Final 1st-round mock draft and Bruins draft preview (audio)

Well, NHL Entry Draft time is upon us…I can hardly believe that I will be flying to Buffalo, N.Y. in the morning and that by this time Friday night, Bruins fans will know who the next big hopeful will be.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but rather than write an excessively long post here, I’ll take the advice of a recent blog critic who didn’t like the length of my Bruins draft strategy piece and break it down for you in about 15 minutes. He’s out of luck on the bolded names, though- sorry pal. As Kenny Loggins once crooned- I’ll meet you halfway. I’m sharing my thoughts on where the Bruins are heading into the draft, and where I think they’re going, and not just in round 1. Keep in mind this is just one person’s opinion, and lots of things can happen between now and pick No. 14 in the First Niagara Center.

Here’s the audio:

I am not going to weigh in on internet rumors surrounding Jimmy Vesey. Look, until he either signs with the Buffalo Sabres or he doesn’t and becomes an unrestricted free agent on August 15, I’m going to do my level best to stay above the fray. Because of my relationship with him and members of his family going back to his prep school days, that’s precisely *why* I’m not going to get into the middle of what is flying around. I give full credit to the Sabres for stepping up and getting his rights- that puts them in the driver’s seat, at least for the next some-odd 60 days, and Tim Murray will either convince him to forego the chance to pick his destination, or Vesey will stay the course. My thinking- and it’s just my own intuition here- is that he’s come a full four years since Nashville drafted him in Pittsburgh. What is less than two months more at this point? But if Murray and Sabres owner Terry Pegula (and don’t forget Jack Eichel) make a convincing enough pitch, there’s not much stopping him from ending the soap opera.

But, if you’re looking for me to repeat things flying around various message boards- that’s not happening.

Now, onto the mock draft:

1- Toronto- Auston Matthews, C; The Leafs get their man- Arizona native’s the wire-to-wire No. 1 overall selection and with good reason.

2- Winnipeg- Patrik Laine, LW; The first big winners of the NHL’s new lotto jackpot system cash in with this pure shooter who turns goal scoring into an art form.

3- Columbus- Jesse Puljujarvi, RW; GM Jarmo Kekalainen pounces on this Finnish horse who isn’t quite the threat his countryman is, but isn’t that far off, either.

4. Edmonton- Matt Tkachuk, LW; On a team whose GM once saw firsthand what Milan Lucic could do, the Oilers grab a high-end power forward with serious bloodlines.

5- Vancouver- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW; The Canucks need help everywhere, so Jim Benning can’t go wrong here with as complete a two-way threat as there is in this class.

6- Calgary- Logan Brown, C; Described by my pal Reed Duthie (who calls Hamilton Bulldogs games) as an “aircraft carrier with feet”, this massive center is also highly skilled, meaning- he’s off the board in the blink of an eye.

7- Arizona- Olli Juolevi, D; Is this Finnish version of the old Val Kilmer movie ‘Real Genius’ the first defender off the board in Buffalo? Very possible.

8.- Buffalo- Jakob Chychrun, D; After making a splash with the Vesey trade, the Sabres fire more shots across the bow, picking up this big name at 8, but his hockey IQ has raised some doubts.

9- Montreal- Alex Nylander, RW; The Canadiens seek skill and scoring, so why not grab the player who might have absolutely been the most talented player in the OHL draft class, even if he doesn’t always bring it.

10- Colorado- Mikhail Sergachev, D; The Avalanche land a big talent that has scouts divided on his overall defensive awareness, but may be at the top end of the skill factor in the OHL.

11- New Jersey- Tyson Jost, LW-C; Ray Shero blinks- he can’t believe Jost is on the board here, and after landing Pavel Zacha a year ago, grabs another potential elite forward bound for North Dakota in the spirit of one Zach Parise 13 years ago.

12- Ottawa- Michael McLeod C; The Senators are betting that McLeod’s blend of size, skating and smarts propels him to stardom up the middle, even with questions about his NHL upside.

13- Carolina- Clayton Keller, C; Small but dynamic center has major league potential as an uber-dangerous playmaker.

14- Boston- Dante Fabbro, D; Knowing what the Bruins tend to value in their players and what they need at this stage, this defender is right up their alley at 14.

15- Minnesota- Luke Kunin, C; St. Louis native did a great job as a freshman on a poor team- the sky’s the limit and the Wild can’t resist.

16- Detroit- Charlie McAvoy, D; A player who could just as easily go to Boston two picks earlier, if he’s still on the board here the Wings pounce.

17- Nashville- Jake Bean, D; The Predators know Bean has a high-end skill set and grab him with outstanding value at 17 where others had him projected inside the top-10.

18- Philadelphia- Kieffer Bellows, LW; Passed up by his hometown Wild, Bellows doesn’t have much time to dwell  on it & makes sense as a fit in Philly with his deadly release and penchant for filling the net.

19- NY Islanders- Riley Tufte, RW; Big, massive, skates well, tremendous long-term promise and the Isles struck gold with Brock Nelson in Minnesota before, so why not take a big payoff project here?

20- Arizona via NYR- Julien Gauthier, RW Major concerns about hockey sense and a tepid second half after tearing it up early in the season mean that the Val d’Or standout slides, but he’s solid value here.

21- Carolina via LAK- Max Jones, LW; Speedy power forward has some nasty play that has gone over the line, but if the Hurricanes can harness that raw aggression- he could be one of those role guys you win with.

