Sunday Flashback: the 1986 Hartford Whalers

Ron Francis- Hockey Hall of Fame photoFrancisWhalers

Much of what I wrote for the New England Hockey Journal website was lost forever when the site changed formats and the archived unique content was replaced by the digital issues of the monthly publication. I managed to save some of my more memorable pieces, and one of them was a 20-year anniversary tribute I wrote to the 1986 Hartford Whalers for the New England Hockey Journal magazine in April 2006. The story was written on the eve of the 2006 playoffs, without knowing that in just a few months, the Carolina Hurricanes would raise the Stanley Cup overhead, defeating the Edmonton Oilers in a gritty seven-game series. 20 years after the Whalers showed such promise, their legacy finally resulted in an NHL championship in Raleigh, N.C.- different team, player and colors- same franchise. Mission accomplished. 

But two decades earlier, the young, upstart Whalers won just a single playoff series that year against the Quebec Nordiques before taking the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens to seven games in the Adams Division final, that team was memorable for their roster, which included a core group of future NHL stars. Sadly for Hartford, a lack of patience and unfortunate trade decisions would result in that team being broken up before they could come together and mature. Had the Whalers found a way to win more playoff games from 1988-90, it is entirely possible that the fateful trade of captain and Hall of Fame center Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson to Pittsburgh in 1991 might never have happened, and the Whalers might have been Stanley Cup contenders from 1992-96 instead of one of the league’s poorer clubs. We’ll never know, but the ’86 Whalers gave us a glimpse into a small window of what could have been.

And though the piece is a relatively superficial one, lacking the depth I wanted to go into given print constraints as a published article, it remains one of my favorite stories written for NEHJ in my seventeen years with Seamans Media. I hope you enjoy, and as you read it, you might even hear the ghostly strains of the Brass Bonanza bringing you back to a bygone era of NHL hockey in New England. Of course, you can always click on the link at the bottom of the post and hear it in real time, too…   – KL

The 1986 Hartford Whalers: Coming of age (originally published, 2006)

            They won’t go down in history as one of the NHL’s storied teams, but the 1985-86 Hartford Whalers gave their fans a glimpse into what could have been for a franchise that would exist in Connecticut for just a decade more before leaving for North Carolina in 1997.

            After struggling to earn respect in the Wales Conference during the first half of the 1980’s, the Whalers not only made the 1986 playoffs as the Adams Division’s final seed, but turned in a stunning upset of the heavily-favored Quebec Nordiques in the first round. With the Hartford Civic Center fired up by the raucous Brass Bonanza, the Whalers then pushed the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Montreal Canadiens to a seventh game in the Adams Division final series before succumbing on a Claude Lemieux strike in overtime, ending Hartford’s championship dreams that spring in heartbreak.

            Starting goaltender Mike Liut, who had been the center of a blockbuster trade from St. Louis the season before and was a veteran leader on that club, is now a player agent with the Octagon Firm out of Michigan. Liut said that the genesis of Hartford’s success in 1986 started in Boston late in the 1984-85 season, a forgettable campaign that saw the Whale finish out of the NHL postseason derby for the fifth consecutive year.

            “We played the Bruins, who were looking to lock up second place, at the Boston Garden,” said Liut. “They jumped us from the outset, hitting us hard and treating it like a playoff game, while some of our players were perhaps playing out the string. It was a situation where the guys had to fight back with everything they had, or someone was going to get hurt.”

            Liut watched from the bench that night as a team loaded with rookies, many of whom had not yet faced real adversity at the highest level, responded by soundly beating the Bruins, eventually forcing them into a first-round matchup without home ice advantage against the Canadiens after they dropped to third place.

            “We went into a hornet’s nest in the Boston Garden that night, but came out with a win,” Liut said. “To beat the Bruins in that kind of environment showed a lot of the young guys on the team what we were capable of, and gave us a head start for the following year.”

            1985-86 was a different season for the Whalers, who were led by embattled coach (the late) Jack “Tex” Evans. Liut had the benefit of spending the entire year in Hartford, while his cousin and team captain, Ron Francis, battled a broken ankle, but was productive with 77 points in 53 regular season games. Young guns Sylvain Turgeon (45 goals), Kevin Dineen (33), and Ray Ferraro (30) terrorized opposing goaltenders, while a competent corps of defenders that included Joel Quenneville and Ulf Samulesson, received a big boost with the acquisition of Dave Babych during the year. There was also no shortage of effective role players such as Doug Jarvis, Paul MacDermid, Dean Evason, Mike McEwen and Dave Tippett, all of whom combined to infuse the Whalers with skill and grit.

      “We were a very close team,” Francis told New England Hockey Journal. “The veterans helped the younger players to take that next step and get us all to believe that we were a team capable of doing some damage in the postseason. We believed we could beat anyone.”

       They won eight of their last 11 games to post a 40-36-4 regular season record. That was enough for Hartford to edge out the Buffalo Sabres to capture a playoff spot for the first time since 1980, when they were swept in three games of the preliminary round by the Canadiens.

            Veteran forward John Anderson, now the head coach of Atlanta’s AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves franchise, was a genius move by Whalers GM Emile “the Cat” Francis, acquired from the Quebec Nordiques at the trade deadline after eight seasons Toronto Maple Leafs. He found new life and went on the greatest offensive run of his NHL career, playing a key role to get his new team into the postseason with a white-hot stick (eight goals, 17 assists in 14 games).

            “To come to Hartford after some of the frustration I’d seen in Toronto was a great feeling,” Anderson said. “We were a young team, but everything was coming together at the right time for us. Nobody gave us much of a chance against Quebec, but we definitely turned some heads in that series”

            Hartford opened the 1986 postseason in a best-of-five series against the division-leading Nordiques to low expectations around the rest of the league. As had been the case throughout much of the year however, the Whalers weren’t about to give into conventional thought.

            Liut stoned the powerful Quebec attack that included Hall of Famers Peter Stastny and Michel Goulet. After posting a 3-2 overtime win in Game One, the Whalers went on to frustrate the Nords by sweeping them out with 4-1 and 9-4 victories, the third of which happened on home ice.  Anderson posted five points in that series-clinching win, putting an exclamation point on the upset against his former team. Few had given Hartford chance against a veteran team in Quebec, yet there they were- staring down the Canadiens, who were also coming off a sweep of the Bruins in round one.

            The Whalers nearly upset the favored Habs because they got contributions from everyone on the roster. Backup goaltender Steve Weeks, now an assistant coach with the Atlanta Thrashers, got a chance to play when Liut was hit on the knee by a shot in warm-ups of Game 3 and responded by winning Game 4 in OT to take a 2-2 series split back to Montreal.

            “When Mike went down, we could’ve panicked, but didn’t,” Weeks said. “The guys played with an unbelievable amount of poise, and when Kevin (Dineen) scored that overtime goal, we really believed that we could pull it off against Montreal.”

            After trading home wins, the teams met for the decisive Game 7. The Habs took a 1-0 lead into the final frame before Babych ripped a slapshot past Patrick Roy at 17:13 of the third period to strike fear into the legions of Montreal faithful. Moments into the extra session, Lemieux, who would go on to win more championships in his polarizing NHL career, found himself alone in the slot in front of Liut and fired a high backhand shot over his glove for the emotional win at 5:55 of sudden death.

