Confirmed: Bruins hire veteran scout Andrew Shaw to cover Ontario

Since letting Mike Chiarelli go after his brother was relieved of the GM duties, the Boston Bruins had been without a dedicated Ontario amateur scout.

Several sources have told me that Don Sweeney, Keith Gretzky and Co. have brought longtime scout and OHL veteran talent evaluator Andrew Shaw on board. He, obviously, is not the Chicago Blackhawks forward who was instrumental in beating the B’s in the 2013 Stanley Cup final.

You can read more on Shaw here- it’s a press release announcing his hiring as head scout of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves back in 2012.

Shaw is a respected presence and voice of scouting experience throughout Ontario, though the Wolves did not have the greatest of runs while he was a part of that organization. We’re in a wait-and-see pattern with his three OHL drafts as Sudbury’s scouting chief, but he did some good work with Columbus and Sarnia.

To have NHL guys already coming up on the net and telling me that this is a good hire is solid enough evidence for me, so watch for news coming out of the organization in the coming days announcing Shaw formally, along with perhaps another addition in the Quebec and Maritimes (QMJHL) region.

Update: Team source says yep. Shaw now in the fold- good guy, good add sayeth scouts from outside the org. NY Islanders’ Matt Martin one of his guys from Sarnia days, I’m told.

Summer cooler interview series 4: Zach Trotman

Zach Trotman is poised to make the Bruins on opening night for the first time since he turned pro for the 2012-13 season. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Zach Trotman is poised to make the Bruins on opening night for the first time since he turned pro for the 2012-13 season. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Boston Bruins defenseman is an NHL draft rarity: he’s only the third player selected with the final pick in a class since 2000 to ever see a single shift in the NHL. The other two- Jonathan Ericsson (Red Wings- 2002) and Patric Hornqvist (Predators- 2005) have gone on to have solid big league careers, each with 400+ NHL games and counting.

Trotman’s 29 NHL games (1 goal, 5 points) is a far cry from them at present, but since the B’s traded with Chicago to acquire the pick they used to tab the Indiana native out of Lake Superior State University 210th overall, he’s gone on to reward the team’s patient approach with him.

At 6-foot-4 and a shade under 220 pounds headed into training camp, Trotman is one of the bigger and stronger players on the team. He’s a fluid skater for a guy his size and he sometimes does not get enough credit for his vision and ability to move the puck. His rocket shot forces penalty killing units to respect him by trying to disrupt and take away his time and space.

Though he’s not likely to ever develop into a dangerous two-way threat, his size, reach and smarts makes Trotman a good bet to be a solid supporting cast player as a bottom-pairing NHL defender with the chance to evolve his game into the middle pair with special teams contributions down the road.

Trotman spoke to the Scouting Post while on the road today to Indiana for a quick stop before he drives to Boston this week. With the B’s, the team that gave him a chance five years ago as a twice previously passed up player in the NHL draft, he is in the second of a 2-year pact and the first in which he receives 1-way pay. Bigger things are expected of Trotman this season and he has the inside track (in my view) of taking one of the available defense positions when the regular season begins.

It has been a pleasure to bring you this series, which started with center Ryan Spooner, continued with Boston blueliner Torey Krug in 2 parts, detoured a little with Flames goalie prospect and NCAA champion Jon Gillies before concluding with Trotman.

I think that sometimes, fans have trouble managing expectations due to draft pedigree. Some of the bigger critics of Trotman’s chances of sticking in the NHL would likely have less of an issue with him had he been 18 when drafted and picked earlier, but because he was just one selection away from being an undrafted free agent, some hold that against him. Well, that’s a fair point, but given how far he’s progressed from the raw, gangly 20-year-old at his first Boston development camp, I’d submit that the B’s have done pretty well with him. There will be bumps in the road along the way, but he’s got the tools and character to become a solid, if unspectacular presence at a bargain rate for this club, and has performed far better than a good number of defensemen taken well before him in the class of 2010.

Enjoy the interview- more in store with the blog this week, including a two-part rookie camps preview by Conference with players to watch and some guys I just happen to like and why I like ’em.

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Kirk Luedeke: Zach, the last pick in the NHL Entry Draft may not come with as much fanfare as the “Mr. Irrelevant” selection in the NFL draft does, but take us back to 2010 and tell us what you remember about being the final pick, how you found out about it, and what it has meant to you to work your way into the 29 NHL games you have played since the 2013-14 season.

Zach Trotman: It started during my freshman season (at Lake Superior State University)- I started get to get a little more notoriety and some interest from NHL teams. I interviewed with New York and my agent had kind of told me there were some (NHL development) camps that I was going to be able to get into next summer and all that, so I kind of viewed it as a long shot to be drafted into the NHL and didn’t really think that I was going to have that opportunity.

I knew I was a late bloomer and I was coming around later, so I was hoping for a chance but never really expected to be drafted, so just the interest teams had and the possibility of being drafted was cool for me and then as it got closer to the draft, it seemed like it might happen, so I watched it…not real closely or anything…I watched the first round and a little bit of the second and third round the next day, so I was driving home from Lake State- was working camps up there. I was on the way home and it was kind of later (Kirk note- the 2010 draft was held on the West Coast in Los Angeles) five or six o’clock maybe, and my agent gave me a call. I thought, the draft is over, and I knew he was going to talk to a couple of teams about getting me into some camps, and so I thought that’s what his call was all about. He called me and told me that Chicago had traded the last overall pick to Boston and that they had picked me with it.

Naturally, I was ecstatic and awestruck I guess. It was a surreal feeling. I obviously called my parents right away and I was extremely excited and at the same time, I knew that it set me up for a lot of hard work that I had to do to overcome being the last overall pick- those are long odds. So, I think in a way, it kind of made me more focused and more determined to prove myself.

KL: You’re only the third player in the last 15 years going back to the 2000 NHL draft to play in an NHL game after being the last selection. The other two are Jonathan Ericsson in 2002 and Patric Hornqvist in 2005, so it is a rarity. People who have reached the NHL say that getting there is difficult enough, but staying in the NHL is the real challenge. What are your own thoughts and perspectives on that given your own experiences in Boston over the last two seasons?

ZT: I spent three years in Providence and my (first NHL when the Bruins were playing in Ottawa) call up was based on me being lucky enough to have my passport on me and that’s what gave me the opportunity just to get a game in. I think that was a huge opportunity and the fact that I think I had a pretty good game kind of opened eyes, like, ‘Oh, wow- he can play at this level,’ and from there it almost gave me a little more attention and allowed people to realize I had another level I could go to. So I think that you’re right- it takes a lot to get there, not only in terms of hard work and the right tools, but just the opportunities, too. And so actually being able to get there took a lot of things to line up right and once I did get there, and I wouldn’t consider that I’m there (in Boston) yet, even though I’m on the one-way next year- I have a lot of work ahead of me to stay at this level and play consistently and be successful both as a player and as a team, which is the biggest part.

I’m looking forward to the challenge from just getting there to staying there and becoming a regular and not just being a bubble guy or someone where people think- ‘maybe he can play here or maybe he can’t’ play here- I want to be one of those guys who can play every night and so that’s the next step and it’s something that’s going to be very difficult.

KL: Your first NHL goal came against Detroit. It was not only the winning goal, but happened in front of friends and family given your years spent living in Novi. How special was it for you not only to get that 1st NHL goal but to have it happen under those circumstances and against the Red Wings as well?

ZT: It was an awesome feeling- it was one of those things where I hadn’t really gone through a long stretch of games like that before where I hadn’t  scored a goal. I’m not a huge goal scorer but I manage to get some in every once in a while with my shot, so being up there for quite a few games before it happened and then you get to a point where you say, ‘I’ve had my chances, and I’m wondering if I’m ever going to get another one to go in here,’ and then I just stuck with it and kept shooting and for that one to go through in overtime, in Detroit, with all my friends and family there and such a critical part of the season- it couldn’t have happened in a better way and looking back on it now, it makes the wait worth it- just to have the first goal be such a special one like that. It was incredible.

KL: Were you a Wings fan growing up? Who were some of the NHL players you always admired and rooted for? Who are some of the defensemen you’ve always tried to model your game after?

ZT: I was. I always watched Nick Lidstrom growing up and I’m sure there are a ton of defensemen who say that. But, being right there in Detroit and it gave me a chance to watch him a lot and obviously, everyone wants to model their game after a guy like that. The style of play…he was such a smart player who knew where everyone was, what was happening on the ice- it almost seemed effortless in the way he would shut down plays and move the puck and get his shot through. Those are all things I’ve always wanted to be able to do and bring to my game. Obviously, I’m less of the finesse side and a little bit more of the larger player side so I have to bring the physicality aspect along with that and those main things of moving the puck quickly and efficiently, being a smart IQ player and knowing what’s going on at all times and trying to use that to your advantage are definitely things I picked up on watching him over the years.

