B’s prospects deep dive 2: Vatrano, Zboril, JFK & Subban

Due to the overwhelming response on the first end-of-regular season Boston Bruins prospects deep dive I did on Friday, I’m back with another iteration. I’m limiting these to five players maximum, not only because they can get pretty unwieldy in terms of reading with 2,000+ words a pop, but because they take some time to put together. If you don’t see the B’s prospect you’re most interested in, hang in there- I will get to every one of them between now and the next 1-2 weeks when the CHL and NCAA playoffs begin in earnest. Everything will build towards and culminate in an end-of-season ranking- similar to the one I did in the January issue of New England Hockey Journal.

So, without further ado- here’s the second deep dive. As always- appreciate the support and feedback.

Frank Vatrano, LW

The undrafted free agent from East Longmeadow, Mass. left the University of Massachusetts after his first full season nearly a year ago to sign with his childhood favorite Boston Bruins and became the Cinderella story of the 2015-16 hockey season.

In the span of a year, Vatrano reshaped his physique, tore apart the AHL with a four-goal game and multiple hat tricks en route to a goal-per-game performance (he’s cooled off a bit of late and “only” has 26 goals in 27 AHL games), and then earned his first NHL opportunity, debuting against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre and netting his first big league goal. He would eventually score his first NHL hat trick against Pittsburgh later on and although he was optioned back to Providence, he’s shown immense promise going forward.

Since his days in minor hockey and the Boston Jr. Bruins (as well as two years with the U.S. National Team in Ann Arbor), Vatrano has been a goal scorer. He’s long had an NHL release, which he showed off in dazzling fashion during the exhibition season last fall and then proved it was no fluke when he began terrorizing AHL goalies with Providence to begin the year. He has a natural nose for the net and sublime hands, which allow him to exploit gaps in defenses and find open spaces where he can get his heavy, accurate shot off with a minimal amount of time to work with. Vatrano is a born shooter- he generates a tremendous amount of torque and power on his shots and can pick the corners at will. He also has superior reflexes and hand/eye coordination to get his stick on shots for deflections and batted pucks into the net.

Not tall and with a naturally stocky build, Vatrano dedicated himself to improving his conditioning in the offseason after seeing a few games in Providence at the end of the 2015 campaign (5 games- 1 goal) and having a “come to Jesus” with the Bruins in his exit interviews. The results were staggering, as he not only saw the improved ability to take extended shifts and recover faster, but also picked up some speed and quickness in his first few steps. He’s got such a good hockey IQ that he can recognize developing plays well and explodes to the puck in just a few strides.

His defensive game is still a work in progress, but there is no denying that the will is there. He often hustles on the back check and has shown impressive open ice speed in winning foot races back to his own end for loose pucks. He’s one of those players who was previously asked to go out and score, so it’s not a question of whether he’s committed to playing more of a complete game, but just getting him the experience and situations that will allow him to be more effective when he inevitably returns to Boston for his next chance.

Current assessment: Vatrano is the top prospect in the pro ranks in the B’s organization. He’s proven that he can find the back of the net in the AHL and NHL and at this point is better off playing an extended role in Providence as a first liner and top power play ace. His 38 points in just 27 games in the AHL shows a dominance at that level that nobody, even his most ardent supporters, could have predicted at this time a year ago. Vatrano is a good kid (he turns 22 in a week) who is living the dream of being a Boston Bruin- he played at the Gillette Stadium in the 2016 Winter Classic- and is sure to build more experiences and memories. The good news for the B’s is that their offense has not been an Achilles heel this season, so Vatrano can spend more time getting the development in seasoning he needs rather than being more of a spare part and lower line option in Boston. This sets the conditions for him to go in and earn a top-9 NHL billet and gives the team some options to perhaps make some critical moves on defense by leveraging roster assets, knowing that players like Vatrano are in the system and could be ready to make the full-time jump next fall.

Jakub Zboril, D

Statistically speaking, it’s been a disappointing year for Boston’s top pick last June (13th overall- acquired with the draft choice that sent Milan Lucic to Southern California). A brutal start in September and October put the Czech native behind the 8-ball and while he’s shown improvement in his all-around play since he returned to the Saint John Sea Dogs from the World Jr. Championship in early January, there’s no getting around the fact that the production isn’t where it should be for one of his talents.

On the plus-side, Zboril has the physical attributes of the prototypical modern NHL defender: Good size, superb skater with a powerful stride/quick first few steps and an impressive glide, hard, heavy shot.  He has the natural vision and instincts to be a two-way threat and power play quarterback where he uses his agility to navigate the offensive blue line with ease and fires pucks to the net. Physically speaking, Zboril plays the game like a North American player- he’s known for throwing big hits and getting extra shots in (that often earn him extra time in the box). He’s obliterated surprised opponents in the past who made the mistaken assumption that Zboril was a soft Euro and dropped the gloves only to find they had a tiger by the tail.

All of these traits should endear him to the Bruins and their fans- it’s precisely what the team needs most in terms of upgrading the NHL roster’s blue line. However, many things in life are rarely so simple as that, and in Zboril’s case- there is more nuance here than meets the eye.

Even when he was rising on the team’s radar last year as the first of the second tier of defenders available in 2015 (it’s not really a secret that the Bruins coveted Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski and tried unsuccessfully to maneuver themselves into the top-5 and 10 to get one of the two) that Zboril came with some warts. Even though the B’s jumped on him with the first of three consecutive picks, his natural effort levels and compete  were a question mark. What’s interesting to me is that in some circles, Zboril was given high marks for his work ethic and hustle, but when I broke him down in film study, I saw a player who went through stretches of passive, even disengaged/uninterested play. Often times- that’s a simple thing: ineffectual waving at a forward as he skates by in the lane instead of gapping up and forcing him wide or disrupting his speed/momentum with body contact.

Current assessment: This season, the shift-to-shift inconsistency and wavering intensity levels have been more of the same with Zboril, unfortunately. He will demonstrate immense promise on one shift, revving up with the puck in his end and blitzing through the neutral zone to fire a shot on net or dish to a teammate in prime scoring position. Or, maybe it’s closing quickly with an opposing puck carrier and knocking him on his keister with a solid body check or deft poke check with his stick. But then a few shifts later, he’s gliding around, not asserting himself or taking advantage of opportunities to push the pace or impose his will in the same way.

The good news is- he just turned 19 at the end of last month and there is time for him to mature and develop more of a consistent game with coaching and experience. The question is becomes, however- does Zboril have it in his intangibles to be the player he *could* be given his prodigious natural gifts? That’s the proverbial $64,000 question, and why drafting and player development is an inexact science. On pure ability alone, Zboril could have been playing in Boston this year, but he’s got more work to do at developing his positional play and of course- on the aforementioned intangibles.

It’s no accident that the B’s tried to move up last June to take someone else- they likely saw the same things. Zboril is one of those boom-or-bust players and the reward with him could be key in the next 1-3 seasons, but just as the team has the responsibility to work with the player to put him in a position to succeed within the organization, the player also needs to raise his compete and do what is asked of him.

