Special K: Why David Krejci’s resurgence matters

When the Boston Bruins drafted David Krejci at the end of the second round (Detroit’s pick acquired via Los Angeles a year earlier at the 2003 NHL draft) the Czech teenager had frosted highlights in his hair and used then-B’s scout and former draft choice Otto Hascak to translate for him. He didn’t have anything all that profound to say to reporters, but the team’s front office gushed in the usual way about how excited the B’s were to get Krejci where they did and were effusive in their praise of his hockey sense and potential as a No. 1 or 2 NHL center.

11 years later, Krejci is among the NHL scoring leaders (albeit real early) and dropping the kind of thoughtful quotes that he’s been delivering with an articulate though soft-spoken and thickly accented delivery since 2009 or thereabouts. That was when posted his best offensive season and emerged as the top two line center current assistant GM and former amateur scouting director Scott Bradley said he could be in Raleigh, where the ’04 draft was held.

Here’s what Steve Conroy wrote about Krejci in the Boston Herald:

When David Krejci was asked after the Bruins’ 5-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday if he was at all surprised how quickly the Bruins’ power play has come together this season, the center seemed a bit perplexed.

It wasn’t an off-the-wall question, considering how much trouble the B’s have had on the power play in the past, but why would Krejci be surprised?

“If you go out there and don’t expect to score,” said Krejci, “then you shouldn’t be out there.”

Mic drop, please.

Krejci didn’t get his generous contract extension, the one that pays him north of $7M and represents another significant bite of the B’s salary cap apple, based on his statistics. Even by modern NHL standards, where scoring is down compared to where it was in the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s, Krejci’s regular season production is pretty pedestrian. Where the native of Sternberk in the Czech Republic has raised the bar and proven his worth is in the playoffs, when his points-per-game average rises from 0.75 to 0.83. Had not not been for his struggles in the 2014 postseason (he wasn’t alone, either) with a mere 4 assists in 12 games, that postseason average would be even higher.

But Krejci has also proven his worth as a leader and student of the game. He might be a quiet guy by nature, whose voice is so soft that you’re out of luck if caught in the very back of a postgame scrum without a recorder that can pick up a pin drop or canine-like hearing; but don’t be fooled. Krejci is one of the fiercest, most driven and uncomprising competitors in that room.

The players know it. The coaches know it. Management does too. And the fans, well…let’s just say that in the world of salary cap, flashy plays and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, even if some of them are aware of how good a teammate he is, it didn’t matter to many given the lack of scoring in the 2014 playoffs and the carryover to last season, much of it spent on the IR.

Right now, Krejci is in his prime at age 29, and he’s playing like one of Boston’s top paid players for a pretty simple reason: he knows that he must.

In an effort to get Boston’s salary cap situation better under control, more in the way of established talent left the team than came in last summer. Slow start in Los Angeles aside, Milan Lucic still represented a significant loss in production (not to mention one of Krejci’s established wingers), so it was critical for the veteran center to not only begin the new season healthy, but find away to translate his effort into production.

Krejci is not a dynamic skater, so to the untrained eye, he can look at times like he’s floating and not getting much accomplished. However, when you break down the goals he’s been scoring and the plays he’s made in the first five games, you see a player who is performing not only with confidence, but is emulating that critical element of any real NHL scorer: the ability to get to the right spaces in the offensive zone where he can either get the puck to the teammate best positioned to finish, or…screw it…score the goal himself.

Go back and look at his power play goal against Arizona. When he takes the pass from Torey Krug, he’s in that sweet spot by the left faceoff dot, coiled like a cobra ready to strike and he one-times a bullet that Coyotes goalie Mike Smith had no chance-none- of stopping. Unless Krejci hit him with it, which, he didn’t.

Krejci’s resurgence matters because the best way a player like him can lead is by example. When the younger skaters on the team watch how effective he is, see how he creates magic from the mundane but does it with a set of tools that has never earned him a great deal of respect outside of Boston, they realize that with a willingness to work and do the best with what you’ve been given, good things are possible indeed.

Like Patrice Bergeron, Krejci isn’t a rah-rah, in-your-face fiery leader who demands accountability and isn’t shy about calling people out. He speaks softly, carries a big stick and when he does have something to say, his mates listen. It isn’t an accident that Krejci wears an ‘A’ on his sweater. It’s not just because he’s scoring and winning faceoffs- the other players in the room look at him and say- “That’s the kind of veteran I want to be like,” and they embrace his example.