22- Winnipeg via CHI- Logan Stanley, D; When you pick Laine at 2, you can afford to take on more of a project player with your bonus 1st-rounder, and with Stanley’s size, skating and snarl- he looks like a solid bet to play even if he tops out as a mid-tier shutdown D.

23- Florida-German Rubtsov, C; The Russian forward in class is someone worth jumping on in the early 20’s and Dale Tallon does just that.

24- Anaheim-Tage Thompson, RW; Huge but raw with an upside that some in the NHL scouting community feels is too legit to quit, the UConn Husky becomes a part of the West Coast quack attack.

25- Dallas- Dennis Cholowski, D; It sure looks like the late-surging BCHL two-way defender is bound to land in the 1st round, and he looks like a good fit for the resurgent Stars under Jim Nill.

26- Washington- Pascal Laberge, C; Speedy and skilled, the Capitals need to find secondary scoring behind Ovechkin and Backstrom- this Victoriaville Tigre brings that in spades.

27- Tampa Bay- Brett Howden, C; Some say he looks a lot like his older brother, but this Howden seems to have more killer instinct and finish around the net. Stevie Y. will take it.

28- St. Louis- Lucas Johansen, D; With Kevin Shattenkirk likely to leave via trade, the Blues will look to infuse more offensive talent and potential with this latest product of the Kelowna D machine.

29- Boston via SJS- Markus Niemelainen, D; The B’s could go with a forward with their second pick like a surprise 1st-rounder in Wade Allison here, but if they add another 6-5 D who can really skate, this Finn will complement the right-shooting Brandon Carlo nicely at some point.

30- Anaheim via Toronto via PIT- Boris Katchouk, LW; Anaheim grabbed the big RW earlier, now they get the gritty, in-your-face and underrated Soo Greyhounds scorer at the end of the round after giving up Frederik Andersen to the Leafs. (Thanks to the readers who pointed out my mistake)

Alex DeBrincat drops out of the 1st round, but he won’t last long in the 2nd.

***

Okay- that’s it. I’m off to Buffalo.

Reminder- if you want breaking NHL draft news, picks, analysis and hot takes (or is it “taeks?”) give me a follow on Twitter: @kluedeke29 I might be able to get some Periscope action going as well, so look for that.

Will be on TSN 690 with my Red Line Report boss, Kyle Woodlief, with host Tony Marinaro this Friday, June 24, from 11-noon (Eastern) live from First Niagara Center to talk draft, draft and nothing but draft.

Will do some deeper dives on the draft at the blog in the coming days, but this is pretty much it until the big event, and even then- will just hit the wave tops, but keep checking in- I might have some Easter Eggs and surprises for you.

Scouting Post 2016 NHL Draft Podcast Pt. 2: Tiano & Duthie forge on

Thanks for the overwhelming interest in part 1 of the 2016 NHL draft OHL-centric podcast featuring Dominic Tiano and Reed Duthie!

Here is the second hour:

Tiano’s OHL Writers blog is a key source in the evaluation of NHL draft-eligible talent coming out of the CHL’s Ontario major junior circuit. Duthie is the play-by-play announcer for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs home broadcasts. Both bring a lot of knowledge and passion for the sport.

In hour 2, we pick up where technology left off, completing the thought process on Saginaw D Markus Niemelainen. Then, listen to Reed and Dom square off over defenseman Sean Day, as they engage in a “great debate” over whether the toolsy player who was granted exceptional status at age 15 is worth spending a top-60 selection on given his disappointing season and other concerns about his long-term NHL upside.

We also get into some of the underrated, undersized guys like Alex DeBrincat, Adam Mascherin and Will Bitten…the duo talk about players like Nathan Bastian, Taylor Raddysh and we also go further down the line on interesting risers like Guelph Storm forward Givani Smith and London speedster Cliff Pu (Puuuuuuuuu!).

Oh, yeah- and we circle back on London Knights power forward Max Jones– a bit of a controversial figure as you will hear from Reed and Dom. But, I neglected to have him in the 1st-round talk in hour 1- that was a mistake, because that’s where he’s almost assuredly expected to go this week.

There’s that and much, much more, as we tack on some time at the end of the 60 minutes to make up for what was lost in the first hour. You don’t have to be a Boston Bruins fan to get into the action here- as Dom feels that this is one of the strongest OHL draft classes in quite some time. Chances are- your favorite team will end up with one or more of them.

I have a few more posts this week before the draft, but for now- enjoy.

 

 

Kyle Woodlief’s annual top-10 NHL draft eligible forwards & D out on USA Today

Every year, Red Line Report chief scout (my boss) Kyle Woodlief, puts out an article on USA Today that breaks down the top players at every position.

Here is this year’s offering of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft forwards and it shows a top-10 chock full of talent. This gets back to what I was talking about on the recent Days of Y’Orr podcast, when I was contrasting last year and how the top-3 defenders were a given to come off the board inside the top-10. This time, if Boston wants a top defenseman, they might get him by simply standing pat and waiting for their turn at 14 because there are so many intriguing forwards in an impressive group at the top.

Here’s the article and you’ll notice that Kyle mentions Tri-City Storm right wing (and Western Michigan University recruit) Wade Allison as the sleeper. He’s bang on- Allison is surging up draft lists after a dominant second half and big time USHL playoffs en route to the league championship and playoff MVP honors. Allison has size, skating, a very nice shot and the spirit/character to be a future leader. I don’t like to make comparisons- but he reminds me of Joe Pavelski in that he comes off like one of those guys who ratchets up his play in big moments. Who doesn’t want someone like that? And, a team could very well grab Allison in the 1st round when all is said and done.

