Well, NHL Entry Draft time is upon us…I can hardly believe that I will be flying to Buffalo, N.Y. in the morning and that by this time Friday night, Bruins fans will know who the next big hopeful will be.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but rather than write an excessively long post here, I’ll take the advice of a recent blog critic who didn’t like the length of my Bruins draft strategy piece and break it down for you in about 15 minutes. He’s out of luck on the bolded names, though- sorry pal. As Kenny Loggins once crooned- I’ll meet you halfway. I’m sharing my thoughts on where the Bruins are heading into the draft, and where I think they’re going, and not just in round 1. Keep in mind this is just one person’s opinion, and lots of things can happen between now and pick No. 14 in the First Niagara Center.
Here’s the audio:
I am not going to weigh in on internet rumors surrounding Jimmy Vesey. Look, until he either signs with the Buffalo Sabres or he doesn’t and becomes an unrestricted free agent on August 15, I’m going to do my level best to stay above the fray. Because of my relationship with him and members of his family going back to his prep school days, that’s precisely *why* I’m not going to get into the middle of what is flying around. I give full credit to the Sabres for stepping up and getting his rights- that puts them in the driver’s seat, at least for the next some-odd 60 days, and Tim Murray will either convince him to forego the chance to pick his destination, or Vesey will stay the course. My thinking- and it’s just my own intuition here- is that he’s come a full four years since Nashville drafted him in Pittsburgh. What is less than two months more at this point? But if Murray and Sabres owner Terry Pegula (and don’t forget Jack Eichel) make a convincing enough pitch, there’s not much stopping him from ending the soap opera.
But, if you’re looking for me to repeat things flying around various message boards- that’s not happening.
Now, onto the mock draft:
1- Toronto- Auston Matthews, C; The Leafs get their man- Arizona native’s the wire-to-wire No. 1 overall selection and with good reason.
2- Winnipeg- Patrik Laine, LW; The first big winners of the NHL’s new lotto jackpot system cash in with this pure shooter who turns goal scoring into an art form.
3- Columbus- Jesse Puljujarvi, RW; GM Jarmo Kekalainen pounces on this Finnish horse who isn’t quite the threat his countryman is, but isn’t that far off, either.
4. Edmonton- Matt Tkachuk, LW; On a team whose GM once saw firsthand what Milan Lucic could do, the Oilers grab a high-end power forward with serious bloodlines.
5- Vancouver- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW; The Canucks need help everywhere, so Jim Benning can’t go wrong here with as complete a two-way threat as there is in this class.
6- Calgary- Logan Brown, C; Described by my pal Reed Duthie (who calls Hamilton Bulldogs games) as an “aircraft carrier with feet”, this massive center is also highly skilled, meaning- he’s off the board in the blink of an eye.
7- Arizona- Olli Juolevi, D; Is this Finnish version of the old Val Kilmer movie ‘Real Genius’ the first defender off the board in Buffalo? Very possible.
8.- Buffalo- Jakob Chychrun, D; After making a splash with the Vesey trade, the Sabres fire more shots across the bow, picking up this big name at 8, but his hockey IQ has raised some doubts.
9- Montreal- Alex Nylander, RW; The Canadiens seek skill and scoring, so why not grab the player who might have absolutely been the most talented player in the OHL draft class, even if he doesn’t always bring it.
10- Colorado- Mikhail Sergachev, D; The Avalanche land a big talent that has scouts divided on his overall defensive awareness, but may be at the top end of the skill factor in the OHL.
11- New Jersey- Tyson Jost, LW-C; Ray Shero blinks- he can’t believe Jost is on the board here, and after landing Pavel Zacha a year ago, grabs another potential elite forward bound for North Dakota in the spirit of one Zach Parise 13 years ago.
12- Ottawa- Michael McLeod C; The Senators are betting that McLeod’s blend of size, skating and smarts propels him to stardom up the middle, even with questions about his NHL upside.
13- Carolina- Clayton Keller, C; Small but dynamic center has major league potential as an uber-dangerous playmaker.
14- Boston- Dante Fabbro, D; Knowing what the Bruins tend to value in their players and what they need at this stage, this defender is right up their alley at 14.
15- Minnesota- Luke Kunin, C; St. Louis native did a great job as a freshman on a poor team- the sky’s the limit and the Wild can’t resist.
16- Detroit- Charlie McAvoy, D; A player who could just as easily go to Boston two picks earlier, if he’s still on the board here the Wings pounce.
17- Nashville- Jake Bean, D; The Predators know Bean has a high-end skill set and grab him with outstanding value at 17 where others had him projected inside the top-10.
18- Philadelphia- Kieffer Bellows, LW; Passed up by his hometown Wild, Bellows doesn’t have much time to dwell on it & makes sense as a fit in Philly with his deadly release and penchant for filling the net.
19- NY Islanders- Riley Tufte, RW; Big, massive, skates well, tremendous long-term promise and the Isles struck gold with Brock Nelson in Minnesota before, so why not take a big payoff project here?
20- Arizona via NYR- Julien Gauthier, RW Major concerns about hockey sense and a tepid second half after tearing it up early in the season mean that the Val d’Or standout slides, but he’s solid value here.
21- Carolina via LAK- Max Jones, LW; Speedy power forward has some nasty play that has gone over the line, but if the Hurricanes can harness that raw aggression- he could be one of those role guys you win with.
22- Winnipeg via CHI- Logan Stanley, D; When you pick Laine at 2, you can afford to take on more of a project player with your bonus 1st-rounder, and with Stanley’s size, skating and snarl- he looks like a solid bet to play even if he tops out as a mid-tier shutdown D.
23- Florida-German Rubtsov, C; The Russian forward in class is someone worth jumping on in the early 20’s and Dale Tallon does just that.
24- Anaheim-Tage Thompson, RW; Huge but raw with an upside that some in the NHL scouting community feels is too legit to quit, the UConn Husky becomes a part of the West Coast quack attack.
25- Dallas- Dennis Cholowski, D; It sure looks like the late-surging BCHL two-way defender is bound to land in the 1st round, and he looks like a good fit for the resurgent Stars under Jim Nill.