One day, when he hangs up the skates, Krejci is going to coach hockey at a high level. He won’t be a fiery bench boss, nor will he rub elbows and hold court with those who cover his teams. But, to those future charges he’ll mentor and train, he’ll teach them more about the game and how to be successful professionals than most.

That’s a long way off, though. For now- he’s making a difference and helping his team get back on track after an 0-3 start. If you ask him, he’ll say that winning is all that matters, and he’s telling the truth.

But deep down inside, like any driven competitor who has found himself on the receiving of biting criticism at times, he couldn’t be happier to be getting the points. And he’ll work even harder to make sure they keep coming.

Pop culture Sunday and what I’m reading to end the week

I’ll be back later tonight with the next installment of the 2015-16 Boston Bruins preview series- the defense.

However, thought I would dedicate Sundays on the blog to elements of pop culture I enjoy- movies, music, books…whatever strikes the fancy. I realize this holds little interest or sway for folks who only come here for the hockey, but others might find it interesting.

For those who only want the hockey, you’ll have to indulge me. Oh, and I’ve thrown some hockey links on good reads I’ve found on the ‘net over the past few days, so check it out.

Be back later with the Bruins defense as I see things.

***

My dad raised me on classic rock, so I was into non top-40 music at an earlier age than most. By the time I was getting into junior high, I was getting interested in the punk and post-punk (New Wave) movements. Of course, being into a certain girl who loved all of the New Wave staples of the late 70’s and early 80’s had a lot to do with it. She only liked me as a friend, but hey- I discovered a whole different genre of music I probably would have shied away from had it not been for her.

One band (and an early crush) I had was Bow Wow Wow, fronted by the exotic Annabella Lwin, the daughter of a Burmese father and English mother. It’s said that Sex Pistols founder Malcolm McLaren discovered Annabella at a North London dry cleaners where she worked at age 14, and was singing when he happened in one day. He was forming a new band, and he found his new frontwoman, though she was barely into puberty.

She wasn’t that much older than I am (though five years is a lifetime when you’re 11) when Bow Wow Wow first caught my attention, but I recall being captivated by her when their videos appeared on MTV circa 1983. It wasn’t just the mohawk-style haircut- but the energy and sheer charisma she had. Unfortunately, Bow Wow Wow became known more for their cover of “I Want Candy” than some of their edgier originals- “C30, C60, C90 Go!”, “Go Wild In the Country” and “Do Ya Wanna Hold Me”

I missed out on the controversy surrounding the cover of this Bow Wow Wow album’s photo- taken in 1981, when Annabella was just 15. Try doing something like this in 2015 and see where it gets you!

Bow Wow Wow didn’t last- she was booted from the band (for reasons not that clear to me to this day) and, I’m left wondering what could have been had Annabella and Co. stayed together and she matured her vocals and songwriting chops in that environment.

Oh, well…here’s to you Annabella. And here are a couple of my preferred songs from them in case you missed out…

“Go Wild In The Country”- from Top of the Pops- 1982

“C30 C60 C90 Go!”- 1980 (An homage to taping songs on old cassette tapes off the radio)

***

Sunday hockey hot links and good reads

The always informative Fluto Shinzawa has his Sunday notes in the Boston Globe up:   http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/08/22/scott-gordon-backbench/0Q6V5zSd9pRovA32EaolsM/story.html

Sports Illustrated’s Al Muir gives us a glimpse of the ads on NHL jerseys brou-ha-ha and updates the NHL: http://www.si.com/nhl/2015/08/21/steven-stamkos-jersey-ads-darryl-sydor-dui

The Las Vegas NHL expansion venture is moving onto Phase 3- find out what that means here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/2015/08/23/las-vegas-nhl-expansion-process-moving-forward/32223885/

Joe Haggerty of CSNNE continues his “Countdown to Camp” series with Alexander Khokhlachev: http://www.csnne.com/boston-bruins/countdown-bruins-camp-alex-khokhlachev

Speaking of Koko, here’s a look at the next wave of young options for fantasy hockey leagues in 15-16 (Koko, Joe Morrow and Colin Miller make it as honorable mentions): 

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/fantasy-hockey–ranking-nhl-rookies–beyond-mcdavid-and-eichel-144923683.html

Summer cooler interview series 2: Torey Krug pt. 2

I’m back with the second half of the interview conducted with Bruins defenseman Torey Krug this week. Here, he answers some of those who question whether he can play his way into the top-4 rotation and stay there, expands on his relationship with Adam McQuaid, talks the 2016 Winter Classic and reveals the secret of the Krug family’s overall success: competitive spirit and a survival of the fittest mentality.

