Rangers land second big Boston-area NCAA free agent in Vesey- the aftermath

The Jimmy Vesey saga ended Friday when word leaked out via Bob McKenzie that the North Reading native and Harvard graduate after winning the 2016 Hobey Baker Award, agreed to terms with the New York Rangers.

The decision, made some four-and-a-half months after Vesey declined to sign with the Nashville Predators, who owned his rights after drafting him 66th overall in 2012, was met with disappointment and disgust in some Boston circles, but shouldn’t be all that surprising given some of the warning signs that pointed to the 23-year-old leaning away from choosing his hometown Bruins as one of seven teams he formally met with this week.

Like Kevin Hayes two years ago, the B’s were in the running, but the player decided to play close to home but not with the Boston organization. Not surprisingly, Hayes himself, the younger of two hockey brothers who both played at Boston College, was instrumental in helping to convince Vesey to choose Broadway over Causeway.

For those familiar with this blog and typist, you know that I have had a personal connection with the Vesey family for more than five years, but throughout the process, I purposefully stayed away from trying to leverage that connection for information. In many respects, not really knowing which way Vesey was definitively leaning was refreshing, as it allowed for a shared experience with the vast majority of fans and non-insiders. When the word came down that it was the Rangers, I was hearing it for the first time, and I was also wrong- my own guess was that he would go with the New Jersey Devils because of a personal connection to Tom Fitzgerald, the Devils’ assistant GM. Shows you how much I know…

There are a lot of different views out there on the subject, so these notes are based on my own personal knowledge and insights gained from several conversations over the weekend with NHL insiders who have knowledge of the Vesey situation. This is why I didn’t rush to post something on it Friday or Saturday, as I wanted to get my ducks in a row first. But truth in lending: take my observations with a grain of salt. There is a personal element to it so I am not completely free of bias in all of this, nor do I pass myself off as completely objective here. I am writing an opinion piece, so you have the choice to agree or disagree with any or all of the points made.

  1. My gut feeling is that the Bruins lost their real shot at Vesey five years ago, when they drafted Norwegian goalie Lars Volden in the sixth round. In doing that, they snubbed the Belmont Hill star who had been told by someone in the organization that they liked him and were going to take him. That’s the tragedy in all of this from Boston’s perspective- they *knew* in 2011 that he had some big time potential and recognized it, but at the draft table in St. Paul, they went with someone else and it cost them what could have been a huge success story for their scouting staff. This kind of stuff happens all the time, but when you look at the attention Vesey has received (much of it earned), it’s something the B’s have been kicking themselves over. There is no doubt that had Boston drafted Vesey, he would not have pursued free agency in the manner he did and none of this would have been necessary. That snub motivated Vesey to destroy the EJHL in 2011-12, smashing all major offensive league records, but even then- the B’s could have spent a first-round choice on him over Malcolm Subban, especially since they didn’t have a second-rounder and knew deep down he wouldn’t be there in the late third. In effect, the B’s chose two goaltenders over Vesey- one is a complete washout and the other has yet to deliver on significant promise. It goes to show that scouting future NHL players is more of an art than a science, and projecting stars between the pipes is even more difficult. The B’s didn’t do what they allegedly said they would, and you have to know that Vesey didn’t forget it. When you add in all of the other factors that went into his decision, it’s not surprising. Boston did it to themselves- they had two legitimate shots at really showing Vesey that they wanted him, but didn’t take them. That left the Bruins in the position to ask for him to choose them this week, and all he did was return the favor.
  2. Give Rangers GM Jeff Gorton and his staff credit- they put together a compelling pitch, leveraging New York’s natural draw as a big market destination and myriad celebrities and sports figures associated with the Big Apple to put the finishing touches on a successful pitch. It’s easy to hate the Rangers as a natural extension of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, and given Gorton’s history with the B’s, you know he enjoyed sticking it to Boston on this one, just as was the case with Hayes two years ago. Former Hobey Baker winner and Stanley Cup champion Chris Drury captained the Rangers and is the team,’s developmental guru- he had a major hand in convincing Vesey to sign on in Broadway, and don’t underestimate the lure that someone with Drury’s cachet brings to the process. In the end, there can only be one destination for a player’s services, and everything counts (not necessarily in large amounts as Depeche Mode once sang). While Vesey had close friends like Matt Grzelcyk, Ryan Fitzgerald and Harvard teammate Ryan Donato in the Boston organization, none of them have ever played a professional game with the B’s. Kevin Hayes, on the other hand, is the only close friend of Vesey’s in the NHL- he was able to identify with the signing process, but even more important- Hayes could tell Vesey firsthand what he was in for if he signed with New York. The other NHL teams in the running all brought out some of their biggest stars to try and sway Vesey, but none of them had the powerful personal connection Hayes does…that was big. Game, set and match. Remember- Boston is in some good company- the NHL’s modern dynasty Chicago Blackhawks and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins were also told “thanks but no thanks” by Vesey. The Rangers might seem like an odd choice to some, but for him, the team was the best fit. Now, time will tell how well he plays there and if he regrets that choice in the long run.
  3. In talking to one key insider, it was pointed out that Vesey has a large family and everyone is in the Boston area. It’s not just about Vesey taking heat during the inevitable times when he might not play as well as he’s capable of or like the human he is, goes into a slump. You have to take into account the effect that the media and fan negativity will have on Vesey’s immediate and extended families. It’s easy to dismiss that when you’re sitting behind a keyboard and have no concept of what it’s like to have your every move scrutinized and thinking about the possibility of rude, socially-stunted strangers accosting you in public to demand to know why your son, brother, nephew or cousin isn’t living up to the lofty expectations the modern information age created. It might sound like a cop out, and I’m sure there is an element of people that will scoff at the notion no matter what. That’s fine- I’m not trying to reach them, but the more fair-minded of those in hockey fandom will get it. “We know everyone,” came a quote via text yesterday. “And in the offseason (Jimmy) can come home and get away from it.” If he had signed in Boston, there would be no escape from the scrutiny of his profession. By going to the Rangers, he can go home to Boston in the summer months and decompress rather than stay in  what could be a crucible of discontent if the B’s fortunes don’t improve. That’s a lot to put on someone’s shoulders, even if there is a case to be made that by embracing the challenge, Vesey truly could have made himself into a legitimate Boston star. It was probably not meant to be, and that’s okay.
  4. It’s unfortunate that there is an element of sour grapes already taking hold and a segment of fans rejected by Vesey are already bringing out the sharp knives. It’s predictable. And lame. Look, the biggest mistake us “mortals” make is in assuming that because we would kill for a chance to play professional hockey for our favorite teams, everyone else should think the way we do. Observations 1 and 3 have already laid out why Boston was not the obvious choice for him, and to be honest- the B’s should be glad they were even in the final running. A more petulant, immature person would have stuck it to them and made a public spectacle of that rejection. Vesey is not that guy, and I think he showed the team respect by giving them a chance. Some might say he “used” them, but I would argue he leveraged every team in the running to determine his final landing spot.That might be what a Harvard degree teaches you, but that’s just me. It would be nice if people could show the same kind of maturity by respecting the decision and not seeking to point fingers or play the blame game. It might be human nature to lash out when things don’t go your way, but take a step back and evaluate your life and priorities. If you spent more time than you should have getting yourself worked up over the idea of Vesey skating in Boston and now feel hurt or betrayed after he chose the Rangers, then there are probably some important things in your life that you are neglecting. To put it another way (Ben Stiller style): It’s just a game, Focker.
  5. What was distasteful to everyone was the amount of attention the whole thing got for as long as it did, and the comparisons to Kevin Durant are valid. This is something Vesey will have to deal with and the best way to put it behind him is to simply go out and prove himself at the NHL level. At the same time, he probably invoked the old Shakespeare “Methinks thou doth protest too much,” when he commented about not enjoying the spotlight. A couple of points- I know Jimmy and believe him on that score: he’s not an attention-seeker. His handlers have more to do with that than anything, but as the player, he’s got to own that this became something that got out of hand. Second- there’s little doubt that deep down, he enjoyed being able to dictate the terms to NHL teams. Remember- all 30 clubs snubbed him in 2011 and 2012. Any one of them could have drafted him before Nashville in the 3rd round in his second year of eligibility. He went from being a kid who was hurt and disappointed at being skipped in his first year (who wouldn’t be?) to someone just about everyone would have gladly taken on their team. It’s human nature to enjoy an element of revenge when the tables are turned. I don’t blame him. Finally, the timing stunk- there just isn’t any hockey news to be had in mid-August and that fed the beast of the media circus surrounding Vesey, especially since he’s the reigning Hobey Baker recipient. Many of us might find the kind of hype surrounding him ridiculous, but this is the world we live in. Had Jonathan Drouin been able to leave Tampa Bay at midseason and become a free agent open to bidders, we likely would have seen the same exact thing. And those Canadian CHL-centric folks who wagged their fingers and tut-tutted at Vesey leveraging his right in the CBA would probably have made the same allowances for a player like Drouin that they seemed unwilling to extend for Vesey. That’s life, but again- you know who you are. Take a step back and be honest with yourself- every team seeks an edge, and Vesey is a good risk to take. We might not like the attention he got, but if it wasn’t him, it would likely be someone else. Besides, it made for an interesting story to follow at least. I’m just glad it’s over and we can now focus on the next big things: the World Cup of Hockey and the start of the new NHL season.

