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”

 

 

 

3 Amigos Podcast with special guest Torey Krug

Torey Krug game show

Torey Krug (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The 3 Amigos ride again…TSP founder Kirk Luedeke, and Ontario pals Dominic Tiano (OHL Writers) and Reed Duthie (Hamilton Bulldogs play-by-play) have teamed up for a pre-season podcast after a long summer and we brought some big guns to the podcast- Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug.

My initial reaction after seeing some of the criticism of the Bruins signing Krug to a four-year extension in late June- shortly before the start of free agency- was to do this…

lyanna2

Lady Lyanna Mormont reacts to those who took issue with the Torey Krug extension.

Enough with the teaser, though- Krug joins us at the front of the podcast to talk about the extension, being a smaller defenseman in the NHL, his outlook on leadership, and many other topics including an outlook on the B’s defense.

Once he departs, Dom Reed and yours truly talk a little Zach Senyshyn, OHL 2017 NHL draft hopefuls and of course- the World Cup of Hockey.

Apologies for the quality of the audio- this is a low-budget, low-tech operation, but at least we’re not charging you to listen.

Enjoy the podcast and thanks as always for the support!

-Dom, Kirk & Reed

 

Bruins post-development camp prospect check- the Amateurs

McAvoy2

We’re back with part 2 of the mid-summer look at where the prospects in the Boston Bruins organization stack up.

As previously mentioned in part 1 when we reviewed 23 of the prospects who will play in the pro hockey ranks this coming season, this is a subjective list based on multiple inputs to include (but not limited to) live viewings and film study, input from members of the Bruins organization and some sources around the NHL not with Boston, media and fan observers who attended the recent development camp in Wilmington from July 12-15.

This is just one view and take- there will no doubt be disagreement, but I would offer that even if the Bruins as an organization released their own rankings of where they think their prospects stack up from 1 to 40-something, folks would still take issue with it. We would live in a mighty boring world if everything was definitive and we agreed on everything.

So, with that in mind, here is the supplemental podcast (complete with Dirty Harry theme music from the early 1970’s) and the write-ups on the kids expected to spend the season in the amateur ranks for 2016-17.

The Amateurs (NCAA and CHL/major junior)

