Providence captain Cross brought up, Koko still in the mix

There is some good stuff posted yesterday in the Providence Journal by friend and colleague Mark Divver on Tommy Cross and Alex Khokhlachev. The piece has analysis and quotes from Cross on his playing style and development since turning pro so I won’t go into that.

Cross, 26, was recalled by the Boston Bruins yesterday after Joe Morrow went on the IR in the wake of Matt Irwin’s demotion to the AHL. Irwin was not claimed on waivers by any of the other 29 teams (And why would they? His two-game stint in Boston was one of the more distressing performances in recent history), but he’ll be a valuable contributor in Providence, as his NHL experience and skill set will serve him well at the lower level.

On the other hand, Cross to Boston is a positive story for the team. He’s the last remnant of one of the worst draft classes in Bruins history- 2007- when the B’s held the eighth and 38th overall selections after Peter Chiarelli’s first full season as GM. The B’s drafted WHL leading scorer Zach Hamill with their top pick, then traded their 38th and third-round picks to move up three spots to 35 to grab Cross, the Westminster prep captain who brought good size, skating ability and a cannon shot to the mix.

It’s easy to look back at those decisions and shake the head in 2015, as the B’s would almost certainly have drafted Logan Couture at 8 and P.K. Subban at 35 (heck- they could have had him at 38 if they had stood pat), but that’s life and the NHL draft, where projected 17-18-year-old kids is more art than science. The hardcore fans who follow the draft still dredge up the memories of the failures of Boston’s ’07 class (which included such luminaries as Dennis Reul, Alain Goulet, Radim Ostrcil and Jordan Knackstedt) and that’s fair. The team not only missed on its early picks, but it absolutely swung and whiffed everywhere else that year. Blowing an entire draft class has a delayed penalty that the B’s are feeling now, especially when you take into account that they had two picks in the top-35 that year. Poor showings at the draft table in 2008 and 2009 have added to the issues the team faces, but in getting back to 2007 and what the Cross callup means for a second…

First of all, Cross is a solid minor league defenseman who just might play his way into a supporting role at the NHL level if not with Boston then another club, perhaps. His development was stalled at the beginning because he suffered a knee injury playing baseball right before the draft. The B’s took him anyway, which shows how much they liked him, but he continued to have issues with it, having several more surgeries before seemingly putting it all behind him in his last two full seasons at Boston College. By then, it had become apparent that the player Boston projected at 17 in his draft year to be a potential top-3, big minutes, two-way defender with character, was more of a solid stay-at-home bottom pairing journeyman.

A coach’s son, Cross has always demonstrated a level of leadership and a top attitude that makes him easy to root for. He probably has a future in politics when his playing career is done, and you don’t ever want to take away from who Cross is as a person and valuable presence in the room as a guy who sets the right example and is a total pro. At the same time, because of the expectations that went with his draft standing and what the Bruins gave up to draft him, Cross has always been more of a symbol of that failed Bruins draft year than even Hamill was. The B’s moved on from Hamill relatively quickly, dealing him in 2012 to Washington for Chris Bourque, who at least played some games in Boston during the lockout-shortened season, but Hamill never got another sniff of the NHL after that.

In Cross’ case, he stayed in the organization, going to five development camps and getting quickly relegated to the minors each autumn he was vying for a spot in Boston. In his first pro season, he was optioned to the ECHL after not making enough of an impression at Providence’s camp. Although Cross played very well for the South Carolina Stingrays and was soon brought back up to the AHL where he’s stayed since then, it was one more reminder that the Connecticut kid who had looked so promising coming out of prep hockey (before the knee injuries) was not on track to have any impact in Boston let alone what the team had expected him to make.

That’s why the B’s bringing Cross up is a good news story. In the grand scheme of things, he’s not likely to have an inspirational awakening and significant effect on the team’s fortunes like Johnny Boychuk did during the 2009-10 season, but you never know. Like Cross, Boychuk was a second-round pick who took a long time to reach the NHL after showing such promising tools as a teenager, but he never gave up and when his chance came, he seized it.

This is not to say that we’re looking at the dawn of another age of JB55 in Boston, but the team could do worse than at least try Cross and see how he does. He stuck with the organization (and they him) when most other players would have looked at the B’s defense depth chart and wanted out. That gets to the heart of who Tommy Cross is and what he’s about. I don’t know if this move is anything more than bringing him up to be a seventh D to sit in the press box until Morrow is ready to return, or the team finally wants to give Cross a chance to taste the NHL and see what he is made of.

