Bruins prospect update 3/15/17: JFK on a roll- what’s next? Lindgren done, Koppanen top Finland Jr. player & Fitzy update too

JFK

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK” earned his second consecutive Hockey East player of the week honor after his BU Terriers defeated reigning HEA champs- the Northeastern Huskies- over the weekend. He shared the honor with BC’s Austin Cangelosi, scoring the opening goal in the clinching 3-2 win Sunday, while assisting on the other two, culminating in a Chad Krys-winning strike with about 25 seconds left in regulation.

Breaking news alert- We’re hearing via a reliable NHL source that JFK turning pro after the NCAA season wraps is close- (EDIT- we’re going to take a step back and soften the language since the source is not JFK- we were wrong to write the post with such definitive language and for that we apologize to JFK and- K.L.)  The BU sophomore is leaning towards signing with Boston at the conclusion of his final sophomore year contest. While he’s not a dynamic player who will grab you, JFK’s game is all about the details- he does everything well and coaches love having him because of the high trust factor. That’s not to say that he grabs you with blistering speed or pace on every shift, but for those who are students of the game, JFK needs no explaining- he just gets it. And, you win with players like him in your lineup at any level. We’re not sure if he’ll play in Boston right away or sign an ATO to finish the year in Providence, but we do feel strongly that JFK’s Boston debut is not that far off, regardless of how things play out in the immediate timeline.

Continue reading

Bruins prospects update 1/30/17: Re-ordering the amateur prospect rankings

We’re one month into the recent publication of the New England Hockey Journal’s annual Boston Bruins prospects ranking- we always do it in January, so we have about half a season to gauge how the kids look before ranking them.

Well, what can we say? There’s already some buyer’s remorse and after conversations with several people we trust and value as professional talent evaluators, we thought we’d take another stab at the B’s top-10 with a fresher perspective. Consider it an alternate take- a sort of Bizarro World version of the published list, with the impact of other ideas and rationales applied to some of the players who rose and fell.

Ultimately, the exercise reminds us all that opinions are varied. No matter how well you might rank order players, you’re never going to achieve 100 percent consensus, and that should not be the goal. You call it like you see it and you either stick to your guns and stand by your convictions or you don’t. At the same time, it is important in a fluid situation such a hockey season, to maintain room to allow your views to evolve.

Continue reading

Bruins Prospect Update: 01/08/2017- Golden USA- B’s World Jr. recap

If there were any skeptics left wondering if Charlie McAvoy had the stuff to be a top-flight 2-way defenseman in the NHL one day, that train has pretty much left the station after his player of the game and tourney all-star selection in helping lead Team USA to its third gold medal at the World Jr. (Under-20) Championship since 2010.

The 14th overall selection in 2016 scored USA’s first goal of the game, cutting into Canada’s 2-0 lead (the second goal having been scored by fellow future Bruin Jeremy Lauzon). McAvoy was the trailer on the play, taking a pass from BU teammate and Minnesota Wild prospect Jordan Greenway before lasering the shot over Canada goalie Carter Hart’s glove hand.

Continue reading

Podcasting New England Hockey Journal’s Bruins annual prospects review: Amateur list

McAvoy1

TSP did this last year, so bringing it back for the 2017 version of the New England Hockey Journal’s Boston Bruins organizational prospect rankings.

You can read the full article at http://www.hockeyjournal.com; a top-20 is broken into a pair of pro and amateur lists. This podcast covers the non-pro futures, plus the HM 11th player who didn’t get an in-print capsule, but is a very good prospect for the B’s down the road.

Want to know who we’re talking about to the tune of about a 45-minute breakdown? Just click on the audio file to listen…

Frederic1

Trent Frederic was Boston’s 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

 

Bruins prospect update #2: On Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson

Boston’s second of three second-round picks in 2015 (Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon were the others) is who we thought he is.

Much like Danton Heinen, if you go to a game Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, or ‘JFK’ is playing in expecting to be dazzled or entertained by a dynamic skater who makes flashy plays all over the ice, you’re likely going to be left wanting more. However, if you understand hockey and are able to look closely at the very same things that a young 18-year-old Patrice Bergeron (he and JFK were both drafted with the 45th overall selection in their respective draft years, as was Ryan Spooner in 2010) was doing right away in the NHL after making the Boston Bruins, you can understand why so many analysts are keen on the Boston University center.

JFK and his fellow Terriers are fresh off of a nice shutout win over Quinnipiac over the weekend in a game where the B’s prospect figured in all three BU goals- notching two helpers and then adding an empty-netter to complete a points trifecta. 2017-eligible goaltender Jake Oettinger notched back-to-back blankings and has carved out first-round status for himself in the early going after impressing last April at the U18s in Grand Forks. McAvoy was pretty good on the BU blue line as well- he hasn’t taken control like he did at the USA National Evaluation Camp in August, but the talent and NHL potential have both been clearly on display in film study thus far.

