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)

***

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.

***

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)

Final thoughts on USA World Jr. evaluation camp

The hopefuls for Team USA’s 2016 World Jr. (under 20) squad closed up shop at Lake Placid over the weekend, closing out the event with a 32-player roster (whittled down from the original 39 invites) powering USA to a 6-1 win over Finland.

Here is the final USA roster:

http://worldjuniors.usahockey.com/page/show/1909970-2015-final-u-s-national-junior-evaluation-camp-roster

Here are some random thoughts on players I feel are worth mentioning. Because of my work with Red Line Report, I can’t go into too much detail, but here’s hoping we can give you enough of a tease to get an idea of what some of these players bring to the table for the 2016 NHL draft, and for those players already drafted- more insights into what your favorite (or not so favorite) NHL club might be getting in a few years if not sooner.

2016 NHL draft candidates

Scott Eansor, C- Small, speedy undrafted buzzsaw center out of Seattle of the WHL showed some versatility and tenacity here. Watch for him to boost his production this season and get a look in next June’s draft in his final window of eligibility. He’s got some moxie to go with his opportunistic approach and did not look at all out of place in this setting.

Auston Matthews, C- He made it official last week- the Arizona wunderkind will be skating in Switzerland for the Zurich Lions of that nation’s top pro league. Matthews then gave Zurich fans a glimpse of what is in store against Finland with a highlight reel goal just 53 seconds into the final exhibition contest, skating through three defenders at the offensive blueline and then finishing off the play with a filthy backhand shot that snuck in past the short side post. The 2015-16 hasn’t even started yet, but Matthews is doing everything to justify the pre-season prediction that he’ll be the top overall pick in next June’s NHL draft.

Chad Krys, D- The youngest player on the final roster played well for Team USA, showing some impressive poise with the puck. The BU recruit (his dad also played there) ranges anywhere from being projected as a first- or second-round pick on various public lists, but if he plays the entire season like he did in Lake Placid, he looks bound for a top-30 selection.

Charlie McAvoy, D- New York native is my pick as the top Empire Stater for the NHL draft. He’s got good size, vision and keeps things pretty simple. NHL clubs are looking for two-way players on defense- it’s no longer enough to simply defend or score- the most sought-after guys are the ones who can do both. McAvoy fits that bill and will likely get better as he continues to mature and fill out.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW- This winger needs no introduction to American hockey fans who remember how big of an impact his dad, Keith, had as a premier power forward in the 1990s. He led USA with 8 points in the games and he was a shark around the net, pouncing on loose pucks and demonstrating that killer instinct that goal scorers all possess. He’s not one of those coast-to-coast types, but when the play breaks down in front of the net and the puck is pinballing around, he has that natural ease for getting his stick on it and putting it into the cage.

Drafted players

Paul Bittner, F (Blue Jackets)- Big, skilled Portland Winterhawks winger slipped to the second round and Columbus pounced. With his physical tools, he has the potential to flourish as a top-six power winger in the NHL one day- he just needs to be more consistent and use his natural size and strength to his advantage more. But, after camp, you could see why some were projecting him as a first-round pick.

Anders Bjork, F (Bruins)- The 2014 fifth-rounder closed out the event in style, bagging a pair of back-to-back goals in the second period. He’s not a high-end scorer, but there is some natural hockey sense and opportunism in his approach. He takes straight lines to the net, puts himself in areas where rebounds occur and manages to outwork opponents to loose pucks. Bjork has the makings of a solid third-line NHL winger.

Brock Boeser, F (Canucks)- Vancouver’s top selection made his bones offensively in the USHL with Waterloo, and his hot stick carried over. Whenever the offense was flowing, Boeser seemed to be involved, setting up plays or finishing them off. He’s not a dynamic, flashy player who jumps off the screen at you, but you noticed him because he’s smart and made sure he was in the middle of the play.

Jeremy Bracco, F (Maple Leafs)- The final pick of the 2015 draft’s second round is such a skilled offensive player. His vision and creativity is off the charts and he brings such a dangerous element to any line he’s skating on. I don’t even care anymore that he doesn’t have a game-breaking explosion- he looks plenty fast to me when he’s taking pucks to the net or dishing through a maze of sticks to a wide open teammate. Bracco is going to make more than a few teams sorry they passed on him.

Brandon Carlo, D (Bruins)- It was a solid camp overall for Boston’s first of three second-round picks in June. Don’t make him into something more than he is right now, which is a superb defensive player with the size and skating to perhaps develop into more of a threat offensively. I thought he looked very strong in the games he played in, and the B’s desperately need an infusion of size and fluid skating on their blue line. He was a very good value pick at 37, but let’s not put him in the Hall of Fame just yet.

