What’s Next for the Bruins (Pt. 13): The Young D

Editor’s Note- No, not Dominic Tiano this time. I’ll do a quick-hitter between packing up the moving truck (that’s dedication for you) and driving away to provide a snapshot of the younger defensemen coming up through the ranks in the Boston system. Because Charlie McAvoy proved himself ready for primetime against Ottawa in six games, he’s not a part of this post- you all saw him and what he’s capable of.- KL

Rob O'GaraBruins

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The B’s young defense is shaping up, but even with the immediate splash provided by McAvoy in the 2017 NHL playoffs, there is no surefire way to predict that the team will continue to enjoy the fruits of their system to the degree we saw with their 2016 top pick. However, there are several (left-shot heavy) young blue liners who are signed (we’re not including the college kids like Ryan Lindgren, Wiley Sherman and Cameron Clarke in this particular post but will address them later) and if not playing in Boston regularly next season, will probably make cameos at some point.

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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.

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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.

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

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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…

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

 

Dominic Tiano: 2017 World Juniors Canada vs USA- A Divided Loyalty

Was it little friendly banter from the three gents that bring you the 3 Amigos Podcast? Or was it all out war?

It began yesterday after we recorded a podcast with Bruins prospect Zane McIntyre when Kirk Luedeke (an American and founder of TSP) ended a chat among the three of us with the famous U-S-A, U-S-A chant. Reed Duthie and myself, both Canadians, didn’t have a response as we Canadians don’t have such a chant.

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3 Amigos Podcast Ep. 7: Special Guest Zane McIntyre + 2017 World Jr & B’s prospects impact

 

Howdy, all- the 3 Amigos ride again with our seventh (or is it eighth?- We don’t know- we have so much fun with these that we’ve lost count) episode of our podcast. Dom, Reed and myself are especially pleased with this latest effort and hope you are as well…

Today’s offering- the final one of 2016- features 4th Amigo and Bruins goaltending prospect of note Zane McIntyre. For those of you who might be living under a rock, McIntyre is the top AHL goalie, currently sporting a 9-0-0 record with 1.35 GAA and .953 save percentage in leading the P-Bruins to an excellent start under first year head coach Kevin Dean.

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Bruins prospect update 12/27/2016: 2017 WJC- McAvoy leads the way

The 2017 World Junior (Under-20) Championship started on Dec. 26 in Toronto and Montreal for Groups A & B in the round robin portion of the annual NHL prospect extravaganza that will run into the first week of January.

The Boston Bruins have five players (four defensemen and one goaltender) currently competing in the tourney: USA’s Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Lindgren; Jeremy Lauzon on Team Canada, Czech Republic D Jakub Zboril and goaltender Daniel Vladar round out the group. Guys who did not make the cut for their respective countries: Zach Senyshyn (Canada) and Oskar Steen (Sweden). Trent Frederic was not invited to the USA evaluation camp portion, but he was coming off of a hand injury that might have influenced USA Hockey’s decision to have him return to school. We don’t know for sure, but watch for Frederic to be solidly in the mix for the 2018 USA WJC squad. Canada did not even invite Jesse Gabrielle to the eval camp, which is probably more of a reflection of his not being part of the Canada Program of Excellence than anything else- you would think that a gritty power forward who can score and affect game flow with his physicality would be of value, but apparently not enough in Canada’s eyes. With both Canada and USA winning their opening games, the rosters look fine for now.

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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 Defense

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Zdeno Chara returns for his eleventh season as the captain of the Boston Bruins (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Closing out the post and podcast series on the Boston Bruins outlook for 2016-17.

I won’t be redundant here in hopes that instead of reading the post, you’ll carve out time to listen to the 55-minute podcast breaking down the defensemen. As I say up front in the pod- I’m not saving the best for last, and hope is not a method here- they’ve not gotten appreciably better since the catastrophic finish to the 2o15-16 campaign.

Even the most optimistic of fans would be hard-pressed to express confidence in the collective Boston blue line, but it is a hard-working bunch and if they don’t get the B’s back to the postseason, it won’t be for a lack of trying.

