Springfield Rifle: Frank Vatrano nets 3rd hat trick in AHL this season

When you look at what Frank Vatrano is doing for the Providence Bruins this season, it just doesn’t add up.

After all- he’s an undersized, formerly chunky kid who didn’t even get drafted, right? How is it possible that he’s on the verge of hitting the 30-goal mark (in the AHL) in his first pro season and is leading that league in goal scoring? It doesn’t seem to compute, and yet here we are- the undrafted free agent who played just one full season of NCAA hockey with the UMass Minutemen before signing with the Boston Bruins a year ago- is the hockey story of the year. He has to be.

Vatrano’s 29 goals are two more than (former UNH star) Mike Sislo’s 27, but here’s the thing: Vatrano has done it in 26 *fewer* games than Sislo’s 54 with the Albany Devils. That’s simply astounding.

I posted an update on B’s prospects yesterday that featured Vatrano and joked that he had “cooled off” with “only” 26 goals in 27 AHL games headed into yesterday afternoon’s home contest against the Portland Pirates. Then, he not only lit the lamp three times for the third time (including a Texas hat trick- 4 goals- in there) this season and fourth when you include the three-goal game he posted for the Boston Bruins against Pittsburgh in December, but he became only the third player in AHL history to tally three unassisted goals and the first since Michel Picard of the Prince Edward Island (PEI) Senators in November of 1994.

To put it another way- he is simply killing it and can score whether someone is setting the table for him or he’s having to create his own offense. Don’t believe me? Just look at yesterday’s three tallies and decide for yourself (video thanks to the excellent Weekend at Bergy’s Bruins blog)

On the first one, he gets some good puck luck as he comes around the back of the net on a wraparound and it goes in off of someone else. The second goal comes off of an intercepted pass at the blue line and he beats Pirates goalie Mike McKenna with a wicked snipe that has become his trademark calling card. The third goal- in overtime- comes when he puts on a burst of pure speed at center ice, blows by the defender in the offensive zone and buries another of his shots to close it out.

Had Vatrano not played 30 NHL games with the big club from November to January, we might see him on the verge of 50 markers. Having said that- he realized his dream in reaching the NHL in his very first professional season and we can all rest assured that it won’t be long before we see him in Boston again.

At this point, though, when you have such a mature outlook the way Vatrano does, that’s of secondary importance given how well he’s playing in Providence and how much more dangerous he makes his team when he’s in the lineup. Here’s his response to the Providence Journal’s Mark Divver when asked if Vatrano wonders what he needs to do to get back up to Boston/the NHL?

‘It’s something I can’t control. I’ve just gotta keep doing my thing down here. When the time is right for me to go up, the time is right.’

You can make a good argument that he should be back up with the big club now. However, with the forward lines rolling of late pretty well, it’s just as well that he’s being allowed to spread his wings and dominate the way he is in the AHL. It’s not a matter of if Vatrano will be back in the NHL but when.

Not bad for a guy who was passed over repeatedly in the draft but who went to work over the summer to reinvent himself as a dedicated professional.

We talk about a movie being produced for John Scott and his All-Star weekend experience, but what about Boston’s own “Springfield Rifle”? I don’t think Hollywood could script this improbable path from the Boston Jr. Bruins to the NHL Bruins any better than what Vatrano has accomplished on his own this season.

As we enter the final month of the AHL season, we’re now eagerly left to wonder- how high can Vatrano soar?

We’ve already seen some impressive stuff from the soon-to-be 22-year-old. It looks like a lot more is in store.

Here’s his first NHL hatty:

 

 

 

B’s prospects deep dive 2: Vatrano, Zboril, JFK & Subban

Due to the overwhelming response on the first end-of-regular season Boston Bruins prospects deep dive I did on Friday, I’m back with another iteration. I’m limiting these to five players maximum, not only because they can get pretty unwieldy in terms of reading with 2,000+ words a pop, but because they take some time to put together. If you don’t see the B’s prospect you’re most interested in, hang in there- I will get to every one of them between now and the next 1-2 weeks when the CHL and NCAA playoffs begin in earnest. Everything will build towards and culminate in an end-of-season ranking- similar to the one I did in the January issue of New England Hockey Journal.