It says a lot about the quality at the top of this draft class when guys like Clayton Keller, Kieffer Bellows, Julien Gauthier and Alex DeBrincat don’t even make it in the top-10 up front.

Enjoy the article-

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/2016/06/14/nhl-draft-2016-forwards-auston-matthews-laine-puljujarvi-tkachuk/85875602/

Edit- here are the defensemen, too:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/draft/2016/06/15/nhl-draft-2016-defensemen/85937714/

 

TSP founder on Days of Y’Orr podcast- B’s prospects, 2016 draft

Greg Ezell and Bree Mellen hosted the Days of Y’Orr “Optional Skate” show- that award-winning Boston Bruins blog’s  flagship podcast.

We were on for about an hour and focused on myriad topics- a recap of Boston’s 1st 4 picks last June: Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn and Brandon Carlo. Against my better judgment, we also went down the road of Alex Khokhlachev…I just call it like I see it with Koko, and try to be as fair in my assessment as possible. We also talked goalies- Zane McIntyre, Malcolm Subban and Daniel Vladar.

When we transitioned to the 2016 draft- talked Dante Fabbro and Charlie McAvoy, plus Kieffer Bellows and a few others like Markus Niemelainen. Erie Otters 50-goal man and mighty mite Alex DeBrincat also gets some love because he’s just a pure shooter with killer instinct despite being only 5-7, and I close out with some capology talk and why the Winnipeg Jets are going to be making some real noise in the next few years.

Besides, any time I can make a Warrant “Cherry Pie” reference, it’s a good day on radio- give us that No. 1 single, Bruins!

Thanks again to the DOY gang for having me on!

Mapping out the Boston Bruins 2016 draft strategy

This post will attempt to look at what the Boston Bruins might aim to do come June 24-25 in Buffalo, as they currently have three picks in the top-50, with four more in rounds 5-7. This analysis is based on my knowledge of the draft picks combined with 16 years of covering the Bruins and their draft efforts/prospects for the New England Hockey Journal.

I. The Bruins’ draft philosophy

The Big Bad Bruins.

That’s been embedded in the team’s DNA for decades and you can see it in many of their picks and trades going well back into the 1970s. In 1986, GM Harry Sinden succeeded in bringing a talented but underachieving young former top-10 pick three years earlier in Cam Neely to Boston, and created a franchise icon.

Now, Neely is the embattled team president, receiving far more criticism and the questioning of his abilities as an executive than he ever did when he was patrolling the right wing, firing home 395 goals and 500+ points in a Hall of Fame career and endearing him to the Boston faithful with his throwback, blue collar style. His career ended far sooner than it should have, and the team spent much of the next decade looking for the NHL’s next big power forward (and they pretty much found him in 2006).

Those Big Bad Bruins days are long gone, and although the 2011 Stanley Cup champion was the closest thing the city had to those beloved teams from a bygone era. But through the decades, the organization has sought to identify and draft bigger, rugged skill players who can not only impact the game physically, but provide an offensive boost. Some of those picks were successful:

Al Secord, Gord Kluzak, Glen Murray, Kyle McLaren and  Milan Lucic come to mind, but far more players didn’t meet with the hoped for success: Brian Curran, Nevin Markwart, Shayne Stevenson, Matt Alvey, Joel Prpic, Johnathan Aitken, Kyle Wanvig, Darren McLachlan, Tommy Cross, Anthony Camara and Cody Payne are just some names. Others rumored to be in Boston’s wheelhouse but who weren’t available to be drafted such as Zack Kassian will go down as blessings in disguise that the team couldn’t waste an early first-rounder on.

Boston has tended to spend more time looking for the power forward or two-way D with an edge than the smaller, faster, skill forward or pure offensive defenseman who can excel at moving pucks up the ice and getting back to retrieve them. The B’s also prioritize smart, character types who can thrive in coach Claude Julien’s demanding system. This at times draws jeers for the tendency to see pure offensive or skill players overlooked, but that doesn’t account for the selections of David Pastrnak or Ryan Donato in 2014 with the team’s first two selections. Both are not only offensively-gifted skill guys but also have the head and heart for the game.

In fact, up until last year,  the Bruins seemed to be a best player available or “BPA” team, but when they drafted Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn with three consecutive first-round selections in the middle of the order, at least two of those players looked more like needs-based picks as opposed to taking the players whom many felt represented the top values on the board.

With two consecutive non-playoff finishes in the books, the B’s are under intense scrutiny this time around, and one cannot say with any degree of certainty that they will adopt a BPA mantra in a few weeks. However, BPA can appear to be a luxury when a team has as many holes and needs as the Bruins appear to entering the 2016-17 season.

II. Team needs

D-fense! (clap clap clap) D-fense! (clap clap clap)

It’s no secret that Boston’s team defense cost them a playoff spot this season and possibly more, as the case can be made that with a better than average core on the back end, the B’s might have been good enough to make a run at the conference championship.

The reality is- we’ll never know, because the D was so overmatched, especially down the stretch, that the implosion that saw the team miss the postseason in such spectacularly poor fashion, was, looking back on it, entirely predictable.