The onus is now on Vesey to go out and prove himself at the NHL level. There will be many out there rooting for him to fail, but he’s done a nice job of silencing the critics so far. Playing for the Rangers will be business as usual for him, and if the past is any indication, he’ll likely build more fans and supporters than detractors.


So, where do the Bruins go from here?

They accepted risk in waiting to see what happened with Vesey because by bringing him into the fold, they would have built a bigger war chest with which to make a trade for much-needed defensive help.

That ship has now sailed for Don Sweeney, so he needs to reset and figure out how he can address a very mediocre defensive group (and that’s being charitable at this point). He’s talked about the difficulty of finding the right players in a constricted market where skilled two-way defensemen are at a premium, but as the GM, the fans aren’t interested in that kind of reasoning. They expect action, and so it will be interesting to see what he and the team does between now and the start of rookie camp in about 30 days or before opening night in October.

The Bruins have some impressive young defenders coming down the pipeline via recent drafts, but those kids aren’t realistic options to help the 2016-17 NHL roster, so something has to give. Sweeney needs to find a way to close some deals and get some wins under his belt. Here’s guessing that he might re-open the lines of communication with St. Louis or Anaheim to look at Kevin Shattenkirk or Cam Fowler. 29-year-old free agent Kris Russell has not yet been signed (boy, is THAT ever telling!) and at this point, you have to think that someone will land him, especially if the right money makes his shortcomings easier to swallow. But how much of an upgrade is he on a team like the Bruins? Again, it will come down to contract term and AAV, but that he’s still sitting out and available in mid-August is interesting.

Yes, it would have been easier for Sweeney and staff to make a deal with Vesey on board to free up other assets to be moved, but Boston also has to play the longer game with Brad Marchand headed to unrestricted free agency in July 2017 if the B’s don’t extend him. And let’s face it- they can’t afford *not* to extend him unless they work an unreal trade that the majority of fans can get behind. To lose Marchand in the wake of so many other grievances fans have about the team is as unpleasant an outcome as you can find right now.

The major priority is to improve the defense. You can’t “fix” this group, but Sweeney can build a more sturdier unit than what we saw last season with one move. When you look at the promise of players like Charlie McAvoy and perhaps Brandon Carlo or Rob O’Gara plus others in the next 1-3 years, the defense will improve. However, the status quo in 2016-17 is simply not going to work. Sweeney has to find a way to identify and acquire a bridge player or two.

It won’t be easy, but if it were, then anyone off the street could manage an NHL team to a Stanley Cup championship.


The pitch



Could Jimmy Vesey be a Boston Bruin by week’s end? We’ll know the answer soon enough. (Found this on the Internet somewhere but don’t know who to credit for it)





Harvard captain and unrestricted free agent Jimmy Vesey met with several NHL teams yesterday (Toronto, NY Islanders, New Jersey, Pittsburgh were among those reported) and he’ll meet with more today. The New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks are reportedly on the list and we’ll be able to confirm that a little later.

We’ve heard that the hometown Boston Bruins are going to be the last team to make the case, which is a nice situation to be in, but in itself is no real indicator of where the skilled offensive left wing will end up.

By virtue of the NHL’s CBA, the money every team can offer him is essentially the same, assuming they max out the base salary and performance bonus structure. Per General Fanager, those amounts are:  2 years at a base (max) salary of $925,000, $3.775M AAV ($832,500 salary +$92,500 signing bonus; $2.85M performance bonuses). The 925k is your cap hit this year and those performance bonuses could roll over into next year’s cap hit for the team that signs him if he were to do what Artemi Panarin accomplished in Chicago en route to the 2016 Calder Trophy.

That means it pretty much comes down to the various pitches and the opportunities the teams lay out for Vesey.

Were I the Bruins general manager, I would adopt a “less is more” approach here as it pertains to Vesey. The obvious small peanuts move is to bring a No. 19 Bruins jersey with his name on it to the meeting. Only 2 players have worn those digits in Boston since the 2000-01 season: Joe Thornton and Tyler Seguin. It’s not about why both players left…Vesey is well aware of the history. However, he idolized Thornton as a youngster. It’s an obvious tactic designed to connect to the kid in him and the exclusivity by which the B’s have limited that number over the years carries its own appeal. But no hockey jersey, regardless of the history behind it, is going to close a deal, and whether teams make videos or bring in players to help make their case, all of that is just window dressing. In the end, the GMs will have to walk a fine line between keeping it simple and making a cogent argument that will appeal to the pragmatist in him, and also making an important connection to his personality and values. The Sabres have the advantage here, because they’re the ones who have had about two months to make that connection and also have the benefit of Vesey’s friendship with NHL superstar-in-waiting Jack Eichel.

Boston doesn’t have those advantages but bring a different edge to the table, so for me,  the pitch is relatively simple.

After laying out the obvious opportunities Vesey will have to succeed with the Bruins organization and committing the max dollars like everyone else, selling him on staying home comes down to a relatively direct but earnest message:


You grew up dreaming of this opportunity (to play for the Bruins) and now, you’re in a position to choose where you begin your NHL career. Not everyone has the power of choice, so we respect where you are and what you have done to bring us to this moment together.

Other teams have undoubtedly made convincing arguments for why you should choose them, and you’re facing the most difficult decision of your life thus far. As we finish up the last of your meetings before you decide, we’d like to leave you with this:

Boston offers you one thing no other team can, and that is the certainty that comes with knowing you achieved your childhood dream. Not choosing the Bruins means that you might go through life wondering what it would have been like to play here if you had only made a different decision. Choosing Boston means that regardless of what happens, you will never have questions about what could have been, and we believe you’ll have no regrets that you chose to stay home and join the legacy that your father is also a part of.

It isn’t easy playing in your hometown and dealing with the various pressures that come with high expectations along with the scrutiny and attention you’ll get because of the many accomplishments you bring with you. However, you’ve also demonstrated that you have the maturity to handle those challenges and become every bit the player and person so many believe you will be. We believe in you, and we want you to be a part of the next big revival period of Boston Bruins hockey. You’ve talked to your friends inside the organization and you know that over the past three or four drafts, we’re building the right group of talented and committed players. We want you to be a part of this resurgence.

Your head might tell you that other cities and teams can offer you more reasons to go there and wear different colors than the black and gold, but you also have a chance to listen to your heart as you make your final decision.

We believe your heart is telling you to be a Boston Bruin and we’re prepared to help you realize that dream.

That’s it.

That’s all.

In my experience it really comes down to that, and it’s not about overselling or underselling. It’s about trying to establish a connection and speak to what will ultimately drive the decision. Money and opportunity are important, but they won’t guarantee success or happiness. Talk is cheap, but blood is thicker than water, and following in his dad’s footsteps while playing close to family and friends is a powerful lure.

I believe that all things being equal- Vesey has the desire to play in Boston. His family is here, and his dad comes from humble roots in Charlestown. Injuries prevented him from making the mark he could have at the NHL level, but Jimmy has a chance to do much more at this level, and I suspect that fact is not lost on Jim Vesey, Sr.

I also think that there is a lot of white noise and distractors out there that could be steering young Vesey away from Boston. The talk of the external pressures and distractions that come with being such a high-profile player from the area is real, but in my view- too much is being made of the concerns and what-if’s. There are no doubt several convincing arguments to be made that he’s better off playing elsewhere, but if a decision to reject the chance to play for the Bruins is based on trivial reasons such as being pressed by ticket requests or a fear of being criticized on sports radio and television, then maybe it is for the best that he begin his NHL career elsewhere.

Knowing Jimmy over the years, I believe he wants to embrace a real challenge over an easier path- his success has been fueled by adversity. Staying home does present certain negatives that playing in a place like Newark, N.J. doesn’t, but the reward and payoff should he prove himself to be the player in the NHL that he’s been at Harvard is enormous as a member of the Bruins versus the Devils, Rangers, Sabres or anywhere else. Does he want to stay in Boston enough to accept the identified risk that comes with the spotlight and possible friction that Jimmy Hayes was a source of last season?

That’s a question only Vesey can answer, and after today, we’ll soon find out.


Separate from the above post, going to hop on the soapbox for a bit and share some thoughts and observations on what I’ve been seeing lately, especially on Twitter…

It’s a shame that there is so much hype surrounding Vesey and that invariably, he’s started to get a backlash from people tired of hearing about it and of course- the element of folks out there who are holding against him that he’s leveraging a collectively bargained right. It’s more than a little silly, especially since we’re about giving the people what they want, and in the modern information age, what the people want is almost always an over saturation of  stories and angles. They want to know exactly how it’s all going to end beforehand. We ourselves encourage paralysis by analysis in places like Twitter and internet message boards. So, why is anyone surprised that a player who has scored more than 50 goals and 100 points in the past two NCAA seasons is generating so much attention?

The fact is- NHL teams don’t get an opportunity to sign a player of Vesey’s potential every year, so when someone with his talent and upside comes along, there’s an obvious desire for coverage commensurate with storylines that develop when multiple cities pursue someone on the open market. Jimmy Vesey didn’t create this animal, but he’s required to feed it.

