The Two Jakes part Deux– with guest columnist Mark Staudinger

Like Dominic Tiano, Mark Staudinger is not just a friend but a knowledgeable hockey evaluator and it is my honor to bring you his insights to the Scouting Post, with his recap of Boston’s top two selections at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and how they fared at this month’s Team Canada World Jr. summer camp in Calgary.

Mark is one of two scouts who covers Western Canada for the Red Line Report and is one of the hardest working people I know.

People seemed to enjoy the recent point/counterpoint feature I did with Dom on Zachary Senyshyn, so perhaps if Mark can find some time, we can engage in a similar debate with Jake DeBrusk, who in similar fashion, seems to have his share of critics because the B’s opted for him over Mathew Barzal. DeBrusk and Jakub Zboril haven’t even had an opportunity to show whether Boston’s faith in them was justified or misplaced. Barzal may in fact end up being a huge organizational mistake the way not drafting Logan Couture was for Boston in 2007. But for anyone to dress that kind of an argument and pure opinion/conjecture up as a fact in August of 2015 is, well, an exercise in futility.

Why not read the opinions/insights of someone who was actually on hand to see them more recently? And again- the Canada camp and scrimmages that took place there are an extremely small sample size, so take this with a grain of salt. I’m sure those who are not fans of DeBrusk certainly will, as it paints him in a better light than some out there see it. 42 goals…at any level that’s an impressive number. You have to think the Bruins can use that kind of production if DeBrusk keeps bringing it.

Enjoy and my thanks to Mark for providing these capsules:

KL

***

Jakub Zbořil: Offensive catalyst responsible for running the Czech Republic power play was played often early in both games, then amount of ice time tapered off as coaches were clearly evaluating other defenders. Obvious from puck drop that he will be the team’s top defender this Christmas, also no coincidence that the Czechs’ fortunes changed when he wasn’t seeing the ice as regularly later in games. Calm demeanor with an effortless stride, uses feet to get the puck into open ice. Easily the most surprising aspect of game was how aggressive physically he was all camp, showcasing great four-way mobility on the larger ice where most struggle to make open ice hits. Heavy snap shot nearly created a couple of great chances off rebounds, where teammates should have finished. Embraces role of triggerman, goalies have a hard time handling quick release shot which are even effective from up high along blueline. Used pinpoint passing to bail self out of trouble in own zone making extended feed hitting outlet in stride. Only major blemish was he let assignment sneak behind him backdoor in own zone for an uncontested goal, but doubt he lets that happen in many real game situations… something to monitor nonetheless.
Jake DeBrusk: First time playing internationally at any age group he clearly was using this summer camp as a chance to adjust to the larger ice surface, appearing more comfortable as things progressed. DeBrusk is someone who relies heavily on understanding his angles to come off the sideboards quickly into traffic, a true winger he seemed to be slightly off at times where normally he stands out on the offensive zone cycle. One major positive aspect to take away is his skating really seemed to hold up on the larger ice getting through the bigger neutral zone with ease, using it to create multiple breakaways showing he can gain separation with quick acceleration alongside Canada’s best. Extreme late bloomer was supposedly 5’5” in Bantam, so most scouts out west believe he could receive a later than expected bump in play the next couple of years. Watching for that during camp, must say he seemed more balanced on his edges than last season staying centered over the puck with less wasted strides. Using this summer camp as a learning experience should more than satisfy the Hockey Canada brass, as long as he goes back to Swift Current and plays like he is capable of he has a decent chance of playing this Christmas in Helsinki.

InGoal Magazine publishes top 50 goalie prospects article: Subban, McIntyre in top-10

Gothberg Hamilton dev camp

Greg Balloch and the staff of InGoal magazine published a top-50 list of the best goaltending prospects in the world last week and you can read the entire thing here:

Top 50 NHL Goaltending Prospects for 2015-2016

The criteria for establishing the listed players as prospects are the following:

1) Must be 25 years old or younger,
2) Have only played 10 games or less in the NHL, and
3) Must be drafted or signed by a professional club.

The last part is key- because there are a few undrafted/unsigned guys out there you could certainly make a case for, but not for this exercise.

Not surprisingly, Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets tops the ranking. This former UMass-Lowell star posted a very good rookie season with the St. John IceCaps last season, leaving a big hole on the RiverHawks’ roster after two seasons and a Mike Richter award in 2014. He and former Bruins prospect Mike Hutchinson are going to be two huge goalies in the Jets crease who both give shooters very little to shoot at, but Hellebuyck’s upside appears to be enormous (no pun intended).

I admit it- I was a tad surprised that Malcolm Subban was No. 2 overall on the list…not because I don’t think he doesn’t deserve to be there (he does), but because every time I say something about him on Twitter, I usually get several tweets from people “in the know” who tell me Zane McIntyre has surpassed him on the B’s prospect depth chart. I don’t bring this up to slight Zane- as you will see, he’s featured prominently on the list as well.

But seriously, folks- Subban is one of the best pure athletes in all of hockey. This is a critical year for him, because his first two AHL campaigns have brought him to a bit of a crossroads- more was expected of him last year, but journeyman pro Jeremy Smith cut into the planned playing time for Subban by performing more consistently. As my friend Mick Colageo of the Bedford Standard-Times points out- Providence bench boss Bruce Cassidy said late last year that Smith had a “B” game when his “A’ game wasn’t working…and that’s why Smith got the nod in the playoffs for the one-and-done P-Bruins.

On Subban, InGoal asserts:

“It looks as if Malcolm Subban will have a legitimate opportunity for an NHL job next season. Based on his back-to-back .920+ save percentage seasons with Providence of the AHL, he’s ready.”

The save percentage totals are solid, no question. Where Subban has gotten into difficulty is with sustaining high level performances without mediocrity and poor starts slipping into the mix. He can be dominant one night, barely average the next. And that’s where Cassidy’s comment about Subban needing to develop his “B” game (read: playing just well enough to give the team a chance) comes in.

You can criticize Subban for his inability to seize the starting job in Providence to date, but that ignores the fact that Niklas Svedberg and Smith posted strong seasons to earn the bulk of the starts, as opposed to Subban playing poorly. Make no mistake, though- this is the year for him to take charge of the crease (assuming he’s not playing in Boston) and assert himself. He’s far too talented not to do that in my view.

The article reminds us that Subban did not even start playing the position until an advanced age (13), which is why his athletic ability is so important. When he was drafted 24th overall in 2012, to say that his technique was a work in progress was couching it in pretty generous terms. I was an outspoken critic of Subban’s in his draft year (and at some humble pie at the draft because I was so sure the Bruins *wouldn’t* draft him) because I felt that if he wasn’t the younger brother of a certain NHL defenseman and (since) Norris Trophy winner, he would not have gotten the attention he did.

In hindsight- I was unfair to the middle Subban brother, who has worked to refine his technique and certainly has the tools to thrive in the NHL one day. It’s a shame that he had such an ignominious debut against St. Louis last season, but you know the old saying about that which does not kill you…

Zane McIntyre checks in at the ninth spot. I probably would have him a couple places earlier than that, but that’s a quibble as there are some accomplished netminders from 3-8 on the list. Here’s the meat of the assessment:

“Still only 22 years of age, McIntyre is deserving of elite prospect status. Every part of his game has been developed; He is a very well-rounded goaltender. Even his puckhandling skills are above-average, although he does get caught being headstrong at times. The Bruins already have Malcolm Subban and Tuukka Rask at the NHL level, so they will continue to be stacked in the minors if McIntyre handles most of the load with Providence in the AHL. If they sign a veteran to back up Rask, or go with Jeremy Smith out of camp, an AHL duo of Subban and McIntyre would be incredible to watch. The only thing that can be questioned about McIntyre is his ability to track a pro-level shot. A slow-and-steady approach to his development should give him plenty of time to figure it out, even if he struggles at first.”