26- Washington- Pascal Laberge, C; Speedy and skilled, the Capitals need to find secondary scoring behind Ovechkin and Backstrom- this Victoriaville Tigre brings that in spades.
27- Tampa Bay- Brett Howden, C; Some say he looks a lot like his older brother, but this Howden seems to have more killer instinct and finish around the net. Stevie Y. will take it.
28- St. Louis- Lucas Johansen, D; With Kevin Shattenkirk likely to leave via trade, the Blues will look to infuse more offensive talent and potential with this latest product of the Kelowna D machine.
29- Boston via SJS- Markus Niemelainen, D; The B’s could go with a forward with their second pick like a surprise 1st-rounder in Wade Allison here, but if they add another 6-5 D who can really skate, this Finn will complement the right-shooting Brandon Carlo nicely at some point.
30- Anaheim via Toronto via PIT- Boris Katchouk, LW; Anaheim grabbed the big RW earlier, now they get the gritty, in-your-face and underrated Soo Greyhounds scorer at the end of the round after giving up Frederik Andersen to the Leafs. (Thanks to the readers who pointed out my mistake)
Alex DeBrincat drops out of the 1st round, but he won’t last long in the 2nd.
Okay- that’s it. I’m off to Buffalo.
Reminder- if you want breaking NHL draft news, picks, analysis and hot takes (or is it “taeks?”) give me a follow on Twitter: @kluedeke29 I might be able to get some Periscope action going as well, so look for that.
Will be on TSN 690 with my Red Line Report boss, Kyle Woodlief, with host Tony Marinaro this Friday, June 24, from 11-noon (Eastern) live from First Niagara Center to talk draft, draft and nothing but draft.
Will do some deeper dives on the draft at the blog in the coming days, but this is pretty much it until the big event, and even then- will just hit the wave tops, but keep checking in- I might have some Easter Eggs and surprises for you.
So, here we are…the long awaited podcast with two friends and experts on the Ontario Hockey League, Dominic Tiano of OHL Writers and Reed Duthie, play-by-play announcer (for home games) of the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
We did 2 hours of material, but breaking it into a pair of one-hour (pretty much) parts, and we’ll start this one with quick intros and then a brief discussion of the 2017 Stanley Cup final series between Pittsburgh and San Jose, recapping keys to success for the Pens and Sharks and then taking a closer look at what the Bruins might need to do to get things back on track.
After that, it’s a holistic focus on the OHL players eligible for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, starting at the very top with Matthew Tkachuk and getting to Markus Niemelainen before technical difficulties forced a tactical pause.
We’ll be back with part 2 soon so Dom can finish his thoughts on Niemelainen, and then we have an amusing point-counterpoint going on Sean Day between Reed and Dom before we continue the march down the list of OHL prospects.
So regardless of what NHL team you happen to root for, if you want a comprehensive look at the guys coming out of the OHL for this year’s draft, both podcasts are for you!
Will let you listen to this and chew on it for a bit and then will post the second hour of the OHL-centric NHL draft podcast later this weekend.
Oh, and the video was just me being a rookie and not paying attention to what I was doing…part 2 will be audio only, but you’re all stuck looking at half of my face and my shiny bald head for most of this…apologies!
For those who aren’t that keen on the Boston Bruins, this podcast is for you!
In it, I break down some of the top talents in this year’s class- where they’re probably going and also discuss some risers (Luke Kunin, Dennis Cholowski are just two).
We’re about 2 weeks out and the combine is in the books, so more and more info will start to leak out. Is it legit? Is it deception operations from teams looking to distract away from the guys they want?
This post will attempt to look at what the Boston Bruins might aim to do come June 24-25 in Buffalo, as they currently have three picks in the top-50, with four more in rounds 5-7. This analysis is based on my knowledge of the draft picks combined with 16 years of covering the Bruins and their draft efforts/prospects for the New England Hockey Journal.
I. The Bruins’ draft philosophy
The Big Bad Bruins.
That’s been embedded in the team’s DNA for decades and you can see it in many of their picks and trades going well back into the 1970s. In 1986, GM Harry Sinden succeeded in bringing a talented but underachieving young former top-10 pick three years earlier in Cam Neely to Boston, and created a franchise icon.
Now, Neely is the embattled team president, receiving far more criticism and the questioning of his abilities as an executive than he ever did when he was patrolling the right wing, firing home 395 goals and 500+ points in a Hall of Fame career and endearing him to the Boston faithful with his throwback, blue collar style. His career ended far sooner than it should have, and the team spent much of the next decade looking for the NHL’s next big power forward (and they pretty much found him in 2006).
Those Big Bad Bruins days are long gone, and although the 2011 Stanley Cup champion was the closest thing the city had to those beloved teams from a bygone era. But through the decades, the organization has sought to identify and draft bigger, rugged skill players who can not only impact the game physically, but provide an offensive boost. Some of those picks were successful:
Al Secord, Gord Kluzak, Glen Murray, Kyle McLaren and Milan Lucic come to mind, but far more players didn’t meet with the hoped for success: Brian Curran, Nevin Markwart, Shayne Stevenson, Matt Alvey, Joel Prpic, Johnathan Aitken, Kyle Wanvig, Darren McLachlan, Tommy Cross, Anthony Camara and Cody Payne are just some names. Others rumored to be in Boston’s wheelhouse but who weren’t available to be drafted such as Zack Kassian will go down as blessings in disguise that the team couldn’t waste an early first-rounder on.
Boston has tended to spend more time looking for the power forward or two-way D with an edge than the smaller, faster, skill forward or pure offensive defenseman who can excel at moving pucks up the ice and getting back to retrieve them. The B’s also prioritize smart, character types who can thrive in coach Claude Julien’s demanding system. This at times draws jeers for the tendency to see pure offensive or skill players overlooked, but that doesn’t account for the selections of David Pastrnak or Ryan Donato in 2014 with the team’s first two selections. Both are not only offensively-gifted skill guys but also have the head and heart for the game.
In fact, up until last year, the Bruins seemed to be a best player available or “BPA” team, but when they drafted Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn with three consecutive first-round selections in the middle of the order, at least two of those players looked more like needs-based picks as opposed to taking the players whom many felt represented the top values on the board.