KL: Looking back on the several Bruins development camps you attended before becoming a pro, what aspects of your game do you think have seen the biggest improvement since 2010, and how important were those camps to your preparation in terms of getting to Providence and knowing some guys and understanding the systems and what was expected of you when you got there as opposed to seeing and hearing it all for the first time?

ZT: In college, we played a lot more of a man-on-man system, so for me, closing on guys was a lot different in pro than it was in college because I could contain more in college. Once I got to pro, and it’s more of a zone, you need to close on guys and end the play so that the rest of your teammates can read off of you and then the system starts to take effect. So, I think the biggest challenge for me was continuing how to learn to close on guys and using my size more efficiently to be physically punishing in corners and reading when I could  jump a guy and really close him off like that. It wasn’t easy- it was difficult, and I struggled with it my first year and then progressively got better with it from there. I think that’s one thing that has improved a lot and can continue to improve. I would say that my physicality has gone up but some more big hits, learning how to catch guys a little more so I can make those closings and those hits in the corner more punishing on people so that the next time they go into the corner, they’re thinking about what happened the last time.

KL: So when you talk about closing on players and the man-to-man system you played in college versus the zone schemes Providence and Boston employ, for the layman- and I mean sometimes, players or analysts throw out terms that fans might not be familiar with, so this is a chance for Hockey 201 with Zach Trotman– you’re talking about gap control. So, for folks who might not know what that is- can you talk about gap control and why that is such an important skill for an NHL defenseman to have?

ZT: Whether it’s in the neutral zone or the offensive zone, it’s keeping the distance between me and the player with the puck or the puck itself close- a small distance so that when something happens or I have the opportunity to make a hit on a player to separate them from the puck, it’s not very far that I have to go to do that. I don’t give them extra room to make a play, I don’t give them room to get a shot off or have time to do something and feel comfortable with the puck. It comes back to watching Lidstrom when I grew up because I could recognize when can I play a little tighter on this guy or do I need to back off a little bit. So, that really gives me an extra step and jump a guy in the corner before he can make a play and be able to play tighter on guys and realizing when you can do that and taking a good angle on the play so they can’t beat you out of the corner or beat you down the wall on the rush.

KL: Bruins have had a summer of change here- what are your thoughts on how you felt when getting the news that both Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton were traded on the same day? The larger thing is that neither player brought back a plethora of talent that are expected to play and contribute right away. What are your thoughts on the opportunity that Dougie’s departure presents for someone like you and the other defensemen in the Boston system?

ZT: Obviously, it’s an NHL defenseman that’s out of the system but it’s not one that is going to be easily replaced. He was a huge presence- he ate up a lot of minutes and put up a lot of points. He was a very talented player and so in some way, shape or form, that’s a job we’re going to have to take care of as a (defense) corps and especially the right-handed ‘D’ this year- finding a way to create offense to make up for that loss, and then trying to eat up those minutes. He’s a good player and he ‘ll be tough to replace, but I think we can do it.

Seeing Looch go obviously is tough because he’s a great guy as well, and he’s a very hard-nosed, physical player that can put up points. He’s a Bruins-type player, but every once in a while I guess things just have to change and the team needs some fresh faces. We’ve got some guys like (Matt) Beleskey and (Jimmy) Hayes that are big and play that hard, strong game. I think the team has filled in what we lost or traded and I think we’re going to be a really good team this year.

KL: Do you think that you and Torey Krug– I know you’re an Indiana native but you can also claim Michigan because you spent a lot of years and finished high school there- a couple of Michigan guys would be a good pairing there in Boston and are you looking forward to maybe seeing more of a chance to settle in and play some extended minutes with him if it works out?

ZT:  I think I played with him a couple of times last year at points and he’s an extremely talented offensive player and he’s extremely smart in the d-zone as well, so playing with a guy who can move the puck like that, who can make plays offensively would be a complementary pairing where I can be more of a shutdown guy and keep it simple in the offensive zone by getting my shots through and covering for him so that he can feel like he can jump in the play. I think it would be a blast to play with Torey- he’s a really talented player. He plays with a lot of heart and that’s something that’s contagious.

KL: Congratulations on your engagement- is it safe to say that the people of Boston might eventually see an even bigger talent with your fiance, Jeanna, who got her Master’s from Boston University’s journalism school and is already the sports director for her television station in Rochester, Minnesota?

ZT: Yeah- she’s definitely got all the talent over there (laughter). Talent and hard work- that’s how she’s earned her success- I just try to keep up.

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(Kirk Luedeke photo)

(Kirk Luedeke photo)

Seth Griffith faces logjam at RW

Last season, the Boston Bruins got some surprising production from 2012 draft choice Seth Griffith, a former prolific goal scorer in the OHL with the London Knights before turning pro for the 2013-14 hockey season.

Griffith, who was passed over in his initial year of NHL eligibility in 2011, overcomes a lack of size and dynamic skating ability with elite offensive hockey sense and a great set of hands. Fans will no doubt remember this beauty he scored last November against Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils.

The finish is vintage Griffith, but the highlight also shows the lack of open ice foot speed and the difficulty he had in gaining separation once he blocked the shot and chased the puck into the neutral zone. Granted, the now-retired Bryce Salvador took a good angle in recovery, but Griffith would have gone in alone on Schneider if he was a faster skater. Instead, and what makes the goal all the more remarkable, is that he fought off Salvador and Marek Zidlicky to put the shot between his legs and under Schneider’s left pad for one of the prettiest goals of last season.

Griffith has made a career of memorable goals, as he uses his keen offensive instincts, quick release and lacrosse background to pinball off of opponents and make scoring plays that other forwards aren’t capable of creating themselves. However, in the NHL, he won’t be faced with many opportunities like that one, where it all seemed to come together for him for a magical scoring chance. Ultimately, Griffith is going to have his hands full winning a job on one of Boston’s top-three scoring lines as we enter the 2015-16 NHL campaign.

Let’s take a closer look:

Your top spot is pretty well filled with David Pastrnak expected to build on a surprising and successful rookie season, one that saw him score 10 goals and 27 points in 46 games to finish out the second half of the year in Boston. Pastrnak will be given every opportunity to skate on that RW1 spot for Boston next season and if he stays healthy and all plays out the way the B’s expect, the 19-year-old will take another step forward in his development as the franchise’s next face up front.

Loui Eriksson and Brett Connolly are solid bets for second- and third-line duty in Boston.

Eriksson is coming off his best offensive season (22 goals) since 2011-12, when he tallied 26 goals and 71 points. He turned 30 in July, but he’s anything but past his prime. Eriksson has been a popular target of criticism in Boston since the trade that sent Tyler Seguin to Big D, and that’s understandable given that the 2010 second overall selection scored as many points (84) in his first full season with the Stars in 2014, as Eriksson has done in two seasons with Boston. Eriksson dealt with two concussions in 2013-14, but he re-emerged last season with some of his patented ability to make consistent plays on offense. It’s not enough for many Boston fans to accept that Seguin has tallied 74 goals and 159 points for Dallas since the trade- nearly a 2-to-1 advantage over Eriksson, but the veteran Swede often gets the short shrift in Boston for what he does well, which is a creative, opportunistic approach to scoring. His 22 goals was second only to Brad Marchand on the team last year (which is also an indictment of Boston’s popgun offense) and his 47 points trailed only Patrice Bergeron (ditto).

GM Don Sweeney is in a tough spot with Eriksson- the unrestricted free agent-to-be will likely fetch a decent trade return as the season progresses, but timing is everything- pull the trigger on a trade too soon and you’re sending the message that the year is over. Wait too long, and you could end up like Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres with Chris Stewart last winter. Eriksson reportedly has a 14-team trade list, so any transaction Sweeney makes short of just riding it out and likely parting ways with him next summer is already constrained with only limited destinations.

Connolly is the big wildcard for the Bruins entering the new year. I won’t go into as much detail, because I plan to dedicate a future and comprehensive blog post to him, but let’s just say that the B’s did not expend a pair of second-round draft choices on a player they expect to remain a third-line presence for them. The sixth overall selection in 2010 (just four spots behind Seguin for those keeping score at home) has yet to justify the faith Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning scouting staff had in him just five years ago, but the B’s signed him to a one-year “show me” deal valued at a little over $1 million.  If that pure skating and sniping ability that manifested itself (in albeit a more limited sample size given the time he missed with a hip injury) during his WHL days with the Prince George Cougars starts translating in the NHL, the B’s could have two exciting right wingers in Pastrnak and Connolly. It’s an intriguing possibility, but not something you can take to the bank.