So, without further ado- here’s the second deep dive. As always- appreciate the support and feedback.

Frank Vatrano, LW

The undrafted free agent from East Longmeadow, Mass. left the University of Massachusetts after his first full season nearly a year ago to sign with his childhood favorite Boston Bruins and became the Cinderella story of the 2015-16 hockey season.

In the span of a year, Vatrano reshaped his physique, tore apart the AHL with a four-goal game and multiple hat tricks en route to a goal-per-game performance (he’s cooled off a bit of late and “only” has 26 goals in 27 AHL games), and then earned his first NHL opportunity, debuting against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre and netting his first big league goal. He would eventually score his first NHL hat trick against Pittsburgh later on and although he was optioned back to Providence, he’s shown immense promise going forward.

Since his days in minor hockey and the Boston Jr. Bruins (as well as two years with the U.S. National Team in Ann Arbor), Vatrano has been a goal scorer. He’s long had an NHL release, which he showed off in dazzling fashion during the exhibition season last fall and then proved it was no fluke when he began terrorizing AHL goalies with Providence to begin the year. He has a natural nose for the net and sublime hands, which allow him to exploit gaps in defenses and find open spaces where he can get his heavy, accurate shot off with a minimal amount of time to work with. Vatrano is a born shooter- he generates a tremendous amount of torque and power on his shots and can pick the corners at will. He also has superior reflexes and hand/eye coordination to get his stick on shots for deflections and batted pucks into the net.

Not tall and with a naturally stocky build, Vatrano dedicated himself to improving his conditioning in the offseason after seeing a few games in Providence at the end of the 2015 campaign (5 games- 1 goal) and having a “come to Jesus” with the Bruins in his exit interviews. The results were staggering, as he not only saw the improved ability to take extended shifts and recover faster, but also picked up some speed and quickness in his first few steps. He’s got such a good hockey IQ that he can recognize developing plays well and explodes to the puck in just a few strides.

His defensive game is still a work in progress, but there is no denying that the will is there. He often hustles on the back check and has shown impressive open ice speed in winning foot races back to his own end for loose pucks. He’s one of those players who was previously asked to go out and score, so it’s not a question of whether he’s committed to playing more of a complete game, but just getting him the experience and situations that will allow him to be more effective when he inevitably returns to Boston for his next chance.

Current assessment: Vatrano is the top prospect in the pro ranks in the B’s organization. He’s proven that he can find the back of the net in the AHL and NHL and at this point is better off playing an extended role in Providence as a first liner and top power play ace. His 38 points in just 27 games in the AHL shows a dominance at that level that nobody, even his most ardent supporters, could have predicted at this time a year ago. Vatrano is a good kid (he turns 22 in a week) who is living the dream of being a Boston Bruin- he played at the Gillette Stadium in the 2016 Winter Classic- and is sure to build more experiences and memories. The good news for the B’s is that their offense has not been an Achilles heel this season, so Vatrano can spend more time getting the development in seasoning he needs rather than being more of a spare part and lower line option in Boston. This sets the conditions for him to go in and earn a top-9 NHL billet and gives the team some options to perhaps make some critical moves on defense by leveraging roster assets, knowing that players like Vatrano are in the system and could be ready to make the full-time jump next fall.

Jakub Zboril, D

Statistically speaking, it’s been a disappointing year for Boston’s top pick last June (13th overall- acquired with the draft choice that sent Milan Lucic to Southern California). A brutal start in September and October put the Czech native behind the 8-ball and while he’s shown improvement in his all-around play since he returned to the Saint John Sea Dogs from the World Jr. Championship in early January, there’s no getting around the fact that the production isn’t where it should be for one of his talents.