The weekend belonged to JFK as far as Bruins prospects go, however.

He’s such a slick, intelligent player- he was knocked in the past for lacking pace and a sense of urgency in his game, but in looking at JFK live and on film over the past two seasons, it’s not that he’s indifferent to tempo- he just thinks the game at such a high level- his anticipation is off the charts. As a result, he’s an economy of motion kind of player in that he’s not one who needs to move his feet like the Roadrunner to get where he’s going or make plays at speed.

It also speaks volumes that JFK earned an alternate/assistant captain’s ‘A’ in just his second NCAA season. After spending a weekend in Omaha in September, there are still quite a few Lancers fans who still wear his jersey to USHL games, and they remember his high-end two-way game fondly. Given how rapidly he’s developing, it’s hard to envision him spending much more time on Comm. Ave. but we’ll see how things go. We’re sure that head coach David Quinn and his BU coaching staff would love that not to be the case, but they are also realists- they figure JFK is probably not long for the NCAA and will soon turn pro with the B’s, so they’re pulling in some pretty impressive talent to fill the void his departure will create.

For now, Forsbacka-Karlsson is doing all of the little things that coaches at all levels love and value: production, smart three-zone play, effectiveness in the faceoff circle, and a mature, quiet style of leadership.

He has the look of a winner, and while the Bergeron comparisons are a tad premature, if you’re looking hard at similarities in the way JFK applies himself in action, it doesn’t take long to find them.

We began this post with the assertion that JFK is who we thought he is, and that is someone who has the look of a future NHLer who could evolve into a key contributor in Boston once he gets several pro campaigns under his belt.

The kid’s a keeper.

And now- here’s the updated scoring numbers for Boston’s amateur and pro prospects:

Amateur Prospects as of 10/24/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 8 6 6 12 8
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 6 5 6 11 2
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 5 2 5 7 2
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 2 4 6 2
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 6 2 3 5 2
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 7 4 1 5 10
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 1 3 4 4
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 6 1 3 4 4
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 5 0 4 4 4
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda* QMJHL 2 1 2 3 0
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls USHL 9 2 1 3 8
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 6 0 1 1 4
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- NCAA 4 0 0 0 2
Ryan Donato, Harvard** ECAC- NCAA 0 0 0 0 0
Wiley Sherman, Harvard** ECAC-NCAA 0 0 0 0 0

* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)

** ECAC regular season begins November 4, 2016

 

Pro and European Prospects

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Austin Czarnik, Providence AHL 2 2 1 3 0
Peter Cehlarik, Providence AHL 2 1 1 2 2
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 8 0 2 2 6
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 4 1 0 1 0
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 5 1 0 1 4
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 0
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Oskar Steen, Farjestad BK Sweden- Elite 11 1 0 1 4
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 5
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 5 0 0 0 7
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 5 0 0 0 2
Zane McIntyre, Providence AHL 3 1 0 0.44 .977
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 4 0 3 4.50 .846
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 2 1 0 2.88 .909
Brian Ferlin, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0

*Brian Ferlin- injured

** Tyler Randell, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant > age 25- not listed

Boston Bruins prospect roundup #1: Frederic, Hughes lead Sunday hit parade; Bjork & Gabrielle en fuego

The Boston College Eagles and Wisconsin Badgers Sunday tilt (the teams split the weekend series in Madison after Wisco triumphed Friday night) featured three Boston Bruins prospects and all of them made an impact in BC’s 8-5 win in what was a highly entertaining game.

The larger story for the Bruins is that the reports of freshman center Trent Frederic’s unworthiness as a first-round pick may have been greatly exaggerated, as he currently leads the Badgers in scoring with six points in four games, posting a goal and three helpers in the Sunday loss. Full disclosure- your TSP founder was one of the critics of the selection, admittedly not seeing much top-six NHL forward potential at the U18 championship last April (and this despite Frederic getting a hat trick in one of the round robin games vs. Latvia). Red Line Report had Frederic outside the top-100 and didn’t see him as much more than a fringe fourth-liner, but the perception began to change when talking to former coaches and players who knew him better than any of the talent evaluators who buried him in the rankings.

There’s much hockey left in the season, but Frederic certainly appears to be silencing the critics in the early going.

Here’s what to like about him (film study of two games): Long, powerful stride gets him up the ice quickly…smart and patient; handles the puck well and makes good decisions in where he moves it. Creative. Uses his big frame to drive the net and is effective around the net.

Frederic has an aggressive offensive mindset- more than I (and others) gave him credit for. On JD Greenway’s first collegiate goal to tie the game (after BC had taken a 2-0 lead) in the second period, Frederic led a 3-on-1 that materialized quickly in the neutral zone because he jumped on a loose puck and caught the BC defense flat-footed. Granted, it was a 3-on-1 advantage, but Frederic showed an immense amount of patience to let Greenway drive to the far post before putting a perfect pass on his blade for the easy score. This apple came after Frederic had tallied to get the Badgers on the board, and he would add two more assists as the home team got within a goal of the Eagles after going down 6-2 at one point in the second period.

