Final thoughts on B’s 2019 Development Camp

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

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

Now, on to some notes about players:

Most notable performers

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

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

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

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

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

Other notables

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

2019 NHL Draft: Bruins take 4 on Day 2- On the long-range plan

19NHLDraft

VANCOUVER-  The Boston Bruins wrapped up the 2019 NHL Entry Draft with four selections covering rounds 3 and 5-7 on the second day here Saturday, taking three forwards and a defenseman.

The team, which came up agonizingly short in its bid to win the Stanley Cup, found itself with the penultimate selections in every round save for the seventh, and appeared to adopt a draft strategy of taking players that they can afford to wait a longer time on to develop versus players in Canadian major junior leagues who would require being signed within two years. This ultimately led to some higher-touted players on public lists and rankings being passed over in favor of prospects whose rights can be held by the team for the next five years, allowing the team to slow-play the integration of prospects into their system. With just two selections in the top-95 and five total, this was one of those drafts where the B’s didn’t generate much buzz the way other clubs with more plentiful and earlier selections like New Jersey, the NY Rangers, the LA Kings, Vegas, Colorado and even the Minnesota Wild, who appear on paper to have done pretty well, were able to do at Rogers Arena.

Here’s a quick recap of Boston’s Day 2 picks, but admittedly, we didn’t know a great deal about the two European players taken.

3/92 Quinn Olson, C/L Okotoks (AJHL): The inbound University of Minnesota-Duluth forward can skate and has offensive skill plus high effort/compete and energy levels. He played much of the season with 2020 NHL 1st-round candidate Dylan Holloway, so it will be interesting to see how much of Olson’s impressive production in Tier 2 hockey last season was a product of playing with the league’s top forward in Holloway. Olson doesn’t possess ideal size, but he plays with a relentless style and is bigger than he looks on the ice because of his pace and willingness to initiate contact. He is heading to a top NCAA program with the 2-time defending champion Bulldogs, and will probably sign and turn pro in about 3 years. He’s like a higher-end Karson Kuhlman to draw a comparison to another former UMD player, and makes sense to the Bruins at the end of the third round, even if he was projected to be picked later on. Some of that has more to do with the lack of exposure the AJHL has to many of the draft publications out there, but Olson is a good player. It’s a sneaky kind of pick, but one that could produce a solid middle-six forward with some modest upside down the road.

Quotable: “Two-way center. Has a great pair of legs. He’s got deceptive speed. He has excellent vision, can make high-end plays. A little undersized at this time, we’re hoping for some development physically. We’re excited about this player as well. If he can develop and put some muscle on, he’s got some jam. He’s put up points in each and every year.”- Scott Bradley, Bruins Assistant GM

5/154 Roman Bychkov, D/L Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (MHL): The B’s drafted this smallish but dynamic-skating Russian, who has received some mixed reviews about his ultimate offensive ceiling. One thing scouts at the draft aren’t divided on however is his feet: he can wheel, able to accelerate to speed quickly and tremendous on his edges, often eluding forecheckers and opening up skating lanes for himself because he can change directions so effortlessly. Although not tall, he tends to use his lower center of gravity to good effect and has a decent stick/defensive game. Bychkov drew positive attention for his performance with the silver-medal winning Russian World Jr. A Challenge and World U18 squads. It marks the second year in  a row the B’s have drafted a Russian player after going 2012-17 without a single selection from that country. He’s an interesting flyer kind of project pick in that he compares in style and substance to current B’s prospects Victor Berglund (2017) and Axel Andersson (2018) as defenders who can really skate and move the puck, but who don’t have an established high NHL ceiling. Time will tell on this one, but some out there have time for him.

Quotable:Feet don’t get tied up in front of own goal’ smartly steps into open turns preventing himself from getting bottled up…smart positional player who adjusts routes at the last minute to surprise puck carriers with fast footwork on startup to jump up and stay with fast developing rushes.”- Mark Staudinger, Red Line Report

6/185 Matias Mantykivi F/L SaiPa (Finland- SM Liiga): This skilled offensive forward has average size and skating, but is crafty with the puck and has some impressive offensive hockey sense when talking to those who have scouted him. An 18-year-old who was able to play both junior and pro hockey this year in his native Finland, it speaks to his potential that one so young is already getting chances to play against men, and his skating may have looked a little rougher because of the transition to the faster-paced pro game. He’s probably not ever going to be a burner or even a plus-skater given his smaller stature, but his hands and offensive creativity are strong suits. Again- there were other North American major junior players ranked higher than MM, but the B’s felt that they could draft him on the longer-term plan and take their time here. Good strategy or ultimately a roll of the dice that will come up snake eyes? We shall see, but we are talking about a pick made that was in the seventh-round range before Vegas joined the league, so it isn’t like the expectations for this pick are out of line with the value it represents.