            “You can’t speculate on what might’ve been,” said Liut reflecting back on the Whalers’ memorable playoff charge. “But that game definitely could’ve gone either way. One thing I’ll always take from the experience was that so many guys on the team came of age that spring.”

            Though the ’86 Whalers won just a single playoff series during their 18 years in Hartford, their heroics live in the memories of those who witnessed them push the Habs to brink. Their legacy lives on in the Carolina Hurricanes, who are playoff-bound 20 years later and boast a 100-point scorer in young super star Eric Staal. Though Francis returned to the franchise that traded him and helped the 2002 Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup final, his Hall of Fame-worthy career ended with him unable to help push Carolina over the final hump against the Detroit Red Wings after winning a pair of championships in Pittsburgh.

            “What I remember most is the enthusiasm the fans in Hartford had for us that year,” Francis said. “It was an honor to play in front of so many people who believed in us and got behind the Whalers. It was an unforgettable time for all of us.”

***

Here are highlights from the Whalers’ only playoff series win in team history (Boy, can you ever appreciate the birth of high definition in hockey broadcasts and understand why until HD came along, selling hockey on TV was a tough chore)

Liut Whalers

Mike Liut on the cover of the 1987-88 Hartford Whalers media guide and yearbook

Not 1985-86, but here’s the old Whalermania 1986-87 video highlights tape- including an awkward intro from Ron Francis It was Hartford’s first and only Adams Division regular season title, but this time, the Quebec Nordiques flipped the script in the playoffs and a year after being upset by the Whale, they returned the favor.

Brass Bonanza…crank it up

Off the top of the head: Jakub Zboril

Jakub Zboril, D

6’/201

Boston’s 1st choice, 13th overall in 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Current Team: Providence Bruins (AHL)

Previous Team: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Strengths: Outstanding, NHL-caliber skater with speed, balance, agility; can get off the mark quickly, has a powerful glide and exhibits nifty foot work to change direction efficiently. Good puckhandler who can make the first pass and uses his feet and stick to break pucks out of his own end consistently. Hard shot- a missile that he can drive from the point through traffic on net. Enjoys the physical aspect of his position: engages with opposing puck carriers and will put his body through their hands to disrupt the rush. A willing hitter who opened eyes in his draft season for his embrace of physicality, and as he gains experience, is getting smarter and more effective in his ability to end plays along the walls.

Weaknesses: Vision/hockey instincts are pretty average; doesn’t always make the right reads/decisions and not an overly creative puck distributor. Play away from puck is a continued work in progress; still developing 360-degree awareness and d-zone coverages to prevent opponents from finding soft seams and exploiting time/space.

Overall analysis: Boston’s top pick five years ago has been slow to develop and might not ever get there (at least with the organization that drafted him), which makes him one of the more polarizing prospects in the system. Like others who have come before him and those who will surely follow, he is a victim more of expectations than out of a failure to perform. While his development has not been as rapid as other 2015 peers who were chosen after he was, Zboril has taken positive steps, even if he’s been unable to do more than play sparingly in just two NHL games with the B’s.

As part of a very strong draft class, Zboril was solidly in the second tier of defensemen available after Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski, all of whom were drafted in the first eight selections and have gone on to become established NHL players. Zboril’s junior teammate, Thomas Chabot, was drafted five spots later at 18th overall, and has emerged as a top tier player, which has added to the disappointment of a slow development process in Providence.

Luckily for the Bruins, Brandon Carlo is the defender from the 2015 draft who has been able to become a staple supporting cast member, and while Zboril doesn’t have Carlo’s size, he’s more of a 2-way threat and hybrid style player that it is hard to account for why things have not come together for him. The irony in the criticism Zboril gets on Internet message boards and Twitter is that at the time he was drafted, he was the one player of Boston’s three first-round selections at 13-15 who was the accepted commodity at his draft slot, while Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn were the players who raised the most controversy given where they were projected.

Five years later, it is obvious that Boston should have gotten more production out of those three selections, with only DeBrusk currently a full-time roster player, while others selected after 15 have gone on to become stars. Having said that, Zboril just turned 23 in February- he has time to establish himself as an NHL player with the B’s, even if time is running out. He just played out the third year of his entry-level contract, and should receive a qualifying offer. He’s been consistent in Providence- posting 19 points in each of his three AHL seasons. The offensive production that looked to translate from junior play probably isn’t going to be there, but he’s shown improvement as a defender since turning pro, and he can leverage that into a decent NHL role in the right situation.

Projection: The days of projecting the left-shot Zboril as a top-3 NHL D are long over, but barring some kind of miracle, he has the tools to be a solid 5/6/7 and role player at the top level. Granted, that’s not going to make many celebrate him given who Boston could’ve had at 13, but he still has it in him to establish himself in the NHL as a solid complementary/depth player who could enhance any defense with his mobility and skills.

His playing style and game reminds us of another heralded junior defenseman who put up points and was expected to be a 2-way NHL star. After being a top-10 pick in his first draft, Nick Boynton had to reinvent himself as more of a defense-first, supporting D, going on to play more than 600 NHL games and raising the Stanley Cup at the end of his career with the Chicago Blackhawks. We’re not saying Zboril is the next Boynton, but there are some similarities here, and at age 23, he’s far from washed up- Boynton was 22 when he finally cracked Boston’s lineup to stay. For a more modern example, Matt Grzelcyk was 23 when he became an NHL regular, but he did it after playing just one full season of pro in the AHL before making the jump to Boston to stay.

Right now- Zboril is at a personal and professional crossroads: can he finally make the cut in his fourth season, or will he go back down to the AHL, and essentially see the window close on a possible Bruins career? When you look at his physical gifts and playing style, there isn’t any clear explanation for why Zboril has failed to develop into an every day NHL player by now, but nevertheless, this is where we are.

At the very least, he’s shown improvement in each of his three seasons, so he’s got a chance to make it in year four- he can absolutely skate, pass and shoot- if he can put it all together, the ability is there to be a player in the NHL.

 

SportsNet pre-draft clip of Zboril- “expected to go in the middle of the first round”- yes, that was the projection, and that’s where he went.

 

TSP friend Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network is a believer in Zboril, and talked about him at length in arecent podcast at around the 1:07:45 mark. Here’s a video interview he did with him last season:

 

 

Dominic Tiano: 2020 Boston Bruins NHL Draft Preview- OHL Prospects

Dominic Tiano returns once again to add to the fine content he’s been churning out over the last several weeks with a look at Ontario-area options for the Boston Bruins in the upcoming 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Dom is a top source for hockey talent in that key region of Canada, and this year is shaping up to be a strong group of prospects in Ontario. Sudbury Wolves forward Quinton Byfield will be the first selection out of the OHL and long off the board by the time the B’s make their first choice at the end of the second round, but there will be some intriguing players available to them. Enjoy Dom’s early bird projection of whom Boston might take a shot at.- KL

The COVID-19 pandemic has left the date on when and how we could possibly have the National Hockey League’s Entry Draft in question, so one might question if this is too soon. On the other hand, there is no more hockey to scout and evaluate so why not?

