Cameron Hughes: Then & Now

Cameron Hughes, C Providence (AHL)/Boston Bruins (NHL)

Hughes then:

March 25, 2016

He stands only about 6-foot and has an extremely light frame that won’t fill out all that much as he matures, but Hughes is gritty and willing to stick his nose in. He’s not ultra speedy, but moves well laterally and brings shifty elusiveness, especially in traffic. Hughes only tallied five goals, and has been more of a passer/playmaker at every level, but his vision and creativity are impressive attributes.

May 5, 2016

Entering the 2014-15 season, Hughes was thought of as top-three round prospect after starring with Spruce Grove of the AJHL, but he was underdeveloped physically and playing for a poor team in the Wisconsin Badgers. Things improved for Hughes this past year (5 goals, 25 points in 32 games), though Wisconsin was still below .500, costing head coach Mike Eaves his position. The Edmonton native is an above average playmaker who sees the ice beautifully and sets the table well. Watch for him to take the offense up a notch as a junior, but he needs to keep adding weight to his skinny frame, and will likely be asked to shoot the puck more.

June 11, 2016

A highly creative and skilled playmaking pivot, Hughes impressed RLR staffers going back to the 2013-14 season when he was a standout in the AJHL with the Spruce Grove Saints. Unfortunately, Hughes had the double whammy in his draft year of playing on a poor Wisconsin Badgers team, coupled with being physically under-developed in going up against the bigger, stronger, older NCAA competition. Hughes had a better offensive season as a sophomore and showed some flashes of NHL-caliber ability (he could work his way up to second-line center one day, as crazy as that might sound today), but the consistent production wasn’t there for him. Under a new coach and perhaps being a year older and a better surrounding cast, watch Hughes to open up some eyes this coming year.

May 16, 2017

Hughes has always been more of a set-up man than finisher, but with his offensive potential, it makes sense to hold onto him, put him in Providence and see what happens next. Of course- with so many prospects in the pipeline and a 50-contract limit for Sweeney and cap/roster management-centric assistant GM John Ferguson Jr. to work against, it’s also possible that Hughes might not make the final cut.

The key thing here is that Hughes has taken positive steps every season since being drafted, and as long as he continues to produce and play well as one of Wisconsin’s veteran leaders, there’s the chance that even if the B’s have to make a tough decision regarding his future in Boston, they can still leverage him for a future asset(s) they can kick down the road. Or- Hughes will play so well this season that the team keeps him and moves another player(s) out to give the team enough of a buffer to sign him and keep him in the system.

It’s one of those things you file under: “a good problem to have.”

Cameron Hughes now:

The Wisconsin Badgers former captain signed his ELC with the Bruins at the conclusion of his senior season in 2018, and he’s had modest offensive success at the AHL level. His rookie season (28 points in 52 games) was better than this past year when his production fell off (16 in 44), but that was impacted by a concussion he suffered taking a big hit (from former Providence and Bruins D Tommy Cross)  that forced him out of the Providence lineup for a time. He made his NHL debut on Nov. 4, playing in one scoreless game with the Bruins against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A high-end playmaking/passing center, it’s hindsight now, but Wisconsin didn’t do him any favors by bringing him into the B1G 10 as a 17-year-old true freshman. He was physically underdeveloped, and it took him some time to get going- a year in the USHL would have likely served him much better, but it’s water under the bridge. Had Hughes gone to the ‘U’ there’s a good chance he would not have fallen into the sixth round, where the Bruins got a pretty good value pick after he was projected to be a top-3-round pick entering the 2014-15 season.

He still has the wheels, pure skill and brains to create offense. He’s a shade under 6-feet in height, and is still pretty light on the scales at about 170 pounds. His shifty, crafty style of play is noticeable on the ice, as he sees the ice well and is often able to elude checkers to find seams in defenses. Unfortunately, he’s also susceptible to taking big hits and this past season, it caught up to him.

Outlook: 

Hughes has the talent and IQ to be a solid depth forward at the NHL level, but isn’t likely ever going to develop into a top-2 line guy. Our biggest question with him has always been: is he a ‘tweener?

Hughes was not a prolific goal scorer even at the lower levels; not once in four years at Wisconsin did he ever produce double digit tallies (nor did he have a point-per-game season in Madison). Nevertheless, he’s always tallied some strikes that are jaw-dropping in nature, and so he has it in him to score a bit at the highest level, even if it’s not going to be a regular occurrence.

He moves his feet, skates with his head up and has some impressive net-drive moves to get to pucks and put them away. His best attributes are his vision, hands and work ethic. He was captain at Wisconsin and is a respected member of the teams he’s on.

At this stage of his development, he’s got an opportunity to make more of an impact at the AHL level as he continues to gain pro hockey experience. If he can use his positive attributes to play an effective three-zone game, he could make a push to establish himself on the lower lines in Boston at some point.

