On the Road series (Part 3): Player Evaluation- the Body of Work

Welcome back for another installment of the “On the Road” series, where we break down hockey scouting in more detail for those who might not be aware of the things that go into the process of player evaluations at the amateur and professional level. If you haven’t already, you can read parts 1 and 2 of the series or jump right into this one.

After touching on the kinds of things that go into basic player evaluation, and we do mean basic- the second part of the blog series was 4,000 words and by no means even came close to hitting everything- it is important to next discuss an aspect of scouting that some would argue is just about as important as a player’s ability to perform- the body of work.

What do we mean by this? Well, body of work is a catch-all for the individual’s character, work ethic, personality, injury history and other behind the scenes factors that teams can research and investigate to develop a more comprehensive read on the individual they are considering drafting. Some fans sit in a bubble and honestly think that drafting and developing players at any level is only about talent and skill. While they’re certainly entitled to their views, real life begs to differ.

Continue reading

CrosB’s lead Canada to World Cup win, Seidenberg to Isles a little of this and that

Catching up on some hockey news over the past several days, but the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is officially in the books with a win by Canada. Sidney Crosby took MVP honors after Canada posted two victories over Team Europe coming from behind in the second game to get a late winner from none other than Brad Marchand.  Patrice Bergeron also scored in the decisive contest, as he has done throughout the tournament.

Bergeron and Marchand were dynamic throughout the tourney, and what is nice about their performance is that it opened up the eyes of other fans around the league to what the duo means to the Boston Bruins. The B’s just showed Marchand the love on his new eight-year extension announced this week, and he took a discount to stay in Boston. I’ve been told by several sources who know him that remaining with the team was not really in doubt, as being close to his family in Nova Scotia was important to him, not to mention the fact that he had grown up a Bruin ever since the team moved up in the third round to take him in 2006.

That was an important draft year for the Bruins, as the team ended up with Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Marchand (not to mention Tuukka Rask, who was acquired via trade during the proceedings). Only Marchand and Rask remain, but 2006 was a critical year for Boston, ultimately leading to the Stanley Cup championship in 2011.

With the WCOH now in the rearview mirror, Bergeron and Marchand can return to the B’s and put their focus on where it belongs: on preparing to play the 2016-17 NHL season. It appears they made it out of the tournament relatively unscathed (knock on wood) and it’s one more championship they can add to their respective trophy cases. For the rest of the NHL, the two served notice that they belong in the conversation with the league’s constellation of stars, but for Bruins fans- it’s time to get down to brass tacks.

***

Veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has landed with his old defense partner on Long Island (well, Brooklyn, actually), joining Johnny Boychuk and the New York Islanders on a one-year deal after the B’s bought him out this summer.

He’s a good guy who in the right role can be a serviceable player on the ice, while a solid teammate and addition in the room. After being acquired from the Florida Panthers in 2010, Seidenberg was one of Boston’s most trusted and reliable defenders, but after signing a four-year extension in late 2013, suffered a catastrophic knee injury and was never the same afterwards.

Some have argued over the wisdom of buying him out, but as long as he was here with two more years remaining on that deal, he would have gotten playing time and likely prevented other younger defenders from working their way into the rotation. While he was game and willing to do whatever it takes, his body limited him, and the B’s made the tough decision to move on.

He’s someone who can help the right team as long as he isn’t being asked to do too much, which was the case in Boston last year and in 2014-15. The Stanley Cup-era Seidenberg is long gone, but the 2016 version will likely be a solid if lower-end contributor to the Isles’ fortunes this season.

***

Los Angeles Kings goaltender and pride of Hamden, Connecticut- Jonathan Quick- sported a tribute to the U.S. Army Special Forces on his WCOH mask. The Team USA performance was certainly disappointing, but the mask art, painted by Steve Nash of EyeCandy Air, is definitely not.

My dad served in the Special Forces in the 1970’s and 80’s- before it became an official branch of the U.S. Army, so I guess you could say he was an “old school snake-eater”, but since 9/11- the Global War on Terror has taken a toll on the U.S. military’s special operations forces in particular- they’re still very much in the fight all over the world, but we very rarely hear about the dangerous missions and arduous work they do because of the secret nature of said efforts.