Well, close enough…he’s two days away from turning 23 so there’s that, but the Bruins chose him in the sixth round five+ years ago knowing he was a long-term project and they’ve carefully cultivated and developed him since then.

I can’t say enough about how far he’s come from that gangly, raw goalie I saw at Bruins development camp right after Tyler Seguin came to town. Like Subban, McIntyre (who went by the last name Gothberg back then) had holes in his technique that he’s worked hard to address, namely in his lateral movement- opening up holes that the more adept shooters were able to exploit by being patient and waiting for those openings. He’s become a far more composed goaltender, although his style is still reminiscent of Tim Thomas in the way that he’ll battle hard and extend himself to get any piece of his equipment on a shot as opposed to the more mechanical and fundamental of butterfly goalies who square up and maximize their economy of movement.

I maintain that what McIntyre brings to the table best is his mental toughness- he’s the rare player who has thrived alternately as a backup in junior and the NCAA as well as a starter. When you look at his statistics going back to his first USHL season with the Fargo Force in 2010-11, he’s been remarkably consistent, whether playing a full workload or getting into games on occasion. He earned that league’s top goaltending honor in 2011-12, and then had to work his way back up with the University of North Dakota in 2012-13. By the following year, he won the battle for No. 1 and in 2014-15, he played every game on the schedule, winning honors as the top NCAA goalie and finishing as one of three finalists (to Jack Eichel) for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s premier player.

All of this is not to say that I believe it makes sense for him to be the Boston backup this season. McIntyre has said that is his goal and I know he believes that with all of his heart. Hey- anything is possible…but would opening and closing the door for the Bruins skaters to the tune of 60+ games of Tuukka Rask next season be in McIntyre’s best interest?

I get it- people are excited about him and understandably so. But this is a player with a grand total of 0 minutes of pro experience at any level let alone the NHL. So- rather than push for the shiny new toy, doesn’t it make sense to allow him the opportunity to play his way into a comfort level starting with the AHL and see how he does?

I still rank Subban ahead of McIntyre on the Boston depth chart, but it’s extremely close. In fact, the gap between them has closed so significantly that I would not at all be surprised if when the dust settles, McIntyre ends up being the longer term option. But for now, Subban’s pure ability/projected ceiling and the fact that he’s entering his third pro season gives him the slight nod over the Minnesota native who once won the Frank Brimsek Award as the top high school goalie in the Land of 10,000 Lakes- Mr. Zero’s home state.

At 38, Boston’s newest prospect in net checks in- a pretty solid debut. Daniel Vladar went in the third round, 75th overall, and while I felt they could have gone with someone else there (I was higher on Matej Tomek who went at the end of the round to Philly), there is no denying that this Redwood in net has some impressive albeit eventual, very eventual potential.

“You can’t teach size” is a common saying, and the 6-foot-6 Vladar is a perfect example of why it is used. His massive 84-inch wingspan turned heads at the NHL combine, which led to him rising to 75th overall in this year’s draft. While he is still a long term investment, Bruins fans won’t have to wait very long to see him in North America. He’s slated to play for the Chicago Steel of the USHL in 2015-2016, and will work one-on-one with their new assistant coach, the recently retired Peter Mannino.”

Other goalies of note on the list-

3. Ilya Samsonov, Capitals- Yep. If you’re not going to have many picks in a draft, get yourself someone with All-Star potential and that’s precisely what the Caps did. Of course- with Braden Holtby playing so well, they have nothing but time to bring the big, smooth Russian along at a leisurely pace. My guess is he’ll be knocking at the door to the Verizon Center before too long.

4. Eric Comrie, Jets- Between Comrie (a value pick in 2013 because of injuries) and Hellebuyck, once again the Jets are building one hell of an organization. They were on the cover of the 2015 THN Future Watch for good reason and then went out and had another hellacious draft in Sunrise. They have premium talent at every position and this fundamentally superb player who is on track after getting a hip issue in his draft year under control is a legit stopper.

10. Jon Gillies, Flames- Man, what a gamer. One of my favorite New England-area prospects of all was so good when he had to be last spring, leading the PC Friars to their first-ever NCAA championship.  He’s so big, but was knocked for his overall athleticism in his draft year. To be honest- he’s such a competitor that it’s never really been something I think prevents him from being a success, but it’s a whole new shooting match in the pros, so it will be interesting to see how he develops now that he’s signed and in Calgary’s farm system. I wouldn’t bet against him.

12. Thatcher Demko, Canucks- A wonky hip complicated matters for the talented Californian who soldiered through it in the midst of a disappointing year for Boston College- no Beanpot, no Hockey East title, a quick exit in the NCAA tourney. Demko is another prototype big guy who takes away a lot of net and finds ways to make the big save. A project player several years away, but a good one for Vancouver.

18. Alex Nedeljkovic, Hurricanes- The American playing in the OHL goes against the grain in terms of possessing average-to-below-average size for the position by today’s standards, but he’s a stopper who thrives when under pressure. I liked him a lot in the 2014 U18 championship run to get USA back on the gold medal platform, and he’s got some long-term upside in Carolina.

28. Colin Stevens, Panthers- Undrafted free agent led Union to the 2014 NCAA championship and I was impressed with him when watching him years ago with the Boston Jr. Bruins. The New York native has always brought an impressive mix of size, quickness and the ability to steal games. Winner.

46. Matej Tomek, Flyers- I got in to see him multiple times live in the NAHL last year and I personally feel that the Slovak and heir apparent to McIntyre’s vacated crease in Grand Forks would have been a better choice for the Bruins than Czech rival Vladar. Nothing against Darth Vladar- I didn’t see him other than on film at the U18 (and he didn’t have the greatest performance there) But in my mind- Tomek is the sleeper- underrated and underappreciated, but Flyers fans will soon be like the people at Cheers- they’re going to know his name.

Daniel "Darth" Vladar- 3rd round, 75th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Daniel “Darth” Vladar- 3rd round, 75th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Some words to the (Jake) Wise…

Central Catholic forward Jake Wise of North Andover, Mass. was born in Y2K. Yes, that’s right- the year 2000.

Okay, okay- that makes him just 2 years older than my daughter, which officially, finally makes me *feel* (speaking of feelings what the hell is up with RGIII saying today that he *feels* like the best QB in the NFL?)  old, given that I started covering hockey prospects for the New England Hockey Journal when Wise was just a couple of months old.  That also means he’s not NHL draft eligible until 2018.

Back in 2011- I thought 2015 was a lifetime away to be tracking Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin as NHL prospects as well, but their draft has come and gone. Before we know it, Wise will be grabbing headlines as the best New England-area forward to hit the streets since…Eichel. It’s deja vu all over again.

So- climb on board the Jake Wise bandwagon, folks. He’s talented scorer and a powerful skater. He has all the makings of a special player- one who will have an interesting trajectory to watch between now and 2018 alongside Oliver Wahlstrom and T.J. Walsh (more on them later).

I expect that we’ll see Wise at the U.S. National Team Development Program (he’s a Boston University recruit) in Plymouth, Mich. next season, but as we’ve seen in the past, a lot can happen between now and the draft when you’re 15. Like Eichel and Hanifin, let’s just hope Wise and the others keep on developing.