Signing Vesey is not a gamble, either- a gamble is when you leave something to pure chance. He’s given multiple indications that he will be a successful NHL player. No, signing Vesey is taking a risk– teams are accepting that by committing max dollars to him and inserting him into the lineup ahead of others in the pecking order, they might upset the apple cart. You can argue that he’s not worth that risk, and it’s a fair assessment, but it isn’t like he’s a middling player, either. Instead of playing a game of false equivalencies like comparing him to some of the game’s icons (no one with any credibility is doing that, btw) or asserting that signing him means the Bruins (or any other team) are automatically Stanley Cup contenders, why not just settle in and see where this all takes us? Yes, there is a lot of hype around this player, and that’s also the reality we’re living in circa 2016.

Again- it isn’t Vesey’s fault that we live in an age where every single move is scrutinized to the nth degree. If he and his representation refused to answer questions about what they were doing, then people would criticize that and wonder what he was hiding. And let’s be fair and honest about this- Vesey isn’t the only one talking about his situation. Sources within the teams are telling reporters about meeting schedules and how interested their clubs are in his services. That’s not Vesey’s doing, but he’s the one taking the heat for feeding the beast.

Come the weekend, we’ll be glad the saga is over because it really has gone on too long. It’s just unfortunate that some out there simply can’t resist making someone out to be the villain in any story. If anything, Vesey is an example of facing adversity and rejection by being completely passed over in 2011 and turning that into a bidding war unlike any other we have seen surrounding a player who has yet to skate an NHL shift to date.

Right, wrong or indifferent- it will all be over soon and then we can look forward to seeing what all the fuss was about.

The prediction here is that while it may or may not come to the fore right away, Vesey will prove himself to be an NHL asset and fans will eventually get why he was so sought after.

Vesey officially on the open market- let the free agent Kabuki dance begin

In 2008, University of Minnesota forward Blake Wheeler opted to forego his senior year, but in so doing, decided not to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes, who drafted him fifth overall four years earlier.  Wheeler leveraged a provision in the previous (2005) collective bargaining agreement and signed instead with the Boston Bruins, eventually getting traded to the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, where he has become one of that franchise’s more productive players over the past several seasons. Twitter wasn’t as big then, nor did the Wheeler courtship last as long, so at least in one regard, the difference between then and the hype machine surrounding Harvard graduate Jimmy Vesey is significant.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Vesey, who received the 2016 Hobey Baker Award one year after being the runner-up to Jack Eichel, is now an unrestricted free agent after passing on the chance to sign with the Nashville Predators, who drafted him 66th overall in 2012. There could be myriad reasons why Vesey spurned the Music City, but only he and those closest to him know his true motivations behind doing so. The Buffalo Sabres had multiple third-round picks in the 2016 draft, so they flipped one to the Preds for the chance to convince Vesey to forego free agency altogether and sign with them. Sabres GM Tim Murray gave it his best shot, but when you consider that the North Reading native has come this far for the right to choose his NHL destination, Murray and Co. simply weren’t going to get him to bite, no matter how compelling the sales job.

Now, some 50 days after the Sabres acquired his exclusive negotiating rights, and per the NHL’s (2013) CBA, Vesey can now talk to any NHL club who desires his services. Here are highlights, compliments of Harvard:

This is not a loophole. The 23-year-old is not engaging in any underhanded activity, as much as some out there who don’t apparently understand how collective bargaining works would like to (and of course want to convince others of the righteousness of their own ignorance) believe.

Is it unseemly? That depends on what your definition of that is, but in our free market society, Vesey is taking advantage of his immense talent for hockey while also doing something very few NHL prospects these days get to: determine his own professional hockey destination.

Some out there feel he “owed” it to Nashville to just sign with them and report just like any other draft pick, but that position assumes that we know all of what was happening behind the scenes. We obviously don’t, and there is no requirement for any of these players to come to terms with the teams that draft them. Vesey incurred risk by staying in school and not taking Nashville’s original offer to bring him out in the spring of 2015 after netting north of 30 goals for the Crimson as college hockey’s second-best offensive talent after Eichel. Graduating from Harvard was important to him, and at some point, even after he had talked on the record about signing in Nashville, something changed and he didn’t.

Vesey is not the only player to do this and he won’t be the last. However, by virtue of the ever growing groundswell of social media in the information age, Vesey is a high-profile player…arguably the highest coming off of a Hobey Baker-winning season. No one else who has come before him carries that kind of cachet, but even with the NCAA success (56 goals, 104 points in 70 games in the past two seasons), there is no guarantee he will make the same kind of impact in the NHL. However, when you factor in his skill, hockey IQ and accomplishments to date, plenty of teams are willing to roll the dice.

Two years ago, Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kevin Hayes, he of hockey Clan Hayes of Dorchester, decided not to sign with the team that made him a first-round pick in 2010, and after multiple teams courted him, settled on the New York Rangers. That decision cost him a Stanley Cup, as the ‘Hawks went on to capture their third championship in six years some 10 months after Hayes leveraged his CBA right to be a free agent.

It happens. And it also underscores that different things motivate these players beyond money or opportunity. If winning were the only thing that mattered, Hayes would have signed with Chicago. This points out the folly of anyone who is sure that Vesey will do the same simply because Chicago brain-trustees Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville personally attended some of his summer league hockey games in Foxboro.

At the same time, to believe that Vesey is a done deal to Boston simply because he grew up there and was a Bruins fan as a kid is equally foolish.

What it likely will come down to is which team Vesey feels the biggest connection to. It could very easily be a team like Chicago. Or Boston. Or Buffalo, who according to several sources, are in a nice spot with him, having given him a good faith pitch while benefiting from the behind-the-scenes work done by former Boston hockey rival and now summer liney and pal Eichel.

Vesey could be won over by the Rangers, who because of their success in wooing Hayes after stealthily pursuing him in 2014, are always going to be name players in the NHL’s version of the Game of Thrones– free agency (albeit much less dramatic). Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is a Boston-area guy and he’s got people like Gordie Clark who do well in the recruiting department (both are longtime former members of the Boston Bruins front office/scouting staff). Don’t underestimate the power of Broadway.

The New Jersey Devils are another team emerging as a favorite to get him; GM Ray Shero has added some impressive forward talent to his club over the past two seasons, and the Newark-based club can overcome the negative pull of the playing digs with some solid selling of recent drafts. Hero’s right-hand man,Tom Fitzgerald, has a direct connection to the Vesey family as well.

Then of course there are the Toronto Maple Leafs- they’re sure to be in the mix, too. How much, is up for debate as making the money work might be an issue for them, but Vesey’s father and brother are both in the Leafs organization. When it comes to family, that’s a big selling point for just about anyone.

Finally, I wouldn’t count out a club like the Philadelphia Flyers being in on the Vesey sweeps. Ron Hextall is an aggressive GM who has his team on the rise, as their late-season surge to K.O. the Bruins on the final weekend of the 2016 NHL season can attest. Think the Flyers couldn’t use a plug-and-play LW with Vesey’s upside? Think again. It wouldn’t surprise in the least to see a club come out of left field to land him, and Philly is my dark horse to do it. (EDIT- So, Philly was not in on the Vesey sweeps. Surprising, but another keystone state team- the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins- did meet with him on 8/16. The Penguins were not a club linked to Vesey much since his decision in March not to sign with Nashville, but it makes sense and they might be the ones who sneak in and spirit him away. We’ll see. – KL)

In circling back to the Bruins, there are plenty of reasons to think that they could end up landing the prize. Refuting some reports out there, a source close to the Vesey camp said that  he hasn’t ruled the Bruins out.  On the contrary- the B’s and GM Don Sweeney are in prime position to show him how serious they are. Will Sweeney’s Harvard credentials and the connection he has with Vesey’s representation help? It just might. Getting Vesey is key not just because he’s a talent the team has coveted for years, but because he also opens up trade options to assist Sweeney in landing an upgrade on defense. It’s not a zero-sum game- the Bruins will likely have to move on a defenseman via trade at some point, but Vesey in the fold means flexibility and an ability to be able to give up pieces of value to land the defenseman the Bruins want.

It’s a delicate balance, but Boston has a real opportunity here. When they come to the table, it may or may not be enough to convince him, but you can bet that they’ll try. They, too, have connections- assistant amateur scouting chief Scott Fitzgerald (Tom’s brother) and close friends like Matt Grzelcyk, Ryan Fitzgerald, Harvard teammates Ryan Donato and Wiley Sherman to name a few.  It’s just a shame that they didn’t draft him in 2011 when they had the chance to get him in the sixth round. Or even 2012- when they could have spent the 24th overall choice on him in lieu of Malcolm Subban. The opportunities were there, and one can only wonder if Vesey will remind them of that fact when they meet.

Ultimately, though- only young Vesey himself and those few solidly inside his inner circle truly know what is motivating him here and what things will matter most to him when he meets with the suitors today and tomorrow. We may or may not find out the truth once the final decision is made, probably no earlier than Friday depending on how loose lips are around the camp.

Many are no doubt ready for it all to be over so we can move on to the next thing (World Cup of Hockey, anyone?), none more than Vesey and his family.

For the one NHL club that will gain a valuable asset and one who has shown the kind of promise to make this pursuit worthwhile, that relief should be more than palpable. Sure- there is no guarantee that Vesey will be the NHL performer many believe he can, but if you’ve been paying attention to his profound growth over the past several seasons, you know better than to bet against him.

