Update: final stats Benning, Bjork, Donato, Sherman plus Tanev watch

The 2015-16 hockey season came to an end in the first round of games at the NCAA D1 championship tournament Friday for a trio of Bruins prospects, plus a fourth who was injured and didn’t suit up for Harvard’s 4-1 loss to Boston College.

Northeastern University had a killer draw, facing the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, who didn’t win the NCHC (St. Cloud State captured that honor), but were at or near the top of the NCAA poll all season. The Huskies took the early lead but UND scored five unanswered goals in what was an eventual 6-2 victory for the Hawks. B’s prospect Matt Benning scored NU’s final goal of the season, his sixth tally overall.

Anders Bjork was the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s top scorer yesterday, ripping a laser beam past University of Michigan goalie Steve Racine to tie the game at 1 in the first. He then assisted on Thomas DiPauli’s second period goal with a highlight reel move through three Wolverines players to gain the offensive zone, then one-hand a drop pass to the goal scorer. Unfortunately for Bjork and his mates, the game went to overtime and the famed ‘CCM line’ of J.T. Compher, Kyle Connor and Tyler Motte ended Notre Dame’s season with Motte’s sudden death strike.

The Harvard Crimson played hard, but a tough start and 0-3 hole was too tough to overcome against the BC Eagles. Ryan Donato showed some impressive flashes of what could be to come for the talented pivot, but was held off the score sheet. His linemate, Seb Lloyd, tallied Harvard’s only goal. On the other side of things, Ryan Fitzgerald was on the winning club, and assisted on Alex Tuch’s somewhat controversial goal to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead. Tuch appeared to drive Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen into the net before the puck ended up over the goal line, but after a lengthy delay on two reviews, the goal call was upheld.

Providence College’s double-overtime loss not only means that the Friars’ defense of their 2015 NCAA championship title is finished, but also began the Brandon Tanev free agent watch, and the Bruins along with another usual suspect in the NHL are rumored to be in on the speedy forward from Toronto.

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 41  Goals: 6  Assists: 13  Points: 19  Penalty Minutes: 37  +/-:  0

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: +5  Goals: +6  Assists: -11 Points: -5 Penalty Minutes: +1  +/-: -6

Season in review: One year after scoring nary a goal in a 24-assist sophomore season, the former Spruce Grove Saint (AJHL) and Dubuque Fighting Saint (USHL) found the net six times and finished with 19 points from the blue line, good for second place on the Huskies among defensemen (Garrett Cockerill-22 points). Benning played a career-high 41 games as a junior. He was as solid and dependable a defensive presence as they come; Benning is not a big point getter, but he played a lot of minutes at even strength and special teams for NU coaches Jim Madigan and Jerry Keefe as one of the Huskies’ alternate captains.

Outlook: In a more recent update, TSP (this blog for those who might be wondering) talked about Benning being one of the more underrated prospects in the Boston organization. He’s not flashy or dynamic- he skates well and uses his natural hockey savvy to be in the right place to make plays in his own end. He’s not big by NHL standards, but like a defense version of Noel Acciari hits hard and clean. The son of former NHL rearguard Brian Benning isn’t an in-your-face intimidator, but he’ll step into players in the open ice with his ability to come across the grain smoothly with effective lateral glide and footwork. He’s just a smart player who motors along while other more hyped players get the lion’s share of the attention, but his goal yesterday was a statement and reminder that after being an unheralded sixth-round pick in 2012, he’s still progressing and growing. Don’t sleep on Benning as a solid eventual middle tier contributor in the NHL who just might have the same kind of stealthy upside his dad brought as a legit No. 2-3 two-way defender in his prime.