We just might be in for another milestone New England draft in three years…

 

 

2012 NHL Draft Flashback: Matt Grzelcyk

A knee injury and surgery in May will likely prevent Boston University Terriers captain and Bruins prospect Matt Grzelcyk from beginning the 2015-16 season on time, but the Townie is still expected to be a major contributor to BU’s fortunes when he returns.

I spoke briefly to Terriers coach David Quinn in passing at the NHL draft a few months ago shortly after A.J. Greer was selected, and I brought up Grzelcyk. The surgery didn’t come up, but Quinn was more than happy to heap praise on his defenseman. Many of us didn’t know it at the time, but when BU played in the Hockey East and NCAA tournament, “Grizzy” had already suffered his ACL injury, and was not 100 percent. That’s why some observers may have noticed he wasn’t playing his best hockey in those final games, but he was there for his team and if not for a 3rd period comeback by Providence College in the championship match…woulda, coulda, shoulda.

I first saw Grzelcyk when he skated for Belmont Hill in 2009, before he left for the U.S. National Team Development Program for the 2010-11 campaign. He was such a high-end offensive defenseman at the prep level, but I wondered how he would fare with his lack of size out in Ann Arbor. Well, he certainly made the most of it, even overcoming a pretty lackluster ranking by Central Scouting and other public lists to be a third-round selection of his home town Bruins.

Here’s a profile I wrote on him for New England Hockey Journal about a month before the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. It tells his story as a “little engine that could” defenseman. At the time, the B’s had just signed Torey Krug, but he had yet to make his mark. The two have a lot in common in terms of style and substance- both are undersized, but play with a lot of offensive flair and passion. Grzelcyk is the better skater between the two, but Krug’s shot has allowed him to score 26 goals in his first two full NHL campaigns in Boston.

Some will say you can’t have two smaller defenders on the same blue line, but I contend that when it comes to these two, don’t dismiss the notion out of hand. Grzelcyk will turn pro after this season and likely spend at least one or more years in the AHL. By then, who knows what the makeup of the Bruins defense will look like, but with his speed, vision and offensive upside- I wouldn’t count him out.

***

Matt Grzelcyk profile

New England Hockey Journal; May, 2012

Matt Grzelcyk is one of the best 2012 NHL Entry Draft prospects no one is talking about.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound speedy, offensive defenseman from Charlestown, Mass. recently returned home to the Bay State after two years in Ann Arbor, Mich. with the U.S. National Team Development Program. Grzelcyk admitted that it was tough to leave the comfort zone of home surrounded by friends and family, but looking back on it, there is no question that he made the right choice.

“My whole mindset has changed with everything from the training to all the roadies we went on,” Grzelcyk told New England Hockey Journal recently. “I’ve become more mature as a person and the program not only developed us as hockey players, but also developed us as men. I never really thought I’d be the person I am today, but I couldn’t be happier in terms of the confidence I’ve gained and all the great experiences I had.

“It’s sad that it’s all come to an end, but I’m excited about being back home and getting ready for my next big challenge.”

The luggage that brought him back to Boston was a little heavier, as he carried numerous awards and accolades from his myriad international experiences, including the gold medal he won as a member of Team USA’s fourth consecutive championship squad at the World Under-18 Championship.

“The first year (in the NTDP) was a grind, but the second year brought us all together and was just amazing,” he said of his time in the program, capped by achieving the team’s ultimate goal of an U18 title. “I think—it’s just we obviously knew people kind of doubted us. We had an attitude that it was us against the world—everyone wanted us to lose. It felt so satisfying to play those games and come out on top in the end. I can’t even begin to describe it.”

Yet, even though he has that winning pedigree, a blazing set of wheels and is one of the smartest two-way defenders available in the 2012 draft class, he’s only rated the 177th-best North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service and is almost an afterthought when it comes to discussing a defense-rich group of prospects.

“I guess it is motivation,” Grzelcyk said. “I’ve heard it ever since a young age and people telling you that you’re too small to play. I like it, actually. I have nothing to lose and I just take the attitude that if I work as hard as I can, I can block the doubters out.”

The player more commonly known to his friends and hockey observers as “Grizzy” is one of three former players with the Middlesex Islanders minor program available in the 2012 NHL draft.

The team was coached by former Merrimack College star and NHL forward with the Blues and Bruins, Jim Vesey (Charlestown, Mass.). Grzelcyk, along with Vesey’s own son, Harvard-bound Jimmy and close friend and fellow Townie Brendan Collier formed a trio that proved to be inseparable in those early hockey years when the boys were aged 7 to 12. All three later skated with the New England Nordiques AAA summer hockey program as well, helping to form a lasting bond between them.

“Hockey helped us stay out of trouble,” Grzelcyk said. “Coach Vesey—we never really noticed at the time what he was doing for us—we just thought they (Vesey and the assistant coaches) were old guys yelling at us, but he built a strong foundation for us early on. We all realize now how important it was for us to stick together and to apply the fundamentals and skills we learned from them.”

At least one hockey parent with those Islanders teams recently recalled how Grzelcyk and Collier would play roller hockey for a large portion of the day, then skate to the rink on their rollerblades for ice hockey practice. Even then, the duo displayed a passion for the game that was palpable.

“Yeah, we couldn’t get enough of it,” Grzelcyk said with a laugh. “I think Brendo’s probably my first friend and he was really my only friend for awhile. We’re still very close. Growing up, it was nice playing with someone from the same town with the same passion for the game. We’re both not the biggest guys, but when you look at what we’ve been able to do, I think it’s something we’re both proud of—that even when we were told that we could play at certain levels because of our size—we were able to rise above that.”

Collier, who will join his buddy Grizzy at Boston Unversity in 2013, is coming off a second-consecutive Massachusetts high school championship. In 2011, he scored the winning goal in overtime. This past spring, with his team dedicating the season to cancer-stricken coach Chris Serino (Saugus, Mass.), he tallied an important goal in the title match against BC High.

“He was my first friend and when we we’re together we’re inseparable,” Collier said after a recent workout. “You won’t find any pictures of one of us when we were little without the other. Whenever I would go anywhere, I would always ask my mother if Grizzy could come too, and vice versa.

“In all the time we played together he was the best defenseman I ever skated with.”

The two remain close to this day as workout partners in renowned strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle’s local program. With smaller frames under 6-feet, both players understand that they must maximize their core strength to be able to better handle the bigger, stronger and more physical players at the higher levels.

Working in Grzelcyk’s favor, however, is the fact that he skates extremely well, with an explosive first few steps and smooth footwork. If he lacks natural size and strength, he offsets those shortcomings with a brilliant mind for the game, a deft passing touch and the heart and character to bring his best effort to the ice on every shift.

“The first thing is that I try to establish myself as a two-way ‘D’,” Grzelcyk said. “When you look at my size, it has to be about offense., Hockey IQ and smarts. I’m not going to be a physical guy, so I have to be able to move the puck out of my end smartly and help my team transition to offense smoothly.”

The future BU Terrier added that the biggest improvement to his game this season had to do with his timing in terms of jumping up on the rush and pinching in from the point. He’s also worked on adding power and accuracy to his shot.

Having grown up in the shadow of the TD Garden, where his father, John, has been a member of the bull gang for more than 40 years dating back to the historic Boston Garden, it isn’t difficult to see where he got his passion for hockey. John and Kathleen Grzelcyk raised their family of hockey players and Bruins fans in Charlestown, with two older brothers in John and Andrew, plus older sister Julie, who all embraced the game.