With two consecutive non-playoff finishes in the books, the B’s are under intense scrutiny this time around, and one cannot say with any degree of certainty that they will adopt a BPA mantra in a few weeks. However, BPA can appear to be a luxury when a team has as many holes and needs as the Bruins appear to entering the 2016-17 season.
It’s no secret that Boston’s team defense cost them a playoff spot this season and possibly more, as the case can be made that with a better than average core on the back end, the B’s might have been good enough to make a run at the conference championship.
The reality is- we’ll never know, because the D was so overmatched, especially down the stretch, that the implosion that saw the team miss the postseason in such spectacularly poor fashion, was, looking back on it, entirely predictable.
GM Don Sweeney played more than 1,000 NHL games at the position for Boston and Dallas, so he knows his defense needs a lot of work. We’ll toss out the whole Kevan Miller extension in this article because frankly- I refuse to believe he’s going to keep both Miller and Adam McQuaid on their current deals. The Miller extension had to be an opening move to trade McQuaid (plus Dennis Seidenberg and/or Joe Morrow, perhaps?) and begin more of a rebuilding of the back end than a re-tool as sold last summer when Colin Miller and Matt Irwin were brought in. In order to do it, Sweeney not only needs at least 1-2 capable veterans (and not the 5/6/7 variety either) and at least 1 youngster, maybe 2 from within the organization to come in and nail down a regular spot at a lower cap hit. Of course- to do that, he’s got to move some older, less productive guys out of the organization to free up the space. Easier said than done, and if the defense of June 2016 looks largely unchanged in September 2016, then the front office will have earned the sharp criticism. I’m pretty confident there will be changes, though- what remains to be seen is what those are.
When it comes to defenders, right-shooting D are more of a pressing need than guys who pass and fire from the left. Who’s to say that RHD will be a need in a couple of years from now in Boston, but as of today- watch for the B’s to look at spending some early draft capital on shoring that side of the ice up.
In addition to defense, Neely said the team needs to get heavier on the right side of the forward lineup. As a former RW and the preeminent power forward of his time, that makes sense. There are a few intriguing options in the draft, but nobody who can come in and contribute right away. Heck, even after his 45-goal season, I’d say that Senyshyn is still a few years and a more rounded effort in three zones from being ready to play for the Big B’s. That’s not a knock on the kid, but not everyone can be a Pastrnak and precociously show up as a rookie ready to go as he did after being the 25th overall pick in 2014.
The team could also stand to keep looking for skilled centers– there isn’t much room at the inn now, and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Donato, Ryan Fitzgerald even Cameron Hughes who was a nice under-the-radar pick in the sixth round last year, look promising at the position. However, landing a big and talented pivot on a longer-term timeline makes sense for Boston at this point, given that Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are both on the wrong side of 30.
With the selection of Daniel Vladar a year ago, goaltending isn’t a need, but watch for the B’s to seek value in the latter rounds. Zane McIntyre had a disappointing rookie pro year after so much promise, but this will be a bounce back year for him. Vladar is already under contract, so there’s another spot for a longer-term project in net the way McIntyre was six years ago.
With plenty of needs to go around, don’t expect Boston to get too picky, either. Of course, depending on who is available at 14, BPA and need could meet at the nexus, but for now- it looks like the B’s will try to grab the top-rated player on their board when their turn comes, regardless of position. And at least given the current projections at 14, it looks like either one of a pair of right-shooting defenders with Boston connections could end up pulling on the spoked-B in primetime.
III. Wither Dante or Charlie?
Dante Fabbro or Charlie McAvoy? McAvoy or Fabbro?
We don’t know for certain, but it seems that one if not both could be available to them. While I won’t go out on a limb to say definitively that it will be one or the other, this section will explain to you precisely why Fabbro and McAvoy make sense as value picks where Boston is currently sitting.
We’ll start with McAvoy- he’s more familiar to Boston hockey fans, having just completed his freshman season at Boston University, where he started out as a 17-year-old frosh. His start was a slow one, aided in part by his needed to shed a little unwanted weight, but by the time the calendar flipped to 2016, the Long Island (Long Beach, N.Y.) native was looking every bit the hot prospect he was expected to be entering the season. (Highlights posted by the Draft Analyst)
The first thing about McAvoy is that he pushes the pace. He’s got an explosive first few steps and he loves to grab the puck and just go. For any fan that has seen the Bruins hemmed into their own zone, going with the D-to-D passes in the face of ferocious forechecking pressure, this is welcome news. If you’ve seen Torey Krug skate the puck out of trouble on the left side, McAvoy represents someone who can do the same thing on the right.
The best thing about McAvoy can get him into trouble at times, as he likes to pinch and gamble. I’ve seen him skate the puck all the way to the back of the net, fail to pick up the back side pressure and turn the puck over before his forward can rotate back to cover, leading to an odd-man rush the other way. A lot of that is just coaching and experience, but his decision-making will need to improve at the next level.
McAvoy only had three goals last season, but he’s got a good shot- he can get it off in stride or generate power from a stationary position and by the end of the year he was shooting with more authority. Watch for him to jump to double digits next season with the added role and confidence as a sophomore.
Here are more highlights thanks to NHL prospects posting on YouTube:
Now- as for Fabbro, he’s headed to BU in the fall, where he and McAvoy will form a pretty dangerous 1-2 punch from the right side for coach David Quinn and Co., and will likely be deployed on separate PP units to spread the wealth.
Fabbro isn’t as flashy offensively as McAvoy is but he’s more cerebral. His hockey IQ is among the highest of any player I saw this past season, and he has the kind of panoramic vision to rapidly survey the ice, read the play and move the puck to the right spot. When you look at how much Boston’s transition game has foundered of late, Fabbro’s skill at getting the play up the ice quickly would be like manna from heaven.
Impressive highlights of Fabbro from the U18s last April (bigwhite06):
He’s taller than McAvoy is but not as thick through the core. He’s not as dangerous with the big shot, but he’s got a sneaky-quick wrist shot that he uses to good effect and it comes off the blade of his stick in a blur.
