Boston Bruins Cult Heroes: Dave Poulin

Sorry, folks- been on a bit of a hiatus preparing for the USHL Draft and then all of the things we do afterwards. We’re back with a re-post of a Where Are They Now? story I did on Dave Poulin for New England Hockey Journal about 20 years ago when the former B’s standout and Selke Trophy winner with the Philadelphia Flyers was still coaching his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. He always was and is a class act, calling giving me his personal cell phone to call him back when he wasn’t in his office at the time he had set up our interview. He missed it, but called me and had me call him at home that night so I didn’t miss my deadline. Enjoy.- KL

Poulin

Dave Poulin spent 165 games as a member of the Boston Bruins from 1990-1993 providing the kind of leadership and veteran savvy that helped the team rise to the top of the National Hockey League’s standings and remain there throughout his tenure.

Poulin’s ability as a defensive forward, as well as his maturity, provided the Bruins the kind of depth around which championships are built.  Although none of his teams reached that elusive prize called the Stanley Cup, Poulin’s name is synonymous with words like heart, character, desire and skill.  Seven years after walking away from his playing career, Poulin still cherishes the time he spent in Boston as a member of its storied hockey franchise.

            “What I remember about playing for the Bruins was that it was two distinctly different teams,” Poulin, 42, told the New England Hockey Journal.  “The first team I was on featured Craig Janney, while the second had Adam Oates.  The first also had Cam Neely, while the second did not.”

            Poulin was the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers when B’s GM  Harry Sinden made the move to acquire the 1987 Selke Trophy winner as the league’s top defensive forward, in exchange for Ken Linseman on January 16, 1990.  At the time, the Bruins were making serious noise as a Stanley Cup contender and in Poulin, Sinden no doubt recognized the value of one of the league’s most renowned leaders and the benefits that would have both on the ice and in the locker room.

            “I enjoyed my time in Boston immensely,” said Poulin.  “I loved that town and we had a great bunch of guys on those teams.”

            Poulin was a free agent signee with the Flyers after a great career with the University of Notre Dame and a stint in Sweden.  He helped lead Philadelphia to a pair of Stanley Cup finals appearances in 1985 and 1987, falling short in both instances to the Edmonton Oilers.  In his first season with the Bruins under head coach Mike Milbury, his new team reached the finals only to succumb once again to Edmonton in five games.  However, looking back on that 1989-90 Boston Bruins hockey club, Poulin says that they certainly had a shot to win it all, and a lot of the credit for that should go to Milbury.

            “Mike was terrific for us,” he said.  “He was the perfect coach for a veteran team.  He didn’t try to bring in a lot of systems, but he realized that there was so much leadership inside that locker room and he pretty much left it up to us to go out and win hockey games.  It was a great situation for the team given our talent level and veteran presence.

            Perhaps Poulin’s greatest moment as a Boston Bruin took place on April 11, 1990, in Game Four of the Adams Division Semi-Final Series against the Hartford Whalers.  With the favored Bruins trailing in the series two-games-to-one, and with team’s captain and defensive stalwart Ray Bourque sidelined with an injury, Poulin led one of the greatest comebacks in Boston Bruins history.

With the team down 5-2 after two periods, he scored a pair of third period goals en route to a 6-5 victory that stunned the Whalers, ultimately dooming them to defeat in that series.  Poulin’s heroics began in between periods of that contest, when he asserted his leadership skills, exhorting his teammates to make amends for such a poor showing in the game’s first 40 minutes.

            “I was very emotional that night,” Poulin recalled of his sentiments in the dressing room before the final period of play.  “At that time, I had only been on the team a few months, but I realized that one of the things I brought with me was my leadership and when you’re in a situation like that, something just comes over you.