Skill. Passion. Character. They are all hallmarks of Grzelcyk’s game, and the NHL is rife with examples of other undersized skaters who have overcome doubts to thrive in the league.

“Grzelcyk is a good player, and it’s so important in today’s game to get the puck out of the zone—he does that quickly and moves the puck well. He’s smart, and smarts can outweigh size,” said an NHL scout for an Eastern Conference team. “You’d never ask him to go up against an Evgeni Malkin or Jordan Staal, but there’s a place in the NHL for a player like him.”

After years of being told he is too small to effectively play defense, Grzelcyk has an international gold medal on display at home to symbolically thumb his nose at the critics. As he embarks on an NCAA career and hopes to one day achieve his dream of playing in the NHL, don’t count against him adding more hardware to the family trophy case.

Matt Grzelcyk was Boston's third-round selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He enters his final season at Boston University in 2015. (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Matt Grzelcyk was Boston’s third-round selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He enters his final season at Boston University in 2015. (Kirk Luedeke photo)

***

Postscript: I was riding a cab into Pittsburgh from the airport just before the 2012 NHL draft and my cellphone buzzed…it was Grzelcyk calling me to say he was headed to the Steel City.

We had talked a few weeks before, and he had told me he planned on staying home for the draft as he was an “at risk for selection” player- no kid wants to go to the NHL draft and sit in the stands for a night and entire day and not hear their name called.

“What changed?” I asked him.

“My family adviser got some information and said we should come,” he replied.

After the first round concluded on Friday, I was walking into the Consol Energy Center for Saturday’s rounds 2-7 and there was Grzelcyk, so we chatted a bit. He admitted to being nervous…I remember saying something like- “Well, who knows Grizzy- maybe you won’t ever have to leave Charlestown and Boston?” He laughed and said what a dream it would be if the Bruins picked him.

A couple of hours later, that dream came true in the third round- 85th overall- some 90 selections before Central projected him.

Grizzy has come a long way since, but he knows the biggest task lies ahead- cracking that NHL roster he grew up bleeding black and gold for.

No sweat.

Canada wins 8th consecutive Ivan Hlinka gold- final thoughts on 1st major pre-2016 NHL draft tourney

Canada did precisely what they set out to do this month in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, capturing their 8th straight Ivan Hlinka tournament. Think about that- the 2008 gold medal-winning roster in the current streak featured Taylor Hall and Matt Duchene on it, and every year since has boasted a who’s who of top NHL draft picks who have gone on to become some of the best players in the league since (Tyler Seguin was a beast in the 2009 Hlinka and Dougie Hamilton stepped up raised his profile as a legit top-10 selection in the 2010 tournament, and Nathan MacKinnon set the all-time points mark with 11 in 5 games in 2012 for example).
Why is Canada so dominant? The answer is pretty simple- because they can take the very best players from the CHL after they get together each August in Calgary for an Under-18 camp around the same time that the WJC/Under-20 camp is ongoing. This year- a pair of high-profile Canadians in forward Logan Brown (son of former NHLer Jeff Brown) and defenseman Sean Day– did not make the cut and were left at home (no Jakob Chychrun either- but he has Canada-U.S. dual citizenship and has yet to determine which country he will represent internationally- as does Brown for that matter).

 

Not surprisingly, Canada didn’t miss a beat- running the table and edging Russia in a close semi-final match (2-1) before bringing the house against Sweden for the gold in a 7-3 final that aside from a couple of quick garbage time goals by Alex Nylander (son of Michael, brother of Leafs prospect William) and William Fallstrom at garbage time- wasn’t that close. Canada rules this tournament because they can bring their top talent without having to lose players to the CHL playoffs the way they do in April- when the U.S. NTDP flips the script and brings their best U18 players, guys who have spent the better part of the previous two seasons together building chemistry, learning the systems and playing against older talent in the USHL and NCAA. USA does not send the NTDP to the Hlinka- instead putting together a team of the top players from the June Select 17 USA Hockey Festival.

The nice thing about the Hlinka is- it serves as the harbinger of the new hockey season and the next NHL draft. For example, Canada boasted 11 players in Red Line Report’s top-40 projected picks for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft published in the June 2015 Draft Guide. Of those- six were in the top-15. An additional five first-round projections from the USA, Russia, Finland and Sweden all skated in the tournament as well. Now, there will be plenty of movement on the rankings between now and next June when the players actually come off the board in Buffalo, but it gives you an idea about the importance of the Hlinka as a draft-eligible showcase. Late ’97-born players did not participate, and higher-end guys like Jesse Puljujarvi for Finland skated at Lake Placid earlier this month as part of the USA National Jr. Eval Camp- you can look him up in earlier blog posts.

So with that in mind- here are my thoughts on some of the players after streaming and watching some (not all) of the key Hlinka games online.

Canada

Dante Fabbro, D Penticton Vees (BCHL)- One word to describe this right-shot (the only one on the CAN roster) d-man: smooth. He exhibited poise with and without the puck on the blueline- making good decisions in the gold medal game and rifling the puck in from the point. He didn’t get any points, but the talent is clearly there. It’s no surprise that he’s a solid early first-round projection, but the fact that he’s playing in the BCHL and not the WHL is.

Tyson Jost, LW Penticton Vees (BCHL)- Fabbro’s BCHL teammate and Vees’ captain was a little buzzsaw in that final game- playing with a lot of energy and cashing in on a nice goal that he picked his own rebound up on. Not sure what Penticton is selling up there, but it must be good to have two top NHL draft prospects skating for them. Jost has average size, but he’s fast and skilled. For more on where these two might end up in 2016-17, check out Mike Chambers’ Avs blog post in the Denver Post from June:

2016 top NHL prospects looking at Denver; Jost and Fabbro among Canada’s top 1998-born players

Sam Steel, C Regina Pats (WHL)- I really like this kid. He moves in straight lines, takes pucks directly to the net and plays with a burr under his saddle. Another average-sized Albertan like Jost, he had a nice body of work before the WHL and scored 54 points in 61 games for the Pats as a rookie. Watch for him to make a big jump this season production-wise.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW Cape Breton (QMJHL)- Big-bodied forward who looked it in the final game, powering through traffic and making plays in the offensive end. His dad was a longtime minor leaguer and fourth-round pick of the Quebec Nordiques in 1989 (the same year they drafted Mats Sundin first overall, btw).

Michael McLeod, C Mississauga (OHL)- Big pivot showed some promise here. I like the way he handles the puck in tight spaces and he was always around the net- protecting it and creating space for his linemates. Looks like a pretty solid third-line center with upside to be more if he can pick up a step or two.

Sweden

Jacob Cederholm, D HV71 (Sweden Jr)- At 6-3, he’s a big, mobile defender who will likely get bigger and more powerful as he physically matures. Was impressed with his play, though Sweden didn’t have much to show for in a game dominated by the Canadians. Looks like a future mobile shutdown horse for whichever team gets him, but there isn’t much of an offensive element emerging from him at present.

Alex Nylander, LW AIK Allsvenskan)- Have to admit- not a fan. Skilled? Absolutely. Too much time on the perimeter, didn’t like the body language. He can skate through a maze of players, but didn’t seem all that inclined to use his teammates. Hoping it was just one game, because he’s unquestionably talented but looked soft, lacking in heart in this one. Sweden needed a better showing from one of the top players on its roster.