Torey Krug and a fan participate in the Bruins game show event (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Torey Krug and a fan participate in the Bruins game show event (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

***

Scouting Post: You talked about earning your way into a bigger role with the Bruins- that’s something you’ve done on past teams, and you earned your way to an NHL contract with Boston, eventually earning a chance to become a regular with the big club. What do you say to those critics out there who say you’re too small or you played sheltered minutes and you haven’t gone up against top offensive players or are “only” really going to be an effective specialist going forward?

Torey Krug: I like to say- keep it coming because that’s the stuff that fuels my motivation and I put that in the back of my mind and use it. At the same time, if people want to talk about sheltering me and the minutes- put yourself in the coach’s situation- I want to play against the best players, but if my forte or what I am best at is in the offensive zone, wouldn’t you want to put me out there when there’s a better opportunity to score a goal and help the team win? The same thing being said- if you want to throw Zdeno Chara out against Alex Ovechkin or Rick Nash, why wouldn’t you do that because that’s simple physics?

So when people say the team is sheltering me, I don’t believe it for one second because I know that the coaching staff trusts me to play defensively and I’ve earned that trust and I will continue to earn that. Now that I’ve done what I’ve done it doesn’t just sit there- it will go away if I don’t continue to earn it. For me, I take care of my defensive zone (responsibilities) first and that’s my pride and joy. I make sure I get back and move the puck out.

People can talk about my defensive game…well, I don’t have to play as much defense as some of the other players because I go back and I break the puck out successfully and I spend the least amount of time in our zone because of that. The best defensemen don’t have to play defense as much as others. Some are put in different situations more often than others and I just try to make the best of whatever situation I’m given.

SP: You’ve had an opportunity to play with Adam McQuaid in the NHL- can you talk to the fans a bit about your thoughts on his extension and your experiences with him both on the ice and as a teammate in general?

TK: Adam is a one of a kind individual. When I first came to Boston he was one of those guys I could ask anything and say anything to him and I know he’s going to give me an honest answer- he’s the definition of a Boston Bruin. He has earned everything he’s been given to this point and that includes the contract and his playing time and that’s improving as well.

He’s my favorite player to play with- we have a great chemistry. He knows where I’m going to be on the ice and I know where he’s going to be and also I can go around and punch anybody in the face and I know Adam’s going to have my back (laughter). I always joke around that I’m going to get him his personal record in penalty minutes each year if we’re playing together which is funny, but he’s one of the most honest hockey players I’ve ever seen. He knows what he does well and he’s always trying to improve. In practice, he’s one of the hardest working guys and is always working on the little things to get better and is one of the last guys off the ice every single day. Like I said- one thing to drive home about him is just how honest he is and how hard he works, and that’s a testament to him and how he carries himself, and that’s what the Boston Bruins are about.

SP: The 2016 Winter Classic- you are no stranger to big outdoor games having played one in Ann Arbor (Michigan Stadium) vs. Michigan in late 2010. How excited are you to get the opportunity to do it again and do it on the big stage- January 1st with millions of people watching in the Patriots’ stadium- current Super Bowl champs- and knowing what you’re in for, which hasn’t been done since the Fenway game in 2010?

TK: It really is an amazing experience. Looking back on when Michigan State played the other guys at the Big House in front of 105,000 people…I remember making sure that I took a second to really take it in and absorb everything. I think that’s a valuable piece of advice to anybody that’s playing in their first outdoor game or whatever. Because it is important to realize how special a moment it is- the Winter Classic has grown into a great tradition.

I don’t watch much hockey during the season as far as other teams go- I watch a lot of film, but not of other teams. The Winter Classic is something I always turn on- it’s an event. I have family that comes in for New Year’s and no matter what we’re doing, we take time out of the day to turn on the hockey game and we enjoy ourselves. So, to finally be on the TV when that’s going on and just to be a part of it is going to be a hell of an experience and that doesn’t even begin to touch on how special it’s going to be playing against Montreal and the history with them, the rivalry and how that game’s going to be a little bit faster than other games.

There’s a lot of things to take in when you’re getting ready for an outdoor game and it actually is a different hockey game. It’s a little bit different with the wind factor and you have to adjust to the cold and some guys wear too much outer gear and they end up getting too hot and there’s things with snow and the buildup of the ice, but when it comes down to it- it’s an old fashioned game- it’s a bunch of grown men that turn into kids again and they’re playing on the pond in front of thousands of people.

There are a lot of things and I could talk for days about that, especially playing in Gillette Stadium where the Patriots play- the Super Bowl champions and one of the best organizations in all of sports- to be welcomed into their home…it almost gives you that feeling like you’re on the NFL stage because all eyes on Sunday are on the NFL and it’s such a big market that they reach out to. It almost gives you that feeling that you’re on top of the world.

