Danton Heinen leaves Denver U, signs 3-year ELC

Heinen

As reported here about a month ago, forward Danton Heinen has given up his remaining two years of NCAA eligibility to sign a three-year entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins after they drafted him in the fourth round in 2014.

Several sources told the Scouting Post that Heinen would not be going back school for his junior season back on March 12, citing an eagerness for him to get started on a pro career. He had reportedly told several of his teammates that he would not be back, and so it was just a matter of Boston waiting for his season to end. With the recent news of 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey declining to sign with the Nashville Predators, it’s a reasonable assumption that if Boston was entertaining the thoughts of talking Heinen into remaining an amateur for one more season, they were all about bringing Heinen into their organization immediately.

The ability for college players to choose their own destinations after four years and choices by Kevin Hayes and now Vesey to not sign with the teams that drafted them means that NHL clubs will not hesitate to bring players out of the NCAA sooner now, and if a kid is not altogether thrilled to be a part of that organization, don’t be surprised to see their advisors (read: player agents) leverage tools like burning a year off the ELC in order to get them to come out on the NHL team’s timeline. The Winnipeg Jets also signed Kyle Connor yesterday after just one year at Michigan and taking the hockey world by storm. Connor is the lightning rod that Bruins fans are using to criticize Boston’s first round choices in 2015. It looks like we’ll soon find out how much the team missed out on by passing on the USHL and NCAA’s top scorer in consecutive seasons. Connor’s signing is one more reminder that the old days of guys spending four years in school is getting increasingly rare (though the B’s duo of college defenders- Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk– did just that)

Getting back to Heinen- the 20-year-old British Columbia native had a slow offensive start to the season, but erupted over the second half, tallying about two points per game to lead the Pioneers to the Frozen Four before ultimately coming up short against the eventual 2016 champion University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (PC or not they’ll always be the Fighting Sioux to me).

In two NCAA seasons in the Rocky Mountains, Heinen tallied 36 goals and 93 points in just 81 games. Playing on the Pacific Rim line or “Pac Rim” this season from January on, Heinen simply caught fire. After being at well under a point-per-game just as the calendar switched to 2016, he teamed up with fellow left coasters Dylan Gambrell (eligible for 2016 draft) and Trevor Moore (could leave school as a free agent or return- reportedly weighing his options right now) to finish atop the Pioneers with 20 goals and 48 points, adding to his 16 goals and 45 points from a season ago.

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Heinen is about 6-foot-1 and a solid 185 pounds. As a 1995-born player he was passed over in 2013 because he was small and extremely light, but he’s hit an impressive growth spurt since and dedicated himself in the weight room, adding strength and mass to his frame.

A good skater, what makes Heinen arguably Boston’s top prospect along with Zach Senyshyn for the offensive potential both possess, is that he has exceptional vision and hockey sense, to go with one sick set of mitts. He was a center in junior but has been developed as a winger in college under head coach Jim Montgomery, first playing on the left side as a freshman before shifting over to the right (his off-wing) and settling in with the Pac Rim unit. He uses his high IQ to anticipate/read/react and after hitting a lot of posts and not getting much in the way of puck luck in the early going, his talent took over as he racked up the points down the stretch. He’s heavy on the puck and has the intelligence to take on the various responsibilities required of him in Boston’s system.

Heinen is not a flashy or dynamic player who is going to wow you by exploding to top speed in a few strides and putting defenses into near-constant back pedal mode, but what he will do is slow down the play or speed it up depending on the situation. When he gets down below the circles and in between the hashmarks, he’s deadly- either hounding the puck and hitting linemates with accurate passes to set up quality chances or burying goals with a quick release and little hesitation to shoot the puck when the lane is open for him to do so.

Like many young players these days- I caution fans not to jump squarely on the hype train just yet. Heinen is good enough of a player to challenge for NHL duty right away next fall, but that doesn’t mean that the right answer is that he will play in Boston. Frank Vatrano showed that a rookie pro with the right blend of skill and want to can make it with the big club, but we have an extended offseason ahead of us. Before we start projecting what line he’ll be on, how many goals/points he’ll score and whether he should be paired with Vesey (who as of right now until Aug. 15 or unless his rights are traded between now and then is still property of the Predators), let’s take a moment to see how he looks in Providence first. He’s there this week on at ATO (amateur tryout) and his 3-year contract won’t kick in until 2016-17. Let’s see how he looks in his first taste of pro hockey, and then keep in mind that there will be some personnel changes between now and when training camp opens up in mid-September.

I know, I know- what fun is being patient when we can entertain ourselves with endless speculation and line permutations?

For now, Heinen being in the fold is an intriguing step. He’s unproven, but the potential is higher than average and he was a super find by the Boston scouts. For more on him, check out my blog post from before the season began titled “The Curious Case of Danton Heinen” and I walk you down the path of how, as a little known commodity in the BCHL that more than a few teams were quietly tracking, the Bruins appear to have struck gold.

Time will tell…and we won’t know how successful the find was for a little while yet.

Sean Kuraly and Danton Heinen update plus NCAA playoffs & the underrated Matt Benning

As tweeted out over the weekend, several reliable sources told me that Denver University sophomore forward Danton Heinen will turn pro after he plays his last game for the Pioneers. What remains to be seen is how soon the Boston Bruins will sign their fourth-round selection from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

With the team at 47 contracts and allowed a max of 50, the B’s have some decisions to make on timing of signings, as in addition to Heinen, there are three other NCAA seniors that will need NHL deals before August 1: Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara and Sean Kuraly, who was acquired from San Jose last June along with the Sharks’ first-round selection for goaltender Martin Jones. With respect to Heinen, he has NCAA eligibility remaining, and the other guys don’t, so that’s a total of four contracts assuming the B’s sign all of them.

