Final thoughts on B’s 2019 Development Camp

Truth in lending- no one from TSP was present in Boston, but we’ve talked to a few hockey folks who where. These are just observations meant to supplement what may already be out there in articles, blog posts and message boards from those who saw the action firsthand.

Development camp caveat- you have to take the performances with a grain of salt. B’s player development director Jamie Langenbrunner said it best when asked about 2018 4th-rounder Curtis Hall, when he remarked about liking Hall better in game situations than he does in a skills and drills-centric development camp setting. Some players look like heroes when they just have to showcase their skills and don’t actually have to compete/fight through contact/handle the requirements to play with pace against opponents who are trying to take your head off, and eventually prove they can’t crack the NHL lineup on a full-time basis. Other guys might look less impressive at d-camps, yet become NHL regulars because when it comes to making plays in games, they get it done. This is not to say that it has to be one or the other, but we all have to temper expectations on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to assessing development camp performances from year to year.

Now, on to some notes about players:

Most notable performers

John Beecher, C- Boston’s 1st-rounder wowed onlookers with his pure skating chops, which is not a surprise. As mentioned on this space before, he’s so big and fast that even if he doesn’t evolve into a top scoring threat at the NHL level, he’s going to play for quite a few years because the incoming Michigan freshman has such a high floor at the pro level, and having played behind such dynamic offensive talents at the Program, he might have been denied his due as a scorer. It will be interesting to see how he is employed in Ann Arbor, and one can only wonder if he will be a one-and-done player like Joel Farrabee was at BU this past season. We’re seeing players sign earlier and earlier out of the NCAA, so whether it’s one year or two, the feeling we’re getting is that the B’s will want to bring Beecher into the pro ranks sooner rather than later.

Oskar Steen, F- We talked about him in the first development camp post this week and said we weren’t thrilled when he was drafted. Let’s expound on that: In the 2016 draft, the B’s passed on other smaller/skill forwards like Alex DeBrincat and Vitali Abramov to grab Steen later on. The feeling then was that if you’re going to take a player like that, why not grab the higher-rated guy? Now, hindsight being 20/20- DeBrincat would have been a terrific get for Boston at 29 (Trent Frederic), but to his credit, Steen has developed into an impressive offensive threat in Sweden, finishing 10th in the highest pro league’s scoring, despite being eligible to play junior hockey this past season as a 20-year-old. So, while we (with the exception of 3rd Amigo Reed Duthie, who loved the Steen pick from the get-go) weren’t keen on him on draft weekend, we have seen him evolve as a prospect from a latter-round flyer to a solid NHL prospect who is signed and ready to make his mark in North America. We don’t know where he’ll play this season or what kind of role Steen will have, but with his speed, hands and grit- don’t be surprised to see him play some games in the show at some point. As an older, pro-experienced player, Steen was expected to shine in development camp this week and he did just that…let’s see how he looks against the NHL veterans in September before we get any more hyped on him.

Cooper Zech, D- The slight but speedy defender was signed to an AHL deal and ATO out of Ferris State and made a splash with the Providence Bruins during their playoff run. Now, he might be another of these free agent gems that the B’s scouts seem to be so adept at finding. In 2017, it was Connor Clifton, who after being drafted by Arizona but not coming to terms out of Quinnipiac University, signed a similar deal with Boston and earned a NHL contract. After making a positive impression in his first big league action, Clifton found himself playing in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final…we’re not saying Zech is going to take the exact same glidepath, but he’s doing all the things that point in that direction. Although small, he gets up the ice quickly and puts rocket passes on the tape/has a natural inclination to be aggressive with his play. It’s easier to tame a tiger than try to paint stripes on a pussycat, so Zech is setting himself up to have more opportunities going forward.