William Fallstrom, C/LW Djurgårdens IF (Sweden Jr)- Brother of former Bruins prospect Alex Fallstrom is a University of Minnesota recruit and plays an opposite style to his older sibling. Fallstrom caught my attention with his speed, quickness and willingness to compete/take pucks into traffic. I liked him in a limited viewing and thought- he can’t be Alex Fallstrom’s bro because he’s such a different forward. Wrong, Kirk!

Finland

Markus Niemelainen, D Saginaw Spirit (OHL)- Huge (6-5) rearguard will be a well-known draft commodity in the OHL next season, and he looks to have a North American-style of game already. Looks like his footwork will need to get better, but has a long, fluid stride which serves him well in open ice.

USA

Timmy Gettinger, LW Soo Greyhounds (OHL)- Zach Senyshyn’s OHL teammate is from Ohio and has a lot of raw NHL tools- 6-5 frame, pushing 220 pounds and the ability to drive to the net at will when going up against his peers at this stage. He was the lone bright spot in a decisive loss to Finland- going straight in and deflecting a centering pass home. He’s not a high-end skater, but is rangy and doesn’t need a significant speed boost- just has to improve his first few steps and lateral agility.

Kailer Yamamoto, C/RW  Spokane Chiefs (WHL)- Late ’98 (2017 NHL draft eligible) is a talented little pivot who is small (5-8) but dynamic. It showed here, as he posted 4g and 7 points in four games. He’s got terrific hands, quickness and is a creative table setter and finisher. After 57 points as a rookie with the Chiefs, bigger things expected of him going forward. Scouts will have two more years to dissect and his game, unfortunately.

John Leonard, LW Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)- One of my personal faves coming out of Springfield Cathedral of D1 Mass high school didn’t make much of an impact, but he no doubt gained an appreciation for what awaits him in the USHL after making the jump this year from high school hockey where he pretty much had his way at that level. NHL scouts will appreciate that he’s taking himself out of the comfort zone to challenge himself in that league in his draft season, and I think the UMass Minutemen have themselves a future key contributor in the hometown Amherst son.

There were many more players out there- but I think this gives you a good taste of the Hlinka and is a solid starting point in August. So much more to be done between now and next June (a little under 2 years from now in Yamamoto’s case).

Point/Counterpoint with Dominic Tiano: Zachary Senyshyn

Zachary Senyshyn Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Zachary Senyshyn Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Every NHL Entry Draft, there is a list of players considered “reaches” because of where they rank on the various public lists prepared by the league’s Central Scouting Service and other independent scouting services whose lists see the light of day, unlike those of the 30 NHL teams. It’s a subjective term, reach, and one fan’s reach is the team that drafted him’s value selection. However, it is a subjective call and every year, someone has to be that first “reach”, and in 2015 it was Zachary Senyshyn, whom the Boston Bruins took with the 15th overall selection, their third consecutive pick in the first round.

Senyshyn’s spot immediately made him a polarizing figure, as most public lists had him projected in the second round and not in the top-15. What ensued was at times the unfortunate by-product of the modern internet age, as pundits, analysts, scouts and would-be scouts alike took to traditional and social media to (mostly) blast the pick. Whether you believe the Bruins screwed up by taking him that early or are more in line with the team’s point of view is a debate that nobody is going to settle some 50 days after the last pick was made at the BB&T Center.

However, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to take a deeper dive on Senyshyn and generate an informed debate about him with my friend and colleague Dominic Tiano, who extensively scouts and evaluates the Ontario Hockey League and other leagues in that major geographical vein of past, current and future NHL talent.

Dom has graciously agreed to engage in taking up the B’s point of view and make the case for his selection at 15 when other more celebrated (at least on the public lists, mind you) players were available. I will debate him on the more conventional wisdom (at least as of today) that he could have been had lower than 15 and that taking him there was not only unnecessary, but cost the team some additional assets. In the end, we will leave it to you, dear reader, to determine whether your existing opinion remains unchanged, or if one of us has managed to turn you the other way.

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

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

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

Point 1 against: Zach Senyshyn is not worthy of a top-15 selection in a talented and deep 2015 draft class.

Kirk: When you look at the various lists that were out there leading up to June 26, Senyshyn was nowhere near 15 on any of them. Does everyone else have it wrong and Don Sweeney and Co. the ones who have it right? I’m not sure who else would have taken Senyshyn in the same spot, but I do know that as soon as Boston made the pick, the NY Islanders boldly and decisively traded up and into the 16th overall spot to take WHL center Mathew Barzal, a player most public rankings had inside the top-10. Right after he went off the board, the other “consensus” player ranked inside the top-15, USHL scoring champ Kyle Connor, was snapped up by the Winnipeg Jets. It would be one thing if those two had continued to slide down the board, but the fact that one team traded a former top-5 selection (Griffin Reinhart) to Edmonton to get Barzal after not initially having a pick until the 3rd round just looks bad for Boston.

At least if they had traded the 15th pick to move back into the late 1st or early 2nd rounds, you could have a debate on the assets the team received in return had they taken Senyshyn at a lower spot. Instead, it appears as of right now that the Bruins were bidding against themselves in drafting a player who may or may not possess the game-breaking ability that others on the table did and it’s a fair criticism to point that out.
Dom: I challenge anyone to tell me Senyshyn was on their list to start the season. He wasn’t even on Central Scouting’s list of players to watch. That said, I readily admit he wasn’t on my list to start the season.

What Senyshyn did do is climb each and every month from start to finish and I dare say had there been another month in the season, he would have cracked the first round on some of those lists. Senyshyn was, without a shadow of a doubt, the player that climbed the highest from the start – and that would also be true if he went in the early second round.
Dean Malkoc is the Bruins scout based in the WHL, and a scout the Bruins put a lot of faith in. But he chose to select Jake DeBrusk over him as well. They are both players Malkoc has watched extensively, In my opinion, there was something about Barzal they weren’t sold on.

As you said, it is a subjective list, and we will never know individual team lists. The Isles moved up and grabbed their guy. It’s been reported that the Leafs were trying to move up to select Senyshyn and once the Bruins selected him they traded down. There is also one other team that would have selected him had the Bruins passed on him. Senyshyn would never have made it out of the teens.

So while it may have been a “reach” according to some of the public rankings, It wasn’t a far reach from where at least two other teams had him pegged.
Point 2 for: Senyshyn scored 26 goals on a stacked, veteran team that was one of the best regular season clubs in the entire CHL. He did this despite a lack of power play time and on the lower lines without benefit of playing with some of the Soo Greyhounds’ top offensive players- what more evidence that he’s top-15 worthy do you need?

Dom: If you take a serious look at his stats and what he was able to accomplish, it is almost jaw dropping. There are very few CHL players in this draft that were able to break double digit goals scored and played the miniscule minutes Senyshyn did.

The argument from fans I get on twitter and other social media the last to weeks is “well he wasn’t even invited to the Team Canada Camp” (World Junior Camp), or has never represented his country. It’s an unfair knock on him when trying to assess the player. He had just turned 18 when Hockey Canada was starting to select players to invite. Making Team Canada as an 18 year old is not a rule, it’s an exception that even the best of the best can’t crack sometimes.
Tyler Seguin never played for Canada at the World Juniors (he was cut before the 2010 tournament). He never played in the Under 18’s (he was playing for the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL playoffs). By no means am I comparing Senyshyn to Seguin. Just proof that it is not the be all, end all when judging a player.

Only time will tell if he can take the next step in the upcoming season. I’m willing to bet on a player that has steadily and continuously climbed and it seems the Bruins are as well. Is there a risk? Absolutely there is. But a risk I would take.