On the plus-side, Zboril has the physical attributes of the prototypical modern NHL defender: Good size, superb skater with a powerful stride/quick first few steps and an impressive glide, hard, heavy shot.  He has the natural vision and instincts to be a two-way threat and power play quarterback where he uses his agility to navigate the offensive blue line with ease and fires pucks to the net. Physically speaking, Zboril plays the game like a North American player- he’s known for throwing big hits and getting extra shots in (that often earn him extra time in the box). He’s obliterated surprised opponents in the past who made the mistaken assumption that Zboril was a soft Euro and dropped the gloves only to find they had a tiger by the tail.

All of these traits should endear him to the Bruins and their fans- it’s precisely what the team needs most in terms of upgrading the NHL roster’s blue line. However, many things in life are rarely so simple as that, and in Zboril’s case- there is more nuance here than meets the eye.

Even when he was rising on the team’s radar last year as the first of the second tier of defenders available in 2015 (it’s not really a secret that the Bruins coveted Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski and tried unsuccessfully to maneuver themselves into the top-5 and 10 to get one of the two) that Zboril came with some warts. Even though the B’s jumped on him with the first of three consecutive picks, his natural effort levels and compete  were a question mark. What’s interesting to me is that in some circles, Zboril was given high marks for his work ethic and hustle, but when I broke him down in film study, I saw a player who went through stretches of passive, even disengaged/uninterested play. Often times- that’s a simple thing: ineffectual waving at a forward as he skates by in the lane instead of gapping up and forcing him wide or disrupting his speed/momentum with body contact.

Current assessment: This season, the shift-to-shift inconsistency and wavering intensity levels have been more of the same with Zboril, unfortunately. He will demonstrate immense promise on one shift, revving up with the puck in his end and blitzing through the neutral zone to fire a shot on net or dish to a teammate in prime scoring position. Or, maybe it’s closing quickly with an opposing puck carrier and knocking him on his keister with a solid body check or deft poke check with his stick. But then a few shifts later, he’s gliding around, not asserting himself or taking advantage of opportunities to push the pace or impose his will in the same way.

The good news is- he just turned 19 at the end of last month and there is time for him to mature and develop more of a consistent game with coaching and experience. The question is becomes, however- does Zboril have it in his intangibles to be the player he *could* be given his prodigious natural gifts? That’s the proverbial $64,000 question, and why drafting and player development is an inexact science. On pure ability alone, Zboril could have been playing in Boston this year, but he’s got more work to do at developing his positional play and of course- on the aforementioned intangibles.

It’s no accident that the B’s tried to move up last June to take someone else- they likely saw the same things. Zboril is one of those boom-or-bust players and the reward with him could be key in the next 1-3 seasons, but just as the team has the responsibility to work with the player to put him in a position to succeed within the organization, the player also needs to raise his compete and do what is asked of him.

There is no doubt that Zboril should have been a first-round pick last June and that the B’s not only upgraded their prospect pool at the defense position with him but brought in the kind of high potential player you want as opposed to a safer but limited upside option. It is a bit intriguing that the B’s could have drafted Zboril’s Sea Dogs teammate Thomas Chabot instead (he went a few picks later to Ottawa) and Chabot is having a far more impactful season as Saint John’s No. 1 D, but that’s water under the bridge. Woulda, coulda, shoulda- if if’s and but’s were candy and nuts it would be Christmas every day of the year.

What happens with Zboril going forward will be interesting to watch. Unfortunately, as a 1997-born player drafted out of the CHL, he either makes Boston’s roster next fall or has to go back to the QMJHL (or he could opt to play in Europe) but AHL and Providence is not available to him as a developmental path in 2016-17.

JFK

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C

Taken with the 45th overall selection last June, “JFK” is one of the two second-rounders the B’s got from Calgary in the Dougie Hamilton trade (Senyshyn and D Jeremy Lauzon round out the three-pick haul for Boston) has been one of Boston University’s top adds this season.

He’s coming off a two-game sweep of UMass, the second game of which he scored a pair of goals and added an assist, which brings him to 9 goals, 28 points in 36 games for the Terriers as a freshman. He’s fourth on the team in scoring- tied with senior Matt Lane in points but Lane has 14 goals.

