Scouting Dispatches: Twitter mailbag #2

Happy Saturday, folks. Just watched Canada win their eighth consecutive Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tourney championship- congratulations to the Under-18 team for continuing to run the table with a dominating 7-3 gold medal-winning triumph over Sweden (it wasn’t even that close, folks). They’re truly the best draft eligible talent every year and Canada can send their best players because they don’t have to compete with the major junior/CHL playoffs in April when the Under-18 Championships are held. More on that later…I’ll post some thoughts and notes on some key standouts, as six out of Red Line Report’s top-15 for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (as of June)  were on Team Canada, with Sweden boasting two more to round out the top-20.

I’m back with another “Ask Kirk” Twitter mailbag. Every 2 weeks or so, I hit up the followers on Twitter to see what they have, so thanks to those who submitted questions. I don’t get to them all, but if your question didn’t get answered, keep plugging away. The first edition of this we did got some pretty good traffic and insights/debate, so if you don’t agree, feel free to comment or hit me up on Twitter.

Keep checking back on the blog this weekend as well, as I will be posting a “point/counterpoint” feature on Bruins first-round draft pick Zach Senyshyn with my friend and guest columnist- Dominic Tiano– one of the most knowledgeable OHL evaluators around.My RLR colleague Mark Staudinger will also be in to provide some detailed analysis on a pair of Bruins prospects he just watched at Team Canada’s WJC summer evaluation camp in Calgary- the Two Jakes- Jakub Zboril and Jake DeBrusk.

So- onto the mailbag. We’ll do this again around the beginning of September, so keep the questions coming. You can also submit them here via the comments feature if you’re not on Twitter.

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Don Sweeney wants B’s D to be more systemically mobile to create faster up-ice transition. Can Claude Julien & current D roster make that happen? BB Bruin @waltorr4

Thanks Walt- Overall team speed on defense is still an issue, as Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and even Torey Krug don’t bring much in the way of open-ice speed and mobility. You do have a couple of real good skaters in the mix to earn jobs with Joe Morrow and Colin Miller, but neither are all that proven at this point. Zach Trotman is mobile for such a big man, but that’s all relative- he’s not going to put defenses on their heels in the neutral zone with his speed- it’s not there either. Matt Irwin has NHL experience and provides nice depth, but he doesn’t have rockets on his skates and I see him as more of a depth guy than someone who is going to be a major contributor this season.

That’s why the clamoring for Cody Franson in some circles seems to be counterintuitive at this point, because Franson is more of the same in terms of being a clunky skater who will take away from the back line’s quickness, even if he is a veteran at this level. I don’t see him as a great fit at this point, but the Bruins are still in the mix for him, so we’ll see how that goes.

I think that if the Bruins are going to succeed in making a faster transition, they’ll rely on the favored Julien method of quick D-D passes in the defensive zone followed by a longer breakout pass to try to hit the quicker forwards in the neutral zone with speed.

Having said that Krug is not a pure burner with a top skating gear, but he is the team’s best rearguard in terms of his quickness, agility and ability to handle the puck through traffic. He gets the puck out quickly using his vision and stickhandling to shake forechecking pressure and carry the puck out on his own. He’s exhibit A for how skating isn’t everything to a fine transition game, but there isn’t enough speed right now on the other pairings. That could change with a trade or if both Miller and Morrow find a way to stick this season.

The D is going to struggle to generate a speed rush in my view, though- that will have to come more from the faster forwards like Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak and so on.

What are chances of midseason Chara trade? Michael Dunn @mikedunnfamily

I’m thinking dealing Chara falls somewhere between slim and none…with the caveat that if he asked out, Sweeney would probably accommodate that request. However, while I could be wrong, even with his declining play, I just don’t see the team trading him, Mike.

In my view- Chara is worth more to the Bruins than he is to other teams at this stage of his career. Sure- a contender would love to add him to the mix, but whatever they would offer to Boston is not going to make the B’s a better club today. And, of course- there’s that thing called a no-trade clause that complicates things. Yes, the Bruins could likely get Chara to waive it for the right destination, but limited landing spots mean that you’re getting less in return.

Unless he wants out, I see him finishing his career in Boston.

What do you see for Joe Morrow this season? Will he get an extended look in Boston, or another year in Providence? Brian briand_82

This is an important season for Morrow.

He was drafted in the first round four years ago because he could really skate and move the puck…the Bruins desperately need to add more of that element to their back end, especially with Dougie Hamilton now in Calgary.

Morrow will be 23 before January, and he’s physically ready to take the next step to playing NHL minutes in my view. With his puck skills, cannon shot and quick feet, he’d be an asset given what the team currently has, but the experience is working against him.