Quick’s mask takes a “less is more” approach, with the crossed arrow branch insignia and “De Oppresso Liber” motto, along with the dagger-through-skull that is a popular tattoo among many in the detachments.

The mask is being auctioned over at the NHL auction site to benefit the Special Forces Charitable Trust, and the current bid is over $10k…well done, Mr. Quick!

This is a pretty informative little blog post about SF for those interested…

And speaking of the U.S. Army, I picked up Amber Smith’s book “Danger Close- My Epic Journey As A Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan”, and it’s a good read. What struck me about it is what a small world we live in, though.

Back in 2005, I was serving in Iraq with the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division in Diyala Province and late in the year, the air cavalry squadron of OH-58D Kiowa Warriors that provided our troops with close air support swapped out with a similar unit from Fort Campbell, Kentucky and the storied 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles.”

As the brigade battle captain, I recall the new unit coming into our airspace on missions and on occasion, hearing the female voice of one of the pilots, whose call sign was ‘Annihilator 24’- she was always all business and that unit- the 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, was always there to support our guys on the ground. But those of us in the brigade’s tactical operations center always wondered who Annihilator 24 was. Well, after picking up the book, I finally have my answer after 11 years- it was Chief Warrant Officer 2 Amber Smith.

She’s written an interesting book about the life of a female combat aviator flying in a fragile, Vietnam-era airframe (the Army retired the OH-58D from active service several years ago), where Kiowa drivers frequently exposed themselves to lethal ground fire in order to deliver .50 caliber and rocket fire to enemy insurgents when our troops were in contact.

I want to thank Ms. Smith (that’s how we address warrant officers in the Army- that and by calling them “Chief”) for her service and support to my unit. She knew me as “Hammer X-Ray” when she would check in and out of our AO- our relationship was purely professional and we wouldn’t know each other if we bumped into each other on the street, but it feels like we’ve been friends for years.

Pick up her book- she’s got quite an interesting story to tell.

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series: the Centers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka "JFK"

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

 

 

 

On Bergeron and the pursuit of perfection

Bergeron3

Nobody’s perfect.

In Patrice Bergeron’s case, at least when it comes to his profession, perfection is a closer goal than for most.

Boston’s lone representative at the NHL’s All-Star festivities in Nashville has done it again- showing fans around the world that stardom at hockey’s highest level does not require blazing speed, flashy offense or a larger-than-life off-ice persona. The 30-year-old center brings none of that to the table, though I bet if you polled GMs around the league and had them pick 5 players to build a franchise around, Bergeron would be on more of their lists than not.

On Sunday, Bergeron returned to the building where the Boston Bruins called his name for the first time, selecting him in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, a year that is going down as one of the strongest collective drafts in league history. For those who may not be aware, the B’s picked up Bergeron with the 45th overall selection, and it was a compensation pick awarded them by the league when Bill Guerin had taken the money ($9 million per season) and run to Dallas. Back in those days, the entry draft was nine rounds, and the NHL had rules to protect teams from being plundered by the big spenders of the world with a compensatory formula that involved the amount of money departing free agents got. In other words- the bigger the coin, the higher the pick, and Boston landed one of the highest extras that year.

The rest, as they say, is history.

But, for those who followed the draft closely back then, Bergeron’s eventual success in the NHL as a champion on multiple levels and the undisputed class of all forwards defensively, he was anything but a household name when the B’s drafted him ahead of some of the more flashy names that were available at 45.

Bergeron’s journey from under-the-radar, solid but unspectacular Quebec League pivot to impressive NHL rookie at age 18 and an eventual Stanley Cup and two-time Olympic champion (to go with multiple other titles to include the 2005 World Jr. Championship and MVP accolades) is one of personal discipline, focus and a will to constantly seek self-improvement. He didn’t explode onto the NHL scene in 2003 with the excitement and draft pedigree of others in his peer group, but his ascension to the ranks of the league’s elite has come with consistency and class, as he overcame two of the bigger knocks that can derail a hockey player’s NHL dream faster than the Kardashian sisters change their looks: size and skating.

Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley, who was Boston’s chief amateur scout at the time, recalled going to an Acadie-Bathurst Titans game early in the 2002-03 campaign to see offensively skilled defenseman Bruno Gervais. He came away smitten with No. 37, a first-year center who had spent his 16-year-old season playing midget AAA hockey because he was unable to stick in the QMJHL as a full-time player. From that moment on, the die was cast- a series of events was set into motion that would ultimately see that youngster not only drafted, but eventually evolve into the face of the Bruins franchise some 13 years later.

It isn’t like other NHL teams didn’t know who Bergeron was. Central Scouting had him ranked in their top-30, though when you factored in a very strong European contingent that year, he projected to land somewhere in the mid-to-late second round. I spoke to one NHL scout based in the Maritimes in Nashville on the ’03 draft’s second day- back when rounds 1-3 were done on a Saturday and 4-9 occurred on Sunday- and asked him about Bergeron. He liked him enough, but expressed concerns about Bergeron’s height (he was pretty average at the time, hovering around 6-foot) and lack of foot speed. He did point out how creative and smart Bergeron was, however, and liked where Boston got him.

That fall, Bergeron not only impressed the Boston brass at his first training camp, but got the attention of the one who mattered most at the time: rookie head coach Mike Sullivan. He made the club out of camp, scored his first NHL goal against the Los Angeles Kings a few weeks later (October 18, 2003 to be exact), and some 12 years later, has added 224 more and is closing in on 600 points for his career. If not for an entire season lost to lockout, nearly an entire year gone to a massive concussion suffered on a hit from behind in 2007, plus another half-season wasted in another lockout, he’d be closer to 800 points and 1,000 games.

Bergeron has quietly become the player that just about every hockey fan wishes was theirs. He’s always been serious and dedicated, but he plays the game the way he lives his life: disciplined, effective, with honesty and integrity. Like the kid who sat inside the net and watched his peers skate in beginning hockey before getting up and joining in the game that would eventually become his way of life, Bergeron’s rise to NHL super stardom has been deliberate.

One NHL scout told me over coffee in Buffalo during the 2011 World Jr. Championship that his one real regret in a long career scouting amateur players for the same team was not pushing harder for his club to draft Bergeron in 2003. “We coulda had him,” he lamented with that wistful look a man gets when he knows in his heart his gut had been telling him to act, but he didn’t seize the initiative. “I know things would be a lot different for us if I had taken more of a stand in our room before the draft.”

Perhaps. Probably.

But what happened instead was that another team, with a scout who went into a fateful junior game with zero expectations, saw all he needed to and then leveraged his power within the Bruins organization to act.

Bergeron is now that grizzled veteran that Marty Lapointe was in 2003 when he took the young Quebec City native under his wing. He has a noticeable scar on his upper lip- a reminder of the countless battles in the trenches on the 200 x 85 sheet of ice. His presence and poise is a testament to those contests. He’s just about seen it all, and has the medals to prove it. Best thing of all, at least from Boston’s perspective, is that he’s still very much in his prime, so he will keep adding to his growing legend.

The pursuit of perfection is a worthy goal. Some people come closer to it than others, and Patrice Bergeron is one of them. Perhaps Boston Globe reporter Amalie Benjamin said it best in her recent piece about how Bergeron is perceived around the rest of the league over the All-Star weekend when she closed with this:

So he’s good, sure. But perfect? That’s a lot of pressure to put on a fellow hockey player.

“Well, I mean, there’s not that many of them out there,” Duchene said. “I think if you asked most guys in the league if there was a perfect player out there, who would it be? I think most guys would say him.”

One thing seems to be certain: Bergeron is the perfect Bruin. And for those who love the team, that’s perfect enough.

Throwback Thursday: Patrice Bergeron interview from 2003 NHL Draft

I will be posting a new summer cooler interview in the next 24 hours, but was rummaging through some old files and thought it might be fun to dig up this Q & A- the first extended interview Patrice Bergeron did with anyone outside the usual post-pick media scrum after becoming a Boston Bruins pick in Nashville 12+ years ago.
A couple of things:

  1. I totally lucked out in that we stayed at the same hotel and I ran into him in the hallway, otherwise it is an opportunity would have missed out on. But, in getting to spend time with Patrice, it began a name-basis relationship right off the bat at a time I will still relatively new to covering the NHL. I guess you could say I got in on the ground floor with Bergeron and it’s been a real treat to watch him grow.
  2. This should dispel the lingering myth with anyone that he couldn’t speak English very well when the Bruins drafted him. I transcribed every word of his answer off the tape recorder (yes- I was still using mini cassette tapes back then), and while he had a thick accent and his grammar wasn’t perfect, he communicated quite fine. It gets back to how serious and hard working he is…he studied hard in school and applied himself when playing major junior hockey in the Maritimes.
  3. Bergeron’s smarts and work ethic define the person and player he is. When you get right down to it, he’s the classic player who wasn’t a household name because of several concerns going in- mainly his average size and skating- but he was one of the few from that storied 2003 draft class who was an NHL player right away at 18 after going from midget AAA to the QMJHL the previous two seasons. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often and it isn’t an accident when it does.

So, enjoy the Q & A and I’ll have a newer post up later on a player that New Englanders, Hockey East fans and Albertans will have an interest in, but is not a Bruins player/prospect.

***

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

A household name he wasn’t, but heading into the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft in Nashville, Acadie-Bathurst Titan Patrice Bergeron had a feeling that he might have a very good day when all was said and done. Just 45 selections into an event that would see nearly 300 young men from across North America and Europe have their names called by NHL teams, Bergeron’s wait was over, taken by the Boston Bruins mid-way through the second round.

Bergeron, who doesn’t turn 18 until next month, describes himself as a hard-working playmaker who finds more joy in setting up his teammates for goals than scoring them himself. Although a bit slight at 6-feet-0 and 180 pounds, Bergeron has drawn raves from scouts for his soft hands, creativity and ability to affect the tempo of the game when he controls the puck. One knock on the Quebec City native’s game is that he must get faster, particularly in his acceleration, if he is going to realize his immense potential.

The young center already has an excellent grasp on the English language, despite not getting much of an opportunity to use it in his native Quebec. This should help reduce the effects of culture shock when he travels to Boston for his first professional training camp in the fall.

Although not widely known amongst draftniks, Bergeron impressed his coaches and scouts in the Quebec League playoffs, and appears to only be scratching the surface in terms of what he can become in the NHL someday. It will take a little time, but don’t be surprised if Bergeron arrives on the scene sooner than anticipated. He appears to have all the intangibles that you look for in a professional athlete, and his humble nature off the ice conceals a fierce competitor on it.

HockeyJournal.com sat down with Patrice Bergeron in the Millennium Maxwell House hotel in Nashville the day after the draft and talked shop with one of the newest Bruins in the system.

HockeyJournal.com: What was your overall impression of the Entry Draft and the atmosphere there? Was it everything you thought it would be?

Patrice Bergeron: It was a lot of fun to go there to Nashville and then to be pick in the second round by the Boston Bruins. I wasn’t too nervous, but still, you wait and you don’t know when you might get pick, so to hear my name in the second round was a great feeling for me.

HJ: You said in the initial interview after you were selected that you were from Quebec City. Are you from the city proper, or a suburb?

PB: I live in Sillery, Quebec. It is a town not too big, but outside Quebec City.

HJ: When did you start playing hockey?

PB: At the age of five, I was.

HJ: So that was probably around 1990. Did you like the Quebec Nordiques back then?

PB: Yeah, I did. I liked (Joe) Sakic. He was probably the one I liked the most. But, I liked Adam Foote too. He worked really so hard and was a leader.

HJ: What was the difference for you, or the hardest thing to adjust to in your first season of major junior as opposed to what you were used to in midget hockey before?

PB: Probably the execution of the play was the hardest thing. You have to pass quicker, shoot quicker and all that kind of stuff.

HJ: How about the physical play and the fighting? Was that a change for you?

PB: Probably more the fights was the only difference because yes, the guys are bigger, but I was used to it. The physical stuff doesn’t bother me at all. It’s part of the game.

HJ: One of the NHL scouts who saw you play quite a bit this season said that you are very creative, and although you may not be the fastest skater, you slow the game down because you move side-to-side well and are able to hold the puck so you can make that key pass at the right moment for a good scoring chance. Do you think that’s a pretty accurate assessment of you and your play, and how much of that creativity that you possess is something that you were born with and just do when you’re out on the ice?