The Boston Bruins don’t have a first-round pick because of the deadline deal that brought Ondrej Kase to Boston. They also don’t have a fourth-round pick – traded to New Jersey that saw the Bruins acquire Marcus Johansson near the 2019 trade deadline.

That leaves the Bruins with 5 picks at the draft. We don’t know the order of selection and we don’t know if there will be a Stanley Cup awarded, therefore we are going by standings which has the Bruins picking last in each round. So, here’s a look at some possibilities the Bruins could look at. My area is of course, the Ontario Hockey League, so that’s where we will focus for now:

Photo credit: Terry Wilson/OHL ImagesZayde Wisdom of the Kingston Frontenacs. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

ROUND 2, 62 OVERALL – ZAYDE WISDOM – KINGSTON FRONTENACS – RIGHT WING

Forgetting the fact that the Bruins have been looking for a second line right wing for some time now, Wisdom fits the bill as both a right winger and best player available.

Wisdom is a good skater with good speed and is markedly improved from a year ago. He is able to get on the forecheck quickly and create havoc. He darts into lanes quickly and without hesitation. He’s a small guy at 5’9” but built like a tank. Quite simply he is the little engine that can with a motor and work ethic that never hits pause.

Wisdom is not afraid to go to the dirty areas, in fact, he has a superb net front presence. You’ll find he parks himself in front of the blue paint and yes, he is hard to move. But he’ll also score the majority if his goals from the top of or in the paint. But he also has an excellent shot and release that can beat a goaltender from the high slot or coming down his wing. Frankly, with his ability to find open ice combined with his shot, we are a little bit surprised he doesn’t score more of those goals.

Wisdom has also improved on his puck possession and has learned the importance of maintaining possession in today’s game. He is strong on his feet and hard to separate from the puck. His body is always in a good position to protect the puck. We would like to see his playmaking skills improve. To put it in hockey terms, would like to see his hands catch up to his feet and his head.

ROUND 3, 93 OVERALL – RORY KERINS – SAULT STE MARIE GREYHOUNDS – CENTER

Kerins plays the game the right way and is actually an accomplished 200-foot player. He has no fear of getting into the higher danger zone area in the slot area. He can score the dirty goals or beat you with his shot. He’ll battle along the walls, and has surprising strength at 5’10”. He has the ability to be an effective forechecker. If there is an area that I feel he could improve it’s adding an extra gear. That would help him in getting on the forecheck quicker. Despite his willingness to go into battle, he does it the right way, and the Greyhounds recognized that by awarding him the Dr. Bill Kelly Award as the Most Gentlemanly Player.

Kerins also has very good hockey IQ. He has shown he can be a good playmaker. He can slow down and wait for a play to become available and make a good pass, with a very good ability to lead players with a pass by putting it into areas they can skate into. However, judging how his playmaking skills are is difficult. The Greyhounds are a young team that need to gain some experience. And they didn’t muster up a whole lot of offense this season, just 253 goals and that ranks 14th in the OHL.

Defensively, Kerins understands positioning, whether it’s getting his body or stick into lanes, or understanding where he needs to be and is always prepared for the breakout. The coaches have the trust in him to take key defensive zone draws and use him on the penalty kill.

ROUND 5, 155 OVERALL – VILLE OTTAVAINEN – KITCHENER RANGERS – DEFENCE

Ottavainen got off to a blazing start, causing most of his offensive damage in the first 15 games scoring 4 goals and 6 assists in that time, but managed just 5 assists in the remaining 38 games (and two of them came in one game). So, any questions surrounding his adapting to the North American ice should have been laid to rest in those first 15 games, right? So, what happened?

Well, for one Ottavainen saw his ice time drop as the season progressed, especially after the Rangers acquired veteran Holden Wale in a trade with the Soo Greyhounds. As a player though, you have to make the most of the opportunities presented to you. It’s no fault of his, Wale was just a very experienced OHL’er

If you are a reader of some of the independent draft publications available to you, there are a couple questions regarding Ottavainen. One of them is his first step speed. Well, he has such a long reach, he keeps the opposition close enough that he effectively uses that reach to his advantage. Defensively, there isn’t much need for him there, but it could help the transition game. But he is such a mobile and agile skater that I don’t see the lack of blazing speed as an issue.

Another issue is his questionable decision making. I don’t really buy into that. He is one of the youngest defenders in the draft class and he has shown the ability to make very good passes and his playmaking skills are very good and he moves well enough to jump up into the play. Did we mention he has a booming shot? As he gains experience and confidence, this won’t be an issue, and maybe playing pro in Finland is a blessing in disguise. (Signed to play with Oulun Karpat of the Finnish Elite League next season).

ROUND 6, 186 OVERALL – JAMES HARDIE – MISSISSAUGA STEELHEADS – LEFT WING

No draft eligible player likes to shoot the puck more then Hardie. He led the draft class comfortably in shots on goal and finished fifth in goals per game with .58. He has an NHL caliber shot and release and not every shot is an attempt to beat the goalie. He creates a lot of second-chance opportunities just by putting the puck in the right place so that the goaltender can’t eat it up.

Hardie’s skating is fine technically, but he doesn’t generate a lot of speed both in fist steps and top flight. But he is capable of finding openings and sneaking into them, however, he doesn’t always drive to the high danger zone in front of the net. But he is dangerous with space as evidenced by his powerplay abilities, finishing third among draft eligible players.

Hardie is a goal scorer that needs to round out the rest of his game. He’ll require patience and a good development program that will help him in achieving the necessary tools to play at the NHL level.

ROUND 7, 217 OVERALL – LOUKA HENAULT – WINDSOR SPITFIRES – DEFENCE

Henault is a mobile two-way defender who has his head on a swivel when in possession of the puck, almost always seemingly surveying the ice and looking for the best options available. He’s a good skater that has good mobility both north-south and east-west. He walks the offensive blue line very well and creates lanes by doing so. And he can jump up the wall and make pinches when he needs to.

Henault is known for his shot. While he hasn’t shown that he can overpower goaltenders with it, he usually finds the target and he doesn’t try to score, but to put it in areas where he can create rebounds and second chance opportunities. The fact that the bulk of his assists were primary assists speaks to that and his passing abilities.

Defensively, Henault was steady on the backend for the Spitfires who still have a young and somewhat green blueline. He understands positioning, uses his stick well to defend, and is willing to battle in all the hard areas. And he is effective at moving the puck out of his zone.

Henault is one of those players that doesn’t excel at any one thing, but you get an honest effort and steady performances at both ends of the ice.

Henault was passed over in 2019 and is re-entering the draft.

That’s a wrap- we’ll be doing a few more draft preview stories as we get closer to the event, whenever the NHL has it. We’re in uncertain times, but it’s never too early to provide information and insights on the future of the league, and the OHL was as good a place as any to start.- KL

Thoughts on the 2011 Bruins Game 7 Zoom reunion

 

Bruins zoom2

It may or may not have gone exactly the way the Boston Bruins public and media relations staff drew it up, but last night’s 2011 Stanley Cup team reunion on Zoom broadcast with Game 7 on NESN was high entertainment for those who got a chance to see it, even if the humor was narrowly focused on the B’s fanbase.