SP: Every time we speak, we tend to circle back on it, but I like to talk to you about it because it defines your success, and that is your family. Can you help the fans who maybe aren’t as familiar with the Krug family to learn something they don’t know about the Krug clan and what has helped drive you and make you into the player and person you’ve become?

TK: When I think about my family I go back to the mental strength that everybody has. That’s where I get everything within my mental capacity, my heart and driving force- it comes from my family. It comes from my mom and how she carries herself- she’s the only woman in the household with four sons. She’s had her share of ups and downs and she’s the most tough mentally of us all. Together as a family- that survival of the fittest mode that I know I’ve talked to you about before and a lot of people- it’s a common thing- the only way I can describe my brothers and my dad and mom is- you put the plate of burgers down in the middle of the table and it’s whoever grabs it the fastest. You’re fighting over the best one- that survival of the fittest mentality is instilled in all of us.

The only brother that didn’t play hockey is my youngest brother, Zak- he’s a volleyball player, and he’s the most competitive of us all to be honest. There’s times where guys don’t really know what’s going through his head but he’s just so driven and one of the toughest guys of us all. That comes from him challenging my oldest brothers- 10 years older than he is- and he’ll challenge me, who is two years older- and that’s a testament to how we’ve been raised and that competitive passion that’s been instilled in us.

***

Krug is a bit of a polarizing player just because he receives such scrutiny at times over whether he has the ability to develop into a more all-around defender who can log the heavy minutes against the top competition. If past is prologue, then don’t count him out at doing just that because his pure hockey IQ and oversized heart has propelled him to much success thus far and the NHL has a track record of smaller, yet hungry players at that position, being able to compensate for whatever they lack in natural size and strength.

Every player- no matter how accomplished- will turn the puck over and make mistakes. The key for Krug to continue to build on the trust he’s earned to date will be for him to not repeat the miscues that are bound to happen and use his strengths to erase negative plays by turning them into positives.

This interview gives you a window into that heart and desire that has fueled him and will continue to drive Krug’s relentless desire to be at the top of his profession and life’s passion.

(Thanks to Alison Foley for her permission to use the images on this blog)

Torey Krug 12-13 Playoffs Away Back

Weekend links and good reads until I return

Here are a few breaking stories that are informative and provide some food for thought until I return from the coast and can fire up the original content again…

CBS Sports’ Chris Peters on the Zurich Lions announcement today that Auston Matthews will play the 2015-16 season in Switzerland and what it means for the 2016 projected top pick overall

http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/eye-on-hockey/25262727

 

“Patrick Kane is not your friend”- Tim Baffoe on the emerging sexual assault accusations involving Chicago’s star player

http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/eye-on-hockey/25262727

 

Life’s a beach

Off to the coast to do some surfing and fishing…will be back after the weekend with more content, perhaps another player interview, another edition of the dispatches mailbag and more.

Hope everyone stays safe- thanks for reading and for the uptick in traffic over the last couple of days. If you’re new to the blog, take some time to look around at some of the other posts since we went live in mid-July.

 

A public service announcement from the Herlihy Boy: Please don’t over-hype the kids

Herlihy Boy

The internet is a wonderful thing.

It has allowed for the instantaneous transfer of information and insights on hockey players who, if not for the internet, would require you to be sitting in Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, NY to see them and have an idea of how they are performing.

Thanks to sites like FASTHockey, the annual USA World Jr. Evaluation camp is being streamed online, which gives part-time hockey guys who don’t have the ability to personally go to events like that the chance to see youngsters like Brandon Carlo, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Auston Matthews and so on.

Of course- the moment you begin to share the observations of how they are doing, the inevitable questions come streaming in as eager, excited fans want to know what the analysts think. It’s only natural, and while I welcome the excitement and genuine enthusiasm, I also think this “shiny new toy” mentality contributes to the overall negativity that we see associated with prospects and players as they work their way up the ladder and gain more exposure either in the NHL or minor leagues. Some tend to be disappointed or let down when they finally see this elusive prospect species competing at the higher levels because they built them up to be something they aren’t based on Twitter comments or message boards.  Beauty is often in the eye of the beholder, so one must be careful not to hype a player too much lest those on the outside build up unrealistic expectations and turn to negativity if they don’t pan out.