To complicate matters (for Griffith), the B’s acquired the Boston-born-and-bred Jimmy Hayes on July 1, subsequently signing the 19-goal scorer with Florida a year ago to a three-year extension. They did not do that to stick the 6-foot-5 former Toronto second-rounder in 2008 on the fourth line, so it will be interesting to see what the team’s plans are for Hayes and in all likelihood- Eriksson. Something’s gotta give, and best guess is that the club will do some mixing and matching up front to start the season and see how the makeup looks before acting.

Also on the Boston depth chart’s right side power winger Brian Ferlin, who is more of a natural fit for fourth line duty given his size, skating and modest (projected at the NHL level) ability to chip in offense.

Someone, anyone, might earn some more playing time in Boston with a switch over to the left side, which enters the season with Matt Beleskey and Brad Marchand clearly entrenched on the top two lines, but only veterans Chris Kelly, Zac Rinaldo and Max Talbot as the other NHL-established players over there. Griffith has better offensive chops than both of them put together, but he’s nowhere near the defensive player and veteran dressing room presence. Based on Claude Julien’s body of work to date, unless injuries eat into Boston’s depth, does anyone realistically see Griffith beating those players out for a job out of camp?

That leads us back to the gist of the post. With six goals and 10 goals in 30 NHL games last year, the potential is clearly there given his scoring upside. Working against Griffith is the fact that he does not possess the ideal traits that Cam Neely and Sweeney have said they want to employ in Boston- to be a bigger, faster, harder to play against club. That’s what the guys ahead of Griffith on the current roster projections possess in terms of natural tools, so the 22-year-old has his work cut out for him this year.

Sweeney once told me during a break in the action at the annual Flood-Marr prep tourney at Noble & Greenough School a few years ago that he admired Griffith’s “dog on a bone” mentality when it comes to scoring. He was referring to the fact that although Boston’s fifth-round choice does not have the natural size/strength to win a lot of board battles, nor the pure explosion and separation gear to put defenses on their heels, he nonetheless brings a tenacity and inner fire to out-hustle opponents and find ways to get the puck in the net. In two pro seasons split between Providence of the AHL and Boston, Griffith has scored 32 goals in 108 minor league games. That’s something you don’t just give up on.

At the same time, Griffith is going to want a chance to play in the NHL sooner rather than later. That might just make him an attractive trade chip to include in a larger package at some point to help shore up Boston’s team where it is needed most: on defense.

We shall see.

Monster to Boston on a PTO

Various sources including HNIC’s Elliotte Friedman reported today that free agent goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, aka the Monster, will come to Boston Bruins training camp on a professional tryout agreement.

The 30-year-old originally came to the NHL for the 2009-10 season as a free agent signing by the Toronto Maple Leafs out of  Färjestad BK, where he had a season for the ages in 08-09. He posted a sub-2.00 GAA in both regular season and playoffs, leading his club to the Swedish Elite League championship with a 1.03 GAA and otherworldly .961 save percentage in 13 games.

He played 2 seasons of 42 games each for the Leafs sandwiched between a forgettable 23-game stint in 2010-11, when James Reimer came in at mid-season and made an immediate splash. Gustavsson spent the last three seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, where he struggled with injuries in two of the years he spent there.

Gustavsson is the modern NHL goaltender- big, agile and quick. He squares up and plays the butterfly style, but he’s pretty active and comes out of the paint to keep shooters honest.

If the reports are true and he is with the Bruins as an invite, the move makes perfect sense, as it was hard to imagine the club trusting backup duties to one of the current trio of Jeremy Smith, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre. That’s not a knock on any one of them- they’re eager, capable players. They also don’t have a single complete NHL game in the books between them, so assuming Gustavsson plays well enough in camp and signs for the league minimum, the club at least has an NHL-experienced backup who has had an up-and-down NHL career, but has flashed impressive ability at times in his 148 games.

I like it because it takes the pressure off the youngsters by giving Claude Julien a veteran player in net that he’ll be less risk averse to when it comes to spelling Tuukka Rask. I like the move- it gives the youngsters the chance to keep playing (though the B’s might need to loan Smith to another team if they want McIntyre to play in the AHL next year- otherwise, he might end up in the ECHL), which is not a bad thing for developing goaltenders, even if they themselves would be more than happy up with the big club playing sparingly.

Of course, if he stinks out the joint or gets hurt (either one or perhaps both are distinct possibilities), then we’re right back to square one.

The Brady Decision

Did I miss something in the NFL yesterday? I kid, I kid… I have purposefully stayed out of the various developments swirling around the New England Patriots since the end of last January’s AFC Championship game, but wanted to take a quick moment to throw a few things out there given yesterday’s judicial decision.

Folks that know me are aware that I have long admired New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. They also know that I am the furthest thing from a lawyer, so if you decide to read any further, understand that these are the views of a layman and not based on any formal legal training. I’m guided only by my own values and sense of fairness in this case.

None of my respect for Brady changed during the ‘Deflategate’ saga, ironically enough, a situation inflated and conflated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s ineptitude. It was a needless drama, possibly inspired by hurt feelings on the part of a cabal of owners seeking to put Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and the Patriots in their place after nearly a decade and a half of success punctuated by four Super Bowl championships. I say possibly because unlike the NFL- I have no real evidence that is actually the case, and unlike the NFL- though it is “more probable than not” that he was being pressured to make a massive disciplinary overreach by people who were unable to beat the Patriots on the gridiron, I can’t actually prove that Goodell and Co. were like so many puppets on an owner’s (or owners’) string.

Whether you root passionately for Brady and Patriots or despise them with every fiber of your being, this is America.

You establish guilt based on evidence, not conjecture. You deal with facts as they exist, not what you want them to be. You convict someone whose guilt is proven, not because you’re sick and tired of seeing him win games and come out ahead. Even the most obstinate of the Patriots haters have to grudgingly concede that there is no smoking gun here. While that probably doesn’t change the ‘CHEATER!’ narrative they’ve used to soothe their own inadequacies when it comes to dealing with the existing facts, even if they won’t publicly acknowledge it on the Internet message boards and comments sections of Deflategate articles, they know in their heart of hearts it was a screwjob from jump street.

Not only did the NFL fail to conclusively prove Brady had anything to do with the willful tampering of footballs, members of the league’s leadership went out of their way to besmirch a marquee talent so that he would be convicted in the court of public opinion.

That tactic worked, but the entire orchestrated farce could not stand up in a court of law, so I applaud Judge Berman for doing the right thing and not further enabling the NFL’s abuse of power in this case.

Ultimately, Goodell may have just been acting in the interest of several influential owners who wanted the Patriots punished and actively worked behind the scenes to galvanize the league into action. We’ll probably never know the truth unless some big wig’s cell phone and texts shows up on TMZ. But the moral cowardice and blatant hypocrisy committed by ‘league sources’ to wantonly leak damaging information to media water-carriers who in turn smeared a Hall of Fame player and one of the top teams in America’s premier professional sports league is unconscionable.

Unlike the NFL with Brady, I won’t pronounce them guilty, even if the mounting evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of an organization that when left unchecked, acted like some third-rate banana republic replete with willing dupes in the fourth estate manipulated by Goodell’s loyal sycophants into validating a kangaroo court.

This isn’t about cheating…it’s about consistency and applying a fair and honest standard to real and established misconduct within the codified rules and regulations governing the league. Goodell and his minions have a penchant for making things up as they go along. That might work in a backyard pickup game, but the NFL’s fans- you know- the ones who fill the league’s coffers to overflowing- they deserve much better.

But don’t just take my word for it. Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel, not a Patriots shill, had turned a jaundiced eye towards Goodell, Troy Vincent and the NFL some time ago, when things like the Wells Report and the NFL’s actions began to generate more questions instead of answers. Once the proceedings landed in court and the NFL could no longer control the narrative by suppressing what happened during Brady’s appeal hearing, Wetzel started holding the NFL’s feet to the fire in earnest. Today, he administers an appropriate spanking, which if taken in context of fairness and the way we as Americans should expect due process to happen, pretty much leaves little to debate.

If after reading this, your response is still ‘CHEATER!’ so be it. But, I would submit you are exhibiting the height of intellectual dishonesty if you don’t at least, in the very back of your mind, fear that it might happen to your favorite player one day. If the NFL went after Tom Brady the way they did, then no one is safe. And that, my friends- is why the way the league metes out player discipline must fundamentally change.

And now back to hockey…

Throwback Thursday: Mike Liut Q & A

I’m re-posting an interview I did with former NHL goalie and current Octagon agent Mike Liut. The Bowling Green product began his pro career in the defunct WHA and was one of the league’s best netminders during the 1980’s era of “Firewagon Hockey”- when scoring reigned and a “top” NHL goalie sported a goals against average at or just north of 3.00 and an .890 save percentage was upper tier. The great thing about being able to cover the sport I love is the chance to meet my boyhood idols and Liut was one of them, even though ironically enough- he never played for the Boston Bruins.