I mean, take 20 players, some still in the NHL as players and coaching staff, others out of the NHL but still involved in the game, and a few more retired and out of hockey, add wine, beer or other more potent libations of choice, quarantine during a global pandemic and then have them re-live one of the greatest games of their lives via virtual conferencing technology. What could possibly go wrong, right?

Right.

From a fan perspective, the event was gold, and it is one more example of the modern information age opening the door for the public getting to see a side of hockey players and the culture that they are rarely able…or authorized to. It was unfiltered, uncensored and unbelievable- just 20 guys watching what was for most of them, the finest moment of their careers, distilled to one decisive, crystalline 60-minute victory on the road to cap an improbable comeback of a dream season.

Championship teams win because when they go to battle on ice, they fight for each other. The NHL’s playoffs- more than two months of grueling, grinding, grappling to climb the summit and raise the Stanley Cup overhead in the middle of June- is a war of attrition that requires such excellence in performance but also unmatched, singular dedication to each and every one involved in reaching that goal. A lesser team would not have survived a pair of 0-2 holes in two of four playoff series that year. A dysfunctional group would have crumbled under the pressure of a 0-0 Game 7 against the toughest out of a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that posed a bad matchup for the B’s. In 2011, the Bruins dared us all to believe in them, and then they delivered.

Last night, fans got a firsthand look at why that team was special.

Milan Lucic held court for much of it, reminding us about why he was such a fan favorite in his Bruins days. Yes, his NHL career after being traded away in the summer of 2015 has gone the wrong way, but in 2011, he was at the height of prominence, winning another hockey championship in his home city of Vancouver, just as he did in 2007 as a member of the Memorial Cup-winning Giants of the WHL.

It was good to see Tim Thomas back with his teammates again. His Bruins tenure didn’t end well, and the open wounds on both sides of that departure had been allowed to fester in the intervening years. That is, until a few months back, when Thomas came back home, reluctantly told his story, and the vast majority of those who had felt rejected by his aloofness and distance, embraced him once more. His Vezina Trophy regular season and subsequent Conn Smythe spring of 2011 remains to this day arguably the greatest display of sustained excellence in goaltending the NHL has ever seen, and he deserves to celebrated, not criticized.

Current core Bruins Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask– comprising nearly a quarter of the roster that took home the championship nine years ago are still here. That in itself is a testament to their greatness to this franchise and that legacy will endure in Boston long after the last one of them plays his final game wearing a spoked-B. Many championship teams are all but scattered and gone just a few years later, but for these five to continue to represent this organization and produce the way they have nearly a decade later is proof of that 2011 team’s worthiness as champions.

We’ll stop there. After all, there were so many moments in the broadcast, so many myriad individual examples of why these players were able to accomplish what so many are unable to, but to do so would spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet. And hopefully, if you missed it, there will be other opportunities for it to be seen and enjoyed going forward. Sure, the language and some of the comments were not for a general audience, but what the players showed us was real and typical of how great teams achieve that greatness- out of pure love and respect for one another, and how such an experience bonds them together for life.

For so many Bruins fans, 2011 marked the end of 39 long years of frustration- of multiple Boston hockey clubs coming oh-so-close to a championship but ultimately falling short. Even after the win in 2011, Boston has returned to the close-but-no-cigar reality of 2013 and 2019. That’s why this team, a group of players known for its cohesiveness even before the playoffs began nine years ago, was the perfect salve for so much disappointment. They were the fourth of Boston’s major sports teams to win a championship after the New England Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, but for those who bleed Black and Gold, it was about saving the best for last.

For one night in April of 2020, with everything going on around the country and world, with the current NHL season hanging in the balance so trivial in the wake of the larger loss of life to a hideous virus, getting the band back together (minus a few- Nathan Horton and Tomas Kaberle who left early for a business-related call to duty), was exactly what the fans needed.

Reunions remind us of who we are, and that ultimately, we move on from groups and events and go on with our lives. Here’s to those who get it, and understand the power that such an event has against the backdrop of the hurting and uncertainty/disruption in their lives that so many are going through these days. Gratitude that they made it happen and we could see what that experience meant for the men who lived it.

As Lucic, so appropriately reminded us all at reunion’s end last night as he raised his wineglass: “This is a family we’ll have for the rest of our lives. So, I love you guys. Cheers.”

Bruins zoom

ADDENDUM:

Here is the recently-posted Zoom video on YouTube “Locker Room Time Machine”

Here is the link to Eric Russo’s NHL.com piece with the highlights in cased you missed it and can’t find a version online.

 

 

 

Off the top of the head: Trent Frederic

The Bruins prospect series continues with an updated look at Trent Frederic. For a more detailed take, be sure to listen to the podcast with Anthony Kwetkowski of Bruins Network. The players in this series are not done in any kind of pecking order- we’re just selecting ones who we feel are going to appeal to the interests of the readership and fanbase.

Trent Frederic, C

6-2/205

Boston’s second selection, 29th overall in 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Current team: Providence Bruins (AHL), Boston Bruins (NHL)

Previous team: University of Wisconsin Badgers (B1G)

Strengths: Big-bodied, left-shot center is an outstanding athlete and has the major league tools to be an impact NHL forward. Very good skater with a fluid, powerful stride and the ability to pull away in open ice or put defenders on their heels when he gains speed through the neutral zone. Strong on his skates- will drive through contact and does his best work between the dots and just outside the paint. Good vision and solid instincts to be a capable 200-foot player. Strong in the faceoff circle. Very good hand/eye coordination- dangerous in front of the net for high-tips and deflections. Physically intimidating player- loves contact and relentless in the way he lines up opponents and finishes hits. Has developed into a good fighter who most would rather not tangle with; he uses his natural strength, balance and a long reach to devastate opponents with combination punches over and under, while wearing them down with the ability to absorb shots and keep throwing. Solid character- respected and liked on his teams, and willing to put in the work.

Weaknesses: Offensive creativity/IQ is not on par with other top centers in his peer group- not a pure passer or playmaker. Puck skills and shot may prevent him from being a true top-2 center at the NHL level, but they aren’t “weaknesses” in the traditional sense- he’s just not overly skilled and needs to commit to shooting the puck more often, as his eight goals this season (59 games) attest, a drop from 14 in his rookie pro year in 18-19. In 17 career NHL games, he’s gone scoreless.

Overall analysis: Frederic was not a popular pick in 2016, present company included, but he’s done a fine job of developing himself into a legitimate NHL prospect, even if his eventual offensive ceiling will be somewhat limited. He’s a top athlete who was an accomplished quarterback and baseball player until he focused exclusively on hockey when joining the U.S. National Team in 2014. Prior to that, he was on a powerhouse 16U St. Louis AAA Blues team, which included D1 NCAA standouts Luke Martin (U Mich.), Zach Solow (Northeastern), Josh Dunne (Clarkson), Ty Farmer (UMass), Joe Woll (Boston College) and Tommy Nappier (Ohio St). Keith Tkachuk coached several teams Frederic played on and Brady Tkachuk saw some time on that top Blues squad as an underager.