            “I knew we had a better team than we had showed to that point.  We needed everyone in that locker room to beat Hartford that night and I told them that much.  I think some guys were surprised at some of the things I said, but when the third period started, and I scored on the very first shift from Glen Wesley to make it 5-3, I think they were kind of like, ‘Wow- it’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing to actually do something about it.’  Then, Bobby Beers got one, and Dave Christian scored a great goal to tie it.  When we won the game, I knew that we were going to win that series.”

            According to Poulin, those Boston Bruins teams were full of leaders, none more important than the captain himself.

         “Raymond’s leadership is so underestimated,” he said.  “He was a very vocal leader, but I think that he encouraged the perception that he was quiet off the ice.  As far as being a team leader however, he acted quite differently in the locker room.  I think he was happy when I came to the team because he knew that I had been a captain in Philadelphia and that my experiences in a leadership role would take some of the responsibilities off of him to be the team’s focal point.”

            Poulin left the Bruins in the summer of 1993 to sign with the Washington Capitals, where he spent two seasons before retiring from hockey with a year left on his contract to pursue the head coaching position at his alma mater. Since retiring, he has led the CCHA’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish to an 81-124-30 record in seven seasons.

            Although Poulin’s time with Boston Bruins was far too short, fans who were privileged enough to see him play for the team will always acknowledge his key contributions to those clubs that reached one final, and two conference final series while he was an alternate captain.  Poulin’s class, skill and leadership make him a fan favorite to this day.

Dominic Tiano: Evan Gold- the Man Behind the Bruins Cap Wizardry

Here’s an insightful post from Dom Tiano about Evan Gold, who is instrumental in Boston’s ability to manage the ever-complex salary cap management reality of the modern NHL. Enjoy!-KL

Most of the credit when it comes to the Boston Bruins and their ability to sign players to cap friendly deals and the way they manage the cap goes to General Manager Don Sweeney. It is the GM’s responsibility to bring in the best possible minds to put a management team together, so in that sense, Sweeney has done his job.

But let’s give credit where credit is due: Evan Gold is a master when it comes to the cap.

Continue reading

Zach Senyshyn: Then & Now

We continue updating Boston Bruins prospects in two different series with Zach Senyshyn. We’re taking the longer, more detailed approach with the 15th overall selection from 2015, with some superb past content from Dominic Tiano who has been following him longer than most of us.-KL

Zach Senyshyn Then on Scouting Post:

July 18, 2015 (One of the very first posts of the blog)

Zachary Senyshyn, RW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-2, 195

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The 2015 NHL draft’s first true off-the-board pick has the natural skills to eventually justify the selection, even if the Bruins took an acknowledged risk with other more established players on the board. The good news: the Ottawa-area product is a fine skater who can beat defenders wide with his speed, takes pucks to the net and has the hands to find the back of the net with regularity. On the downside- scouts question his natural creativity and there is significant risk associated with him if he does not take the next anticipated step in the OHL with the departure of several key veterans he was playing behind. Although he isn’t an intimidating presence on the ice, Senyshyn is saying and doing all the right things and demonstrated his raw, but promising talent at development camp.

August 16, 2015

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

July 18, 2016: Bruins development camp roundup

Zach Senyshyn, RW

Plus: A year after tallying 26 goals on the bottom line and without much special teams time, the 15th selection in 2015 scored 45 goals to lead the Soo Greyhounds; he’s a big, explosive and skilled scoring presence on the right side. Minus: The goals are great, but the 19-year-old has work to do in his 200-foot game; he has a tendency to wait for the next scoring chance or let others go and get him the puck.

May 12, 2017- Another profile of Senyshyn from OHL analyst Dominic Tiano:

We all know Senyshyn is an elite-level skater who can beat defenders wide. He also possesses an NHL shot already. He’s willing to stand in front of the goal and take his licks and knock in rebounds. He plays smart with his stick seemingly always on the ice waiting for the pass. He has subtle little moves that allow for that extra 6-12 inches to get into a lane. Only time will tell how it translates to the NHL.

But for now, a year in the AHL is probably the best thing for him and the Bruins.