Kirk: 26 goals is impressive given those circumstances, no doubt. And the assumption naturally is that he’d score 35, maybe 40 or more goals this year in an increased role with the departure of some of those veterans. What happens if he’s not up to the challenge or takes a step back offensively? The justification for his upside is mostly predicated on his admittedly impressive production with a smaller sample size of offense. His even strength points per 60 min is hard to argue against- 3.42, which is nearly .50 higher than teammate Gabe Guertler (27 goals, 57 points) who posted an average time on the ice of 17.24 minutes versus Senyshyn’s 11.97 at even strength. Unlike many of his other CHL peers who had two years to develop a body of work, we have just the one season to go on here, and without more of an established pattern to analyze the statistical trends in his game, you’re making a leap of faith that he’ll take a big jump forward in production and not back.

Additionally, the Bruins need scoring help now. Even those in favor of Senyshyn’s promise readily admit he’s a project player who will in all probability need two more seasons of junior and possibly AHL time before we will see him in the NHL lineup. 26 goals or not, that seems like a lot of time to have to wait.

Point 3 against: He played just one OHL season- his draft year- and was in Tier 2 hockey the year before with Smith’s Falls, putting up solid if pretty unspectacular numbers. What makes anyone think that he will blossom into a top-six scoring threat at the NHL level?

Kirk: I look at film of Senyshyn and I wonder about the creativity with him. He’s more of a north-south, straight-line player who takes pucks to the net but doesn’t have much in the way of lateral agility or high-end hockey sense to make everyone else around him better. It’s a subjective call, and maybe he’s one of those late-bloomers that do come around every so often, but even Patrice Bergeron put up big numbers in midget AAA before he moved up to the QMJHL in 2002-03, his only full major junior campaign before the NHL draft. Bergeron’s hockey IQ is one of his best attributes, so what does Senyshyn bring to the table that will allow him to be that top-six forward at the NHL level the Bruins are counting on?
Dom: It’s hard to argue with anything you’ve said here. But you and I have always agreed there is nothing like the eye test.
There have been glimpses of his playmaking abilities throughout the season, and maybe those times it was lacking may have had something to do with his linemates. Does he have high end hockey sense? Of course not. I’d put it at slightly above average. Senyshyn had 19 assists last season. The vast majority, 14 of them, were primary assists. That has to say something.  Again, we’ll have to wait and see. More ice time, experience, top end talent: It’s up to him to take the ball and run with it.
Point 4 for: Senyshyn’s heart, will, determination are exactly what the Boston Bruins look for in a player- when you factor in his size and offensive potential, he’s worthy of the 15th selection.

Dom: Talent will only get you so far in this game. If you lack the heart, the will, and the determination, you won’t get far at all. Senyshyn has this in spades. The Senyshyn situation reminds me a little of Torey Krug. The latter has always had to prove people wrong when they said he couldn’t play at the NHL level – and he continues to have to work at it. Krug uses it as motivation. Senyshyn I’m sure knows some of the things that have been said surrounding his draft slot. He, like Krug has the will, heart and determination, and the work ethic I might add, to use it as motivation. As I said earlier, he plays the game in high gear and he plays it the right way. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and has the sheer will to take that puck to the net at whatever cost. He also has the determination to play the game in his own zone as well. Add that to his talent, and I see future success.
Kirk: Heart and character are important, but you can’t measure those attributes with a radar gun or with analytics and advanced statistics. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important, but with the pretty regular hockey sense/creativity is the drive and passion going to be enough for Senyshyn to be an impact offensive performer at the NHL level?  The Krug comparison is interesting…unfortunately for Senyshyn, he’s bigger and was drafted a lot higher than people expected, so he’s going to face an entirely different kind of pressure.
Point 5 against: Bruins GM Don Sweeney said the team fielded offers to trade the 15th pick, but that his scouts pushed to take Senyshyn there. He should have overruled them and exercised his decision-making as general manager to get more assets over netting a riskier player so early.

Kirk: With all due respect to Boston’s scouts, what if they’re wrong here? The safer strategy, barring staying pat to take Barzal or Connor or even someone like a Colin White (if you aren’t sold on those two) at 15, would have been to trade the pick and move down a bit while adding an extra second- and maybe even a fourth-round picks in the process. In 2003, the Bruins moved down from 16 to 21 in exchange for San Jose’s 1st, 2nd and 4th selections, so you figure Sweeney was going to get similar value this time around. By moving down, there was still a pretty good chance they could grab Senyshyn later in the 1st and then would have had a few more kicks at the can either to leverage this deep draft or perhaps move a pick or several of those extra selections they acquired part of a package for a deal involving a roster player, solid prospect, or more futures in the 2016 or 2017 drafts.
Dom: While an argument can be made about the Senyshyn selection, I’m not so sure that one could be made to trade down and add picks. The Collective Bargaining agreement allows teams to own the rights to 90 players – signed or unsigned. With the extra picks the Bruins just had, and the extra picks next season (and any more they may acquire in potential trades) they have to keep a keen eye at where they stand.
The CBA also limits the number of signed players at 50 (with some Canadian Major Junior exceptions). The problem with “too many draft picks” is that at some point, you’re going to have to sign them or lose them.
With the trade you suggest, the Bruins would have had 12 picks this year. Add that to the 9 picks next year and the 5 last year and half your contract limit is going to be used to sign those players within a 3 year span or lose them.
I don’t think that played a role in their decision, but I’m sure they were cognizant of it. I for one am happy his scouts pushed Sweeney to select Senyshyn.

In closing, I’d like to say thanks Kirk for involving me in this. It was fun. The good thing is that this debate will go on for a few more years before we truly know where it stands. I think I speak for both of us when I say fans should wish Senyshyn all the best and enjoy watching him develop into an NHL player.

Kirk’s note- I hope the readers enjoyed the debate. Just because I played the role of devil’s advocate does not mean I am personally against the Senyshyn selection. I think the main point that Dom has effectively made here is that he’s a talented enough player with character that despite going against the grain, the Bruins went with their own feelings here and they might have it exactly right. If they don’t, well, Senyshyn will unfortunately be linked to another Zach who didn’t turn out so well for the team- Zach Hamill. Because the pick used on him was one of the three acquired for Dougie Hamilton, it will continue to be message board and Twitter fodder for hardcore fans who pay attention to the draft for years. Thanks again, Dom- for providing your perspectives on this exercise.

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!

Jumping in the Wayback Machine: The case for re-signing Mark Recchi (May 2009)

My good friend and colleague Joe McDonald of ESPN wrote an excellent piece arguing for Mark Recchi’s enshrinement in the Hall of Fame and it is absolutely worth reading because Joe is one of the best in the business and like me- he appreciates what ‘Rex’ did during his two full seasons and parts of a third as a member of the Boston Bruins.

http://espn.go.com/blog/nhl/post/_/id/38961/hall-of-fame-debate-mark-recchi

That column today got me thinking about the time I spent covering the Bruins when Recchi was on the roster, and how enjoyable it was to have him in the dressing room. He was always willing to talk and took accountability when things weren’t going well. If you wanted some unforgettable stories of 22+ years in pro hockey, Recchi had ’em- both the kind I could recount here and a lot more I can’t. Through it all- Recchi had been one of those players I always admired from afar because he worked so hard to get to the NHL, and when he got there, he developed into a top offensive threat- something rare for a player of his smallish stature and lack of pure speed.