In his limited stint with Boston last season, I got the impression he was playing it overly conservative and safe, either on orders from the coaching staff or on his own initiative because he didn’t want to get stapled to the bench. While he performed okay in that role, that’s not really what the Bruins need from him. My advice would be to open it up, play to his strengths and give the team more of what they currently lack, as they don’t really need another solid shutdown type, but more of a defender who will jump up into the play with his wheels and be a consistent threat with the man advantage.

He has the tools to do it, but I don’t know if he’ll have a long enough leash or will even beat out new acquisition Colin Miller at camp. Miller’s production has been significantly higher in the AHL than Morrow’s has, but the latter put up better numbers in junior and was a top-30 pick. This will be an interesting camp battle for sure.

What do you think of Yale’s chances this year!! Can D win championships ? Bob Rittmeyer @bobrittmeyer

I’m not the best person to ask, but the Bulldogs are contenders every year it seems, and they manage to get into the NCAA championship mix despite not having much scoring, which puts tremendous pressure on the defense and goaltending.

I’ve always been impressed with Rob O’Gara’s size, skating and character, and he took a major step forward offensively last season- they’ll need him to keep that up. I also feel that Frank DiChiara should be some NHL club’s property at this point, and this could be a breakout year for him with a possible big free agency payoff if he decides to turn pro in the spring. He’s always been an opportunistic scorer and he has a pro build and power game already. Ryan Hitchcock is another underrated forward who can do just about everything- I was surprised nobody drafted him in 2014 or 2015, but scouts tell me his size scares them off.

Do they have enough horses to go all the way? I’ve always had time for Chicago prospect John Hayden, and Yale is a balanced group. They’re not favorites, but as they showed in 2013, once they get in, they’ll have a chance to knock off some of the more celebrated teams.

What would be the Best, most realistic, 7 DMen for the Bruins? Willy @willysteam

Well, barring any trades, signings or surprises- Chara, Seidenberg, Krug and McQuaid are all locks given their contracts and veteran status with the team. That leaves three open spots between Trotman, Irwin, Colin and Kevan Miller and Morrow. Tommy Cross and Christopher Breen are still hanging around as well, but I don’t envision any scenario where either player makes the team out of training camp.

Trotman is on a one-way deal this season and he played 27 NHL games last season after having an up-and-down (mostly down) year in Providence. Trotman played better in limited situations in Boston, including getting his first NHL goal, the late winner against the Red Wings in front of friends and family (he’s from Indiana but went to HS in Novi, Michigan). He’s one of the strongest men on the team, and he can move the puck pretty effectively even if he won’t ever put up big offensive numbers. I think he’s got the inside track for the fifth spot and only a horrendous performance or trade will derail him from starting the year in Boston.

For the sixth and last regular position in the three-pairing rotation, I like Colin Miller’s chances of winning that one. He scored 19 goals in the AHL last year, can really skate, and has outproduced Morrow in the pros to date. He’s also a right shot, which helps balance the blue line, while Morrow is another left-side shooter. Now, if it isn’t Miller, I think Morrow wins that job because he’s a toolsy D that Julien and the coaches are familiar with after 15 NHL games last year. Flip a coin- neither is subject to waivers at this point of their careers, so they can be recalled and sent down without fear of being poached by another team.

That leaves Kevan Miller and Irwin (maybe Morrow or Colin Miller) to fight it out for the seventh and resident press box denizen position, waiting for an opportunity to open up. Miller’s toughness and NHL experience means he’s probably the first to go in and if the team faces a more physical contest, he’d likely dress as a 7th D when needed, with Irwin becoming Providence’s top defender and veteran leader, first on the recall list if the blue line gets into trouble.

How do you think UMass-Lowell is going to do this year? A solid veteran team returns Gary Whittick @bigwhitt1956

I alluded to it above, but  projecting NCAA winners is not really what I’m best at. I’m not a college hockey analyst the same way others are, so you’re probably better off asking someone like Mike McMahon, Andy Merritt or one of the many other college hockey scribes out there who have far more collective knowledge than I do about the Riverhawks’ chances in 2016. I tend to focus on individual prospects and in the process get a feel for how their teams perform overall. Because Lowell has not been a landing spot for NHL prospects of late, I haven’t followed them as closely as others.

Having said that- the good news is that they’re a solid club. The bad news is- they play in the Hockey East and I don’t see a Connor Hellebuyck-like presence in net for them to help keep up with the conference powers, even with a seasoned, balanced squad. I mean no disrespect to Kevin Boyle, who is a solid stopper and will get some attention next spring come free agency time, but I look at the roster and it looks like a solid top third team again.

I like what Norm Bazin is doing there and had time for incoming freshman Ryan Dmowski– a former prep standout at the Gunnery who put up some nice numbers in the USHL last year despite not getting drafted. He doesn’t have the greatest speed, but he’s got a nose for the net and finds ways to finish off plays down around the blue paint. Keep an eye on him.

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Well, that about does it- thanks again for the questions and thanks for supporting the Scouting Post!

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)

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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.

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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