Realistically, it’s a pretty crowded field, and the impression we’re left with is that he might be more of a journeyman player who will need a change of scenery to set himself up best to be an every day NHLer. For a sixth-round pick, he’s done well, but we’d be surprised if he beats out other centers in Boston’s system (including his Wisconsin and current Providence teammate Trent Frederic) to carve out a niche in the Black and Gold.

 

Here’s a replay of his greatest NCAA goal, scored against Boston College in the fall of 2016. Warning- Filth factor is an 11 on the 10-scale:

Here’s a fun video from Wisconsin days with Frederic…

Urho Vaakanainen: Then & Now

The prospect series returns on Tuesday with a then and now look at Boston’s top selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.- KL

Urho Vaakanainen: Then

June 24, 2017:

A smooth-skating defender who describes his own playing style of one similar to NHL All-Star Roman Josi, Vaakanainen has spent the last two seasons playing pro hockey in the Finnish SM-Liiga. Tall, with a thin build, the 18-year-old was a member of Finland’s gold medal and silver medal-winning U18 teams in 2016-17, and also played on the 2017 WJC (U20) squad that woefully underperformed in Canada last winter.

Described by one NHL scout as a player whose “skating is first-rate; he can pivot and cut decisively in tight spaces and change direction on a dime,” the same talent evaluator also said that Vaakanainen “may not possess the high-level hands and offensive hockey IQ to be a top scoring presence on an NHL blue line.”

In going with Vaakanainen, the B’s bolstered the left side of their blue line while passing on some popular names up front who were projected to be good fits in pre-draft analysis, namely the big and talented Vesalainen (whose slide ended with Winnipeg at 24), Ryan Poehling (Montreal) and Robert Thomas (St. Louis).

“I’m a great skater, I can move the puck, I have a great first pass,” Vaakanainen said after his selection. “I’m a complete package- a two-way defenseman and steady guy.”

August 9, 2018:

Talent Analysis

Although not overly tall and having a relatively lean build, Vaakanainen plays with a long stick and uses his reach effectively. He’s got fluid feet: very good initial burst, an effortless stride and is crisp and balanced on his edges. This is a player who can move well in all directions- what is known as a “compass skater” in scouting parlance- and has the explosive first couple of steps and quick, smooth direction change that translates well in the short area game, something becoming more and more critical for NHL defenders going forward. Forwards who try to drive wide on him with speed will almost always run out of room to the far wall before they can make that sharp net drive- his feet are simply too good for that.

Intelligent and poised, UV sees the ice and is capable of defending the rush and keeping opponents away from the front of his net with an active stick. An economy of motion player, he is patient and will often allow skaters to take themselves out of lanes because he moves so well and keeps his stick in passing lanes.

Vaakanainen is not an exceptional player with the puck on his stick. When we scouted him at the U-18s two years ago, he moved pucks efficiently, but kept it pretty simple with higher percentage breakouts, a style in stark contrast to Charlie McAvoy, who is dynamic when in possession of the puck and can carry it out on his own when he has ice in front of him. This is not to say UV doesn’t have any skill, but he tends bring a simplified approach- he gets back quickly on retrievals and can then move the puck to the right areas. Where we have seen him get into trouble is when an aggressive forecheck either with an explosive F1 or 2-skater attack gets in on him quickly and forces UV to make faster decisions. In order to maximize his impressive skating, he’s going to have to be more decisive and avoid the temptation to hold onto the puck too long or just try the blind rim, which can lead to d-zone turnovers. He doesn’t have a heavy or overpowering shot- he tends to score by using a quick-release snap shot that he gets off his stick quickly versus an exaggerated windup and clapper. We’d like to see him try and get more pucks to the net, however.

Not a physical defender, UV manages his gaps well, using his lateral agility and long reach to angle effectively and close off skating lanes in the middle of the ice, where attacking forwards are at their most dangerous. The lack of physicality and bulk means that he’ll likely need support from his forwards when the puck gets down low and along the walls.

Overall, the offensive projection is still a work in progress- the B’s don’t need him to shoot the lights out or rack up assists as long as he can help speed the transition game to break pucks out while also keeping the opposition to the outside. His pro experience gives him a refined game, maturity and poise beyond where  many of his peers are- he doesn’t turn 20 until January and many of the guys picked in the same draft are going back to junior for one more year.

Urho Vaakanainen now:

Two years into his North American pro career, Vaakanainen has been a mixed bag so far.

His rookie pro season, split between Providence of the AHL and Boston was derailed with concussion issues, but he showed promise, putting up nearly a half a point per game in the AHL with the Baby B’s- solid production for a player in his first campaign. That was likely a reflection of his several years in the Finnish SM-Liiga, which compares favorably to the level of play seen in the AHL, so unlike junior players who face a transition to pro hockey, Vaakanainen’s transition was more in line with the smaller ice surfaces here versus what he competed on at home.