But Frederic wasn’t only Wisconsin Badger who turned heads in a losing effort Sunday…

Cameron Hughes, who was drafted by the B’s in the 2015 draft’s sixth round scored as pretty (and filthy) a goal you will see late in the second period to make it a 6-3 game when he wheeled back after a turnover in the high slot of the BC zone got him the puck alone in front of Eagles netminder (and Leafs 2016 third-rounder) Joe Woll. Hughes pulled the puck behind him and through his legs and then roofed the shot up under the crossbar. Forget it…just see the play for yourself and then imagine trying to do that at top speed as Hughes did.

The Alberta native is in position to break out in his junior season after some growing pains as a freshman and sophomore. Always ultra-talented, Hughes arrived in Madison at an alleged 140-150 pounds as a freshman and he wore down pretty early, according to one source close to the Badgers program. As a result, where he was once thought of as a top-60 prospect for the 2015 NHL draft, he fell all the way down to the mid-sixth round where Boston pounced. It’s looking like a solid value pick for the B’s in hindsight- Hughes is more of a passer/playmaker but that goal will be replayed over and over, and shows a deft finishing touch that the 19-year-old hasn’t gotten much credit for.

Not to be forgotten in the game was BC senior and alternate captain Ryan Fitzgerald, who was visible with his energy and two-way play and tallied a late empty-net goal by outworking his opponents on the back wall and then beating everyone to the front of the vacated cage. That play is what makes the 2013 fourth-rounder such an effective three-zone presence for the Eagles. He scored the goal through sheer will and hustle, and that it came via an empty net should not diminish the impact of the play itself.

Anders Bjork and Jesse Gabrielle have begun the season like gangbusters for their respective teams/leagues. It’s funny, because Bjork (5th round) and Gabrielle (4th round) weren’t drafted in the top-100 picks in 2014 and 2015, and yet they’ve been two of Boston’s most productive prospects over the past full season and about a month into the new campaign. It isn’t just about giving the team and scouts credit- give a lot to the two guys who took the later selection as motivation and have both put in the work off the ice to make sure the on-ice performance translates. If I’m Don Sweeney, I’d better get hot on signing both of these players. Bjork will have to play out his NCAA season first, but Gabrielle has between now and June 1 to come to terms- he’s done enough to earn that NHL entry-level pact in our view.

On the pro side, it’s been a disappointing start for the Providence Bruins, but not altogether unexpected when you consider that they’re without Frank Vatrano (though he likely would’ve made the Bruins out of camp), Alexander Khokhlachev (KHL), Seth Griffith (lost on waivers to Toronto) and a couple of key youngsters in Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen (both in Boston) plus Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara on defense (also in Boston). We expect to see one or more of those latter names back at some point, but give goalie Zane McIntyre a lot of credit- he’s gotten off to a great start after his final 2016 start left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. He’s outplayed Malcolm Subban by a wide margin…some of it is Subban’s fault, but the team has some holes, so there are going to be some bumps in the road this season.

Bruins Amateur (NCAA/major junior/junior) Prospects as of 10/17/2016

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 4 5 5 10 2
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 6 5 4 9 6
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 2 4 6 2
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 6 2 3 5 2
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 5 4 0 4 8
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 1 3 4 4
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda* QMJHL 2 1 2 3 0
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 3 1 2 3 2
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 4 1 2 3 2
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls USHL 7 2 1 3 6
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 3 0 2 2 0
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- NCAA 2 0 0 0 0
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 4 0 0 0 2
Ryan Donato, Harvard** ECAC- NCAA 0 0 0 0 0
Wiley Sherman, Harvard** ECAC-NCAA 0 0 0 0 0

* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)

** ECAC regular season begins November 4, 2016

 

Pro and European Prospects as of 10/17/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 7 0 2 2 6
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 2 1 0 1 0
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 3 1 0 1 4
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 2
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 0
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 0
Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 2
Oskar Steen, Farjestad BK Sweden- Elite 8 1 0 1 4
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 7
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 15
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 2
Zane McIntyre, Providence AHL 2 1 0 0.57 .969
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 2 0 2 4.18 .857
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 0 0 0 0.00 .000
Peter Cehlarik, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0
Brian Ferlin, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0

* Peter Cehlarik and Brian Ferlin- injured

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series: the Centers

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The NHL season is around the corner, and for the second consecutive season, the Scouting Post blog is back to provide the season preview and deeper look at the Boston Bruins from a position-by-position perspective. The team will soon break training camp on the 2016-17 NHL season at a brand-spanking new practice facility- the Warrior Ice Arena- in Brighton, and although the World Cup of Hockey is up first, there is no shortage of subplots and storylines swirling around this Bruins club.