Not to pick on folks- but a positive tweet about Carlo turned into some pretty substantial logic leaps on the part of a few eager followers. While Carlo shows a lot of promise because of his size, mobility and refined ability to defend, he’s been a Bruins prospect for a little more than a month and is still very much a work in progress. Let the kid develop without trying to rank him in the USA pecking order or project him to be the next big thing in Boston.

I guess what I’m trying to say is- take it with a grain of salt. When you ask hypotheticals like- “Is this player going to be a future No.1?” The answer can be a resounding yes or no…but no matter who you’re getting that from it’s just a projection and it doesn’t mean anything until the player goes out and proves it. Some fans are generally positive, others more negative and yet some just try to play it down the fairway to be realistic. I go back to the old goaltending saw of not getting too high or too low after a game and finding the middle ground when it comes to following prospects. Instead of being in a rush to see them make the NHL, just let them develop on their respective timelines and evaluate them as they go. Some will live up to the hype, others won’t.

I’ll let Adam Sandler and Chris Farley explain what I mean with the old SNL Herlihy Boy House-Sitting Service skit. Just imagine that the Herlihy Boy is pleading with you not to get too wound up over these kids, and his assistant will drive home that message as only the late Farley could. Instead of asking you to let him sleep in your bed or move in, he’s just asking you to slow the roll a little bit.

https://screen.yahoo.com/herlihy-boy-house-sitting-000000334.html

Mr. Lamoriello lands in Toronto

1987. April 30, to be exact.

That’s when the New Jersey Devils hired Lou Lamoriello to be general manager of a then sad sack franchise that had started as the Kansas City Scouts in 1974, moved to Denver to be the first incarnation of the Colorado Rockies in 1976, only to fail in the Mile High City and move to East Rutherford, N.J. in 1982. When Lamoriello took the reigns of a team that an in-his-prime Wayne Gretzky had once sneered at (the infamous Mickey Mouse operation comment comes to mind), this was what was going on:

– Ronald Reagan was finishing up the third year of his second term as U.S. President.

– The New York Giants had won the Super Bowl that year, and on April 30, the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Twins were on their way to securing championships in their respective sports as well.

– “This is your brain… This is drugs… This is your brain on drugs” became the anti-drug campaign slogan du jour of the late 80’s/early 90’s that year.

– Spuds MacKenzie made his first appearance in Bud Light beer commercials.

– The Cosby Show and Roseanne were the top-rated television shows in primetime.

– I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) by Aretha Franklin and George Michael was the top Billboard pop single the week the Devils hired Lamoriello.

– The Devils were still wearing their red and green “Christmas tree” uniforms and would continue doing so through the 1991-92 season.

– Perhaps most important of all- the very first draft pick of the Lamoriello tenure in New Jersey- a 17-year-old Brendan Shanahan (second overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft) is the man who shocked the hockey world today by hiring Lamoriello away from New Jersey and installing him as the 16th general manager in Toronto Maple Leafs history.

Hold on…what?

Let’s backtrack a minute…

Since Mr. Lamoriello joined the organization, the Devils went from doormats to three-time Stanley Cup champs in 1995, 2000 and 2003. They made the playoffs with a flourish in his first season as GM thanks to a John MacLean (Lamoriello would later hire MacLean as head coach in 2010 only to fire him before Christmas) overtime goal against the Chicago Blackhawks and Darren Pang (back when it was 5-on-5 and a scoreless 5 minutes ended with a tie) on the last night of the regular season (for those who heard it, who can forget Gary Thorne’s “They did it! They did it! They did it! They did it!! call when MacLean pounced on a fat rebound in the slot and put it home on the road).

In nearly three decades with the team, Lamoriello, a native of Rhode Island and the primary architect of the Hockey East from his time as Providence College coach and athletic director, became the Devils organization- as much as one person can assume a team’s identity and culture, anyway.  When I covered the Devils for the New York Hockey Journal during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, the distinct feeling I always came away with was that Lou Lamoriello was the embodiment of the Devils and everything the organization stood for during his tenure through mostly good times, but more losing days in recent years.

When Lamoriello suddenly announced his retirement earlier this summer as GM (but remaining on in his role as Devils President), he elevated former Penguins front office boss Ray Shero to take on the general manager duties for New Jersey.

Lamoriello’s departure is sudden, but underscores how serious the Maple Leafs are about trying to win the organization’s first Stanley Cup since 1967. Lamoriello knows a heck of a lot about winning, and with a formidable front office that includes 29-year-old wunderkind assistant GM Kyle Dubas, plus a completely re-vamped coaching staff in Mike Babcock and assistants (which include Memorial Cup-winning former Oshawa Generals coach D.J. Smith), Shanahan has put his stamp on the Leafs franchise. With Mark Hunter running things on the drafting and player development side, Toronto’s residence near the bottom the of NHL standings won’t last long.