He made his NHL debut, playing sparingly in Boston before getting hurt (thanks to a dirty Mark Borowiecki elbow when Vaakanainen went to the net looking for a rebound), and missing a bulk of the 18-19 hockey season, with just 32 total appearances split between the show and minor league.

He played more games in 19-20 with Providence, getting into 54 before the AHL season was postponed in March due to COVID-19 (it was officially canceled yesterday). His production. however, was down significantly from where it was the year before, with the same amount of points, but with 24 more games played. He got into five NHL games with the B’s, again playing sparingly as a depth piece during his call up.

When drafted, Vaakanainen was talked about by the team as a 2-way defenseman and other hockey sources touted his offensive upside, but to be frank- we never really saw it. He’s more of a smooth, efficient defender who can chip in offensively and is mobile in retrievals and breakouts, but isn’t the prototype 2-way defender who joins the rush, quarterbacks the power play and is a consistent impact performer at both ends of the ice.

That is not a knock on him, but at the same time, he was not a significant offensive presence in 84 pro league games with JYP and SaiPa in his native Finland, and we’re doubtful that his point production is going to be all that significant at the NHL level. That is not to say that he won’t be a successful defenseman, but expectations should be tempered.

He can skate and move pucks, and has a good stick- those attributes will all help him establish himself as an everyday D at the highest level. We would like to see more of a competitive side and edge to his play- at times, the pace looks pretty average and he’s not all that tough a player to go up against. There are some intriguing positives, and his superb skating is a top carry tool. But we’d be lying if we said we didn’t expect more from him in year two. Granted, the injuries have set him back, but at some point, potential needs to translate into tangible results.

Outlook:

At this stage, he looks to project as more of a middle-of-the-roster depth player than a true blue 1/2 NHL D. You can certainly take that, but given where he was drafted and what some of the other options were at the time, if we redid the 2017 draft’s 1st round, he’s a bubble guy in our view.

The 20-21 is going to be a critical one for Vaakanainen. Smooth and efficient is fine- but on a relatively crowded Boston blue line, you’d like to see some more assertiveness and pop to be comfortable projecting that he’ll develop into an NHL regular. He’s still plenty young and there’s a lot to like, but he’s got his work cut out for him.

***

Sportsnet Clip then: When B’s selected Vaakanainen (note the comments after the pick- not much about offensive upside- all about his defense/stay-at-home acumen as Miro Heiskanen’s D partner in international competition)

NESN video on his 2018 development camp

Here’s the Borowiecki elbow- no call. Bravo to Billy Jaffe for calling out the officials’ incompetence on this one. Ladies and gentlemen- your moern NHL referees- where they can stand mere feet away and watch a flagrant foul but since it happens to some unknown Finnish rookie? No call. But boy- hook some 1st class NHL citizen away from the play with no impact, and you’d better believe the whistle is coming out…gross.

 

 

Zach Senyshyn: Then & Now

We continue updating Boston Bruins prospects in two different series with Zach Senyshyn. We’re taking the longer, more detailed approach with the 15th overall selection from 2015, with some superb past content from Dominic Tiano who has been following him longer than most of us.-KL

Zach Senyshyn Then on Scouting Post:

July 18, 2015 (One of the very first posts of the blog)

Zachary Senyshyn, RW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-2, 195

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The 2015 NHL draft’s first true off-the-board pick has the natural skills to eventually justify the selection, even if the Bruins took an acknowledged risk with other more established players on the board. The good news: the Ottawa-area product is a fine skater who can beat defenders wide with his speed, takes pucks to the net and has the hands to find the back of the net with regularity. On the downside- scouts question his natural creativity and there is significant risk associated with him if he does not take the next anticipated step in the OHL with the departure of several key veterans he was playing behind. Although he isn’t an intimidating presence on the ice, Senyshyn is saying and doing all the right things and demonstrated his raw, but promising talent at development camp.

August 16, 2015

Zach Senyshyn scouting report:
Senyshyn plays a north/south game with very good size and still room to fill out. He has a very powerful skating stride with quick acceleration in his first few strides and top end speed. He has the ability to beat defenders with that speed one-on- one and the tenacity to drive to the net with the puck.

Senyshyn can throw a big hit but it’s not something he goes out looking for. He will battle along the boards for pucks and wins more of those battles than he loses. He possesses that same work ethic in his own zone. He plays the game in high gear from the drop of the puck to the final buzzer.

At times, Senyshyn has shown to make an excellent pass. His playmaking abilities weren’t really noticeable in his first year, but as he enters year two in the OHL, and playing with more talented players, it’ll be his time to shine.– Dominic Tiano

July 18, 2016: Bruins development camp roundup

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.