There is no doubt that Zboril should have been a first-round pick last June and that the B’s not only upgraded their prospect pool at the defense position with him but brought in the kind of high potential player you want as opposed to a safer but limited upside option. It is a bit intriguing that the B’s could have drafted Zboril’s Sea Dogs teammate Thomas Chabot instead (he went a few picks later to Ottawa) and Chabot is having a far more impactful season as Saint John’s No. 1 D, but that’s water under the bridge. Woulda, coulda, shoulda- if if’s and but’s were candy and nuts it would be Christmas every day of the year.

What happens with Zboril going forward will be interesting to watch. Unfortunately, as a 1997-born player drafted out of the CHL, he either makes Boston’s roster next fall or has to go back to the QMJHL (or he could opt to play in Europe) but AHL and Providence is not available to him as a developmental path in 2016-17.

JFK

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C

Taken with the 45th overall selection last June, “JFK” is one of the two second-rounders the B’s got from Calgary in the Dougie Hamilton trade (Senyshyn and D Jeremy Lauzon round out the three-pick haul for Boston) has been one of Boston University’s top adds this season.

He’s coming off a two-game sweep of UMass, the second game of which he scored a pair of goals and added an assist, which brings him to 9 goals, 28 points in 36 games for the Terriers as a freshman. He’s fourth on the team in scoring- tied with senior Matt Lane in points but Lane has 14 goals.

JFK has come as advertised this season: he’s a smart, smart player who brings a polished, advanced game for one who only turned 19 in the fall. He’s a good skater- quick to accelerate and smooth in the open ice. He’s faster than he looks, but doesn’t bring an electric presence with his skating. Often times- he might appear to be kind of gliding and coasting, but then he’s used that rangy, loping stride to slip by the defender at the blue line and is making a pinpoint pass to set up a scoring opportunity.

The Stockholm native, who spent two seasons in Nebraska playing in the USHL at Omaha getting used to the smaller ice surface and more rugged, physical nature of the North American game, has what scouts call 360-degree vision.  That’s the rare ability to not only see the entire play in front of him, but also a penchant for understanding what is behind him and on the periphery, so he often makes flawless drop passes or dishes that many other players simply aren’t capable of executing. He is most often compared to (by others I would point out) Patrice Bergeron, but while that’s a valid style comparison, I don’t think he’s as heavy on the puck at this stage of his development as Bergeron was even at a young age. However, the smarts, attitude and general ability to excel in all three zones appears to be there and JFK quickly earned David Quinn and his staff’s trust this year.

JFK was knocked in junior hockey for not playing with a lot of pace and urgency, and I can see those observations at times with BU this year. He’s not a player who is buzzing around the zone the way other high-energy forwards do, but he’s an economy of motion type who has the hockey sense and skill set to do a little more with less. It’s not going to win him many style points, but it’s effective. He’s slick and creative- your mind starts to wander a bit in terms of what he’s bringing to the table and all of the sudden he’ll make a play and bring your focus right back to what all the talk has been about.

He’s legit.

Current assessment: As one who advocates patience and not rushing prospects into the fray so to speak, I would not be at all surprised if the Bruins try to coax JFK into turning pro right away. With Bergeron and David Krejci about to both be on the other side of 30 (Bergeron turns 31 in July, Krejci hits 30 late next month), the B’s need to get another quality center into the pipeline sooner rather than later, even with the success Ryan Spooner is enjoying this year.

That’s probably an alarming prospect to the BU team and its fans, and I won’t say that it’s a done deal by any stretch, but I have been hearing a lot of positive buzz on JFK this year and because he plays that position that the B’s could have a developmental opening for in Providence next season, it would makes sense from an organizational standpoint to see that push come when the NCAA season is done.

Bottom line- Forsbacka-Karlsson is mature and plays a refined enough game that he could make a seamless jump to pro hockey now, but if the team and player feel it is in his best interest to return to school, he’ll be the top center and a good bet to take it to another level in 2016-17. Either way, he’s a top prospect who may not have a huge NHL ceiling in terms of offense, but is the kind of forward who will play for a decade-plus and bring consistent production and the kind of 200-foot play that a winning foundation is built on.

Malcolm Subban, G

It was a tale of two seasons for Boston’s top choice in 2012, but Malcolm Subban was playing the best hockey of his professional career when a shot in warmups hit him up under the mask and fractured his larynx. That serious injury will end up costing him more than two months of the season, but the team and its fans should be encouraged by what he put together in December and January before suffering that personal misfortune.

Always a brilliant athlete whose physical prowess in the net was clearly on display, Subban’s development has been steady and methodical because he came to the position late after years on defense and needed significant coaching on technique. He’s come a long, long way since the draft and is on the cusp from establishing himself as an NHL regular in Boston with the backup spot up for grabs next season.

I’ve always admired how explosive his movements are in net- Subban’s pads are some of the quickest in pro hockey and can be tough to beat down low when he’s able to keep his legs horizontal and seal the posts from east-to-west. He’s always been one who plays deep in his net, and the good news is- he has the athletic ability to get by with that, even if he’s been consistently coached to play out at the top of the crease more and improve his positioning to reduce shooting angles. When you play along the goal line, your margin of error goes down, so this is something that Subban has continued to work on. His glove is has shown significant improvement since he turned pro for the 2013-14 season, and Subban has all the tools to not only make the NHL, but establish himself as a starter at the highest level eventually.

He battled through a LBI that cost him the month of October to start the AHL’s regular season and was rusty when he got into the Providence crease for November. Things went from bad to worse, as the focus seemed off and his statistics- especially the save percentage plummeted down near the bottom of all AHL goaltenders. There were whispers about the attention to detail and willingness to work at addressing the flaws in his game and things seemed to snowball. To Subban’s credit, however, he righted the ship in December and earned the trust of Bruce “Butch” Cassidy and Kevin Dean in Providence- getting the bulk of starts and rolling off some impressive victories in both December and January.

Just as he had truly seized the No. 1 job in Providence for the first time in three pro seasons there, he took the shot in the throat in Portland and has been on the shelf since, opening the door for Jeremy Smith to return to the PB’s. Both Smith and Zane McIntyre have done a good job of keeping the good times rolling.

Current assessment: Subban is maintaining a good attitude about the injury and the corresponding rehab, which required surgery and established an eight-week minimum timetable for return around the beginning of April. It’s unfortunate that he’s had to take a step backwards, but the Bruins can afford to be patient given that Providence is getting good goaltending from Smith and McIntyre right now.

Back when Boston signed Tuukka Rask to his big ticket extension, a lot of folks engaged me wanting to know when the B’s would trade Subban. I think this injury should serve as a reminder of the importance of goaltending depth in any organization. Just because you have an established No. 1 like Rask does not mean it is mutually exclusive for a player of Subban’s potential to succeed in Boston as well. While that won’t preclude the Bruins from entertaining offers for him if they come in, it would have to be about value and given the elite-level showing Subban brought before his injury, he looks to be ready to take that next important step next season as Rask’s backup.

For now, we’ll wish him great speed and success in his recovery- it will be interesting to see how the long layoff affects Subban and how slowly he’s integrated back into the lineup when he returns. But, after two mostly up-and-down years in the AHL, he’s finally really turning the corner and establishing himself as the player Boston thought enough of to pick in the first round for only the third time in the team’s history (Evgeni Ryabchikov was the first in 1994 and it wasn’t pretty; Hannu Toivonen in 2002 at least brought Carl Soderberg in trade, but the track record in net for 1sts= not great).