  1. Charlie McAvoy, RD  Plus: The 14th overall pick has the skating and sense to become a legitimate two-way presence on the blue line in the NHL one day; watch for him to take a significant step forward in his development during his sophomore season at Boston University. Minus: He’s only about 6-foot tall; lacks the kind of ideal NHL height for the position, and needs to keep honing his judgment and decisions as an aggressive offensive player who can at times get too far up the ice.
  2. Zach Senyshyn, RW Plus: A year after tallying 26 goals on the bottom line and without much special teams time, the 15th selection in 2015 scored 45 goals to lead the Soo Greyhounds; he’s a big, explosive and skilled scoring presence on the right side. Minus: The goals are great, but the 19-year-old has work to do in his 200-foot game; he has a tendency to wait for the next scoring chance or let others go and get him the puck.
  3. Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, RC Plus: When it comes to maturity, poise and a complete game at the center position, no prospect brings more promise than the BU sophomore; he’s already earned an ‘A’ on his sweater, and has drawn positive comparisons to Patrice Bergeron for his pure intelligence and playing style. Minus: The Stockholm native and 45th overall pick from 2015 does’t seem to have the kind of exciting and dynamic offensive upside of others in his draft class, but he’s one of those players who will likely play 10-15 years as a key cog because he can do a little bit of everything.
  4. Jeremy Lauzon, LD Plus: Underrated no more after a 50-point season (he only played in 46 games due to WJC camp and injuries); 2015 second-rounder has skill, smarts and some jam/toughness as a two-way D prospect who keeps getting better. Minus: He gets lost in the sauce a bit with all of the competition for blue line jobs in Boston; had a tough time staying healthy with a variety of injuries including a serious skate cut to the neck that could have severed a nerve and ended his career.
  5. Ryan Donato, LC (Scituate, Mass.) Plus: Coming into his own after a strong freshman season at Harvard; was one of Boston’s real standouts at the development camp, showcasing his high-end hockey sense and hands throughout. Minus: Still several years away from competing for an NHL job; needs to keep developing the physical aspect of his game and must continuing moving forward in his three-zone progress.
  6. Jake DeBrusk, LW Plus: High-end hands plus very good hockey IQ/offensive creativity make DeBrusk a legitimate scoring threat every time he has the puck on his stick; good attitude and drive- overcame a debilitating lower body injury early in the season to finish strong in the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament. Minus: His size and strength are pretty average and he might be ‘tweener right now in terms of not quite being ready physically for the pro hockey grind- could return to the WHL for his overage season.
  7. Jakub Zboril, LD Plus: Came to camp leaner and in better shape with more jump and energy than was reported a year ago; when on his game has all the tools in the toolbox to be a No. 2 or 3 two-way NHL D with some bite and nastiness on the physical side.  Minus: At times loses his focus and appears disinterested; the positive strides last week are encouraging, but Zboril still has to prove that he can maintain his intensity and consistency over a longer period of time. He has impressive big league potential if he can put it all together.
  8. Jesse Gabrielle, LW Plus: Surprise (maybe not to him and his supporters) 40-goal scorer after being picked in the fourth round a year ago plays the kind of scoring game with an edge that Boston fans love; has worked himself into excellent shape and added strength and mass since being drafted. Minus: Will have to guard against a letdown season now that WHL opponents will be keying on him this year; as a ’97-born player he has to make the Boston roster out of camp or go back for a full season with Prince George- he can’t play in the AHL on a full-time basis yet.
  9. Ryan Lindgren, LD Plus: All-around skilled and hard-nosed defender is a proven leader and player; Minnesota product has no flaws in his game and could be the captain-in-waiting of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers if he spends enough years there. Minus: He’s only about 6-feet in height, so given his physical nature, he will face some limitations in certain matchups and could pay the price physically; there isn’t a ton of dynamic upside here.