GM Don Sweeney played more than 1,000 NHL games at the position for Boston and Dallas, so he knows his defense needs a lot of work. We’ll toss out the whole Kevan Miller extension in this article because frankly- I refuse to believe he’s going to keep both Miller and Adam McQuaid on their current deals. The Miller extension had to be an opening move to trade McQuaid (plus Dennis Seidenberg and/or Joe Morrow, perhaps?) and begin more of a rebuilding of the back end than a re-tool as sold last summer when Colin Miller and Matt Irwin were brought in. In order to do it, Sweeney not only needs at least 1-2 capable veterans (and not the 5/6/7 variety either) and at least 1 youngster, maybe 2 from within the organization to come in and nail down a regular spot at a lower cap hit. Of course- to do that, he’s got to move some older, less productive guys out of the organization to free up the space. Easier said than done, and if the defense of June 2016 looks largely unchanged in September 2016, then the front office will have earned the sharp criticism. I’m pretty confident there will be changes, though- what remains to be seen is what those are.

When it comes to defenders, right-shooting D are more of a pressing need than guys who pass and fire from the left. Who’s to say that RHD will be a need in a couple of years from now in Boston, but as of today- watch for the B’s to look at spending some early draft capital on shoring that side of the ice up.

In addition to defense, Neely said the team needs to get heavier on the right side of the forward lineup. As a former RW and the preeminent power forward of his time, that makes sense. There are a few intriguing options in the draft, but nobody who can come in and contribute right away. Heck, even after his 45-goal season, I’d say that Senyshyn is still a few years and a more rounded effort in three zones from being ready to play for the Big B’s. That’s not a knock on the kid, but not everyone can be a Pastrnak and precociously show up as a rookie ready to go as he did after being the 25th overall pick in 2014.

The team could also stand to keep looking for skilled centers– there isn’t much room at the inn now, and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Donato, Ryan Fitzgerald even Cameron Hughes who was a nice under-the-radar pick in the sixth round last year, look promising at the position. However, landing a big and talented pivot on a longer-term timeline makes sense for Boston at this point, given that Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are both on the wrong side of 30.

With the selection of Daniel Vladar a year ago, goaltending isn’t a need, but watch for the B’s to seek value in the latter rounds. Zane McIntyre had a disappointing rookie pro year after so much promise, but this will be a bounce back year for him. Vladar is already under contract, so there’s another spot for a longer-term project in net the way McIntyre was six years ago.

With plenty of needs to go around, don’t expect Boston to get too picky, either. Of course, depending on who is available at 14, BPA and need could meet at the nexus, but for now- it looks like the B’s will try to grab the top-rated player on their board when their turn comes, regardless of position. And at least given the current projections at 14, it looks like either one of a pair of right-shooting defenders with Boston connections could end up pulling on the spoked-B in primetime.

III. Wither Dante or Charlie?

Dante Fabbro or Charlie McAvoy? McAvoy or Fabbro?

We don’t know for certain, but it seems that one if not both could be available to them. While I won’t go out on a limb to say definitively that it will be one or the other, this section will explain to you precisely why Fabbro and McAvoy make sense as value picks where Boston is currently sitting.

We’ll start with McAvoy- he’s more familiar to Boston hockey fans, having just completed his freshman season at Boston University, where he started out as a 17-year-old frosh. His start was a slow one, aided in part by his needed to shed a little unwanted weight, but by the time the calendar flipped to 2016, the Long Island (Long Beach, N.Y.) native was looking every bit the hot prospect he was expected to be entering the season.  (Highlights posted by the Draft Analyst)

The first thing about McAvoy is that he pushes the pace. He’s got an explosive first few steps and he loves to grab the puck and just go. For any fan that has seen the Bruins hemmed into their own zone, going with the D-to-D passes in the face of ferocious forechecking pressure, this is welcome news. If you’ve seen Torey Krug skate the puck out of trouble on the left side, McAvoy represents someone who can do the same thing on the right.

The best thing about McAvoy can get him into trouble at times, as he likes to pinch and gamble. I’ve seen him skate the puck all the way to the back of the net, fail to pick up the back side pressure and turn the puck over before his forward can rotate back to cover, leading to an odd-man rush the other way. A lot of that is just coaching and experience, but his decision-making will need to improve at the next level.

McAvoy only had three goals last season, but he’s got a good shot- he can get it off in stride or generate power from a stationary position and by the end of the year he was shooting with more authority. Watch for him to jump to double digits next season with the added role and confidence as a sophomore.

Here are more highlights thanks to NHL prospects posting on YouTube:

Now- as for Fabbro, he’s headed to BU in the fall, where he and McAvoy will form a pretty dangerous 1-2 punch from the right side for coach David Quinn and Co., and will likely be deployed on separate PP units to spread the wealth.

Fabbro isn’t as flashy offensively as McAvoy is but he’s more cerebral. His hockey IQ is among the highest of any player I saw this past season, and he has the kind of panoramic vision to rapidly survey the ice, read the play and move the puck to the right spot. When you look at how much Boston’s transition game has foundered of late, Fabbro’s skill at getting the play up the ice quickly would be like manna from heaven.

Impressive highlights of Fabbro from the U18s last April (bigwhite06):

He’s taller than McAvoy is but not as thick through the core. He’s not as dangerous with the big shot, but he’s got a sneaky-quick wrist shot that he uses to good effect and it comes off the blade of his stick in a blur.