The undrafted free agents: Tim Schaller

When the Boston Bruins announced the signing of Tim Schaller on July 1 as the dust was settling on the big grab of David Backes, the Providence College product by way of Merrimack, N.H. and the New England Jr. Huskies of the old EJHL was not exactly an afterthought. He scored his first NHL goal against his childhood favorite B’s, and while he doesn’t have a great deal of big league playing time, is one of the more intriguing under-the-radar free agency grabs by the team.

Although on the New England-area watch lists back in his 2009 primary NHL draft season (he was born in late ’90), Schaller was not selected and ended up signing with the Buffalo Sabres prior to the 2013-14 season after playing a full four years in the NCAA with PC.

At 6-foot-2 and nearly 220 pounds, Schaller has the ideal size to center a bottom NHL line, but probably has enough versatility to shift to the wing if he can’t beat out Noel Acciari (he spent two years with NA in college before going pro) at the pivot spot in Boston. Schaller is a capable skater in a straight line, and he plays a traditional north-south, take-the-puck-right-to-the-net style. He’s never been one who was seen as a top prospect option, but he’s an above average AHL forward who has shown flashes of serviceable effectiveness with the Sabres, even on two below average NHL rosters (35 games over the past two seasons).

The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa had a nice little deep dive on Schaller last weekend and as usual, he mined some interesting nuggets:

“We had probably about 10-12 teams calling on one day,” Schaller recalled of the opening of free agency. “About halfway through the phone calls, Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins called. At that moment, I almost told my agent, ‘Why take another phone call? Why not just say yes to the Bruins right away?’ It’s a good opportunity to have to play in Boston. All the numbers worked out perfectly to where it was impossible to say no to them.”

That Schaller is a local guy will not win him any bonus points in his fight to make the roster. The 6-foot-2-inch, 219-pound center will have to beat out several players to earn his $600,000 NHL payday, including former college teammate Noel Acciari. Schaller agreed to a one-year, two-way contract, indicating an assignment to Providence is not out of the question.

Acciari, one of Schaller’s primary rivals, promptly turned into a coaching staff favorite upon his promotion last season. Acciari had just one assist in 19 games, but he did not take long to win the bosses’ trust on defensive-zone faceoffs, shorthanded shifts, and five-on-five situations where his willingness to run over opponents earned him a spot in the regular rotation.

Growing up in the Granite State less than an hour from Boston, Schaller was a Bruins fan, so he said in the Globe piece that when GM Don Sweeney called, he was pretty much sold. This is an example of leveraging the connection local talent has with playing for the hometown team, which although has fallen on harder times over the past two seasons, is still just five years removed from having won a Stanley Cup.

Cynics will probably insert a snide remark about “getting the Duckboats” ready when it comes to Schaller, so I’ll beat them to the punch by acknowledging that at $600k and on a one-year, two-way contract, it’s obvious the Bruins aren’t expecting a major contribution. The larger point is that he’s a smart signing as a player who can hedge against Acciari taking a step backwards or perhaps dealing with unexpected setbacks like injury.  We won’t make Schaller into more than he is currently- a bottom-six forward and center who could earn a fourth-line job right away with his old PC mate or provide the Bruins and Providence of the AHL with an effective heavy-on-the-puck veteran who will rack up close to a point-per-game’s worth of offense on the farm.

You can also connect the dots to Jimmy Vesey a bit with this one, as it is one more example of the lure that Boston has for guys who grew up in the area and have an attachment to home. Schiller’s decision and his accompanying comments reminds us all that the Bruins are still in a pretty good spot when it comes to attracting players and selling them on making Boston a pro hockey destination. There’s a significant difference between Schaller and Vesey in terms of how they project in the NHL, but there is still a good bit to be said about how a guy feels about staying home to play for the team he used to skate around on local rinks dreaming about. That’s not to say it’s the only reason Vesey might pass on another more lucrative (in terms of organization and winning) destination, but it would be foolish to dismiss the kind of influence that might have in the decision process. Guys don’t know what they don’t know, and in Vesey’s case for most of his 23 years, all he’s known is Boston. He’s said it himself- he’s a homebody, and like Schaller, his interest in fielding a lot of other offers might be diminished because he knows the B’s want him.

As we inch closer to August 15, we can’t predict if Vesey will ultimately decide that Boston represents the “best fit” for him, or if some other team like the Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, NY Rangers or perhaps New Jersey Devils do.  There’s a lot that can happen between now and when his rights (currently held by Buffalo) expire.

It says a lot that ‘Hawks VP/GM Stan Bowman has been in Foxboro twice in person to watch Vesey play in the summer league there, though.  That’s Chicago’s M.O.- trade away high draft picks, but replenish those by aggressively signing high-end free agents who bring similar upside to those 18-year-olds drafted early on in June. We saw it work to ideal effect last year with the Breadman- Artemi Panarin, winner of the NHL’s top rookie prize (he also cashed in on some sweet bonuses, which contributed to the need to move some veteran players out). This is why Chicago is an upper tier NHL team, so nobody should be surprised that Bowman and crew are in on Vesey. Whether they’ll go all-in and Vesey himself will opt to go there remains to be seen, but this is how great teams stay that way- by being bold and managing risk-reward transactions. Vesey is low-risk, high-reward if he meets expectations, but we shall see.

Back to Schaller- he’s no threat to the memory of Milan Lucic, but there’s goodness in the idea of adding a big-bodied forward who plays a physical but pretty clean game. He doesn’t take a lot of penalties and uses his big frame to good effect along the walls and down low. He’s not going to score much off the rush, but he’ll do the grunt work in front of the net and in the high danger areas. There’s not a lot of skill here, but that’s not why Boston signed him. If he doesn’t make the big club, he can go down to Providence and help to offset some of the forward losses and annual turnover so prevalent in the AHL and lower levels. Of note- he was named the Amerks’ MVP in a vote taken by his teammate despite playing just 38 games last season due to injuries and time in Buffalo. With NHL experience, he’ll be someone who is on the recall short list when inevitable injuries happen up front or players struggle to contribute. When you consider how much of a disappointment Brett Connolly was in Boston after being the sixth overall pick in 2010, Schaller is a solid investment to make for what could end up being a similar payoff. It’s also one more reminder that if you draft a player high and he ends up on your fourth line as Connolly did at the end of last season, then you’ve taken a wrong turn. The undrafted Schaller makes a great deal more sense for where Boston intends to use him.

Some feel that Schaller will make the NHL team right from Jump Street- and that’s all fine. With his low cap hit and versatility, he might not carry a draft pedigree, but has proven himself to be the kind of serviceable grinder who will use his big body and has killed penalties, even though he hasn’t had an abundance of ice time. He’s confident he can win a spot and he wants to be here- that’s most of the battle right there, so may the best player win. Here’s his end-of-year interview with Rochester (AHL):

This is the kind of low-risk, medium-reward signing that helps teams get out of the cellar. The B’s still have a gaping hole on defense that needs to be filled, but by building depth at other positions, it allows the GM to build the kind of war chest that might help him to land that elusive young NHL talent that not only represents an upgrade but will have some retainability as well.

Vesey could be the key piece keeping Sweeney from committing to a major deal, but come August 15 and the time it takes the Hobey Baker winner to reach a decision, bigger things could be afoot.


Jimmy Vesey update- CSNNE video


There is much speculation about Jimmy Vesey and where he will end up, even after the Buffalo Sabres traded for his rights last month.

Joe Haggerty of CSNNE had a 9-minute interview with Vesey that does a nice job of laying everything out.


After the interview, here’s what we do know:

1. Buffalo is the only team that can negotiate with Vesey prior to August 15 and they’ve made their pitch. According to Vesey- the Sabres have told him they don’t want to turn it into a “circus” so he is saying that he’ll decline to sign for now, get to free agency, and then perhaps end up with Buffalo after all is said and done. The key for Tim Murray and Co. will be to hold off the urge to put any more pressure on him- back off, and let him decide when the time comes.

2. “Boston is definitely on my list of teams to talk to…” in Vesey’s own words. We’ve known this for a long time, so a lot of it will depend on the various pitches and whatever he feels is the best fit.

3. He’s always been a Joe Thornton fan…wears No. 19 in the old Boston captain’s honor, but he cited Torey Krug as a current Bruin he knows and respects. The two played on Team USA a year ago in the 2015 Men’s IIHF World Championship. Much has been made of Vesey’s connection to Eichel (he was also on that USA squad), but if the B’s can leverage Krug in this, it won’t hurt.

4. Good team vs. bad team is just one factor, but “getting a feel” for the GM and coach on a personal level is also something important to Vesey.

It’s a good interview and worth watching. Joe is my friend- I have to hand it to him on this one. He did a nice job of scoring the time, and if you read between the lines, the Bruins are very much in the mix for Vesey, but he’s a Buffalo Sabre until August 15 rolls around and he isn’t. Don’t count out New York teams in play for him as Kevin Hayes ended up with the NY Rangers two summers ago, or even the Chicago Blackhawks- as GM (and Veep) Stan Bowman himself went to Foxboro last week to watch him play in the summer league with Jack Eichel.

Okay- I’ll say it: Vesey would be a tremendous get for the Bruins.

Yes, their defense has yet to be meaningfully addressed, though the team has signed all three of their RFAs- Krug (4 years); Colin Miller (2 years- $1M AAV) and Joe Morrow (1 year- $800k) extensions were announced yesterday. Both of those team-friendly deals will help Don Sweeney land another veteran option, and make no mistake- the team could use the upgrade. We’re still only in mid-July here, but if we get close to the start of camp with no changes on the blue line, then we’re going to have something to talk about.