Jeremy Swayman, G- He’s a fourth round pick attending his third development camp, so naturally, more was expected of the Maine Black Bear, and he delivered. We talked to one Hockey East assistant coach whose team has been stymied by Swayman’s play in the last two seasons, so there is a lot here in terms of natural size, ability and the mental toughness to keep his team in games while playing in such a competitive conference. In Boston this past week, Swayman showed that he’s continuing to progress in his development and growing as a goaltender as he gains experience and fills out. Between Swayman and Kyle Keyser, the B’s have a couple of goalie prospects who are not high draft picks. Daniel Vladar was a 3rd-rounder in 2015 and is still hanging around, but his development has been slower and there were always some concerns with Vladar’s overall game, particularly in the areas of how he reads the play/sees the ice. Swayman appears to have the edge right now and it will be interesting to see where he is in his progression when he signs and turns pro.

Matt Brown, F- The undrafted UMass-Lowell forward isn’t very big, but he plays bigger- showcasing speed/tremendous puck skills and a natural chip-on-the-shoulder mentality in Boston this week. Unfortunately for the Bruins, if they want him, they will have to sign him as a free agent at some point when he is ready to turn pro, as he is a ’99-born player and therefore ineligible to be selected in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft- the time to do that was in Vancouver. The lack of size and the fact that he was in his final window of eligibility likely contributed to NHL clubs passing on Brown (and in Boston’s case- they grabbed a similar player earlier in Quinn Olson), but he’s one guy to keep an eye on going forward as a player who has always been overlooked coming up through the minor and junior hockey ranks. Like Torey Krug, he feeds off of the snubs and critics/doubters- UML has themselves as a good one.

Other notables

Quinn Olson, F- The Okotoks Oilers (AJHL) standout isn’t very big right now, but plays a gritty, fearless game. Headed to the twice-defending NCAA champs in Duluth, MN this fall, Olson will be in a perfect place to develop on a gradual timeline. He’s got a lot of room to grow and fill out, but one of the things we like about him is that with his quickness, top-level hands and jam/grit factor, he will be able to play up and down the Bulldogs lineup this season. We expect modest production initially, but Olson will likely really take off in years 2 and 3 as pro teams convince UMD’s top players to sign and turn pro- it’s an inevitable happening for all successful teams at every level, so watch for the Alberta native to become an impact NCAA player and garner notice in due time.

Victor Berglund, D- The late 2017 pick is coming along. He’s always had the mobility and skating that catches the eye, but according to one pro skills coach in attendance, he’s figuring out how to use his stick more effectively in offensive and defensive situations. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with his wheels and eyes, so if the puckhandling and defensive awareness are rounding into form, he’s the kind of underdog prospect who is worth tracking as a dark horse to eventually make contributions in Boston.

Nate Sucese, F- Like Brown, the undrafted camp invite is a smallish, skill forward who really stood out during the drills portions. He’s fast, agile and has superb hands/hockey vision. The Penn State scorer has been productive at every level- starting out in the Buffalo Jr. Sabres minor hockey program, playing a year of prep at the Gunnery and then putting up a point-per-game in the USHL with Dubuque in his second junior season before he headed to Happy Valley. Is he a legitimate NHL prospect or more of a ‘tweener? At 23 years old, he was older than most players here, so that gave him an advantage in the camp setting, but we could see Sucese earning an AHL contract next spring after he completes his NCAA eligibility. We’re thinking 50-60 points and Hobey Baker consideration could be in the offing for the rising Nittany Lions senior, but again- with the number of solid NHL draft picks in the B’s system, Sucese is probably a long shot to be signed.

Jack Studnicka, Jakub Lauko and Kyle Keyser didn’t participate in the on-ice activities, but were in attendance and all made their presence known to varying degrees. Lauko’s outsized personality is a welcome sight- his blistering speed and championship pedigree are showing him to be one of the 2018 NHL draft’s top values where the B’s got him in the third round.

The Bruins may not have a lot of elite/top-level prospects in their system, but they have a lot of solid role player types, some of which have a chance to develop into something more than that. When you’re picking later in the draft each year, that’s going to happen, but overall, the team’s scouts have done a good job of finding value players who have a chance to crack the lineup at some point.