If nothing else, Lamoriello’s old school values and tough love approach will install the kind of accountability that has probably been lacking in the Leafs dressing room for too long. The first shots fired across the bow came when Phil Kessel was traded, and more moves are sure to follow as the soon-to-be 73-year-old builds the team with the blueprint he used to major success with the Devils. If Babcock’s arrival didn’t do it, Lamoriello’s hiring has certainly made one thing abundantly clear in Toronto: the inmates are no longer running the asylum.

It’s hard to believe that Lamoriello is no longer with the Devils, but if anyone is feeling blue in the Garden State, it’s all coming up roses in Ontario.

Shanahan and company just served notice to the rest of the league with this move, and if you don’t think Lou has lost his fastball, then get ready for a much more competitive Eastern Conference with the new-look Leafs.

Final thoughts on the New York players from the 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Jordan Greenway (Canton, N.Y.), 50th overall selection, 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Jordan Greenway (Canton, N.Y.), 50th overall selection, 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Kirk Luedeke photo)

I posted previously some thoughts about the 13 players drafted out of New England (Massachusetts and New Hampshire), so I thought I would cover the five prospects taken from the Empire State in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The numbers tell the story- with just five area natives taken out of the 211 total selections and none before pick 50 when the Minnesota Wild chose power winger Jordan Greenway who grew up near Potsdam in Canton, N.Y. before leaving in middle school to play for Shattuck St. Mary’s in the state of the NHL club that drafted him. Overall, it was a down year for New York with no players from New Jersey getting the call, a first since New York Hockey Journal covered its first NHL draft in 2011.

The player I actually had rated higher than Greenway is playmaking forward Jeremy Bracco, whom the Toronto Maple Leafs got terrific value with at 61st overall- the last pick of the second round. Bracco had solid first-round talent, but working against him was size, a lack of dynamic speed and according to some NHL scouts, he didn’t make the best impression during interviews. From my perspective, I didn’t see that– Bracco was extremely accommodating in terms of the pre-draft interviews and work I did with him. What is undeniable is his high-end hockey IQ, vision and creativity- he finished his career at the U.S. National Team Development Program as one of the all-time assists and points leaders in two years there. Bracco is a good fit for Toronto and what they’re doing there as someone who can dish the puck and has the kind of flair in his game and personality to be able to handle the increased scrutiny of that hockey market.

Jeremy Bracco (Freeport, N.Y.), 61st overall selection, 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Jeremy Bracco (Freeport, N.Y.), 61st overall selection, 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Getting back to Greenway- one NHL scout told me that he was easily a top-15 talent, and I have to say that having covered a lot of hockey players in my career, there aren’t many with the sheer size the 18-year-old has at a listed 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. Some kids look big in their gear but smaller when they take it off, others look bigger out of their gear than with it on. In Greenway’s case- he looked massive on the ice, and he’s just as much of a force of nature when dressed in his suit and wearing his Wild jersey at the BB & T Center.

Two things more than any probably conspired to make Greenway’s wait a little longer at the draft: he did not have the kind of consistent performance over the course of 2014-15 that was expected of him after showing a lot from a year ago with the NTDP. When a player brings so much in terms of the size and skating package, you naturally want to see him assert himself and at the very least, generate offense commensurate with his skill level. It just didn’t happen enough for him this year, and that hurt his stock a bit going in. Compare that to the kind of offensive season fellow Wild first pick (and fellow New Yorker) Alex Tuch had a year ago and you begin to understand the disparity. In addition to the disappointing season, there were whispers about Greenway’s conduct off the ice. In fairness to the kid- I’m not going to repeat or substantiate any of those allegations from NHL circles, but it does at least begin to explain how someone with such pure potential dropped down to 50. At Boston University, Greenway will have a chance to learn from the experience and elevate his game in order to make all the teams that passed on him regret doing so.

The reigning Stanley Cup champs grabbed two-way defenseman Dennis Gilbert from Buffalo at the end of the third round, another solid value and typical pick of the NHL’s modern dynasty that has endured as a three-time champion in six seasons because of a great core and smart drafting to keep a solid supporting cast in place even when pricey contracts force pieces to find work elsewhere. Gilbert may be the latest in one of those smart picks by the Blackhawks, as he has a solid, tall frame (6-2, 201); he can skate very well for his size and has the vision and puck skills to move the play forward with authority and quarterback his club when on the man advantage. Although raw, Gilbert showed a lot playing in the Windy City’s USHL entry the Chicago Steel this past season, having a particularly strong second half. He’ll be able to develop gradually in the ‘Hawks’ system, starting at Notre Dame in the fall.