May 12, 2017- Another profile of Senyshyn from OHL analyst Dominic Tiano:

We all know Senyshyn is an elite-level skater who can beat defenders wide. He also possesses an NHL shot already. He’s willing to stand in front of the goal and take his licks and knock in rebounds. He plays smart with his stick seemingly always on the ice waiting for the pass. He has subtle little moves that allow for that extra 6-12 inches to get into a lane. Only time will tell how it translates to the NHL.

But for now, a year in the AHL is probably the best thing for him and the Bruins.

Zach Senyshyn now:

Three years into his pro career and after the above post was written, the time has mostly been spent in the AHL with the exception of 6 NHL games (1 empty-net goal, 3 points).  The projection on Senyshyn is just about in focus: He’s probably more of a third-line/middle-of-the-roster forward at the NHL level at best, which, in the context of his draft position, validates the concerns around the choice when it was made.

Mat Barzal (Islanders), Kyle Connor (Jets), Brock Boeser (Canucks), Travis Konecny (Flyers) and Anthony Beauvilier (Islanders)- all forwards drafted after the 15th selection, have established themselves as impact players, each with at least 121 NHL points (Barzal leads the pack with 207, while Connor is close behind with 201). There is no denying five years after the draft that the Bruins did not get the best value out of that pick. Like fellow 1st-rounder Jakub Zboril, Senyshyn has been a victim of others’ success more than the has been a subpar performer. And there is no denying the fact that a lot of people have taken great pains to point that out from day one.

Even with the potential surrounding the Senyshyn pick at the time, it was a given that he would be a project who would take time to justify the selection. However, the slower, more deliberate NHL timeline we predicted on this blog at the time of the selection ended up being optimistic.

Although he popped offensively in junior with 45 and 42 goals, his staple tool-  offense at the pro level has been slow in materializing. He’s had to learn how to be a more complete player to succeed in the Providence system, which adopts many of the same set plays and player responsibilities as the parent Bruins club. While we can say that his game has improved and he’s taken positive strides in terms of his pro habits that the AHL experiences have taught him, it’s not a stretch to say that more was and is expected.

Senyshyn is 23, and in a four-game NHL recall in late October/early November, he started to show why the B’s were high enough on him to invest ahead of the others. He showed some jump and was impacting shifts with his speed and an energetic style that despite limited even strength minutes, was making a difference and starting to move the needle. Then, he suffered an injury that ended the promising stretch just as things were getting started.

Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald reported on the lower body injury in a detailed piece back in December, when Senyshyn was returned to Providence five weeks after leaving the NHL lineup.

Here is Bruce Cassidy, quoted from the Conroy Herald piece with key analysis on the player’s Boston stint bolded for emphasis: “He did his job. He’s one of those guys who hasn’t earned his way yet so we haven’t used him on the power play or penalty kill, it’s all even-strength minutes, so you can get lost some nights in that role. We’ve seen that with Brett (Ritchie) a little bit, getting that motor turned on when you’ve got to sit for extended periods. And that’s where I thought (Senyshyn) did a decent job for us when he didn’t play. As a young guy, sometimes the mind wanders. I thought he went out and stayed true to his game and got on pucks, protected them in the O-zone. I thought he influenced the play well for us. It’s too bad when he got hurt. He was starting to gain a little bit of confidence and we were starting to see what we had. So he has to start over a little bit. Hopefully he picks up where he left off, whether it’s here or Providence and gains a little bit of confidence knowing that there is a role for him in this league.”

Cassidy, like most successful coaches at any level, focuses on the details- the little things. And going back to his junior years, we had scouts tell us that while Senyshyn had the tools to thrive in the NHL, his overall game and commitment to those habits and attributes that most successful NHLers have weren’t quite there. When it doesn’t come naturally to a player, then there is a window of time extended to figure it out. Not everyone can be Patrice Bergeron and play like a seasoned veteran at age 18, but any organization only has so much patience with the process before others pass you on the depth chart, and potential is either reached or left unfulfilled.

There’s no guarantee that had Senyshyn not gotten hurt that he would have been able to keep a spot on the Boston roster, but in missing the time he did, he needed to get back down to the AHL to get his conditioning and timing back on track, and there would be no other NHL opportunities after that.

Outlook:

At TSP, we can only guess that the positive, albeit baby steps towards earning a regular NHL shift might have done enough to convince management to hold on and give him more time. When you read between the lines of Cassidy’s comments back in December, he’s essentially saying that Senyshyn is young, but figuring it out and is trending in the right direction. That’s a good sign, and it likely means that with a qualifying offer in hand and another year under NHL contract, the third of three first-round picks will get another opportunity to prove he can play here.