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back in a day or two with the next installment with some of the “ministers of defense” in the prospect ranks: Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Zane McIntyre and Jeremy Lauzon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruins Prospects Update 11/16/15

It has been a tough season for the goalies in Providence.

Malcolm Subban missed just about a month with a lower body injury suffered before the start of the year and has been mediocre at best (and that might be putting it mildly) since returning to the lineup. Zane McIntyre is a gamer, but he’s undergoing  a challenging transition, which only further underscores the folly and foolishness displayed by some who really thought he should just waltz into the NHL backup spot behind Tuukka Rask without having seen a single shot at the pro level. McIntyre is a terrific competitor and will eventually right the ship, but he’s struggling at the AHL level right now.

As for Subban, much bigger things are expected of him, and the 2012 first-rounder needs to start showing more consistency in his preparation and execution. If the B’s had toyed with the idea of trading him in order to get a nice return, they can shelve those plans, because Suban’s value is down is right now. He needs to get back to basics.

Austin Czarnik returned to the Providence lineup and not a moment too soon with Alex Khokhlachev now out with a bad hand. The diminutive former Hobey Baker finalist picked up where he left off, tallying a goal and assist in three games.

The NCAA prospects had another big week, which included a 2-goal, 4-point night from Ryan Fitzgerald and Wiley Sherman’s first career NCAA goal in his second year with Harvard. BU center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson had another strong weekend and is getting positive reviews by NHL scouts who all point to the uncommon maturity of his game for one in just his first collegiate season. NU defenseman Matt Benning got his second goal of the year, significant in that he went all of 2014-15 without scoring once, though still managed to lead the Huskies in scoring from the blue line.

AHL

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 11 Goals- 4 Assists- 9 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 6

Hand injury; did not play.

Austin Czarnik, C Providence Bruins

GP- 7 Goals- 2 Assists- 5 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 6 +/-  5

Czarnik returned to the lineup after missing seven games; if he can stay healthy, he’ll infuse the Providence lineup with much-needed speed, skill and energy.

Tommy Cross, D Providence Bruins

GP- 10 Goals- 0 Assists- 7 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 25 +/- -4

Chris Casto, D Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 0 Assists- 7 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -9

Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 7 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -3

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 5 Assists- 1 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -4

Colton Hargrove, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 11 Goals- 3 Assists- 1 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -2

Expected to be more of an enforcer type of forward this season, Hargrove has been one of the more consistent players providing scoring from the lower lines.

Anton Blidh, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 4 Assists- 0 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -1

Noel Acciari, C Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 7 +/- -3

Former Bishop Hendricken and Providence College captain scored his first career professional goal over the weekend.

Linus Arnesson, D Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -2

Malcolm Subban, G Providence Bruins

GP- 5 MIN- 304 GA- 19 GAA- 3.75 Spct- ..850 W- 1 L-3 OTL 1

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 8 MIN- 480 GA- 26 GAA- 3.25 Spct- .875 W- 2 L- 3 OTL- 3

 

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 20 Goals- 10 Assists- 5 Points- 15 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -6

 

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 19 Goals- 3 Assists- 24 Points- 27 Penalty Min- 34 +/- +19

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 16 Goals- 3 Assists- 4 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 20 +/- 2

 

WHL

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

GP- 14 Goals- 6 Assists- 14 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 13 +/- -3

Groin injury; DNP

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 19 Goals- 14 Assists- 6 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 29 +/-  1

Big week for Gabrielle, who scored three goals and five points in three games and continues to turn heads in the WHL. By comparison he had 10 goals and 19 points in 33 games with the Regina Pats after a mid-season trade last season. He’s well on his way to beating all of his previous career highs.

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 11 Goals- 1 Assists- 7 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 32 +/- -3

Carlo is injured and did not play this past week.

 

NCAA

Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 9 Goals- 7 Assists- 6 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 27 +/- 13

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA)

GP- 10 Goals- 2 Assists- 8 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 10

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 10 Goals- 4 Assists- 4 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 4

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University Terriers (HEA)

GP- 10 Goals- 3 Assists- 8 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 8 +/- 2

2 goals and 2 assists in 2 games over the weekend put JFK second on the team in scoring behind Sharks prospect Danny O’Regan.

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 6 Goals- 3 Assists- 2 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 6 +/- 3

No points in two games played for Donato this week.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University (NCHC)

GP- 12 Goals- 1 Assists- 4 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -6

The Miami captain finally got off the schneid to record his first goal of the season over the weekend.

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

GP-4 Goals 2 Assists- 2 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 10 +/- 3

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

GP- 10 Goals- 1 Assists- 3 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -2

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

GP- 11 Goals- 2 Assists- 2 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 15 +/- -9

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 6 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 4 +/- 2

Sherman tallied his first career NCAA goal in game No. 43 for the Crimson.

 

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

GP- 6 Goals- 0 Assists- 2 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 8 +/- 2

 

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden)

GP- 14 Goals- 3 Assists- 3 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -2

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (Sweden)

GP- 16 Goals- 0 Assists- 2 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -2

Maxim Chudninov, D St Petersburg SKA (Russia)

GP- 24 Goals- 5 Assists- 4 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 71 +/- -5

USHL

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL)

GP- 15 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -3

No points in three games for the 7th rounder since last update.

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago (USHL)

GP- 9 MIN- 490 GA- 19 GAA- 2.33 Spct .912 SO- 1; 1-4-2

Vladar’s only action last week came in 21 minutes of relief of a losing effort, where he allowed no goals.

Boston Bruins 2015-16 season preview: Goaltenders

1. In retrospect: It was a season of discontent in Boston as the Bruins watched Pittsburgh smoke the hapless Buffalo Sabres on the final night of the 2014-15 regular season to take the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and relegate the B’s to the late spring sidelines for the first time since 2007.

Goaltending played a part in Boston’s early trip to the links. Tuukka Rask and Niklas Svedberg played their part in the unsuccessful season to be sure, but you can make the case that if not for Rask’s Vezina-caliber talent on many nights, Boston’s fall from the top-eight in the East would have been even more precipitous than it was. Draft watchers will tell you that it might not have been such a bad thing for that to happen, but for a team with higher expectations going in, Rask was often the most consistent glue that gave the fans hope that a better team was hiding behind the curtain of up-and-down play.

Unfortunately, Svedberg did not inspire enough confidence from head coach Claude Julien to earn more starts that might have given Rask more of an opportunity to re-charge and re-focus later in the year when every point was at a premium. Boston’s drop from having the third-best offense in 2013-14 to 22nd last year, not to mention the gaping hole Johnny Boychuk’s pre-opening night departure to Long Island certainly put a significant amount of pressure on the men between the pipes, and we can argue all day about Svedberg’s viability as an NHL backup and that his overall numbers (7-5-1, 2.33 GAA, .918 save percentage) should have been worthy of more than 18 total appearances. The plain truth is, however- Julien did not put him into games with much regularity because he didn’t believe in him. It’s the classic saw- don’t tell me how good someone is- show me. And I get it- the statistics paint a better picture of Svedberg than he showed with his playing time and overall performance. But, in the end, Julien had ample opportunity to put Svedberg in and passed, instead going with Rask to the point that the body language seemed to indicate that Boston’s starter was frustrated with not getting more of a break (I would add, too, that Julien could have thrown Jeremy Smith into an NHL game later in the year but opted not to do that, either). The fact that no other NHL team was eager to line up for the Swede’s services after Boston informed him of their decision not to re-sign him tells you that the B’s coach is not the only one who wasn’t willing to invest in Svedberg, now playing in the KHL this year.