Liut is an interviewer’s dream, as he has an amazingly detailed mind for recall and I remember being near overwhelmed with his answers to my questions. It’s always a treat when I run into him here and there at NHL drafts, combine or other byways where the game brings us together and he’s always extremely gracious to this writer who can’t help feel the same kind of thrill he got at age 11 when Liut signed an autograph outside the Civic Center. Enjoy

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

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

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New England Flashback, originally published April, 2004

During the 1980’s, goaltender Mike Liut was one of the more recognizable names in the National Hockey League at the height of the 21-team era. Liut, who came to the from the St. Louis Blues to the Hartford Whalers in a blockbuster trade engineered by GM Emile Francis, spent almost five full seasons and parts of another as the Whale’s big name in goal. Liut established himself in the NHL with a memorable 1980-81 campaign when he won the Lester B. Pearson Trophy given to the league MVP as voted on by the players. He arrived in Hartford at a time when the franchise was foundering, not having made the NHL playoffs since their inaugural season in 1979-80, when the World Hockey Association, which had begun in 1972, merged with the NHL, and the Whalers, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Quebec Nordiques were brought into the fold.

The Whalers were struggled for respect in the early ‘80’s, even though they had some fine young players coming up through the ranks such as Ron Francis (Liut’s second cousin), Kevin Dineen, Ulf Samuelsson, Ray Ferraro and Sylvain Turgeon, the 1984-85 club was just about out of the playoffs when GM Emile Francis dealt the popular Greg Millen and Mark Johnson to the Blues for Liut. Although the 1985 Whalers finished strong, the team would grow by leaps and bounds the following season, not only making it to the postseason, but then stunning the favored Nordiques in the first round of the 1986 Adams Division semifinal series.

Liut was expected to be a savior in Hartford, and although the pinnacle of his Whaler career came in a devastating seven-game playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 1986, the former Bowling Green University standout and Weston, Ontario native gave Hartford fans some great memories of big game performances, and the confidence of a top goaltender at a time when scoring levels were at their highest in history. A glance at Liut’s statistics given the drop in offense in this day and age, doesn’t do much for those used to seeing GAA’s in the sub-two’s and three’s, but at a time when teams combined to average nearly eight goals of offense per game, he was one of the game’s best.

Liut was also one of the first in the wave of cat-quick goaltenders with size (Liut was 6-2) who took up a considerable amount of the net and frustrated shooters with their athleticism. He was an immensely popular workhorse goalie in St. Louis, still talked about by Blues fans in reverent tones, but had to fight for the hearts and minds of the Whaler faithful, who despite watching some of the moribund Hartford teams of the early 80’s, were attached to Millen, and sad to see him go. Because of Liut’s reputation with the Blues, the people in the insurance capital expected him to single handedly carry the Whalers into contention. When there were some bumps along the way, Liut became the focus of fan frustration at the Hartford Civic Center. Never one to deflect blame to others, Liut weathered the storm, and came out of it as one of the most popular Whalers players of all time.

The Whalers weren’t ever able to get out of the old Adams Division, and until the franchise’s inspiring run to the 2002 Stanley Cup final as the Carolina Hurricanes, had never been in any bigger NHL game than the 2-1 overtime loss suffered at the hands of Claude Lemieux and les Habitants in ’86. Liut and his mates made the playoffs each year that he was on the team, but were eliminated in the first round by the Canadiens every time. At the 1990 trade deadline, Liut was moved to the Washington Capitals for winger Yvon Corriveau, and retired after the 1992 season without having ever won a Stanley Cup or played in a single final series.

After hanging up his skates, Liut, now 47, earned a law degree and went to work for the NHLPA before deciding on settling in Michigan and embarking on a career as a player agent. Liut is an integral member of the Octagon Firm (along with another former Whaler and Bruin Brian Lawton), which represents over 65 NHL clients, Boston’s Jeff Jillson among them. He also spent three seasons on Red Berenson’s staff at the University of Michigan where he was a goalie coach, mentoring current Dallas Star Marty Turco.

Liut recently sat down with HockeyJournal.com and shared his experiences with the Hartford Whalers and time in New England as one of that franchise’s top players.

Hockey Journal.com: When you look back on that first Whaler team you were with, what are some of the things that stick out in your mind the most?

Mike Liut: When I was initially traded to Hartford, we were almost mathematically out of the playoffs at that point, and as a team, we had about eight or nine rookies who had been getting a lot of playing time. Guys like Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson, as well as Paul MacDermid and Ray Ferraro, were given the opportunity by our coach, Jack “Tex” Evans to get a lot of ice time and grow as players at the highest level. We were a team without direction, because when you have that many rookies, you have a lot of guys who are just happy to be there, and haven’t yet learned to raise the bar so to speak and focus their efforts on the higher goal of winning a championship.

Over the last 10 games or so, we were relatively successful, but it was on the final night of that season, when we were playing the Bruins, that we took an important first step toward contention. Boston was a much better team than we were at the time, and were also in a fight to lock up second place in the Adams, thereby avoiding a first-round matchup with the Canadiens. The Bruins really needed the points, and so when the puck dropped, they literally jumped us, and what might have been a game that some guys in our room thought was going to be meaningless, turned into much more- it was a war, and our guys went from just playing out the string to having to fight for survival. The bottom line is that the guys were challenged in a way that they’d never been challenged before as hockey professionals.

We went into a hornet’s nest at the Boston Garden, and our players had to fight back against what was a pretty tough Bruins club, or get hurt. The end result was that we did battle back and we won the game, and it ended up costing the Bruins the points and dropping them to third. The win didn’t alter our fate any, but it did Boston’s, and to beat the Bruins in that kind of an environment was huge. It gave us a head start on the next year, when we would take that next step and make the playoffs for the first time in many of the guys’ NHL careers.

HJ: How did the Whalers go from being a non-playoff team for so many seasons to finally making it in 1985-86?

ML: I think it was a process that begun with draft picks like (Ron) Francis, (Kevin) Dineen, (Ray) Ferraro, and the others that formed the nucleus of a young team in which I was the old man at age 29. But, we were very consistent in the early going, and that consistency allowed us to not only keep pace with the strong teams in our division, but fostered confidence that we were a team that could go out and get the tough points against the best under challenging circumstances.

Then, we hit the worst skid I had ever seen as a professional in February, when we went Oh-for-the-month and literally slid out of the playoffs. I can’t even begin to describe the frustration we all felt at that time. We were inventing new ways to lose games, and nobody had any answers. We were also missing important players like Ron Francis, who was injured, and we just couldn’t seem to catch any breaks. It was easy to point fingers, and that’s when the fans began booing Tex Evans. It was a brutal situation to be in, because people were literally climbing on the glass behind the bench and screaming at him during games, but he never, ever turned on the players. That’s something he refused to stoop to, and we didn’t ever forget that loyalty and respect he showed us. Emile Francis, who was also under tremendous pressure because he had dealt two fan favorites in (Mark) Johnson and (Greg) Millen for me, gave the players a reason to fight for the team with his public outpouring of faith and support in us. They (Francis and Evans) never cracked, never jumped on the team or made us the fallguys for our struggles at that time, which was so important because when you’re in a slump of that magnitude, you never think you’ll win another game.

I remember one interview with Emile Francis when he went out of his way to single me out for praise even though I wasn’t playing well. He said, ‘I’m not worried about Mike Liut at all. He’ll play one good game and get right back in the saddle.’

To show that much confidence in someone- when Rome is literally burning- that is the definition of leadership in the purest sense. Both (Evans and Francis) could’ve played the blame game, and they wouldn’t have been far off the mark by doing so. But when they showed that loyalty to the players, we had no choice but to respond and turn it all around.

And it all started with another crucial win against Boston.

HJ: What happened next?

ML: That was the night Kevin Dineen knocked out Mike Milbury, and it was an unbelievable game. We were coming off of a bad loss against Pittsburgh and had flown in the night before, but the Bruins were waiting for us, having had the previous day off. We were in about as fragile a state as you can get, and then they scored on their very first shot. I think we could’ve packed it in at that point, but didn’t. Dineen KO’d Milbury, and everything in the game turned on that one event. We were able to beat the Bruins that night, went on to beat Buffalo in a home-and-home series, and the whole thing turned from there. Part of that was getting Johnny Anderson in a trade from Toronto, and he really shot the lights out down the stretch (eight goals, 14 assists in 14 games with the Whalers after the trade) and Ron Francis came back from his ankle injury, plus- Dave Babych helped stabilize our blue line and provide some offense for us. We rode that momentum all the way into the postseason.

HJ: What did beating the Nordiques in the first round that year do for your team’s confidence?