Given the optimism surrounding the team at forward, we’ll start with the centers. Now, some might take issue with beginning the series from what is Boston’s greatest area of strength, but I started with the goaltenders last year, so there is a method to the madness.

Unlike last year, I am including an audio component to each post, so that allows me to write less and talk a little more, which will save me from carpal tunnel, but will also go a little easier on your eyes. So, without any more foreplay- here we go.

The Bruins are strong at the center position up and down the roster. They don’t have any flashy, dynamic types, but in Patrice Bergeron, have the best two-way pivot in the game, despite what Selke Trophy voters last year would have you believe. David Krejci is the ole reliable playmaking center, but with offseason hip surgery casting his season in doubt, there are some concerns about his durability, especially as he is entering the new year on the wrong side of 30. The B’s big-money free agency ticket item from the summer, David Backes, will be previewed both as a center and a right wing- but we’ve yet to determine where the B’s will slot him, and that promises to be one of the more intriguing storylines as the team breaks camp. Ryan Spooner currently holds down the third center spot, and the fourth line pivot is wide open. Noel Acciari finished the final 19 games of the schedule after recovering from a shattered jaw in his rookie pro season, while fellow Providence College product Tim Schaller was brought in to provide competition in the offseason. The B’s also recently announced the signing of Dominic Moore to a one-year deal, and former 2006 eighth overall pick Peter Mueller, who is trying to make an NHL comeback after concussions and injuries derailed a promising start.

The B’s also have some interesting potential in the system. Whether you’re talking the tiny but ultra-skilled and feisty Austin Czarnik or the slick, cerebral 200-foot pivot in Boston University sophomore Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, the B’s have a couple of options that might not be as far off on the horizon as one might think. Neither is likely to have a great impact this year (though Czarnik is in the AHL and is a dark horse to make some noise and see some NHL action after his excellent rookie pro season), but both Czarnik and JFK are mature players who are likely to work their way into the mix sooner rather than later. The latter player has already drawn comparisons by people in the Bruins organization (as well as some outside the club) to Bergeron, which is a high bar to set for the Swede.

In addition to Czarnik, Colby Cave is an effective two-way center who had a scoring role as captain of the Swift Current Broncos (where he lined up with B’s 2015 1st-rounder Jake DeBrusk) and showed some flashes of ability as a rookie in 2015-16. Sean Kuraly was a center in college, but is expected to shift to wing in the pros, now that he’s expected to start out in the AHL at Providence.

The B’s stirred up some dust when they drafted U.S National (U18) Team center Trent Frederic with the 29th overall pick. Interestingly enough, management (to include the departed former chief scout Keith Gretzky to Edmonton to be Peter Chiarelli’s newest assistant GM) likened the St. Louis native and University of Wisconsin-bound power forward to none other than his childhood idol Backes, who gave up the captaincy of the Blues to sign with Boston a week after the 2016 draft. In Frederic, the B’s get a big slab of beef at the center position for down the road, and if you believe his various coaches who rave about his intelligence and work ethic, there’s more than meets the eye here- he could be a late-bloomer, though don’t expect all that much in terms of production. The B’s also added huge Finn Joona Koppanen (6-5), but he’s more of a defensive clampdown specialist, so even if he makes the NHL, it’s not going to be as a scorer.

A project who will be worth the wait in terms of ceiling and offensive potential is Harvard sophomore and 2014 2nd-rounder Ryan DonatoWatch for the South Shore (Scituate) product to make some noise- this kid is the real deal, and we think he’s going to break out in Cambridge now that Jimmy Vesey has moved on to Broadway. TSP has been a huge fan of Donato’s ever since watching him first dominate the New England prep circuit in 2012-13 and then raise the bar in his draft season. He’s as intelligent and skilled as they come, and knocks on his skating aren’t fair given that he’s bigger than his dad (he gets his size from his mother’s side of the family and a former NFL linebacker uncle), but the hockey sense and hands are elite. Wisconsin junior Cameron Hughes and rising freshman Jack Becker (6th and 7th picks in 2015) are also in the mix as potential payoffs, but will require time and patience, and even then- neither might not ever make it as viable pros.

Outlook: The Bruins have ability and depth up the middle. Bergeron and Krejci (when fully healthy) give the B’s as good a 1-2 punch as any team in the league, but how Backes will fit into that dynamic as the potential third-line center (or whether he moves up and plays a top-two line RW role) remains to be seen. We also have to see how Krejci fares at camp; now that he’s been ruled out of the WCOH for Team Czech Republic, he has some extra time to heal, but if he’s not ready to go, then it’s a no-brainer: Backes moves up to the second line behind Bergeron. Spooner is the source of quiet debate- he appears to be the odd-man out here, as he’s not an ideal fourth-line center if Backes is 3C, and he is one of Boston’s few real trade chips given his youth, skill level and cap-friendly deal (though he’s up for a new pact in 2017). Dominic Moore is a 36-year-old veteran who could mean that Acciari goes back to Providence for more seasoning, and of course- the B’s added Mueller to a PTO, though that is no sure bet that he will even sign or play center for them. Schaller is a wild card for the fourth line as well, but if he’s going to make the Boston roster, he’ll probably need to do it on the wing somewhere.