One thing is certain: he’s earned it.

***

Providence coach Bruce Cassidy’s cup was overflowing with praise for Koko in the same Divver piece. Check it out:

“He’s going to be one of our assistant captains for a reason. He plays hard. He produces. He’s well-liked by his teammates. He works hard. Koko’s a little frustrated that he hasn’t gotten a better look in Boston and hopefully he takes care of that here. You can only control your own environment so he needs to be our best forward here every night so that when there is a callup situation at his position, he’s the first guy,’’ he said.

“I love the guy. I love his compete. Every year in the playoffs he’s arguably been our best player. That says a lot about a person. He’s going to have to lead for us. A lot of these guys, we don’t know what we’re going to get out of them. He’s a guy that we expect will lead us offensively and hopefully it translates to an (NHL) opportunity. He’s worked hard down here and as a coach of these young guys, you hope they get their chance. Especially for him, the way he’s played for us.’’

Translation: He’s off to a fine start in the AHL with 4 assists in two games. Keep grinding and making a difference and that next shot in Boston will come a lot sooner rather than later. With the big club off to its worst start in 50 years, the coaches are going to be far more willing to try new things and no one can argue with Koko’s talent.  When it comes, he’s got to find a way to get some points on the board, however. All the hustle and energy is great, but when you have a skill player like that, it’s not good enough to just try hard.

Watch for the next appearance of Khokhlachev in Boston soon.

Boston Bruins prospect update 10/12/15

This week’s headliner for the Boston Bruins prospects update is Providence B’s winger Frank Vatrano, who tallied five goals in the first two AHL games of the season, in which his club went 1-0-1. With the AHL and NCAA seasons now underway, the B’s futures are all playing games that count around the globe. This week, we’ll kick off in the AHL:

AHL

Frank Vatrano, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 2  Goals- 5  Assists- 0 Points- 5  Penalty Min- 0 +/-  4

The undrafted free agent from East Longmeadow, Mass. looks like a real find after a Texas Hat Trick (four goals as opposed to three) on Sunday at home against the Portland Pirates. Vatrano spent two seasons with the NTDP after lighting up the Bay State minor hockey circuit and was always a talented scorer, but he struggled with his weight and conditioning, which led to his not being drafted. Originally a Boston College recruit, academic issues forced him out of that school before he ever played a single game and transfer rules meant he missed nearly the entire following season before playing 2014-15 with the Minutemen and leading the team in scoring right out of the chute. Vatrano signed with his hometown Bruins, scored his first pro goal last spring with the P-Bruins and now has 6 markers in his first 7 AHL games going back to last year. He can score from just about anywhere…two of his goals yesterday happened because he was driving to the net with some pretty good speed, while the other two were snipes from the circle, where he likes to set up and unleash his vicious shot. The 21-year-old will be called up to Boston if he can continue finding the back of the net at the AHL level, and Brad Marchand’s concussion might accelerate that transaction, especially if the Boston offense continues to struggle.

Austin Czarnik, C/RW Providence Bruins

GP- 2 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 2  +/- 4

Like Vatrano, the diminutive but highly skilled former collegian signed with the B’s last spring after passing through the NHL draft process. More of a set-up man than a finisher, the Michigan native has combined with Vatrano and Alex Khokhlachev to form a lethal top line that has combined for 11 points in the first two games. Czarnik is a blazer who puts defenders on their heels when he comes right at them at full sprint, while effortlessly handling the puck and he’s able to thread the needle with his passes. The two NCAA products impressed at their first pro training camp and it’s not unrealistic to think that both could see some NHL time in Boston this season if injuries take a toll or the B’s offense can’t get out of first gear. Czarnik is probably not ready for primetime, but other than his 5-8 frame, he plays a mature, refined game.