Erik Foley, F (Jets)- If anyone was wondering going in who this kid is, they have a much better idea now. He showed on more than one occasion that his skill level allows him to keep up with some of the bigger names in the draft. Foley’s heart and hustle are what make him such a good prospect- he’s not afraid to do the dirty grunt work along the walls or pay the price in front of the net. But, he’ll also take the puck down the ice and beat the goalie with a wicked shot, too. Winner.

Dylan Larkin, F (Red Wings)- Man, this guy is smooth. If he isn’t tearing it up at the WJC next December/January it will be for one reason only: he’s skating for the big club in Detroit and has bigger fish to fry in the NHL. Larkin’s speed, skill and sense will make him a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t imagine the Wings will keep him in the minors for very long if at all.

Jack Roslovic, F (Jets)- This American sniper knows how to finish around the net and showed off his instincts and intelligence throughout. Another example of a player who isn’t going to make the eye-catching play but just finds ways to put the puck in the net, it’s hard to imagine that the Jets came away with Roslovic, Kyle Connor AND Foley. With that trio, they’re living that Dawes song- it’s a little bit of everything.

Jake Walman, D (Blues)- Providence College standout with dual citizenship really brought his two-way game to the mix. It’s a case of the rich getting richer with Walman, who looks about to emerge as a NCAA force after being a solid value selection in the third round in 2014.

Colin White, F (Senators)- White is looking more and more like a real nice roll of the dice at 21 for Ottawa. There’s a lot to like about him- he can skate, play a 200-foot game, is great on draws…but the offense that went missing earlier in the season is making its way back. Watch for him to be a regular story at BC with the Eagles.

Hlinka horror show- USA smoked by Finland in U18 action

So, I got back from the mini-vacation in time to watch (online) the Team USA Under-18 selects squad get smoked by Finland today in their first game of the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. The final score was 5-1, but it could have been far worse.

This game was over after 20 minutes, as the Finns took advantage of sloppy, undisciplined play by the Americans and a poor performance in net from Niagara Ice Dogs goalie Stephen Dhillon. Dhillon, a dual citizen from Fort Erie, Ontario (his hometown is listed as Buffalo, N.Y.) has excellent size and athletic ability, but it wasn’t his day. Granted, he didn’t get much help from a team that took a series of undisciplined penalties (William Knierim’s slashing call to give Finland a 4-0 lead in the first period was the worst of them), but after being beaten on a deflection to open the scoring, he was fighting the puck and just couldn’t get his game on track. He was on the bench to start the second period, giving way to Dayton Rasmussen. All in all- a forgettable 20 minutes for Dhillon.

This is a talented Team USA squad, so we should have seen a much better performance from them than we did. Riley Tufte is a gi-normous forward at 6-foot-5 with some skill and is currently projected inside Red Line Report’s top-30 entering the season. He couldn’t get much going. Saw flashes of speed and offense from small but plucky New Yorker Christopher Berger. I liked what I saw at times from Massachusetts fave John Leonard, but there wasn’t a whole lot of positives to draw from. Patrick Harper, the other New Englander- a Boston University recruit and Avon Old Farms prep product- had a quiet gam as well.  He’s under 5-10 and speedy, but  the Finns did a nice job of slowing the USA offense through the neutral zone, and Harper never really got untracked.

USA’s lone goal happened when OHL (Sault Ste Marie) forward by way of Ohio forward Timmy Gettinger went to the net and perfectly redirected Ben Lown’s cross-ice feed past netminder Severi Isokangas (who made all the stops he had to, including a nice break in by Leonard during the 1st that could have gotten the Americans back in it).

Give full credit to the Finns- all they did was put the puck on net early and good things happened. The Robin Salo (late ’98- eligible for 2017 NHL draft) point blast to make it 3-0 was an absolute bomb that scorched in under the crossbar and sent the water bottle flying. They capitalized on the extra time and space the USA penalties gave them, and nobody could seem to get things going. Otto Makinen earned player of the game honors and showed off a fine release, while defenseman Markus Niemelainen played with poise- he’s a fluid skater who kept things simple.

Team USA takes on Russia tomorrow. The Hlinka tourney is pretty much an annual showcase of Canada’s  major junior power, as they take the best draft eligibles (or younger) from around the CHL- they basically ice the team they wish they could send to the April Under-18 championship, when many of their top talents are committed to the playoffs in their respective CHL leagues. If you want to know who the bulk of the first-round picks coming out of the OHL, QMJHL or WHL are- just pay attention to this tournament and you’ll get a nice preview of what is in store for the 2016 NHL draft before the 2015-16 major junior season kicks off.

The Americans, who send their best players from the U18 squad of the NTDP to the spring championship tourney, have won every U18 gold medal save one since 2009 (Canada prevented USA’s drive for five in a row in 2013), but in the Ivan Hlinka, the U.S. sends a select team chosen from the annual Select 17 USA Festival. They’ve won the silver medal a few times over the past few years going back to 2011, but no one can ever get past that Canadian juggernaut.

I don’t think 2015 will be any different.