JFK has come as advertised this season: he’s a smart, smart player who brings a polished, advanced game for one who only turned 19 in the fall. He’s a good skater- quick to accelerate and smooth in the open ice. He’s faster than he looks, but doesn’t bring an electric presence with his skating. Often times- he might appear to be kind of gliding and coasting, but then he’s used that rangy, loping stride to slip by the defender at the blue line and is making a pinpoint pass to set up a scoring opportunity.

The Stockholm native, who spent two seasons in Nebraska playing in the USHL at Omaha getting used to the smaller ice surface and more rugged, physical nature of the North American game, has what scouts call 360-degree vision.  That’s the rare ability to not only see the entire play in front of him, but also a penchant for understanding what is behind him and on the periphery, so he often makes flawless drop passes or dishes that many other players simply aren’t capable of executing. He is most often compared to (by others I would point out) Patrice Bergeron, but while that’s a valid style comparison, I don’t think he’s as heavy on the puck at this stage of his development as Bergeron was even at a young age. However, the smarts, attitude and general ability to excel in all three zones appears to be there and JFK quickly earned David Quinn and his staff’s trust this year.

JFK was knocked in junior hockey for not playing with a lot of pace and urgency, and I can see those observations at times with BU this year. He’s not a player who is buzzing around the zone the way other high-energy forwards do, but he’s an economy of motion type who has the hockey sense and skill set to do a little more with less. It’s not going to win him many style points, but it’s effective. He’s slick and creative- your mind starts to wander a bit in terms of what he’s bringing to the table and all of the sudden he’ll make a play and bring your focus right back to what all the talk has been about.

He’s legit.

Current assessment: As one who advocates patience and not rushing prospects into the fray so to speak, I would not be at all surprised if the Bruins try to coax JFK into turning pro right away. With Bergeron and David Krejci about to both be on the other side of 30 (Bergeron turns 31 in July, Krejci hits 30 late next month), the B’s need to get another quality center into the pipeline sooner rather than later, even with the success Ryan Spooner is enjoying this year.

That’s probably an alarming prospect to the BU team and its fans, and I won’t say that it’s a done deal by any stretch, but I have been hearing a lot of positive buzz on JFK this year and because he plays that position that the B’s could have a developmental opening for in Providence next season, it would makes sense from an organizational standpoint to see that push come when the NCAA season is done.

Bottom line- Forsbacka-Karlsson is mature and plays a refined enough game that he could make a seamless jump to pro hockey now, but if the team and player feel it is in his best interest to return to school, he’ll be the top center and a good bet to take it to another level in 2016-17. Either way, he’s a top prospect who may not have a huge NHL ceiling in terms of offense, but is the kind of forward who will play for a decade-plus and bring consistent production and the kind of 200-foot play that a winning foundation is built on.

Malcolm Subban, G

It was a tale of two seasons for Boston’s top choice in 2012, but Malcolm Subban was playing the best hockey of his professional career when a shot in warmups hit him up under the mask and fractured his larynx. That serious injury will end up costing him more than two months of the season, but the team and its fans should be encouraged by what he put together in December and January before suffering that personal misfortune.

Always a brilliant athlete whose physical prowess in the net was clearly on display, Subban’s development has been steady and methodical because he came to the position late after years on defense and needed significant coaching on technique. He’s come a long, long way since the draft and is on the cusp from establishing himself as an NHL regular in Boston with the backup spot up for grabs next season.

I’ve always admired how explosive his movements are in net- Subban’s pads are some of the quickest in pro hockey and can be tough to beat down low when he’s able to keep his legs horizontal and seal the posts from east-to-west. He’s always been one who plays deep in his net, and the good news is- he has the athletic ability to get by with that, even if he’s been consistently coached to play out at the top of the crease more and improve his positioning to reduce shooting angles. When you play along the goal line, your margin of error goes down, so this is something that Subban has continued to work on. His glove is has shown significant improvement since he turned pro for the 2013-14 season, and Subban has all the tools to not only make the NHL, but establish himself as a starter at the highest level eventually.

