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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday hockey hot links and good reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Bruins 2015-16 season preview: Goaltenders

1. In retrospect: It was a season of discontent in Boston as the Bruins watched Pittsburgh smoke the hapless Buffalo Sabres on the final night of the 2014-15 regular season to take the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and relegate the B’s to the late spring sidelines for the first time since 2007.

Goaltending played a part in Boston’s early trip to the links. Tuukka Rask and Niklas Svedberg played their part in the unsuccessful season to be sure, but you can make the case that if not for Rask’s Vezina-caliber talent on many nights, Boston’s fall from the top-eight in the East would have been even more precipitous than it was. Draft watchers will tell you that it might not have been such a bad thing for that to happen, but for a team with higher expectations going in, Rask was often the most consistent glue that gave the fans hope that a better team was hiding behind the curtain of up-and-down play.

Unfortunately, Svedberg did not inspire enough confidence from head coach Claude Julien to earn more starts that might have given Rask more of an opportunity to re-charge and re-focus later in the year when every point was at a premium. Boston’s drop from having the third-best offense in 2013-14 to 22nd last year, not to mention the gaping hole Johnny Boychuk’s pre-opening night departure to Long Island certainly put a significant amount of pressure on the men between the pipes, and we can argue all day about Svedberg’s viability as an NHL backup and that his overall numbers (7-5-1, 2.33 GAA, .918 save percentage) should have been worthy of more than 18 total appearances. The plain truth is, however- Julien did not put him into games with much regularity because he didn’t believe in him. It’s the classic saw- don’t tell me how good someone is- show me. And I get it- the statistics paint a better picture of Svedberg than he showed with his playing time and overall performance. But, in the end, Julien had ample opportunity to put Svedberg in and passed, instead going with Rask to the point that the body language seemed to indicate that Boston’s starter was frustrated with not getting more of a break (I would add, too, that Julien could have thrown Jeremy Smith into an NHL game later in the year but opted not to do that, either). The fact that no other NHL team was eager to line up for the Swede’s services after Boston informed him of their decision not to re-sign him tells you that the B’s coach is not the only one who wasn’t willing to invest in Svedberg, now playing in the KHL this year.

So, that brings us to the dawn of a new NHL season in Boston.

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

2. The view from here: Not much has changed in the state of Massachusetts since the team packed up their stuff and headed home after game 82. Rask is still the top man in net, entering the third of his eight-year, $56 million pact signed after the team’s run to the Stanley Cup final series in 2013. At 28, he is firmly in his prime and has a 2014 Vezina Trophy to go with his reputation as one of the NHL’s top workhorse netminders. Like Henrik Lundqvist, a Stanley Cup ring (as starter) still eludes him- he came oh-so-close against Chicago, but the Bruins have taken steps backwards since that first post-lockout postseason.

Rask played a career-best 70 games in 2015, and in the modern NHL, these athletes are physically capable of playing all 82 games, just as former Bruin Eddie Johnston was the last goalie in team history to play every minute of the Boston season (70 games, 4200 minutes in 1963-64), but physics and reality can be two different things. Rask numbers were down compared to his previous and personal best 2013-14 campaign, but plenty of NHL clubs would embrace a guy who posted 34 wins and a .922 save percentage despite having an offense in the bottom third and a defense that often played not to lose in front of him.

The questions that seed ongoing debates, however, is just because they *can* do it- *should* NHL teams entrust huge swathes of the regular season to just one player, then expect them to thrive in another potential of a maximum 28 games in the playoffs? What is the mental and emotional toll of playing so many games under the pressure-packed conditions that NHL goaltenders exist under? Some guys can handle and even thrive in that (see Brodeur, Martin) environment. Others, not as much. And- how effective the team in front of them is also factors into the equation as well.