 

Anders Bjork, RW  University of Notre Dame (HEA)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 35  Goals: 12  Assists: 23  Points: 35  Penalty Minutes: 8  +/-:  28

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: -6  Goals: +5  Assists: +8 Points: +13 Penalty Minutes: -6  +/-: +31

Season in review: One word for Bjork’s sophomore campaign in South Bend: impressive! The 2014 fifth-rounder doesn’t have much in the way of size with a 6-foot frame that isn’t going to put on a lot of mass beyond his already 187 pounds. However, he used it to max advantage this year, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring despite being the third-youngest player on the roster behind fellow 1996-born skaters Dennis Gilbert (October vs. August) and Dylan Malmqvist (another Aug. ’96 who is younger by just a couple of weeks). Bjork consistently found his way on the scoring ledger all year and demonstrated an impressive ability to set the play from the off-wing.  He plays a heavy game despite not having an abundance of size and against Michigan in the NCAA tourney he was dangerous and pushing the pace well until it appeared he took an awkward spill that might have affected him. He was not as effective the rest of the way, but still was a noticeable presence as Notre Dame put a scare into the Wolverines.

Outlook: As a sophomore, the Bruins will likely leave Bjork in school for at least one more season, maybe two. He’s not what you would consider an elite scoring forward but there are no flaws in his game. The Wisconsin native is smart, hard-working and opportunistic. He’s shown a penchant for scoring the highlight reel variety of goal, particularly in the USA bronze medal-clinching game last winter at the World Jr. Championship. While I’m not one to throw the words “draft steal” around all the time, Bjork looks like superb value at 146th overall. He’s got the speed, smarts and tough mental makeup of a higher-end third-liner if he continues to develop and progress. The Bruins are thrilled with what Bjork has done since they drafted him.

Ryan Donato, C  Harvard Crimson (ECAC)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 32 Goals: 13 Assists: 8 Points: 21 Penalty Minutes: 26 +/-: 4

Differentials from 2014-15 stats: (combined from USHL, USPHL, prep- Dexter)

Games played: -20 Goals: -15 Assists: -37 Points: -52 Penalty Minutes: -6 +/-: +1

Season in review: Don’t be alarmed at the statistical differentials, as the biggest disparity comes from Donato’s senior prep season- he scored 53 points in 31 high school games. His NCAA freshman season production compares more favorably to his stints in the USPHL with South Shore and USHL at Omaha. As a center playing for his father, Donato showed promise and validated his standing as a late second-round draft pick in 2014. He took a backseat to Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot and Kyle Criscuolo when it came to scoring, but he flashed his impressive offensive talent throughout his first ECAC season. Last night, he made one memorable play in the first period when he came out of the corner and took the puck to the net, evading one BC defender before cutting back against the grain and nearly tucked a shot inside the left post. He was denied by Thatcher Demko, who made a great athletic play, but that kind of display of stick handling and hockey sense is a reminder of why Donato was such a dominant prep forward at Dexter School. Donato also looked good with Team USA at the World Jr. Championship, scoring a pair of goals in the bronze medal game but also showing a willingness to bear down and play a more limited/checking role for the American squad.

Outlook: Steady as she goes for Donato, who has the hockey bloodlines and passion to be a real good one in time. The Bruins aren’t in any immediate need to have him develop on a rapid timeline, so they can afford to be patient and take their time- expect him to play at least two more seasons in Cambridge, possibly three. However, he’s got to get stronger and keep improving his three-zone game. Watch for the production to jump as he will soon be one of Harvard’s most skilled forwards with the departure of Vesey and other upperclassmen.

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard Crimson (ECAC)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 31 Goals: 4 Assists: 6 Points: 10 Penalty Minutes: 10 +/-: 9

Differentials from 2014-15 stats: 

Games played: -6 Goals: +4 Assists: +3 Points: +7 Penalty Minutes: +6 +/-: +9

Season in review: A solid sophomore year ended in disappointment with Sherman injured and out of the last couple of games. He finished second in scoring on the Crimson blue line with 10 points, scoring his first goal after going without hitting twine in 37 games as a freshman. With his mobility and reach, he showed improved play in his defensive end and his confidence is growing. Not having him against BC made a tough slog that much more difficult for Harvard, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in his next couple of seasons and if he can become a dominant shutdown presence in the ECAC.