What I really like about Fabbro is his personality- there’s a healthy swagger there of a born leader who knows he’s good, but will put in the work and gut out an injury to help his team win. Here’s another highlight package on Fabbro by NHL Prospects:

These two are very close and you pretty much have to flip a coin between them. Having live scouted both, it is hard to imagine that teams seriously considering one or the other see a wide gulf between them- they’re extremely close in terms of what they bring to the table and that all-important “upside” when it comes to defenders in this day and age of the NHL. In the end, their combine interviews, coupled with whether both are on the board when Boston picks, may be the deciding factor if one or the other gets the call.

The good news for Boston fans is that if both are off the board at 14 (and that’s entirely possible), then that means a couple of pretty good players who weren’t projected to be available at 14 going into the draft will be sitting there for the B’s. Assuming, of course, that they want them.

IV. What about Jakob?

So, the Jakob Chychrun question and the desire for the Bruins to move up to get him has reared its head again.

Let me be clear: I like him as a player. I’m not sure I like him anywhere near as much as I did after watching him on film as an OHL rookie and earlier in the season.

After watching Chychrun at the U18s in April, I was left wanting more and wondering about his hockey IQ. I see a player with major league tools (size, skating, passing, shot), but to borrow an old cliche here- not sure about the toolbox (vision, instincts, read-react, judgment and decision-making under pressure).

The problem I see see with Chychrun right now on Twitter and other places is that he’s still living off of an older reputation and I don’t see that public perception has caught up to the fact that a shaky 2nd half and OHL playoffs followed by a mediocre U18 tourney has him trending downwards. Now, that’s all relative…it’s hard to imagine that he’ll fall far in the draft past a team like Buffalo at eight, for example, but if he does- you’ll immediately see the various fanbases clamoring for their teams to move up decisively to nab Chychrun.

He’s a good player and you can’t teach his size, skating or natural ability. But, is he the potential franchise cornerstone he was being hyped up to be back in October or November? I’m not sure about that.

If you want a classic case of a player who will instantly represent a “win” for the team that drafts him, especially if he goes anywhere after pick 5 or 6, then Chychrun is the guy. But, if I had to bank on JC being the player in the NHL at his peak that we thought he was even six months ago, I’m not betting the farm. If I’m wrong, so be it- but then he will have realized his immense potential and that’s good news. However, Chychrun might end up being just another serviceable NHL D- if you need a major hit on the blue line, that doesn’t get it done.

Fabbro was his D partner on Team Canada and outplayed him by a wide margin. McAvoy thrived in a tough competition level as a 17-18-YO freshman, and some scouts look at him and believe he would have put up some big points in the OHL this year. We can’t prove it, but the gap between Chychrun and those two isn’t as big as fans might think.

V. Okay, enough about pick 14…how about the others?

The B’s watched their second first-rounder (acquired last summer from San Jose for SCF goalie Martin Jones) go from 18 to 29 or 30. That’s a game-changer for Boston.

They could certainly hold onto the pick and make it near the end of the draft’s primetime event on Friday night, but that would leave them with just one selection between 30 and 135 on Day 2.

Assuming Sweeney doesn’t try and move that SJS 1st for NHL help on D, there’s a possibility he could also trade back into the early 2nd, to give him a pick somewhere around 31-35 and 49, while picking up an extra 4th-rounder in the process to narrow the gap.

I know what you’re thinking right now…you’re thinking- why, oh why did he trade the 3rd- and 4th-round picks in 2016 for John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak (to say nothing of Brett Connolly– acquired by Sweeney’s predecessor for 2nds in ’15 in ’16)? I don’t have a good answer- it didn’t work the way he wanted to, so the criticism here is valid and warranted if the B’s do end up moving the 29 or 30 for an extra 2nd and 4th. Rant away. But when you’re finished, stop a moment to consider the B’s history with second-round picks and maybe it’s not so bad after all?

If the B’s hold onto the late 1st, I like the potential for another big, swift-skating D there in Finland’s Markus Niemelainen. He was the nails at the U18s, even if he didn’t put up big offensive numbers and I find him criminally underrated by Central and other lists that have him in the 50’s and 60’s. He played for a gong show of a club in Saginaw this year, but he’s so nimble and quick for such a big man, and you can see that there might be some real untapped offensive potential with him. Of course- if Boston likes him and thinks they can get him in the early 2nd, they might move that 1st for more assets.

Another skilled 2-way D worth following is WHL guy Lucas Johansen, younger brother of Nashville C Ryan Johansen. The Kelowna Rockets rearguard can really skate and pass- he’s more of a finesse, positional defender versus a classic player who brings a physical edge in going both ways, but when it comes to wheels and head, he’s got 1st-round tools.

Another rising player, but one to consider up front is Tri-City Storm RW and Clark Cup playoff MVP Wade Allison.

If Chychrun is still enjoying the positive wave of goodwill and hype based on last season and the early part of 2015-16, then Allison is the opposite- he got virtually no buzz until he went off in the season’s second half and vaulted up the various lists and rankings. The earliest you’ll probably find him in public is in the 40s-low 50’s, but I could see him breaking into the late 1st or at least off the boards in the first few picks of the second round. Look at this guy go…video compliments of Storm Hockey:

Allison is a powerful skater who drives the net, excels in puck possession, has the kind of heavy shot that terrorizes goalies and brings a solid, workman-like mentality to the rink every day. Oh, and remember what I said earlier about Neely’s comment about getting heavier on the right wing. Just sayin’… MVP! MVP! MVP! (Great interview, too)

Alex DeBrincat won’t get picked by Boston late, but if they’re serious about liking Johnny Gaudreau back in 2011 as was reported last season, then there’s no reason for them not to take this dangerous scorer even with the very small size. DeBrincat is simply deadly and worth a first-round pick, even though he might slip to the second.