Earlier this month, Rask told the Boston Globe this when asked about his 70 games last season and if it was too much:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/08/10/tuukka-rask-not-worried-about-his-workload-bruins-defense/FbOUF1PxG0QzHgvlAzkkTO/story.html

“No, not really. I don’t think you can put a number on it, but a lot of things depend on how tight the games are, how many games you play in a row, stuff like that.’’

“Last year happened to be 70. If it’s going to be like that, it’s going to be like that again. We’ll play it by ear.”

To those who would wave their hands dismissively over the concern about the number of games he’ll play in 2015-16, my response is- OF COURSE HE’S GOING TO SAY THAT! These players are professional athletes and competitors/type-A personalities! Furthermore, they also have a stake in not making public statements that would allow opponents to leverage that to an advantage against their own team. You can’t have it both ways, guys- you can’t question what players say when you don’t like what it is they are being quoted on, but then point to other things they say on the record with absolute certainty when it validates your own point of view. In other words, I would actually be critical of Rask had he come out and said “Yeah- I think 60 games is about my regular season limit and the team had better play great in front of me or the GM’s gonna have some work to do,” because you simply don’t admit weakness- even if that might constitute the proverbial elephant in the room. Rask played it exactly right, but whether he truly feels that way or not is something only he can answer and it won’t be in the Globe or anywhere else.

Rask gets criticized in some circles for not having won the big games for the B’s, but that is far too simplistic an argument to make and smacks of an agenda aimed at his cap hit. His $7 million AAV is a major bone of contention for fans who think the team can spend that money better elsewhere. The problem with that thinking is- just who, exactly, is going to replace Rask? It’s absurd to argue at this point in time (August 2015) that any one of Malcolm Subban, Zane McIntyre or Smith are up to the challenge of matching Rask’s production and trust. Which brings us back to the current situation: Tuukka Rask is Boston’s main man in net and still very much in the upper tier of NHL goalies at this stage of his career. Should any of the prospects emerge with the promise to stop pucks a the NHL level, Boston GM Don Sweeney will at least have some options to go back and evaluate Rask’s long-term viability with the team, but in all reality- trading an All-Star in his prime without anything less than a guaranteed return (not bloody likely) would be a fool’s errand.

The onus is on Julien and his staff to better balance Rask’s workload if they think that is the issue, but 10 shootout losses (the Bruins were actually 9-4 in OT during 4-on-4 play- a bright spot for them) a year ago says that what ails this team goes well beyond simply giving more starts to the backup.

3. Who’s No. 2?: As Yogi Berra said- it’s deja vu all over again. Boston is about to enter the season with a collective 31 minutes worth of NHL experience at the backup position split between Subban, McIntyre and Smith.

Subban survived a scoreless first 20 minutes against St. Louis in his NHL debut last year by facing only a handful of shots only to see things come unraveled in an 11-minute horror show in the second, resulting in Rask coming back in for relief. You can’t put that all on Subban, and a lot of ink has been spilled arguing that he would have been in a better position making his first start against the Edmonton Oilers a few nights earlier. Either way- Subban has the talent if not the pro experience to play in the NHL. The biggest issue with that is we’re talking about a soon-to-be 22-year-old who has yet to enjoy a run as starter at the AHL level. His statistical performances in the last two years with Providence are fine- indicative of being a first-round selection, but the one crack in the armor happens to be the number of games played. Last year, Subban was expected to take the No. 1 role and run with it, but it was the AHL journeyman Smith who ultimately earned Bruce Cassidy’s trust when the games mattered most.

Smith is back on the cheap with another 1-year contract. He played 39 games for Providence last season posting a highly impressive .933 save percentage. I actually saw him live in one of his worst performances (neither he nor Jeff Zatkoff had a good night in net) and although he gave up several softies in the first 40 minutes that had the Dunk Center crowd gasping in frustration, he slammed the door home in the final 10 minutes, making multiple scintillating saves before Alex Khokhlachev won the game in the final 180 seconds. Sometimes, we have to remember that way back in 2007, Smith was a top-60 NHL draft selection, so it’s not like he’s a nobody. At age 25, he looked like someone who was never going to reach the NHL, but one year later, my guess is- he’ll see time in Boston if nothing else changes. What he does with that time, however, is anyone’s guess.