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 2  Goals- 0  Assists- 3 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 0  +/- 2

Koko is off to a good start, and it’s nice to have skilled linemates with the ability to finish. Stacking all the eggs in one basket offensively has paid dividends for Bruce Cassidy, as the 22-year-old Russian is the team’s most experienced and talented forward. If he wants another crack at the NHL sooner rather than later, this is the kind of start that will aid him in making his case. Either that, or it provides the Bruins with a boost in value to make a trade. Bottom line- with a dangerously aggressive shooter like Vatrano to go with a speedy waterbug in Czarnik, Koko supporters can’t point to his surrounding cast if he fails to produce in this setting.

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 2  MIN- 121 GA- 6 GAA- 2.97  Spct- .915

Because of Malcolm Suban’s lower body injury, the rookie played both of his team’s games in the AHL’s first weekend slate, coming away with his 1st pro win on Sunday after losing to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in OT on opening night. He was very good in his first start, but the free-flowing game yesterday opened things up a bit for him. Luckily, Vatrano bailed him out (Czarnik and defenseman Ben Youds had the other goals) and he can look forward to building on his season going forward. McIntyre is an outstanding prospect, but he’s also proving that some of the internet calls for him to play in the NHL right away were about as unrealistic as you can get. Goaltenders don’t need to be rushed, and given what the B’s have looked like in the first two NHL games, throwing a young player to the wolves, even in a backup capacity, would have been a disaster.

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 8 Goals- 6 Assists- 2 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -3

Senyshyn continues to score consistently for his club, adding a couple of more tallies this week for his team leading six (he’s also tied with 2016 draft prospect Timmy Gettinger for the points lead with 8). He has impressed with that speed of his, using his acceleration and powerful stride to catch defenders flat-footed and motor around them while driving the net. He has such a heavy shot that he gets off in the blink of an eye, and you would think that teams would figure out to defend him, as there isn’t a great deal of complexity to Senyshyn’s game- he just goes up and down the wing and takes a straight path to the net. It’s probably a lot more easier said than done.

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 7 Goals- 2 Assists- 9 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 12 +/- +9

The 52nd overall pick continues his point-per-game pace, picking up 1g and 2 helpers in three games this week after the previous update. He’s just five points away from equaling his rookie season point totals (done in 55 games) and with his smooth skating and instinctive play at both ends, is shaping up to be a fine choice where the Bruins got him.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 4 Goals- 0 Assists- 0 Points- 0 Penalty Min- 6 +/- -1

Zboril is still looking for his first point of the season, but there is no reason for panic, as the offense will come. When you watch him (on film in my case), his skating is the first thing that jumps out at you. His acceleration is smooth and gets him out of his own end quickly. With a strong defensive core in place on the Sea Dogs, he isn’t logging the kind of minutes Lauzon is, and watch for him to break through soon- likely with a multi-point game that will get his production back on track.

WHL

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

GP- 5 Goals- 2 Assists- 2 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 9 +/- 1

After scoring goals in each of his first two WHL games after being returned from Boston, DeBrusk did not find the back of the net in three contests this week. He did put up a couple of assists, and while his point totals aren’t anything to write home about, the focal point of Swift Current’s offense will pick up the scoring pace.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 5 Goals- 4 Assists- 0 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 10 +/- -1

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 5 Goals- 1 Assists- 5 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 19 +/- -2

Good offensive week for the fan favorite, who scored his first goal of the season and is tied for second on his team in points behind center Parker Bowles. Not sure how long he can sustain the production, but Carlo is expected to shoulder a heavy load this season with a multitude of opportunities to compete against top competition in a key role.

USHL

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls Stampede

GP- 4 Goals- 1 Assists- 1 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 1

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago Steel

GP- 1 Min- 160 GA- 7 GAA- 2.63 Spct- .901 W-L-T: 1-1-0

After allowing six goals in his first USHL start, Vladar settled in, allowing a single goal in relief and then posting a shutout for his first North American win this week.

NCAA

Save for Danton Heinen (1g, 1a in season opening 5-4 OT loss to Air Force) no other B’s prospects whose college seasons began this past weekend found their way on the score sheet: Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Ryan Fitzgerald, Matt Benning and Cameron Hughes all saw action. Anders Bjork did not suit up for Notre Dame. Ryan Donato, Rob O’Gara and Wiley Sherman have yet to get started. Matt Grzelcyk is still injured an expected to miss the first few weeks of the Hockey East season while he recovers from knee surgery.