All in all- center will be the absolute least of Boston’s worries this season, as the team has talent, experience and a roster to weather injuries and unexpected setbacks.

Now, listen to the pod for more (and working on getting these exported to SoundCloud for those who want to do download and listen later- bear with me- it’s coming):

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka "JFK"

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

 

 

 

Report: Keith Gretzky to Oilers as assistant GM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bruins post-development camp prospect check- the Amateurs

McAvoy2

We’re back with part 2 of the mid-summer look at where the prospects in the Boston Bruins organization stack up.

As previously mentioned in part 1 when we reviewed 23 of the prospects who will play in the pro hockey ranks this coming season, this is a subjective list based on multiple inputs to include (but not limited to) live viewings and film study, input from members of the Bruins organization and some sources around the NHL not with Boston, media and fan observers who attended the recent development camp in Wilmington from July 12-15.

This is just one view and take- there will no doubt be disagreement, but I would offer that even if the Bruins as an organization released their own rankings of where they think their prospects stack up from 1 to 40-something, folks would still take issue with it. We would live in a mighty boring world if everything was definitive and we agreed on everything.

So, with that in mind, here is the supplemental podcast (complete with Dirty Harry theme music from the early 1970’s) and the write-ups on the kids expected to spend the season in the amateur ranks for 2016-17.

The Amateurs (NCAA and CHL/major junior)