  10. Ryan Fitzgerald, LC (North Reading, Mass.) Plus: Feisty, gritty center erupted offensively as a junior with his finest season for BC- will contend for the 2017 Hobey Baker Award. He’s got terrific hockey sense and a nonstop motor that inspires teammates and infuriates opponents. Minus: The size and skating concerns have followed him since before the long-time Massachusetts minor hockey standout was drafted at the end of the fourth round three years ago. Might need to move to wing to thrive as a pro.
  11. Anders Bjork, RW Plus: One of the top performers last week at development camp with his speed and energy, it all comes after he surprisingly let the Fighting Irish in scoring as a sophomore last season. Minus: Bjork is an interesting player to watch- he was a late fifth-round pick in 2014 and could be one who tries to leverage  path to free agency if the Bruins are unable to sign him this year.
  12. Trent Frederic, LC Plus: The polarizing pick in the 2016 draft’s first round has settled concerns down some with his fine size, athletic ability and willingness to roll up the sleeves and get to work. He’s a strong two-way player and solid citizen who might just be scratching the surface in terms of his offensive game and potential. Minus: There’s not a lot to get excited about here- Frederic has impressive physical tools but is raw and might not ever be much more than a bottom-six forward assuming he reaches the top rung of the pro hockey ladder.
  13. Wiley Sherman, LD (Greenwich, Conn.) Plus: Huge (6-7) defender is such a fluid, impressive skater for one so big and that’s always been his calling card going back to his days at the Hotchkiss School.  Minus: Scouts are divided on his long-term potential: the physical tools are on another level, but can Sherman react and process the game effectively enough to thrive in the NHL?
  14. Cameron Hughes, LC Plus: Highly skilled, creative playmaker was a late-round pick out of the Wisconsin Badgers and showed solid progression in his sophomore season with 25 points in 32 games- watch for his production to go up with new coaches who will lean on him. Minus: He’s a smallish player trapped in a light 6-foot frame that isn’t going to get all that bigger based on the body type; while talented, he can be neutralized by teams with size and mobility on the blue line.
  15. Matt Benning, RD Plus: Smart, opportunistic defender who plays bigger than his 6-foot frame and has been a standout at Northeastern over the past three seasons. Minus: Benning was not asked to attend development camp, and according to the ProJo’s Mark Divver, that could be a harbinger to his imminent departure from the organization either via trade or by pursuing similar action by Kevin Hayes, Mike Reilly and Jimmy Vesey to play out the NCAA string in 2017 and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
  16. Cam Clarke, RD Plus: Smooth-skating intelligent rearguard can move the puck and excels with extra time and space as a PP QB; he’ll get a chance at premium playing time right off the bat at Ferris State. Minus: He’s still quite raw and observers pointed to times during the development camp when he was a little behind compared to other players. Clarke was drafted in the fifth round as a known project, and the payoff will take time if at all.
  17. Joona Koppanen, LC Plus: Big (6-5) center has the skating and smarts to make the NHL one day in more of a defensive, shutdown role; he’s seriously considering the NCAA path, which would be a good step for him.  Minus: There’s just not a whole lot there in terms of hands, offensive skill and long-term potential beyond being a serviceable bottom-liner and journeyman.
  18. Jack Becker, RC Plus: 6-foot-3 power center as some impressive finishing skills, especially in close when time and space are lacking; shows some intriguing offensive potential in flashes after a solid but unspectacular USHL season in Sioux Falls. He scored a memorable breakaway goal in the camp-ending scrimmage. Minus: University of Wisconsin-bound 2015 7th-rounder was once described as “thorny” by a scout in that he’s got a lot of developing ahead, and like Clarke- was said to struggle at times in camp last week with the pace and demands of the drills.
Trent Frederic was Boston's 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