That doesn’t change the fact that the projections here were overly rosy about him in the early going, but we won’t apologize for being high on a player who scored 114 goals in 195 junior games. Even though he was projected to go in the second round that year, we won’t fault the scouts who pushed for him in Sunrise, because sometimes you make gut calls based on passion for a player that pans out in a big way- like Bergeron and more recently, David Pastrnak. And sometimes, the player you believe in doesn’t deliver like you hoped. No one scout, no one team- no matter who they are- ever has a perfect track record. Every team can continue to learn as an organization in developing a sustained productive process from the decisions that don’t work out, just as much as the validation received from successful picks. Learning organizations might stumble, but they rarely fall.

Finally, the silver lining to the slow development, modest production and injury setbacks is that Senyshyn is still in the mix to establish himself as a player and could yet develop into a capable middle-of-the-roster forward. That’s not going to erase the criticism surrounding his selection, but even if the selection ends up being a bloop single to shallow right field, it is preferable to striking out swinging. With his growing confidence and a willingness to work, he has a chance to get on base.

Although it is cliche to say, the jury is still out on Senyshyn, but fire up some Europe if you can- it’s the final countdown.

For more on Senyshyn with analysis from Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network,check out this recent podcast. He starts talking about him at the 1:18:50 mark of the audio.

Zach Senyshyn’s 1st NHL goal vs Minnesota to close out the 2019 regular season

Senyshyn- 2 goals in a 2018 preseason game vs Washington (plus a nice breakaway goal at 1:50 by Jakub Lauko– speed!) 1st at 2:03 vs Ilya Samsonov and the second (a fluky bounce) at 2:40, but he threw the puck at the net off the rush- good things happen.

Jeremy Lauzon: Then & Now

The Bruins prospects series rolls on with a player who might’ve been on the verge of graduating to NHL regular status when the 2019-20 season was put on pause. He’s an interesting profile to write because he’s finally paying some real dividends at the highest level.- KL

Jeremy Lauzon Then on Scouting Post:

Watch this Guy: Jeremy Lauzon July 24, 2015

So, why might Lauzon be the best between Jakub Zboril (13th overall) and Brandon Carlo (37th overall)? Like Zboril, Lauzon brings similar size and a mix of offense and defense. He’s more of a consistent competitor in my view, despite some reports of Boston’s top choice Zboril being “ultra-competitive” (I wouldn’t go that far based on what I saw in film study). Carlo is a massive rearguard who excels in a shutdown role, but I don’t know that he has the offensive skill/sense to be much of a consistent points producer. That leaves Lauzon as the best combination of the three- not as talented as Zboril or as big/defensively savvy as Carlo, but solid across the board and a gritty, hard-to-play against -d-man.

Prospect deep dive: Jeremy Lauzon March 7, 2016

Though not a truly exceptional player in any key area or specific hockey skill, Lauzon nevertheless is above average and more than capable at just about everything. He’s got good (Lauzon is about 6-1, 195 pounds) if not great (6-4, 220+ pounds or more is what is considered ideal in the modern NHL for D) size, and skates well though doesn’t provide dynamic speed and quickness. He’s a deft passer and effective goal scorer from the blue line, and has the ruggedness and smarts to neutralize opposition rushes and prevent players from getting to the front of his net.

Lauzon is putting up the best offensive numbers of his major junior career with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in his third season with them. He’s off his goals pace from a year ago (eight vs the 15 he netted in 2015) but with 44 points in 41 contests, Lauzon has already exceeded his 36 points set last season. He’s had to deal with some nagging lower body injuries that have limited his effectiveness in the new year after injuring himself after returning from Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship training camp in December. As one of the final cuts, Lauzon opened a lot of eyes around the CHL this year after being the 52nd overall selection by Boston last June.

Lauzon is a smart player who often does the little things in terms of maintaining his gaps, keeping the proper stick positioning and forcing opponents into committing early. He likes to go for hits in the open ice and will take every opportunity to finish his checks along the boards and remind guys in the other sweaters that he’s there. Though not a feared fighter, he’s willing to drop the gloves to defend teammates and plays a naturally rugged and aggressive defensive style that will translate well in Boston.

What’s Next For the Bruins- The Young D May 24, 2017

Jeremy Lauzon, LD, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)- Injuries impacted Lauzon’s season and he didn’t put up the kind of regular season numbers in his fourth major junior campaign as he did a year ago. However, when it comes to Lauzon, it’s not so much about the stats as it is the consistency and balance. Besides, he had an outstanding playoffs (albeit an earlier-than-expected exit at the hands of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the second round of the Quebec League run), posting 5 goals and 14 points in 13 games with the Huskies.