So, that brings us to the dawn of a new NHL season in Boston.

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

2. The view from here: Not much has changed in the state of Massachusetts since the team packed up their stuff and headed home after game 82. Rask is still the top man in net, entering the third of his eight-year, $56 million pact signed after the team’s run to the Stanley Cup final series in 2013. At 28, he is firmly in his prime and has a 2014 Vezina Trophy to go with his reputation as one of the NHL’s top workhorse netminders. Like Henrik Lundqvist, a Stanley Cup ring (as starter) still eludes him- he came oh-so-close against Chicago, but the Bruins have taken steps backwards since that first post-lockout postseason.

Rask played a career-best 70 games in 2015, and in the modern NHL, these athletes are physically capable of playing all 82 games, just as former Bruin Eddie Johnston was the last goalie in team history to play every minute of the Boston season (70 games, 4200 minutes in 1963-64), but physics and reality can be two different things. Rask numbers were down compared to his previous and personal best 2013-14 campaign, but plenty of NHL clubs would embrace a guy who posted 34 wins and a .922 save percentage despite having an offense in the bottom third and a defense that often played not to lose in front of him.

The questions that seed ongoing debates, however, is just because they *can* do it- *should* NHL teams entrust huge swathes of the regular season to just one player, then expect them to thrive in another potential of a maximum 28 games in the playoffs? What is the mental and emotional toll of playing so many games under the pressure-packed conditions that NHL goaltenders exist under? Some guys can handle and even thrive in that (see Brodeur, Martin) environment. Others, not as much. And- how effective the team in front of them is also factors into the equation as well.

Earlier this month, Rask told the Boston Globe this when asked about his 70 games last season and if it was too much:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/08/10/tuukka-rask-not-worried-about-his-workload-bruins-defense/FbOUF1PxG0QzHgvlAzkkTO/story.html

“No, not really. I don’t think you can put a number on it, but a lot of things depend on how tight the games are, how many games you play in a row, stuff like that.’’

“Last year happened to be 70. If it’s going to be like that, it’s going to be like that again. We’ll play it by ear.”

To those who would wave their hands dismissively over the concern about the number of games he’ll play in 2015-16, my response is- OF COURSE HE’S GOING TO SAY THAT! These players are professional athletes and competitors/type-A personalities! Furthermore, they also have a stake in not making public statements that would allow opponents to leverage that to an advantage against their own team. You can’t have it both ways, guys- you can’t question what players say when you don’t like what it is they are being quoted on, but then point to other things they say on the record with absolute certainty when it validates your own point of view. In other words, I would actually be critical of Rask had he come out and said “Yeah- I think 60 games is about my regular season limit and the team had better play great in front of me or the GM’s gonna have some work to do,” because you simply don’t admit weakness- even if that might constitute the proverbial elephant in the room. Rask played it exactly right, but whether he truly feels that way or not is something only he can answer and it won’t be in the Globe or anywhere else.

Rask gets criticized in some circles for not having won the big games for the B’s, but that is far too simplistic an argument to make and smacks of an agenda aimed at his cap hit. His $7 million AAV is a major bone of contention for fans who think the team can spend that money better elsewhere. The problem with that thinking is- just who, exactly, is going to replace Rask? It’s absurd to argue at this point in time (August 2015) that any one of Malcolm Subban, Zane McIntyre or Smith are up to the challenge of matching Rask’s production and trust. Which brings us back to the current situation: Tuukka Rask is Boston’s main man in net and still very much in the upper tier of NHL goalies at this stage of his career. Should any of the prospects emerge with the promise to stop pucks a the NHL level, Boston GM Don Sweeney will at least have some options to go back and evaluate Rask’s long-term viability with the team, but in all reality- trading an All-Star in his prime without anything less than a guaranteed return (not bloody likely) would be a fool’s errand.

The onus is on Julien and his staff to better balance Rask’s workload if they think that is the issue, but 10 shootout losses (the Bruins were actually 9-4 in OT during 4-on-4 play- a bright spot for them) a year ago says that what ails this team goes well beyond simply giving more starts to the backup.

3. Who’s No. 2?: As Yogi Berra said- it’s deja vu all over again. Boston is about to enter the season with a collective 31 minutes worth of NHL experience at the backup position split between Subban, McIntyre and Smith.

Subban survived a scoreless first 20 minutes against St. Louis in his NHL debut last year by facing only a handful of shots only to see things come unraveled in an 11-minute horror show in the second, resulting in Rask coming back in for relief. You can’t put that all on Subban, and a lot of ink has been spilled arguing that he would have been in a better position making his first start against the Edmonton Oilers a few nights earlier. Either way- Subban has the talent if not the pro experience to play in the NHL. The biggest issue with that is we’re talking about a soon-to-be 22-year-old who has yet to enjoy a run as starter at the AHL level. His statistical performances in the last two years with Providence are fine- indicative of being a first-round selection, but the one crack in the armor happens to be the number of games played. Last year, Subban was expected to take the No. 1 role and run with it, but it was the AHL journeyman Smith who ultimately earned Bruce Cassidy’s trust when the games mattered most.

Smith is back on the cheap with another 1-year contract. He played 39 games for Providence last season posting a highly impressive .933 save percentage. I actually saw him live in one of his worst performances (neither he nor Jeff Zatkoff had a good night in net) and although he gave up several softies in the first 40 minutes that had the Dunk Center crowd gasping in frustration, he slammed the door home in the final 10 minutes, making multiple scintillating saves before Alex Khokhlachev won the game in the final 180 seconds. Sometimes, we have to remember that way back in 2007, Smith was a top-60 NHL draft selection, so it’s not like he’s a nobody. At age 25, he looked like someone who was never going to reach the NHL, but one year later, my guess is- he’ll see time in Boston if nothing else changes. What he does with that time, however, is anyone’s guess.

Having said all of that- aren’t the B’s doing exactly what they did a year ago with Svedberg, who had started just one NHL game?

If I have to choose today the best option between the three goalies not named Rask currently under contract, Smith makes the most sense to be the team’s backup on opening night. But, I also believe the team is risking more of the same in terms of a heavy workload for Rask and very little in the way of a safety net should he get injured at all. For those reasons, I cannot imagine them going into the new season without someone like Jonas Gustvasson or Ray Emery or even Viktor Fasth on an NHL deal to build a little risk mitigation into the equation. If you just threw up a little in your mouth at that last sentence- I hear you. But this team has too much invested in the roster to simply throw caution to the wind and trust the youngsters at this point.