  1. Charlie McAvoy, RD  Plus: The 14th overall pick has the skating and sense to become a legitimate two-way presence on the blue line in the NHL one day; watch for him to take a significant step forward in his development during his sophomore season at Boston University. Minus: He’s only about 6-foot tall; lacks the kind of ideal NHL height for the position, and needs to keep honing his judgment and decisions as an aggressive offensive player who can at times get too far up the ice.
  2. Zach Senyshyn, RW Plus: A year after tallying 26 goals on the bottom line and without much special teams time, the 15th selection in 2015 scored 45 goals to lead the Soo Greyhounds; he’s a big, explosive and skilled scoring presence on the right side. Minus: The goals are great, but the 19-year-old has work to do in his 200-foot game; he has a tendency to wait for the next scoring chance or let others go and get him the puck.
  3. Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, RC Plus: When it comes to maturity, poise and a complete game at the center position, no prospect brings more promise than the BU sophomore; he’s already earned an ‘A’ on his sweater, and has drawn positive comparisons to Patrice Bergeron for his pure intelligence and playing style. Minus: The Stockholm native and 45th overall pick from 2015 does’t seem to have the kind of exciting and dynamic offensive upside of others in his draft class, but he’s one of those players who will likely play 10-15 years as a key cog because he can do a little bit of everything.
  4. Jeremy Lauzon, LD Plus: Underrated no more after a 50-point season (he only played in 46 games due to WJC camp and injuries); 2015 second-rounder has skill, smarts and some jam/toughness as a two-way D prospect who keeps getting better. Minus: He gets lost in the sauce a bit with all of the competition for blue line jobs in Boston; had a tough time staying healthy with a variety of injuries including a serious skate cut to the neck that could have severed a nerve and ended his career.
  5. Ryan Donato, LC (Scituate, Mass.) Plus: Coming into his own after a strong freshman season at Harvard; was one of Boston’s real standouts at the development camp, showcasing his high-end hockey sense and hands throughout. Minus: Still several years away from competing for an NHL job; needs to keep developing the physical aspect of his game and must continuing moving forward in his three-zone progress.
  6. Jake DeBrusk, LW Plus: High-end hands plus very good hockey IQ/offensive creativity make DeBrusk a legitimate scoring threat every time he has the puck on his stick; good attitude and drive- overcame a debilitating lower body injury early in the season to finish strong in the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament. Minus: His size and strength are pretty average and he might be ‘tweener right now in terms of not quite being ready physically for the pro hockey grind- could return to the WHL for his overage season.
  7. Jakub Zboril, LD Plus: Came to camp leaner and in better shape with more jump and energy than was reported a year ago; when on his game has all the tools in the toolbox to be a No. 2 or 3 two-way NHL D with some bite and nastiness on the physical side.  Minus: At times loses his focus and appears disinterested; the positive strides last week are encouraging, but Zboril still has to prove that he can maintain his intensity and consistency over a longer period of time. He has impressive big league potential if he can put it all together.
  8. Jesse Gabrielle, LW Plus: Surprise (maybe not to him and his supporters) 40-goal scorer after being picked in the fourth round a year ago plays the kind of scoring game with an edge that Boston fans love; has worked himself into excellent shape and added strength and mass since being drafted. Minus: Will have to guard against a letdown season now that WHL opponents will be keying on him this year; as a ’97-born player he has to make the Boston roster out of camp or go back for a full season with Prince George- he can’t play in the AHL on a full-time basis yet.
  9. Ryan Lindgren, LD Plus: All-around skilled and hard-nosed defender is a proven leader and player; Minnesota product has no flaws in his game and could be the captain-in-waiting of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers if he spends enough years there. Minus: He’s only about 6-feet in height, so given his physical nature, he will face some limitations in certain matchups and could pay the price physically; there isn’t a ton of dynamic upside here.
  10. Ryan Fitzgerald, LC (North Reading, Mass.) Plus: Feisty, gritty center erupted offensively as a junior with his finest season for BC- will contend for the 2017 Hobey Baker Award. He’s got terrific hockey sense and a nonstop motor that inspires teammates and infuriates opponents. Minus: The size and skating concerns have followed him since before the long-time Massachusetts minor hockey standout was drafted at the end of the fourth round three years ago. Might need to move to wing to thrive as a pro.
  11. Anders Bjork, RW Plus: One of the top performers last week at development camp with his speed and energy, it all comes after he surprisingly let the Fighting Irish in scoring as a sophomore last season. Minus: Bjork is an interesting player to watch- he was a late fifth-round pick in 2014 and could be one who tries to leverage  path to free agency if the Bruins are unable to sign him this year.
  12. Trent Frederic, LC Plus: The polarizing pick in the 2016 draft’s first round has settled concerns down some with his fine size, athletic ability and willingness to roll up the sleeves and get to work. He’s a strong two-way player and solid citizen who might just be scratching the surface in terms of his offensive game and potential. Minus: There’s not a lot to get excited about here- Frederic has impressive physical tools but is raw and might not ever be much more than a bottom-six forward assuming he reaches the top rung of the pro hockey ladder.
  13. Wiley Sherman, LD (Greenwich, Conn.) Plus: Huge (6-7) defender is such a fluid, impressive skater for one so big and that’s always been his calling card going back to his days at the Hotchkiss School.  Minus: Scouts are divided on his long-term potential: the physical tools are on another level, but can Sherman react and process the game effectively enough to thrive in the NHL?
  14. Cameron Hughes, LC Plus: Highly skilled, creative playmaker was a late-round pick out of the Wisconsin Badgers and showed solid progression in his sophomore season with 25 points in 32 games- watch for his production to go up with new coaches who will lean on him. Minus: He’s a smallish player trapped in a light 6-foot frame that isn’t going to get all that bigger based on the body type; while talented, he can be neutralized by teams with size and mobility on the blue line.
  15. Matt Benning, RD Plus: Smart, opportunistic defender who plays bigger than his 6-foot frame and has been a standout at Northeastern over the past three seasons. Minus: Benning was not asked to attend development camp, and according to the ProJo’s Mark Divver, that could be a harbinger to his imminent departure from the organization either via trade or by pursuing similar action by Kevin Hayes, Mike Reilly and Jimmy Vesey to play out the NCAA string in 2017 and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
  16. Cam Clarke, RD Plus: Smooth-skating intelligent rearguard can move the puck and excels with extra time and space as a PP QB; he’ll get a chance at premium playing time right off the bat at Ferris State. Minus: He’s still quite raw and observers pointed to times during the development camp when he was a little behind compared to other players. Clarke was drafted in the fifth round as a known project, and the payoff will take time if at all.
  17. Joona Koppanen, LC Plus: Big (6-5) center has the skating and smarts to make the NHL one day in more of a defensive, shutdown role; he’s seriously considering the NCAA path, which would be a good step for him.  Minus: There’s just not a whole lot there in terms of hands, offensive skill and long-term potential beyond being a serviceable bottom-liner and journeyman.
  18. Jack Becker, RC Plus: 6-foot-3 power center as some impressive finishing skills, especially in close when time and space are lacking; shows some intriguing offensive potential in flashes after a solid but unspectacular USHL season in Sioux Falls. He scored a memorable breakaway goal in the camp-ending scrimmage. Minus: University of Wisconsin-bound 2015 7th-rounder was once described as “thorny” by a scout in that he’s got a lot of developing ahead, and like Clarke- was said to struggle at times in camp last week with the pace and demands of the drills.
Trent Frederic was Boston's 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Trent Frederic was Boston’s 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Bruins add six more to organization via 2016 NHL draft

The 2016 NHL Entry Draft came and went in Buffalo, N.Y. and six new players are now a part of the Boston Bruins organization after 211 total kids were drafted on June 24-25.

This post is just a quick-hitter- plan to have a more in-depth, player by player break down of the new B’s, but this is what we call in the military a “hot wash” to give a rapid recap of what happened. You can also listen to 98.5 the Sports Hub at 10:00 a.m. Sunday to get a little more.