Another Western New York kid who had his name called last month was big defender Joseph Cecconi, who made a positive impression with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. At 6-2, 205 he has size and is a pretty good skater in a straight line, though will need to improve his lateral mobility and pivots/transitions as he continues to develop. Cecconi relishes playing a defense-first style and impressed some people in the playoffs last spring when he battled Kyle Connor hard and effectively neutralized the league’s top scorer and Winnipeg’s top pick. As a fifth-round selection (133rd) of the Dallas Stars, Cecconi is a good value and the University of Michigan-bound player is in a good spot to take his time. He’s been knocked for not playing with enough urgency/pace at times.

Finally, Steve Ruggiero was the area’s last pick, coming late in the sixth round. He had a bunch of family and friends in attendance and I happened to be taking a break from the action nearby in the stands eating a box lunch when his name was called and their section erupted. To me, Ruggiero’s selection underscores what this sport is all about. These kids-  and so few of them at this stage are left to seriously pursue a dream of playing pro hockey- put in so much work over the years to even get themselves in position to be drafted. Their families pay enormous costs to support the hockey lifestyle and give up a normal life (along with their player) to have a chance at one day reaching the NHL, so it was nice to see Ruggiero’s faith that by coming to Florida he would not sit there all day only to be passed over.

A rugged, mobile stay-at-home defenseman with character, the Anaheim Ducks got more solid value at 178 overall, and he looks to be another one of those good character types that Nate Leaman and his staff have done so well to stockpile down at Providence College.

Steven Ruggiero (Kings Park, N.Y.) 178th selection in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Steven Ruggiero (Kings Park, N.Y.) 178th selection in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

All in all- not a great draft haul for New York, but there might be a rebound next season when talented defensemen Charlie McAvoy, Griffin Luce (son of Florida Panthers head of player development Scott Luce) and forward Luke Kirwan are eligible. Kirwan took a step back in the OHL this past season, but the toolsy winger could appeal to teams early if he can get back on track in 2016.

Y2K: Tom Brady not the only franchise player stolen

Anyone who follows the NFL and reads a story about Tom Brady won’t get too far along without seeing a reference to the fact that he was a late-round selection. The 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft has gone on to build a Hall of Fame-worthy resume (and no- “Deflategate” won’t change that) capped with four Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots.

But, there is an NHL equivalent from that very same draft year: Henrik Lundqvist.

King Henrik- the NY Rangers’ franchise netminder and perennial all-star was drafted in the seventh round, 205th overall, that year out of the Vastra Frolunda Indians junior team. No, Bruins fans- we won’t rub salt in the wounds by reminding you all that Boston used the 204th selection on OHL forward Chris Berti– he of 0 NHL games played. Oops- I did it again.

The only thing the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner is chasing is significant: a Stanley Cup championship. He led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup final in 2014 but fell to the Los Angeles Kings. He did win a gold medal for Sweden at the 2006 Olympic Games and has been a workhorse for the Rangers ever since breaking into the league in 2005-06.

Now, I won’t go so far as to say the NHL draft is a “crapshoot” which I think is a lazy way of looking at it but has become kind of an accepted term by rank and file fans and some analysts, but Lundqvist falling that low seems incomprehensible 15 years later. One might attribute it to his being a late bloomer, but that’s not right, as he was one of the top junior goaltenders in Sweden, performing well at the 2000 Under-18 tourney with a .939 save percentage in four games. I do think that it illustrates the challenge in projected 17 and 18-year-olds. But it’s not a crapshoot- to say that the draft is essentially a game of chance is to disregard the astounding amount of work and travel that amateur scouts do over the course of the season to prepare for the entry draft each June.

Is the draft more of an art than a science? Absolutely. Advanced statistics and analytics are allowing teams to narrow their focus and tailor their desires based on a pattern analysis, but when it comes to the eye test, some scouting methods are sure to endure.

For whatever reason, Lundqvist didn’t pass the eye test for all 30 NHL teams back in 2000…even the Rangers. Because, if he did, they sure as hell wouldn’t have waited 205 spots and 20 goaltenders ahead of him to act (several of those 20 came out of Sweden- so he wasn’t even the top netminder chosen from his own country that year!)