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (SHL)

GP- 4 Goals- 2 Assists- 2 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 1

It was a hot week for Cehlarik who posted 2 goals and 3 points in two games for Lulea. He’s a skilled scoring type winger who is expected to sign with Boston at the conclusion of his season in Sweden and either finish the year in the AHL or he might even see some big league time- there’s a lot of hockey to be played between now and then. However, watch for him to be a full-time North American player in 2016-17.

Maxim Chudinov, D St. Petersburg (KHL)

GP- 18 Goals- 5 Assists- 2 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 34 +/- -8

No change to offensive stats from last week for Chudinov in two more games played.

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (SHL)

GP- 6 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 8 +/- 0

The 2014 seventh-round pick registered his first point of the season with an assist in one game played this past week.

More Bruins to Providence: Koko, Ferlin, Blidh make sense in AHL for now

The Boston Bruins announced their latest round of roster transactions on Thursday here.

To the surprise of very few, three young promising forwards were included in a group of more seasoned minor leaguers.

Alex Khokhlachev, who is entering his third full AHL campaign after finishing the end of the 2012-13 season in Providence after splitting the year between the KHL in his native Russia and the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, was unsuccessful in earning a spot with the team, at least for now, as we are a week away from the start of the 2015-16 regular season.

Koko is a talented center who played with some hustle, but his inability to get on the score sheet resulted in his having to go down. The NHL isn’t a video game in which you take the players that have the highest number rating next to their names and load them up on four lines and away you go. While skill is very important, what also comes into play is how effective a player is in the role the team expects him to play.

Fans can sit on message boards all day long and talk about how they *feel* or *think* a player like Koko on the B’s fourth line makes more sense than veterans such as Max Talbot and Chris Kelly, but that is irrelevant. What matters is what the Bruins coaches and management *know* and that is- Koko is not ready for a full-time contribution in Boston. They make the decisions- right or wrong- and it wasn’t hard to see that Koko’s struggles to generate offense no matter his linemates or ice time in the preseason made it a relatively easy choice for Don Sweeney and Claude Julien to make. Koko’s time in Boston/the NHL will come. Or it won’t. People will disagree with management’s decision on this one. Or they won’t. But it’s pretty apparent that the 22-year-old just didn’t build enough of a case for himself to generate a robust debate.

Don’t be so sure that the B’s will trade him right off the bat, though. They were reminded of an important lesson last year with the handling of Ryan Spooner, and it usually doesn’t make sense to sell low, which is where Koko’s value is right now.

Anton Blidh was on the bubble and close, but again- with no shortage of gritty wingers on the Boston roster, it was a tough sell to expect him to stay up with the club as a spare part at this stage of his development when he could play a lot of quality minutes in the AHL. He’ll be back.

It was much of the same thing for Brian Ferlin– he scored a nice goal in Detroit last weekend, and showed flashes of his ability to chip in on offense, but he’s also young and still learning the game. As was the case last year, he’s on the short list of callups to Boston if players get hurt or underperform.

Still on the team- Tyler Randell. And good on him. The former Belleville Bull and Kitchener Ranger has never made it this far in an NHL camp with Boston and is making a case to stick, or at the very least, make the roster as the extra forward. The hard-nosed winger is legit tough- he won’t bring much offense to the table, but he at least has NHL-caliber hands so as not to be a total liability. The B’s would have to put him on waivers to send him down to Providence and there’s a good chance a team without as many lower-line depth forwards as Boston has right now would pluck him away much like what happened with Nate Thompson back in 2008. We’ll see if he can force the team to keep for now, but this has been a solid showing by Randell, who scored a goal in a win over the Rangers last week and fought gargantuan D Dylan McIlrath so that much smaller Zac Rinaldo wouldn’t have to.

Tommy Cross was waived and will likely pass through and report to Providence. He’s a top person and solid minor league defenseman. He impressed a lot of people with his camp effort- the former 2007 second-rounder is a good skater with a hard point shot and is one of the top character types around. Based on what I saw, if the Boston defense depth chart takes a hit this season, I could see Cross being given an opportunity at some point. He’s earned it.

Torey Krug, David Krejci and Tommy Cross at training camp. Photo by Alison Foley

Torey Krug, David Krejci and Tommy Cross at training camp. Photo by Alison Foley

Rangers down Bruins in spirited contest, 3-2

Brett Connolly scored a pair of goals including one just 40 seconds into Wednesday’s contest, but the Boston Bruins dropped their second exhibition game in as many tries after starting the preseason 4-0.