ML: Well, it was an enormous boost. We stole Game 1 (3-2 OT) in Quebec and really believed that we were on a roll. Everything just seemed to be working out for us, and that’s the thing about hockey. The teams that peak at the right time are the ones who are most dangerous in the playoffs. We may have surprised Quebec with our tenacity, and because they had the pressure on them as being the favorites, we were able to come in as the underdog and win a great series.

HJ: The Montreal series went down to the wire about as close as it can go. What are some of your memories of that whole experience?

ML: It was an unbelievable time for us. We went into Montreal and took the first game, and that’s when it really hit us that we could do it, that we could beat a team as good as the Canadiens. They tied up the series, and then I took a shot off the knee in warm-ups for Game 3 back home, and my knee swelled up to the size of a grapefruit. I started the game, but had to come out, and we lost. Although I wanted to get in very badly, I couldn’t go for Game 4. At that point, we were down 2-1, and we knew what giving Montreal a 3-1 lead going back to the Forum would do for them, so Stevie Weeks stepped in and was magnificent, making a ton of big saves to keep us in it long enough for Kevin (Dineen) to score that memorable overtime goal when he beat two Hall-of-Famers in Larry Robinson and Patrick Roy to give us life.

Looking back on it, I think these guys really came of age that year. They grabbed a piece of their place in the league and so many players stepped up when they had to. Stevie (Weeks) did his part, and every time you turned around, somebody else was scoring a big goal or making a play to help us win. We were just a very close team, and as hard as it was to lose in overtime like that, we were all better men and players for having gone through that together. It was an epic series.

HJ: When you look back at some of the young players the Whalers had, but traded away in their primes or just before they reached them such as Francis, Ferraro, Dineen, Samuelsson, Turgeon, Sylvain Cote and so on, do you think that Hartford could’ve made a serious run at the Cup in the early 90’s when those guys were at the top of their respective games?

ML: Oh, absolutely. Building a successful hockey franchise and patience go hand-in-hand. When you look at a lot of the trades Hartford made that ultimately broke up the core group of that ’86 team and the ’87 team that won the Adams Division in the regular season, I think there was an intent to get better very quickly, and challenge the top teams in what was the Wales Conference back then with clubs in the division like the Bruins, the Canadiens, and even some of the top Patrick Division teams like the Penguins and the Rangers. You can certainly look back with the benefit of hindsight and say that if the Whalers had kept those players, they would’ve evolved into a contending team. At the time, you trade a guy like Ray Ferraro for Doug Crossman, and at the time, it makes sense because Crossman is one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL. But a couple of years later, Crossman is out of the league, while Ferraro is scoring 40 goals for the Islanders and goes on to play at a high level for more than a decade. That’s just one example, but when you look at the trades as a whole, a few definitely made the team better, such as the Sly (Sylvain Turgeon) for Pat Verbeek deal, but some of the others had a detrimental effect on the chemistry and overall performance, which led to the team’s decline in the 90’s.

HJ: When you were traded to the Washington Capitals near the end of the 1990 season, did it come as a surprise to you?

ML: Not really. We had been hearing rumors for a while, and I think I was the obvious choice to be dealt between Peter Sidorkiewicz and myself. I was the oldest guy on the team, and the Whalers were looking to make a move, so no- I wasn’t really surprised when I got the call, but I was disappointed because we loved the area and all the support we had received from the Hartford community over the years. It’s always difficult to have to pull up the roots and move, no matter how you feel about the situation, and when you have a family with small children involved, it adds to the complexity of it all.

HJ: What was your overall impression of your time spent in Hartford?

ML: We loved it, and cherish the memories we made there. Hartford is a great community in which to raise a family, and the Whalers fans were extremely passionate about their team and the sport. It’s funny, but my daughter, Jenna, who’s a senior in college this year, took a summer tour of New England with her roommate, who is from the Boston area. She was still pretty young when we left Hartford, but when she came back from her trip this summer, she said, ‘You blew it by not going back there (to Hartford) when you retired from the NHL, dad!’ She really loved the East Coast, and that just brings it all back for me and the great times we had living in that part of the country. Hockey is so much a part of life there, and it’s a lot different from some of the other places I spent time in as a player. Of course where we live now in Michigan, I find a lot of similarities to New England with the way hockey is viewed in the regional sports culture, but there was something about that area that made it a special place to play. And as far as the community and school systems available to our children, we couldn’t have asked for anything better as parents.

HJ: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job as a player agent and how has your own experience as a successful NHL player helped you in your new career?

ML: I enjoy the chance to sit down with someone who is having problems and helping them work through their issues. Professional athletes are no different than anyone else- if they’ve lost their confidence, it usually means they are lost and confused. They live in a world where every time you step on the ice, someone is out there trying to intimidate you, trying to make you feel like you’re not good enough. Someone is trying to beat you. So many players I was close to during my playing career, I saw this happen to firsthand, but as a walking library of the NHL with 15 years of experience, I can now take the time and draw on my own lessons learned to help our clients be the best players and people they can be. This in turn provides the fan with a better product when the player is at the top of his game and everyone wins.

HJ: You had a big impact on me as a youngster. You were one of my hockey idols, and it has been a real privilege to speak to you about your experiences today.

ML: Thanks a lot. I always get a real charge when people tell me that. But to be honest, I was getting paid handsomely to play the game I loved, so I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to compete in the NHL for as long as I did. The honor is really all mine when I meet someone who tells me that I had a positive influence in their life. As professional atheletes, some may not like the fact that children and young people look up to us, but it’s a responsibility we need to take seriously. This is why I enjoy being an agent so much- it allows me to stay close to the game, but to impart some of the knowledge I gained as a player over the years to others who may be struggling to find their way a little bit.

Looking back on it all, I have few regrets over how it all turned out. And, I’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime. I loved my time in Hartford and am grateful that I had the opportunity to spend five good years there as a member of the Whalers.

The Pasta Principle: Pastrnak primed for year 2

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak is back in Boston, as he showed up this week for the annual pre-training camp captain’s practice sessions, which sees the gradual return to the ice of Bruins players.

Pastrnak’s arrival so soon (we’re still a little more than 2 weeks from the time the veteran players are required to report) is an indicator of the young forward’s seriousness, though it’s not all that surprising to those who know him. Last year, Torey Krug went out of his way to talk about how dedicated the NHL’s youngest player was (he didn’t turn 19 until May- a month after the B’s packed up and headed home), showing a maturity beyond his years.

Some people like to talk about how hard they work, but Pastrnak goes out and does it. When character guys like Krug notice that, then you know you’re doing something right.

I said in my 2016 Bruins season preview series that Pastrnak is the player Boston has been waiting for, and that’s more and more evident by the day. He’s arguably the most purely talented player on the roster, but his humility, enthusiasm and love for what he does provides the best possible example for everyone around him, from rookie to veteran alike.

He’s up to about 180 pounds, which will better help him to endure the rigors of the 82-game regular season schedule plus exhibition and potentially more in the playoffs (if the Bruins get in). That’s a good weight gain that gives him a good starting point going into camp. With his body type, he’ll likely lose more over the course of the season- every little bit will help him in the corners, along the walls and in front of the net.

I profiled Pastrnak a year ago in January, right after his outburst of 4 goals in a two-game stretch that secured his place with the big club for the duration of the 2014-15 hockey campaign. For a guy who was still trying to figure out the English thing, I thought he was extremely well spoken, and he reminded me of a young David Krejci, who despite a thick Czech accent and near-whisper when he spoke, said some of the more profound (by hockey dressing room standards) things of anyone on the roster circa 2008-10.

He talked to me about his love for the game and how sometimes, like a typical kid, he just didn’t feel like playing or practicing. Instead of forcing him go, his parents let him make his own decision. That approach seems to have worked out for him, and though still a teenager, he could moonlight as a hockey advice guru with quotes like this one:

“My mom told me that sometimes I didn’t want to go to practice so she (would) just leave me (at home). My parents were never like, ‘ you have to go practice’ they always asked me: ‘do I want to go practice?’ and I said yes or no, but if I said no, I stayed home. I think that’s an important thing too, because right now some parents are just pushing their children to play hockey all the time and that’s maybe how they stop liking it, you know?”

Growing up in the one-rink coal-mining town of Havirov, Pastrnak rode the city bus to practice and games, sometimes wearing his gear and carrying his skates and stick. As long as he could get to the rink on time, it didn’t matter to him how he got there.

Now, at 19, he’s on the verge of something special in Boston. Those cynics who want to waste their time cracking wise about the Bruins now being primed to trade him can chortle and giggle at their so-called cleverness all they want, but they miss the point entirely about what the management team is trying to do. Just as the club once cultivated and groomed a young teen named Patrice Bergeron to be a key contributor and leader, they are doing the same for Pastrnak. Unlike former Bruins Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin, Pastrnak has given the team myriad reasons to hold onto him and invest the millions going forward that it will take as he matures into a league star. The other two are stars as well, but for whatever reason, they either could not or would not embrace the ethos that right or wrong, the Bruins expected them to.