We just scratched the surface here, and the various media outlets that cover prospects and rank them by organization aren’t likely to be all that interested in what the Bruins have in system at present, but it’s a solid, if unspectacular group overall that is probably more middle of the pack than bottom-end, even if others might disagree.

 

 

B’s 2019 Development Camp in full swing

None of us are there, so relying on second hand reports, but the second day of Boston Bruins Development Camp is ongoing and a few prospects are attracting notice from various observers.

Here’s a quick recap:

Drafted division

Oskar Steen, F- We’ll admit we weren’t thrilled with Steen’s selection in the 2016 draft, but the ’98-born forward is coming off an impressive breakout season in his native Sweden’s highest pro league, putting up nearly a point per game and finishing 10th overall in scoring. He played center, but whether he slots in the middle in North America or splits out to the wing remains to be seen. He’s fast, agile, skilled and plays with some p & v. During a camp interview posted on the B’s Twitter feed, Steen says he’s coming in to make the big club, but barring a major run at camp/preseason, he’ll likely begin the year in Providence.

John Beecher, F- Boston’s top selection in Vancouver did not disappoint onlookers with his impressive skating/speed, plus won locals over with his declaration that he and his brother broke with family tradition to root for the Boston Red Sox growing up in a New York Yankees household. The Elmira, NY native was a Buffalo Sabres fan on the hockey side, but he’s hitting the right notes in his first look after being taken 30th overall. He’s big, powerful and can really scoot for one so big- if his offensive skills improve, the B’s could have a real prospect on their hands.

Pavel  Shen, F- The 2018 7th-rounder and Russian pro looks the part: decent size, skating and skills. He was a standout for Russia at the 2019 World Jr. Championship tourney last winter and could be a sleeper to develop into a solid NHL player at some point. He can handle the puck in tight spaces and has vision/creativity to make plays. If he pans out, it could be another feather in the cap for a Boston scouting staff that is doing a nice job of finding players from all corners of the globe.

Axel Andersson, D- Boston’s top choice (2nd round) a year ago can really skate- his wheels/footwork is the most impressive asset he brings to the table. The slick Swede checks the boxes for what the Bruins tend to value in their players: highly mobile and sees the ice pretty well. We’re not sure about the overall skill level for Andersson to develop into a top-3 NHL defenseman, but he appears to have the tools to be a role player and special teams asset. Interestingly enough, he was drafted today in the CHL Import Draft 30th overall by the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL- that marks the second year in a row that a CHL team has rolled the dice to select Andersson.

Jeremy Swayman, G- Somewhat of a surprise pick in 2017 simply because there were other more highly-ranked goaltenders in the USHL available when the B’s grabbed him in the 4th round, the University of Maine rising junior has posted two solid seasons in the Hockey East. He’s got the size, athletic ability and production/pedigree to continue to rise up the prospect ladder within the organization. On the downside, fans won’t get to see a head-to-head matchup between Swayman and undrafted free agent Kyle Keyser this week- Keyser is being held off the ice (along with Jakub Lauko and Jack Studnicka) after he got nicked up at some point during his playoff run in the OHL and AHL (plus Black Ace duty with the B’s).

Undrafted division

Kudos to the Bruins staff for having an impressive group of current and rising NCAA players here this week who had notable junior hockey careers. Here are a couple:

Matt Brown, F- The smallish but highly skilled ’99 just finished a 30-goal season with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL and will play at UMass-Lowell in the fall. He’s dynamic with the puck on his stick and plays with some real jam as a feisty underdog who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Brown was a key member of the USA squad that captured gold at the World Jr. A Challenge last December, beating pretty much the same Russian team that knocked out the USA NTDP galaxy of all stars in April at the World U18s. Looking back on it, given some of the players who were picked in Vancouver, Brown should have had his name called at some point, even late in the seventh round- that was probably a mistake for the NHL’s 31 clubs.