PB: Yeah, I think that is right. I think that a lot of what I do is natural, but I always work and prove my place. But I think that the things to look and slow down the play is natural, but the other parts of the game have to come when you work hard. It’s like when you learn on the job and as you work more, you get more confident and better at your job. With me, it’s the same thing.

HJ: What kind of a relationship do you have with your head coach in Bathurst, Real Paiement?

PB: It’s a great relationship. He helped me with a lot of things this year on the ice, but outside in general life. He’s a really good coach and I have a really great relationship with him.

HJ: That relationship probably showed through in the playoffs, when as a rookie, you were given a lot of ice time even though it was your first taste of the postseason, and you responded by playing a big role in your team’s success. How important was that faith he showed in you for your overall confidence?

PB: It gives me confidence. At the beginning of the year, he told me I would be on the third line, and improve my play and get experience and get confidence. He gives me so much confidence that I take my place and I graduate on the top line and get some ice time in the end of the regular season and playoffs.

HJ: As far as your offense goes, you’ve said you’re more of a playmaker, a passer- but when you are looking to shoot, what are you most comfortable with doing, and what shot have you had the most success with in game situations?

PB: My wrist shot. You know, a shot without showing the goalie you’re going to take a shot.

HJ: This summer, you said you wanted to work on your skating, but what are some of the other things you want to improve on?

PB: My body and my physical strength. I got a physical trainer in Quebec City- his name is Raymond Veillette. He’s a very good guy- he has been training with Simon Gagne.

HJ: Simon Gagne is a very accomplished hockey player. Do you know him?

PB: It’s the first summer for me, but I’m not like his friend, but I do know him. I have a lot of respect for him because he work very hard and is a great NHL player even though some people say he couldn’t make it because he was small. I look at him and hope that I can be like that too, someday.

HJ: What are your expectations of your first professional training camp in September? Are you pretty excited about being able to put on that Bruins sweater and skate with guys like Joe Thornton, Glen Murray and the rest of the team?

PB: It’s a wonderful feeling for me. When you’re young, everybody dreams about it, but doesn’t think too much because it’s far and you don’t know what is going to happen. But now, I’m here, and I know it’s only the first step that I’m draft, there are a lot of things I have to do to move on. But to go to camp is going to be impressive. I just have to get as strong as I can in the summer, and work on my skating as much as I can. I won’t be able to be as good as I want in one summer- it takes some years to do that, but I think I will be improved and make a good impression in Boston. It is important to me that I just play my game, work hard and show them that I can play.

HJ: What are some of the things you like to do when you’re not playing hockey?

PB: I like to listen to rap music, like Eminem and DMX.

HJ: You seem to have a pretty good relationship with your older brother, Guillaume. Do you beat him up now that you got a little size on him?

PB: (chuckling) No, I don’t beat him up or anything. Yeah, we’re very close. He is focus in his studies right now. He goes to college for business in Quebec City.

HJ: Have you seen any good movies recently?

PB: I saw “Old School” on VHS the other day.

HJ: What did you think? Was it good? Silly? Terrible?

PB: It’s good. You know, it’s crazy humor, but it was pretty funny. I like more comedies than anything else when I see movies.

HJ: Do you have any final thoughts on being a Bruin?

PB: Only that it’s a great feeling to be pick(ed) by the Bruins and I know that I can work very hard to prove to the fans that I’m a good player for the organization.

HJ: Sounds good, Patrice. Thanks for your time.

Bergeron: It’s okay. Thank you.

The Patrice Bergeron File

Height: 6’0 Weight: 180

Shoots: Right

Born: July 25, 1985 in Quebec City, PQ

Got first pair of skates at age: 5

Favorite Movie: Dumb and Dumber

Siblings: Brother, Guillaume (19)

Hobbies: Soccer, listening to music

Boston Bruins 2015-16 season preview: the Centers

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

In retrospect: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…well, not really. The 2014-15 NHL campaign was a rough one for the Boston Bruins’ men up the middle.

Patrice Bergeron led the club in scoring with 22 goals and 55 points- the lowest for a non-lockout season since 2009-10 when he and David Krejci both finished with 52 points. It was a step back for Bergeron from his 30 goals and 62 points in 2014, but Krejci’s season was downright miserable.