He battled through a LBI that cost him the month of October to start the AHL’s regular season and was rusty when he got into the Providence crease for November. Things went from bad to worse, as the focus seemed off and his statistics- especially the save percentage plummeted down near the bottom of all AHL goaltenders. There were whispers about the attention to detail and willingness to work at addressing the flaws in his game and things seemed to snowball. To Subban’s credit, however, he righted the ship in December and earned the trust of Bruce “Butch” Cassidy and Kevin Dean in Providence- getting the bulk of starts and rolling off some impressive victories in both December and January.

Just as he had truly seized the No. 1 job in Providence for the first time in three pro seasons there, he took the shot in the throat in Portland and has been on the shelf since, opening the door for Jeremy Smith to return to the PB’s. Both Smith and Zane McIntyre have done a good job of keeping the good times rolling.

Current assessment: Subban is maintaining a good attitude about the injury and the corresponding rehab, which required surgery and established an eight-week minimum timetable for return around the beginning of April. It’s unfortunate that he’s had to take a step backwards, but the Bruins can afford to be patient given that Providence is getting good goaltending from Smith and McIntyre right now.

Back when Boston signed Tuukka Rask to his big ticket extension, a lot of folks engaged me wanting to know when the B’s would trade Subban. I think this injury should serve as a reminder of the importance of goaltending depth in any organization. Just because you have an established No. 1 like Rask does not mean it is mutually exclusive for a player of Subban’s potential to succeed in Boston as well. While that won’t preclude the Bruins from entertaining offers for him if they come in, it would have to be about value and given the elite-level showing Subban brought before his injury, he looks to be ready to take that next important step next season as Rask’s backup.

For now, we’ll wish him great speed and success in his recovery- it will be interesting to see how the long layoff affects Subban and how slowly he’s integrated back into the lineup when he returns. But, after two mostly up-and-down years in the AHL, he’s finally really turning the corner and establishing himself as the player Boston thought enough of to pick in the first round for only the third time in the team’s history (Evgeni Ryabchikov was the first in 1994 and it wasn’t pretty; Hannu Toivonen in 2002 at least brought Carl Soderberg in trade, but the track record in net for 1sts= not great).

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back in a day or two with the next installment with some of the “ministers of defense” in the prospect ranks: Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Zane McIntyre and Jeremy Lauzon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This just in: Frankie Vatrano = legit

Frank Vatrano's UMass Minutemen sweater from 2013-14 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Frank Vatrano’s UMass Minutemen sweater from 2013-14 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

The torrid start for the one-time UMass Minuteman who signed with Boston as an undrafted free agent last spring is no fluke: Frankie Vatrano can flat-out play hockey.

Although his team fell to the Hartford Wolf Pack in OT (linemate Austin Czarnik took a hooking penalty that HFD forward Adam Tambellini cashed in on), Vatrano had another standout performance.

The AHL’s Player of the Week after five goals (including a four-goal outburst on Sunday vs Portland) in his first two games of the season continued his blistering pace by netting his sixth goal in three contests late in the second period when he drove to the net and put himself in the perfect spot to corral a point shot deflection off a player in front of the net. The puck was on his stick for a split second before he rifled it past Hartford goalie Magnus Hellberg (as an aside- I once had breakfast with young Magnus the morning he was drafted by the Nashville Predators- nice kid).

Back to Vatrano…

We all knew he could shoot the puck. He was the 88th-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting for the 2012 NHL draft, but went unchosen in Pittsburgh (and Newark and Philly after that). For those scoring at home, that’s a solid 4th-round draft grade, but teams were likely scared off by how much extra weight the kid was carrying around. Even when lighting it up for the Boston Jr. Bruins and U.S. NTDP (he didn’t score a ton, but his goals were often memorable snipes), you could see he had that stocky build and scouts behind the scenes talked about him being fat.