As pointed out to me on Twitter by several B’s fans, the Rangers were icing a lineup much closer to their NHL roster than Boston was, so there is room for praise for the job the Boston squad did in keeping the lead until the last 3 minutes or so of the second period and then coming back to within one goal late in the final frame. In the end, however, it wasn’t enough.

The B’s lost in regulation, but the teams played a 5-minute 3-on-3 overtime session that failed to generate a score, despite the Rangers getting a power play after Alex Khokhlachev was assessed an obstruction foul.

Fans will need to get used to these kinds of games going forward this season- yes, the team was without many of its top players last night, but even with a full roster, the Bruins will be challenged to score goals on the regular basis. They will have to cash in on the opportunities they do create (and those given them by opponents) and outwork other clubs in order to make the playoffs.

Having said that- here are some notes on some of the players:

Brett Connolly- He accounted for all of the offense last night, and it was the best of the three preseason games we’ve seen from him. His second goal was batted baseball style out of midair and into the net, displaying some excellent hand-eye coordination. On the downside, he’s still turning the puck over and making some mistakes to nitpick, but you could see last night why he was a top draft pick five years ago. Connolly is more than capable of scoring 25 goals this year for Boston, but Claude Julien will stress attention to detail with him to mitigate some of the mistakes he makes with and without the puck.

Zach Trotman- Last pick in 2010 played a strong defensive game and assisted on Connolly’s second tally by denying a Rangers clearing attempt at the blue line and throwing the puck to the net. He may not be the most instinctive of defenders, but Trotman’s 6-4 height and 220-pound frame, along with his mobility allow him to make plays at both ends of the ice. Sometimes, you wonder about people’s expectations- it isn’t like Trotman was a first- or second-round selection and recognized talent to play a prominent role. He was a developmental project player from the get-go and has worked hard to put himself into the NHL picture in Boston- some of these same critics fall all over themselves to praise Koko who has yet to turn any of his flashy plays into production, yet Trotman came through with a statement game last night. It’s the internet and all, but my guess is that on opening night- No. 62 will be in the Boston lineup and No. 76 won’t.

Colin Miller- I think we’ve seen enough- the former Kings prospect is an NHL player, and the Bruins will benefit from his skating, puckhandling and big-time point shot. On one particular sequence in the second period, the puck was thrown to the net as he was cutting to the short side. It hit his skate, but even at speed, Miller was able to corral it with his stick and get a shot off. Henrik Lundqvist made a terrific save, but it was the kind of effortless-looking play that is much harder for most to pull off. Miller belongs on this team, end of story.

Joonas Kemppainen- The Finnish free agent has the look of a solid fourth-line center with his faceoff work and disciplined play in all 200 feet of the rink. He’s not a dynamic skater, but as a big guy, he doesn’t have to be. He uses his stick effectively to disrupt plays on the penalty kill and has been in the right position throughout the preseason. He’s not a player who will bring a lot of offensive production to the table, but his heavy game is well suited for the bottom line and with the right wingers, so long as that unit can chip in and play some quality minutes, the B’s are on the right track.

Jimmy Hayes- He was active and involved in the play all night. He’s not as skilled as younger brother Kevin, but he brings more tenacity and “want to” in my opinion. The team had him wearing the ‘A’ last night, and Hayes continued his solid if unspectacular play in the preseason, tallying a helper on Connolly’s first goal. He’s clearly enjoying being a Bruin, and he’s a valued addition on a team that is going to need every ounce of his talent and 6-6 frame to get some gritty, dirty goals on any given night.

Ryan Spooner- Boston’s third-line center showed off his ability to work the wall last night, at one point during a power play in the second period generating quality scoring chances from both sides of the ice. Koko just missed sending him in alone on a breakaway during the 3-on-3 overtime session, and he might have ended it right there. Spooner is at his best when pushing the pace of the offense and backing defenses up with his speed. Unfortunately, he also made a poor decision late in the second period to make a cross-ice pass after gaining the offensive zone that was deflected away and resulted in a rush the other way that saw J.T. Miller put the Rangers up 2-1 with about 37 seconds remaining on the clock. Those are the kinds of plays that will get any player a stern talking to from the coaches- it was risky and ended up being costly. He did have an assist on Boston’s second goal of the night, however.