The 29-year-old missed 35 games and finished with just 7 goals and 31 points in the 47 contests he played after signing a lucrative contract extension that will pay him $43.5 million ($7.25M AAV) for the next six years starting in 2015. This is not to indict the team or player for that deal, but if the Bruins are going to take steps forward, then Krejci is going to have to put the last 12 months behind him and take his game back up to the level he’s capable of.

The good news for the team is that young pivot Ryan Spooner finally broke through after several years of teasing with flashes of his pure speed and offensive skill. He made the club out of camp, but after five games on a very short leash, he was returned to Providence where he battled injuries and up-and-down play until late January when he rounded into form and established himself as a consistent scoring presence. When Krejci went down for another extended absence in late February, Spooner returned to Boston and stayed there, finishing the year with 8 goals (his 1st in the NHL in spot duty the previous two seasons) and 18 points in 29 games (24 if you throw out the first five where he barely played).

Gone is third-liner Carl Soderberg (traded to Colorado for the 2016 pick Boston sent to the Avs for Max Talbot) and fourth line staple Gregory Campbell. Soderberg flashed his big-time ability in spots, but whereas he thrived in his third-line role, he was ineffective when asked to center one of the team’s top-two lines when Krejci was out. Campbell was a good soldier whose declining production and being on the wrong side of 30 made him a free agent departure to Columbus.

Overall, Boston’s 22nd-ranked offense (all the way down from third in 2014) was reflected in the team’s low scoring totals by their centers and the club’s non-playoff finish. Bergeron was steady and dependable, especially when it comes to the other things like faceoffs and defensive zone play, but the lack of production from Krejci and Soderberg, due in part to a dropoff on the wings, all contributed to a down year.

The view from here: Patrice Bergeron, as veteran forward Chris Kelly has often said, is Boston’s “Mr. Everything”- he’s arguably the true face of the franchise. He also turned 30 in July, a remarkable turn of events considering it seems like only yesterday that he was a fresh-faced 18-year-old rookie who made the veteran-laden 2003-04 Bruins out of camp after being the 45th overall selection in Nashville (with a compensation pick the B’s got for losing Bill Guerin to free agency). Since then, Bergeron has won a Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, both a men’s World and World Jr. championship and added three Frank Selke Trophies as the NHL’s top defensive forward. If you looked up “winning” in the Urban Dictionary, you’ll not find Charlie Sheen but Bergeron’s mug looking back at you.

He’s the team’s active points leader with 206 goals and 550 career points in 740 games, all with Boston. He currently sits 12th on the franchise’s all-time scoring list and is just 26 points from moving past Milt Schmidt. Assuming he stays healthy and posts another typical offensive year for him, he could move all the way up to eighth past Terry O’Reilly (606 points). Think of where Bergeron would be  on the scoring ledger had he not lost an entire 82-game season to the 04-05 lockout, another 72 games to the near career-ending hit from behind he took from Flyers defenseman Randy Jones (who?) and then another lockout-shortened half season in 2013.

What makes Bergeron so good is that he’s a complete player. Sure- he doesn’t have the open-ice speed, and to be honest- the Bruins are lucky he wasn’t quicker than he is now at age 17, or else there’s not much of a chance he would have been available for them to draft. Bergeron seriousness and dedication- evident from the very first time I sat down with him for an extended interview at our hotel in Nashville the day after the ’03 draft- is why he not only made the NHL just a few months after turning 18, and ahead of many of the more-heralded 44 picks in front of him, but is a big reason he’s thrived.

Any hopes the B’s have of getting back to being a playoff caliber club starts with him.

Krejci begins the year as the second-ranked active scorer with 409 points in 551 games. When healthy and on top of his game, he’s a cerebral centerman who compensates for his average size and speed with high-end playmaking skills like vision, soft hands and offensive creativity. The Czech product who was a steal at the 64th overall selection in 2004 is quiet off the ice but fiercely driven and competitive as evidenced by his 29 goals and 77 career playoff points, good for ninth all-time for the Bruins (and 11 more than Bergeron has in the postseason).