He was a highly sought-after NCAA recruit, and turned heads in his true freshman season in Madison, putting up more than a point per game and showing zero issue with the transition from junior to one of the top conferences in college hockey. While his sophomore year was a bit of a step back statistically, he turned pro at age 20, signing with the B’s before the 2018-19 season after finishing out the previous spring in Providence on an ATO. The production at the AHL level has been slower to develop, but with his big frame and rugged, hard-nosed play with a real mean streak, Frederic is proving to be a player who is right in Boston’s wheelhouse in terms of being a heavy, hard to play against center who is versatile enough to play on the wings or up the middle. He won’t be a point-per-game player, but his childhood hockey idol was David Backes, and he can certainly bring similar attributes. He’s a better skater than Backes, not as skilled, but should be a solid 2-way NHLer soon. Perhaps a more appropriate comparison to Frederic’s potential is current Bruin Charlie Coyle– will be hard-pressed to develop into a 30-goal scorer at the NHL level, but will be able to do a lot of things effectively.

Frederic has been unfairly maligned because of where he was expected to be taken versus where he went and seeing other players like Alex DeBrincat develop into top-6 NHL scoring forwards. At his best, he goes hard to the net with his stick on the ice and can redirect shots home or finish off plays in tight while giving out and taking hits. When it comes to pure north-south power forwards who play in straight lines and go to the net, there aren’t many in his class in the AHL right now at a career .51 points per game in 127 contests. And let’s be completely frank- if he had the skills in his draft year to be a clear top-6 at the NHL level, he would not have been taken at the end of the first round- he would’ve been gone in the first five picks.

Projection: Frederic can one day be a capable, consistent 3rd-line NHL center, but there’s still enough room in his development that he could play his way into a lower-end 2nd-line pivot in a pinch. Being able to play up and down the lineup is an asset for any team, and Frederic can also play wing if that’s where the Bruins need him. He fits the model of what the organization likes up front, and has enough grit and nasty to develop into a fan favorite once the rest of his game catches up to him. At worst, he’s going to be a very good 4th-liner who can do a little bit of everything, but with his physical ability and draft pedigree- more is expected. At age 22- there is still room to grow here, and he’s just too big, athletic and talented to be pigeonholed as a lower-end player right now.

Trent Frederic’s 1st NHL tilt: decisive vs. Brandon Tanev

 

Frederic demolishes Joseph LaBate (Belleville Senators) earlier this season

Frederic starts slowly vs. Anthony Angello but watch the finish and over/under combos:

 

An older, dated video on Frederic with interview and highlights from Wisconsin which showcases some offense

Closing time: Thoughts on Peter Cehlarik

One story that cropped up late in the weekend and got some mild traction in Boston and the Bruins beat Monday was word out of Slovakia where it appears that left wing Peter Cehlarik’s time with the team is up. The 2013 third-round selection was interviewed in local media outlet Ta3.com, expressing his frustration at not having carved out more of an NHL role for himself, and appearing to levy a sizeable share of the blame to coach Bruce Cassidy (admittedly, we’re going off of translation devices and the interpretations of other sources) for his inability to do so.

We’ve tried to be fair to Cehlarik here, observing in the past that given his hands/skills and potential to generate offense, he was worthy of opportunities in Boston. Having said that, it was never a secret that he was a surprising pick of the Bruins in Newark at the end of the third round because he did not have the kind of typical attributes that the B’s prize in their forwards: higher-end skating and/or ability to play with pace/urgency, willingness to consistently get to the front of the net and play hard between the dots, and a modicum of jam- basically-  being hard to play against. Even when putting up decent numbers in Sweden, Cehlarik could never be identified as a player who was a rugged competitor and a tough opponent. Although possessing a big frame, slick hands and the vision to create, he was a soft-skill, perimeter player.

Back in 2016, we had this to say about him after he signed his NHL contract with Boston:

The Slovak, who has spent the past three seasons playing in Sweden, is a top-six NHL forward dark horse kind of prospect, but he’s also one of those guys who is tough to peg because if he doesn’t make it as a scorer, it’s hard to envision him playing a heavy and responsible enough game to succeed on the third or fourth lines in Boston. His initial first steps are a bit clunky, though with a long, efficient stride, he can work well in open space with good straight line speed. Cehlarik improved his skating from when he was first drafted, but it will never be a strength. He has a quick release that allows him to score goals off the rush;  an-in-stride drive that sometimes handcuffs goalies. He’ll also take the puck in close and shows some pretty fine dangle in getting net minders to open up and commit.

So, now- we’re facing the reality that the 2013 draft class was a bust for the Bruins. They traded their 1st-rounder (Jason Dickinson) to Dallas for Jaromir Jagr, so the first choice was at the end of the 2nd round after reaching the Stanley Cup Final that spring. Linus Arnesson was Boston’s first selection, and the “2-way”, “puck-moving” defenseman has already come and gone from North America, returning to Sweden after the end of his ELC and 79 games, 1 goal for the Providence Bruins from 2015-17. Cehlarik joins him as the next highest-drafted player to not meet hopes and expectations.

The point of this post is not to highlight some of the organization’s missteps in the draft- it happens to every team and organization and while some seem to prefer to call attention to the draft failures by this club, that’s not the key takeaway here. What is important to note is that the B’s broke away from their normal draft model to take a swing at a player who did not fit with their organizational values and style. When it works, great- but when it doesn’t, should anyone be surprised?

The good news for the club is that they have done a better job than any other NHL franchise at identifying undrafted talent and getting production from that viable pipeline. It’s not  something you want to get into the habit of depending on, but if the 2013 Boston draft is shaping up as a dud (Ryan Fitzgerald is a group 6 free agent, Wiley Sherman may not be offered an extension given the recent NCAA signings) with only Cehlarik and Anton Blidh having played any NHL games, at least the lack of success in Newark hasn’t adversely impacted the team’s fortunes seven years later.

Final points on Cehlarik before we wrap up: He isn’t a terrible player. He probably could and should have gotten more playing time than he did, but at the same time, the idea we’ve seen put forth by some that he wasn’t given a “fair shake” rings hollow. What is a “fair shake,” exactly? We heard the same comments with Alexander Khokhlachev when it didn’t work out for him here, too- is a “fair shake” being gifted 15+ minutes a night on a top line regardless of production? Is a “fair shake” continuing to roll out a player who, for whatever reason, doesn’t enjoy the trust and confidence of the coaching staff and fellow teammates? Even if the player isn’t doing his part in practice and games to earn his way? Is a “fair shake” getting opportunities to play with David Krejci and Charlie Coyle? No one is entitled to a “fair shake”, whatever that means- you get what you earn.

The fact of the matter is- Cehlarik got 40 games in the NHL spread out over three seasons, and was unable to make it work. He says that Cassidy essentially blocked him from succeeding. That’s his view and he’s welcome to it. Cassidy said at various times when he was up that Cehlarik’s lack of details and at times urgency are what prevented him from sticking in Boston. Both can be true- it isn’t necessarily an either/or. The Bruins obviously wanted him to succeed- there is not a conspiracy to keep a good young player down, and it is not wrong to assert that he didn’t do enough to make it in world’s best league, despite some neat flashes of what could have been.