With Lauzon, less is more- he made Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship squad but wasn’t given as much ice time as some of the other defenders. Still- he scored a big goal in the gold medal game against USA, and seemed to make the most of the opportunities he had. He’s got enough skill to score, but he’s also a tenacious, even nasty competitor on the back end who makes forwards pay for the real estate they try to occupy. He’s not huge, but big enough- he’s got a great stick and impressive vision. We said it back after the 2015 draft, but as a shutdown guy, he’s not as effective as Carlo and as an offensive presence, he’s not quite as talented as Jakub Zboril, but if your idea of success is a player who can thrive over all 200 feet of the ice surface, then Lauzon is your man. He’s been with Providence since his playoffs ended, learning and benefiting from being around the team, but he wasn’t ready to go health-wise after playing hurt against Chicoutimi and the way things have gone for the Baby B’s has meant that he’s on the outside looking in for now. His time will come, though.

Jeremy Lauzon Now-

The now 6-2, 205-pound left-shot defenseman made his NHL debut in 2018-19, playing 16 games as an injury replacement and scoring his first NHL goal against Las Vegas. In 2019-20, he came up in the middle of the season and was just rounding into form, having played his way into the nightly lineup consistently when the season was put on pause.

The numbers- 2 goals and 1 helper in 35 games split between last season and the current one- aren’t anything to write home about, but there is room in his growth and development to be more of a point producer than he has thus far shown at age 22 (he turns 23 on Tuesday). Of course, he’s not been a point-getter in the AHL to date, and isn’t likely going to blossom into a 40-50-point guy in the NHL in his prime. But, like many young players who are in the process of breaking into the NHL while seeing limited minutes in a more specific role to place a priority on playing defense, Lauzon has been fine.

He competes hard, plays with good intelligence and vision, making the right decisions with and without the puck; Lauzon does his job with his mobility, a smart stick and has enjoyed the trust of head coach Bruce Cassidy and assistant coach Kevin Dean for his willingness to keep things simple.

Style analysis: 

Why does one defenseman who seems to have all the major league tools and who was a first-round draft pick have trouble establishing himself as an NHL regular, while another who was drafted later the same year and carries a significantly more modest skill set has leapfrogged the first on an organizational depth chart?

With Lauzon, we think it simply has to do with the fact that he’s a better defender and brings a high hockey IQ to the table, along with a certain poise and ability to do the little things to make plays in his own end.  He’s willing to lay out to block shots and he’ll drop the gloves. He’s not a heavyweight fighter, but he’s tough enough, and in Boston, that matters.

NHL defensemen who can both produce points and effectively defend their own zone are coveted commodities and franchise cornerstones- that’s why there are so few of them available across the NHL. That leaves the rest of the population at the position: players who might bring more offensive abilities to the table, while others are better at taking care of their own end. Gone are the pure specialists: the “offenseman”- a player who lines up behind the forwards to take faceoffs, but is essentially a fourth forward on the ice- taking the puck and rushing it up the ice, but lacking the instincts or wherewithal or both to provide capable defense, or the “shutdown” D- a euphemism for a big, powerful player who lacked the skills to skate and carry pucks out of danger, but could grapple and pin and obstruct players in the defensive zone effectively enough to justify their spot on an NHL roster.

Now, if you expect to play defense in the NHL and stay there, you had best be a hybrid 2-way defender or at least be an exceptional enough player in your own end with the mobility to angle, retrieve and win foot races to loose pucks. The modern NHL defenseman has to be able to skate, think, pass and understand how to play within his team’s structure and systems, or he won’t be long on the roster.

Lauzon isn’t fancy, but he’s just tough- able to get up and down the ice, make the first pass and brings a tenacity and competitiveness that endears him to the coaches and teammates he plays with. His best junior season was a 50-point campaign, so his offensive numbers at the highest level will be modest at best, but Lauzon’s value transcends pure point production. He’s going to eventually develop into a player who can play a good chunk of minutes as a steadying influence on the back end.

In hindsight, it looks like we were overly optimistic in thinking he could be the best of the three D Boston took in 2015, and to Brandon Carlo’s credit, he’s taken the bull by the horns to establish himself as an anchor on the B’s blueline, while coming off his best offensive season to date with 19 points in 67 games. But Carlo is also a physical specimen at 6-5 whose mobility opened the door for him earlier in Boston than most, and he took full advantage. Lauzon, on the other hand, has been on a longer (and expected) developmental path. He can’t match Carlo’s physical gifts in terms of pure size, strength and reach, but he’s not far off at being able to contain opponents and neutralize scoring chances.

Outlook:

Lauzon’s persistence has paid off, not only in the form of an increased role with the big club, but with a two-year contract extension at a bargain rate of $850k per that will take him through the 21-22 season. He might even be in danger of being the one Bruin that new NHL franchise Seattle could walk away with in next June’s expansion draft. That might be putting the cart before the horse, but with his experience, cap hit and potential, Lauzon just might be the kind of player who makes perfect sense for GM Ron Francis and Co. if he plays at least 40 games for the B’s in 20-21.