Well, it took him a while to get to where he is, but an aborted stop at Boston College, followed by 1 game in the 2013-14 season at Mass and then his 18-goal freshman year which promoted his hometown Bruins to come calling, he worked hard in the offseason to lose weight. The end result? He came to camp ready to go and was arguably the B’s top player at the rookie tournament in Buffalo. He followed that up with a strong main camp and exhibition season performance.

Tonight’s performance wasn’t just about the goal, though. In the third period, with Providence on the power play, Ben Youds pinched in from the point and lost the race to the puck lying just inside the right circle. As a result Hartford broke it out on a 2-on-1 that was developing into a disaster until there was a flash of black and gold streaking up the ice- No. 49- Vatrano!  The Wolf Pack managed to get a shot off, but the back check was impressive- not only for the speed Vatrano showed to catch up to the play, but for the sheer effort and hustle he showed.

Vatrano is serious about playing for his Bruins. They’re the team he grew up dreaming of playing for and he’s putting action to his words. In a second period interview, he talked about how the decision to leave school was a “no brainer” for him when Boston showed interest, and I had heard from at least one other NHL source that they were disappointed in not getting a chance to talk to him, as they would have made a push had they known he would come out after just one year in the NCAA.

Amherst’s loss was the B’s gain. I don’t know how close Vatrano is to getting called up. In fact, if I had to be completely honest, I’d say that fans should resist the shiny new toy syndrome and accept that by getting top line minutes and special teams time in Providence, it probably benefits him in  the long run over rushing him to Boston. As the wise Mark Divver remarked on Twitter tonight- “let’s see where he (and Czarnik) are in January.”

But, I don’t think the six goals in three games is an accident. He can’t sustain that level of scoring, but I thought he could get 30 goals in the AHL right off the bat for this very reason- he’s always been able to snipe the puck. However, what I didn’t realize is how much better shape he would be in…and how hard he would work on all 200 feet of the ice. That’s the kind of thing that earns a young player a chance at the big show sooner rather than later. Vatrano, Czarnik and Koko have been a dynamic line and there are bigger things ahead for all three if they keep playing hard and producing.

It’s all anyone can ask.

Encouraging signs for B’s rookies in Buffalo

The Boston Bruins rookies went 1-0-1 at the 2015 prospects tournament hosted by the Buffalo Sabres, giving up a 2-0 lead to drop a 3-2 contest in OT against the host club after beating the New Jersey Devils in sudden death the night before.

Was able to catch a bit of both games (albeit limited viewing) so you’ll have to take the observations with a grain of salt, as I was not in attendance at either contest.

Overall, the B’s youngsters handled themselves pretty well- for a group that didn’t bring a lot to the table in terms of high draft pedigree, the feeling surrounding the Boston prospects is that they are a game bunch that doesn’t have a lot in the way of elite (at least through the NHL draft) pedigree, but has made some good picks in recent years and did a particularly nice job last spring at plucking some key free agents out of the NCAA, major junior and European pro ranks.

Here’s a quick look at some of the players that stood out- not going to give a recap of everyone mind you- just some players that caught my eye for various reasons:

Noel Acciari, C- The Johnston, R.I. native played so well that he earned his own post on the blog last night, but he stood out in both games in a good way, scoring a goal on the first night and nearly potting another one on a breakaway that Sabres goalie C.J. Motte barely got his left pad on. He doesn’t have top-six NHL forward upside, but Acciari has the right stuff to eventually develop into a bottom-line staple with his physicality, intelligence and grit.

Linus Arnesson, D- The Swede was featured in the camp preview last week and he showed off his trademark poise and smoothness, even getting a rare goal when he pinched in from the point and wired a pass home through a scree to give the B’s a 2-0 lead last night. He’s going to play in the NHL- it’s just a matter of when. Given Boston’s current situation on the NHL blue line, there is zero need- none- to rush him. Better to let Arnesson play prime minutes in the AHL first and if injuries create problems, don’t be surprised to see him in limited fashion, because he’ll earn a look. Come next year, he’ll be in the hunt for a more established position, but it might not be until 2017-18 that he’s most ready for regular NHL duty.