Last weekend, the RedHawks and captain Kuraly saw their NCAA tournament hopes dashed by the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who knocked them out of the NCHC playoffs. That makes Kuraly eligible to sign now and go to Providence on an ATO to finish out the season in the AHL if the Bruins so choose. Whether they will do so is going to come down to an internal organizational decision, as the 23-year-old center is less of a scoring/top-six type of forward and more of a bottom-six/grind-it-out checking player who plays a heavy game but doesn’t bring much in the way of a high offensive ceiling for the NHL.

Kuraly is coming off of a disappointing statistical season- one that saw him crash from a career-best 19 goals as a junior to just six tallies in 36 games with head coach Enrico Blasi’s Redhawks. He’s a good skater for his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame and has a hard, heavy shot. The Ohio native is not all that creative nor does he bring much of a high-end skillset with the puck. He’s a good faceoff man and penalty killer, so there’s promise here- not everyone can progress on to the NHL and once there, then slot into a prime scoring role. In Kuraly’s case, he’s always been one of those players whose game and versatility translated more as a checking forward at the highest level and there’s nothing wrong with that. One member of the Bruins organization told me hours after the trade bringing Kuraly to Boston went public that they were hoping he would one day be a third-liner for them, so even at the most optimistic period- coming off a career year in Oxford- the B’s didn’t have many illusions about what type of player he was going to project as for them.

That brings us back to Heinen. To say his upside is considerably bigger than that of Kuraly is an understatement. After a tough team start offensively (DU was just 7-7-4 and 3-4-1 in the NCHC back in late December- the Pios finished with a 17-5-2 conference record, going 14-1-1 after the halfway point) Heinen and the Pacific Rim line went into overdrive when the calendar turned over to 2016 and he’s been absolute dynamite since February. The versatile winger who played LW for Jim Montgomery as a freshman after being a center in junior hockey, has been over on the right side this season with Trevor Moore on the left and Dylan Gambrell in the middle. Denver just knocked University of Nebraska-Omaha out of the postseason, with Heinen playing a prominent role and his 18 goals in 36 games leads the club (he’s third overall in scoring behind his linemates with 40 points). Even if the Pioneers don’t win the NCHC (they face stiff competition in the Frozen Faceoff to include No. 1-ranked North Dakota), they’re a lock for the NCAA tournament, which means he could be playing into April and won’t be available until late March or into the middle of April.

We’ll leave it to the Bruins to figure it out- timing is an issue for Heinen signing, but it’s a done deal that he will not stay another year in the NCAA, as he has reportedly told the Pioneers of his desire to move on. So, when the Bruins officially announce the signing (whenever that happens), you’ll know the decision was in the works for some time.

Meanwhile, the B’s will have to see what happens out East as well, with a pair of senior defensemen in Grzelcyk and O’Gara who are wrapping up their collegiate careers. Grzelcyk’s BU Terriers were unceremoniously bounced by the upstart UMass-Lowell Riverhawks, who got some outstanding goaltending from Kevin Boyle (a UMass castoff, btw- I bet the Minutemen could have used him, eh?) but are expected to make the NCAA tournament card, so we’ll have to see how that plays out first.

Also knocked out of the Hockey East tourney in surprising fashion- the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (and B’s prospect Anders Bjork) by Northeastern University, featuring B’s 2012 draft choice Matt Benning on defense. The 21-year-old junior and nephew of Vancouver Canucks GM (and former Boston AGM) Jim Benning is a defense-first guy who plays bigger and with an impressive physical edge for possessing pretty average size at 6-foot, 200+ pounds. He’s posted a career-best five goals this season after not finding the back of the net at all last year (his 24 assists/points still rate as his highest NCAA single season total to date). Benning isn’t going to wow you- he’s a consistent presence if nothing else. He’s not flashy or dynamic but is smart and rugged. He fills lanes quickly, gaps up well, and will pop you good if there are any thoughts of trying to cut to the middle- keep the head on a swivel when Benning is out there for the Huskies. His father, Brian, played more than 500 NHL games as a defenseman and tallied nearly 300 career points, so while his career wasn’t all that long (he retired at age 29), he was an impact two-way threat/effective puck-mover who was at his best in the late 1980s with the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Matt Benning is a chip off the old block- he’s got nice vision, the ability to make an effective first pass and a willingness to join the rush, not to mention the little bit of nasty he brings to bear during the trench battles along the walls and in front of the net.

Come to think of it, young Benning might be one of the most underrated prospects in Boston’s system. He’s rarely discussed or talked about and because he’s a sixth-round pick, he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to NHL draft pedigree. He’s been nothing but solid since the B’s drafted him- helping the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints win the 2013 Clark Cup championship and being one of head coach Jim Madigan’s go-to guys (he was an alternate captain this season). With his active stick and watching him effortlessly slide across the ice to put a shoulder into an encroaching opponent and often times get the better of physical matchups against bigger players, there is a lot to like about Benning and his pro future, even if he isn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Here’s an excellent Hockey East All Access feature on him (including the tidbits about his grandfather Elmer, longtime NHL scout and his efforts to have his son and grandson get involved with figure skating as youngsters to improve their balance, edging and overall mobility):

Everyone is excited to see how NU will do against Boston College (and Ryan Fitzgerald) this coming weekend’s semifinal match in their bid for Hockey East supremacy.

As for O’Gara, he and his Yale second-seed mates were bounced out of the ECAC tourney over the weekend in two close, hard-fought games by the seventh-seed Dartmouth Big Green. Dartmouth’s goaltender stopped nearly 96% of the shots he faced in overtime and regulation wins Friday and Saturday. Yale played well enough to win those games, but the offense failed them at a critical juncture. O’Gara and Yale will find out their NCAA tournament fate (along with BU) on March 20 when the entire field of 16 teams (which includes the automatic-bid six conference champions) is announced.