What I really like about Fabbro is his personality- there’s a healthy swagger there of a born leader who knows he’s good, but will put in the work and gut out an injury to help his team win. Here’s another highlight package on Fabbro by NHL Prospects:
These two are very close and you pretty much have to flip a coin between them. Having live scouted both, it is hard to imagine that teams seriously considering one or the other see a wide gulf between them- they’re extremely close in terms of what they bring to the table and that all-important “upside” when it comes to defenders in this day and age of the NHL. In the end, their combine interviews, coupled with whether both are on the board when Boston picks, may be the deciding factor if one or the other gets the call.
The good news for Boston fans is that if both are off the board at 14 (and that’s entirely possible), then that means a couple of pretty good players who weren’t projected to be available at 14 going into the draft will be sitting there for the B’s. Assuming, of course, that they want them.
IV. What about Jakob?
So, the Jakob Chychrun question and the desire for the Bruins to move up to get him has reared its head again.
Let me be clear: I like him as a player. I’m not sure I like him anywhere near as much as I did after watching him on film as an OHL rookie and earlier in the season.
After watching Chychrun at the U18s in April, I was left wanting more and wondering about his hockey IQ. I see a player with major league tools (size, skating, passing, shot), but to borrow an old cliche here- not sure about the toolbox (vision, instincts, read-react, judgment and decision-making under pressure).
The problem I see see with Chychrun right now on Twitter and other places is that he’s still living off of an older reputation and I don’t see that public perception has caught up to the fact that a shaky 2nd half and OHL playoffs followed by a mediocre U18 tourney has him trending downwards. Now, that’s all relative…it’s hard to imagine that he’ll fall far in the draft past a team like Buffalo at eight, for example, but if he does- you’ll immediately see the various fanbases clamoring for their teams to move up decisively to nab Chychrun.
He’s a good player and you can’t teach his size, skating or natural ability. But, is he the potential franchise cornerstone he was being hyped up to be back in October or November? I’m not sure about that.
If you want a classic case of a player who will instantly represent a “win” for the team that drafts him, especially if he goes anywhere after pick 5 or 6, then Chychrun is the guy. But, if I had to bank on JC being the player in the NHL at his peak that we thought he was even six months ago, I’m not betting the farm. If I’m wrong, so be it- but then he will have realized his immense potential and that’s good news. However, Chychrun might end up being just another serviceable NHL D- if you need a major hit on the blue line, that doesn’t get it done.
Fabbro was his D partner on Team Canada and outplayed him by a wide margin. McAvoy thrived in a tough competition level as a 17-18-YO freshman, and some scouts look at him and believe he would have put up some big points in the OHL this year. We can’t prove it, but the gap between Chychrun and those two isn’t as big as fans might think.
V. Okay, enough about pick 14…how about the others?
The B’s watched their second first-rounder (acquired last summer from San Jose for SCF goalie Martin Jones) go from 18 to 29 or 30. That’s a game-changer for Boston.
They could certainly hold onto the pick and make it near the end of the draft’s primetime event on Friday night, but that would leave them with just one selection between 30 and 135 on Day 2.
Assuming Sweeney doesn’t try and move that SJS 1st for NHL help on D, there’s a possibility he could also trade back into the early 2nd, to give him a pick somewhere around 31-35 and 49, while picking up an extra 4th-rounder in the process to narrow the gap.
I know what you’re thinking right now…you’re thinking- why, oh why did he trade the 3rd- and 4th-round picks in 2016 for John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak (to say nothing of Brett Connolly– acquired by Sweeney’s predecessor for 2nds in ’15 in ’16)? I don’t have a good answer- it didn’t work the way he wanted to, so the criticism here is valid and warranted if the B’s do end up moving the 29 or 30 for an extra 2nd and 4th. Rant away. But when you’re finished, stop a moment to consider the B’s history with second-round picks and maybe it’s not so bad after all?
If the B’s hold onto the late 1st, I like the potential for another big, swift-skating D there in Finland’s Markus Niemelainen. He was the nails at the U18s, even if he didn’t put up big offensive numbers and I find him criminally underrated by Central and other lists that have him in the 50’s and 60’s. He played for a gong show of a club in Saginaw this year, but he’s so nimble and quick for such a big man, and you can see that there might be some real untapped offensive potential with him. Of course- if Boston likes him and thinks they can get him in the early 2nd, they might move that 1st for more assets.
Another skilled 2-way D worth following is WHL guy Lucas Johansen, younger brother of Nashville C Ryan Johansen. The Kelowna Rockets rearguard can really skate and pass- he’s more of a finesse, positional defender versus a classic player who brings a physical edge in going both ways, but when it comes to wheels and head, he’s got 1st-round tools.
Another rising player, but one to consider up front is Tri-City Storm RW and Clark Cup playoff MVP Wade Allison.
If Chychrun is still enjoying the positive wave of goodwill and hype based on last season and the early part of 2015-16, then Allison is the opposite- he got virtually no buzz until he went off in the season’s second half and vaulted up the various lists and rankings. The earliest you’ll probably find him in public is in the 40s-low 50’s, but I could see him breaking into the late 1st or at least off the boards in the first few picks of the second round. Look at this guy go…video compliments of Storm Hockey:
Allison is a powerful skater who drives the net, excels in puck possession, has the kind of heavy shot that terrorizes goalies and brings a solid, workman-like mentality to the rink every day. Oh, and remember what I said earlier about Neely’s comment about getting heavier on the right wing. Just sayin’… MVP! MVP! MVP! (Great interview, too)
Alex DeBrincat won’t get picked by Boston late, but if they’re serious about liking Johnny Gaudreau back in 2011 as was reported last season, then there’s no reason for them not to take this dangerous scorer even with the very small size. DeBrincat is simply deadly and worth a first-round pick, even though he might slip to the second.
At 49, the B’s could see some value with U.S. NTDP captain Ryan Lindgren, who is a personal favorite as a jack-of-all-trades who might just be a master of some- like winning. He’s not exceptional, but is so polished, smart, competitive and underrated…he deserves more attention than he gets. If someone like a Filip Hronek or Taylor Raddysh falls to the bottom third of the second round, Boston might see the value there. Hronek impressed against men in the Czech Extraliga this year and is PP ace with skill and brains- he’s just real light and reedy in his build- a lot of maturing and off-ice work ahead. Raddysh is one of those on-again, off-again big wingers who is a bit of an enigma, but if he can pick up a step and add some consistency, could be a horse (remember- mission: get heavier on RW!)