Final thoughts on the New England 2015 NHL draft class

Noah Hanifin of Norwood, Mass. goes 5th overall to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Noah Hanifin of Norwood, Mass. goes 5th overall to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Now, that the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is in the books, the real fun begins- we get to chart the progress and success of the 13 area natives taken from Massachusetts and New Hampshire (Mike Robinson), and we’ll see if anyone else from that group who wasn’t picked (Cam Askew, Brien Diffley and Casey Fitzgerald all could have gone but didn’t have their names called) makes their way to the NHL.

Back in 2011, I sat in the New England Sports Center rink in Marlborough, Mass. with my Red Line Report boss, Kyle Woodlief, and I remember us talking about Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin and how exciting the two then-14-year-old players were. Having been in the business much longer than I have, Woodlief was a voice of caution that day, reminding me that the critical years of development still lay ahead- and that sometimes the early risers plateau and others move to the forefront. As he and I arrived in Fort Lauderdale last month, we revisited that conversation and were glad that in the case of those two terrific players, both Eichel and Hanifin continued to be every bit the players we and every other scout who was watching them back then thought they could be. Now, we get to see if the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes will benefit from the enormous potential shown by both.

Kudos to the Ottawa Senators for grabbing Hanover’s Colin White 21st overall. He’s going to be an NHL player- he’s simply too smart and talented not to at least make it as a grinder eventually. But the real interesting question is whether he will get back to his scoring ways. He had a tough season- hampered by mononucleosis and nagging wrist and arm injuries, but as he got healthier at year’s end, he blew up at the Under-18 championship, even scoring the sudden death gold medal-winning goal for Team USA. He’s a terrific player and my bet is that he’s a natural scorer and will prove that in the next couple of years.

I like the Winnipeg Jets’ draft more and more with each passing day. They nabbed a high-end offensive talent in Kyle Connor after the Bruins passed on him three times (and the Isles grabbed Mathew Barzal at 16) and continued with value selections throughout the draft. But the player no one is surprised that I will key in on is Mansfield native Erik Foley, whom the Jets landed in the third round, 78th overall. Foley is your prototypical power forward who may not have ideal height, but is naturally strong and plays hard from the first faceoff until the final buzzer. He’s going to kill it for Nate Leaman at Providence College, the team he grew up cheering for as a lad. It’s a shame his favorite hometown Bruins didn’t have more time for him as well.

Mike Robinson was an interesting selection for the San Jose Sharks in the third round. The lone non-Massachusetts pick- from Bedford, N.H. by way of Lawrence Academy- has tremendous size and natural tools for the modern NHL goaltender, but we have not seen a New England high school/prep goalie taken earlier than that since Jonathan Quick was taken 72nd overall in 2005 out of Avon Old Farms. That pick turned out pretty darn well for the Kings, so if the UNH-bound Robinson delivers on his immense upside, Tim Burke and the Sharks will be sitting pretty.

I liked the value where the Blackhawks took defenseman Ryan Shea (final pick of 4th round), the Coyotes picked up Conor Garland, and the Hurricanes grabbed Luke Stevens. Those aren’t bad spots to take a chance on a trio of players who are all different, but bring some nice payoff on the long road. I was not bullish on Stevens, but you’ll hear no arguments on getting him in the fifth round. As far as natural tools go, he has some of the most impressive gifts of any player from the area. Garland is a great example of not giving up when passed over in the draft and he exploded this year to lead the Quebec League in scoring, the first time in 32 years an American has done that when some guy named Pat LaFontaine blew things up in that circuit.

There weren’t many surprises from the New England class, but mobile defender Patrick Holway to the Red Wings and big forward Pat Shea (no relation to Ryan) to the Panthers at 170 and 192 respectively is probably the closest thing. Both are South Shore natives, both are headed to the University of Maine, and both parlayed Central Scouting snubs into draft selections ahead of more than a few other listed guys who weren’t picked. It just goes to show you that NHL clubs do their own thing when it comes to the draft regardless of the more and more prolific public lists out there each passing year. If you can find either guy on one of those lists (Red Line included) be sure to let me know so I can give credit where due.

Ultimately, the draft is a dream first step to the reaching the NHL for the 211 players selected, but that’s all it is. You won’t find former and current NHL stars Adam Oates, Steve Thomas, Tyler Johnson or Torey Krug on any draft lists, and there are far more “can’t miss” players who do just that because other players develop into better pros after age 18. In my view- guys like Askew, Diffley and Fitzgerald should have had their names called, so don’t sleep on them. Throw in Robert ‘Bobo’ Carpenter as well, but all will have a chance to make it either in future drafts (except Diffley) or via free agency.

For every one of the 2015 selections- they can hang up or frame their draft jerseys, look at the photos and articles one last time and re-set their focus and personal goals: the work is only beginning.