Subban is the most talented of the signed backup candidates, but sitting him on the bench for extended periods in lieu of forcing him to hone his technique and build up experience by establishing himself as a No. 1 at the AHL level would be a mistake. Ditto McIntyre, who doesn’t even have a pro body of work to reference. Does anyone really think that it benefits him to sit and watch most nights when Rask is taking the net and then expecting him to thrive when he goes in every fourth or fifth game? Just because he has the mental toughness and character to possibly do it doesn’t mean that he should. Finally- Smith has to be put on waivers to go down. What if…when the Bruins decided hypothetically to go with one of the kids to start the year, another team lost a goalie to injury and claims Smith away from Boston? It’s happened to Boston before and the results weren’t pretty. If you can remember the 2000-01 season when the B’s were forced to run with Andrew Raycroft and Kay Whitmore (all because Buffalo claimed the immortal Peter Skudra on waivers) in tandem, you get a gold star. That team, too, barely missed the playoffs and would have had a different fate had Byron Dafoe and John Grahame been available the whole year.

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

4. Looking to the future: Between Subban and McIntyre, the B’s have two promising young prospects. But that’s what they are right now…prospects. This team, as currently constructed, is hard-pressed to make the playoffs let alone contend, so there is little upside to forcing either player into the 2015-16 lineup unless injuries or their own play at the lower level gives the team no choice.

McIntyre will play in the NHL one day. He’s got the right mix of talent and heart. But that day is not today, in my view. There’s a lot he can learn in the AHL, and while he undoubtedly would love to make the Bruins out of camp, he’s better served seeing some time at the pro level outside of the NHL pressure cooker. For now. But just because I think he should apprentice in the AHL first does not mean he won’t go all the way. I believe he’s got “it”- all things in good time.

I like the Daniel Vladar pick in the third round this past June, but I don’t love it. He’s the epitome of what NHL clubs are trending to: massive (6-5), athletic/toolsy guys in net that give shooters very little to hit other than their oversized bodies and long limbs. The problem with Vladar right now is that technique-wise he’s a hot mess…he’s inconsistent with his stance and positioning, lets in more than a few goals that go through him- hit a portion of his body/equipment but still squeak by (coaches hate that, btw), gets real scrambly at times with his play and I’m not sure about the mental toughness yet. He’s as raw as they come, but make no mistake- he’s got the things you can’t teach, so why not? He was a solid value where the Bruins took him, so no issues on that front. Like McIntyre in 2010, he’s a long way off from being NHL ready. Vladar is playing in the USHL this year and will either go the NCAA route or probably play in one of the major junior leagues next season.

So in getting back to Subban and especially McIntyre, people love to talk about the shiny new toy, but the Bruins have an obligation to cultivate and protect their assets, too. Rushing goaltenders into primetime before they are ready, no matter how much they’ve accomplished in junior or the NCAA, rarely bears fruit. There’s a time and place for it, and even Rask, who spent two full seasons in the AHL and this despite the fact that he was playing a near AHL-equivalent level in the Finnish pro league for two more years before he crossed the Atlantic, didn’t jump right in, and he had to work with Tim Thomas and spend a good deal of time sitting on the bench before he became the team’s true No. 1. That’s how it should work in most cases, and when fans apply that “fast food” mentality to goalies (Gotta have it hot and right now!), it’s not really the way the world works.

Zane McIntyre and Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Zane McIntyre and Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

5. The verdict: Some 2,500 words later we’re back to a basic truism: you cannot win a hockey game if you don’t score any goals.

Rask will give the Bruins a chance to win every night. Unfortunately, for those who fear the team being not good enough to make the playoffs let alone contend for a Stanley Cup but being too good to finish in the basement where the Connor McDavid types (how long before we see another one like him?) fall into their laps, Rask brings little solace. He’s kind of like an in-his-prime Sean Burke, whose at times brilliance on some very mediocre Hartford Whalers teams in the early-to-mid 90’s is one of the forgotten story lines of that era. Those Whalers teams couldn’t make the playoffs, but they were on the close-but-no-cigar side of the spectrum so aside from Chris Pronger in 1993 (Burke’s worst year in the Insurance Capital), they could not build through the draft (trading their 1st rounders from 1995-97 to Boston for Glen Wesley didn’t exactly help either).

Watch for the makeup of Boston’s goalie group to change before camp opens up- the team will sign someone on the cheap with NHL experience to provide competition and see how things shake out. If Smith is lights out, then maybe he earns the job, but as it stands right now, there are far more questions than answers with the No. 2.

The Bruins have a winner in net, but without a quality supporting cast up front, and a capable backup the coach trusts to give the workhorse some meaningful rest throughout the marathon of a hockey season,we’ll see history repeating itself in Boston this year. Unless something changes- even when on top of his game, Rask is not enough to make the B’s more than they are: a middle-of-the-pack, bubble club to make the 2016 playoffs.

(Thanks to Ali Foley for permission to use her photos in this post)

Catching up with Malcolm Subban and Rob O’Gara

Not much in the way of original content on the blog today, but a couple of Bruins prospects in Malcolm Subban and Rob O’Gara have some updates out in other media outlets.

This first link is from a telephone interview Subban did for the Jeff Blair Show. He talks a little about his training regimen, things he enjoys away from hockey, how important the upcoming season is for him and his relationship with older brother P.K. . It’s not an especially hard-hitting line of questioning, but it does shine a light on a player I feel is still very much at or near the top of the B’s prospect depth chart.

http://www.sportsnet.ca/590/jeff-blair-show/malcolm-subban-controlling-what-he-can-for-2015-16-season/

Via the Ivy on Vine site, Rob O’Gara checks in with some first hand insights on his journey to Yale from Milton Academy and some personal observations to questions that don’t typically come up as standard interview fare.

O’Gara is back in New Haven for his senior season and will likely sign with the Bruins as soon as he plays his final NCAA game. Whether he goes straight to the NHL for a taste off the bat or goes to Providence of the AHL is still anyone’s guess as this point- a lot of it will depend on how things look for the big club by April timeframe, so it will have to play out. He’s got excellent size and skating, and his offensive game is coming along after being recognized as the ECAC’s top defensive/shutdown player.

He’s a kid I’ve known since his junior year at Milton and has an abundance of character. He’s a defenseman version of Zane McIntyre in that the Bruins drafted him later on and have cultivated him/watched him grow and develop over the past 4+ years. He’s a hybrid modern defender for the NHL- someone with the size, reach, mobility and smarts to clamp down and defend his part of the ice effectively, but who can handle the puck, make the crisp outlets and chip in with offense at the other end of the ice, too. He’s what scouts talk about when they use the ubiquitous term “upside.”

Here’s the link to the profile and have a great Thursday!

Men’s Ice Hockey: Rob O’Gara, Yale ’16

Rob O'Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (photo courtesy Rob O'Gara)

Rob O’Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (photo courtesy Rob O’Gara)

InGoal Magazine publishes top 50 goalie prospects article: Subban, McIntyre in top-10

Gothberg Hamilton dev camp

Greg Balloch and the staff of InGoal magazine published a top-50 list of the best goaltending prospects in the world last week and you can read the entire thing here:

Top 50 NHL Goaltending Prospects for 2015-2016

The criteria for establishing the listed players as prospects are the following:

1) Must be 25 years old or younger,
2) Have only played 10 games or less in the NHL, and
3) Must be drafted or signed by a professional club.

The last part is key- because there are a few undrafted/unsigned guys out there you could certainly make a case for, but not for this exercise.