Quotable: “Very smart player- hockey sense is- we considered not elite but very special or he can be someday.”- Bradley

7/192 Jake Schmaltz F/L Chicago Steel (USHL): The cousin of NHLers Nick and Jordan Schmaltz, this was a surprise pick here just because the newest Bruin is a player we have seen a good bit of going back to the 2017-18 season when he was on the Team Wisconsin 16U midget AAA team that reached the T1 midget title game before falling to the Chicago Mission 16s. Schmaltz has always been a responsible 2-way forward, but he was a raw, physically underdeveloped player as a midget who got better and better as the year went on, ultimately leading to his being drafted as a 2001-born player by Chicago in the USHL draft a year ago and making the team as a 17-year-old. He didn’t play a great deal behind some other more highly-skilled and productive forwards on the Steel, who fell to the Sioux Falls Stampede in the Clark Cup championship last month. There’s not much of a dynamic element to his game- he skates well and is tall and lanky at this point- he’ll have a lot of room to fill out going forward. Headed to the University of North Dakota after another year in the USHL, don’t expect a major increase in points production, but Schmaltz is a smart, efficient forward who should be good for maybe 30-40 as the team’s 2nd-line center. His GM with the Steel is former Bruins scout Ryan Hardy.

Quotable: “He was a real core and anchor for (the Steel)- he anchored their third line this year. They went deep, they went to the finals and we thought he was a big part of their team in his role. He killed penalties and was great on draws. He’s a developing kid- he’s 6-1 and 180 right now and we project him to be closer to 200 pounds and 6-2 when it’s all said and done. He’s a 2-way player and his skating will pick up with some strength.”- Bradley

Final review: With John Beecher going late in the first round, the Bruins draft class isn’t a lot to write home about. Beecher is an impressive physical package with enough talent to play in the NHL, but he doesn’t quite have the offensive wow factor of other players who were on the board at 30. He’s likely going to play in the league for a long time, so to get a good fit like Beecher bodes well for the B’s 2019 draft, but the rest of the class is harder to project.

They didn’t land any top-end talent in any of the rounds but did pick up some interesting prospects who could develop into players who end up being more than the sum of their parts right now. It’s tough when you only have 2 picks in the first three rounds and are going at the end of every round save the last one, so we can certainly see what the Bruins were trying to do here, even if it is a pretty “middle of the fairway” kind of draft. Quinn Olson could end up becoming a solid middle tier prospect in the organization and one player who becomes more of a fan favorite after they watch him in development camp.

One of the mistakes fans and casual process observers sometimes make especially with respect to the NHL draft is viewing it in a linear fashion- it not always is, and the approach varies from team to team. Because the Bruins had a lot of picks in 2015-17 plus undrafted free agents put into the mix, they don’t have a great deal of room to draft a lot more OR take players who are going to be forced to sign and turn pro within the two-year pick and sign window mandated for major junior players. Bradley confirmed this after all the picks were in by saying that unless a CHL player was someone they were absolutely sure on this time around, they were looking more at college and European players who can develop on a longer timeline. This explains to a degree why the B’s passed on Arthur Kaliyev and his 51 goals- you don’t have to like it or agree but it there is anything the electric OHL scorer showed, it was despite the impressive scoring, he was not a sure bet- otherwise he wouldn’t have fallen out of the 1st round. Other teams who don’t have as many prospects vying for contracts and spots in the pipeline have to take a more CHL (major junior)-centric approach in their drafting. It’s a cycle and so the B’s are in a different place right now than other clubs- observers don’t have to like it, but it demonstrates the thinking behind some of these selections.

The draft is always tough because people are conditioned to have strong opinions on players the vast majority of fans have never even seen. Just reading this blog might condition you to be a big fan of Bobby Brink to the Bruins for example, but in the end-while they liked him, he wasn’t in the cards because the team felt Beecher was a better fit and player for them in the long run.

Outside of Olson, the rest of the B’s selections appear to be a lot of: hmmm…interesting…maybe…I don’t know kinds of players, but again- the Bruins have their process and stick to it. Drafts are lauded and/or criticized every year so in 2019, if there appear to be negatives than positives it goes with the territory. At some point, Boston’s draft strategy will shift back to some of the more traditional and immediate player pipelines, but for now, we see what they are doing and we have no choice but to wait and see how it all pans out in another 3-5 years or more.