But back to Vesey- I cannot stress this enough: he’s a game-changer for Boston. He has been an elite college hockey player for the past two seasons, and he won a gold medal for Team USA at the World Jr. Championship in 2013. He’s just a winner, and Vesey’s presence is like “free chicken” for Sweeney- he can then perhaps use another forward to add to a war chest to be leveraged in a meaningful trade for help on defense.

Take my comments with a grain of salt- as I said, I’ve known Vesey and his family for years. I know how much he cares about the game, and some of the comments about him declining to sign with Nashville are unfair and wrong. We deal with the system we have, not the one we wish we did, so when it comes to the CBA, his grabbing an opportunity that is clearly in place is part of what makes America what it is. It’s a great thing to have the freedom of choice, and while I can understand the disappointment Nashville and Predators fans might feel, what he did was well within bounds. Very few young players in hockey these days get to choose their own destination, and by staying in school, Vesey put himself at risk by not taking the money Nashville offered him if something had happened to him in his final year at Harvard. This kind of thing cuts both ways, and maybe just maybe- the team pushed a little too hard. We always talk about how teams interview and audition players to make sure *they* are okay with investing millions in a young player to not only perform on the ice but represent their organization. Perhaps in this case- Vesey was auditioning Nashville, and they came up short. We may never know.

As for the Predators, they moved on when they flipped his rights to Buffalo for a pick in the same round that they drafted Vesey in four years earlier, so while they did invest time and resources in him, what he’s doing is completely acceptable under the framework of the rules and system.

No matter who Vesey ends up with, I’ll say the same thing. I’m happy for Jimmy- the Bruins should have drafted him in 2011 when they had a chance, but by virtue of what he said in the CSNNE interview, Boston is still very much in play, even if other NHL teams never were seriously in the game.  One day, there will be another hot shot free agent out there and Boston won’t be anywhere on his list- that’s why the B’s need to close here.

Don’t cry for him Music City, the truth is- he never loved you. (Well, maybe he did, but I couldn’t resist going all Evita here)

That’s the way these things go in professional sports, but there’s a reason that Vesey continues to be a hot topic in hockey circles- he’s a hell of a player, and for someone who got in on the ground floor with him back when his development was still a work in progress, none of this is all that surprising. Boston fans would do well to keep an open mind and don’t underestimate a team like Chicago- they’re lurking in the weeds here- who could swoop in and knock Vesey off his feet with the lure of playing time, a nice situation and the most attractive thing of all to any competitive hockey player: a legit shot at winning the Stanley Cup…sooner, rather than later.

My gut still tells me that if Boston wants him badly enough- the Bruins have as good a shot as any club to emerge winners in the Vesey sweeps a month from now. I’d bet that they’ve learned from their dealings with the younger Hayes brother in 2014 and will pull out the stops to get Vesey to commit and stay home- play for the team he said himself he always dreamed of being a part of. I can only guess that’s part of why he was so stung in 2011 when he was passed over, because he thought his hometown Bruins were going to take a flyer on him. Woulda-coulda-shoulda, but think about how different that draft would have been if they had come away with Vesey and Krug- two players they had very serious discussions about selecting that year.

They should have at least grabbed Vesey…because none of this would be going on if they had. Of course- he’s probably glad they did, because he now has a degree from Harvard and a wealth of experiences in his young life that few 23 year olds among his peers can relate to. We don’t know if he will be the NHL star and top-6 LW with 35-goal, 80-point upside I think he can be, but if you add him to Charlie McAvoy and Trent Frederic, all of the sudden, that becomes a hell of a 1st-round draft haul for the Bruins, and starts to explain why they went for Frederic when you stir the skill guy in Vesey into the mix.

Go get him, Boston- he’s waited this long to become an unrestricted free agent, so do what it takes. Landing Vesey opens up other opportunities to address holes on the roster and the GM undoubtedly knows that.


Day 2 of Bruins development camp happened in Wilmington Wednesday. Mike Loftus of the Patriot-Ledger grabbed a quick video on D Ryan Lindgren, who missed the first day’s activities but is now on board:




2016 Summer Cooler interview series: Matt Grzelcyk


Grizzy draft

Matt Grzelcyk was Boston’s third-round selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.(Kirk Luedeke photo)

The Summer Cooler interview series is back!

A year ago, we kicked it off with Boston Bruins players Ryan Spooner and Torey Krug, plus Calgary Flames prospect Jon Gillies.

This time, and with Boston Bruins development camp around the corner, we’re proud to bring you an in-depth profile and interview on defenseman Matt Grzelcyk.

A third-round pick in 2012 (along with boyhood teammate and close chum Jimmy Vesey– but more on him later on) the former two-year Boston University captain is a Townie- born and raised in Charlestown, Mass. who grew up dreaming of playing for the Black and Gold. Now, with his NCAA career in the rearview mirror, Grzelcyk has his first real opportunity to make that dream come true, as he prepares for his first NHL main training camp in September.

His father, John, is a long-time member of the Boston Garden (okay- TD Garden) bull gang, and young Grzelcyk was born during the last full 80-game season of the old Boston Garden. Yes, the final hockey campaign for the old barn was 1994-95, when Grzelcyk turned 1, but a lockout shortened that season to just 48 games. “Grizzy” grew up in the shadow of the FleetCenter (now TD Garden) and played his minor hockey close to home, including his time as a standout prep schooler at Belmont Hill School in Belmont, before joining Team USA at age 16.

The scouting report on Grzelcyk is pretty straight forward- what he lacks in ideal NHL size and physical strength, he more than compensates for in speed, hockey IQ and a champion’s heart and desire. He’s a left-shot defenseman who can push the pace and excels in space, where he uses his 4-way compass skating to move the puck out of danger and speed up the transition game. He’s improved his shot from when he was with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. from 2010-12, having scored  20 goals (and 61 points) in his last two years in the NCAA with the Terriers (68 games) versus just six markers in his freshman and sophomore years combined. Like other undersized defenders, he can be physically overpowered at times in his own end and has to rely on positional smarts and savvy, along with an active stick and ability to read the developing play.

Although Grzelcyk resembles current Bruins defenseman Torey Krug in that they are both under 6-feet and were captains of their respective college teams, it would be a mistake to think that the rookie pro is a carbon copy of the established veteran who just inked a deserved four-year extension worth $5.25 million per year. The two might share some similar traits, but they bring different styles to the ice. With his talent and drive, don’t bet against Grzelcyk one day establishing himself in the NHL as a top-4 D, but he may require developmental time in the minors and have to work his way up the big club’s depth chart accordingly. For now, he’s focusing on making sure he’s physically and mentally prepared for the challenge after being hindered by several knee injuries in the past 14 months.

Matt was kind enough to talk pucks with the Scouting Post this week after one of his daily off-ice workouts, as he prepares for the beginning of B’s prospects camp next week.

Here’s the Q & A:

the Scouting Post: Matt, up front- congratulations on finishing your career at BU. Looking back on the four years, what are some of the things you are most proud of in terms of accomplishments and personal growth?

Matt Grzelcyk: Thank you. I think being at BU at four years was definitely an up and down journey at times, and my class especially can attest that we went through a lot of adversity but I felt that it made us grow up a ton more. It certainly seems that with the incoming class this year- BU is on track to get right back to being the powerhouse that a lot of people are used to seeing. I’m really proud to have been a part of that, and to have started that journey back up after sophomore year.

TSP: You’re getting ready to officially join Boston’s system- outside of going to the annual (summer) development camps. Talk about the biggest changes you’ve experienced from your first development camp in 2012 and you’re getting ready to hit your fifth camp. What perspectives can you share in terms of what it was like when you started out and what are some of the things that you’ve learned that have helped you in your development over the past four seasons after being drafted by Boston?

MG: I think especially my first year I was a little more wide-eyed going in. I wasn’t really sure how development camps worked or anything like that- I think it was about a week after I’d just been drafted, which was kind of a whirlwind experience in itself. I think that after the first three years, I’ve been able to settle down. This year especially, I’m excited to go there because I haven’t been really in the loop of things for two years getting caught up on some injuries (editor’s note- knee surgery in May 2015 prevented Grzelcyk from being a full participant last summer), but it’s definitely exciting to be get back out there, especially with the great young talent the team has coming in.

TSP: Is this something where your role as one of the more veteran and experienced prospects on the development camp roster lends itself to more of a hands-on role for you?

MG: Yeah, so I think over the years, I’ve been able to step into more of a leadership role, especially with being able to wear the ‘C’ at BU for two years. That definitely helped me grow up a little bit more and take more responsibility for not only my play on the ice, but how I handle myself off the ice. It was a great experience being able to be a leader at BU and hopefully this year, I can help out some of the younger guys like my (Terriers defense) partner, Charlie McAvoy, who’s coming into his first camp. If he or anyone else needs any advice or anything else along the way, I’m happy to help.

TSP: You talked to me about McAvoy in my post-draft feature on him, but for those who might have missed that, can you share a little more about what he brings to the table?

MG: I’d say first and foremost- Charlie’s a heck of a kid. He’s really a complete player. On the ice- he’s a lot of fun to play with and he can certainly add a lot to the offense with his skill set. He’s got a real broad frame to him too, so he’s real tough to get off the puck. He skates the puck extremely well, which feeds right into where the Bruins want to go- they want to play more of a transition game and Charlie can certainly provide that. I think he was the youngest skater in college hockey last year- I don’t know that you could have drawn up a better season than the one he had- he really was awesome.