Nathan Burke, F- The former NAHL standout with the Aberdeen Wings would have been a top USHL player, but went in to the University of Minnesota this past season. He’s a smart playmaking forward who has excellent vision/hockey IQ and works hard on the details of his game. Although still pretty lean for his 6-foot frame, he’s noticeable for the way he tracks back on pucks and finds quiet ice in the offensive zone. Burke was rumored to be a close candidate to be drafted a year ago as a late bloomer in his final window of eligibility but it didn’t happen. Watch for him to be a high-profile NCAA free agent in 1-2 years when he can pick his destination, and fans will catch a glimpse of what could be this week.

Nick Wolff, D- Two-time NCAA champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is big and a nasty, tough competitor who helped anchor a suffocating defense in the NCHC last season. He’s massive at 6-4, and the skating isn’t a strength (especially when Scott Perunovich is flying around the same ice), but he’s a smart defender who uses his size, strength and stick effectively. The assistant captain from 2018-19 was rumored to be considering turning pro in the spring, but opted to return for his senior season, and he should sign a pro contract in the spring of 2020. Wolff attended B’s development camp a year ago and despite numerous offers by other teams opted to return to Boston in 2019. He’s a throwback type…if you liked Adam McQuaid, Wolff is a guy you’ll have time for as a defense-first, physical, hard-to-play against glue role D.

Cooper Zech, D- The B’s signed the Michigan native to an AHL deal after just one impressive NCAA season with Ferris State (where his teammates included Boston prospect Cam Clarke), putting up nearly a point per game. Although he never played in the USHL, Zech helped the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild win that league’s championship in 2018 and though he lacks size, is a fast, tenacious player who is already evoking comparisons to Connor Clifton. Zech doesn’t know Torey Krug personally, but according to Conor Ryan of Boston Sports Journal, Zech said that Krug’s dad Kyle once cut him from the Belle Tire 16U midget AAA team. That would put Zech in some pretty exclusive company…the elder Krug is famous for cutting another player back in the day you might have heard of…Mike Modano.

 

3 Amigos Podcast: Ask the Amigos mailbag, lots of topics- last pod for a while

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

We brought the band back together for one final podcast before the 2018-19 season- it wrapped up on Labor Day weekend, the final official weekend of the summer before we go back to our busy schedules.

Thanks to all of the supporters who took the time to post some thoughtful questions- this one takes us about 90 minutes to get through.

Will try to put it up on Sound Cloud at some point, but for now- you have to listen to it here. It’s not on iTunes and isn’t going to be- limitations of technology at present.

Thanks for listening and be sure to stick around until the end to hear an important message from Dom.

Here’s the audio- appreciate all of the support!- Dom, Reed & Kirk

 

2017 Bruins Draft Review: More Steak than Sizzle

CHICAGO- The Boston Bruins entered the 2017 NHL Entry Draft with six selections and just three in the first three 111 slots after making a total of nine picks in the first two rounds in the previous pair of years. The B’s held onto all of their picks, but didn’t come away with a lot of draft excitement and buzz, even if several of the players they chose appear to have the talent and potential to one day play for the parent club.

Assistant GM Scott Bradley returned to the helm of running the B’s draft with previous amateur scouting director Keith Gretzky leaving Boston last August to take the same position with the Edmonton Oilers, where he was reunited with former Bruins boss who hired him, Peter Chiarelli. This draft class reflects Bradley’s value-based philosophy and willingness to take less risk in favor of drafting players who embrace the team’s style and represent better potential roster fits.

Here’s a quick recap of all of Boston’s picks in the draft’s two days and what fans might expect from the new arrivals down the road:

Urho Vaakanainen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Urho Vaakanainen, Rd 1.- pick 18

Left defense; 6-1/181; 01 Jan 99; JyP Jyvaskyla (Finland- SM Liiga)

Central Scouting rank: 8- Europe; Red Line Report: 50 ISS: 34 Hockey Prospect: 11

Talent analysis: Good height and long limbs; plus-skater who can move with speed, quickness and agility. Breaks out pucks efficiently with head up. Will join the rush and can handle the puck effectively from the blue line when the play is in the offensive zone. Smart defensive player who uses his length and reach to deny paths to the net. Not overly physical and prefers to use angles, gap work and  a quick stick to keep opponents from generating scoring chances. Six points for JyP in his second pro season in the SM-Liiga, but could be on the verge of breaking out offensively with SaiPa next season.