We could go on, but what is the point?

TSP friend Ty Anderson has done some solid work on the recent Cehlarik analysis. As a matter of fact, Ty’s insights and opinions over at 98.5 the Sports Hub are almost always on point. Whether you agree or disagree, he takes the time to put some meat on his opinions and loves a good debate. His coverage on the latest with Cehlarik here and here are worth checking out if you haven’t already.

In the end, we wish Cehlarik well in Sweden. He’s probably better suited to be a solid pro in Europe where his style of game will translate. We do not see him being an NHL player going forward- all teams had a chance to claim him on waivers and any one or more could have made a push to trade for him. It didn’t happen, so both parties are moving on.

As the old song goes, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

 

Here’s video of Cehlarik’s best night- his only NHL multi-goal game. Credit to “Dafoomie”, who does a great job at archiving B’s clips for us all over on YouTube:

 

 

 

 

Bruins prospect interview: Kyle Keyser

Dominic Tiano did the bulk of the work here to do up the background post and track B’s undrafted free agent goaltender Kyle Keyser. We’re both glad to give you the most current update on a player who came from a non-traditional hockey market, but who played his junior hockey with one of the OHL’s most storied franchises- the Oshawa Generals. The Gennies, who most recently won the Memorial Cup in 2015, are responsible for producing some of the top Boston Bruins players in franchise history: Rick Middleton, Terry O’Reilly, Wayne Cashman, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton and…Bobby Orr. Without further ado, enjoy this post and interview about one of the more unheralded prospects in the B’s organization. With Tuukka Rask firmly entrenched as the No. 1, but getting a little long in the tooth, the Bruins must start looking to the future in net, and Keyser deserves greater attention despite not having been drafted.- KL

Goalie #38 Kyle Keyser of the Oshawa Generals

Photo: Brandon Taylor/OHL Images

A future NHL goaltender from Coral Springs Florida?

Hockey was gaining steam in Florida and more and more youngsters were getting into the game at the time Boston Bruins prospect Kyle Keyser was. But very few were willing to strap on the pads with visions of guarding the 4 X 6 cage at the National Hockey League level.

Keyser finds himself at the doorstep, but it has not been the traditional route you see goalkeepers take.

As a 14-year-old, Keyser made the move to Michigan to play Bantam AAA hockey for Belle Tire for the 2013-14 season. The following year, Keyser guarded the net for the Victory Honda Under-16 team. He even got into a game for the Under-18 squad and all he did was shut the door stopping every shot he faced.

Prior to the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, Oshawa Generals General Manager Roger Hunt had his sights set on drafting Keyser and made no secret about it. But the Flint Firebirds selected Keyser with the fourth round, 74th overall, four spots before the Generals would make their selection.

Keyser would appear in 17 games during his rookie season and was named the Ivan Tennant Memorial Award as the top academic high school player.

But prior to the 2016-17 season, Keyser asked for a trade and there was no doubt Hunt would get his netminder. Hunt would give Flint back their own second round pick at the 2017 Priority Selection to acquire Keyser.

Keyser’s NHL draft year was his first with the Generals where he posted a 3.41 goals-against-average and .891 save-percentage. And much like it has been throughout his career, his numbers are always better in the playoffs as he posted a 2.37 goals-against-average and .937 save-percentage- A true money goaltender.

Many independent scouting services had him ranked for the NHL Draft. NHL Central Scouting had him 11th among North American goaltenders. Yours Truly had him as the third ranked goaltender from the OHL behind Michael DiPietro (Round 3, 64th overall – Vancouver Canucks) and Matthew Villalta (Round 3, 72nd overall – Los Angeles Kings).

No one really knows why NHL GM’s didn’t call his name at the draft. However, the NHL CBA allows teams to sign undrafted prospects to an Entry Level Contract prior to the start of the NHL season and on October 3, 2017 Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney did just that, inking Keyser to a 3-year deal. The Bruins saw enough of Keyser to make the decision an easy one that season as they drafted Keyser’s Oshawa teammate Jack Studnicka in the second round, 53rd overall.

The 2018-19 season saw Keyser take his game to yet another level, having his best regular season to date. But as I said earlier, Keyser is a money goaltender and during the Generals playoff run stood on his head leading his team to playoff wins over the rival Peterborough Petes and the heavily favoured Niagara IceDogs. It was going to take a miracle to win the Conference Finals over the Ottawa 67’s and few, if any, gave the Generals any chance of winning the series. Keyser had the best playoff save-percentage in 25 years heading into the series. But Keyser gave his teammates just that – a chance. The best performance I had ever seen from Keyser was in game 4 of that series. Leading 1-0 going into the third period and his team being outshot 24 – 18, Keyser put on a performance to be remembered during the third period as the 67’s pelted the netminder with 19 shots while the Generals mustered just 4.

But with less then 3 minutes remaining in the third, things fell apart in front of Keyser. William Ennis took the dreaded delay of game penalty and just a minute later, Nico Gross took a checking to the head penalty leaving the Gennies two men down. With DiPietro on the bench for an extra attacker and skating 6 on 3, Keyser turned aside chance after chance and tracked the puck like a bat tracks an insect.

With just 34 seconds remaining, Tye Felhaber would tie the game and send it into overtime. Still on the powerplay, Felhaber would win it just 20 seconds into overtime.

With junior hockey in the rearview, Keyser completed his first season of hockey with limited action in Providence of the AHL and Atlanta of the ECHL, looking forward to the 2020-21 as a springboard to his continued development.

Kirk and I had the chance to talk to Keyser in a question and answer session:

The Scouting Post: With all that is going on in the world today, first off, I hope you and your family are staying safe and well, have you begun any offseason training or will that come later on in the summer?

Kyle Keyser: Fortunately, with all the craziness going on in todays society, my family and I have been fortunate to be staying healthy amongst the uncertainty and challenging times that we face in the world today. It has obviously been disappointing to all of us with the season being postponed and not being able to be at the rink every day with the boys. I have started my off-season training with as many resources as I have available with keeping a conscious mind of prioritizing staying smart and healthy with workouts at my home. We have an excellent strength coach in Providence with Timmy Lebossiere, which he has been providing us at home workouts to stay heathy and in shape during these trying times. I’ve been working out 6 days a week trying to maintain good levels of strength and conditioning through his programs but the actual hard training aspect of summer won’t begin until things have resolved or slowed down with COVID-19.

TSP: Your path so far is not what you’d call a typical one, especially for a goaltender. What, as a kid from Coral Springs Florida, got you into the game and what possessed you to become a goaltender? Which goaltender did you admire growing up and do you try and model your game after him?

KK: Growing up in south Florida is not a traditional path for most people but has really allowed me to evolve into the person and goaltender that I am today. I grew up around the rinks as my older brother, Spencer, got into the game at a young age so it was natural for me to be around hockey all the time as I grew up and I fell in love with it around 3 years old and never stopped looking forward. I grew up idolizing Martin Brodeur as my favorite goalie and he was the person I constantly watched as I was growing up. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really started to watch Tuukka (Rask) and Sergei Bobrovsky as people I enjoy watching and molding my game after. This season unfortunately I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to, so I took the down time to really study a lot of their film and watch every one of their games when I was able to. I bought the NHL subscription pass to be able to watch all the Boston and Florida games whenever I could to see how they play different situations and break down their game film.