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

Boston Bruins post-development camp prospect check- the Pros

Heinen

The purpose of this two-post series is to make a quick snapshot of where one analyst sees the Boston Bruins’ professional prospect depth chart stacking up after the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and this past week’s development camp. We’ll start with he professional players who are expected to be in Providence or in the North American and European pro ranks this season. On Monday, we’ll hit the amateur (NCAA and junior players).

Caveat up front- I did not personally attend development cam this year, so am basing my assessment on feedback from members of the Bruins organization, media and fans who were there in person to see the players. I have seen every prospect on the list, either on film or live, so the bulk of this assessment comes not from four days of on-ice drills and a 3-on-3 scrimmage, but from a season and in several cases, multiple years worth of evaluation. Note- I am only covering players aged 25 or under, so that takes Tommy Cross out of the mix on this list for those who might be wondering. Noel Acciari  and Chris Casto just make the cut as December 1991-born players.

Here we go, and I’ve done an audio file to supplement the limited write-ups below, so for all you Bruins hockey junkies, there’s more content in this post than ever…tell your friends!

The Pros (AHL, ECHL or Europe)

  1. Frank Vatrano, LW (East Longmeadow, Mass.) Plus: Put up mind-boggling numbers with 36 goals (55 points) in as many AHL games, while adding another eight goals in 39 NHL games with the big Bruins. The undrafted free agent turned himself into a sleek scoring machine as a rookie pro and is primed for a bigger Boston role this year. Minus: Without ideal NHL height, Frank the Tank will have to maintain a high-energy pace and work in all three zones to maximize his potential.
  2. Danton Heinen, RW Plus: After two high-end scoring years as a collegian, he put up a pair of assists in his second AHL game last spring; with his genius-level hockey IQ and slick hands, the 2014 fourth-rounder could earn an NHL job right away. Minus: He’s about 6-foot and not even 200 pounds, so he’s going to have his hands full with the increased speed and physicality of the pro game.
  3. Brandon Carlo, RD Plus: Like Heinen, Carlo’s on a positive trajectory at making the Bruins right away- he’s 6-5 and can really skate and move, already a beast in his own end, something Boston lacked down the stretch a year ago. Minus: Not all that instinctive in the offensive end; could stand to play a lot of minutes in more of a top role and on the power play to try and tease more offensive production and build confidence.
  4. Rob O’Gara, LD Plus: At 6-4 and north of 220 pounds, this premier shutdown/defensive mind can also skate extremely well for one so big- his speed and footwork has always been advanced, and the rest of his game has come along quite well in the five years since he was drafted in the fifth round. Minus: More of a “safe” prospect than one you would assign talk of high “upside” or “ceiling” to, O’Gara isn’t quite the physical specimen Carlo is (they’re close), but he may be a more complete defender when all is said and done.
  5. Colin Miller, RD Plus: “Chiller” has top-shelf skating, passing, shooting skills; showed off some offensive flair in his first NHL campaign, putting up a respectable 16 points in 42 games despite not having an overabundance of ice time/becoming a spare part in the season’s second half. Minus: The former LA Kings farmhand has a lot of work to do on the defensive side in terms of processing/making better decisions and improving his three-zone play.
  6. Austin Czarnik, C Plus: Dazzling offensive center impressed in his first rookie pro year with 50+ points to back up his tremendous speed, lightning-quick hands and ubermensch-worthy vision/hockey sense. Minus: At barely 5-8 (and that’s probably being charitable) the former Miami RedHawks captain wasn’t drafted, and will have to overcome size concerns at a position the Bruins are pretty deep at.
  7. Malcolm Subban, G Plus: The progress has been slower than expected, but there is no doubt that he’s one of the more dazzling athletic talents at the position and when healthy, has shown some major league promise. Minus: The fractured larynx was a significant setback, and if it hasn’t been one thing for Subban, it’s been another (    outplaying him in 2014-15)- this is the year that he proves his worth to Boston and justifies his selection in the 2012 first-round once and for all.
  8. Noel Acciari, C (Johnston, R.I.) Plus: Ace two-way center earned his way to Boston for a 19-game stint at the end of the year after being an undrafted free agent less than a year earlier; a good skater, superb faceoff man and intelligent, charismatic 24-year-old who plays the game hard, but clean- he’s got a lot in common with Patrice Bergeron, without the scoring. Minus: With just one NHL assist- there isn’t a whole lot of scoring in the well for the one-time captain of Providence College’s 2015 championship squad; as he turns 25 in Dec., there probably isn’t a whole lot of development left- he’s a solid, if unspectacular grinding bottom-line pivot.
  9. Matt Grzelcyk, LD (Charlestown, Mass.) Plus: When it comes to speed, sense, and spirit/heart- they aren’t built much better than the Townie, whose veins probably bleed black and gold; the former BU captain is an ultra-slick puck-moving defender who can push the pace and get the puck out of his own end with ease. Minus: At about 5-foot-10, Grzelcyk is going to have his hands full forcing his way into Boston’s top-six D rotation and might have to benefit from some luck and minors time to get there.
  10. Peter Cehlarik, RW Plus: Big-bodied Slovak plays the off-wing and signed with Boston after spending four years playing pro hockey in Sweden; he’s got a nice 6-foot-2 frame plus some offensive chops as a late third-round pick in 2013. Minus: He’s just an okay skater- he’s gotten better and can move pretty well in a straight line, but his first few steps and acceleration are clunky; he’s not great at the quick stops/starts/direction change and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the smaller North American ice surface.