If not, then he’s on the up and up as a player who should be able to slot into Boston’s top-6 going forward. He’s got just enough skill, a good amount of smarts and plenty of ruggedness to make it as a solid role player and maybe something more. It’s not overly complicated when it comes to figuring out if players will earn more NHL ice time or not- if the coaches trust them, then they’ll play.

It might not always make sense to media and fans who will look at other shiny, flashier objects in the system and say, “Why not him?”  Well, because if the flashy guy turns pucks over and can’t establish a solid level of the t-word with the team’s coaches, he’s not going into the game.

Lauzon won’t win a lot of style contests, but in the end, style doesn’t always win hockey games. As the season abruptly ended in March, the coaches trusted him because he proved that he is trustworthy.

Sometimes, that’s really all you need.

***

First NHL goal on former B’s 1st-rounder & prospect Malcolm Subban from late 2018

Squares off vs Matthew Tkachuk- noogie time:

 

A preseason fight vs the NJ Devils’ Nathan Bastian

 

Dom Tiano analysis & interview with Clarkson Associate Coach Josh Hauge: Dustyn McFaul

This is a guest post by TSP Amigo Dominic Tiano on former OJHL and current Clarkson University defenseman Dustyn McFaul, drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2018. Dom watched McFaul in junior hockey during his draft season and subsequent 2018-19 campaign with the Pickering Panthers before he headed to Potsdam.

Dom also tracked down Clarkson Associate Head Coach Josh Hauge, who runs the defense for the Golden Knights for Head Coach Casey Jones, and we’re pleased to provide you the audio from that interview.

This is a quality deep-dive on a Bruins prospect who is not a household name when it comes to discussing the team’s futures, so thanks for reading/listening, and stay safe and healthy.

Thanks again to Dom for putting this together

Dustin McFaul then:

Looking back prior to the 2018 National Hockey League Draft, there was one player that intrigued me more then any other in the sixth round prior to teams and potential picks departed for the American Airlines Center in Dallas: Dustyn McFaul.

Not many sixth-round picks make a career for themselves in the NHL. In McFaul’s case, it wasn’t the ability to play hockey that saw him being selected with the 181st pick. McFaul still had a year of hockey before he would begin his NCAA career with Clarkson University for the 2019-2020 season. It was going to require a team with a lot of depth and the patience to wait out that one year of junior, along with potentially four years in the NCAA and probably a year in the American Hockey League.

The Boston Bruins had just that, and selected McFaul. (as a Bruins fan, I was all smiles).

Flashback to the 2017-2018 season and my thoughts on McFaul prior to the draft:

What McFaul accomplished as a rookie in the OJHL came as quite a surprise. He quickly became a player who could eat up large minutes, averaging 28 minutes per game when I saw him. As a youngster, he was thrown into every situation, be it penalty killing, powerplay and 5v5 against the top players the opposition could throw out there.

 

Not only was McFaul a leader on the blue line, but he showed excellent leadership qualities on a young Panthers squad. He is very coachable and seems to absorb what the coaches are telling him. He’s also very humble and puts aside any personal achievements and goals for those of his teammates.

 

At 6’2”, McFaul has good size, but will need to put in some work to add much needed bulk to his frame, something that he is aware of. It can only help him in the defensive zone when it comes to battling in those hard areas. He has an above average wing span for a player of his size and he uses it effectively. His mobility is very good and in combination with his stick skills and size, keeps players from getting to the danger areas.

 

Offensively, McFaul is very good at joining the rush, making very good first passes and has shown he can quarterback a powerplay. He needs to improve his shot, but it can also come along when he adds some muscle.

 

Above all else, the thing that stood out to me most, and talking to those around his game, it is his work ethic. It may have been a blessing in disguise for McFaul not to make the Frontenacs and the OHL at the time, and he realized that he needed to put some work in and he did. And his attitude tells him just making it isn’t good enough, he’ll continue to put that work in to improve throughout his career.

 

McFaul isn’t one of those guys that you draft hoping he can make your squad in a couple of years. He’s a project that you will need to put in some time with and realistically, if he develops into his full potential, you’re looking at 5 or 6 years away. If you are a team with a deep prospect pool, he’s the type of player you look for in the late rounds.

 

McFaul had to make a decision on where to play for the 2018-2019 season. The Ontario Hockey League wasn’t an option so that he could keep his NCAA eligibility. He could return to the Pickering Panthers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League or join the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders of the United States Hockey League, where he was a third-round pick, 37th overall, at the 2018 USHL Draft.

McFaul chose to return to the Panthers. It was a tough season for them but we were able to see McFaul take on an even bigger role on and off the ice. He took on an expanded leadership role and there were improvements all around on the ice for him personally. But he is so humble that any questions about personal achievements quickly turn to talking about the team.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Clarkson Assistant Coach Josh Hauge who works with Clarkson’s blueliners about the season that was and what we can expect moving forward. Have a listen:

McFaul

Clarkson University Athletics photo

 

 

Dominic Tiano: A Look Back at the Man They Call ‘Studs’

 

Jack Studnicka of the Oshawa Generals. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

(Photo credit: Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Guest post by Dominic Tiano:

As most of you know, my priority is the Ontario Hockey League and the NHL Draft because that’s where my eyes are mostly focused. And when my fellow Amigos suggested that I compare what I said back in 2017 about Jack Studnicka to where he is now, I couldn’t resist even though I could have been way off the mark.