Zach Senyshyn now:

Three years into his pro career and after the above post was written, the time has mostly been spent in the AHL with the exception of 6 NHL games (1 empty-net goal, 3 points).  The projection on Senyshyn is just about in focus: He’s probably more of a third-line/middle-of-the-roster forward at the NHL level at best, which, in the context of his draft position, validates the concerns around the choice when it was made.

Mat Barzal (Islanders), Kyle Connor (Jets), Brock Boeser (Canucks), Travis Konecny (Flyers) and Anthony Beauvilier (Islanders)- all forwards drafted after the 15th selection, have established themselves as impact players, each with at least 121 NHL points (Barzal leads the pack with 207, while Connor is close behind with 201). There is no denying five years after the draft that the Bruins did not get the best value out of that pick. Like fellow 1st-rounder Jakub Zboril, Senyshyn has been a victim of others’ success more than the has been a subpar performer. And there is no denying the fact that a lot of people have taken great pains to point that out from day one.

Even with the potential surrounding the Senyshyn pick at the time, it was a given that he would be a project who would take time to justify the selection. However, the slower, more deliberate NHL timeline we predicted on this blog at the time of the selection ended up being optimistic.

Although he popped offensively in junior with 45 and 42 goals, his staple tool-  offense at the pro level has been slow in materializing. He’s had to learn how to be a more complete player to succeed in the Providence system, which adopts many of the same set plays and player responsibilities as the parent Bruins club. While we can say that his game has improved and he’s taken positive strides in terms of his pro habits that the AHL experiences have taught him, it’s not a stretch to say that more was and is expected.

Senyshyn is 23, and in a four-game NHL recall in late October/early November, he started to show why the B’s were high enough on him to invest ahead of the others. He showed some jump and was impacting shifts with his speed and an energetic style that despite limited even strength minutes, was making a difference and starting to move the needle. Then, he suffered an injury that ended the promising stretch just as things were getting started.

Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald reported on the lower body injury in a detailed piece back in December, when Senyshyn was returned to Providence five weeks after leaving the NHL lineup.

Here is Bruce Cassidy, quoted from the Conroy Herald piece with key analysis on the player’s Boston stint bolded for emphasis: “He did his job. He’s one of those guys who hasn’t earned his way yet so we haven’t used him on the power play or penalty kill, it’s all even-strength minutes, so you can get lost some nights in that role. We’ve seen that with Brett (Ritchie) a little bit, getting that motor turned on when you’ve got to sit for extended periods. And that’s where I thought (Senyshyn) did a decent job for us when he didn’t play. As a young guy, sometimes the mind wanders. I thought he went out and stayed true to his game and got on pucks, protected them in the O-zone. I thought he influenced the play well for us. It’s too bad when he got hurt. He was starting to gain a little bit of confidence and we were starting to see what we had. So he has to start over a little bit. Hopefully he picks up where he left off, whether it’s here or Providence and gains a little bit of confidence knowing that there is a role for him in this league.”

Cassidy, like most successful coaches at any level, focuses on the details- the little things. And going back to his junior years, we had scouts tell us that while Senyshyn had the tools to thrive in the NHL, his overall game and commitment to those habits and attributes that most successful NHLers have weren’t quite there. When it doesn’t come naturally to a player, then there is a window of time extended to figure it out. Not everyone can be Patrice Bergeron and play like a seasoned veteran at age 18, but any organization only has so much patience with the process before others pass you on the depth chart, and potential is either reached or left unfulfilled.

There’s no guarantee that had Senyshyn not gotten hurt that he would have been able to keep a spot on the Boston roster, but in missing the time he did, he needed to get back down to the AHL to get his conditioning and timing back on track, and there would be no other NHL opportunities after that.