Listen to the podcast here:

Rob O'GaraBruins

 

Check out the rest of the series posts and podcasts here:

 

Centers

Right Wings

Left Wings

Goaltenders

Download the pods on your podcast app/client: https://scoutingpost.com/feed/

On McAvoy and Lindgren and what they mean for the future of the Bruins D

I’m back from a trip to Canada and the opportunity to watch The Tragically Hip perform live in London, Ontario. More on that later.

I did get to see the televised action of USA games from the national evaluation camp in Plymouth, and the Americans closed out the event with a sound thumping of Team Canada Saturday.

If you’re a Boston Bruins fan and paying attention to the organization’s prospects and player development efforts, you can’t help but come away optimistic for what could be coming, especially at the defense position. One player had a standout, exciting performance that drew raves. The other USA defender was not as visible, but earned good marks for being solid and opportunistic. Both players, drafted in the first and second rounds in Buffalo, are giving Boston fans something to talk about.

The team’s top choice in June had a standout camp from start to finish: one NHL scout texted the Scouting Post after the first day of on-ice sessions on July 30 to say that Charlie McAvoy was the “best player on the ice,” and the 14th overall selection out of Boston University did nothing but reinforce that view as the week went on.

The Long Island native isn’t cut from the mold of steely-eyed killers as you apply them to hockey players (we’re talking Scott Stevens here in terms of the king of steely-eyed killers on the ice), known more as an even-keeled, fun guy to have in the room. He’s a hockey playing surfer, who might have a little more Jeff Spicoli in him than one might think (Aloha, Mr. Hand!) and we don’t mean that in a bad way. However, he backed up his reputation for being all business on the ice by playing an intense, physical, two-way skill game all week. McAvoy put an exclamation point on that with a slobber-knocker of a hit he put on 2015 1st-rounder and Panthers prospect Lawson Crouse, catching the power forward at the USA blue line with his head down and drilling him with a hard but clean hit.

McAvoy is an excellent skater who accelerates quickly in just a few powerful strides that he’s able to generate thanks to a blocky, strong build. He’s not all that tall, but with his wide body and thickness through the torso and lower trunk, McAvoy demonstrated that he’s an A-grade physical player who uses his lower center of gravity to bolster the physical aspect of his game. All of this is all fine and well, because the offensive dimension McAvoy brings to the table is what made him a top-15 selection in the first place.

We’ve knocked him for being at times too aggressive in the way he pushes the pace and gets himself deep into the offensive zone, but pulling back on the reins of said player is easier to do if someone has the natural skill and ability McAvoy does- you can’t coach what he has, and as he matures and refines his game going forward, watch for him to take significant strides offensively. Don’t judge a book by its cover- he might not have a rock-hard physique, but ask Crouse about him, and you can bet he’ll keep his head on a swivel going forward.

One NHL scout had this to say about McAvoy before the draft, and while it might have sounded effusive in its praise then, you can now understand what the veteran talent evaluator was talking about:

“The top defensemen in this draft are hard to separate and McAvoy might end up being the best. He would’ve torn apart the OHL and produced as much as guys like (Mikhail) Sergachev and (Jakob) Chychrun, in my opinion. He’s an NHL athlete and skater; a thick, strong, and powerful kid who has great speed and skating ability. Competitive and passionate about hockey. Can make the first pass and is good offensively off the rush but he’s just average on the PP and lack of height will limit him defensively in the NHL. Doesn’t have Werenski’s size or PP ability from last year.”

If McAvoy can improve his power play skills and production, the sky could be the limit for him.

He’s slated to go back to Boston University for his sophomore season, and it would be surprising to see the Bruins try and sign him now and pull him out of the NCAA (though not impossible, especially after the way he’s performed at Bruins development and the USA evaluation camps). Realistically- he’ll play for the Terriers in 2016-17, but don’t be surprised to see the B’s come calling in the spring and we might even see McAvoy get some NHL games to finish out the year. He’s probably good enough to handle it, but first things first and we’ll see how the season goes.