TSP: I had an opportunity to speak with Terriers head coach (David) Quinn right after the McAvoy selection, and the words he used were “magnetic personality” to describe Charlie as a player that everyone just seemed drawn to and was a guy the other players wanted to be around. Coach Don Granato (U.S. NTDP) also talked about what a loyal player he is in that he does whatever the coaches ask but he also was a guy that the teammates just gravitate to. Did you get the same sense about him not only as his on-ice partner but the captain of the team as well?

MG: Absolutely. He’s about as likable as a kid as you can have on your team. He’s always got a smile on his face; he’s always positive going into the rink. But, the other thing I like about him is that as soon as he steps on the ice, he means business and he’s got that game face on, especially this year, when I noticed he had some more physicality to his game. He’s really competitive, even in practice- he practices as hard as anyone I’ve been around, so I’m sure the Bruins definitely like to hear that and they’ll see it from him at development camp.

TSP: Let’s talk about Matt Grzelcyk– for people who maybe aren’t familiar with your background, can you talk about growing up in Charlestown and what it means to have the kind of connection to the team you always have, and what it was like for you in Pittsburgh to be in the Consol Energy Center when the Bruins called your name with the 85th overall selection?

MG: It’s a unique experience growing up in Boston and getting drafted by the Bruins. It’s something that I couldn’t even imagine happening along the way. Obviously, playing at the national team and being on some pretty stacked teams on defense- playing time was pretty hard to come by especially at the end of the (2011-12) season and at the U18 Worlds, but I just tried to get better as much as I could, and being a part of that team was huge. Going into Pittsburgh, obviously the rankings were what they were and everything but being so low was kind of discouraging and I didn’t want to be one of those guys that showed up at the draft and didn’t get picked, so I was kind of unsure. I don’t know if my parents got a tip or something but they were pretty adamant about me going down, at least to watch and support my teammates getting picked, so to have my name called in the third round was a shock, but growing up as a kid in Boston, I couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

My whole U18 year had a lot of (NHL)teams come in and interview guys and I’d kind of had the feeling that I might be on a lot of teams’ lists, so I kind of had an indication that I was at least on some peoples’ radars, which was encouraging to hear. But going into the draft- you try not to ask too many questions about where you think you might get drafted or anything like that. I didn’t want to create that expectation in my mind, but I certainly wasn’t even contemplating going in the top-three rounds, so that was definitely a shock. I’m definitely  not complaining about it!

TSP: How much of a relief was it for you to get that entry-level contract with the Bruins done and signed last spring and what is your honest feeling as you sit on the verge of your first main veteran camp and the chance to skate with and get to know guys that you’ve watched from a distance in the past, but now have the opportunity to work and compete with and against?

MG: I think right now I’m just anxious more than anything. It’s certainly been a long time coming; it seems like a long time ago that the draft happened and I’ve had a few hiccups along the way, but I’m really just anxious and excited to get things going. It’s been a long journey but to get the contract done and out of the way was huge. Obviously, it’s a dream come true that it happened, but it’s really just the first step in the process. I’m just going to continue to work as hard as I possibly can this summer to make sure that heading into camp I’m ready to go. It’s so nice to be training here at BU with the new (Brighton) facility right down the street so there’s certainly a lot of motivation coming into camp and the kind of opportunity that lies ahead with the Bruins defense so I’m really just looking forward to it.

TSP: Can you talk about the summer pro league in Foxboro you’ve been a part of and what the chance to play with guys like Jack Eichel and Jimmy Vesey and so many others in the NHL, minor pro and NCAA ranks does for your development and how beneficial it is for you to get a chance to skate in the offseason like that?

MG: I think it’s awesome, honestly- there aren’t many leagues in the summer months around like it, so to have all those guys come each and every summer to skate there is a great there is such a good experience. There are a number of great players- you can work on skills all you want, but it’s nice to sometimes get a break from that and come in and compete against guys who know what it takes and can let you show your skills off and learn from one another. I think a lot of the guys- they don’t just take it easy- it’s a great workout and a lot of conditioning and it’s nice to tune up those guys and have  a few special players like Jack and Jimmy and others to just soak it up and watch them- see the tendencies that they have and it’s nice to be able to apply that to your game.

TSP: Without getting into speculation about his NHL destination, can you talk about Jimmy Vesey as a person and a player? I think it’s worth mentioning the relationship  you have with him and with Brendan Collier as well as the closest of friends who came up through minor hockey together and have been around each other as teammates and opponents. There aren’t many who know Vesey on and off the ice as well as you do. Jimmy might be a North Reading guy, but his dad’s a Townie- I think a lot is lost in translation by those who aren’t from the Boston area and might not realize just how close those bonds are between you. (Editor’s note- “Big Jim” Vesey was Grzelcyk’s first organized minor hockey coach, a team he played on with Jimmy and Collier)

MG: Yeah- Jimmy’s a great player, obviously. He won the Hobey Baker last year, which was great, and I think the season before that was just as spectacular if not better. He’s certainly grown up a lot at Harvard and I’ve played with him since we were six years old, so I know how good he’s been- he’s really been the best player in our age group for a long time and he’s as competitive a teammate as I’ve ever had, and he’s a great friend off the ice. He’s got a great skill set to him, it’s obviously well-documented: I think just the way he approaches the game is a little different than anyone else- they way he’s so aggressive attacking the net and he has unbelievable skills with high-end vision and hockey IQ. I’m sure having his dad (former Merrimack College legend and NHL forward Jim Vesey)  along the way has helped him- I know it certainly helped me as a teammate and player growing up.

TSP: You’re a student of the game, so you’ve followed the NHL over the years- what were your first impressions when you got the news on July 1st that Loui Eriksson was moving on, but the Bruins had signed St. Louis Blues captain and one of the most notable USA players in David Backes?

MG: I think it’s awesome- just as a fan of the game and watching the NHL each and every year I think he certainly gets your attention with his 200-foot play. He’s clearly as competitive a guy as there is in the NHL. Like you mentioned, I think he’s kind of paved the way for USA Hockey along the way through his years of coming up. I don’t know him personally, but I’m definitely a huge fan of the way he plays the game and I’m sure a lot of the guys on the (Bruins) team are excited to have him on board and I know the Bruins are definitely excited to sign a guy like him because he brings a lot of passion to the game, so I think he’ll be a fan favorite here early on.

TSP: Going back to the Bruins defense- you know there will be stiff competition- there are a lot of veterans there. What is your outlook and what do you think is a healthy mindset for you going in knowing that you will be competing for an NHL job in terms of making the best impression to earn a job with the big club sooner rather than later?

MG: I think number one especially coming after the season I had with the injury bug, is that I’ve had a little time in the summer to kind of take it upon myself to come to camp in the best possible shape I can to be able to compete with those guys. A few of them (Krug among them) have come into the (BU) gym and I’ve seen firsthand just how hard they work. It’s a nice reminder and thing to have in the back of my head for what it takes to get to that level. I think going into camp I just- I’ve always been raised to be a really competitive guy-a lot of defensemen are vying for jobs and I’m trying to give it the best shot I can. I’m trying to put myself in the best situation I can physically, and I think mentally- just knowing that the Bruins are really seeking more transition to their game and it’s definitely a strong suit of mine, so to be able to add to the offense…not necessarily with goals and assists but by just making it easier on the forwards by making a really great first pass out of the zone is just something that I’ve learned is extremely important especially from Coach Quinn here at BU.

I think keeping that in mind and staying with that competitive side. I’m obviously a smaller player and there are tons of really big guys in the NHL, but if I can go in there as physically ready as I can be, and I’ve also improved my defensive game as a whole since I’ve gotten to BU so, just take those lessons in and give it my 100 percent effort.


Thanks to Matt for taking the time and there will be more where that came from as the summer goes on. Watch for future posts, podcasts and other things here at the Scouting Post as we work through the offseason and start looking ahead to the 2016-17 hockey season. As always, thanks for reading (and listening)!

Matt Grzelcyk 2012-13 BU Away Front




Final 1st-round mock draft and Bruins draft preview (audio)

Well, NHL Entry Draft time is upon us…I can hardly believe that I will be flying to Buffalo, N.Y. in the morning and that by this time Friday night, Bruins fans will know who the next big hopeful will be.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but rather than write an excessively long post here, I’ll take the advice of a recent blog critic who didn’t like the length of my Bruins draft strategy piece and break it down for you in about 15 minutes. He’s out of luck on the bolded names, though- sorry pal. As Kenny Loggins once crooned- I’ll meet you halfway. I’m sharing my thoughts on where the Bruins are heading into the draft, and where I think they’re going, and not just in round 1. Keep in mind this is just one person’s opinion, and lots of things can happen between now and pick No. 14 in the First Niagara Center.