Here are the Boston picks by round with a few notes on each:

1-14: Charlie McAvoy, RD Boston University- The Long Island native instantly represents some of the highest NHL promise of any prospect in the Boston system. Like Jakub Zboril, he has a pretty good offensive skill set and talent level. Unlike Zboril, he stays engaged and doesn’t have the inconsistency questions. I spoke to both of McAvoy’s most recent coaches right after he was picked and what kept coming up beyond his obvious talent is just what a good teammate and solid kid he is. Don Granato, now with his brother at the University of Wisconsin, had McAvoy at the NTDP and said that we was one of the most loyal players he’s ever seen come through the program. Dave Quinn talked about a profound transformation and improvement in McAvoy’s game last season from start to finish- that’s something every scout will get on board with, end of story. I have to think that commitment and progress are two big things beyond his obvious talent that sold the Bruins on him. I verified with Keith Gretzky, Boston’s chief scout, that it was indeed close between McAvoy and Dante Fabbro, but in the end- I think McAvoy’s proximity to the team HQ allowed everyone to see him with ease and the Boston brass was a little more comfortable with the level of competition and viewings they had.

I said before the draft that the B’s needed a hit single and it looks like they may have gotten one. Central Scouting had McAvoy sixth on their list of NA skaters, and depending on who you talk to- some felt McAvoy was the best defender in the draft. Time will tell if he hits the potentially high ceiling, but he’s going to be one to watch and shouldn’t be too far away from turning pro- he’s going back to BU, but could be in Providence by April.

1-29: Trent Frederic, C U.S. NTDP- Amidst rumors that the Bruins were trying unsuccessfully to trade the 29th selection either for NHL help or a chance to move back a bit and get some extra choices in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, they stepped up to the podium shortly before 11 p.m. and made a surprise selection in landing the Missouri product and big center who was not projected to be a top-30 selection. Frederic has size and more of a defensive game than an offensive one (and that’s probably being charitable at this point), but he got high marks for his intelligence and character. In the short time I saw him after the pick, there was little doubt that Frederic brings a level of gregariousness that probably endears him to teammates and coaches alike- I get the feeling that fans will really like him in their off-ice interactions. Unfortunately, being a good dude doesn’t win you many hockey games, so there will continue to be scrutiny on this pick for some time, as Frederic is headed to Madison to play for the Wisconsin Badgers. BU coach Quinn was not shy about revealing that he was highly disappointed that his own Terriers missed out on landing Frederic.

In talking to Gretzky and assistant GM Scott Bradley after the draft, the team recognized a need to get bigger at center- all three of their NHL pivots are 6-foot or under, and Boston felt that Frederic is emerging as more of a scoring presence than his numbers and performance indicate to date. They also talked about a hand injury that hampered him for much of the season but that he’s gotten clearance on and has healed fully. We shall see, but with some higher-profile talent on the board at the end of the opening round, few are going to be excited about this pick, even if Frederic looks like one of those “high floor” kids who will play in the NHL for years.

2-49: Ryan Lindgren, LD U.S. NTDP- The Team USA captain is a player I am genuinely excited about. Along with Fabbro, he was probably one of the top-2 or 3 best defenders at the entire Under-18 tourney in April and he’s as polished, refined and solid a defenseman as any available in the draft. He was always seen as a steady, strong defensive presence- a strong positional player who will sell out his body to block shots and brings tremendous competitive drive to any situation. However, in Grand Forks- he looked like something more than that as someone who was pushing the pace, attacking aggressively on offense and showing an opportunistic side that will likely earn him a lot of confidence at the University of Minnesota. The B’s brass is excited to add this player- he has the makings of a rock on the second pairing who will eat huge minutes and has enough offensive presence to boost the team at both ends of the ice. Again- character is key and he has it. He brings an intensity and commands respect that makes it clear why he wore the ‘C’ for two years in the NTDP.

I cannot stress enough how much I like this player and the decision to take him at 49- I would have been pleased if Lindgren had been the 29th selection and to be honest- when Charles Jacobs announced “From  the U.S. National Team…” I thought he was getting ready to say Lindgren’s name on Friday night. That the B’s landed him the next day at 49 reminds me of 2010 when Boston grabbed Jared Knight at 32 and Ryan Spooner at 45. I thought it should have been the other way around then and time has validated that view.

