns at a position the Bruins are pretty deep at.
  7. Malcolm Subban, G Plus: The progress has been slower than expected, but there is no doubt that he’s one of the more dazzling athletic talents at the position and when healthy, has shown some major league promise. Minus: The fractured larynx was a significant setback, and if it hasn’t been one thing for Subban, it’s been another (    outplaying him in 2014-15)- this is the year that he proves his worth to Boston and justifies his selection in the 2012 first-round once and for all.
  8. Noel Acciari, C (Johnston, R.I.) Plus: Ace two-way center earned his way to Boston for a 19-game stint at the end of the year after being an undrafted free agent less than a year earlier; a good skater, superb faceoff man and intelligent, charismatic 24-year-old who plays the game hard, but clean- he’s got a lot in common with Patrice Bergeron, without the scoring. Minus: With just one NHL assist- there isn’t a whole lot of scoring in the well for the one-time captain of Providence College’s 2015 championship squad; as he turns 25 in Dec., there probably isn’t a whole lot of development left- he’s a solid, if unspectacular grinding bottom-line pivot.
  9. Matt Grzelcyk, LD (Charlestown, Mass.) Plus: When it comes to speed, sense, and spirit/heart- they aren’t built much better than the Townie, whose veins probably bleed black and gold; the former BU captain is an ultra-slick puck-moving defender who can push the pace and get the puck out of his own end with ease. Minus: At about 5-foot-10, Grzelcyk is going to have his hands full forcing his way into Boston’s top-six D rotation and might have to benefit from some luck and minors time to get there.
  10. Peter Cehlarik, RW Plus: Big-bodied Slovak plays the off-wing and signed with Boston after spending four years playing pro hockey in Sweden; he’s got a nice 6-foot-2 frame plus some offensive chops as a late third-round pick in 2013. Minus: He’s just an okay skater- he’s gotten better and can move pretty well in a straight line, but his first few steps and acceleration are clunky; he’s not great at the quick stops/starts/direction change and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the smaller North American ice surface.
  11. Zane McIntyre, G Plus: When it comes to drive and character, they don’t come much better than the native of Thief River Falls, Minn. who once earned top goalie honors in that state- named for former Bruins great Frank Brimsek; whenever tested, the 2010 sixth-rounder has always responded with dramatic improvement and maturity beyond his years. Minus: It was a tough transition to pro hockey for the NCAA’s best goalie; he’s got technique issues to work through and will have to fend off fellow pro Daniel Vladar for internal crease competition.
  12. Seth Griffith, RW Plus: Despite the odds working against a smallish forward without dynamic wheels, the 2012 fifth-rounder has seen NHL action in each of the past two seasons; he’s a highly creative scoring mind with the superb puck skills to set up plays or finish them off. Minus: We so want to have Griffith higher on the list, but what is he at the NHL level? Scorer? Checking forward? We probably know the answer to the second question, so he’ll have to make it in the top-two lines- good luck.
  13. Daniel Vladar, G Plus: Huge (6-5), athletic and learning- he put up pretty nice numbers with the Chicago Steel of the USHL in his first North American season; very tough to beat on the first shot and improving his technique. Minus: After the B’s signed him to a 3-year ELC in the spring, where is the still quite raw Czech native going to play next year? ECHL? AHL? Europe? Clock is now ticking on his timeline.
  14. Linus Arnesson, D Plus: A bit of a forgotten man and 2013 second-rounder didn’t forget how to play- he’s got good size, can skate, make a clean first pass and is a smart, savvy defensive player even if he’s very much on the vanilla side of the red line. Minus: Nagging injuries kept Arnesson from getting out of second gear, and questions about his vision and ability to process the game well in the offensive aspects mean that at best, he’s probably a 4/5 at the NHL level assuming he ever gets there.
  15. Brian Ferlin, RW Plus: Looking for someone who can play the right side effectively and has enough size to drive through traffic and skill to make things happen around the net? Ferlin’s your guy. Minus: After a promising rookie pro season in 2014-15 that saw him see seven NHL games near the end, a concussion forced him out of most of this year- he’s got a lot of work ahead to put himself back to the fore.
  16. Sean Kuraly, C Plus: With his pro-style body (6-2, 210) and wide skating base, the Ohioan gets around the ice pretty well and has shown the potential to be a solid if unspectacular bottom-six option, either at center or more likely on the wing somewhere. Minus: There’s just not a whole lot to get excited about when it comes to Kuraly’s hands and creativity- when forced to carry more of an offensive load for Miami U. as a senior, he flamed out.
  17. Anton Blidh, LW Plus: You gotta love this energetic, abrasive little cuss of a Swedish forward who plays bigger than his size and stands out with his pure hustle and physical style. Minus: Unless you’re fine with him on Boston’s fourth line (which is A-OK) there’s simply not enough pure talent/ability in our view for much of an impact at the NHL level.
  18. Colby Cave, C Plus: Fine skater with a fine two-way hockey IQ and the raw leadership skills that will be an asset in any room. Minus: We just don’t see much in terms of high-level skill, so he’ll have to win a spot on the bottom lines while swimming in a pretty deep pool.
  19. Chris Casto, RD Plus: With his thick build and pretty quick feet to go with a bomb of a shot, Casto is a bit like Arnesson in that he’s not suited to ride around near the top of Boston’s prospect lists; he just spent three years in Providence after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth and was qualified, so that speaks to the fact that the B’s saw something in him worth keeping around. Minus: Every team needs solid, safe, unspectacular players to feed their minor league farm teams and Casto might be that guy- unless the B’s get into a real pickle with injuries this season, it’s hard to envision him being seriously in the mix as a regular.
  20. Colton Hargrove, LW Plus: Put up surprising numbers in his first full AHL campaign; big, gritty power winger is heavy on the puck and finds ways to get dirty goals- one tough nut. Minus: There’s a lot of competition for bottom-six jobs and Hargrove  needs to improve his foot speed and maintain his focus/drive. He’s getting there.
  21. Emil Johansson, LD Plus: Another Swede in the Boston system- he impressed at development camp after a real strong finish to the Swedish pro season with HV71; he skates well and moves the puck with gusto- something the B’s desperately need. Minus: Excelling at drills against amateurs when you’re playing pro hockey overseas is one thing, being able to process, read and react in the NHL is another- still not sold on the 2014 seventh-rounder’s ultimate big league potential.
  22. Justin Hickman, F Plus: Coming off shoulder surgery, it was a frustrating year for the Seattle Thunderbirds captain and power forward who was slow out of the gate and never recovered. Minus: Undrafted free agent just another physical forward in a sea of them, but could rebound and improve his stock with better health and more confidence after playing through a challenging rookie season.
  23. Oskar Steen, F Plus: Energetic and gritty; excellent skater who has a low center of gravity and powers through would-be checkers while taking pucks tot he net. Minus: He probably deserves a better fate than to be at the bottom of the list, but someone has to bring up the rear- reports said he showed quite nicely in drills at development camp but was not as noticeable in the scrimmage/replicated game situations. A 5-9 forward has to be better at that.