Outlook:

At TSP, we can only guess that the positive, albeit baby steps towards earning a regular NHL shift might have done enough to convince management to hold on and give him more time. When you read between the lines of Cassidy’s comments back in December, he’s essentially saying that Senyshyn is young, but figuring it out and is trending in the right direction. That’s a good sign, and it likely means that with a qualifying offer in hand and another year under NHL contract, the third of three first-round picks will get another opportunity to prove he can play here.

That doesn’t change the fact that the projections here were overly rosy about him in the early going, but we won’t apologize for being high on a player who scored 114 goals in 195 junior games. Even though he was projected to go in the second round that year, we won’t fault the scouts who pushed for him in Sunrise, because sometimes you make gut calls based on passion for a player that pans out in a big way- like Bergeron and more recently, David Pastrnak. And sometimes, the player you believe in doesn’t deliver like you hoped. No one scout, no one team- no matter who they are- ever has a perfect track record. Every team can continue to learn as an organization in developing a sustained productive process from the decisions that don’t work out, just as much as the validation received from successful picks. Learning organizations might stumble, but they rarely fall.

Finally, the silver lining to the slow development, modest production and injury setbacks is that Senyshyn is still in the mix to establish himself as a player and could yet develop into a capable middle-of-the-roster forward. That’s not going to erase the criticism surrounding his selection, but even if the selection ends up being a bloop single to shallow right field, it is preferable to striking out swinging. With his growing confidence and a willingness to work, he has a chance to get on base.

Although it is cliche to say, the jury is still out on Senyshyn, but fire up some Europe if you can- it’s the final countdown.

For more on Senyshyn with analysis from Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network,check out this recent podcast. He starts talking about him at the 1:18:50 mark of the audio.

Zach Senyshyn’s 1st NHL goal vs Minnesota to close out the 2019 regular season

Senyshyn- 2 goals in a 2018 preseason game vs Washington (plus a nice breakaway goal at 1:50 by Jakub Lauko– speed!) 1st at 2:03 vs Ilya Samsonov and the second (a fluky bounce) at 2:40, but he threw the puck at the net off the rush- good things happen.

Jeremy Lauzon: Then & Now

The Bruins prospects series rolls on with a player who might’ve been on the verge of graduating to NHL regular status when the 2019-20 season was put on pause. He’s an interesting profile to write because he’s finally paying some real dividends at the highest level.- KL

Jeremy Lauzon Then on Scouting Post:

Watch this Guy: Jeremy Lauzon July 24, 2015

So, why might Lauzon be the best between Jakub Zboril (13th overall) and Brandon Carlo (37th overall)? Like Zboril, Lauzon brings similar size and a mix of offense and defense. He’s more of a consistent competitor in my view, despite some reports of Boston’s top choice Zboril being “ultra-competitive” (I wouldn’t go that far based on what I saw in film study). Carlo is a massive rearguard who excels in a shutdown role, but I don’t know that he has the offensive skill/sense to be much of a consistent points producer. That leaves Lauzon as the best combination of the three- not as talented as Zboril or as big/defensively savvy as Carlo, but solid across the board and a gritty, hard-to-play against -d-man.

Prospect deep dive: Jeremy Lauzon March 7, 2016

Though not a truly exceptional player in any key area or specific hockey skill, Lauzon nevertheless is above average and more than capable at just about everything. He’s got good (Lauzon is about 6-1, 195 pounds) if not great (6-4, 220+ pounds or more is what is considered ideal in the modern NHL for D) size, and skates well though doesn’t provide dynamic speed and quickness. He’s a deft passer and effective goal scorer from the blue line, and has the ruggedness and smarts to neutralize opposition rushes and prevent players from getting to the front of his net.

Lauzon is putting up the best offensive numbers of his major junior career with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in his third season with them. He’s off his goals pace from a year ago (eight vs the 15 he netted in 2015) but with 44 points in 41 contests, Lauzon has already exceeded his 36 points set last season. He’s had to deal with some nagging lower body injuries that have limited his effectiveness in the new year after injuring himself after returning from Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship training camp in December. As one of the final cuts, Lauzon opened a lot of eyes around the CHL this year after being the 52nd overall selection by Boston last June.