Pastrnak doesn’t have that problem.

He is a player everyone can get behind.

And that’s the memo.

***

You can read the complete profile of David Pastrnak in the February 2015 edition of New England Hockey Journal here:

http://digital.hockeyjournal.com/nxtbooks/seamans/nehj_201502/index.php?startid=10

David Pastrnak, Emil Johansson and Zane McIntyre take a break during 2014 Bruins development camp (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak, Emil Johansson and Zane McIntyre take a break during 2014 Bruins development camp (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Scouting dispatches: Twitter mailbag # 3

I’m back with a third edition of the Twitter hockey mailbag, where I solicit questions and followers hit me up on a variety of topics. This week’s mailbag has a little bit of everything, with some questions about the Bruins (mostly about prospects), some draft queries related to Auston Matthews and the process itself. Thanks as always to those who took the time to submit and if I didn’t get to a question you asked- apologies but keep trying.

 

Here’s the mailbag:

Since you focus on prospects, what is the organization doing wrong in prospect development and who is responsible?- Olsonic @BruinsScience

I won’t lie- wrestled with this question because of the way it is worded. Instead of trying to simply approach the question by answering what I think is “wrong” with the process, I’ll also attempt to point out some things I feel the team is doing right.

First of all, the Bruins are a long way from the old days when they would typically draft a player and then spend little to no time interacting with them as the majority of them returned to their junior clubs or played in the NCAA before they were ready to compete for a Boston job. There are some tough stories involving players like 1989 first-round draft pick Shayne Stevenson that would be hard to wrap your head around given the investment the B’s and all the other teams now (smartly) make in player development to help set the conditions for an eventual NHL payoff. Stevenson was a cautionary tale, but he was far from the only promising player to never reach his big league potential, and the Bruins are hardly the only NHL team to move on from a talented young player because something was just not there to justify the expense.

In getting to your question- prospect development is not a black and white issue. It depends on a lot of different factors, only some of which are- overall talent/ability, draft position, character/work ethic, maturity, and a big one I don’t think enough people put weight into- the drafting team’s roster opportunities. In a perfect world, every first-round pick would just show up to camp, plug right into his allotted position and go off to enjoy success, but the world we live in is far from perfect.

Without writing a book here, I get the consternation over departures of young core players like Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, but simply pointing to the team and trying to allocate responsibility to any one individual is an exercise in futility. Could the teams have done things differently to keep both players in the fold? Perhaps. Could the players have done more to instill confidence in their commitment to the team and/or expressed more of a desire to be in Boston over the long haul? Possibly. When you’re dealing with people and personalities, developing prospects becomes more art than science, so the best thing the Bruins can do is try and capture lessons learned from disappointments and successes alike.

The Bruins spend considerable time and resources working with their prospects and trying to bring them along at a pace that will set them up for success when it eventually is time for them to be pros and make a run at an NHL career. Player coach Jay Pandolfo joined the team in a full-time capacity last season to mentor the youngsters and his own experiences having come up through the ranks at Burlington High and Boston University before winning several Stanley Cups. A respected defensive forward who spent most of his nearly 900-game NHL career with the New Jersey Devils means he has a broad base of experience and wisdom to impart. He was a second-round pick as an offensive player at the lower levels but had to reinvent himself as a defensive forward to keep younger, more skilled players at bay for years as he skated in the big show. I think he’ll continue to relate well to Boston’s prospects and provide a good example for them going forward.

In the end, no matter how good a team’s developmental program is or how much money they pump into it, not everyone is going to play in the NHL with the team that drafted them, and unfortunately, some high picks will fall off along the way. If we only ask what’s wrong with something while not making an effort to find out what’s right in any given situation, it’s a good bet that we’re missing out on a significant part of the equation.

 

How good is Austin Matthews [sic]? Better than Eichel?- RJ @mrshark444

I’d say an acronym that fits for Auston Matthews is PDG- Pretty (Darned) Good. He’s got the size, skating and offensive skills to be a threat on each and every shift. He’s still developing his 200-foot game, but there’s a reason he’s the early favorite to be the NHL draft’s top selection next June. He looked the part of a top NHL prospect at the USA WJC camp last month, and I can’t wait to see how he acquits himself in Switzerland’s top pro league this year.

As far as him being “better” than Eichel, that’s not something I’m interested in tackling right now. Those two will have a chance to settle that debate in the NHL eventually, and I’ll leave it to them to let their play do the talking when the time comes.

 

(Joe) Morrow, (Zach) Trotman, and (Colin) Miller- what areas do they need to work on to make the NHL roster, respectively?- Chuck Finley @cnjs5kpj

I would not be surprised to see all three on the Boston roster at some point this season, but the chance of the trio being in the lineup at the same time is less likely to happen in my view.

Morrow has the skating, passing and shot you look for in the more offense-minded defensemen, but the irony with him in his 15-game audition last year is that he looked more like a conservative, stay-at-home D playing more not to lose than opening it up and giving his team the chance to benefit from what he does best- pushing the pace and running the power play. Now, it’s certainly possible that Claude Julien and Doug Houda told Morrow to keep it simple, but I think that if he’s going to be a regular this year, he’ll have to show more flash in terms of using his speed to lead the rush and back defenses up. He needs to be more assertive in the offensive end, because the B’s have plenty better defense-minded players than Morrow- they don’t need another one.

Trotman needs to keep raising his execution level while playing situational hockey for the Bruins. He’s big and pretty fluid for his size, but he’s not all that physical nor projects as a consistent point producer, so he’ll have to be most effective at even strength to earn the coaches’ trust. That means he’s going to have to play a smart positional game, use his long reach and strength to keep attackers to the outside and cut down on the mental mistakes that have at times have been noticeable. I like his chances of grabbing a 5/6 role right out of camp the best of the three.

Miller is interesting- he’s a late bloomer; a latter-round pick who has superb skating chops and a big shot who is coming off a far more productive AHL season than the one Morrow, a former 1st-rounder, just had. He’s mature and talented enough to make the big club right away, but the B’s will have to balance how he performs at camp and preseason with the kind of role they want to give him. He’s not known as a particularly instinctive player, so while he has the wheels and howitzer, there’s much more to it than that, so he’ll have to demonstrate enough of a defensive awareness so that they keep him up rather than try to get him more seasoning in the minors.

How’s Peter Cehlarik coming along?– John C @JohnnyRiingo

Cehlarik had a better 2014-15 campaign than he did the year before, when he bounced around to several teams in different leagues and never settled in. I see him playing one more year in Sweden with Lulea and then signing and coming over to North America either at the end of this year or for the start of 2015-16 to play in Providence or possibly Boston.

On the positive side, I like the Slovak’s size, long arms and shot release and accuracy. He’s one of those players who can make an electrifying play with the puck on one shift and then score a mundane, take-out-the-garbage kind of goal a few minutes later. He’s got some dangle and creativity with the puck.

He’s not a plus skater, but he does have a long stride, so he tends to look like he’s gliding around sometimes. He’s not all that heavy on the puck and I know that different Bruins scouts have told me that they want to see a little more “want to” in his game at times.

The Bruins don’t have a lot of similar players to Cehlarik in their system, but I don’t know that he projects to be a high-end, top-six forward in the NHL, even if the tools are there. He’s an intriguing player, but I want to see how he adjusts to the North American game first.

How mad should I really be that the B’s gave away Dougie Hamilton?– Lundeaner @Deaner1000

The Bruins didn’t “give away” Hamilton, though I understand where you are going here.

If your point is to be mad because they didn’t get NHL players who are known commodities at this level and are ready to step in and perform right away, that’s a legitimate gripe. Whether salary cap dictated what direction the B’s went in when Don Sweeney made the decision to move him or something else, that Boston defense took a step backwards and there’s no sugarcoating that.

However- I’d just offer up that once upon a time (in 2002), people griped about the Bruins letting Bill Guerin “walk for nothing,” only a funny thing happened a year later- they used the compensation pick for him on Patrice Bergeron and the rest is history. They used the 45th pick on him in 2003 and this past June, one of the three picks they got from Calgary for Hamilton was No. 45- Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson– who reminds folks of a young Bergeron. Zachary Senyshyn and Jeremy Lauzon are two more players who could one day help turn the trade in Boston’s favor.

With the Hamilton trade there is no question the B’s accepted a lot of risk on the return from Calgary and it might end up on the negative ledger in the long run. I’m certainly not going to try and sell it as a win for Boston in September 2015, so if you want to be mad, I won’t try to stop you. But, if the scouts got it right with those three players, we might not be too concerned that Hamilton is out in Western Canada in about 3-5 years…that’s a big “if” though, and with jobs potentially on the line- the B’s must get something out of these three picks.