If neither BU nor Yale get a chance to see their seasons extended, then Boston’s hand could be forced sooner rather than later.

Things are heating up…not just a sign of the coming spring but on the ice for the NCAA playoffs as well.

 

Bruins key prospect updates: Senyshyn, Heinen, Gabrielle, Carlo

Zachary Senyshyn Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Zachary Senyshyn Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

We’re getting down near the end of the CHL regular season schedule, and the NCAA playoffs are firing up around the nation.  This is as good a time as any to do a deeper dive into the progress of some of Boston’s key prospects and where they stand in their development thus far.

Zach Senyshyn, RW

Thursday night served as a reminder of how productive Zach Senyshyn has been in his second full season of OHL play.

He tallied two goals to push his season total to 38 (in 59 games) and added a helper. He’s equaled his assist total from last year (19) in seven fewer games, but he’s also playing more minutes/60 so that statistic needs more context. Bottom line with Senyshyn- he’s scoring more- as to be expected from moving from bottom-line duty and no special teams to first line and first unit power play.

Senyshyn is a powerful skater who has a nifty burst for someone who is 6-foot-2- he gets out of the blocks quickly and can separate in the open ice when he gets to top speed. He’s also pretty agile in that he’ll cut across the grain to shake defenders. His signature move remains the power rush down the right side- he just turns on the jets and will often beat the defender to the corner and then cut straight to the net. I don’t know that he’ll be able to get away with that in the AHL and NHL as consistently as he does in junior, but then again- I thought teams would be able to defend him better this year because they saw him burning them as a rookie, but it hasn’t happened.

He’s taken a big step forward in scoring this year, BUT (there’s always a but isn’t there?)- that does *not* mean Senyshyn is ready to come in and play for the Bruins next season. As most inherently understand- there’s a difference between how well a player scores and whether he is playing the game effectively. I credit hockey analyst and NESN analyst Billy Jaffe on that one, because he recently asked me the same question- he acknowledged Senyshyn was scoring, but wanted to know how well he was playing.

This is not a simple answer. Senyshyn’s offense is dynamic and impressive, but he’s got substantial work to do on the other side of the puck. The good news is- he understands that and his coaches in the Soo (former NHL defender Drew Bannister is in his first year there as the head coach) are working on his shift-to-shift consistency and making sure he moves his feet and commits to his responsibilities in all zones. I’ve been told he has a penchant to disappear over stretches of play by multiple sources and Hamilton Bulldogs play-by-play man/hockey analyst Reed Duthie also said as much in his “Duthie Dish” column posted here back in January. Senyshyn has to do less hanging back and waiting for the next offensive chance and do more in puck support and bringing the same effort levels to each situation that he does when he’s exploding down the ice or forcing turnovers and burying shots into the net as he did last night.

Current assessment: Senyshyn is clearly playing like the top-15 pick he (surprisingly) was last June, but that doesn’t mean fans should expect him to be taking a regular shift in Boston next season. Another year in the OHL will help him to be the better player he’s developing into. Because he was born in 1997 and drafted out of major junior, Senyshyn is not eligible for the AHL next season, so if he doesn’t make the Bruins roster out of camp, he must go back to the OHL. Those are the rules, and unfortunately, a player like Senyshyn might be in that middle ground between being a dominant OHL forward at age 19-20 next season but not being ready for regular duty with Boston, yet unable to be optioned to Providence. This means the B’s coaches and management will have to see how Senyshyn looks at camp next fall and make the decision then. He might get the nine-game look, or he might not, but that’s not something we can predict in March, 2016.

Danton Heinen, RW/LW/C

Playing the right side of Denver University’s top scoring unit- the Pacific Rim line- comprised of three forwards from Washington, California and Heinen’s native British Columbia, he’s exploded for 21 points in his last 10 contests after the Pioneers offense struggled as a whole for much of the season.

This versatile forward can play every position. He was a center in the BCHL but then shifted to the left wing as a freshman under Jim Montgomery. In his second NCAA season, he’s been the right wing with center Dylan Gambrell and Trevor Moore. Every team loves a forward who is adaptive and can play in multiple situations, but it sure looks like the B’s are projecting him to be a wing at the pro level, and one who can slide in to take faceoffs and will understand his responsibilities at the position if needed.

On the plus side, Heinen’s vision and offensive creativity is elite- he currently has 15 goals and 35 points in 32 games, which is significant because at one point he was hovering around a .5 points/game pace. He’s really turned it on, and the lack of production was not for effort- he has been creating scoring chances throughout the season, but pucks weren’t going in for him and his line.

Heinen isn’t a blazing-fast skater, but he’s fast enough and has good quickness and directional change. He gets his share of breakaways not because he outskates a lot of the opposition but because he reads the developing play so well and anticipates, getting an extra step and then being quick enough to maintain that separation. He did that beautifully in what was the best NCAA game I saw all season last month against the University of North Dakota.

Soft hands and an underrated shot round out Heinen’s skills package and make him a forward that could project in a top-6 NHL role one day. If nothing else, he looks like a higher-end third-liner, which is not a bad thing. He’s put on weight and looks bigger out on the ice- he’s only about 6-foot in height, but the extra weight has helped him win puck battles along the boards and establish a net-front presence.

Additionally, he’s a more polished and refined three-zone player than Senyshyn is at this stage (and at two years older, he probably should be). He’s not a shutdown type of defensive forward, but he back checks diligently and uses his hockey sense and instincts to break up plays and transition back to offense.