After that, unless the B’s acquire an extra pick, they have a loooongg wait.
In the 5th round, you’re looking at dark horses and sleepers- you could see a few overagers- 1996 and 1997-born guys. I wrote about a few of them in the June issue of the New England Hockey Journal- you should check it out. http://www.hockeyjournal.com
VI. Can we just wrap it up? Please?
So, there it is. My first real comprehensive take on the Boston draft and its potential for this blog.
It sets the foundation for what I hope is some quality discussion and research.
One thing I will leave you with (if you’re even still reading and there’s a quiz on Twitter btw) is this: avoid groupthink. Just because I’m high on Fabbro or McAvoy doesn’t mean I’m right. Research the players- seek different angles and opinions and don’t be so quick to form the foundation of your views based on what others are telling you.
I realize that resources are often scarce and viewings of these players few and far between, but if you want to be prepared for what lies ahead when Boston makes that first critical pick in Buffalo, you owe it to yourself to arm yourself with the knowledge to be a critical thinker in the debates that are sure to follow, especially if the B’s pass on a “higher” profile player to grab their guy. Following the other lemmings who are convinced that player a or player b should be drafted at that spot over whomever the Bruins choose is not critical thinking. At least, not if you haven’t done some honest work yourself to form that opinion instead of just hopping on the bandwagon.
Ultimately- whether the B’s grab a popular choice or not- whether perceived as good or not so good- we’re still not going to know if they were successful. Resist the urge to claim victory or defeat and adopt the kind of patience that will be required as the Bruins attempt to build a winning jigsaw puzzle for more sustained success beyond 2017.
It’s a nice Sunday afternoon…USA fell to Russia for the bronze medal (but Frankie Vatrano netted both USA goals in a 7-2 loss, so there’s that) and Canada captured goal with a rousing win over Finland, denying the Finns the international hockey sweep of World Jr., Under-18 and Men’s World championship in 2016. But, as Meatloaf used to say- “Two outta three ain’t bad!”
I did an audio podcast on the Memorial Cup, which has two Bruins prospects competing for Jr. hockey’s ultimate prize.
In it, I discuss Jeremy Lauzon’s triumphant return to action with the Quebec League champ Rouyn-Noranda Huskies after taking a skate to the neck during the QMJHL playoffs. I also talk about Jake DeBrusk and go on a bit of a rant defending him to the critics. I’m probably doing a little Bill “Thou Doth Protest Too Much” Shakespeare here, but some things just need to be said. With Boston’s goal-scoring woes, it’s surprising the level of criticism he gets from the team’s own fans, many of whom haven’t seen him much outside the occasional highlight. Well, with the Memorial Cup games on NHL Network, you can get an idea. Right, wrong or indifferent- just calling it like I see it.
I touched on how dominant the London Knights have been, even making a Hrkac Circus reference. One thing I didn’t mention in the context of Tyler Parsons’ play this year (he’s a 2016 NHL draft eligible btw) is that even if you get the puck and transition it the other way, without icing it, you have to face him. Fighting Sioux opponents had to go up against none other than Eddie Belfour in net during that magical championship season.
If you manage to make it through my self-indulgence with DeBrusk, I do a Jakob Chychrun-Dante Fabbro analysis of their performance as a D pairing at the World Under-18 tourney last month. Windsor Spitfires star D Mikhail Sergachev also gets a mention, and I share one example of his sublime skill set and hockey IQ for your listening pleasure. I also talk about 2017 draft eligible Eeli Tolvanen (and yes- he played for Sioux City of the USHL this year).
With the bulk of my draft work done for Red Line Report and New England Hockey Journal, I can now devote more time to the blog. Thanks for hanging in there…
As we finalize the Stanley Cup semi-finalists, with San Jose and Nashville duking it out in Game 7 tonight on the West Coast, I’ll expand the mock to cover all 30 1st-rounders, but for now, I had done this on another forum and will post it here.
A couple of notes- mock drafts are fun, but this one obviously needs a lot of work and as we get closer to June, certain picks will come more into focus. After all, we still have the Memorial Cup to get to.
In the meantime, a Twitter user had asked me to do something like this, so thank AJ/@fantefuturist for this first of several versions of a mock draft for next month’s big event in Buffalo.
1. Toronto- Auston Matthews, C- The talk about fantastic Finn Patrik Laine being selected here is intriguing, but ultimately, Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello are all about rebuilding the Leafs franchise- and getting a potential No. 1 cornerstone center is the way they’ll go.
2. Winnipeg- Patrik Laine, LW- The Jets jumped into the top-2 from 6 and the breaks continue to go this franchise’s way. They have one of the more robust scouting staffs and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been willing to spend a lot of money on drafting and development- they’re about to hit a homerun with a future 40-goal man who will fire up the already fanatical Winnipeg fanbase for years to come.
3. Columbus- Jesse Puljujarvi, RW- Another team to jump up and push the Edmonton Oilers out of the top-three, even if GM Jarmo Kekalainen wasn’t a Finn, they’d be taking this high-end forward with size and skill who is deadly on the PP. Speaking of the GM, some might not remember this, but he was a bit of a thorn in Edmonton’s side when he was with the Bruins for a cup of coffee during the 1989-90 season (11 games), scoring his only 2 goals of the year against Bill Ranford.
4. Edmonton- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW- There’s talk that Peter Chiarelli will deal this pick to get some higher-end D help, as the Oilers don’t really need another early draft pick. But if they stand pat, they get a well-rounded forward with a high ceiling that might allow them to move other players up front for a good return.
5. Vancouver- Matt Tkachuk, LW- If the Oilers (or whomever sits at No. 4) takes Dubois, then Tkachuk here is about as no-brainer a pick as there is. He had an outstanding year in the OHL and is a coveted package of productive power forwards and big-name bloodlines. Can’t imagine Keith’s kid slipping out of the top-5.
6. Calgary- Jakob Chychrun, D- At one time thought of as a cinch to be taken No. 2 overall, he’s still the best defenseman in the draft and the top talent available here to the Flames. They don’t hesitate to add a potential cornerstone after falling out of the top-5.