Quick hitter: Bruins d-camp wraps with a 6-5 scrimmage

Truth in lending,  TSP wasn’t in attendance this week at the final Boston Bruins development camp shindig until next July’s event moves to the team’s shiny new facility in Brighton, but based on various inputs I’ve gotten from fans and hockey people in attendance at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, the organization has some strength in talent coming.

Jake DeBrusk scored the winning goal for team white today in a 6-5 intrasquad 3-on-3 scrimmage, while Danton Heinen and Cameron Hughes each tallied twice for their respective teams as black blew a 5-2 lead to give up four unanswered goals. Other scorers in the scrimmy were Ryan Donato, Cam Clarke, Jesse Gabrielle, Sean Kuraly, Anders Bjork and Jack Becker based on tweets from CSNNE’s Joe Taggerty and the Bruins Twitter account.

Heinen garnered a lot of positive attention in his second B’s development camp (he did not attend in 2014 after being drafted because he was in Denver taking summer classes). He’s  seen time at both left and right wing while at DU and could earn an NHL job at RW coming out of camp and preseason if he isn’t sent down to Providence to start the year. He’s not overly big (but he’s not small either), nor is he an explosive skater (but he’s not slow), but he’s got tremendous hands and hockey IQ/creativity. Heinen is the kind of forward who projects as someone who will eventually play on the top-two lines, but he has enough strength and a 200-foot game to work his way into an NHL lineup on the lower lines the way Brad Marchand did once upon a time.