Pick analysis: Vaakanainen was the eighth-ranked European skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service and projected to go around where the B’s drafted him. Some public lists had him closer to 11-13 range, while others had him solidly in the second round. The Bruins were looking to add a quality left-shot defenseman and when countryman Juuso Valimaki went off the board to the Calgary Flames at 16, the team went with another of Finland’s quality young D who was a member of both of his country’s successful two most recent U18 squads (gold, silver in 2016-17) and the very disappointing 2017 U20 World Jr. Team. Vaakanainen is not all that flashy or dynamic a player, but he is mobile, skilled and represents a potential blossoming offensive upside that may not be reflected in his pedestrian stats. He’s probably not a high-end prospect, but a solid complementary kind of player who further strengthens the future left side and gives GM Don Sweeney more options to move some of the prospects out in potential packages for NHL-level trades.

On the board at 18: F- Kristian Vesalainen; F- Ryan Poehling; F- Kailer Yamamoto; F- Eeli Tolvanen; F- Klim Kostin; F- Robert Thomas; D- Nic Hague; F- Filip Chytil; D- Connor Timmins; F- Isaac Ratcliffe; D- Pierre-Olivier Joseph; G- Jake Oettinger

Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Jack Studnicka, Rd 2.- pick 53

Center; 6-1/172; 18 Feb 99; Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Central Scouting rank: 120- North America; Red Line Report: 68; ISS: 41; Hockey Prospect: 73

Talent analysis: Rangy center’s stock really came on after a disappointing regular season got a surge with strong OHL playoff and subsequent World Under-18 tournament performances. His thin, reedy build will require significant off-ice conditioning work to add some mass and strength to. Above average skater who has the quick-burst to get to pucks in short areas and can also beat defenders in open ice. Handles and shoots the puck well; has the offensive tool kit to put up bigger numbers in the OHL next year and beyond. A smart, hard-working two-way center who is good on faceoffs and understands the importance of three-zone hockey. Solid citizen and leader type- will have a letter on his jersey at some point.

Pick analysis: Doesn’t project as a top-line offensive threat but has the potential to develop into a solid third-line center with a second-line ceiling if he can take another step in his development. Rankings for Studnicka were all over the map, but the reality is- he was a late-rising player whose ability to step up in key moments with the Gennies and Team Canada (albeit in disappointing Hlinka and U18 finishes) speaks well to his pro potential. More Jack-of-all-Trades versus sleek, sexy scoring forward, but there is always value to having these kinds of players on your NHL roster if he can earn a spot one day. There weren’t many complete players of Studnicka’s ability on the board at 53, but there were some prospects with a bigger risk-reward factors, so time will tell if going the safer route was the right decision.

On the board at 53: G- Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen; G- Michael DiPietro; G- Keith Petruzzelli; F- Joni Ikonen; F- Matthew Strome; D- Josh Brook; F- Morgan Geekie; G- Matthew Villalta; D- Ben Mirageas; D- Reilly Walsh;

 

Jeremy Swayman, Rd 4.- pick 111

Goaltender; 6-2/190; 24 Nov 98; Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)

Central Scouting rank: 12- North America; Red Line Report: NR; Hockey Prospect: NR

Talent analysis: High-end athlete with good size who probably isn’t finished growing (his dad is 6-6) checks all the boxes for a developmental project goalie. Excellent quickness and great hands- glove and blocker are effective at catching pucks or directing them away from danger areas. Gets a good lateral push and tracks pucks well. Put up very good save percentage and GAA numbers (.914, 2.90) on a non-playoff USHL club, and was often lost in the spotlight of other bigger-name goalies playing in that league. Needs to be more patient at times- gets caught trying to do too much and will have to put in the work to refine his game and keep getting better. Says all the right things, but the proof will be in the continued progression and body of work.