7. Arizona- Olli Juolevi, D- The Desert Dogs address a need and a top player on the board. Juolevi’s buzz is quite high among the NHL scouting community and it makes sense that he goes here. If the Flames opt for Juolevi at 6, then Chychrun is probably the pick here.
8. Buffalo- Alex Nylander, RW- The Sabres grab another high-end winger to go with their marquee center in Jack Eichel. Nylander is a sexy name with a high ceiling, and the Sabres will swing for the fences here, even if Nylander might be one of those players who feasts on weaker competition but has trouble getting it done against better opponents and in tighter checking games.
9. Monteal- Mikhail Sergachev, D- If they don’t take Logan Brown here, the Habs will look to find a potential key D to fill a void if they eventually opt to move on from PK Subban. The Habs like their Russian D and Sergachev has the talent to be better than anyone they’ve had in recent memory.
10. Colorado- Clayton Keller, C- After a strong U-18 performance, Keller’s stock is up and he could end up being the second-best center in the entire draft class when all is said and done.
11. New Jersey- Jake Bean, D- The Devils could use help just about anywhere, but they go high-end scoring defender here…24 goals is 24 goals and he’ll kill the interviews, too.
12. Ottawa -Tyson Jost, LW- The Senators get good value from this electric forward who lit up the U-18s and looks like a future NHL fixture on the left side.
13. Carolina- Logan Brown, C- Just a hunch, but the Hurricanes are hurting for centers, and I could see them being enamored with Brown’s tremendous size and skill set. The ‘Canes are hurting for centers, and their GM (who knows the value of a 2-way guy up the middle) pounce on the Windsor product who was born in NC when his dad played there. Win-win.
14. Boston- Dante Fabbro, D- Even with Charlie McAvoy on the board and a choice between the two similar BU (with Fabbro headed there this fall) blue liners, the B’s will go with the more complete D-man in Fabbro. Assuming, that is, they hold onto this pick and don’t trade it for NHL help at the position.
Guys who could crack top-14:
Michael McLeod, C Charlie McAvoy, D Julien Gauthier, LW Luke Kunin, C Kieffer Bellows, LW
The blog has gone quiet for some time and apologies for that.
My schedule at the Under-18 hockey championship tourney was not conducive to posting each day, but quite a bit has happened since then, so I have some catching up to do. I’ll weigh in on the two after-season press conferences in Boston in a bit, but I need to gather my thoughts, as I want to make sure that I am neither playing to the crowd or opening myself up to the various trolls who aren’t interested in a thoughtful discussion.
For the past week, I’ve been focused on the future of the NHL, watching the 2016 IIHF World Under-18s at the gorgeous Ralph Engelstad Arena, home of the 2016 NCAA champion University of North Dakota Fighting (Sioux) Hawks. It’s a true hockey cathedral and even though the tourney was not well-attended, we enjoyed being in a beautiful facility nonetheless.
So before I switch gears and post about the state of the Bruins, here are some thoughts on the top players at the U-18s. I am not listing any of the 2017-eligible players who performed admirably in Grand Forks- and there were quite a few! These are the players I had the most time for (in order) and aren’t necessarily the “top” or “sexy” names everyone else is talking about:
1. Dante Fabbro, D Canada- Legit two-way defender with some major upside at the next level. I cannot state enough how much I liked Fabbro’s performance in the four preliminary round games- he did a little bit of everything. 2. Tyson Jost, C Canada- The yin to Fabbro’s yang- exciting, dynamic, dangerous. He just might have played his way into the top-10. 3. Clayton Keller, C USA- I’ll admit it- late to the party on this kid, but he’s a player. Speedy, uber-smart and a dynamic playmaker. There was a lot of NHL buzz on the Illinois native and BU recruit coming in, but it’s warranted. 4. Markus Niemelainen, D Finland- Huge at 6-5 and a superb skater. Size and wheels alone isn’t a reason to take this Finn (the only 2016 draft eligible on a squad of seven D- all late ’98 or ’99-born guys) but his potential late-blooming offensive potential could push it over the edge. Anyone who has him ranked well out of the first-round is missing the boat on him in my view. 5. Kieffer Bellows, LW USA- The son of former NHL 500-goal, 1000-point man Brian Bellows has a ferocious shot, but when he’s playing physical and with a burr up under his saddle as he did here, he’s a force. 6. Logan Brown, C USA- The 6-foot-6 son of Ottawa 67’s coach and NHL D Jeff Brown (btw- he’s nowhere near 6-6 in height) is a heck of a prospect in terms of his pure talent and physical attributes. He doesn’t look like he’s working all that hard and then boom! He’s got a pair of nifty assists on creative plays after you didn’t think he was accomplishing much. He could go off the board much higher than expected, but right now is tracking at/around 15th overall. 7. Mikhail Sergachev, D Russia- Absolutely recognize (and love) the skill: skating, passing/puck skills are first rate. However, Sergachev didn’t assert himself or take control much in this one beyond a few impressive flashes. It may have had to do with the younger team around him, but he was good in this one, not great. 8. Jakob Chychrun, D Canada- See Sergachev. Chychrun has been so highly-rated for so long that it might be nitpicking at this point. He’s got great tools, but kept waiting for him to take charge of games and he never did. That distinction belonged to Fabbro, his defense partner. 9. Ryan Lindgren, D USA- He might be average-sized and lacking in a high-end skill set that jumps out at you, but boy- is this guy ever smart and driven! Team USA captain did nothing but make plays throughout the preliminary round, and it’s not tough to see why he has the ‘C’. He’s going to be a fine value pick in June. 10. Evan Fitzpatrick, G Canada- I didn’t want to like this guy based on some things I had seen during his QMJHL season with Sherbrooke, but man- he was dialed in. Especially against the Finns, when he had a memorable stop in the second period against Otto Somppi.
Honorable mention: Boris Katchouk, RW Canada- Not fancy, but just plays the game in straight lines and is effective. Made an immediate splash in his 1st game (of two in the opening round) against Slovakia.
Alex Nylander, LW Sweden- Love the talent, but need more consistency, especially against the better foes.