Current assessment: I ranked Heinen Boston’s No. 2 amateur prospect in the January issue of New England Hockey Journal and he looks even better now than he did because the numbers have come up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bruins look to sign him and put him into the system, but that will largely depend on what the organization’s priorities are and whether they see him pushing for an NHL job in the next three years. At this point, you can go either way and returning to Denver for a third year wouldn’t be a bad thing for his development, though based on what I see, he’s ready to turn pro.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW

Wow! Where did this season come from?!

Actually, for those who charted Gabrielle’s progress in previous years and right up until the second half of 2014-15, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise because when it came to his talent and hockey ability, the Saskatchewan native (who played some Minnesota HS hockey in there too) was projected as an early second-round pick in some circles (Red Line Report had him there as late as March 2015, for example), and that was in a strong draft class.

Gabrielle’s stumble down to the mid-fourth round allegedly had to do with commitment and effort questions, but it’s hard to question what he’s done for the Prince George Cougars this season, as he began the year like he was shot out of a cannon and has been a top performer in the WHL all season long.

His 39 goals and 72 points in 65 game tie Gabrielle with overager Chase Witala for the team lead, but he’s shattered his previous season best of 23 goals and 44 points set last season. He’s producing a high rate of P/60 and he’s playing his patented rugged, agitating style. Gabrielle is commonly compared to Brad Marchand, who also happens to be his favorite player, but he’s a taller, thicker player than Marchand and while not quite as dynamic or fast, brings the same kind of goal scoring upside as No. 63 has.

Not afraid to drop the gloves either, Gabrielle can pick fights and then will answer for his chippy play unlike other agitators. He’s not a feared heavyweight, but he’s can be a nasty opponent who plays on the edge but has the toughness to fight his own battles. He finishes his checks and hits to hurt, a widely disliked opponent but respected for how dangerous and productive he’s been. In other words- teams hate playing against him, but would embrace him on their club for his sheer effectiveness. Much like Marchand.

Now, the question I most often get on Gabrielle is- how did he end up being a fourth-round pick last June?

Well, without being in the various war rooms, I can only go by what I’ve been told in snippets here and there, but there was some obvious concern with Gabrielle, or else he would not have slipped down past 100 as he did. However, the Bruins can be glad that happened. The draft sometimes works out that way- we hear about players who rise and fall, but sometimes, the fallers aren’t indicative of the larger picture.

Based on the way Gabrielle is playing, he’s motivated to prove the teams who passed on him wrong, and at the end of the day- he’s a Bruins fan, so he was probably relieved and elated that the B’s of all clubs called his name, even if it came later than he thought.

Current assessment: Like Senyshyn, Gabrielle is in all likelihood not ready to make the NHL right away, even though he’s scoring plenty and playing a heavy, effective game on the whole. As a June 1997-born player he’s in the same boat in terms of the requirement for him to return to major junior next season if he doesn’t make Boston’s opening night roster. He’s a better fit for lower line duty at the NHL level, but the B’s have a lot of guys knocking on the door- fans should resist the “shiny new toy” urge to get Gabrielle plugged in right away. Either way, we won’t have a good handle on his situation at this point- we’ll have to reevaluate how he looks at the July development and then main training camp next fall.

Brandon Carlo, D

Boston’s best shutdown defense prospect is heading towards a possible AHL debut in Providence shortly, as his Tri-City Americans are in danger of missing the WHL playoffs, which would make him eligible to sign an amateur tryout option (ATO) and join the Baby B’s for the final games of the regular season.

Unlike Senyshyn and Gabrielle (and Jake DeBrusk is in the same boat as Carlo) he was a late 1996-born player which means he *can* spend the 2016-17 season in the AHL as opposed to going back to the WHL if he doesn’t make the Boston roster. The team could still send Carlo back to the Dub as an overager, but I would be surprised to see that. He looks to be on track to see his first AHL action here in the spring and then benefit from spending time in Providence next year in a full-time role (assuming he doesn’t crush it in camp to the point that the big club doesn’t put him in their top-six).

The biggest things (no pun intended) with Carlo are his size/reach and fluid skating for a guy so large. His 6-5 height is one thing, but he has long arms, which give him the reach of someone closer to 6-7. We see this effect often when players try to carry the puck by him on the rush- Carlo is deft with the poke check, and his active stick creates a significant advantage for him defensively. Because he’s so mobile, he’s able to square up with the puck and put himself in position to block the shot or disrupt the puck carrier’s speed and path to the net.

Carlo is not a vicious or intimidating open-ice hitter, but he does effectively use his size/strength to pin opponents to the boards and move forwards out from the front of the net and his goaltender’s sight lines. He’s not looking to crush people but he will initiate contact and will fight to defend teammates, even if he’s not someone to be feared. He’s a rugged defender but doesn’t play with that natural kind of mean streak that other more physical, tough players have made their bones doing over the years.

Offensively, he can chip in, but is not the kind of instinctive, push the pace kind of two-way threat who projects to thrive in a top 1 or 2 NHL defender role. He handles the puck well enough to make the first pass and gets a good amount of points by getting shots on net for tips or rebound scoring plays. Carlo is not a classic puck-mover who joins and even leads the rush and is capable of making nice offensive contributions but is not a player with the natural offensive hockey IQ or vision to be a regular point producer at the pro level.

Current analysis: The Colorado native gets a lot of buzz for his impressive physical package and smart, lockdown defensive acumen. There is certainly a place for him on Boston’s blue line and that time might not be too long in coming. However, fans should temper their expectations- and not view him as someone who will come in right away and stabilize the Boston defense corps. Once upon a time Zdeno Chara was not seen as a future Norris Trophy winner either- otherwise no team would have allowed him to get to the third round. So, it’s not a complete stretch to say that Carlo could develop into something more than I currently see, but it shouldn’t be expected.