 

Any chance Noel Acciari and or The Planet’s kid play on the 4th Line this season? Can’t see Chris Kelly down there all year– Mark Clinton @mark_clinton

Is there a chance? Sure- there’s always a chance, but how much of one is the question, and I’m not sure Acciari will be at the top of the list of players to be called up to Boston in his first pro season, with a bit of a glut of more experienced wingers to choose from.

Does he have the maturity to do it? I think so- he’s someone I have followed since his days as a Kent Lion and Acciari’s game lends itself to fourth line duty. By the same token, unless he’s so much better than everyone else vying for fourth line duty, I’m of the opinion that the chance to play more of a role in the AHL is probably more beneficial to Acciari at this stage of his development.

I guess we’ll find out. I wouldn’t have a problem with Acciari getting that chance, but without seeing how he looks in camp or performs at the AHL level, it’s not a hill I am going to die on either way.

 

How should the Bruins manage their goalie assets? Do B’s have any chance at getting a reasonable return, or is best bet to develop?- Greg Babbitt @babbitt_greg

The two are not mutually exclusive and it’s about doing what management feels is going to make the team better.

That’s why instead of keeping a more proven Martin Jones in the fold right after acquiring him from the Kings, they moved him for other assets while saving the money re-signing him would have counted against the cap. Part of that no doubt was to accommodate Jones’ desire to have a chance to start somewhere, which wasn’t going to happen this year in Boston barring an injury, but part of it was deciding to get a solid, closer-to-being-ready NHL prospect and a potential lottery pick next June for a guy who would have been sitting more than playing.

Throwing out the fact that they don’t currently have a proven NHL commodity to back up Tuukka Rask, they have three solid assets and I’m not sure trading one makes a whole lot of sense right now given how little depth they truly have if Rask gets injured. Daniel Vladar is not pro-ready, so beyond Jeremy Smith, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre, there isn’t a large safety net for contingencies. I still think they’ll bring a veteran with some level of NHL experience into the mix before camp- either through invitation or with a low-cost, take-the-minimum-while-you-can money so as not to throw their backup hopes behind a trio of guys who have less than one NHL game between them.

As for the reasonable return versus developing them question, I’ve never understood the segment of fans that immediately jumped up and assumed Subban would be traded when the B’s signed Rask to his big extension in 2013. When the Bruins acquired Rask in 2006, the B’s had Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen as their goalies entering the 06-07 season, and even when Thomas continued to perform at a high level as the starter (except for his injury-riddled 2009-10 season), Rask had to bide his time. Why wouldn’t the B’s employ a similar patient approach to Subban and/or McIntyre while their veteran continues to be the No. 1 in Boston?

It all comes down to protecting the club against catastrophe, and that’s what the team will be facing if it loses Rask for an extended period anytime soon. If you don’t think you can get the kind of return that justifies the investment you’ve made in a player, there is nothing wrong with holding onto him and seeing if he can deliver on the promise that prompted the team to draft him in the first place. At that point, he either wins a bigger job with the NHL squad or he increases his trade value, but there’s no set answer that applies universally.

I believe the Bruins have done it the right way, but I also thought Niklas Svedberg would succeed as the backup a year ago based on his AHL track record in Providence.

 

What are the most important attributes you look for in prospects? Personally think hockey sense & work ethic should trump all– Hash Marks @hash_marks

Thanks for the question- I enjoy getting ones like this.

Those are two important attributes for sure, but in the end, I’m of the belief that you can’t apply a cookie cutter-type approach when it comes to evaluating players, so I do my best to evaluate them on their own merits without introducing too much personal and preferential bias into the process up front.

Hockey sense and work ethic will likely result in a smart hockey player who is driven to succeed, but based on his position, would a lack of size and skating be enough for those areas to overcome those deficiencies? I’ve seen some players who possessed elite hockey sense never reach the NHL because they were smaller and couldn’t skate well enough- it happens and some guys have the misfortune to get drafted by NHL teams whose systems aren’t the right fits for their strengths and weaknesses.

I’m a big proponent of the “foxhole test” in terms of asking whether you’d want to go to war with a player to measure that individual’s character and mental toughness. Because of my military background and a few trips to the big sandbox, I often find that I have some pretty high standards in that regard, but there are always a few guys each and every year who answer the foxhole test question with a resounding yes in my mind. At the same time- you have to be able to skate and up and down a 200-foot sheet of ice and put a vulcanized rubber disk into a 4 x 6-foot cage past a highly athletic and (often times) tall guy with octopus-like arms and whose gear would make Sir Lancelot jealous. How hard someone works or ferocious their character may help them do that, but I’m not sure that “trumps” other attributes that might lend themselves to being a better scorer or defenseman. So- while I don’t disagree that hockey sense and work ethic are key components in the evaluation process, I’m not ready to definitively say that those attributes  are enough to take precedence over the other skills/tools in a vacuum.

It’s a balancing act, and every team and the scouts they employ do things differently than everyone else. How much of a difference varies, but it’s a big reason why drafting future NHLers tends to produce such varied results, especially in the later rounds when so many of these players hit their stride later and end up being better pros than a lot of guys taken ahead of them.

Daniel Vladar update: Chicago Steel take bronze medal at JCWC in Russia

Chicago Steel and Daniel Vladar after capturing bronze at JCWC August 2015 (USHL/Chicago Steel photo)

Chicago Steel and Daniel Vladar after capturing bronze at JCWC August 2015 (USHL/Chicago Steel photo)

Bruins fans may be getting an indication of what could be about 4-5 years from now with 2015 third-round pick Daniel Vladar, who helped the USHL’s Chicago Steel medal in the Junior Club World Cup (played every year in Russia over past 5 seasons) tournament, earning a bronze third-place finish with a 3-2 over Russian jr. team Auto. They lost to Sweden’s Djurgarden j20 team in the semifinal match

I caught a couple of games online, and you can see why the B’s took Vladar where they did: he’s huge, quick and had his glove going, frustrating shooters with a lightning flash of the leather to deny some wicked shots. His play tends to get a little scrambly at times and he’s susceptible to getting beaten on secondary and tertiary scoring chances, but it’s tough to get pucks by him when opponents are barreling down the wings because he gives them very little net to hit and has the natural athletic ability to deny the shot and then direct it away from danger.

Like most young goalies, Vladar’s rebound control is a work in progress, but he’s showed people something over the past week: the ability to win under pressure and he did it against some solid competition. I’ve said a few times that there were other players I thought made more sense for Boston at 75 (Erik Foley comes to mind), but there is no issue with the value the Kladno (Jaromir Jagr’s hometown) native brings to the table. He’s raw and very rough around the edges, but the B’s can afford to be patient with him.

Daniel Vladar (USHL/Chicago Steel photo)

Daniel Vladar (USHL/Chicago Steel photo)

The Steel could very well be a team to watch for the USHL’s coveted Clark Cup, an achievement that has eluded the club since its inception in 2000.

Summer coooler interview series 3: Jon Gillies

Gillies appears on the April cover of New England Hockey Journal after leading his team to the NCAA championship game for the first time since 1985. (Getty)

Gillies appears on the April cover of New England Hockey Journal after leading his team to the NCAA championship game for the first time since 1985. (Getty)

The Calgary Flames got potential greatness in net when they chose South Portland, Maine native Jon Gillies in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft after a couple of seasons with the USHL’s Indiana Ice (and a year at Salisbury School in Connecticut before that).

As impressive a physical specimen as you will find at 6-foot-5, he most recently backstopped the Providence College Friars to the 2015 NCAA championship in a memorable contest against Hockey East rival power Boston University, slamming the door in the final period after his club mounted a comeback. It’s not surprising, given that in each of his three NCAA seasons with the Friars, he stopped at least 93% of the shots he faced in at least 35 appearances every year, a tremendous testament to his focus and consistency at such a high level.

The 21-year-old turned pro and signed with Calgary this past spring, where he is expected to play for the club’s new AHL affiliate in California, the Stockton Heat.

He’s the modern pro goaltender with a huge frame and long limbs to take away the net from shooters. He has a winner’s mindset and is able to focus on making the critical save at crunch time, the hallmark of any championship puckstopper and player teams want to be a workhorse. Don’t be surprised if Gillies is skating into NHL creases before too long, but for now, he’ll take Calgary’s designed path for him a game at a time as he prepares to head West for his first pro training camp.

Gillies took time out from some family events in Minnesota to talk about Providence’s run to the Frozen Four, his own journey and experiences on several championship teams and how he is looking ahead to his pro hockey career.

Kirk Luedeke: Jon- take us back to April to 2015 and talk about what it was like to be in net for your school’s first ever NCAA championship and the epic game of contest and wills that came down between two Hockey East powers like that?