5- 135: Joona Koppanen, C Ilves (Finland)- The natural reaction I’m sure with a lot of folks once they asked the “who?!” question when the pick went up on the big board was to start drawing lines of comparison to another recent JK from Finland- Joonas Kemppainen– and that is not a good thing. It’s unfair to the kid, because let’s face it- he is a kid and Kemppainen came to Boston with a lot of pro experience (and bad habits) and didn’t work out for a lot of reasons. Koppanen is 18 and deserves a clean slate. The similarities between the two are no doubt there- Koppanen is already 6-5 and is defensive, clampdown center who uses his size and reach to clog the middle of the ice and does honest work along the boards. Right now, there is not much in the way of an offensive dimension in his game, but he looks to be a more physically engaged player than Kemppainen was in Boston a year ago. I saw Koppanen in Grand Forks when he was with the gold medal-winning Finnish team and there isn’t a whole lot more you can say about him- he’s a north-south, shutdown center who is very good on draws and does the grunt work to grind people down, but at the end of the day isn’t going to wow you in any way. His 0 points at the tourney can attest to that, but I have time for him as a long-term fourth-line center project. This is the kind of thing you get in a shallow draft once you start getting into the fifth round and beyond.

5- 136: Cameron Clarke, D Lone Star (NAHL)- The top defender in U.S. Jr. B is already 20 and rapidly blooming as an offensive defenseman who can really get the puck up the ice and boost his team’s offensive production, especially on the power play. I saw him quite a bit in Fort Worth this year and he’s a tall (6-2) still quite lanky player from Michigan who has a connection to the Krug family through conditioning work and off the ice. Clarke skates well, but his pivots and transitions were a little slushy- he’s working on it and it will be interesting to see if he improves on that, because he has an impressive wiggle at the blue line and is an extremely smart, adept player once he gets into the offensive zone. Ferris State is getting a good one and this pick gets a hat tip because Clarke looks like one of those later values who is a little rough around the edges, but is worth the investment on. Other teams were onto him and he would not have been there in the sixth round. If I had to guess, I’m thinking that Ryan Nadeau and Keith ‘Sully’ Sullivan probably had a major hand in getting down to see him in the hockey backwater that is North Texas and credit to the B’s for grabbing a player with upside and who is closer to helping them than any 18-YO taken at that spot would be. Excellent pick (acquired from Minnesota last year when Boston traded out of the 6th round).

6- 165: Oskar Steen, F Farjestad (Sweden)- Okay- I’ll admit it. I don’t really get this pick. On the plus side- Steen is a versatile, smart, industrious forward- he’s kind of like a swiss army knife in that he can do a lot of different things for you. I saw some flashes from him at Grand Forks and he’s put up some points in Sweden along the way and in other tournaments. But here’s the thing- he’s 5-9. The B’s had multiple shots early on at other 5-9-ish forwards who all had a world of skill more than Steen does and they passed. I’m just not sure where the kid fits in the long term and how much of a projection he’ll have in the NHL as a winger who is small but neither dynamic nor explosive. I like his energy and vision, and was told that P.J. Axelsson is a big fan, so there’s that. And we have to remember that Steen is a sixth-round selection in a shallow draft, so his chances of going all the way are pretty low. Having said that, off the top of my head, I do believe that Axelsson himself was the 177th pick in 1995, so it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility.

Quick thoughts: The McAvoy, Lindgren and Clarke picks all get A/B+ grades from me- they’re exactly the kinds of defenders the B’s can use and give the organization some solid options in the youth movement when you add some of their other recent picks and prospects into the mix. Some might not see McAvoy as a high-ender, but I think he’s in that kind of discussion, based on talks with several NHL scouts, who told me that they felt he would have blitzed the OHL this year and probably would have ended up as a top-10 pick if he had gone there.

The forwards don’t bring much in the way of offensive skill that gets you excited, and to Boston’s credit- they’re not trying to sell them as such. Gretzky said that the organization identified an issue with their size and toughness to play against at the center position and added two big pivots who could address that. It’s not likely both play, but you never know and Frederic, while not a popular pick at 29, could evolve into something more than he’s shown to date. We’re not going to definitively decide on that today, no matter how much of a reach you think he was, or whether you like what you see and want to put faith into Boston’s optimistic outlook. We just don’t know. Koppanen and Steen are depth additions who will likely make their countries’ World Jr. teams at some point in the next 1-2 years and we’ll see how they do.

Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report was not all that charitable, saying that “The Bruins have had five first-round picks in the last two years and they haven’t made as much hay as they should have.”

Again, we shall see, but I can’t disagree with that view.

Contrast the second round, and the outlook is different: Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Jeremy Lauzon and Ryan Lindgren– those guys all look like players who will see NHL time. If not, they might bring enough interest to leverage some trade returns that help the club. And those are just from the second rounds from the past two seasons.

Overall- it’s hard to imagine Boston fans being overly excited about the 2016 draft, but they added a few soid players with one possible homerun in McAvoy. Sometimes it’s tough to swallow when the sexy names don’t come off the board where everyone thinks they should, but assembling winning teams doesn’t always simply amount to stockpiling the best talent- the team has to take players who represent the right fit and help them address key areas. I don’t know that guys like Frederic, Koppanen or Steen do that, but unless they have crystal ball- neither does anyone else.