Here’s a draft weekend video of McAvoy interviewed by Edmonton colleague Tom Gazzolla:

Boston’s other USA defenseman- Ryan Lindgren– didn’t draw the same kind of attention McAvoy did, but the NTDP U18 captain from a season ago stood out to those who watched him and can see how the little things he excels at add up to make a pretty impressive player in his own right.

Like McAvoy, Lindgren isn’t all that tall, and he doesn’t have the same wide build, either. However, he has a knack for lining up guys for kill shots and knowing when to give and take hits to make plays. A competitive little son of a gun, Lindgren earns the respect of coaches for his intensity and how hard he plays. The kicker is his personal discipline; he’s someone who plays right on the edge as a mobile, physical defender who is better than his own end than on offense, but doesn’t cross the line very often and hurt his team with bad penalties.

We got a good, hard look at Lindgren and he plays such a polished, refined defensive game already at age 18. His gap control is excellent and he instinctively understands when to activate at the right times and when to back off. His stick positioning is sound and he’s got real nice skating range and closing ability- this is a guy who is tough to beat wide because he skates so well in all directions, but who can also use his natural speed to jump up into the play and support the rush.

A lot of players talk about being two-way defensemen- Lindgren actually has the skills and head to pull it off.

Factor in that he’s a natural leader who was universally hailed by his teammates and opponents alike as a team captain they would follow anywhere and/or respect as an opponent, and he looks to be a top-four fixture at some point on the left side in Boston when he gets some time in at the University of Minnesota, possibly followed up by a stint in the minors.

NHL Prospects posted this highlight video of Lindgren from a season ago:

It’s hard to resist the urge to start penciling in players like McAvoy and Lindgren into future Boston lineups, but as of right now, rushing the shiny new toys into action is probably not the way the team is looking at things. Lindgren will likely follow a longer timeline to the NHL than McAvoy will, but there is reason for excitement.

That doesn’t help the Bruins in 2016-17, but it also means that the team need not panic and sell the farm to acquire overpriced veteran defenders with a limited return on investment. This pair, when added to some of the other impressive talents like Brandon Carlo, Jakub Zboril, Rob O’Gara, Matt Grzelcyk and Jeremy Lauzon for starters, underscore the optimism and hope for a brighter blue line future.

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Zach Senyshyn, who missed Bruins development camp after recovering from mono, got some limited time in with Canada, but didn’t get much of an opportunity to shine. His time will come, and after a 45-goal campaign with the Soo Greyhounds a year ago, he’s still very much in the mix for a spot with Team Canada in the 2017 World Jr. tourney, but he was not at 100 percent. Given the mediocre showing of the rest of the team, especially against Team USA in the finale, you can bet that the coaches will want to see more of what Senyshyn can do in December, not less.

Trent Frederic was also at camp with Team USA and he’s got some interesting potential, even if he’s still raw and isn’t going to bring much in the way of flash. He’s got good size and will do honest gruntwork to gain and maintain possession. He doesn’t have much in the way of high-end skills, however- and that will always be the rub when fans debate his selection at 29th overall. Simply put- there were more talented options on the board where he was chosen, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will prove to be better players in the long run.

Jeremy Lauzon was also in camp for Canada, and we had limited exposure to him. He’ll likely get lost in the sauce of the excitement surrounding McAvoy for the time being, but watch for Lauzon to be more comfortable and confident at Boston’s main camp in September and he’s primed for another big year of junior hockey before he’ll turn pro and help Providence out if his QMJHL season ends in time to get some AHL work next spring.

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Last but not least-

Sincere condolences on the passing of ESPN analyst John Saunders, who passed away at age 61, the network announced yesterday.

He was very clearly a hockey guy, and I always enjoyed his takes and humble persona whenever he was on the air. ESPN is not a hockey network, so he was one of the few talents that brought much-needed knowledge of and passion for the game whenever he had a chance to talk about the NHL or hockey at other levels.

Saunders will be missed and he got much in the way of respect and acknowledgements yesterday by so many who knew and loved him.