That about does it for this post, I will make this a series and go down the line on other Boston prospects if you like what you’ve read.

 

Stat watchers beware- Heinen succeeding despite down numbers

Heinen

A year ago, Danton Heinen came out of left field in the BCHL (and the fourth round of the NHL draft) to post one of the most productive seasons of any freshman NCAA player not named Jack Eichel.

His 16 goals and 45 points in 40 games a year ago for Denver University highlighted his fine puck skills and fine vision/offensive hockey sense. He’s a good skater, though lacks a top gear that would make him even more of a consistent threat on every shift. The biggest knock on Heinen a year ago was his average size and though he’s still listed at 161 pounds on some rosters, in speaking to him and others in the Bruins organization, he’s north of 180 pounds now. He’s still got some growing and physical maturing to do, but don’t be fooled by the outdated 160-pound measurement.

This season, it’s been tougher sledding for Heinen offensively. In 18 games, he has five goals and 11 points. Folks who just look at the stats line are starting to ask questions about that, so this is a quick post to provide some observations from several games I’ve seen from him on film. Interestingly enough, he had no points in either game, and even more intriguing- he was in my opinion, the best DU Pioneers player on the ice. I also recently interviewed Jay Pandolfo, Boston’s player development director, and he said the same thing- Heinen’s play has not been an issue at all, even if the pucks aren’t going in for him.

In his most recent weekend series against Notre Dame (officially ties), the Pioneers carried the offensive play, outplaying and shooting the Fighting Irish by a wide margin in both games. Thanks to Notre Dame goalie (and Sabres prospect) Cal Peterson, DU scored just three goals on 95 shots in both games. Give Peterson credit, because anything less than the stellar performance he brought with him from South Bend, and the outcome would have been different.

On Friday evening Heinen played extremely well, officially credited with five shots out of DU’s 50, but he also had multiple shot attempts- close to doubling that total in shots either blocked or ones that missed the net. Several of his shots on goal were of the high danger variety- Peterson made a great save to deny him on the power play and then another of Heinen’s shots squeaked through his pads but died on the goal line. The play went to review but was called a no goal. On one opportunity, he got behind the Notre Dame defense and broke in alone on Peterson, only to ring the puck off the post on the blocker side. Heinen’s line had 23 shots between them, so that unit was a going concern all night and only thanks to the Notre Dame netminder was the damage nearly negated (Moore scored on a flukey goal that hit Peterson’s mask, then pinballed into the net off his defenseman in front).

It’s easy sometimes to get caught up in a player’s statistical success, and Heinen would probably be the first to express his disappointment that the offense isn’t happening for him the way it did a year ago, but the good news for the player is that he’s still working hard and creating scoring chances. Losses of upperclassmen like Joe Laleggia, Daniel Doremus, Ty Loney and Zac Larraza haven’t helped much, either. Heinen is currently skating on a line with junior Trevor Moore (who is an undrafted free agent and looked real good against Notre Dame) and freshman Dylan Gambrell (named NCHC freshman of the week), and they are DU’s most productive unit, with all three currently in the team’s top-4 for scoring.

In the fast food mentality of modern sports fans, it is easy to look at Heinen’s lack of production and simply assume that he is playing poorly, but that is not the case. While there is a certain bottom line to everything in that Heinen is inviting criticism for not raising the scoring bar in his sophomore season, there are other factors in play. Denver as a team is collectively struggling to score and sometimes the blind luck of doing everything right on a play but still not having the puck go in for you play a part. Hovering around .500, the top scorer, Gambrell, has just 15 points in 18 games, so offense is at a premium. On a different club, and given the quality chances I’ve seen Heinen generating this year, it is a reasonable assertion that he would be faring better in that situation.

This is often lost on the stat watchers who aren’t seeing  many (if any) of the games and instead of seeking to find the right context, engage in the easy way out of assuming a player is not performing. In the eyes of Pandolfo and DU head coach Jim Montgomery, Heinen is doing the little things and as long as he keeps his high effort levels up, he’ll eventually be rewarded with production much like Matt Beleskey has in Boston.

In the end, Heinen’s best attributes- his soft hands, his superior vision and three-zone game and work ethic are all prized assets for any pro. It might mean the B’s will want him to return to DU for one more season in lieu of signing this spring, but the down numbers are not a major cause for alarm.

Bruins Prospects Update 11/16/15

It has been a tough season for the goalies in Providence.

Malcolm Subban missed just about a month with a lower body injury suffered before the start of the year and has been mediocre at best (and that might be putting it mildly) since returning to the lineup. Zane McIntyre is a gamer, but he’s undergoing  a challenging transition, which only further underscores the folly and foolishness displayed by some who really thought he should just waltz into the NHL backup spot behind Tuukka Rask without having seen a single shot at the pro level. McIntyre is a terrific competitor and will eventually right the ship, but he’s struggling at the AHL level right now.

As for Subban, much bigger things are expected of him, and the 2012 first-rounder needs to start showing more consistency in his preparation and execution. If the B’s had toyed with the idea of trading him in order to get a nice return, they can shelve those plans, because Suban’s value is down is right now. He needs to get back to basics.

Austin Czarnik returned to the Providence lineup and not a moment too soon with Alex Khokhlachev now out with a bad hand. The diminutive former Hobey Baker finalist picked up where he left off, tallying a goal and assist in three games.