Lauzon is a smart player who often does the little things in terms of maintaining his gaps, keeping the proper stick positioning and forcing opponents into committing early. He likes to go for hits in the open ice and will take every opportunity to finish his checks along the boards and remind guys in the other sweaters that he’s there. Though not a feared fighter, he’s willing to drop the gloves to defend teammates and plays a naturally rugged and aggressive defensive style that will translate well in Boston.

What’s Next For the Bruins- The Young D May 24, 2017

Jeremy Lauzon, LD, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)- Injuries impacted Lauzon’s season and he didn’t put up the kind of regular season numbers in his fourth major junior campaign as he did a year ago. However, when it comes to Lauzon, it’s not so much about the stats as it is the consistency and balance. Besides, he had an outstanding playoffs (albeit an earlier-than-expected exit at the hands of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the second round of the Quebec League run), posting 5 goals and 14 points in 13 games with the Huskies.

With Lauzon, less is more- he made Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship squad but wasn’t given as much ice time as some of the other defenders. Still- he scored a big goal in the gold medal game against USA, and seemed to make the most of the opportunities he had. He’s got enough skill to score, but he’s also a tenacious, even nasty competitor on the back end who makes forwards pay for the real estate they try to occupy. He’s not huge, but big enough- he’s got a great stick and impressive vision. We said it back after the 2015 draft, but as a shutdown guy, he’s not as effective as Carlo and as an offensive presence, he’s not quite as talented as Jakub Zboril, but if your idea of success is a player who can thrive over all 200 feet of the ice surface, then Lauzon is your man. He’s been with Providence since his playoffs ended, learning and benefiting from being around the team, but he wasn’t ready to go health-wise after playing hurt against Chicoutimi and the way things have gone for the Baby B’s has meant that he’s on the outside looking in for now. His time will come, though.

Jeremy Lauzon Now-

The now 6-2, 205-pound left-shot defenseman made his NHL debut in 2018-19, playing 16 games as an injury replacement and scoring his first NHL goal against Las Vegas. In 2019-20, he came up in the middle of the season and was just rounding into form, having played his way into the nightly lineup consistently when the season was put on pause.

The numbers- 2 goals and 1 helper in 35 games split between last season and the current one- aren’t anything to write home about, but there is room in his growth and development to be more of a point producer than he has thus far shown at age 22 (he turns 23 on Tuesday). Of course, he’s not been a point-getter in the AHL to date, and isn’t likely going to blossom into a 40-50-point guy in the NHL in his prime. But, like many young players who are in the process of breaking into the NHL while seeing limited minutes in a more specific role to place a priority on playing defense, Lauzon has been fine.

He competes hard, plays with good intelligence and vision, making the right decisions with and without the puck; Lauzon does his job with his mobility, a smart stick and has enjoyed the trust of head coach Bruce Cassidy and assistant coach Kevin Dean for his willingness to keep things simple.

Style analysis: 

Why does one defenseman who seems to have all the major league tools and who was a first-round draft pick have trouble establishing himself as an NHL regular, while another who was drafted later the same year and carries a significantly more modest skill set has leapfrogged the first on an organizational depth chart?

With Lauzon, we think it simply has to do with the fact that he’s a better defender and brings a high hockey IQ to the table, along with a certain poise and ability to do the little things to make plays in his own end.  He’s willing to lay out to block shots and he’ll drop the gloves. He’s not a heavyweight fighter, but he’s tough enough, and in Boston, that matters.

NHL defensemen who can both produce points and effectively defend their own zone are coveted commodities and franchise cornerstones- that’s why there are so few of them available across the NHL. That leaves the rest of the population at the position: players who might bring more offensive abilities to the table, while others are better at taking care of their own end. Gone are the pure specialists: the “offenseman”- a player who lines up behind the forwards to take faceoffs, but is essentially a fourth forward on the ice- taking the puck and rushing it up the ice, but lacking the instincts or wherewithal or both to provide capable defense, or the “shutdown” D- a euphemism for a big, powerful player who lacked the skills to skate and carry pucks out of danger, but could grapple and pin and obstruct players in the defensive zone effectively enough to justify their spot on an NHL roster.