Outlook: The 2013 fifth-rounder out of the Hotchkiss Bearcats is 6-foot-6 and skates fluidly for a guy so tall. He’s still lanky and has a lot of filling out to do. He’s more of a gentle giant than a tough, intimidating baggage-masher, however. When afforded time and space, Sherman moves the puck quickly and effectively. However, when the game speeds up and closes in on him, he can be forced into turnovers and questionable decisions. Extremely raw when the Bruins drafted him, even then-GM Peter Chiarelli said that Sherman was going to be a project player. He’s coming along well, but it’s far too early to project him with a crowded organization of middle-to-lower tier defense types. It will be another two years before the B’s are forced to make a decision on him, so watch for them to take the maximum time and assess how he performs as an upperclassman when he’s given a larger role as the anchor of the Crimson blue line corps.

The Brandon Tanev watch is on:

Brandon Tanev is officially on the market

Born on on the last day of 1991, the 24-year-old undrafted free agent out just finished his fourth and final NCAA season at Providence College.

The brother of Vancouver Canucks D-man Chris Tanev has blazing wheels and can put defenders on their heels with his pure open ice speed. More of a defensive/energy forward than a high-upside scoring winger (Tanev can play either side), he’s one of the better free agent options this spring,  but should not be expected as an immediate impact guy in the NHL.

He’s smart and tenacious- and make no mistake- if you come out of Nate Leaman’s demanding system, you’re well-coached and know what it takes to succeed as a pro. Here’s his 2014-15 highlights package courtesy of the Providence College Friars (and he did score the NCAA championship-winning goal btw):

The Bruins brought Tanev to their development camp last summer, but that is no guarantee in itself that they can successfully convince him to sign with them. The familiarity no doubt helps, and the B’s have done a good job of keeping tabs on him and making their faith in him known. Whether it is enough to convince him to come to Boston or he opts for a team that can provide him a better opportunity to come in and play sooner/with less potential competition could be the deciding factor. Of course, if he’s looking at Frank Vatrano, PC pal Noel Acciari and even how well Austin Czarnik has done this season in the AHL, Tanev is already well aware of the opportunity that exists in Boston.

There’s also this- a solid source mentioned today that the Chicago Blackhawks like Tanev as well. It’s amazing what a winning organization can accomplish- the ‘Hawks know they can unload draft picks every spring, but when they can attract the better free agent options, losing picks in favor or more developed and mature players on a faster timeline to the NHL is the way a top team stays in the elite. We saw it with Artemi Panarin a year ago, and while Tanev might not presently project as a top-six NHL forward, with his speed and smarts, he’s one of those guys you win with. If Chicago wins the bidding for him, then it’s one more shot across the bow to the rest of the league that at times to be playing checkers while Stan Bowman is playing chess.

Of course, Boston and Chicago are just two teams after Tanev…there are others. You can bet on it.

We shall see where Tanev ends up, but as of now, the B’s are in on him, so we’ll just have to see where it all leads.

Observations from USA World Jr. Evaluation Camp

I’ll keep this short and pithy, but watched streams of the two exhibition games at Lake Placid yesterday between USA White-Finland and USA Blue-Sweden.

Brandon Carlo, D USA White (Bruins)- Has the look of a modern prototype shutdown defenseman: big, fluid skater, positionally sound, tough to play against. He’s not a baggage-smasher type, but he uses his 6-5 frame and natural strength to knock opponents off the puck. I was also impressed with his confidence when handling the puck. He made quick outlets or grabbed it in the neutral zone and advanced it smartly up the ice. He’s not all that instinctive in the offensive end and doesn’t walk the blue line like top two-way defenders tend to, but he did have an assist on Sonny Milano’s second goal of the day. Keeper.

Anders Bjork, RW USA White (Bruins)- He was rotating in with Ryan Hitchcock (Yale- undrafted) so he didn’t take a regular shift. I noticed him more on the PK, where he used his speed and quick stick to pressure the Finnish puck carrier and break it out the other way. He’s an effective forechecker and energy player.