Weekend links and good reads until I return

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Life’s a beach

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

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

 

The third Jake: Forsbacka-Karlsson

My desire to be clever with the Jack Nicholson tie-in to the previous post, plus the fact that center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson was not participating in the Canada-Czech Republic game means he deserves a post to himself.

JFK is donning the scarlet and white, but don't be surprised if he trades that for the black and gold soon enough.

JFK is donning the scarlet and white, but don’t be surprised if he trades that for the black and gold soon enough.

The Stockholm native who came to the U.S. two years ago was a smart pick by the Boston Bruins, who snatched him up with the 45th overall selection. Other guys the B’s have landed at that precise position have done alright for the team: there’s Ryan Spooner in 2010, Patrice Bergeron in 2003 and Henry “the Medicine Hat Machine” Kuster in 1996. Wait, what?…Okay, so two outta three ain’t bad. (Kuster was a member of another disastrous Bruins draft class which pre-dated 2007 by 11 years but was just as unproductive.)

‘JFK’ who is taking his game to Boston already- though he’ll be plying his trade on Comm. Ave vs. Causeway Street- is a slick, promising two-way pivot who has Bruins hockey written all over him. The Bruins like to break down draft prospects into the 5 S’s: Size, Skating, Shot, Sense and Spirit (read: character, work ethic, toughness, leadership- the key intangibles) so, I’ll give a swag on him- watched him live at Omaha last season and many times on film including a little online action at Bruins development and USA national eval camps, so here we go:

Size: His listed 6-1, 195 vitals are a tad generous, but he’s got long limbs and will have enough strength to hold his own. He doesn’t have the frame to pack on much more mass, and it probably would work against him in so doing. He just needs to work on his upper- and lower-body strength as best he can while maintaining a healthy playing weight.

Skating: He’s an average skater who has a long enough stride, but lacks suddenness in his first few steps and does not possess a top-end gear. He moves pretty well laterally, and has the ability to jitterbug through lanes with an easy agility that makes him a difficult mark to line up in the open ice. Let’s face it- he’s not going to be a burner, but neither is Bergeron. He just needs to improve his short-area burst as much as he can and he’ll be mobile enough to succeed at the next level.

Shot: He doesn’t shoot the puck enough, but the raw tools are there for him to find the back of the net more often than his 26 times in 110 career USHL games with the Lancers. He kind of reminds me of an early NHL Adam Oates in that he’s always looking to dish and hit that open man for a prime scoring chance rather than unleash it himself.  He’s got a pro-caliber release and is pretty accurate with it, so getting more pucks on net will be key for him. When it comes to passing and puck skills, he’s smooth and efficient, carrying the biscuit with confidence and able to feather touch-passes for tap-ins or zip sauce feeds through traffic for the one-timer. He’s at his best when keeping it simple instead of employing cute toe-drags or dangles that work at the lower levels. As the late and legendary American coach Herb Brooks once said- “You’re not talented enough to win on talent alone,” and that applies to JFK.

Sense: JFK’s bread and butter- he’s intelligent and creative. He is what you would call an instinctive 200-foot player in that he can read the play, sense where the puck is going and put himself in position to make plays both offensively and defensively. He’s got that knack for understanding where he is in terms of time and space and can seamlessly transition from defense to offense in a heartbeat. He’s smart and disciplined enough not to make low percentage plays and is unselfish with the puck.  If he had that explosive initial burst, you’d see JFK zooming off on more breakaways… He’s extremely adept in the face-off circle, using a quick stick and some savvy strategies to win the bulk of his draws. As he gets stronger, he’ll get even better. I don’t know that he’ll be a top scoring threat in the NHL, but he’ll be one of those dependable role guys who makes his bones more in the playoffs at crunch time as opposed to putting up big regular season numbers.

Spirit: He’s a nice kid who speaks flawless English and is also a good teammate. He isn’t shy about naming Bergeron as the player he most tries to emulate and being around PB37 (when he eventually turns pro) will be great for JFK. He’s not a particularly gritty, fiery or tough to play against kind of guy, though. If you’re looking for urgency or someone who can really push the pace of a game the way a revved up Bergeron can (go back and watch Game 7 vs. Toronto in 2013 if you don’t know what I’m talking about), you’ll be disappointed with Forsbacka-Karlsson. He’s competitive, but not fiery…he skates hard, he’s just not coming at opponents in relentless fashion or putting defenses on their heels. He’s consistent and steady in his approach, and that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Outlook: This is a solid prospect- the kind of player you eventually win with, but he’s not flashy and isn’t going to come in and win a bunch of scoring titles. Fans should be patient with him, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him earn a big enough role as a freshman under David Quinn at BU this season because of his ability to play a disciplined game and excel on the PK. I see him as an ideal third-line center one day who might do some damage against other third-line units and lower defense pairings, but he’s going to take a while to develop and get himself in that kind of position to contribute.

Ask not what this prospect can do for you…ask what you can do to be patient and watch him grow.