Not surprisingly, Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets tops the ranking. This former UMass-Lowell star posted a very good rookie season with the St. John IceCaps last season, leaving a big hole on the RiverHawks’ roster after two seasons and a Mike Richter award in 2014. He and former Bruins prospect Mike Hutchinson are going to be two huge goalies in the Jets crease who both give shooters very little to shoot at, but Hellebuyck’s upside appears to be enormous (no pun intended).

I admit it- I was a tad surprised that Malcolm Subban was No. 2 overall on the list…not because I don’t think he doesn’t deserve to be there (he does), but because every time I say something about him on Twitter, I usually get several tweets from people “in the know” who tell me Zane McIntyre has surpassed him on the B’s prospect depth chart. I don’t bring this up to slight Zane- as you will see, he’s featured prominently on the list as well.

But seriously, folks- Subban is one of the best pure athletes in all of hockey. This is a critical year for him, because his first two AHL campaigns have brought him to a bit of a crossroads- more was expected of him last year, but journeyman pro Jeremy Smith cut into the planned playing time for Subban by performing more consistently. As my friend Mick Colageo of the Bedford Standard-Times points out- Providence bench boss Bruce Cassidy said late last year that Smith had a “B” game when his “A’ game wasn’t working…and that’s why Smith got the nod in the playoffs for the one-and-done P-Bruins.

On Subban, InGoal asserts:

“It looks as if Malcolm Subban will have a legitimate opportunity for an NHL job next season. Based on his back-to-back .920+ save percentage seasons with Providence of the AHL, he’s ready.”

The save percentage totals are solid, no question. Where Subban has gotten into difficulty is with sustaining high level performances without mediocrity and poor starts slipping into the mix. He can be dominant one night, barely average the next. And that’s where Cassidy’s comment about Subban needing to develop his “B” game (read: playing just well enough to give the team a chance) comes in.

You can criticize Subban for his inability to seize the starting job in Providence to date, but that ignores the fact that Niklas Svedberg and Smith posted strong seasons to earn the bulk of the starts, as opposed to Subban playing poorly. Make no mistake, though- this is the year for him to take charge of the crease (assuming he’s not playing in Boston) and assert himself. He’s far too talented not to do that in my view.

The article reminds us that Subban did not even start playing the position until an advanced age (13), which is why his athletic ability is so important. When he was drafted 24th overall in 2012, to say that his technique was a work in progress was couching it in pretty generous terms. I was an outspoken critic of Subban’s in his draft year (and at some humble pie at the draft because I was so sure the Bruins *wouldn’t* draft him) because I felt that if he wasn’t the younger brother of a certain NHL defenseman and (since) Norris Trophy winner, he would not have gotten the attention he did.

In hindsight- I was unfair to the middle Subban brother, who has worked to refine his technique and certainly has the tools to thrive in the NHL one day. It’s a shame that he had such an ignominious debut against St. Louis last season, but you know the old saying about that which does not kill you…

Zane McIntyre checks in at the ninth spot. I probably would have him a couple places earlier than that, but that’s a quibble as there are some accomplished netminders from 3-8 on the list. Here’s the meat of the assessment:

“Still only 22 years of age, McIntyre is deserving of elite prospect status. Every part of his game has been developed; He is a very well-rounded goaltender. Even his puckhandling skills are above-average, although he does get caught being headstrong at times. The Bruins already have Malcolm Subban and Tuukka Rask at the NHL level, so they will continue to be stacked in the minors if McIntyre handles most of the load with Providence in the AHL. If they sign a veteran to back up Rask, or go with Jeremy Smith out of camp, an AHL duo of Subban and McIntyre would be incredible to watch. The only thing that can be questioned about McIntyre is his ability to track a pro-level shot. A slow-and-steady approach to his development should give him plenty of time to figure it out, even if he struggles at first.”

Well, close enough…he’s two days away from turning 23 so there’s that, but the Bruins chose him in the sixth round five+ years ago knowing he was a long-term project and they’ve carefully cultivated and developed him since then.

I can’t say enough about how far he’s come from that gangly, raw goalie I saw at Bruins development camp right after Tyler Seguin came to town. Like Subban, McIntyre (who went by the last name Gothberg back then) had holes in his technique that he’s worked hard to address, namely in his lateral movement- opening up holes that the more adept shooters were able to exploit by being patient and waiting for those openings. He’s become a far more composed goaltender, although his style is still reminiscent of Tim Thomas in the way that he’ll battle hard and extend himself to get any piece of his equipment on a shot as opposed to the more mechanical and fundamental of butterfly goalies who square up and maximize their economy of movement.

I maintain that what McIntyre brings to the table best is his mental toughness- he’s the rare player who has thrived alternately as a backup in junior and the NCAA as well as a starter. When you look at his statistics going back to his first USHL season with the Fargo Force in 2010-11, he’s been remarkably consistent, whether playing a full workload or getting into games on occasion. He earned that league’s top goaltending honor in 2011-12, and then had to work his way back up with the University of North Dakota in 2012-13. By the following year, he won the battle for No. 1 and in 2014-15, he played every game on the schedule, winning honors as the top NCAA goalie and finishing as one of three finalists (to Jack Eichel) for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s premier player.

All of this is not to say that I believe it makes sense for him to be the Boston backup this season. McIntyre has said that is his goal and I know he believes that with all of his heart. Hey- anything is possible…but would opening and closing the door for the Bruins skaters to the tune of 60+ games of Tuukka Rask next season be in McIntyre’s best interest?

I get it- people are excited about him and understandably so. But this is a player with a grand total of 0 minutes of pro experience at any level let alone the NHL. So- rather than push for the shiny new toy, doesn’t it make sense to allow him the opportunity to play his way into a comfort level starting with the AHL and see how he does?

I still rank Subban ahead of McIntyre on the Boston depth chart, but it’s extremely close. In fact, the gap between them has closed so significantly that I would not at all be surprised if when the dust settles, McIntyre ends up being the longer term option. But for now, Subban’s pure ability/projected ceiling and the fact that he’s entering his third pro season gives him the slight nod over the Minnesota native who once won the Frank Brimsek Award as the top high school goalie in the Land of 10,000 Lakes- Mr. Zero’s home state.

At 38, Boston’s newest prospect in net checks in- a pretty solid debut. Daniel Vladar went in the third round, 75th overall, and while I felt they could have gone with someone else there (I was higher on Matej Tomek who went at the end of the round to Philly), there is no denying that this Redwood in net has some impressive albeit eventual, very eventual potential.

“You can’t teach size” is a common saying, and the 6-foot-6 Vladar is a perfect example of why it is used. His massive 84-inch wingspan turned heads at the NHL combine, which led to him rising to 75th overall in this year’s draft. While he is still a long term investment, Bruins fans won’t have to wait very long to see him in North America. He’s slated to play for the Chicago Steel of the USHL in 2015-2016, and will work one-on-one with their new assistant coach, the recently retired Peter Mannino.”

Other goalies of note on the list-

3. Ilya Samsonov, Capitals- Yep. If you’re not going to have many picks in a draft, get yourself someone with All-Star potential and that’s precisely what the Caps did. Of course- with Braden Holtby playing so well, they have nothing but time to bring the big, smooth Russian along at a leisurely pace. My guess is he’ll be knocking at the door to the Verizon Center before too long.