So, lets go back to March 5, 2017 when I first wrote this:

I don’t believe Studnicka is an offense first player, which I see tagged to him plenty. He puts as much attention to detail on the defensive side as he does on the offense. He plays in all situations and takes key faceoffs for the Generals. He’s quietly become the Generals’ top face off man at 53%. It’s his extremely high compete level that makes him pay attention at both ends.

Studnicka has good size – although adding bulk will be key for him. He is an excellent skater who has an explosive first step and decent top end speed who can change direction with ease. He possesses very good vision with high quality playmaking skills with an ability to set up his teammates. His shot is underrated in my opinion. His release is deceptive and accurate and he puts every shot on goal with a purpose.

Studnicka can be elusive in the offensive zone. He can break away from coverage almost undetected and put himself into scoring positions. He has very good puck skills and strong possession skills. Although he needs to add some muscle, he will not shy away from the hard areas. Once he gets stronger, it will become an area where he wins more often than he loses because of it – and his work ethic.

If anything has changed in three years its that he has improved even on the skills he was already good at. Yes, he was deemed as just an offensive player in many circles back then, but not to these eyes. What has impressed me most is that he continues to put the work in, even in areas he excels at. And that continued work defensively has only made him stronger in that area. He was one of the best penalty killers in the AHL and while he took care of his own zone, he was a threat to score while down a man each and every time.

While he was already a “polished” skater in the faceoff circle, that wasn’t enough for Captain Jack. Much like Patrice Bergeron – he has similar traits to the Bruins Alternate Captain – he continues to work at it to become even better. For Studnicka, like Bergeron, good is just never good enough.

All that hard work has paid off for Studnicka as he quickly moved up to the top of the Bruins prospect rankings, something I am sure even Jack didn’t think would happen this quickly.

If there is one area that I would have liked to see accelerated in this process, it’s adding bulk to his frame. While every part of his game – the IQ, vision, skating, 200-foot game, faceoff success, offense, penalty killing – are NHL ready, adding some extra bulk to his frame this offseason will prepare him for the long grind of the NHL season.

With the extra long offseason for Studnicka, the opportunity is there to put in the work. What we do know 100%, is that he will put in that work.

Nick Wolff: Then & Now

The Boston Bruins got their guy, it appears.

University of Minnesota-Duluth senior captain and left-shot defenseman Nick Wolff signed a 1-year entry-level contract with the B’s this week after four seasons with the Bulldogs. The former Eagan High School standout who spent a couple of seasons in the USHL playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers before heading to the NCAA attended the previous two Bruins development camps and had turned down other opportunities a year ago to return to Brighton. Given his close friendship with college teammate Karson Kuhlman, it seemed fait accompli that Wolff would sign with Boston if they wanted him, and so this was expected.

Here’s the breakdown on what Wolff brings to the table and what fans might expect from him going forward.

Nick Wolff then:

July 2019 (TSP Development camp recap)- Two-time NCAA champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is big and a nasty, tough competitor who helped anchor a suffocating defense in the NCHC last season. He’s massive at 6-4, and the skating isn’t a strength (especially when Scott Perunovich is flying around the same ice), but he’s a smart defender who uses his size, strength and stick effectively. The assistant captain from 2018-19 was rumored to be considering turning pro in the spring, but opted to return for his senior season, and he should sign a pro contract in the spring of 2020. Wolff attended B’s development camp a year ago and despite numerous offers by other teams opted to return to Boston in 2019. He’s a throwback type…if you liked Adam McQuaid, Wolff is a guy you’ll have time for as a defense-first, physical, hard-to-play against glue role D.

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Jeremy Swayman: Then & Now

The Boston Bruins announced a couple of NCAA/college player signings this week, coming to terms with 2017 fourth-round selection and University of Maine/Hockey East Player of the Year Jeremy Swayman along with undrafted free agent University of Minnesota-Duluth senior defenseman Nick Wolff on three-year  and one-year entry-level contracts.

Going to break the analysis into a then and now, as both players have been talked about on TSP, so we can see what was said before and where we are in the near year since they were both last mentioned in a writeup of Bruins development camp in July.

So here’s the skinny on what we think about Swayman and Wolff, starting with the 111th selection three years ago in Chicago. We’ll follow up with a separate blog post breaking down the Wolff signing and what B’s fans can expect from him going forward.

Jeremy Swayman then:

July 2019- 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.

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