Scott Eansor, C USA White (Seattle Thunderbirds- eligible 2016)- Small ’96 from Colorado can really skate and hustle- he was buzzing all game and creating scoring chances, finding the back of the net once. Reminds me a little of Tyler Johnson back in 2010- undrafted little plucky kid from the WHL who got things done. It was one game, and he’s not an offensive dynamo in the WHL (14 goals, 37 points in 72 games) but I want to see more.

Erik Foley, LW USA Blue (Jets)- No surprise here, but this is a player I have been high on for some time and he showed it on one particular play with fellow Bay Stater Colin White, when Sweden got sloppy on the PP and White forced a turnover, streaking up the left side. When the lone Swedish defender leaked over to his side, he then hit Foley in stride in the middle of the ice- Foley walked in alone and buried it for the shorthanded marker. Throughout the game, Foley did what he is known for- grind it out along the walls and help USA’s cause in puck possession. He’s a hard worker and his goal showed he has the hands/skills to match. Jets stole one.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Sweden (Bruins)- It was a tale of two games for JFK, and not sure what happened. In the first two periods (especially the second) he was effective and energetic, making solid plays on both sides of the puck. He assisted on a second period tally by breaking up a USA chance in his own end and then transitioning the play from defense to offense with some shifty skating in the neutral zone followed by an on-target pass. In the third period, he saw his shifts reduced and didn’t accomplish much for the limited time out there. Don’t know if it was an injury or what, but it was curious.

Conor Garland, RW USA White (Coyotes)- Typical game from the undersized but skilled agitator from Scituate. It didn’t make it into the final copy of the 2015 Red Line Report draft guide, but here is what I submitted for him as an award nomination for pest/toughest player to play against- He’s like the mutant baddies in the new Mad Max movie- relentless, just keeps coming at you with the quick stick and the yapping until the puck’s in your net or you blow up, whichever comes first.

Chad Krys, D USA White (Eligible 2016)- Impressive game from the Nutmeg Stater and BU recruit- he skates very well and was poised, confident with the puck. He was effective on the point, getting shots through on net and it was his point drive that Eansor capitalized on in the 2nd period. Like many young players, he needs to guard against trying to do too much at times- he allowed a couple of turnovers because he didn’t make the smart, simple play, but he looked like a top-30 pick in this game and is someone to watch at the NTDP this year.

Auston Matthews, C USA White (Eligible 2016)- The pure skill and talent jumps out at you. It wasn’t a dominant performance by Matthews and he reminded me a little of Jack Eichel last year on a few shifts in that he seemed to be revved up and trying to do it all himself. He’s got that long, fluid stride and anticipates the play so well, often getting the jump on a defender because he has that elite vision and sense for where the puck is going.

Sonny Milano, RW USA White (Blue Jackets)- He put a stamp on the game with his first goal to tie it up- streaking in alone and putting a series of moves on the Finnish netminder before closing out the play. He then tallied again in the final frame on another jailbreak play, beating the Finns with his speed and flashing his lightning release.

Jesse Puljujärvi, RW Finland (Eligible 2016)- Currently projected as a top-5 candidate next June, this wasn’t a great showing for the big Finn. He did assist on Patrik Laine’s goal to open the scoring, but was largely ineffective in terms of sustaining offensive pressure or making the kinds of plays you would expect of someone with his talent. He showed it in flashes- on one shift late in the game, he took the puck off the faceoff and bulled his way through 2 USA defenders only to have the puck knocked off his stick before he could shoot. It was only one game- the ability is there. Looks like one of those big horses who can take control of the flow on one shift, but it didn’t happen yesterday.

Alex Tuch, RW USA Blue (Wild)- Snarly, effective game from the skilled New York and BC power winger. Milano and Tuch were their state’s first two players off the board in 2014 and they showed why yesterday with pretty disparate styles. Tuch’s team was on the receiving end of a loss, but he created space for himself and his linemates and stood out, especially in the second period.