At 49, the B’s could see some value with U.S. NTDP captain Ryan Lindgren, who is a personal favorite as a jack-of-all-trades who might just be a master of some- like winning. He’s not exceptional, but is so polished, smart, competitive and underrated…he deserves more attention than he gets. If someone like a Filip Hronek or Taylor Raddysh falls to the bottom third of the second round, Boston might see the value there. Hronek impressed against men in the Czech Extraliga this year and is PP ace with  skill and brains- he’s just real light and reedy in his build- a lot of maturing and off-ice work ahead. Raddysh is one of those on-again, off-again big wingers who is a bit of an enigma, but if he can pick up a step and add some consistency, could be a horse (remember- mission: get heavier on RW!)

After that, unless the B’s acquire an extra pick, they have a loooongg wait.

In the 5th round, you’re looking at dark horses and sleepers- you could see a few overagers- 1996 and 1997-born guys. I wrote about a few of them in the June issue of the New England Hockey Journal- you should check it out. http://www.hockeyjournal.com

VI. Can we just wrap it up? Please?

So, there it is. My first real comprehensive take on the Boston draft and its potential for this blog.

It sets the foundation for what I hope is some quality discussion and research.

One thing I will leave you with (if you’re even still reading and there’s a quiz on Twitter btw) is this: avoid groupthink. Just because I’m high on Fabbro or McAvoy doesn’t mean I’m right. Research the players- seek different angles and opinions and don’t be so quick to form the foundation of your views based on what others are telling you.

I realize that resources are often scarce and viewings of these players few and far between, but if you want to be prepared for what lies ahead when Boston makes that first critical pick in Buffalo, you owe it to yourself to arm yourself with the knowledge to be a critical thinker in the debates that are sure to follow, especially if the B’s pass on a “higher” profile player to grab their guy. Following the other lemmings who are convinced that player a or player b should be drafted at that spot over whomever the Bruins choose is not critical thinking. At least, not if you haven’t done some honest work yourself to form that opinion instead of just hopping on the bandwagon.

Ultimately- whether the B’s grab a popular choice or not- whether perceived as good or not so good- we’re still not going to know if they were successful. Resist the urge to claim victory or defeat and adopt the kind of patience that will be required as the Bruins attempt to build a winning jigsaw puzzle for more sustained success beyond 2017.

 

 

 

 

The Duthie Dish: top OHL players in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft Pt. 1

Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) play-by-play announcer Reed Duthie spent a good deal of time talking to the Scouting Post last week on some of the best options coming out of the Ontario Hockey League for the next NHL entry draft.

Over the weekend I posted Duthie’s background and his thoughts on B’s prospect Zach Senyshyn, who posted a two-goal game last night against Sudbury to tie his 26-goal total from his rookie OHL season a year ago. This time, he did it in 37 games as opposed to 66, so Senyshyn is certainly living up to his 15th overall draft grade from last June. You can go here to read that post.

This coming June, the NHL draft is being held in Buffalo, which is appropriate because there is a lot of high-end talent and depth coming out of the OHL for the late 1997 and 1998-born players. We’ll just jump into it. The players covered are in order of where Red Line Report has them in the OHL’s pecking order at mid-season, which can change a good bit based on key factors such as the World Jr. tournament, second-half of the OHL season and playoffs,and the World Under-18 tourney in April. Out of respect to my employer at Red Line, I am not sharing the actual ranking numbers with you, but this does give you an idea of how our Chief Scout and Ontario scouts saw it over the first half of the 2015-16 campaign.

Reed breaks down the key OHL players in the first of a two-part series that will post this week. We start at the top and will continue in the next post with a couple of significant WJC standouts in Alex Nylander and Olli Juolevi.

Jakob Chychrun, D Sarnia Sting: The son of former NHL defensive defenseman Jeff Chychrun is a different player than his dad was, bringing a mix of high-end mobility, skill and awareness to make him a two-way threat from the blue line and the 2016 draft class’s best bet to one day develop into a No. 1 at the NHL level. Here’s an impressive rookie season goal courtesy of TVCogeco:

GP- 33 Goals- 5  Assists- 19  Points- 24  PIM- 20

Reed Duthie: If he’s not the first player taken out of the OHL, then I think somebody’s gone crazy. He’s an all-around stud defenseman. His positioning is right on, he can skate with the best of them, he can throw the body, he can put up points. I think personally he’s immediately ready to step into the NHL. We haven’t had (the Sting) in Hamilton yet, but I’ve watched him a few times in preparation for other games and Jakob’s just on another level. I think there’s a definite chance he steps right into the National Hockey League. Physically, he’s ready to do it and personally, I was shocked when he got cut from the Canadian team at the World Juniors- I thought he would be a shoo-in for that squad. There are some parts of his game he needs to work on, but I don’t see him being that far off from Aaron Ekblad.

Scouting Post: What are the warts on his game that you alluded to?