Now, if you expect to play defense in the NHL and stay there, you had best be a hybrid 2-way defender or at least be an exceptional enough player in your own end with the mobility to angle, retrieve and win foot races to loose pucks. The modern NHL defenseman has to be able to skate, think, pass and understand how to play within his team’s structure and systems, or he won’t be long on the roster.

Lauzon isn’t fancy, but he’s just tough- able to get up and down the ice, make the first pass and brings a tenacity and competitiveness that endears him to the coaches and teammates he plays with. His best junior season was a 50-point campaign, so his offensive numbers at the highest level will be modest at best, but Lauzon’s value transcends pure point production. He’s going to eventually develop into a player who can play a good chunk of minutes as a steadying influence on the back end.

In hindsight, it looks like we were overly optimistic in thinking he could be the best of the three D Boston took in 2015, and to Brandon Carlo’s credit, he’s taken the bull by the horns to establish himself as an anchor on the B’s blueline, while coming off his best offensive season to date with 19 points in 67 games. But Carlo is also a physical specimen at 6-5 whose mobility opened the door for him earlier in Boston than most, and he took full advantage. Lauzon, on the other hand, has been on a longer (and expected) developmental path. He can’t match Carlo’s physical gifts in terms of pure size, strength and reach, but he’s not far off at being able to contain opponents and neutralize scoring chances.

Outlook:

Lauzon’s persistence has paid off, not only in the form of an increased role with the big club, but with a two-year contract extension at a bargain rate of $850k per that will take him through the 21-22 season. He might even be in danger of being the one Bruin that new NHL franchise Seattle could walk away with in next June’s expansion draft. That might be putting the cart before the horse, but with his experience, cap hit and potential, Lauzon just might be the kind of player who makes perfect sense for GM Ron Francis and Co. if he plays at least 40 games for the B’s in 20-21.

If not, then he’s on the up and up as a player who should be able to slot into Boston’s top-6 going forward. He’s got just enough skill, a good amount of smarts and plenty of ruggedness to make it as a solid role player and maybe something more. It’s not overly complicated when it comes to figuring out if players will earn more NHL ice time or not- if the coaches trust them, then they’ll play.

It might not always make sense to media and fans who will look at other shiny, flashier objects in the system and say, “Why not him?”  Well, because if the flashy guy turns pucks over and can’t establish a solid level of the t-word with the team’s coaches, he’s not going into the game.

Lauzon won’t win a lot of style contests, but in the end, style doesn’t always win hockey games. As the season abruptly ended in March, the coaches trusted him because he proved that he is trustworthy.

Sometimes, that’s really all you need.

***

First NHL goal on former B’s 1st-rounder & prospect Malcolm Subban from late 2018

Squares off vs Matthew Tkachuk- noogie time:

 

A preseason fight vs the NJ Devils’ Nathan Bastian

 

Sunday Flashback: the 1986 Hartford Whalers

Ron Francis- Hockey Hall of Fame photoFrancisWhalers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Liut Whalers

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

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

Brass Bonanza…crank it up

Off the top of the head: Jakub Zboril

Jakub Zboril, D

6’/201

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

Current Team: Providence Bruins (AHL)

Previous Team: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on the 2011 Bruins Game 7 Zoom reunion

 

Bruins zoom2

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

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

Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruins zoom

ADDENDUM:

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

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

 

 

 

Off the top of the head: Trent Frederic

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

Trent Frederic, C

6-2/205

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

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

Previous team: University of Wisconsin Badgers (B1G)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Frederic demolishes Joseph LaBate (Belleville Senators) earlier this season

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

 

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