There isn’t much to add about the previous year’s performance other than to say that the Bruins must get more from him going forward or they’re going to be in trouble. His contract is paying him like a top-level producer, which he has shown he can be in the playoffs, but for a player who has never scored more than 23 goals or 73 points in an entire regular season, it was a generous increase, and for someone who will turn 30 in late April, the Bruins are counting on him taking his production to another level than what we have seen in his previous NHL seasons. Doable? Yes. Likely? That’s an entirely different debate.

Spooner is a speedy, skilled offensive forward who hit his stride after his second call-up late in the year, scoring his first NHL goal in sudden death against New Jersey and playing the best hockey of his young NHL career to finish out the season. At one time the youngest player in Peterborough Petes history to score 30 goals in a season, like Bergeron, he was the 45th overall pick (seven years after PB), slipping in the draft a bit due to a broken collarbone suffered right after the CHL Top Prospects Game in January 2010- dooming him to the “out of sight/out of mind” phenomenon that can occur in a player’s draft season. Although Spooner’s road to the NHL was more down than up, he earned a two-year contract extension and has the inside track to the third line center job when camp opens up in a few weeks. For a kid who appeared done and for whom trade rumors swirled in the first half of last season, he’s back to where the B’s thought he should be.

A player who enters camp with expectations of winning the fourth-line center job is Finnish veteran pro and newcomer Joonas Kemppainen. A member of the SM-Liiga’s championship team Karpat this past spring, Kemppainen has a big, 6-2, 200-pound frame and at age 27 is a mature two-way center who can do all of the little things you need. Although not especially fast, he has a powerful stride and uses his body well along the walls and in front of the net. He doesn’t have high-end puck skills, but he works hard in the trenches and gets his points off of opportunism and hard work. He was brought to development camp in July, but pulled a hamstring while working out at home before the trip, so fans unfortunately weren’t able to see him. He should be fine for camp, but this will be something to monitor and watch going forward.

Alexander Khokhlachev and Zack Phillips will also be vying for NHL jobs this season going into camp, but may have their hands full trying to make a splash with Boston. Koko is ready for NHL duty, but he may need to make a positional switch to the wing in order to do it. He’s not as fast as Spooner is, so splitting him out wide may be a better fit for his style of game and gives the Bruins more of a dynamic option scoring-wise- he’s not an ideal candidate for the duties and responsibilities of a fourth-line pivot, and he’d have to beat out one of the 1-3 centers to make it there, which, given his current body of work to date, is not likely.

Phillips, who was drafted 12 spots ahead of Koko in 2011 by the Wild (and Koko’s pick ended up being Minnesota’s 2nd-round selection- acquired in a trade that sent Chuck Kobasew out west early in 2009-10). He’s a talented offensive player who tallied 95 points in a Memorial Cup-winning campaign his draft year, but has struggled since to live up to the billing of being taken in the top-30. He performed well enough for Providence after being acquired even-up for Jared Knight at the deadline, tallying 11 points in 16 games, but has yet to show that he’s someone who will vie for regular NHL duty, at least as far as this season is concerned. At age 22 (he turns 23 in late Oct.), he has time, so it behooves the Bruins to take a wait-and-see approach.

Ryan Spooner enters his fourth professional season for the first time as an expected NHL roster player (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Ryan Spooner enters his fourth professional season for the first time as an expected NHL roster player (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

On the farm: If neither one of Koko or Phillips makes the Boston roster, they’ll be the 1-2 punch in Providence this year (though it stands to reason that Boston’s skilled Russian prospect might balk at another demotion- we shall see, and I’ll cover him in the forthcoming post on the B’s options on the wings as well).

There isn’t a whole lot else to speak of down in the AHL. Providence College captain Noel Acciari is a blue collar prospect as a versatile if not high-end offensive player who plays a rugged two-way game and hits everything in sight. He’s not an NHL option at this point, but has steadily developed at every other level and is a winner, having been a key part of the Friars’ first-ever NCAA title this past spring. He was a solid free agent pickup for the B’s.

Rugged WHL center Justin Hickman, a free agent signed last January after shutting it down for shoulder surgery, may be a diamond-in-the-rough at Providence this year. The former Seattle Thunderbirds captain didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, but he was starting to get there in his final major junior season until he went under the knife. He skates well for his size, plays a fearless game, and will stick up for teammates. He was still limited (no scrimmage) at development camp, but is expected to be cleared by the start of the season and could become a fan favorite in short order. Fellow WHLer Colby Cave may be another center option in Providence or could be switched to wing. He’s not as physical as Hickman but plays a smart, underrated offensive game as evidenced by the chemistry he showed at Swift Current last season with Jake DeBrusk. We’ll give him more coverage in the wingers section.