RD: I’ve heard people talk about his consistency and it’s a lot like what I said about (Zach) Senyshyn in terms of people just saying he doesn’t have that consistency you want in a top player every single night. But at 17 years old I would challenge you to find a defenseman who does. I remember seeing Aaron Ekblad and thinking at times he looked out of it and at times he looked like a world beater, and I’m seeing the same thing out of Jakob. There’s no reason that people should be overanalyzing his competitiveness and I think they’ll be punished for it eventually if they do harp on that. Jakob is the kind of guy- you’ll get a much better sense of him when the OHL gets to their playoffs and when you see him on an every night basis at a high level against high-end opponents, you’ll get a sense of how good he really is.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW London Knights: Keith’s eldest son has ties to Massachusetts but was born in Arizona and raised in the St. Louis area, now plays junior hockey for Dale Hunter and one of the most storied and successful (over the past 15 years) OHL franchise in London. Like his dad, he’s a power forward who can hurt you in a variety of ways. He’s a better skater and playmaker, but probably not as physically dominant as the 1990 first-rounder for Winnipeg was at the same age. This video posted by “big white 06” will give you an idea of what he can do:

GP- 29 Goals- 14  Assists- 45  Points- 59  PIM- 40

RD: Matt is a tremendous hockey player with high-end hockey IQ, excellent skater, pushes the play- he’s got all the skills you want from somebody in the middle of the ice to make an impact. The downside with Matt is that sometimes you can question the hockey IQ a little, and not so much his smarts in the play but along the lines of a Brad Marchand– he gets called for being a little hot-headed and taking an undisciplined penalty here and there when he likely shouldn’t but the skills far outweigh any downside for him. He’s got the size to do it, he’s got the compete level, which is sometimes a little too high, he’s got all the skills offensively. He could probably use some improvement in his backchecking- he’s on a good enough London team that they score enough that they’re not really going to worry about that at this point. But, there are a couple of things he could work on- he’s a definite NHL player.

Mikhail Sergachev, D Windsor Spitfires: Good-sized frame at 6-foot-2 and already north of 200 pounds at age 17. Has a well-rounded package of offensive skills and defensive prowess. Russian player who brings more of a North American-style game to the rink with him each night. Here are highlights from his first 2-goal OHL game back in November from Hockey U20:

GP- 38 Goals- 10  Assists- 16  Points- 26  PIM- 30

RD: He’s got a lot of the “Russian” skills to him- you’re not going to find a smoother talent in the OHL. Everything he does looks like he’s not making much of an effort, and yet he’s probably exerting maximum effort and I say that because some have felt that he can be lazy, but I don’t see that at all out of him. I think he’s a tremendous hockey player- he’s already got nine goals, I believe, on the season- he’s got just a bomb of a shot. He’s another defenseman like Chychrun- who’s physically ready for the rigors of the NHL, but his game is going to take some refining. I guess I would call it Dennis Wideman syndrome- at times, he’s as likely to pass it to his teammates as he is to pass it to the opponents. It’s all done with the thought of pushing the play (and the pace) forward and making things happen but sometimes he’s a little too over the top with it, but I think if he can get into a team and a system in an NHL situation where they can settle him down a little bit and just let him know that he doesn’t have to push it so hard, he’ll be fine.

Alex DeBrincat, RW Erie Otters: Small but dynamic scorer and natural sniper leads the OHL goals and is deadly accurate between the hash marks, where he does most of his damage. More from bigwhite06 to show you DeBrincat’s scoring ability from earlier this season:

GP- 30 Goals- 33  Assists- 23  Points- 56  PIM- 12

RD: I could talk about DeBrincat for hours. Being a little man myself, I love the kid. I talked about it with Tkachuk- and you saw it at the World  Juniors- he can be a little bit of a hot head at times, but he has a better way of taking it out on people vis a vis the scoreboard.He does not take penalties very often and usually, when he takes a tough hit, he doesn’t take a number, but the number goes up on the scoreboard. Tremendous shot- his size at the next level could hurt him, but his skating will make up for it. I believe he’s a better skater than a lot of people thought he was last year- I thought being overshadowed by Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome had a lot to do with that- he was underestimated. He has a tremendous shot and he can set up plays, he can work in the corners, he can work a point on the power play…just about anything you want him to do he can. Again- as is the case with a lot of these young very talented offensive players, the defensive side of the game is going to take some refining. He’s probably going to have to spend some time in the American Hockey League to used to the physical rigors of the pro game but with his skills and talent- you can’t teach what DeBrincat has.

SP: The big thing with DeBrincat is the concern about the size- you addressed it, but he’s listed at 5-7, 160 pounds- is he so dynamic and talented a la maybe a Johnny Gaudreau style of player that you throw caution to the wind and you look at a Gaudreau or maybe a Brendan Gallagher and say, hey- look, we don’t  need to be as concerned about the size because the skill and creativity is there in spades?

RD: A year ago, I might have wondered if there was more of a concern there with the McDavid effect creating some of the hype around DeBrincat, but this year he’s doing it himself and doing it more even before they sent Dylan Strome back to Erie and being able to produce without that supporting cast around him. It’s kind of funny that you mention Gaudreau and Gallagher because I’ve mentioned both as comparables and I almost see him as a blend between the two. He really gets under people’s skin and I’m not sure it’s that he does a lot of chirping at ice level or what it is, but he really gets people mad at him and he’s got a little more skill than Gallagher- more to the Gaudreau side. If you’re defending him and you get out of position or take a bad penalty because of something he’s done, he’s going to make you pay for it. I think that’s what’s been so valuable for him and why he’s going to succeed at the NHL level as long as he stays away from what he did against the Canadians in the World Juniors.