TSP: I’ve been following the OHL since the early 1970’s and I can honestly say one of the best single game performances from a goaltender I’ve seen was your game 4 performance versus Ottawa in the Conference Finals in 2019. I’m not sure you are aware of this, but heading into that series, you had the best playoff save-percentage in 25 years. Despite losing 2-1 in overtime, it was a performance to remember. What do you remember most about that game?

KK: Game 4 vs Ottawa was one of the most fun times I’ve had playing hockey. The entire playoffs, I was on an extreme adrenaline rush of playing the highest level of hockey and just trying too help our team make it as far as possible. In regards to that specific game, I felt that I was in a zone that only an athlete would be able to understand. I was doing my best to help our team’s season continue and move as far as we could. It was such an intense hockey game and series that I knew I had to play the best hockey of my life to give our team a chance to win that game. We fought extremely hard throughout the entire process and game and unfortunately, we came up a bit short. I wanted to win that series and game so bad that I knew that the only way to do that was being at my best. The hardest part of the game was knowing that if I didn’t perform my very best, that I was never going to be able to play another game in that uniform for my teammates and management, which puts a lot of things in perspective. I just wanted to go out and leave every ounce of energy and heart that I had to make sure I could give us a chance to win the game and crawl back into the series one game at a time.

TSP: In 2019, OHL coaches voted you as the best puck handling goaltender, after finishing second a year earlier. In today’s game, removing the trapezoid could have a huge impact. Do you have an opinion on whether it should remain or stay in the game?

KK: In regards to the trapezoid, I believe its an incredibly important part of the game and I wouldn’t want to remove it because it keeps the goalie in a safe environment where they know they won’t get run over or injured. Playing the puck sometimes puts you in vulnerable positions as a goalie and by removing it, I think you’d find a lot more injuries for goalies trying to help their team, which I’m all for keeping goalies more safe. I love playing the puck and being active to help our team escape sticky situations, but removing the trapezoid would increase unnecessary risk and I think its necessary to keep players and goalies protected without changing the integrity of the game.

TSP: Beyond the obvious speed/skill/age-experience factor of shooters, what have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your transition from major junior to pro hockey?

KK: I think the biggest difference is how smart the players are in pro hockey. You’re always trying to be one step ahead of your opponent at any level and its just that much harder when the players are that much more skilled. There’s not a big discrepancy in the first and fourth lines in pro hockey, so you have to be aware and alert at all times when they are coming at you regardless of who is on the ice. Another huge challenge is living on your own for the first time and being able to manage being an adult while focusing on hockey all the time. Making sure you’re eating the right foods and cooking good food to allow yourself to be at the highest level is definitely a challenge when you’re doing those things for the first time. Its a huge adjustment in learning how to balance everything in your life and making sure that you’re doing that at an elite level to be able to perform your best with a clear mind.

TSP: As the game continues to evolve with the ever-increasing speed and skill of the skaters and greater structure/systems and innovations teams are employing to improve scoring, what are some of the things you and your goalie coaches are doing to improve fundamentals like skating/footwork, hands, athleticism and even some of the tactical in-game strategies you can use as a goaltender to ensure you are on top of your game?

KK38: I think the biggest improvement and area of focus for me this year with our goalie coaches was working on the positioning aspect of the game. You find out quickly that some of the things you got away with in juniors, won’t work at the next level. I’ve always relied on my athleticism to make a lot of saves but I’ve tried to improve on using my size and positioning as the base for most of my saves in allowing myself to be square to the puck. I know that I can use my athleticism if I need to but I don’t want that to be my default in all situations. I want to have good strong positioning and patience to be able to make easy saves and then use my athletic and explosive abilities to make saves that would require those skills. Using my positioning has been a main emphasis point of focus to allow myself to be ahead of the play and then using my athletic abilities as a last resort to make saves instead of using that as my foundation.

TSP: Who are some of the best shooters you’ve faced in your career to date, and what about them made it so difficult to defend/prevent them from scoring?

KK: Just from my experiences in training camp, some of the hardest shooters to stop would be guys like (David) Pastrnak and (Brad) Marchand. The reason is that they’re so good at not giving away where they’re going to shoot the puck and they’re always keeping you guessing. As a goalie, you’re always looking to gain an advantage in reading shooters and their tendencies but when shooters of their caliber are as unpredictable as they are, it makes it very difficult to read what they’re going to do or where they’re going to shoot. You really have to challenge yourself to be patient on your feet and make sure you’re in the best possible position to give them the least amount of space and net to shoot at because most times, if there are holes in your positioning, they’re going to exploit those areas and make you pay. Those two guys have always been difficult to stop and read from my past three training camps in Boston.

TSP: What has your experience in the Bruins organization been like with regard to the coaching, player development and person-to-person interactions you have received since signing with the team? Who has been the most instrumental in your development as a player and person?

KK: My experience so far in Boston has been nothing short of incredible. From top to bottom, the organization is first class in their staff and how they treat each and every player. Whether you’re a perennial 50 goal scorer or on an entry level deal, they treat every player with the same amount of respect and honesty, which goes a long way. I have been extremely fortunate to know that they will always put me in good positions to succeed and give me all the resources I need to play at the highest level. Coach (Bob) Essensa and Coach (Mike) Dunham, the two goalie coaches in the organization have been instrumental in my success and ability to grow. They have helped me understand different aspects of the position that I wasn’t aware of the importance. They have allowed me to grow tremendously as an individual and as a goalie by always encouraging me to improve and try new things that I didn’t know I needed to.

As an athlete, you’re always working on things to get better and reach the highest levels and those two guys have always been right by my side to provide me with insightful information and new things to help me accomplish that, so I know without their guidance, I would not be in the position I am today. They’re so great at being genuinely great people and always dropping everything if I ever needed anything whether it be from a hockey or personal aspect of life. I’m very grateful for their support and guidance throughout this journey thus far and I’m excited to keep working with them every day and growing as a person and goalie.

We want to thank Kyle Keyser for taking the time to share his insights with us here, and to 3 Amigo Dom for setting it all up and providing the analysis in this post.

 

Bruins Cult Heroes: Shoe and Moe’s Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em 1988 Playoffs

This is a new series where we’ll recount some of our favorite underappreciated, cult favorite players in Boston Bruins lore. Kirk kicks it off with the Boys of Spring- Bruce Shoebottom and Moe Lemay, who helped jumpstart a magical run in 32 years ago. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but against Adams Division archrivals Buffalo and Montreal. those two made an unforgettable impression on the high school sophomore from Hudson, N.H. Enjoy! -KL

SHOOOOE! SHOOOOOE! SHOOOOOOE!

The chants rang down from the Boston Garden rafters during the Boston Bruins Adams Division semifinal series against the Buffalo Sabres in the spring of 1988.

The B’s were up 2-0 after capturing both home games to open the seven-game set and in Game 2 on April 7, defenseman Bruce Shoebottom  swooped in from the point and fired home the winning goal in a 4-1 victory.