Diminutive little buzzsaw Austin Czarnik has the speed and style of game to turn heads in camp as well. Like Acciari, he captained his club- Miami University- and was a nice free agent get last spring. Although tiny by NHL standards (5-9, about 160 pounds), he’s a superb playmaking center with the quick feet and stick to back defenses up and cause problems for would-be checkers. Don’t know what I mean? Check out this highlight vid from the playoffs a few months back:

He’s going to do some good work in Providence and if he can be a forward version of Torey Krug and overcome the size bias, he has the versatility to play on the lower lines and at wing as well (though he’s best in the middle).

Look to the future: The B’s have some intriguing talent in the pipeline, even if there isn’t an elite center among a solid group of players.

Harvard University is eagerly awaiting Ryan Donato, Boston’s second-round selection in 2014 and the son of head coach (and former Bruin) Ted Donato. After starring for four years at Dexter Southfield in Brookline, Donato took his game last spring to the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, where he put up more than a point per game and silenced some of the critics and doubters. Although not blazing fast like his dad, he’s bigger and plays a more dangerous offensive game. He’s a long-term project with a sizable potential payoff.

Not too far away from seeing duty in Boston is current Miami University captain and senior Sean Kuraly, who was acquired in late June along with San Jose’s first-round pick in 2016 for goaltender Martin Jones. Though he hasn’t been overly productive in his NCAA career to date, he has that kind of potential as he enters the new year coming off a 19-goal junior campaign. He’s a heavy player who uses his size and quickness to excel in puck possession and is at his best when creating space for his linemates and taking pucks straight to the net. Don’t be surprised to see the B’s explore bringing him straight to Boston in March or April when his season ends.

Ryan Fitzgerald is entering his junior year at Boston College and will face the team’s newest center prospect, Swedish two-way playmaker Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, who is a freshman at Boston University. The two are similar in that they can both score and play responsible defensive hockey. ‘JFK’ is a little bigger and has the better draft pedigree, but don’t count out the 2013 fourth-rounder who appears to be on the verge of breaking out with some big-time production at the Heights. I’m not sure how that will translate at the pro level, but Fitzgerald’s hockey sense and bloodlines will take him far.

2015 sixth-rounder Cameron Hughes has a lot of skill and grit if not the size- but he’s expected to play a bigger role at the University of Wisconisin this season and is definitely a player to watch as a value selection.

The verdict: Center is the strongest position in Boston currently, even if the position lacks the dynamic scoring and production other teams can boast.

In Krejci, Bergeron and Spooner- if all stay healthy and produce to their potential, you’re looking at a balanced attack that will at least put the wingers in position to finish off plays. This isn’t a sexy group by league-wide standards, but they don’t have to be. Bergeron’s leadership will continue to pay off in the room, while Krejci is the kind of guy motivated by the lost season a year ago. He took the team’s failure to make the playoffs personally, but talk is cheap- it will be interesting to see how he responds and if he can avoid the injury bug, a legitimate concern given his slight frame and the wear and tear on his body.

Kemppainen is the favorite for the bottom line coming out of camp but he’s not a lock. Should he struggle or Koko have a great outing, the coaching staff will be faced with some tough decisions. The standard play is usually to send the waiver-exempt players down and protect those who must be exposed, so we’ll see how things turn out. Chris Kelly has the versatility to play a fourth-line center role if the B’s want to use him there, but given his faceoff strengths, it makes sense to put him on the wing with Spooner on the third line until the youngster can earn more defensive zone faceoff trust from the coaches.

Ultimately, as long as the group stays healthy, the center position will be the least of Boston’s worries, but whether they can be good enough to make up for the rest of the team’s shortcomings remains to be seen.

I’ll be back with the preview on the wingers to include future options like Denver University’s LW Danton Heinen, who might be closer to the show than we realize.

Chris Kelly could be pressed into center duties if others fail (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Chris Kelly could be pressed into center duties if others fail (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)