Livio Stadler, D Switzlerland- Smallish defender is smart and gritty. Some may not see any NHL upside but as a late project pick, a team could do far worse than the Swiss captain.
Mareks Mitens, G Latvia “Mittens”- Nearly presided over an epic upset of the Swedes, and if nothing else- gave us an entire game’s worth of entertainment as the Legend of Mittens grew with each save.
Brett Howden, LW Canada- All he did was snipe goals and create opportunistic offense. His three-zone game didn’t stand out, but around the net, he was deadly.
Samuel Solensky, C Slovakia- Small but energetic and creative forward hustles and plays hard. He was not up to the task vs. Canada, so he’ll remain a mid-round project instead of raising his draft profile significantly.
Limited viewing (1 game):
Jesse Puljujarvi, LW Finland- He looked a little tired and not 100%, but his big-time potential emerged when the Finns were skating with the man advantage. He’s a load- not hard to understand why he’s considered a top-three draft prospect.
Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) play-by-play announcer Reed Duthie spent a good deal of time talking to the Scouting Post last week on some of the best options coming out of the Ontario Hockey League for the next NHL entry draft.
Over the weekend I posted Duthie’s background and his thoughts on B’s prospect Zach Senyshyn, who posted a two-goal game last night against Sudbury to tie his 26-goal total from his rookie OHL season a year ago. This time, he did it in 37 games as opposed to 66, so Senyshyn is certainly living up to his 15th overall draft grade from last June. You can go here to read that post.
This coming June, the NHL draft is being held in Buffalo, which is appropriate because there is a lot of high-end talent and depth coming out of the OHL for the late 1997 and 1998-born players. We’ll just jump into it. The players covered are in order of where Red Line Report has them in the OHL’s pecking order at mid-season, which can change a good bit based on key factors such as the World Jr. tournament, second-half of the OHL season and playoffs,and the World Under-18 tourney in April. Out of respect to my employer at Red Line, I am not sharing the actual ranking numbers with you, but this does give you an idea of how our Chief Scout and Ontario scouts saw it over the first half of the 2015-16 campaign.
Reed breaks down the key OHL players in the first of a two-part series that will post this week. We start at the top and will continue in the next post with a couple of significant WJC standouts in Alex Nylander and Olli Juolevi.
Jakob Chychrun, D Sarnia Sting: The son of former NHL defensive defenseman Jeff Chychrun is a different player than his dad was, bringing a mix of high-end mobility, skill and awareness to make him a two-way threat from the blue line and the 2016 draft class’s best bet to one day develop into a No. 1 at the NHL level. Here’s an impressive rookie season goal courtesy of TVCogeco:
GP- 33 Goals- 5 Assists- 19 Points- 24 PIM- 20
Reed Duthie: If he’s not the first player taken out of the OHL, then I think somebody’s gone crazy. He’s an all-around stud defenseman. His positioning is right on, he can skate with the best of them, he can throw the body, he can put up points. I think personally he’s immediately ready to step into the NHL. We haven’t had (the Sting) in Hamilton yet, but I’ve watched him a few times in preparation for other games and Jakob’s just on another level. I think there’s a definite chance he steps right into the National Hockey League. Physically, he’s ready to do it and personally, I was shocked when he got cut from the Canadian team at the World Juniors- I thought he would be a shoo-in for that squad. There are some parts of his game he needs to work on, but I don’t see him being that far off from Aaron Ekblad.
Scouting Post: What are the warts on his game that you alluded to?
RD: I’ve heard people talk about his consistency and it’s a lot like what I said about (Zach) Senyshyn in terms of people just saying he doesn’t have that consistency you want in a top player every single night. But at 17 years old I would challenge you to find a defenseman who does. I remember seeing Aaron Ekblad and thinking at times he looked out of it and at times he looked like a world beater, and I’m seeing the same thing out of Jakob. There’s no reason that people should be overanalyzing his competitiveness and I think they’ll be punished for it eventually if they do harp on that. Jakob is the kind of guy- you’ll get a much better sense of him when the OHL gets to their playoffs and when you see him on an every night basis at a high level against high-end opponents, you’ll get a sense of how good he really is.
Matthew Tkachuk, LW London Knights: Keith’s eldest son has ties to Massachusetts but was born in Arizona and raised in the St. Louis area, now plays junior hockey for Dale Hunter and one of the most storied and successful (over the past 15 years) OHL franchise in London. Like his dad, he’s a power forward who can hurt you in a variety of ways. He’s a better skater and playmaker, but probably not as physically dominant as the 1990 first-rounder for Winnipeg was at the same age. This video posted by “big white 06” will give you an idea of what he can do:
GP- 29 Goals- 14 Assists- 45 Points- 59 PIM- 40
RD: Matt is a tremendous hockey player with high-end hockey IQ, excellent skater, pushes the play- he’s got all the skills you want from somebody in the middle of the ice to make an impact. The downside with Matt is that sometimes you can question the hockey IQ a little, and not so much his smarts in the play but along the lines of a Brad Marchand– he gets called for being a little hot-headed and taking an undisciplined penalty here and there when he likely shouldn’t but the skills far outweigh any downside for him. He’s got the size to do it, he’s got the compete level, which is sometimes a little too high, he’s got all the skills offensively. He could probably use some improvement in his backchecking- he’s on a good enough London team that they score enough that they’re not really going to worry about that at this point. But, there are a couple of things he could work on- he’s a definite NHL player.
Mikhail Sergachev, D Windsor Spitfires: Good-sized frame at 6-foot-2 and already north of 200 pounds at age 17. Has a well-rounded package of offensive skills and defensive prowess. Russian player who brings more of a North American-style game to the rink with him each night. Here are highlights from his first 2-goal OHL game back in November from Hockey U20:
GP- 38 Goals- 10 Assists- 16 Points- 26 PIM- 30
RD: He’s got a lot of the “Russian” skills to him- you’re not going to find a smoother talent in the OHL. Everything he does looks like he’s not making much of an effort, and yet he’s probably exerting maximum effort and I say that because some have felt that he can be lazy, but I don’t see that at all out of him. I think he’s a tremendous hockey player- he’s already got nine goals, I believe, on the season- he’s got just a bomb of a shot. He’s another defenseman like Chychrun- who’s physically ready for the rigors of the NHL, but his game is going to take some refining. I guess I would call it Dennis Wideman syndrome- at times, he’s as likely to pass it to his teammates as he is to pass it to the opponents. It’s all done with the thought of pushing the play (and the pace) forward and making things happen but sometimes he’s a little too over the top with it, but I think if he can get into a team and a system in an NHL situation where they can settle him down a little bit and just let him know that he doesn’t have to push it so hard, he’ll be fine.