Continue reading

Reed Duthie- Off the top of the head: Victor Berglund

Reed Duthie gives us a superb breakdown on Bruins prospect/Swedish defenseman Victor Berglund. Reed has extensive knowledge of the Swedish pro and junior circuit, so there aren’t many better at bringing you the insights he does here. Enjoy this latest contribution from one of the Amigos- KL

In the 2017 NHL Entry Draft the Boston Bruins used their 7th round pick (195th overall) to select defensemen Victor Berglund from the MoDo system in Sweden. A “project” type selection Berglund showed immediate promise while rising through his hometown MoDo system where he was excellent with in the SuperElit (top junior league in Sweden) ranking 2nd on his team in defensive scoring, as a 17-year old in an under-20 league, in his NHL draft season before posting 18 points across 23 games at the SuperElit level the following year earning a callup that season to the Allsvenskan where he’s since played in 151 games while scoring 15 goals & 28 assists for 43 points. The Ornskoldsvik, Sweden native will leave his hometown club for the first time in his career for the 2020-21 season moving to Lulea in the SHL where he will look to take the next steps forward.

Assets:

Skating – A tremendous skater, Berglund has an all-around approach to that part of his game with a strong ability to start from a dead stop, quick and powerful acceleration and a strong stride leading to a top speed that will put Berglund near recent Bruins signee Jack Ahcan. As Berglund’s game grows at the senior level, he is consistently able to take more chances in the rush or striding down from the point because he is able to use his skating ability to recover quickly.

Hockey IQ – The element that makes Berglund a prospect with NHL potential is his ability to mix his strength as a skater with his ability to see and read the game. A very heady player, Berglund has an innate to be in the right place at the right time in all three zones and rarely makes mistakes with or without the puck. When in the defensive zone, watch for Berglund’s body positioning and quick stick as he is able to keep attackers from his own goal.

First Pass – When exiting the zone, Berglund uses his advanced vision to make a hard, accurate pass to begin transition or just take pressure off his own team.

Shot – Perhaps the biggest area of improvement for Berglund since he arrived at the senior level has been the ability to use his shot. Now able to better navigate shooting lanes and utilizing a heavy shot saw Berglund more than double his goal total from 4 in the 2018-19 season to 10 in the 2019-20 season.

Weaknesses:

Strength – The next element that Berglund will have to improve to continue his rise up prospect ranks will be his overall strength. Listed at 6’0’’ 165lbs, Berglund has room to add size to his frame which will help the strength factor. Not an overly physical player, Berglund is able to use his body position to trap attackers, force attackers away from goal and force turnovers but in board battles Berglund can be bested and moved away from the puck.

Strength of Competition – Berglund’s move to Lulea in the SHL will make a big difference beginning in 2020-21 but all of his 151 games at the senior professional level have come with MoDo in the Allsvenskan (a level comparable to, or just below, the AHL) which has been a tremendous step for young players in Sweden to take before jumping to the SHL or North America. A jump from the Allsvenskan to the NHL or even AHL would take more time to create comfort than one from the SHL, which is something the Bruins have had patience for in the past (Carl Soderberg).

Future:

If Victor Berglund is able to translate his skills from the Allsvenskan to the SHL and be the same type of impactful talent on the backend for Lulea as he was for MoDo while improving his strength it will go a long way to proving that he can play at the NHL level. Berglund did appear with the Providence Bruins for 4 games at the end of the 2018-19 AHL season, so with the North American game a known quantity for him it stands to reason he would look for another shot to excel in the Bruins organization. Berglund projects as #4-5 offensive minded defensemen with strong abilities in his own zone who would do best with a more defensive minded partner to be able to pair up with. Berglund has already proven worthy of a roll of the dice in the 7th round although a breakthrough to the NHL could still be 2-3 years off, he has the talent to be another home run selection for P.J. Axelsson and the Bruins staff.

Berglund (#33) makes a nice seam pass through traffic- primary assist to Kim Rosdahl for the redirect to pull his club to within 1 goal at a little over 2 min into the video. Gets burned right after on the goal to make it 4-2 against, but uses his speed on the rush to gain the zone and gets a secondary helper on the goal that makes it 4-4 at the 3-min mark of the video.

Dominic Tiano: Lyle, Messner, Voyer- Why AHL Contracts vs NHL?

Dom is back with a follow-up to his post yesterday announcing the signing of two 20-year-olds to AHL contracts, and to clarify what these signings mean. Major point 1- these players are NOT on NHL deals, so none of the trio are eligible to play games for the Boston Bruins this season without a NHL contract in place. However- as he explains below, there are specific benefits to having these players in the fold under AHL agreements. It’s well worth reading all the way to the end. -KL

When Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced that they had signed Alex-Olivier Voyer and Brady Lyle to two-year American Hockey League contracts and extended Joel Messner to a one-year AHL deal, Bruins fans took to social media asking why AHL deals?

The obvious answer is that the Bruins have traded away draft picks over the past couple of seasons and are trying to keep the prospect pool filled. But the truth of the matter is this is more of a balancing act then anything.

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, NHL teams are only allowed to have 50 individual player contracts signed at any one time, with the exception of junior eligible players returned to Canadian Major Junior, those contracts can “slide” and not count against the 50-contract limit.

After signing Nick Wolff, Jack Ahcan and Jeremy Swayman last month, the Bruins sat at 31 contracts for next season.

The Bruins have two unrestricted free agent netminders in Jaroslav Halak and Maxime Lagace, and unless they intend on giving Daniel Vladar (RFA) the full-time backup role in Boston, one of them could be back or maybe a different goaltender that has more experience then Vladar. But Vladar needs a contract as well.

That could bring the number of contracts to 33.

Then the Bruins have six unrestricted free agent skaters: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Joakim Nordstrom, Alex Petrovic and Ryan Fitzgerald (who is a group 6 UFA). It’s reasonable to assume from that group the Bruins are likely to make offers to Chara, Krug and Miller to retain their services and even more likely that just two of them will be back. But if they truly want to bring three of them back, they need a contract spot.

That could bring the number to 36 contracts.

The list of restricted free agents is even longer. Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Matt Grzelcyk, Brett Ritchie, Zach Senyshyn, Karson Kuhlman, Brendan Gaunce, Peter Cehlarik, Jakub Zboril, Wiley Sherman and Vladar all become RFA. It’s likely that all of them will receive their qualifying offers if only to retain their rights. We are sure DeBrusk, Bjork and Grzelcyk will be back. The rest are likely to get two-way contracts.

That could bring us to 46 contracts.

Then the Bruins will have to make a decision on Cameron Clarke who they must sign before August 15 or he becomes an unrestricted free agent. That could bring the Bruins to 47 contracts. They also have Cooper Zech on an AHL contract and may want to lock him up before another NHL team swoops in and signs him. That could push the total to 48 contracts.

What these three deals do is two-fold. 1) It locks players up and takes them out of the hands of other NHL teams while providing you three players who at least have a shot of playing in the NHL. 2) By signing them to AHL deals, it allows them the maneuverability to make other roster moves while staying under the 50-contract limit.