The NCAA prospects had another big week, which included a 2-goal, 4-point night from Ryan Fitzgerald and Wiley Sherman’s first career NCAA goal in his second year with Harvard. BU center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson had another strong weekend and is getting positive reviews by NHL scouts who all point to the uncommon maturity of his game for one in just his first collegiate season. NU defenseman Matt Benning got his second goal of the year, significant in that he went all of 2014-15 without scoring once, though still managed to lead the Huskies in scoring from the blue line.

AHL

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 11 Goals- 4 Assists- 9 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 6

Hand injury; did not play.

Austin Czarnik, C Providence Bruins

GP- 7 Goals- 2 Assists- 5 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 6 +/-  5

Czarnik returned to the lineup after missing seven games; if he can stay healthy, he’ll infuse the Providence lineup with much-needed speed, skill and energy.

Tommy Cross, D Providence Bruins

GP- 10 Goals- 0 Assists- 7 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 25 +/- -4

Chris Casto, D Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 0 Assists- 7 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -9

Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 7 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -3

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 5 Assists- 1 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -4

Colton Hargrove, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 11 Goals- 3 Assists- 1 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -2

Expected to be more of an enforcer type of forward this season, Hargrove has been one of the more consistent players providing scoring from the lower lines.

Anton Blidh, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 4 Assists- 0 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -1

Noel Acciari, C Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 7 +/- -3

Former Bishop Hendricken and Providence College captain scored his first career professional goal over the weekend.

Linus Arnesson, D Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -2

Malcolm Subban, G Providence Bruins

GP- 5 MIN- 304 GA- 19 GAA- 3.75 Spct- ..850 W- 1 L-3 OTL 1

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 8 MIN- 480 GA- 26 GAA- 3.25 Spct- .875 W- 2 L- 3 OTL- 3

 

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 20 Goals- 10 Assists- 5 Points- 15 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -6

 

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 19 Goals- 3 Assists- 24 Points- 27 Penalty Min- 34 +/- +19

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 16 Goals- 3 Assists- 4 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 20 +/- 2

 

WHL

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

GP- 14 Goals- 6 Assists- 14 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 13 +/- -3

Groin injury; DNP

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 19 Goals- 14 Assists- 6 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 29 +/-  1

Big week for Gabrielle, who scored three goals and five points in three games and continues to turn heads in the WHL. By comparison he had 10 goals and 19 points in 33 games with the Regina Pats after a mid-season trade last season. He’s well on his way to beating all of his previous career highs.

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 11 Goals- 1 Assists- 7 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 32 +/- -3

Carlo is injured and did not play this past week.

 

NCAA

Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 9 Goals- 7 Assists- 6 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 27 +/- 13

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA)

GP- 10 Goals- 2 Assists- 8 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 10

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 10 Goals- 4 Assists- 4 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 4

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University Terriers (HEA)

GP- 10 Goals- 3 Assists- 8 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 8 +/- 2

2 goals and 2 assists in 2 games over the weekend put JFK second on the team in scoring behind Sharks prospect Danny O’Regan.

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 6 Goals- 3 Assists- 2 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 6 +/- 3

No points in two games played for Donato this week.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University (NCHC)

GP- 12 Goals- 1 Assists- 4 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -6

The Miami captain finally got off the schneid to record his first goal of the season over the weekend.

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

GP-4 Goals 2 Assists- 2 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 10 +/- 3

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

GP- 10 Goals- 1 Assists- 3 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -2

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

GP- 11 Goals- 2 Assists- 2 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 15 +/- -9

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 6 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 4 +/- 2

Sherman tallied his first career NCAA goal in game No. 43 for the Crimson.

 

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

GP- 6 Goals- 0 Assists- 2 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 8 +/- 2

 

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden)

GP- 14 Goals- 3 Assists- 3 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -2

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (Sweden)

GP- 16 Goals- 0 Assists- 2 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -2

Maxim Chudninov, D St Petersburg SKA (Russia)

GP- 24 Goals- 5 Assists- 4 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 71 +/- -5

USHL

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL)

GP- 15 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -3

No points in three games for the 7th rounder since last update.

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago (USHL)

GP- 9 MIN- 490 GA- 19 GAA- 2.33 Spct .912 SO- 1; 1-4-2

Vladar’s only action last week came in 21 minutes of relief of a losing effort, where he allowed no goals.

Another Heinen post

The Rink Blog over at the New England Hockey Journal website is gone, but here is an article I wrote for it on Danton Heinen last March after I had a chance to talk to him during the NCHC playoffs.

It’s some bonus reading for a guy who should be ranked solidly inside the top-10 of Bruins prospect lists in my view because he does so many things well.

Here’s the story:

***

When the Boston Bruins called forward Danton Heinen’s name late in the fourth round of last June’s NHL Entry Draft, fans and prognosticators were sent scrambling for their guides and cheat sheets, to little avail.

There wasn’t a whole lot of information available on the previously passed over forward when the B’s nabbed the 2014 NHL lottery’s mystery man 116th overall. However, in the months since, the former captain of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles has emerged as one of the best players in the NCAA with a productive and mature game that belies his relative inexperience in the NCHC.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Heinen said before the second-seeded Denver University’s sweep of University of Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. “I don’t know that I expected to have this level of personal success coming into my first year (at DU) but being part of a winning team is what I’m most happy about.”

Currently second only to hockey prodigy Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.) in scoring among first year NCAA players, Heinen adjusted immediately to the competition at Denver and never looked back, posting 16 goals and 44 points in 36 games as of March 15, pacing the Pioneers in scoring. Denver head coach (and former University of Maine scoring star and member of 1993 national championship squad) Jim Montgomery is on the record giving much of the credit for Heinen to assistant David Carle, who recognized the potential and acted quickly to bring him into the fold last year.