Anton Blidh, RW- Agitating Swede plays a North American-style game already and skates up and down the wing hard, forcing turnovers with a strong forecheck and finishing hits all over the ice. He didn’t translate his efforts into offense, but he’s not an overly skilled scoring prospect- just a smart, physical, opportunistic player who reminds me a bit of a young Vladimir Sobotka. He took a big hit from Jake McCabe in the second period of the Buffalo game that seemed to turn the tide of the contest.

Austin Czarnik, C- Was mildly surprised that the B’s landed the Miami University captain last spring after he finished an outstanding Red Hawks career at Oxford, but not because I didn’t think he could play but due to the fact that I thought other clubs would beat them out for his services. Although barely 5-7, Czarnik has jets on his skates and plays with that slippery waterbug elusiveness that is important for undersized guys in pro hockey. He’s a character player who grabbed attention with his energy, hustle and ability to make plays in both games. His forecheck was the difference on Frankie Vatrano’s OT winner against the Devils, and Czarnik also assisted on both Boston goals against the Sabres. He’s always going to have to fight to be given the credit he’s due, but players like Johnny Gaudreau have proven there is a place for small but talented and driven guys in the NHL- Czarnik could get there.

Jake DeBrusk, LW- The 14th overall pick in 2015’s spot here is not meant to be a slam on the kid, or to justify the opinions of those who were against the selection- he just appears not ready to seriously compete for an NHL job at this stage of his development. There is a lot to like about DeBrusk- you can see that he senses the offensive flow of a game and can get himself in position to generate scoring chances, but whereas Vatrano cashed in and brought a more polished approach to his game in the o-zone, DeBrusk seemed to be pressing. DeBrusk is not yet 19, and he’s done some nice things in the WHL- I’ll see how he develops this season and performs going forward, but this player is going to take time. If we were all being honest with ourselves on draft night, we knew that he would be a project player.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW- The 2015 fourth-rounder didn’t have a terrible showing, but I didn’t see much of the offensive ability advertised of him in his draft year. I did see some undisciplined stuff that he’s equally noted for, and if you like the Brad Marchand-type guys, Gabrielle carries promise. However, more was expected, and a good bounce back season in the WHL with Prince George (his third club since the start of 2014-15) is a solid place to start.

Justin Hickman, RW- Big-bodied, rugged power forward was another free agent pickup by the B’s last year and his surgically-repaired shoulder seems to be holding up well- he fought defender Brady Austin at the beginning of the third period vs Buffalo, giving a good amount away in terms of size and reach. He’s got to improve his first couple of steps, but this is a player who earned the respect of several NHL clubs that were in on his services, and his straight-line game and ability to create space for his linemates will translate well in Providence.

Zane McIntyre, G- He got tagged with the loss, but the Buffalo Sabres badly outplayed the B’s in the final 30 minutes and if not for the 2010 sixth-round pick, this one would have ended in regulation with a loss. His transformation from that raw, unrefined high school goalie at his first Boston development camp to a poised, unflappable goaltender who is impressive with his positioning and economy of movement in the crease has been remarkable. This is why teams need to be patient with goalie prospects- the payoff may take some time, but in McIntyre’s case, he could very well end up being worth the wait.

Zach Senyshyn, RW- Boston’s third first-round selection showed off his impressive skating and ability to get the puck up the ice quickly on the wing. He used his big body to protect the puck and showed promising offensive potential in flashes. On the downside, there were times when he seemed unsure of himself and his inability to make a play in his own end to clear the zone resulted in Buffalo’s first goal of the night. There is a tremendous amount of potential with this player, who like his fellow first-rounders, needs time to develop and will likely take some leaps forward (and a few steps backwards along the way) with the Soo Greyhounds as his role expands. He looked like a first-round pick out there, and while it would have been great for him to have more of an impact in the scoring (he did assist on Zboril’s goal along with DeBrusk), he was solid overall.