We’ll be back with more on the OHL and 2016 draft picks with part 2 in the next day or so, so be sure to bookmark the blog and keep checking in.

 

 

Thoughts on Central Scouting’s 2016 NHL Entry Draft watch list

We’re still a couple of months away from Central Scouting’s annual midseason rankings, but the NHL’s amateur talent evaluation staff released the watch list they put out every year as the new season gets underway.

In this particular iteration, the CSS does not rank the players, but organizes the players by league/competition level and assigns each an A, B or C grade. Players with ‘A’ grades are expected first-round selections next June. ‘B’ players are expected draft selections and the ‘C’ players are on the bubble but have a shot- hence the use of the “players to watch” to describe the list.

But enough with the administrativa…here are some thoughts on a few of the players on the list I have some knowledge about through live and online viewing, not to mention discussions with NHL scouting sources. This is by no means a comprehensive list- my position with Red Line Report limits my ability to go into exhaustive detail, but my hope is to give the readership a good starting point for further research.

Vitaly Abramov, LW Gatineau (QMJHL) 5-9, 172 (B)- Little but electrifying winger brings pure speed and dynamic puckhandling and creativity to the table. Impressive start and he’ll likely rise as the year goes on because of his upside.

Kieffer Bellows, LW U.S. NTDP (USHL) 6-0, 196 (A)- Son of former NHL 50-goal man Brian Bellows is a Boston University recruit and native Minnesotan with a knack for finding the back of the net. He’s a good skater but has the scorer’s instincts, hands and heavy shot to finish off chances.

Tyler Benson, LW Vancouver (WHL) 6-0, 200 (A)- Injuries slowed his start as he has yet to get in on the regular season with the Giants, but this edgy scoring winger has the tools and pro attributes to be an early pick and eventual NHL star. He was impressive in helping Canada to yet another gold medal at the August Ivan Hlinka tourney in Europe.

Jakob Chychrun, D Sarnia (OHL) 6-2, 215 (A)- Wonderful talent/skill with the head and maturity to be an instant impact defender and eventual franchise cornerstone. His first goal of the season exploded off his stick, shattering the the shaft, but the puck rocketed into the net top shelf. With his ability to skate, move the puck and play a smart game, he’ll be the first defender off the board in June and will challenge Auston Matthews for top billing.

Alex DeBrincat, RW Erie (OHL) 5-7, 165 (A)- Late ’97 Michigander lit it up to the tune of 51 goals and 100+ points a year ago riding shotgun with Connor McDavid. He impressed by amping up the production when McDavid was lost for a month with a hand injury, so there is reason to believe the small but fast and highly dangerous scoring wing can do it again.

Timmy Gettinger, LW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-5, 206 (B)- Massive winger isn’t fancy but he just goes to the net and unleashes a cannon shot that can beat goalies cleanly or uses his hand-eye coordination to deflect pucks into the net. Gettinger was one of the few bright spots on Team USA’s Ivan Hlinka entry this past summer. He’s a bit raw at this stage, but you can’t argue with the physical attributes.

Olli Juolevi, D London (OHL) 6-3, 180 (A)- High-end Finnish talent from the back end left home for North America and is an impressive package of skating, passing, shot and offensive instincts. He alternately impressed and provided scouts with plenty of areas to address in the first weekend of OHL games, but there is no arguing that he has unlimited potential. He’ll have to work on the little things like his reads, pinches and making the right decisions under pressure, but he’s going to rack up some points for the powerhouse Knights this season.

Luke Kunin, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten) 5-11, 193 (A)- Missouri native who grew up skating with Tkachuk showed off the impressive chemistry the two have together when he blasted a top shelf shot past Evan Sarthou just seconds into the All-American Prospects Game last week. Has the skating and shot of a prolific scorer and the Badgers will welcome him with open arms after a tough season in 2015.

Charles McAvoy, D Boston University (HEA) 6-0, 208 (A)- Heady defender can do it all- he pushes the pace with his skating and runs the PP like a seasoned veteran. The Long Island native might not possess ideal size, but his brain and skill level will allow him to make a rapid transition with the Terriers as a freshman.

Jesse Puljujarvi, RW Karpat (Finland) 6-4, 205 (A)- Finnish power forward will be a coveted draft commodity for his size, smarts and polish. A guy as big as he is- essentially a linebacker on skates- should not be as quick and nimble while making it look so effortless. He, Matthews and Chychrun in my view are at the head of the 2016 class.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW London (OHL) 6-1, 200 (A)- I must admit, my man-crush on Keith’s oldest son might be a tad disturbing, but this is a kid who can just flat-out get things done. You hate to compare him to his old man, but it’s inevitable, and while he might not have Keith’s pure size and power (yet) he’s every bit as smart, instinctive and driven. Beyond the uncanny physical resemblance to his dad, Tkachuk is a different player, but every bit as coveted in the modern NHL for his ability to provide offense and be effective in the faceoff circle (even though he’s a winger). Tkachuk was a force in the AAPG and racked up 6 points in his first two OHL games as an encore. The scary thing is- had his linemates been a little more on the ball, he might have scored 10+ last weekend. He’s active and engaged around the net and is only going to get better now that Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak are back with the Knights. Just in time for Halloween- the OHL had best be ready for a horror show.

Matt Tkachuk