The British Columbia product’s short-area game is impressive- he does the grunt work and digs pucks out from along the walls and works plays to the net, hitting teammates in prime danger areas or taking it in himself and finishing with a nifty-quick release he can paint corners with. Hype is always something that seems to follow young players around because so many fans want to see the “shiny new toy” in the NHL and don’t want to wait and allow the prospects to gradually develop in the minors first. Honestly- and we really need to wait until September before we get too far ahead of ourselves- if there is a forward who could make a serious run at an NHL job sooner rather than later- it is Heinen. But if he starts the year in Providence and not Boston- that’s all fine, too. He has less than 10 games worth of pro experience under his belt, after all.

DeBrusk also received praise for his scoring in this camp- he did a little of it last year, scoring a memorable goal on a behind-the-back shot that made a lot of highlight reels.  But when it all comes down to it, DeBrusk has been unfairly maligned after being a surprise 14th overall selection a year ago. He’s a skilled left wing with a little bite and jam to his game, and when you add it to his natural knack for finding the back of the net and making plays from the wing, that makes him an attractive asset in Boston’s system.

Jakub Zboril by multiple reports has the look of a player who was drafted in the top-15 last year, and that’s great news. He’s reportedly leaner and sleeker than he looked a year ago, and impressed observers with his skating and hands- which is something that helped him to be drafted before his Saint John teammate Thomas Chabot, a higher-end offensive defenseman (18th overall to Ottawa) in 2015. Now, development camp drills and scrimmages are all fine and well- it’s encouraging to know that a player of Zboril’s ability and potential showed up and impressed- but the real test lies ahead in September, when he’ll need to raise the compete quotient with all of the veterans and play exhibition contests against guys wearing different colors. I’m an optimist by nature, so willing to take a positive outlook on Zboril going forward, but I refuse to get excited about development camp- I did that with Jared Knight and Ryan Button once upon a time and learned an important lesson about the dangers of putting too much stock in drills and internal scrimmages. Players don’t make teams on the strength of what they do in July, but a good showing can go a long way towards setting expectations in the fall, so good on Zboril for demonstrating some fire and hunger. It’s something we need to see more of from him, not less.

As for top pick Charlie McAvoy, the rising BU sophomore did everything he needed and then some- if anyone had questions about his status as a first-round pick in June or his intriguing NHL potential, he reportedly answered those. He’s thick through the torso and trunk, but is such a smooth skater with excellent vision and puck skills. He’s a rock and very tough to separate from the puck- McAvoy could be on the verge of breaking out big time this coming season when coaches David Quinn, Albie O’Connell and Scott Young hand him the keys to the big red Ferrari that could be the 2016-17 Boston University Terriers and turn him loose. No pressure or anything, kid- but everyone is quickly figuring out why the Bruins were so smitten with the Long Island native, and the hype around him is legit.

Even 2014 7th-round defenseman Emil Johansson is getting some love for his skill and poise. Interesting and a positive development for sure, but again- remember what I said earlier about not putting more stock in development camp showings than is warranted. It’s nice that he came into Wilmington this week and impressed- he’ll be one to follow with Djurgarden of the SHL this season, but let’s pump the brakes a bit before we bring out another shiny toy here. It sounds like he’s given the B’s plenty of reasons to sign him, so we’ll see where it all leads. I’ve only seen Johansson on film, so my perspective is limited, but have never been that overly impressed with his reads and the way he processes the game, but from the sounds of it, he was very good at handling the F1 and F2 pressure this week and getting the puck out quickly and decisively. Every NHL team needs defenders who can do that from the top of their rotation to the bottom.

In net, the goalies never get a lot of love in these development camps because they tend to get exposed more than the position players do. Daniel Vladar got a lot of positive reviews for his size, athletic ability and good positional work- he was coached last year by Peter Mannino, former Denver University standout who had cups of NHL coffee with the NY Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets before finishing out a minors career and joining the Chicago Steel. Vladar is a nice kid- impossible to root against and according to Mark Divver, there will be no QMJHL for him this year. He’s expected to play in the ECHL (don’t rule the AHL out completely) or possibly play in Europe somewhere.

There’s so much to talk about and many other players who did well and stood out, but I wasn’t there, so will add some links by those who were present and close the book on Boston’s 10th annual development camp.