Alex DeBrincat, RW Erie Otters: Small but dynamic scorer and natural sniper leads the OHL goals and is deadly accurate between the hash marks, where he does most of his damage. More from bigwhite06 to show you DeBrincat’s scoring ability from earlier this season:
GP- 30 Goals- 33 Assists- 23 Points- 56 PIM- 12
RD: I could talk about DeBrincat for hours. Being a little man myself, I love the kid. I talked about it with Tkachuk- and you saw it at the World Juniors- he can be a little bit of a hot head at times, but he has a better way of taking it out on people vis a vis the scoreboard.He does not take penalties very often and usually, when he takes a tough hit, he doesn’t take a number, but the number goes up on the scoreboard. Tremendous shot- his size at the next level could hurt him, but his skating will make up for it. I believe he’s a better skater than a lot of people thought he was last year- I thought being overshadowed by Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome had a lot to do with that- he was underestimated. He has a tremendous shot and he can set up plays, he can work in the corners, he can work a point on the power play…just about anything you want him to do he can. Again- as is the case with a lot of these young very talented offensive players, the defensive side of the game is going to take some refining. He’s probably going to have to spend some time in the American Hockey League to used to the physical rigors of the pro game but with his skills and talent- you can’t teach what DeBrincat has.
SP: The big thing with DeBrincat is the concern about the size- you addressed it, but he’s listed at 5-7, 160 pounds- is he so dynamic and talented a la maybe a Johnny Gaudreau style of player that you throw caution to the wind and you look at a Gaudreau or maybe a Brendan Gallagher and say, hey- look, we don’t need to be as concerned about the size because the skill and creativity is there in spades?
RD: A year ago, I might have wondered if there was more of a concern there with the McDavid effect creating some of the hype around DeBrincat, but this year he’s doing it himself and doing it more even before they sent Dylan Strome back to Erie and being able to produce without that supporting cast around him. It’s kind of funny that you mention Gaudreau and Gallagher because I’ve mentioned both as comparables and I almost see him as a blend between the two. He really gets under people’s skin and I’m not sure it’s that he does a lot of chirping at ice level or what it is, but he really gets people mad at him and he’s got a little more skill than Gallagher- more to the Gaudreau side. If you’re defending him and you get out of position or take a bad penalty because of something he’s done, he’s going to make you pay for it. I think that’s what’s been so valuable for him and why he’s going to succeed at the NHL level as long as he stays away from what he did against the Canadians in the World Juniors.
We’ll be back with more on the OHL and 2016 draft picks with part 2 in the next day or so, so be sure to bookmark the blog and keep checking in.
Auston Matthews vs Jakob Chychrun. Center vs. Defenseman. Arizona offensive wunderkind with Mexican roots vs. Florida-born Ontario product and son of a former NHLer. Both bring a lot to the table in terms of potential and there is a lot left to play out before the draft. Just like 2013 when Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones came into the season with a lot of hype, you could see a similar dynamic play out. If Matthews ends up in Switzerland it would be a fascinating side story to the normal draft race and I don’t think too many NHL scouts would complain about having to go over there to see him. Matthews’ great uncle, Wes, played in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins in 1966, so the high-end athletic ability runs in the family.
As is the case every year, you get a good dose of bloodlines with each draft class. Some of the big names coming down the pike this year: Logan Brown (Windsor Spitfires), Kieffer Bellows (playing in Sioux Falls of the USHL), Matthew Tkachuk (London Knights), and Alex Nylander (AIK) are all sons of NHL players and very good ones at that. Jeff Chychrun was not a high-end player but he was tough and gritty- his son brings some of his dad’s toughness but some top-level skill at the defense position as well.
In Kieffer Bellows’ case- the apple has not fallen far from the tree. The BU-bound center scored 33 goals in the USHL as a 16-year-old which is a remarkable feat when you consider how much older and stronger so many of the guys in that league are. His dad, Brian, was the second overall pick in the 1982 NHL draft, going to the Minnesota North Stars behind Gord Kluzak when the North Stars gave Harry Sinden a couple of journeymen not to take the elder Bellows. In retrospect, Scott Stevens was the real gem of that draft class, taken fifth overall by the Washington Capitals, but Bellows scored 55 goals in 1990, won a Stanley Cup with Montreal three years later, and finished his NHL career with 485 goals and 1,022 points. No pressure or anything, kid!
This could be the year of the Finns, as Jesse Puljujarvi is up near the top of the draft class as a power forward with legitimate skill and scoring ability to go with good size. Defensemen Olli Juolevi and Markus Niemelainen begin the year with 1st-round promise as well.
I’m going to keep an eye on Mississauga defenseman Sean Day this season mainly because a friend of mine who knows his OHL hockey told me I should going back to last year. Day has put up nice numbers so far and seems to have the requisite tools to be the first-round prospect many see him as going into 2015-16.
It’s not as strong a year in New England, but that’s to be expected after Massachusetts saw three players come off the board in the top-21 selections and 13 overall. U.S. NTDP two-way defenseman Chad Krys of Connecticut is the top ranked area native for the preseason. His dad, Mark, was a Boston Bruins draft pick who played at Boston University and the AHL’s Providence Bruins but never cracked an NHL roster. I also like John Leonard, the lone area representative of the USA Under-18 select squad that will play in the annual Ivan Hlinka tourney in Slovakia to make some mid-round noise this year with Green Bay of the USHL. He’s leaving Springfield, Mass. power Cathedral High and it’s a good move for the UMass recruit to play at a higher level of competition. The August Hlinka, along with USA WJC camp at Lake Placid is always the harbingers of the new season for me, and they’re right around the corner.
Until then, smoke ’em if you got ’em and enjoy the hot summer days and nights.