Having said all of that- aren’t the B’s doing exactly what they did a year ago with Svedberg, who had started just one NHL game?

If I have to choose today the best option between the three goalies not named Rask currently under contract, Smith makes the most sense to be the team’s backup on opening night. But, I also believe the team is risking more of the same in terms of a heavy workload for Rask and very little in the way of a safety net should he get injured at all. For those reasons, I cannot imagine them going into the new season without someone like Jonas Gustvasson or Ray Emery or even Viktor Fasth on an NHL deal to build a little risk mitigation into the equation. If you just threw up a little in your mouth at that last sentence- I hear you. But this team has too much invested in the roster to simply throw caution to the wind and trust the youngsters at this point.

Subban is the most talented of the signed backup candidates, but sitting him on the bench for extended periods in lieu of forcing him to hone his technique and build up experience by establishing himself as a No. 1 at the AHL level would be a mistake. Ditto McIntyre, who doesn’t even have a pro body of work to reference. Does anyone really think that it benefits him to sit and watch most nights when Rask is taking the net and then expecting him to thrive when he goes in every fourth or fifth game? Just because he has the mental toughness and character to possibly do it doesn’t mean that he should. Finally- Smith has to be put on waivers to go down. What if…when the Bruins decided hypothetically to go with one of the kids to start the year, another team lost a goalie to injury and claims Smith away from Boston? It’s happened to Boston before and the results weren’t pretty. If you can remember the 2000-01 season when the B’s were forced to run with Andrew Raycroft and Kay Whitmore (all because Buffalo claimed the immortal Peter Skudra on waivers) in tandem, you get a gold star. That team, too, barely missed the playoffs and would have had a different fate had Byron Dafoe and John Grahame been available the whole year.

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

4. Looking to the future: Between Subban and McIntyre, the B’s have two promising young prospects. But that’s what they are right now…prospects. This team, as currently constructed, is hard-pressed to make the playoffs let alone contend, so there is little upside to forcing either player into the 2015-16 lineup unless injuries or their own play at the lower level gives the team no choice.

McIntyre will play in the NHL one day. He’s got the right mix of talent and heart. But that day is not today, in my view. There’s a lot he can learn in the AHL, and while he undoubtedly would love to make the Bruins out of camp, he’s better served seeing some time at the pro level outside of the NHL pressure cooker. For now. But just because I think he should apprentice in the AHL first does not mean he won’t go all the way. I believe he’s got “it”- all things in good time.

I like the Daniel Vladar pick in the third round this past June, but I don’t love it. He’s the epitome of what NHL clubs are trending to: massive (6-5), athletic/toolsy guys in net that give shooters very little to hit other than their oversized bodies and long limbs. The problem with Vladar right now is that technique-wise he’s a hot mess…he’s inconsistent with his stance and positioning, lets in more than a few goals that go through him- hit a portion of his body/equipment but still squeak by (coaches hate that, btw), gets real scrambly at times with his play and I’m not sure about the mental toughness yet. He’s as raw as they come, but make no mistake- he’s got the things you can’t teach, so why not? He was a solid value where the Bruins took him, so no issues on that front. Like McIntyre in 2010, he’s a long way off from being NHL ready. Vladar is playing in the USHL this year and will either go the NCAA route or probably play in one of the major junior leagues next season.

So in getting back to Subban and especially McIntyre, people love to talk about the shiny new toy, but the Bruins have an obligation to cultivate and protect their assets, too. Rushing goaltenders into primetime before they are ready, no matter how much they’ve accomplished in junior or the NCAA, rarely bears fruit. There’s a time and place for it, and even Rask, who spent two full seasons in the AHL and this despite the fact that he was playing a near AHL-equivalent level in the Finnish pro league for two more years before he crossed the Atlantic, didn’t jump right in, and he had to work with Tim Thomas and spend a good deal of time sitting on the bench before he became the team’s true No. 1. That’s how it should work in most cases, and when fans apply that “fast food” mentality to goalies (Gotta have it hot and right now!), it’s not really the way the world works.