“It was Coach Carle who did the most to bring me here,” said Heinen. “He came out to see me play (at Surrey) last year and made the team’s interest in me known. They brought me to Denver for a visit and everything clicked right away; I loved it. For me, the decision to commit was a no-brainer, so I came out last summer to do course and conditioning work to get ready for the season and the opportunity to play here right away.”

Heinen’s arrival on the collegiate stage has been so sudden, yet so jarring for certain NHL teams that completely missed the boat on him that the 19-year-old’s season has made for some interesting backroom conversations.

“Our college guys are so impressed with him,” said one NHL scout who told New England Hockey Journal that Heinen has been a topic of conversation recently. “The recurring theme is that he’s played so well for Denver, and we’re trying to figure out how he got so good, so fast given that not many were on him a year ago when he was in junior.”

Some evaluators point to a sudden growth spurt after he turned 18 as one aspect of the 6-foot, 180-pound Langley, B.C. native’s impressive showing at this level. As a July, 1995-born prospect who had been eligible for the 2013 NHL draft, and despite other ’95 players being in a similar situation such as Buffalo fifth-round draft choice and Brown freshman Max Willman (Barnstable, Mass.), Heinen got nary a sniff from the various hockey draft publications.

Even if the public lists weren’t tracking him, Heinen says he interviewed with multiple teams including Boston, during the course of the 2013-14 hockey season. Even though he knew he had some NHL interest, he wasn’t altogether positive he would get a call. He was following the draft on his computer at home, but when the fourth round rolled around, he wasn’t tracking the selections all that closely. Heinen learned of his selection from his family advisor via a phone call.

Although not a blazing skater with game-breaking open ice speed, Heinen displays NHL-caliber quickness and smarts, tenacity around the puck. He is on track to develop into a well-rounded , three-zone player with top-six forward potential in Boston. At the very least, he looks like a future third-line fixture on the wing if he continues his upward trajectory and willingness to compete hard in the greasy areas of the ice.“I see myself as more of a playmaker,” Heinen said. “I can see the ice and set up guys for more scoring opportunities.”

Heinen’s rapid arrival in the NCAA and the potential that more and more around the NHL are acknowledging are why it is all the more baffling that so many seemed to completely miss on his potential a year ago. The Bruins, for their part, played it smart. Western Canada scout (and former B’s defender) Dean Malkoc watched him enough to get a solid perspective on the youngster’s potential, and then as is often the case with Boston, multiple scouts and members of the front office, including current assistant GM Scott Bradley (who makes his off-season home in British Columbia), went out West to see him.

“We had a couple of guys in the west that sat on Danton pretty hard,” Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney said in December. “We were real glad to get him where we did. We’re excited that he made it to school this year after there was talk he might delay it one more season, and clearly- he can handle the college game.”

Unlike other teams who were perhaps on Heinen for a little longer than the B’s were, give GM Peter Chiarelli and his staff credit for taking him where they wanted to instead of playing the we can wait and get him later game that may have burned other suitors (Montreal rumored to be chief among them) and cost them a shot at one of college hockey’s hottest properties.

“He’s an ‘A’ prospect in my view,” said another NHL scout outside of the Boston organization. “Our guys are saying that if Heinen was an undrafted free agent, he’d have 30 offers lined up as soon as he was ready to turn pro because of how promising and complete a player he is. His hockey IQ and vision are outstanding. He just finds ways to make plays whenever he’s out there. He shows an intelligence and refined game that’s rare for someone in their first season of college hockey.”

It stands to reason, then, that at the recently concluded NHL trade deadline, the B’s reportedly had several teams asking them about the prized fourth-round pick. Given what he’s shown, don’t expect the team to give up on this prized asset unless any prospective team is willing to pay a significant return.

All of the high praise aside, Heinen knows that there is still much work to be done. As has been the case for the entire season, he put words to action by scoring goals in both of DU’s playoff wins over UMD, extending his team scoring lead.

The last player Montgomery coached who topped the charts as a rookie was none other than Calgary’s NHL Rookie of the Year candidate Johnny Gaudreau, who did it with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2010-11. While Heinen has a long way to go before he will generate the kind of buzz that followed “Johnny Hockey” during his electric Hobey Baker-winning career at Boston College, he’s far exceeded the modest expectations that preceded his arrival in the Rocky Mountains.

“He’s gained 10 pounds and is a cerebral kid on the ice, a hard-worker off the ice,” Sweeney said. “Not enough good things can be said about how much he’s grown under (Montgomery) and he’ll continue to put up points in that system. He’s still an open canvas in terms of how much bigger and stronger he’s going to get, but we’re pleased at the progress he’s making.”

The Curious Case of Danton Heinen

When the Boston Bruins drafted Surrey Eagles captain Danton Heinen out of the BCHL in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, there was a collective shrug that started in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and radiated outwards as those following and analyzing the draft sought information on the first real mystery player of that lottery.

He wasn’t anywhere to be found on the NHL’s Central Scouting lists. Nor did he appear in any of the independent lists out there to include my own Red Line Report. A 1995-born player, he had been previously passed over in 2013 and he wasn’t on any of those lists, either. As information began to trickle out, an intriguing picture of a late-blooming skill forward emerged, but it was not until he took the NCHC by storm last year that the real interest not only by fans but some of the NHL’s clubs that completely missed out on Heinen reached a crescendo.

I’m going to do the basic forensics to build a case on this rising star and scoring winger who is someone I see already near the top of Boston’s prospects depth chart with a high ceiling at the next level. Don’t sleep too long…the Heinen train is leaving the station and seats are filling up fast!

The crime: When the B’s called out Heinen’s name, I wasn’t there to hear it, as I was serving with the 1st Cavalry Division in Kandahar, Afghanistan. However, I saw the pick online and my reaction was no different from what it would have been if I was on the draft floor in Philly. In one word, it was “Who?”