 

UPDATE 7/16- As promised, here are some links to stories and features associated with Bruins development camp:

First up is Mike Sage’s (Puck Sage) blog top-10 player rundown from the week. I first met him back in 2010 development camp, and his thoughtful hockey blog goes against the grain. Mike just calls things as he sees them, which is refreshing, because there is so much of a tendency to fall in line with a few voices out there, but he is always someone who has challenged some of the conventional views out there. Besides- he and I are kindred spirits when it comes to what we value in our players, so you’ll find us agreeing more often than not. He gives college players like Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and the very intriguing Wiley Sherman very high marks for their showings this week.

Bruins Development Camp Top 10 Performers

I missed this nugget from Joe Haggerty on Thursday. Good food for thought especially on Anders Bjork– he’s that Swiss Army knife kind of player that the B’s treasure on the lower lines, but with his speed and unexpected sophomore offense, he could end up being much, much more. Boston may need to sign him soon so as not to risk losing him as a free agent in 2018. As a fifth-round pick, he stands to make a lot of coin (and by that I mean not only the max AAV on an ELC, but with added performance bonuses that can boost the contract value and pay him closer to a first-round pick than what Boston would ideally want to slot him with based on existing salary structure) on the open market if his game keeps progressing and he opts to stay at Notre Dame all four years. The Bjork situation is one to watch- as a Wisconsin product who plays his NCAA hockey in Indiana, he has no real attachment to the Boston area, and you might see the B’s have to offer him a perk such as letting him burn a year off his ELC to get him to forego the path to free agency. We’ll see, but a lot of it will depend on how well he plays as a junior with the Fighting Irish.

http://www.csnne.com/gallery/boston-bruins/Bruins-Development-Camp-Day-3-Thoughts-and-observations

Friend DJ Bean had a nice piece on the growing pool of quality young defensemen in Boston’s system. Outside of possibly a Brandon Carlo, and/or perhaps Rob O’Gara (who wasn’t at d-camp) and Matt Grzelcyk (who was) the odds of a Jakub Zboril or Jeremy Lauzon and Charlie McAvoy contributing to Boston’s fortunes this year are pretty long. That’s not to say it is outside the realm of possibility that should McAvoy have a tremendous season on Comm. Ave that the B’s won’t sign him in the late spring and he could get some NHL games in like Torey Krug did at the end of 2011-12, but I wouldn’t count on it. Bottom line, though- the organization is putting together a pretty strong group of prospects on the blue line that could be arguably in the top third of teams around the NHL. For all the love the Dallas Stars get these days, go look at their D prospects cupboard and tell me you’re impressed with those players as a whole. Unless you’re a delusional Stars fan, you’re grudgingly concede that the Bruins have quietly assembled a promising cohort, which gets some extra credit when you throw Sherman, Ryan Lindgren and Emil Johansson in there (not to mention forgotten 2013 2nd-rounder Linus Arnesson and even undrafted Chris Casto, who could get a look in Boston this year, too).

http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/hockey/bruins/dj-bean/2016/07/16/prices-young-defensemen-steep-bruins-trying-develop-n

Here’s some of the video clips the team itself produced:

Development Camp recap:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-recap/t-277437088/c-44387103

B’s futures do community relations:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-community-events/t-277437088/c-44384403

Matt Grzelcyk weighs in:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-community-events/t-277437088/c-44384403

Ryan Fitzgerald discusses having a chip on his shoulder as one of the more unheralded prospects in the system:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/locker-room-raw-ryan-fitzgerald/t-277437088/c-44381603

The Baby B’s take a trip to Fenway Park:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-fenway-park/t-277437088/c-44381503

Ryan Lindgren talks about his first day at camp and friendship with fellow 2016 draft pick Trent Frederic among other things:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-fenway-park/t-277437088/c-44381503

Jake DeBrusk discusses the difference between last camp to this one and his progress- you can see how bright and likable a guy he is from his answers: https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/locker-room-raw-jake-debrusk/t-277437088/c-44381303

B’s correspondent Eric Russo has more on Brandon Carlo, who is a hot name heading into the fall along with Danton Heinen, as members of the youth movement who will push for NHL jobs this year. We’ll see how they look in September, but am told both impressed the team’s brass in Wilmington and that’s where it all starts:

http://bruins.nhl.com/club/blogpost.htm?id=47225