  11. Zane McIntyre, G Plus: When it comes to drive and character, they don’t come much better than the native of Thief River Falls, Minn. who once earned top goalie honors in that state- named for former Bruins great Frank Brimsek; whenever tested, the 2010 sixth-rounder has always responded with dramatic improvement and maturity beyond his years. Minus: It was a tough transition to pro hockey for the NCAA’s best goalie; he’s got technique issues to work through and will have to fend off fellow pro Daniel Vladar for internal crease competition.
  12. Seth Griffith, RW Plus: Despite the odds working against a smallish forward without dynamic wheels, the 2012 fifth-rounder has seen NHL action in each of the past two seasons; he’s a highly creative scoring mind with the superb puck skills to set up plays or finish them off. Minus: We so want to have Griffith higher on the list, but what is he at the NHL level? Scorer? Checking forward? We probably know the answer to the second question, so he’ll have to make it in the top-two lines- good luck.
  13. Daniel Vladar, G Plus: Huge (6-5), athletic and learning- he put up pretty nice numbers with the Chicago Steel of the USHL in his first North American season; very tough to beat on the first shot and improving his technique. Minus: After the B’s signed him to a 3-year ELC in the spring, where is the still quite raw Czech native going to play next year? ECHL? AHL? Europe? Clock is now ticking on his timeline.
  14. Linus Arnesson, D Plus: A bit of a forgotten man and 2013 second-rounder didn’t forget how to play- he’s got good size, can skate, make a clean first pass and is a smart, savvy defensive player even if he’s very much on the vanilla side of the red line. Minus: Nagging injuries kept Arnesson from getting out of second gear, and questions about his vision and ability to process the game well in the offensive aspects mean that at best, he’s probably a 4/5 at the NHL level assuming he ever gets there.
  15. Brian Ferlin, RW Plus: Looking for someone who can play the right side effectively and has enough size to drive through traffic and skill to make things happen around the net? Ferlin’s your guy. Minus: After a promising rookie pro season in 2014-15 that saw him see seven NHL games near the end, a concussion forced him out of most of this year- he’s got a lot of work ahead to put himself back to the fore.
  16. Sean Kuraly, C Plus: With his pro-style body (6-2, 210) and wide skating base, the Ohioan gets around the ice pretty well and has shown the potential to be a solid if unspectacular bottom-six option, either at center or more likely on the wing somewhere. Minus: There’s just not a whole lot to get excited about when it comes to Kuraly’s hands and creativity- when forced to carry more of an offensive load for Miami U. as a senior, he flamed out.
  17. Anton Blidh, LW Plus: You gotta love this energetic, abrasive little cuss of a Swedish forward who plays bigger than his size and stands out with his pure hustle and physical style. Minus: Unless you’re fine with him on Boston’s fourth line (which is A-OK) there’s simply not enough pure talent/ability in our view for much of an impact at the NHL level.
  18. Colby Cave, C Plus: Fine skater with a fine two-way hockey IQ and the raw leadership skills that will be an asset in any room. Minus: We just don’t see much in terms of high-level skill, so he’ll have to win a spot on the bottom lines while swimming in a pretty deep pool.
  19. Chris Casto, RD Plus: With his thick build and pretty quick feet to go with a bomb of a shot, Casto is a bit like Arnesson in that he’s not suited to ride around near the top of Boston’s prospect lists; he just spent three years in Providence after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth and was qualified, so that speaks to the fact that the B’s saw something in him worth keeping around. Minus: Every team needs solid, safe, unspectacular players to feed their minor league farm teams and Casto might be that guy- unless the B’s get into a real pickle with injuries this season, it’s hard to envision him being seriously in the mix as a regular.
  20. Colton Hargrove, LW Plus: Put up surprising numbers in his first full AHL campaign; big, gritty power winger is heavy on the puck and finds ways to get dirty goals- one tough nut. Minus: There’s a lot of competition for bottom-six jobs and Hargrove  needs to improve his foot speed and maintain his focus/drive. He’s getting there.
  21. Emil Johansson, LD Plus: Another Swede in the Boston system- he impressed at development camp after a real strong finish to the Swedish pro season with HV71; he skates well and moves the puck with gusto- something the B’s desperately need. Minus: Excelling at drills against amateurs when you’re playing pro hockey overseas is one thing, being able to process, read and react in the NHL is another- still not sold on the 2014 seventh-rounder’s ultimate big league potential.
  22. Justin Hickman, F Plus: Coming off shoulder surgery, it was a frustrating year for the Seattle Thunderbirds captain and power forward who was slow out of the gate and never recovered. Minus: Undrafted free agent just another physical forward in a sea of them, but could rebound and improve his stock with better health and more confidence after playing through a challenging rookie season.
  23. Oskar Steen, F Plus: Energetic and gritty; excellent skater who has a low center of gravity and powers through would-be checkers while taking pucks tot he net. Minus: He probably deserves a better fate than to be at the bottom of the list, but someone has to bring up the rear- reports said he showed quite nicely in drills at development camp but was not as noticeable in the scrimmage/replicated game situations. A 5-9 forward has to be better at that.