I wrote this opinion piece for the New England Hockey Journal a few days after the second-best regular season record in the NHL Bruins were eliminated by the upstart Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the 2009 NHL playoffs.

At the time, it had just come out that Recchi had gutted out an excruciating rib injury and kidney stone surgery on the night before the decisive seventh game. It wasn’t enough for him to pull of a Cinderella story and will the team to victory with an overtime goal (that one instead went to Scott Walker), but it cemented his status as a respected Bruin and key leader.

As it turned out, Rex would sign two more extensions to win that last Stanley Cup I argued he could earn in Boston, so I was close. But when you realize that a young 24-year-old Patrice Bergeron, still not fully right after a near career-ending hit from behind the season before, witnessed the grizzled vet go through enormous agony just for the privilege to suit up for his team, you start to understand the importance of veterans on any team. It’s therefore not a bit surprising that five years later, Bergeron engaged in a similar jaw-dropping threshold in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final series loss to Chicago- playing with a cracked rib, punctured lung and separated shoulder in Game 6.

So you see- two years after retiring from hockey and the Bruins and going out on top with his third Stanley Cup ring, Mark Recchi’s impact was still being felt in that Boston dressing room. And, though the B’s came up short to the Blackhawks in 2013, Bergeron’s legend was forever engraved in stone, with a few more chapters he has left to write. Some Bruins fans had no idea what they had in Recchi, but to the rest of us, the team has been trying to fill the void he left ever since.

This one was written from the heart. In retrospect it seems silly that there was even a doubt they would bring Recchi back after that. It’s an oldie but a goodie and so was Rex. Enjoy.

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                               Re-up Recchi- the Old Man’s still got it NEHJ, May 20, 2009

His face shows the scars accrued after more than 20 years of fighting in the trenches of the pro hockey wars, but even at 41, Boston winger Mark Recchi’s body and mind are sound enough to give one more NHL season a try.

                The unrestricted free agent was acquired by GM Peter Chiarelli from the Tampa Bay Lightning at the March 4 trade deadline in a deal that saw the Bruins dispatch two young prospects for an aging veteran and future draft pick. The transaction received little fanfare at first, as many hailed the move as one to provide some solid depth and experience, little more.

However, as Recchi, who has tallied 545 career goals while playing for seven different NHL teams (including three and two different tours of duty with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers respectively) fearlessly went to the front of the opposition net, Boston fans soon came to see the value in the ageless forward whose dedication and consistency will one day be his ticket to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“You look at a guy like Mark Recchi sitting across the room and then it hits you that as long as you’ve followed NHL hockey, he’s been playing and he’s still around,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic told hockeyjournal.com shortly after his new teammate arrived in Boston.  “It’s great to have someone you always looked up to on your team and a big part of what we’re doing here.”

Recchi, who will turn 42 next February, won over a large number of B’s fans with his production (10 goals, 16 points in 18 games) to close out the regular season, but few doubters remained after news of what he endured broke after the B’s had been eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in a hard-fought seven-game series that went to sudden death before Scott Walker ended Boston’s Stanley Cup dreams.

He got off to a slow start in the postseason, failing to tally against the Montreal Canadiens in the four-game sweep, and had just broken through with his first playoff goal in Game 3 against Carolina when he suffered a rib injury in Game 4. As if that weren’t enough, he experienced agonizing pain of a kidney stone, which was removed via surgery on the eve of Game 7. You didn’t know about it, because after removing the needle and IV bag from his arm minutes before the puck drop, Recchi went out and skated as hard as he could to try and help his team pull out a win, logging 22 minutes of ice time in a valiant if unsuccessful effort to forge a Curt Schilling bloody sock-like legacy in Boston.

It’s the stuff of which Beantown blue collar heroes are made. Ask a true Bruin die-hard who bleeds black-and-gold whether he or she would rather have the ultra-skilled, but soft player who has trouble playing through the various hurts that accumulate over the course of an 82-game season plus playoffs, or a less-skilled, but indomitable skater who would run through a wall for his club if he thought it would help them win, and they’ll almost always choose the latter, even if it means sacrificing offense.

Recchi’s NHL longevity defies logic: he’s not big, nor is he particularly fast, even in his prime, which ended a decade ago. Yet, when you look back on a career that began in 1988, when the Penguins drafted him in the  fourth round, he’s scored more than 500 NHL goals and is closing in on 1,500 points.  The kid from Kamloops, BC who was once told he was too small and slow to play in the NHL has made a living out of proving his detractors wrong, mostly by going to the front of the net and then using his sublime hand-eye coordination and soft hands to deflect pucks past baffled goaltenders or selflessly set up teammates with gift-wrapped passes for goals. He began playing in the NHL when Ronald Reagan was still the sitting 40th President of the United States, and he’s been skating in the big league for four more chief executives, including two who served eight years apiece from 1993-2008.

He was brought to Boston because he had a pair of Stanley Cup rings and could provide the team with his steadying presence and experience, but also because he was a left-handed shot to help offset the loss of Marco Sturm.  Recchi quickly made a home with the Bruins, posting trio of two-goal games, and showing the kind of youthful enthusiasm and passion for hockey that two decades as a pro has not suppressed.

In short, Chiarelli could do much worse than extend a one-year contract offer to Recchi, who made $1.25 million last season and is a bargain at that price.

“I love it here,” Recchi told the Boston Globe as he packed up his things and prepared to depart for the summer. “Obviously, (the Bruins) have some decisions to make. But I really enjoyed it here. I stressed that to them. I’m at a position in my life where I can play where I want to play for a few months. I’m not going to play just to play. Boston would be a place I would want to come back to. If it doesn’t work out and they don’t have room, I might not play. We’ll see how it goes.”

It all comes down to the increasingly restrictive NHL salary cap and whether Boston can fit young guns like David Krejci and Phil Kessel under it, with both in line for big raises. And, Recchi isn’t the only veteran the B’s GM must make a decision on: longest-tenured Bruin P.J. Axelsson may not be asked back after years of loyal service amidst declining skills. Stephane Yelle, Shane Hnidy and Steve Montador are all doubtful as well, given the Providence youth movement clamoring for NHL jobs.

“I can tell you what I’ve told Mark, that we’re not sure what we’re going to do yet, and we have to see how a couple things unfold,” Chiarelli told the Boston Globe. “He’s told us that he wants to come back.”

Working against Recchi is his age and the risk of a dropoff in production next season, but when you consider his bargain price, experience and dedication to the team that includes going above and beyond the call of duty to play in the kind of crippling pain that would paralyze normal people, he deserves to be near the top of the list of candidates to come back for one more serious Stanley Cup run in 2010 maybe more.

Recchi treasured that spoked-B on his chest so much that he endured inconceivable physical hardship just for the right to be in the lineup against Carolina. Even if he and his teammates came up short, it’s the kind of work ethic that the Bruins and their fans have always prided themselves on.

Why not reward that spirit by giving Mark Louis Recchi, the pride of Kamloops, one more chance to finish out his brilliant NHL career a winner?

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.

***

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

Summer cooler interview series 2: Torey Krug pt. 1

The summer cooler interview series rolls on and Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug took time out on a Tuesday night to chat about a lot of different topics as the 2015-16 NHL season draws closer.

The former Michigan State Spartans captain signed with the Bruins as a free agent in the spring of 2012 and took the 2013 playoffs by storm when he found his way into the Boston lineup agains the New York Rangers in the second round, then never relinquished his spot in the NHL lineup.