4. Eric Comrie, Jets- Between Comrie (a value pick in 2013 because of injuries) and Hellebuyck, once again the Jets are building one hell of an organization. They were on the cover of the 2015 THN Future Watch for good reason and then went out and had another hellacious draft in Sunrise. They have premium talent at every position and this fundamentally superb player who is on track after getting a hip issue in his draft year under control is a legit stopper.

10. Jon Gillies, Flames- Man, what a gamer. One of my favorite New England-area prospects of all was so good when he had to be last spring, leading the PC Friars to their first-ever NCAA championship.  He’s so big, but was knocked for his overall athleticism in his draft year. To be honest- he’s such a competitor that it’s never really been something I think prevents him from being a success, but it’s a whole new shooting match in the pros, so it will be interesting to see how he develops now that he’s signed and in Calgary’s farm system. I wouldn’t bet against him.

12. Thatcher Demko, Canucks- A wonky hip complicated matters for the talented Californian who soldiered through it in the midst of a disappointing year for Boston College- no Beanpot, no Hockey East title, a quick exit in the NCAA tourney. Demko is another prototype big guy who takes away a lot of net and finds ways to make the big save. A project player several years away, but a good one for Vancouver.

18. Alex Nedeljkovic, Hurricanes- The American playing in the OHL goes against the grain in terms of possessing average-to-below-average size for the position by today’s standards, but he’s a stopper who thrives when under pressure. I liked him a lot in the 2014 U18 championship run to get USA back on the gold medal platform, and he’s got some long-term upside in Carolina.

28. Colin Stevens, Panthers- Undrafted free agent led Union to the 2014 NCAA championship and I was impressed with him when watching him years ago with the Boston Jr. Bruins. The New York native has always brought an impressive mix of size, quickness and the ability to steal games. Winner.

46. Matej Tomek, Flyers- I got in to see him multiple times live in the NAHL last year and I personally feel that the Slovak and heir apparent to McIntyre’s vacated crease in Grand Forks would have been a better choice for the Bruins than Czech rival Vladar. Nothing against Darth Vladar- I didn’t see him other than on film at the U18 (and he didn’t have the greatest performance there) But in my mind- Tomek is the sleeper- underrated and underappreciated, but Flyers fans will soon be like the people at Cheers- they’re going to know his name.

Daniel "Darth" Vladar- 3rd round, 75th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Daniel “Darth” Vladar- 3rd round, 75th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Scouting Post Dispatches- Twitter mailbag #1

I want to thank everyone who submitted questions to me for the first edition of the electronic mailbag of questions. If you want to participate in this effort that we’ll do every two weeks or so, shoot your question to my Twitter account @kluedeke29 or use the comment feature on the blog itself to make your query.

1. Who is leading in the race for backup goalie and how short will their leash be?- Tyler @tylerbingham123

As a former beer league goalie, I’ll give this one a shot.

The current backup situation invites a lot of risk in my view. On paper, Jeremy Smith makes a lot of sense because of his low cap hit and the fact that the Bruins can afford to let him sit for long periods while Tuukka Rask makes a lot of starts. Smith was the most dependable option in net last year in the AHL, but that’s also the issue with him- he has no NHL experience, which essentially puts them right back to square 1 where they were a year ago when they gambled on a similarly inexperienced Niklas Svedberg to be the No. 2.

Some might point to the idea that Svedberg was a serviceable player who was poorly used, but the bottom line is that Claude Julien had very little confidence in him. There are compelling statistical arguments that Svedberg wasn’t utilized properly, but be that as it may- a good backup goaltender enjoys the trust of the coach and team to spell the starter in a lot of different situations. That Julien seemed almost perversely unwilling to use Svedberg when it appeared Rask needed a break the most is beside the point if you believe that going to the well with Rask repeatedly cost the Bruins a playoff spot in 2015. Part of what helped the Bruins earn the President’s Trophy the season before had to do with backup Chad Johnson and Julien’s willingness to give him starts and ease the starter’s burden. Johnson can’t be a starter in this league, but he was an effective backup in his one season with the B’s.

The question becomes- will Smith find himself in a similar predicament to Svedberg? Can the Bruins afford to have a repeat of last spring, when Rask went on a hockey-like death march of consecutive starts without rest because the head coach was not willing to put the backup in? This is the same kind of scenario the Bruins are inviting with Smith and Malcolm Subban or Zane McIntyre as well- all three are capable options on paper, but none are established NHL players- with Subban alone of the trio even having seen a minute of big league action.

On Subban- I just feel he’s better off playing his way into a more prominent role in the AHL with Providence while McIntyre apprentices behind him. Heck- McIntyre might even wrest more starts away from him like Smith did a year ago, but as fine a goalie as Zane looks like coming out of college as the NCAA’s top goalie last season, he’s still in his very first pro year. Expecting him to just go right to the NHL and then have to sit behind Rask most nights is not a realistic option in my view.

So- I think Smith makes the most sense as B’s backup as of July 31, but I still think the team will look to add someone with more of an NHL body of work, either as a bargain bin signing or training camp invite with the option to sign before the season if the coaches feel good about him. Who that is at this point is anyone’s guess- I thought Jason LaBarbera would be someone to fit the bill, but the best of the free agents are gone, so the team might just feel like going with Smith or one of the other kids depending on things go at camp and preseason is the best option. We’ll see, but I’m a believer that younger guys like Subban and McIntyre are best served by playing and not spending the bulk of their time opening and closing the door to the bench for their NHL teammates. We’ll see.

2. If Koko pushes Spooner out of 3C job, what happens with the two of them? Leave Spooner there and try Koko on wing? Jbench @jacobbench

The short answer to this question is that I don’t see Alexander Khokhlachev beating Ryan Spooner out of the 3C job anytime soon.

At this point, Spooner has done a lot to earn Claude Julien’s trust as someone who has grown up a lot over the years he’s been in the organization and finally started putting the offense together when the team needed it the most. Koko needs to prove he can do the basic things the team expects of him, so until that happens, it does no real good to fret over what to do. I will say that Koko is probably better suited to transition to wing and be effective there, and if he’s going to break camp and enter the 2015-16 on the NHL roster, that’s probably his best chance to do it unless Spooner gets hurt or plays so poorly against a lights-out showing from Koko.

That’s not impossible, but  it is a tall order. I think Koko fell victim to the hype machine that often occurs in the internet age- he simply wasn’t ready to compete for NHL time at 18, but that didn’t stop overzealous fans and analysts like myself from being dazzled by his offensive talent and overlooking the glaring defensive deficiencies in his game. He’s come a long way since 2011, but the team tried to trade him in the past and you can’t overlook that. If he is as valuable to the Bruins as he is on Twitter to a select group of folks- he would not have been in play. It’s the old adage that says if they traded you once- they’ll do it again. It would be great for Koko to establish himself as a Bruin, but as far as trade-worthy commodities go, he’s one of the few pieces that could fetch something of value right now.