Frank Vatrano, LW- Like Acciari, Vatrano got his own post the other night and led all B’s rooks with 3 goals- unleashing his NHL-caliber shot last night from the right circle to open the scoring. You can’t teach what this kid has- he instinctively finds the seams in defenses and gets into prime scoring position. Then, as it is much easier said than done, when you put the puck on his stick, he finishes plays. You have to think that Butch Cassidy will keep Vatrano and Czarnik together at least to start things out in Providence, as the two showed excellent chemistry together at this tourney.

Daniel Vladar, G- The more I watch him, the more I am coming around to Boston’s third-round choice. He is legitimately huge, but his fluidity and quickness for one so big is eye-opening. He’s one of those guys who when dialed in is so tough to beat, and he showed it against the Devils by shaking off a couple of early goals to make key saves down the stretch and get the game to overtime, where Vatrano finished it off. “Darth Vladar” is worth stashing and letting progress on a gradual timeline much like the Bruins did with McIntyre. Seeing 2008 third-rounder Mike Hutchinson’s success with Winnipeg also serves as an important teaching point as well. Kladno native looks like a keeper.

Jakub Zboril, D- The NHL tools are clearly there for Boston’s top pick, and he showed off his good wheels and ability to make things happen offensively, finding the back of the net against New Jersey as a power play expired. I don’t think he’s ready for prime time, but it should not take long before he’s knocking on the door for a job in Boston. His biggest challenge will be to play with consistent urgency back in the QMJHL this season and not take nights off. Several scouts from other teams were a little turned off at the way he carried himself during the interview process, but the B’s seemed to love his swagger, so the onus will be on him to reward Boston’s faith by moving forward this year.

 

 

Vatrano shines in debut

I had very limited viewing of the Bruins rookies’ victory over the Devils’ futures last night in Buffalo, but former U.S. NTDP and UMass Minuteman Frank Vatrano had a pretty good outing, scoring a pair of goals including the OT winner just 12 seconds in during 3-on-3 play.

He wore an ‘A’ in the contest last night and is someone who seems to have come a long way from the doughy teen whose shot struck fear into goalies at the NTDP, but had some issues that prevented him from playing at his original NCAA commitment- Boston College- before getting his development back on track in Amherst.

Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy had this to say after the game:

“Frankie spent a little time with us [in Providence] last year, so he’s around the pro game — I think it helped him out,” said P-Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy. “Even though he didn’t play a ton of games, just being around it can really help in your development the next year.

“I think once the puck drops, like everyone else, we all like good hockey players, whether they’re picked in the first round or walk-ons, for lack of better term. I think you’re going to appreciate what they do.”

You can read the entire article by Jess Isner over at the B’s main site here.

The East Longmeadow native is a natural scorer who is more quick than open-ice fast, but as his goals demonstrated last night, he has a knack for slipping through seams in defenses and getting pucks to the net. The OT goal happened so quickly because Austin Czarnik used his speed to close quickly on a New Jersey defender after the B’s dumped it on off the center ice draw. The Devil d-man appeared to lose an edge, and Czarnik was able to come away with the puck and throw it back out high in the offensive zone. The resulting shot was tipped into the net by Vatrano, sending the B’s rooks back to their hotel happy.
Vatrano is one of those guys who doesn’t get much fanfare because he wasn’t drafted, but he can flat-out score. Watch him do his thing from last season courtesy of Minutemen Athletics:

In net, Daniel Vladar stopped 37 of 40 Devils shots. He’s got some developing to do, but the early returns are good on the third-rounder, who is huge in net and moves with a fluidity that belies his 6-5 height. Watch for him to be a top ‘tender in the USHL this year with the Chicago Steel.

Noel Acciari and Jakub Zboril had the other Boston goals.

They finish the prospect game action tonight with their match against the host team Buffalo Sabres, who feature former BU mates Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues. With the amount of early draft picks Buffalo has been amassing since 2013, the host club has a significant advantage on paper, at least.

Zane McIntyre will get the call in game 2.