To take such an unknown at 116th overall- in the final five selections of the fourth round, a player not anywhere on the pre-draft rankings, appeared to be a stretch. I was high on Soo Greyhounds forward Michael Bunting, who went one pick later to Arizona and the Rangers got value in Russian goalie Igor Shestyorkin one selection after that. Some of the guys I was projecting for Boston there a year ago who all went in the 5th round: skilled Massachusetts forwards Max Willman (Sabres) and Tyler Bird (Blue Jackets)…gritty energy guys like C.J. Franklin (Jets) or Shayne Gersich (Caps) or rugged WHL d-man Dysin Mayo (Coyotes) were all players I followed during the season and felt made sense at that spot.

Grabbing a soon-to-be 19-year-old with pretty average size on paper barely more than a point-per-game average in the BCHL led me to my next obvious question: “Why?”

Gathering evidence: The information soon began to trickle out on the Langley, BC native.

One story in the Surrey Leader related that Heinen was in Denver taking summer classes during the draft and was following the proceedings online because he had an idea that someone would call his name:

“He hadn’t refreshed the page in a few minutes so didn’t realize he had been drafted until his adviser called him with the news.

Heinen wasn’t on the final NHL draft rankings list both he and his adviser had fielded some questions from a few teams.

‘I had an idea that I might (get drafted) but it wasn’t guaranteed,’ he said.”

Some unsubstantiated rumors began floating that one of those teams the Bruins might have scooped was their hated rival up north- the Montreal Canadiens.

“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t see some of their guys around in the buildings when we were watching Danton,” one Bruins source said with a chuckle during a conversation I had with him last year about the discovery in 2014. “I’ll leave it to you to decide if that means we beat Montreal to the punch or not.”

Heinen did not attend the 2014 Boston Bruins development camp because the CBA did not permit him to miss pre-enrolled classes for the sake of attending an NHL team-sponsored event, so there was little to no firsthand knowledge of him until the 2014-15 NCAA campaign began that fall.

He wasted little time in establishing himself as an impact player right away, averaging a point per game for the DU Pioneers from start to finish. As the season went on, scouts who were concerned about his slight 6-foot frame (and though he’s listed at 165 pounds, Heinen himself insists he’s now closer to 180) and a wearing down effect put those issues aside. Heinen actually got *better* late in the year as his confidence seemed to blossom and he continued making plays all over the ice for his club to the tune of 45 points in 40 games, helping them reach the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.

Preferring charges: Heinen did not take a step back in Wilmington this past July when he suited up for his first B’s prospect camp. His mature game and slick playmaking skills were immediately evident to those in attendance and those of us who caught a bit of it online.

Matt Kalman wrote a good piece on Heinen for NHL.com last month, and although he lists him at the disputed 165 pounds, here’s a key quote from the B’s prospect in that article:

“‘When I was like 16, I was pretty small. I never really got an opportunity at the WHL,’ said Heinen, who turned 20 earlier this month and is 6-foot, 165 pounds. ‘So I kind of … it was the right road for me. I was a little bit of a late bloomer. So it was just the best spot for me.’”

Bruins player development coach Jay Pandolfo was also impressed, saying:

“I don’t know if we were surprised, but when you see that, you open your eyes,” Bruins development coach Jay Pandolfo said. “You think maybe he’s closer than further away for sure. He had a great year last year.

“Now sometimes sophomore year can be a little tougher. Guys kind of know how he plays now, and it’ll be a little harder for him. So it’ll be interesting to see how he does this year. But the way he looks out there right now, I mean he’s headed in the right direction. He’s another guy that’s gotten stronger.”

Pandolfo praised Heinen’s poise with the puck, release and shot, and singled him out among the large group of prospects in the camp for making things look easy. But Pandolfo also said Heinen needs to get stronger and a little bigger.

The Bruins got Heinen because they did their homework where some other NHL teams did not.

They used their team methodology of getting multiple looks from different sets of eyes, and so if you’re out looking for one single scout to take credit for his discovery, you’ll be disappointed. Based on who is out where, you can surmise that Dean Malkoc had a major play in it and you wouldn’t be wrong, but he was the first to tell me when I texted him last year after one of Heinen’s many strong games to congratulate him that he was not the only one responsible. “Team effort” has, is and will be the mantra when it comes to the team finding talent that pans out. Same goes for those players who don’t meet expectations as well.

The indictment: Heinen has played a little center, but has mostly played split out to the left in his time at Denver University. He can play the off-wing if needed and the scouting report on him is encouraging: highly creative with superb vision and offensive instincts; slick, smooth hands and a quick stick to thread the needle or fire off accurate wristers coming down on the rush; not a blazing skater in open ice, but quick in his short-area burst and uses lateral agility to shake defenders in tight spaces; average size and strength; top-six NHL forward potential.

Yes, your honor- it appears that the Boston Bruins are guilty of draft day theft.

How much of a sentence they receive will depend on Heinen’s continued development and how he turns out, but the initial returns are highly encouraging.

 Further crime scene investigation:

You can read my own coverage on Heinen not only on this blog but also in the New England Hockey Journal:

http://digital.hockeyjournal.com/nxtbooks/seamans/nehj_201501/index.php?startid=14

Here’s a post-game interview at DU last season:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rs860jmza5w

Heinen is 59 in this YouTube video of B’s development camp drills:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rggIyouJB8

July 201ost-draft piece in Surrey Leader

http://www.surreyleader.com/sports/265244191.html

NHL.com feature on Heinen by Matt Kalman

http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=775133

Scouting Post Dispatches- Twitter mailbag #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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