Here’s the audio:

I am not going to weigh in on internet rumors surrounding Jimmy Vesey. Look, until he either signs with the Buffalo Sabres or he doesn’t and becomes an unrestricted free agent on August 15, I’m going to do my level best to stay above the fray. Because of my relationship with him and members of his family going back to his prep school days, that’s precisely *why* I’m not going to get into the middle of what is flying around. I give full credit to the Sabres for stepping up and getting his rights- that puts them in the driver’s seat, at least for the next some-odd 60 days, and Tim Murray will either convince him to forego the chance to pick his destination, or Vesey will stay the course. My thinking- and it’s just my own intuition here- is that he’s come a full four years since Nashville drafted him in Pittsburgh. What is less than two months more at this point? But if Murray and Sabres owner Terry Pegula (and don’t forget Jack Eichel) make a convincing enough pitch, there’s not much stopping him from ending the soap opera.

But, if you’re looking for me to repeat things flying around various message boards- that’s not happening.

Now, onto the mock draft:

1- Toronto- Auston Matthews, C; The Leafs get their man- Arizona native’s the wire-to-wire No. 1 overall selection and with good reason.

2- Winnipeg- Patrik Laine, LW; The first big winners of the NHL’s new lotto jackpot system cash in with this pure shooter who turns goal scoring into an art form.

3- Columbus- Jesse Puljujarvi, RW; GM Jarmo Kekalainen pounces on this Finnish horse who isn’t quite the threat his countryman is, but isn’t that far off, either.

4. Edmonton- Matt Tkachuk, LW; On a team whose GM once saw firsthand what Milan Lucic could do, the Oilers grab a high-end power forward with serious bloodlines.

5- Vancouver- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW; The Canucks need help everywhere, so Jim Benning can’t go wrong here with as complete a two-way threat as there is in this class.

6- Calgary- Logan Brown, C; Described by my pal Reed Duthie (who calls Hamilton Bulldogs games) as an “aircraft carrier with feet”, this massive center is also highly skilled, meaning- he’s off the board in the blink of an eye.

7- Arizona- Olli Juolevi, D; Is this Finnish version of the old Val Kilmer movie ‘Real Genius’ the first defender off the board in Buffalo? Very possible.

8.- Buffalo- Jakob Chychrun, D; After making a splash with the Vesey trade, the Sabres fire more shots across the bow, picking up this big name at 8, but his hockey IQ has raised some doubts.

9- Montreal- Alex Nylander, RW; The Canadiens seek skill and scoring, so why not grab the player who might have absolutely been the most talented player in the OHL draft class, even if he doesn’t always bring it.

10- Colorado- Mikhail Sergachev, D; The Avalanche land a big talent that has scouts divided on his overall defensive awareness, but may be at the top end of the skill factor in the OHL.

11- New Jersey- Tyson Jost, LW-C; Ray Shero blinks- he can’t believe Jost is on the board here, and after landing Pavel Zacha a year ago, grabs another potential elite forward bound for North Dakota in the spirit of one Zach Parise 13 years ago.

12- Ottawa- Michael McLeod C; The Senators are betting that McLeod’s blend of size, skating and smarts propels him to stardom up the middle, even with questions about his NHL upside.

13- Carolina- Clayton Keller, C; Small but dynamic center has major league potential as an uber-dangerous playmaker.

14- Boston- Dante Fabbro, D; Knowing what the Bruins tend to value in their players and what they need at this stage, this defender is right up their alley at 14.

15- Minnesota- Luke Kunin, C; St. Louis native did a great job as a freshman on a poor team- the sky’s the limit and the Wild can’t resist.

16- Detroit- Charlie McAvoy, D; A player who could just as easily go to Boston two picks earlier, if he’s still on the board here the Wings pounce.

17- Nashville- Jake Bean, D; The Predators know Bean has a high-end skill set and grab him with outstanding value at 17 where others had him projected inside the top-10.

18- Philadelphia- Kieffer Bellows, LW; Passed up by his hometown Wild, Bellows doesn’t have much time to dwell  on it & makes sense as a fit in Philly with his deadly release and penchant for filling the net.

19- NY Islanders- Riley Tufte, RW; Big, massive, skates well, tremendous long-term promise and the Isles struck gold with Brock Nelson in Minnesota before, so why not take a big payoff project here?

20- Arizona via NYR- Julien Gauthier, RW Major concerns about hockey sense and a tepid second half after tearing it up early in the season mean that the Val d’Or standout slides, but he’s solid value here.

21- Carolina via LAK- Max Jones, LW; Speedy power forward has some nasty play that has gone over the line, but if the Hurricanes can harness that raw aggression- he could be one of those role guys you win with.

22- Winnipeg via CHI- Logan Stanley, D; When you pick Laine at 2, you can afford to take on more of a project player with your bonus 1st-rounder, and with Stanley’s size, skating and snarl- he looks like a solid bet to play even if he tops out as a mid-tier shutdown D.

23- Florida-German Rubtsov, C; The Russian forward in class is someone worth jumping on in the early 20’s and Dale Tallon does just that.

24- Anaheim-Tage Thompson, RW; Huge but raw with an upside that some in the NHL scouting community feels is too legit to quit, the UConn Husky becomes a part of the West Coast quack attack.

25- Dallas- Dennis Cholowski, D; It sure looks like the late-surging BCHL two-way defender is bound to land in the 1st round, and he looks like a good fit for the resurgent Stars under Jim Nill.

26- Washington- Pascal Laberge, C; Speedy and skilled, the Capitals need to find secondary scoring behind Ovechkin and Backstrom- this Victoriaville Tigre brings that in spades.

27- Tampa Bay- Brett Howden, C; Some say he looks a lot like his older brother, but this Howden seems to have more killer instinct and finish around the net. Stevie Y. will take it.

28- St. Louis- Lucas Johansen, D; With Kevin Shattenkirk likely to leave via trade, the Blues will look to infuse more offensive talent and potential with this latest product of the Kelowna D machine.

29- Boston via SJS- Markus Niemelainen, D; The B’s could go with a forward with their second pick like a surprise 1st-rounder in Wade Allison here, but if they add another 6-5 D who can really skate, this Finn will complement the right-shooting Brandon Carlo nicely at some point.

30- Anaheim via Toronto via PIT- Boris Katchouk, LW; Anaheim grabbed the big RW earlier, now they get the gritty, in-your-face and underrated Soo Greyhounds scorer at the end of the round after giving up Frederik Andersen to the Leafs. (Thanks to the readers who pointed out my mistake)

Alex DeBrincat drops out of the 1st round, but he won’t last long in the 2nd.


Okay- that’s it. I’m off to Buffalo.

Reminder- if you want breaking NHL draft news, picks, analysis and hot takes (or is it “taeks?”) give me a follow on Twitter: @kluedeke29 I might be able to get some Periscope action going as well, so look for that.

Will be on TSN 690 with my Red Line Report boss, Kyle Woodlief, with host Tony Marinaro this Friday, June 24, from 11-noon (Eastern) live from First Niagara Center to talk draft, draft and nothing but draft.

Will do some deeper dives on the draft at the blog in the coming days, but this is pretty much it until the big event, and even then- will just hit the wave tops, but keep checking in- I might have some Easter Eggs and surprises for you.

Vesey to Sabres and other pre-draft notes


It probably was not all that surprising about the news that broke Monday about the Buffalo Sabres and GM Tim Murray acquiring Jimmy Vesey’s rights from Nashville for one of three third-round picks that rebuilding team has in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Why is it not a surprise? Well, for one thing- Predators GM David Poile “burned the boats” with Vesey when he went public and essentially told everyone the kid lied to him. That was impulsive and shortsighted, as all that did was guarantee 100 percent that Vesey had no chance of coming around and agreeing to terms with the team that spent a third-round pick on him in 2012, only to see him declare his option to leverage free agency (per the CBA) four years later. We figured from the get-go that someone would try to trade for Vesey’s exclusive negotiating rights at some point, so, as Murray himself said- Why not Buffalo?

The Vesey matter is made more complex by the human element in the case. At arm’s length, there seems to be no smoking gun, no clear reason for his walking away from Nashville. Although it’s a small market team, the Predators are on the rise, and Music City is a neat place to play hockey in. There was talk that Vesey was turned off by the Nashville organization’s pressure sales pitch, and that he didn’t want to play for them right away, but preferred to finish out his semester at Harvard and then look at signing. As of now, that’s all that is- talk. We’ve heard what the team thinks, and Vesey himself has declined to weigh in on it, so as of now all we know is- by virtue of Monday’s trade, Buffalo now jumps into the ring as the one team that can negotiate with him between now and the August 15 deadline, and if he signs, then it will be a third-round pick well spent for them.

Vesey’s camp (agent Peter Fish) issued a statement Monday, saying that the player still intends to pursue free agency. Murray, who never met a microphone he didn’t like (and I don’t mean that as a slight- he’s long been one of the most open sources of information out there) has been open about his intent to leverage Vesey’s connection to 2015 Hobey Baker Award winner and second overall pick Jack Eichel to try and sway the 2016 Hobey recipient to put aside the free agency designs and ink an ELC with the Sabres.

This does not mean Boston is out of the Vesey sweeps, however- they just have a tougher hill to climb.  I’ve seen on the internet in at least one location that I called Vesey to the Bruins as a “sure thing.” That gentleman is clearly mistaken, and should perhaps focus his efforts on some reading comprehension skills enhancement. The Bruins were clearly in the mix for a Vesey landing spot because he’s a North Reading kid and dreamed of playing for Boston, but that does not mean that when he opted out of Nashville that the Bruins and Vesey coming together was fait accompli. I think folks should pay better attention to things and not misrepresent clear positions on internet message boards and articles, but that’s just me.