Zane McIntyre and Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Zane McIntyre and Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

5. The verdict: Some 2,500 words later we’re back to a basic truism: you cannot win a hockey game if you don’t score any goals.

Rask will give the Bruins a chance to win every night. Unfortunately, for those who fear the team being not good enough to make the playoffs let alone contend for a Stanley Cup but being too good to finish in the basement where the Connor McDavid types (how long before we see another one like him?) fall into their laps, Rask brings little solace. He’s kind of like an in-his-prime Sean Burke, whose at times brilliance on some very mediocre Hartford Whalers teams in the early-to-mid 90’s is one of the forgotten story lines of that era. Those Whalers teams couldn’t make the playoffs, but they were on the close-but-no-cigar side of the spectrum so aside from Chris Pronger in 1993 (Burke’s worst year in the Insurance Capital), they could not build through the draft (trading their 1st rounders from 1995-97 to Boston for Glen Wesley didn’t exactly help either).

Watch for the makeup of Boston’s goalie group to change before camp opens up- the team will sign someone on the cheap with NHL experience to provide competition and see how things shake out. If Smith is lights out, then maybe he earns the job, but as it stands right now, there are far more questions than answers with the No. 2.

The Bruins have a winner in net, but without a quality supporting cast up front, and a capable backup the coach trusts to give the workhorse some meaningful rest throughout the marathon of a hockey season,we’ll see history repeating itself in Boston this year. Unless something changes- even when on top of his game, Rask is not enough to make the B’s more than they are: a middle-of-the-pack, bubble club to make the 2016 playoffs.

(Thanks to Ali Foley for permission to use her photos in this post)

Catching up with Malcolm Subban and Rob O’Gara

Not much in the way of original content on the blog today, but a couple of Bruins prospects in Malcolm Subban and Rob O’Gara have some updates out in other media outlets.

This first link is from a telephone interview Subban did for the Jeff Blair Show. He talks a little about his training regimen, things he enjoys away from hockey, how important the upcoming season is for him and his relationship with older brother P.K. . It’s not an especially hard-hitting line of questioning, but it does shine a light on a player I feel is still very much at or near the top of the B’s prospect depth chart.

http://www.sportsnet.ca/590/jeff-blair-show/malcolm-subban-controlling-what-he-can-for-2015-16-season/

Via the Ivy on Vine site, Rob O’Gara checks in with some first hand insights on his journey to Yale from Milton Academy and some personal observations to questions that don’t typically come up as standard interview fare.

O’Gara is back in New Haven for his senior season and will likely sign with the Bruins as soon as he plays his final NCAA game. Whether he goes straight to the NHL for a taste off the bat or goes to Providence of the AHL is still anyone’s guess as this point- a lot of it will depend on how things look for the big club by April timeframe, so it will have to play out. He’s got excellent size and skating, and his offensive game is coming along after being recognized as the ECAC’s top defensive/shutdown player.

He’s a kid I’ve known since his junior year at Milton and has an abundance of character. He’s a defenseman version of Zane McIntyre in that the Bruins drafted him later on and have cultivated him/watched him grow and develop over the past 4+ years. He’s a hybrid modern defender for the NHL- someone with the size, reach, mobility and smarts to clamp down and defend his part of the ice effectively, but who can handle the puck, make the crisp outlets and chip in with offense at the other end of the ice, too. He’s what scouts talk about when they use the ubiquitous term “upside.”

Here’s the link to the profile and have a great Thursday!

Men’s Ice Hockey: Rob O’Gara, Yale ’16

Rob O'Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (photo courtesy Rob O'Gara)

Rob O’Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (photo courtesy Rob O’Gara)

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

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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!