He enters the new season on a mission to capture a top-4 spot in Boston’s rotation where he will have to play upwards of 20 minutes per night in an expanded role, but if anyone has paid attention to the way Krug has proven his critics wrong over the years, he’ll not only pull it off, but surprise a lot of people along the way.

Torey Krug, David Krejci and Tommy Cross at training camp. Photo by Alison Foley

Torey Krug, David Krejci and Tommy Cross at training camp. Photo by Alison M. Foley

Here is the transcript from my complete and unedited interview with Torey. Because it’s so long, I’m going to break it up into several posts, so I won’t lose people in the length. His answers are typical of what folks who have covered the Bruins and Krug know to be the case with him- he provides detailed, thoughtful answers to the questions you pose to him.

So, without further ado- here’s part 1 of the Torey Krug interview, where he talks about his off-season, his mindset after missing the NHL playoffs for the first time in his career, how the trades of his close friend Milan Lucic and fellow defenseman Dougie Hamilton have affected him, and how he expects to compete for…and earn…a spot in the top-4 come October.

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Scouting Post: We’re in August and before we know it- it’ll be time for Boston Bruins training camp and the veterans to report, so can you bring the fans up to speed on what you’ve been up to since the 2014-15 NHL season ended?

Torey Krug: Yeah- I’ve been gearing up for this season and it’s a slow process with how much time we’ve had this offseason- it’s a little bit more time than we’re used to after missing the playoffs last year. That obviously strikes up a hunger for me to get back on the ice surface and play with my teammates, but when the season ended I was able to continue playing for Team USA in the World Championships (held in Austria).

That was a great experience for me not only being on the ice playing against other teams’ top lines- the likes of Alex Ovechkin and others- but off the ice it was a great experience- my first time ever to Europe. Being a part of USA Hockey was an important experience for me because I had never represented my country and I was able to take a little vacation with my wife after that tournament wound down and it was overall just a great experience.

I took a little bit of time off after that tournament to enjoy myself, relax and recharge those competitive batteries because you’ve been in the competitive world for so long. Then, the training starts and there’s multiple phases throughout the summer where you make sure you start gearing up so that you make sure you don’t peak at training camp. I think that’s a common misconception- a lot of guys want to peak at training camp to make sure they give a good impression but the way I have been taught to train is to make sure I peak when the time is right later in the season. So, it’s just been a solid progression: lifting weights, starting to skate three, four times a week now in August, and I’ll make my way to Michigan State next week for a training camp that they invite all the alumni back for and put together, so it’s been a very long summer and I’m looking forward to getting back on the ice with my Bruins teammates.

SP: Let’s go back- because you made the team in earnest during the 2013 playoff run and it was a memorable debut for you. Then, your first full season in the NHL was a President’s Trophy campaign- disappointing outcome in the second round of the playoffs that year, but this is the first time as a pro where you didn’t make the playoffs. What was your mindset as you did the exit interviews to pack up and head home for the summer and what will be important for the Bruins as a team to get off on a better footing this year?

TK: To be honest, it’s extremely disappointing. The group that we had- we obviously lost a few key pieces from our President’s Trophy-winning campaign, but when you really look at it the core group of guys- we still have them to day even though we subtracted Dougie (Hamilton) or Looch (Milan Lucic)- we still have that core group here, so it’s really disappointing to miss the playoffs last year.

What it does do is it builds your appreciation for how hard it is to not only get into the playoffs but to win the Stanley Cup. I was very blessed and fortunate to play in the Stanley Cup finals my first run and you can take it for granted how hard it is to get there and how hard it is to compete in the playoffs, so I think no one wants to say at the time it happens, but it might be a good thing that this team- the core group of guys- goes through this together because it’s an emotional experience and you realize that you can’t take things for granted and you have to really work for what you earn.

I think heading into the offseason it was to mentally prepare yourself for what’s to come. You watch the playoff games and you realize how hard it is- how you have to earn every single inch of ice that you get out there- how hard it is to score goals…it’s a learning experience. Everything you do you try to learn from, so even if there’s bad situations like missing the playoffs and Peter Chiarelli gets fired and people are getting traded, guys are getting moved- you’re always learning and I think that’s an important thing for this group and I know we’re not taking it for granted anymore.

SP: You’re not a rookie anymore and are no stranger to trades and changes with your team in Boston, but the trades for Hamilton and Lucic happened within the span of a few hours, so can you take the fans through where you were at the time and how that played out? What were your initial reactions and where are you now that it’s sunk in that you have new teammates that you’re getting ready to play with for the first time?

TK: Well, it surprised me. I think anytime you hear teammates’ names in the media, you realize it’s a possibility that guys are going to get moved and nothing really sinks in until they are actually traded.

I was sitting in my living room watching draft day unfold and watching (Don Sweeney) do his thing and Milan Lucic is one of my best friends- I talk to him every single day and there’s literally not a day that goes by that we don’t reach out to each other and chat so it was a tough one. My wife and I spent every holiday at their house and a lot of Sunday football days at his house…it’s tough to see friends go. But that’s the nature of the business and I know that’s something that a lot of people say, and it’s tough for fans to understand how big of a change it is for these people and their families to pick up their kids. Milan and his wife have roots (in Boston) and have been here for eight years. It’s tough. At the same  time, it’s exciting for him to be able to go to a new situation. Being on the other side of that, it’s disappointing to watch your friends go, but it’s an opportunity for new people to come in; you get to meet new people, new teammates…you get to gain a new experience that way.

With Dougie leaving it opens up a hole for me within the team and obviously other players as well- there’s a lot of ice time that needs to be made up with his absence. With guys leaving and guys coming and going and everything else there’s a lot to take in, and it’s hard sometimes for the everyday fan to see that.

SP: That’s a great segue because I was going to ask you about the recent Boston Globe article kind of laying out what might be next for you in terms of your role on the Boston Bruins. As you said it- Dougie Hamilton is gone and there’s a spot in the top-4- you wouldn’t be who you are if you weren’t eyeing that. Can you talk about what it means to have that kind of a role in the NHL and based on your past teams where you played a lot of minutes for other clubs, what you bring to the table for the Boston Bruins?

TK: I can tell you that defensemen that play a lot of minutes are very well respected and highly appreciated on teams. With Johnny Boychuk moving and the valuable minutes he played and the valuable role on our team that he played and then you see that when he’s gone how it works out and you really appreciate the job that these guys do.

So, for me- as a hockey player that’s trying to move up and improve his role, you realize what a big deal it is. Dougie leaving…a friend is leaving the team…but I just see it as an opportunity and I hope that the other defensemen that are with the organization, whether they’re fighting to make the team or they’re trying to improve their role on the team- I hope everybody’s getting excited about that. It creates better competition within the group and it’s only going to make myself better so I hope guys’ eyes light up like mine do when I see that opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to going out and earning it.

I don’t think anything is given to anybody on our team. The guys that are coming in like myself trying to improve their roles in the organization, we earn those. So for me it’s about going out and earning this opportunity and making sure nobody takes it away from me. All of this comes as Sweens and Claude (Julien) are going to make those  decisions and I’m going to do everything I can make sure they are making a decision that best fits.

***

We’ll be back later this evening with the second part of the interview, as Krug will expand on how he’s had to earn it at every stop along the way before Boston, he’ll answer the critics who don’t think he has it in him to be a top-4 NHL defenseman, talks more about teammate and defense partner Adam McQuaid, the  2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium and the influence his family has had on his success.

(H/T and thanks to Alison Foley for providing the above image and  some others from her collection to this blog)