3. Where do you see Mark Jankowski projecting to in an NHL lineup? Thoughts on John Gilmour as well please Nigel @red_monster

Jankowski still has top-six  NHL forward potential in my mind, and he was really starting to come on when Providence College needed him to. With an earlier-than-projected draft position comes high expectations, so I believe realistically, if he makes it in Calgary it will be more of a third-line center role. When you look at who is ahead of him on the depth chart, third line duty with the Flames would be a win for him and the team.  I do like that there is still room for growth and development with him, even if he’s fallen short of some of the lofty goals envisioned of him three years ago with his pure points and production, which has admittedly not been what everyone was hoping for. He’ll have to continue to get stronger and play heavier if he’s going to make it in Calgary, though.

Gilmour has the makings of a serviceable pro who is going to have to put in the work at the lower levels. He has good all around ability, but because he has less-than-ideal size for the position, he’ll have his work cut out for him. I personally think Gilmour is a journeyman big leaguer/solid AHL player at best, but I love it when players prove prognosticators wrong. He’s a winner, and if he uses that as a springboard to bigger things, more power to him.

What Bruins dman is most likely to slot alongside Chara? Greg Babbitt @babbitt_greg

Barring a change, I could see the team trying big Zach Trotman there to see if it can work. He lacks experience, but showed big league ability in flashes last season and if he keeps things simple, his mobility and long reach would make for a solid defensive partner. He’s a right shot and while not a physical, snarly kind of player, with more experience and the benefit of skating next to one of the game’s all-time greats much like young Kyle McLaren did with Ray Bourque two decades ago, Trotman might be a quiet but effective internal solution to that which has vexed the Bruins since Johnny Boychuk was sent to Long Island…kind of like what happened in 2009 when Johnny Rocket came to town and established himself as an NHL defenseman when some had all but written him off.

If the Bruins want to infuse more offense with Chara, then Colin Miller also makes sense there. He doesn’t have a lick of NHL experience, but he skates extremely well, would add another right-shot, howitzer cannon from the point, and seems to be a player who would thrive next to Boston’s captain, especially on the power play. He’s not as big as Trotman, and his hockey sense is a bit of a question mark right now, but Miller could be the one who takes that top pairing job if not on opening night, but perhaps as the season progresses.

Assuming Miller plays for the Bruins this season (I believe he will) the Barry Pederson for Cam Neely trade will continue for Boston into a third decade as the Glen Wesley-Sergei Samsonov-Milan Lucic branch continues to bear fruit.

4. I’d like to see Hamilton/Saad stick with their teams for longer. But do scouts think the current model is bad for development?- brimcq @mcqbri

It’s not something I’ve discussed with scouts or management types to be honest, but it makes for an intriguing topic.

Ever since the league instituted cost certainty- the salary cap- in 2005, we’ve seen the game’s economic landscape evolve over several trend lines. For a while, it was long-term frontloaded deals that allowed for teams to bury or move them at short money later on. Now, it’s the dissipation of second or bridge contracts for key performers coming out of entry-level contracts or ELCs in favor of significant dollars- those used to be reserved for top tier talents, but I think we’re seeing a paradigm shift with players like Dougie Hamilton and Brandon Saad whose cap-crunched teams are either forced to move them or the player is able to leverage the lack of cap flexibility for a change of address. This drives the talk of the NHL’s middle class getting squeezed, which is becoming more and more prevalent as clubs will have bigger ticket contracts and then have to rely on cheaper ELCs or bargain basement deals with little room for the middle ground/solid veteran types who typically clock in at around $3-4M a the current (and rising) market rate.

Hockey is a business- it always has been. But the days where owners and teams held the cards are long gone, so I think that teams and players/their representatives will continue to evolve with each emerging economic trend. I don’t blame Hamilton for seeking a situation he thought would be better for him, and in Saad’s case, they made a decision that they could not afford him at the going rate- that was a tough business decision that more and more teams will have to make if things continue. But, both situations have jolted teams and fans alike into the realization that you can’t simply assume restricted free agents will remain all that restricted for long depending on a team’s salary structure and how much they have invested in the veterans.

At some point- you wonder if the ever-rising salaries and the kabuki dances teams go through to stay cap compliant will kill the golden goose and force a seismic sea change, but it hasn’t happened yet.

5. With the Bruins prospect pool now overflowing who would be consider the 5 untouchables in the organization.- Mike O’Connor @mike77ca

The Bruins have quantity in their system for sure. The quality of the prospects is very much up for debate, however so it will be interesting to see how the 10 picks from 2015 plus the others from previous years perform and develop in the new season.

I don’t know that when it comes to prospects there is ever truly an “untouchable” because if another team is willing to pay a king’s ransom for an unproven player, I believe a savvy GM will often times make that deal. Of course- that position is becoming tougher to defend for the precise reasons I explained above as economics and the importance of landing impact players on 3-year (max) ELCs becomes ever more critical for teams who want to win the Stanley Cup. It’s hard to imagine the Edmonton Oilers or Buffalo Sabres parting with either one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel for any offer given that reasoning, but I do believe that GMs have to at least listen and think hard about a team that comes in with high-end NHL players to offer, not the proverbial two dimes and a nickel for a shiny quarter kind of trade. In the end, the money and cap play much bigger roles than ever before.

The Bruins don’t have a McDavid or Eichel so to speak, so their situation is different. I’ll take a stab at it and offer these three players up in an effort to answer your question:

1. Danton Heinen, LW Denver U.- I have it from several sources that the one name teams asked about repeatedly at last winter’s deadline was the 2014 fourth-rounder who finished as the NCAA’s third leading freshman scorer. He may not have ideal size or speed, but his hands and hockey sense are top-shelf. As a late bloomer, Heinen has the look and feel of a classic diamond-in-the-rough who is going to one day play very well for the Bruins, so unless a team wants to give up the moon and stars for him, don’t expect him to go anywhere. His upside will also likely drive the team to court him to come out of school earlier because ELC term and CBA loopholes will force them to act.

2. Zane McIntyre, G Providence- The B’s are all-in on this kid, and he showed loyalty to them by not exploiting free agency to get the biggest money or a better opportunity to start elsewhere. Now, folks will say there is no room for sentiment in pro sports and they’re right, but I just feel like that Bruins are sold on the soon-to-be 23-year-old’s potential, character and all-around ability. They want him to be a part of the organization, so unless a team comes in to blow their doors off with an offer, he’s as close to untouchable as you will get. Besides, unproven non-NHL goalies don’t tend to fetch enough of a return from teams to make dealing him at this point worth the effort.

3. Jakub Zboril, D Saint John- He’s the top pick, he’s signed and the Bruins think he is going to be a future top-2 defender for them. Both Don Sweeney and Scott Bradley used the word “elite” to describe his ability, so you can be sure the B’s had him higher on their list than the 13th spot where they took him. They’re not going to turn around and flip him without seeing if all that potential they’re banking on starts to pay off for them. You can almost throw Zach Senyshyn into this same category as well- they have a lot riding on him and want to prove that he was worth the risk they took by grabbing him in the top-15. It’s hard to imagine a team coming in to offer the Bruins a top-6 NHL forward for a raw prospect like Senyshyn, so they’ll sit back and see if their gut instincts about him are proven correct.

That does it for this first edition- thanks to everyone that submitted questions and I hope we can do this again in a couple of weeks. You can follow me on Twitter at @kluedeke29