3 Amigos Podcast: the Free Agency edition

The 3 Amigos ride again!

Dom, Reed and I are back with our 3rd podcast together, recapping the 1st week of NHL free agency with a decided Boston bent, covering David Backes, Anton Khudobin, Riley Nash, Tim Schaller and Alex Grant to name a few. Dom will tell you why he thinks Khudobin for two years, beyond the solid addition of a proven backup, has key implications for Malcolm Subban not getting snapped up in the expansion draft.

We also issue a Danger, Will Robinson! alert to fans of the Edmonton Oilers as we look at the impacts of recent signing and additions to that club’s cap picture and we see some eerie parallels to how it all came unraveled in Boston.

We also discuss (about 55 minutes in) the Bruins and Don Sweeney’s still pending move to upgrade the NHL talent on defense- that kind of a move to shore up the club’s right-shooting depth chart has been curiously lacking. Dom mentions an interesting name with Ontario connections and Reed has had plenty of looks and shares his thoughts on why this particular player (an RFA) might be a stealth target of the Bruins via trade.

All in all, it’s a little over 90 minutes of hockey talk, unvarnished and calling it like we see it. Ole!

The 3 Amigos Podcast Episode 2: NHL Free Agency preview & Bruins draft review

The 3 Amigos- LTD (Luedeke-Tiano-Duthie) are back with our second hockey podcast on the Scouting Post after previewing the OHL in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft on Father’s Day weekend.

This podcast not only recaps the Torey Krug extension and Dennis Seidenberg buyout, but looks at the Boston Bruins’ efforts in Buffalo, breaking down all of the players and handing out (admittedly premature) grades at the end. We also preview what is shaping up to be an active NHL free agent frenzy tomorrow.

We’re already hearing rumors that Oilers Prez and GM Peter Chiarelli is bringing Milan Lucic to Edmonton on a big deal on term and AAV. Just a crazy, wild thought here, but isn’t this the kind of thing that got Chiarelli shown the door in Boston? We break it down a bit. You’ll not find many bigger supporters of Lucic than yours truly- but if we’re talking 6 or 7 years at around $6.5-7M AAV, that could pose a huge risk for the Oil. Lucic is 28 and there’s a lot of tread on his tire- this contract if the rumors are right- could end up being an albatross in relatively short order if Lucic’s body doesn’t hold up. We shall see.

We also talk about the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, PK Subban for Shea Weber trades and the announcement that Steven Stamkos is staying in Tampa Bay- all huge stories from June 29.

We also dive into the B’s rumors, especially the reported offer sheet stuff and possible moves for Don Sweeney and company.

It’s a veritable smorgasbord and it clocks in at slightly under 1 hour and 45 minutes.    Alas, my esteemed colleague Reed Duthie was having some internet connectivity issues, so he breaks up in parts. Everyone’s a loser because we don’t exactly get every word he says, but he brings plenty of great insights. When you hear the connection go wonky, know it is not your computer acting up on you- the issue was on our end.

Finally, I posted 3 photos of Charlie McAvoy last night and promised to explain them. Our analysis comes at the 1:31:30 mark, so if you must have that burning meaning of life-type question answered for you, skip ahead.

Or listen to the whole thing. This podcast thing is fun! (Thanks for listening and all of the support for our merry little band- enjoy the theme music)

 

Point-Counterpoint Podcast: Trent Frederic

No pick was more polarizing at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft than Boston’s selection of U.S. National Team Development Program center Trent Frederic.

The Missouri native is a 6-2, 205-pound two-way pivot who scored 20 goals and 40 points in 61 games with Team USA. He’s a natural athlete who starred in three sports (hockey, football, baseball) and whose family consists of multiple high-end achievers and NCAA D1 athletes in the form of male and female siblings.

Frederic got high marks from the Bruins for his physicality and character.

Truth in lending- I was not all that impressed with him when I watched Frederic at the World Under-18 tourney, and if I had to guess, knowing where the staff at Red Line Report had him ranked, he’s got a good shot at being the most “overvalued” pick in the annual July draft recap issue coming in a couple of weeks. I could have put out a list of at least 20 players I would have picked before Frederic had you pinned me down on the 29th overall selection beforehand.

Having said that, he’s not a terrible player and could very well force a lot of folks (present company included) to eat crow at some point.

What follows is an attempt to provide a balanced podcast/audio file that argues both sides of the debate- that Frederic is a microcosm of the myriad doubts and issues that fans have with the Boston Bruins and their front office- versus the idea that Don Sweeney and chief scout Keith Gretzky knew what they were doing when they stood pat and picked Frederic with the second of two first-rounders.

Here’s the podcast. It clocks in at under 45 minutes and once again proves that brevity is not always my friend. There are 5 points that I argue both sides on:

  1. Frederic at 29 is bad asset management given that he wasn’t projected in the opening round.
  2. Gretzky being on the record that the team doesn’t see him as a top-2 line forward is an admission of failure and a disaster of a decision.
  3. Picking a checking/bottom-6 forward in the first round is *never* an option.
  4. If the Bruins wanted Frederic, then all they should have done is trade down and get him in the 30’s or 40’s.
  5. Because Frederic was ranked by most public lists lower than 29th overall, the team had no business picking him there.