Jon Gillies: It’s hard to explain, really. I remember standing on the ice after we won and just kind of thinking of everything that happened over the past year dating to back when I decided to go back for my junior year and just thinking of all- the first thing that comes to mind is all of the sacrifices you’ve made with your teammates and just the work that gets put in there in the college season. There aren’t as many games as in pro, so there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes, a lot more work and practices and things like that where you really have to be tuned into at all times. It was pretty special this year with all those guys- my roommates and I were very close with everyone on that team and it was one of the most tight-knit groups I’ve ever been a part of. So, it was pretty special and sharing that experience with everyone was cool- my mom got a little  emotional in the stands and I was so happy that she was able to be a part of it and to have both of my parents to be able to make it to pretty much every game living so close to PC, and several of my very best friends growing up were able to go to the game and see us win. The way it all came together to win the tournament is something I’ll never forget for sure.

KL: Your dad (Bruce) has a history of playing hockey at a high level (goaltender at UNH, played pro hockey in several leagues including the AHL and IHL)- can you talk about your father and your parents in general in terms of inspiring in your own career and helping you along the way?

JG: Yeah, my dad has been everything to me- at the rink, away from the rink…he’s been my best friend and a person I can bounce hockey questions off. We’re pretty much the same exact person when it comes to hobbies and interests away from the rink so, we can both get away from hockey in that aspect. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to have shared this ride with over the course of my whole career and to know what’s best for me, know what I need at certain times. I still think one of the biggest decisions he ever had to make as a hockey parent, especially when you played the position he did, it can be hard to step away from the technical aspects of something like that, but when I was 10 years old, he and my mother both agreed it was time for me to see a modern day goalie coach and get into that program from that age on. That’s something where you look back on it and it wasn’t that  big of a deal at the time but for them to make that sacrifice was important. From then on, and before that obviously, he and I just always have been able to talk about hockey when it’s time to talk about hockey or not even discuss it all all. It’s been pretty special and I wouldn’t be anywhere without him.

KL: Providence College- you got in on the ground floor with this championship group and you got to grow and mature for three years there. Can you talk about the transformation when Coach Nate Leaman came in and the team added pieces that ultimately led to your squad skating around with the championship trophy in 2015?

JG: I think that back when I was 18 years old just graduating from high school and I chose Providence College the reaction I got from a lot of people was confusion. They were kind of surprised because obviously there were some more established programs at that time but the foundation that tells you a lot about Coach Leaman about a coach and person was just the straightforwardness and honesty he has. He was straightforward by saying it was going to be a process and a lot of hard work. But, if you come here you have a chance to be a building block and start something special and help the program transition back to its period of glory. The selling point for any goalie is- I think you try to go where you’re wanted and to have a chance to be a part of something that special and part of a program that was ready to take off with a coach like that and the culture he instilled was something that cemented the decision.

KL: His old team Union College won it all in 2014…I’m sure that was something not lost on you, the players. Did you or some of the other veterans on PC get together this past spring and recognize the opportunity to win one for Coach Leaman  as things were shaping up for you to make a run to the championship? Did you talk about how special it would be to see a team he had a big hand in win the NCAA one year and then the club he currently coaches win it the next?

JG: I think after we lost to Union my sophomore year we felt for Coach Leaman a lot because we knew that although he would never make it about himself or anything like that, I think we knew as a group it was a very tough loss for him and it was a game he really, really, really wanted to win. At the same time I know the kind of person he is and he was so proud of Union College when they won the NCAA- he was so proud of all the players he had coached and was very happy for Coach (Rick) Bennett and the school overall. I think that says a lot about him as a person.

When I think back to the beginning of last year, there were a lot of high expectations on us as a team externally- there were a lot of people picking us to win the Hockey East and we kind of stumbled out of the gate. But I think that was more happening because we didn’t believe we were as good as others thought we were- it took us a little while to get that in our mindset. One of the things Coach Leaman did to help us get there was to make sure we were focusing on each other and focusing on the things that we could control and applying that every day at the rink. And he made sure we were coming in with the goal to just get better each day. So it was kind of that one step at a time approach that he instilled in us from day one. So when you talk about trying to win it all because of what happened with Union College, I don’t think he would ever want us to have that mindset or anything like that. It might have crossed the minds of some guys, but I know that for me I wanted to win it for Coach Leaman because of everything he had done for me and the team and I wanted to win it for the group of guys I had the pleasure of sitting in the locker room and looking at every day and battling with in games every night, so those were the motivating factors for us, I think.

KL: Having been a part of multiple championships- Team USA in 2013 and that world junior gold medal in your trophy case and now this- what in your mind do those championship teams have in common? What does it take to win at any level in terms of your hockey experiences- what are the uniting ties that bind on those winning teams you’ve been on?

JG: The biggest thing I’ve noticed is the belief we have in each other and having the willingness to do what it takes to win. If you look at what we did in the (NCAA) tournament, we had guys diving headfirst in front of pucks…that shows a lot about the culture that was instilled here, but also about the camaraderie of the team and the willingness to play for each other and have each other’s backs; to be willing to sacrifice everything for the betterment of the team.

The Team USA experience was a weird cohesion we had in terms of it being such a short tournament, but I think that’s where the (National Team Development Program) NTDP comes in where you have those guys that build the relationships over the course of two-plus years and then come together as a team like that so they’ve already hit the ground running. And then in terms of guys like myself and Johnny Gaudreau and Jimmy Vesey– all those guys that…we come in kind of cold compared to some of the relationships they’ve already built but they’re very accepting of us and welcoming and they just throw us into the mix.

I have to say that the biggest thing for our Providence College team is that you don’t think about the past and things like that because there were a lot of things that we could have gotten discouraged about where we lost a tough series to UNH and we were on the bubble of the tournament. I think our biggest mindset was if he get the chance, we’re going to make the most of it.

KL: You went out on top, signed with Calgary, they’ve probably made it clear that they have big plans for you- how has the summer been for you- the first in which you’re preparing for the new season knowing that you’ll attend your first main NHL camp?

JG: I want to be open to knowing that adversity is going to come, and go with the flow and take everything in stride by learning as much as possible. I was in the mindset when I went out to Calgary at the end of the season and my mindset in the summer was… the biggest thing people talk about at this level is that you need to take a break, you need to a refresher, refreshment period…and thankfully, my family provides a good outlet for that. That’s what being home this summer- two months was pretty good for that. It’s fun going to the gym every day and working out next to two of your best friends and your little brother (Cameron Gillies), so that kind of stuff helps more than I think I realized at the time when I first started, but looking back on it, it’s been a great summer in that aspect.

As far as training, you try to get to get better every day. You do the exercises once a week, and then the next week, you do the same but you try to get your weight up. The next week when you come across that same cluster or something like that and you just go from there. I was making sure that the fun I was having this summer was balanced out with hard work to get ready mentally and physically for the long haul of the season.

KL: You went out to Calgary, you saw the city and was around members of the team and management/coaching staff- what are some of the takeaways you got from that brief period in Western Canada last spring, and what are most looking forward to?

JG:  I think the first thing you notice is the passion of the city and the passion of the fans. Everyone talks about it and you have an idea of it when you go, but I was sitting up top with some of the injured (NHL) guys for one of the home games and the catwalk was literally shaking from the crowd at the Saddledome and how incredible the energy from all the fans was. Every single person is in a red jersey and it was a pretty fascinating sight- so I’m very excited for that passion and how everyone cares so much about the Flames, cares about the players- the success on and off the ice of the individuals as well as the team as a whole.

From what I notice about the team itself- the culture is a lot like- it’s very similar to the culture that Coach Leaman instilled in Providence- the never quit attitude and the expectation that you work as hard as you can and try to get better every single day, one game at a time- everything’s a process. It’s a great place to be and I’m very fortunate to be a part of this organization and the city and so I really can’t wait to get the ball.

KL: Is there anything else you want to add or anyone else you want to recognize for your success as we wrap it up?

JG: Just make sure that my mom knows that I love her and that she’s been as big a part of my success as my dad- we talked about him a lot but my mom doesn’t get the headlines, but as any hockey mom is- she’s been incredible and she’s a saint and I want to make sure that’s out there as well.

***

Thanks again to Jon for taking the time to chat- although this blog tends to be Boston Bruins-centric, I want to have more of an NHL flavor from around the league and I believe that Gillies is one of the league’s young stars in waiting. Flames fans have much to be excited about in the years to come with their team, and I suspect he will be a part of that success.

Gillies (at lower right) has a WJC gold medal & NCAA championship already- is a Stanley Cup ring in his future? (Getty)

Gillies (at lower right) has a WJC gold medal & NCAA championship already- is a Stanley Cup ring in his future? (Getty)