Next move belongs to Murray and the Sabres and we’ll see where it all leads- he has a little less than 60 days to make inroads and land his big fish.


We’re just a few days from the big event in Buffalo- the Scouting Post (TSP) will be there, but much of the coverage I provide will be via Twitter, as I do not plan to do extensive blog posts from the event. You can expect a couple of wave top assessments, but the more in-depth coverage will come next week after I can interview sources at the draft and provide a more comprehensive analysis of what the Bruins did or did not accomplish. For breaking news and quick hits- I encourage you to follow my Twitter account- @kluedeke29 and I will keep things up to date as the draft rolls on.

On another note- my boss at Red Line Report Kyle Woodlief- and yours truly will be broadcasting with Tony Marinaro, hockey radio host with TSN 690 out of Montreal from the First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Friday. We’ll spend about an hour on the air with Tony from 11-noon on draft day, so if you can tune in- you’ll get your fill of pre-draft talk with the Red Line guys.


I’ve seen apples and oranges talk about Chilliwack D Dennis Cholowski and Dante Fabbro recently and I’m honestly not sure what the point is here. Cholowski is a meteoric riser in the second half after a strong finish and yes- his Chiefs did knock off Fabbro and Tyson Jost’s Penticton Vees in the BCHL playoffs. It’s fine to be high on Cholowski- he’s a solid first-round candidate and has some impressive tools, but what I don’t get is this urge to play the “Cholowski is better than Fabbro” game I’ve seen out there in a couple of spots.

First of all- if Cholowski gets drafted ahead of Fabbro, I’ll buy you a beer. It’s not happening. Secondly- the world does not have to be a zero sum existence- it is possible that both players are going to be very good. They bring different things to the table, but I’ll defer to other NHL scouts who saw both Cholowski and Fabbro at the World Jr. A Challenge and think that the latter was the far more impactful player.  Are there differences of opinion out there? Absolutely. And it is possible that Cholowski could eventually be the better player than Fabbro is at the NHL level.

But that doesn’t mean he’s done enough to be considered a viable option at the 10-15 range. Fabbro is no sure thing either, but one guy was the BCHL’s top defenseman and the other guy wasn’t. Let’s not make more of this than it is- both D look like nice options going forward, and anyone can make a case of one over the other, but unless things change on Friday, Fabbro is trending to be selected ahead of Cholowski. I’m curious to see if the whisper campaign out there to elevate him is agenda-driven or not, but for now- I’m sticking to my guns. I have Fabbro rated higher than the other guy, but believe both are first-rounders and have nice long-term potential in the NHL on the back end.

So- just to be clear. I like Fabbro. I like Cholowski. They’re both good. There is absolutely no need to tear down one to build up the other. But realistically, one guy is going to get drafted in the top-20 and one probably a little outside that range. I have to think both guys appeal to the Bruins, but in all likelihood- they’ll only have a shot at one of them. As things stand right now- that player is Fabbro in my view.


As suspected Julien Gauthier is getting a lot of attention in Boston circles and I don’t really get it.

He’s huge, he skates well and has soft hands. He also doesn’t think the game well at all- the hockey IQ is a major, major question mark. When are folks going to realize that toolsy players without the toolbox constitute needless risks? Let some other team jump on Gauthier, but  to me- he’s not going to be the best player available in the top-15 when Boston’s turn comes.

Gauthier had a blistering start and made hay at the WJC, but once again- people are focused on the past and are not paying attention to how the player trended over the second half. There are major question marks surrounding this guy, and as said before- I believe that right-shooting defensemen will constitute not only best value at 14 but also fill a need for the Bruins. That’s a two-for-one deal, and I’m not sure Gauthier  makes much sense that early- fans are still living in the past of about six months on this guy.

The B’s can wait a bit and grab a winger like Wade Allison, Cameron Morrison or Taylor Raddysh maybe even a Timmy Gettinger or Brett Murray and boost the depth and size/heavy-on-the-puck play on the wings without spending a top-15 selection on someone with real concerns about how well he sees the ice and processes the game/has the creativity to be a scorer at the next level.

That doesn’t mean Gauthier will be a failure, but I do believe he’s another one of those guys benefiting from past accomplishments, but doesn’t have a lot of buzz or the confidence of NHL clubs coming into the draft. We’ll soon find out.


For some late-round value, I like Minnesota forward Jack Walker– he scored 36 goals for the Victoria Royals this season as a 1996-born guy previously passed up. He’s a converted forward who played D up until a few years ago, but can skate, pass and shoot. I’m told the B’s were sniffing around him in the WHL rinks this year and it makes sense- he’s a guy who represents a more pro-ready proposition to enter the system and be closer to contributing than most other 18-year-olds available from the 1998-birth year pool.


That’s all for now…I’m going to post one more mock draft and do a final Bruins draft projection audio file tonight and then it’s off to Buffalo. Remember- follow me on Twitter because there won’t be a lot of blog posts on here between Friday and Monday beyond a few quick-hitters to recap the players Boston grabs.



TSP Podcast: “Don’t Cry For Me Music City”- the Vesey Report

Jimmy Vesey’s decision to not sign with Nashville this week has created some legitimate hockey buzz.

Rather than write a big post about my own connection and background with Jimmy, one that goes back to his high school years when he was being seriously scouted for the USHL, and address some of the key issues around this situation, I figured I’d do a podcast on it.

It’s 50 minutes, but if you make it through- you’ll know a lot about Vesey’s past and some of the factors that might have played into his decision to part ways with the Predators. I address that team’s reaction and how they essentially burned the bridge with him…assuming he didn’t Alec Guiness the thing over the last week or so (Bridge on the River Kwai reference- check it out if you’ve never seen it). I also talk about the current NCAA loophole that allowed Blake Wheeler to choose his destination in 2008 after being Phoenix’s fifth overall pick four years earlier. Others have followed suit- Vesey certainly wasn’t the first, and if the NHL doesn’t close the avenue available to certain NCAA players that qualify, he won’t be the last.

I take a look at how the Bruins’ players under similar circumstances have fared- Zane McIntyre, Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk– Vesey’s close friend and minor hockey teammate. He’s on track to sign with the Bruins as well, so this gets to the heart of the premium the organization has placed on developing relationships and the success the team has had in signing its draft picks. Danton Heinen is next. But, if the NHL doesn’t act to provide some kind of compensation, eventually, the B’s could find themselves in a similar spot. So long as we understand that this is the way of life that the current collective bargaining agreement allows for. Don’t blame Vesey- it’s not about compensation with him, it’s about choice and the ability to decide his own NHL destination.

If you can’t get enough of Vesey analysis and news- I covered similar ground today on TSN1260 in Edmonton with Allan Mitchell. You can listen to that much shorter segment here.

Enjoy the audio commentary.

For a bonus, here’s the capsule I wrote on Vesey in the June 2012 New England Hockey Journal NHL draft preview article for the region:

1. Jimmy Vesey, LW South Shore (EJHL) 6-1, 195 Shoots: L (North Reading, Mass.)GP- 45   G- 48   A- 43 PTS- 91 PIM- 43            Central Scouting Final Rank: 77 NA

The skinny: Vesey used the draft snub as powerful motivation to shatter EJHL scoring records with the Kings under Scott Harlow (Bridgewater, Mass.). His skating continues to get better, but his high-end instincts and soft hands mean he won’t get skipped this time. The 2012 John Carlton Memorial Trophy winner as the top area scholar-athlete in hockey has also added about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame thanks to hard work with noted trainer Brian McDonough (Easton, Mass.).

Quotable: “He’s such a strong skater and was a lot more aggressive with the puck this year, taking advantage of his good hands and hockey sense. With his added strength and conditioning, he’s been so much more effective in all areas of his game.”- Gary Eggleston, regional scout, Central Scouting Service

TSP founder on TSN 1260 Edmonton with the dish on Jimmy Vesey

I went on “Lowdown with Lowetide” on TSN 1260 Edmonton with my friend Allan Mitchell today to talk about Jimmy Vesey and his decision not to sign with the Nashville Predators after a stellar Harvard Crimson career. Instead, he’ll focus on finishing his coursework and graduate with his Harvard classmates in the coming weeks. On August 15, if nothing changes, he’ll then become a free agent and open to signing with any of the other (presumably) 29 teams.

Mr. Mitchell is a good guy- I’ve been going on his radio show for about five years now, and he’s a true gentleman. I love that he used to be a rock n’ roll DJ- he weaves a lot of that music knowledge into his show and you’ll hear that when I go on with him, as the segment opens with the Knack’s “My Sharona.”

Allan aka Lowetide is an Edmonton Oilers guy (obviously) but prior to that, he was a Boston Bruins fan in the great Big Bad Bruins days of Bobby and Phil, Gerry and Chief, EJ and Turk, Don Awrey and Ken HodgeEddie Westfall and Terrible Ted and…well- you get the idea. He keeps tabs on the B’s and is kind enough to often times let me come on his show to be the voice that brings folks up to speed with the team.

Today, the focus was not on the B’s but on a Boston guy- North Reading’s own Jimmy Vesey. It’s a relatively short segment- I have a much longer and more comprehensive podcast coming to the blog later on, but this should whet the whistle a bit.

Click on the SoundCloud player to listen- I come on at 49:20 of the 1st hour:

My thanks again to Al and his producer, “Lieutenant Eric”- both good blokes who host a fine show for the nice people in Edmonton.