Pick analysis: Textbook case of the perception of the “shallow” 2017 NHL draft, where many of the more conventional and established names on public lists were passed on by teams who scouted their own players and went with a lesser known commodity in Swayman, an Alaska native who played for a tougher-to-see USHL club. Originally thought to be spending another year in junior, TSP confirmed that Swayman will play at the University of Maine next season. That may or may not be the best for his development, but the B’s and fans will likely have to get used to what could be a bit of a rollercoaster for him in terms of strong vs. shaky outings and stretches of play. Swayman’s pure physical package means that he’s bound to have some quality starts that will generate buzz, but he’s also likely to have some rougher stretches that will underscore the time and patience needed to properly develop a goaltender in this day and age.

On the board at 111: F- Kyle Olson; D- Michael Karow; F- Noah Cates; G- Cayden Primeau; F- Nick Campoli

 

Cedric Pare, Rd. 6- pick 173

Center; 6-2/205; 24 Jan 99; Saint John Sea Dogs

Central Scouting Rank: 146- North America

Talent analysis: Big-bodied, toolsy center who didn’t see a lot of playing time on a stacked, veteran team that won the QMJHL championship and played for the 2017 Memorial Cup. Strong below the dots and in the corners, but skating needs to improve mainly in the first steps and lateral agility to boost an effective short-area game. Hard shot, but needs to get it off faster. Grinds for pucks and does well to shield them in possession but not overly skilled or creative. At his best when driving the net and using his size to box out defenders.

Pick analysis: This is a pure project selection that drew a mixed bag of reviews, as several NHL scouts informally polled either liked the pick or didn’t. Conventional thought is that Pare, who resembles a blend of Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Spooner in terms of his looks, has a chance to play a more prominent role in Saint John next season. He’s not flashy, but plays that heavy-on-pucks style the Bruins like. Time will tell if they were ahead of the curve in terms of a budding offensive game, or if he’s going to be another in a glut of bottom-line prospects.

On the board at 173: F- Morgan Barron, F- Sasha Chmelevski; F- Cole Guttman; G- Dylan Ferguson

Cedric Pare (Kirk Luedeke photo)

 

5. Victor Berglund, Rd. 7- pick 195

Right Defense; 6-0/165; 02 Aug 99; MoDo (Sweden)

Central Scouting Rank: 109- Europe

Talent analysis: Small, skilled defender was a total stealth/under the radar pick, as no one we were with at the draft knew who he was. We’ll let Bradley describe him thus: “Our Swedish guys were on top of him. They think he’s a mobile D. He’s skilled, ultra-skilled, and he skates well. Small. Six-footer, but [European scouts] P.J. [Axelsson] and Sven [Svensson] and Victor [Nybladh], they were pounding the table for him and we went along with it and I think we might have something there. Talking to his strength coach after the pick, he’s got him working on putting some muscle and weight on so we look forward to seeing him, too, at development camp.”

Pick analysis: It’s the seventh round. Why not?

On the board at 195: G- Cayden Primeau; F- Sammy Walker; F- Logan Cockerill; D- Croix Evingson; D- Phil Kemp

 

6. Daniel Bukac, Rd. 7- pick 204

Right Defense; 6-4/195; 29 Apr 99; Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Central Scouting Rank: 173; Red Line Report: 97

Talent analysis: Big, rangy Czech defender is raw and needs a lot of development, but could have a decent payoff down the road. Good skater for his size who will get better and more powerful in his stride as he adds lower leg strength. Long stick- terrific reach. Didn’t put up many points, but had a tough transition to North America with the Wheaties and came on strong at the end. More from Bradley: “He’s raw. He’s a project. Kid from the Czech Republic that played in the Western Hockey League. At the start of the year – he’s come leaps and bounds with his development. Talking to the people – the coaches, the management, and the GM in Brandon, they’re very excited about him coming back to Brandon. They’re expecting big things from him. We look forward to seeing him in camp.”

Pick analysis: When you’re picking this late, taking a project D with size and upside is a pretty good way to go.

On the board at 204: G- Dayton Rasmussen; F- Nick Swaney; D- Dylan Coghlan