Here’s the file…I fully understand I won’t convince everyone either way, but the goal here is to inform and give you some food for thought. If you’re at least willing to allow that there might be room to be patient on both sides, then we’re getting somewhere.

The one point I didn’t make enough in the podcast is an old scouting saw: Take the player you want where/when you want him. It’s easy for fans who haven’t scouted the players and logged the miles/put in the time all season to watch these guys and are invested in having them join the organization to demand that the team trade down, but it all comes down to how much risk the team’s leaders are willing to take.

For those who stick it out, I hope you’ll find it worth your time.

Reminder- I’ll be doing a more comprehensive post-draft recap podcast with Dominc Tiano and Reed Duthie aka “the 3 Amigos- LTD” on Thursday.

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

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

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

Here’s the audio:

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

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

Now, onto the mock draft:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Okay- that’s it. I’m off to Buffalo.

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

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

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

Scouting Post 2016 NHL Draft Podcast Pt. 2: Tiano & Duthie forge on

Thanks for the overwhelming interest in part 1 of the 2016 NHL draft OHL-centric podcast featuring Dominic Tiano and Reed Duthie!

Here is the second hour:

Tiano’s OHL Writers blog is a key source in the evaluation of NHL draft-eligible talent coming out of the CHL’s Ontario major junior circuit. Duthie is the play-by-play announcer for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs home broadcasts. Both bring a lot of knowledge and passion for the sport.

In hour 2, we pick up where technology left off, completing the thought process on Saginaw D Markus Niemelainen. Then, listen to Reed and Dom square off over defenseman Sean Day, as they engage in a “great debate” over whether the toolsy player who was granted exceptional status at age 15 is worth spending a top-60 selection on given his disappointing season and other concerns about his long-term NHL upside.

We also get into some of the underrated, undersized guys like Alex DeBrincat, Adam Mascherin and Will Bitten…the duo talk about players like Nathan Bastian, Taylor Raddysh and we also go further down the line on interesting risers like Guelph Storm forward Givani Smith and London speedster Cliff Pu (Puuuuuuuuu!).

Oh, yeah- and we circle back on London Knights power forward Max Jones– a bit of a controversial figure as you will hear from Reed and Dom. But, I neglected to have him in the 1st-round talk in hour 1- that was a mistake, because that’s where he’s almost assuredly expected to go this week.

There’s that and much, much more, as we tack on some time at the end of the 60 minutes to make up for what was lost in the first hour. You don’t have to be a Boston Bruins fan to get into the action here- as Dom feels that this is one of the strongest OHL draft classes in quite some time. Chances are- your favorite team will end up with one or more of them.

I have a few more posts this week before the draft, but for now- enjoy.

 

 

Scouting Post Podcast: Dominic Tiano and Reed Duthie on the 2016 NHL Draft OHL edition Pt. 1

So, here we are…the long awaited podcast with two friends and experts on the Ontario Hockey League, Dominic Tiano of OHL Writers and Reed Duthie, play-by-play announcer (for home games) of the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.

We did 2 hours of material, but breaking it into a pair of one-hour (pretty much) parts, and we’ll start this one with quick intros and then a brief discussion of the 2017 Stanley Cup final series between Pittsburgh and San Jose, recapping keys to success for the Pens and Sharks and then taking a closer look at what the Bruins might need to do to get things back on track.

After that, it’s a holistic focus on the OHL players eligible for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, starting at the very top with Matthew Tkachuk and getting to Markus Niemelainen before technical difficulties forced a tactical pause.

We’ll be back with part 2 soon so Dom can finish his thoughts on Niemelainen, and then we have an amusing point-counterpoint going on Sean Day between Reed and Dom before we continue the march down the list of OHL prospects.

So regardless of what NHL team you happen to root for, if you want a comprehensive look at the guys coming out of the OHL for this year’s draft, both podcasts are for you!

Will let you listen to this and chew on it for a bit and then will post the second hour of the OHL-centric NHL draft podcast later this weekend.

Oh, and the video was just me being a rookie and not paying attention to what I was doing…part 2 will be audio only, but you’re all stuck looking at half of my face and my shiny bald head for most of this…apologies!