Alex Khokhlachev- At some point the energy, hustle and skill plays need to amount to points on the board and it’s just not there. It seems to me that there is an element of fans who want him on the team no matter what, and I can understand that- everyone has an opinion, and he’s undoubtedly more talented than a couple of the veterans who are likely to beat him out for a spot coming out of camp. But one wonders if Max Talbot was showing the same kind of energy, would people go out of their way to praise him as seems to be the case for Koko? For a guy who made it clear that he sees himself as an NHL player, he sure hasn’t been able to find away to produce, and that’s going to be the difference when he is optioned to Providence to start the year. The B’s can and will almost certainly bring him back up at some point (unless Don Sweeney trades him elsewhere- but the kind of value Koko will get at this stage is anyone’s guess), but enough of the grasping at straws- potential is just that- potential…until it is realized through tangible results. It would be one thing if he was scoring a point or three each night he went out there, but he’s not doing that. In the end, it doesn’t matter what any of us on the outside think- Boston management and coaches have the power to decide, and in Koko’s case- it’s pretty simple: where’s the beef? There is no denying the skill, but the team rightfully expects more from him.

Adam McQuaid- The most memorable play of the night from him came on Miller’s late second period goal when he backed up too much in the Boston zone, giving the Ranger forward the time and space to rip a wicked shot into the net, taking the lead. You love McQuaid’s character and toughness, but his mobility and decision-making at times will result in plays like this one. During the course of the season he’s going to make some plays and give some up- if not for the AAV on his contract extension, few would have any issue with his presence. It’s the nature of the beast in this modern cap world.

Jonas Gustavsson- Playing in just his second contest since coming to camp on a PTO, it was a good news/bad news kind of game for the veteran. He was victimized on the first goal, which came on a screen and deflected in off of Trotman’s skate. But he was beaten cleanly on a shot by Miller to break a 1-1 tie, and in the third period, was unable to get across the crease when Rick Nash’s attempted pass was blocked by Matt Irwin. Nash, doing what top goal scorers like him do, grabbed the puck as it bounced back to him and popped it into the yawning open side as Gustavsson was caught by the shortside post. Neither Gustavsson nor Smith have been outstanding in exhibition play, but they have been serviceable. Gustavsson held the fort later in the game and in the OT when the Rangers were on a 4-on-3 man advantage, so flip a coin between the two for Boston’s backup spot. It’s close, and with Smith under contract, he just might get the nod.

Zac Rinaldo- Continues to play his high motor game and drive opponents crazy with his hitting and stickwork. He took a goalie interference penalty and then was reminded of that with a hard, borderline vicious hit from Dylan McIlrath that he bounced back from. With his speed, he creates scoring chances, ringing a shot off the post at one point in the final period, but the production has not and never will be there. Rinaldo is there to bring energy, agitate, draw penalties and get opponents off their game without hurting his own team in the process. There is a segment of Boston fandom that will simply not reconcile that role with his past transgressions nor the price Boston paid to acquire him, but that’s fine- as is the case with McQuaid- he’s here like it or not.

Tyler Randell- Drove to the net and worked the corners effectively. When McIrath tried to go after Rinaldo during a scrum in front of the Rangers net, Randell intercepted the New York defender and the two dropped the gloves. Both players got some shots in, and it looked like a draw, but given what Randell gave way to in terms of height and reach, the bout further enhanced his reputation as a nasty forward who can fight it out with the heavyweights.

Tommy Cross- I have to give the former BC captain and 2x NCAA champion credit. He played hard and smart last night. He’s a longshot given the players the B’s have on the roster, but his character has never, ever been a question mark. Last night, he played with effort, pace and got some good shots on net from the point. He’s an NHL-capable defender in a reduced role, but the question for him is opportunity- can he get it in Boston?

Brian Ferlin- Good player, but what on earth was he thinking in OT when he went to the bench for a chance with the Rangers in possession of the puck at center ice? That resulted in a 3-on-1 but somehow, the B’s survived it and transitioned back the other way, with Koko just missing sending Spooner in on a breakaway. But, Brian- yikes!

Kids go down, some vets come up as 2015-16 B’s roster comes into focus

The Boston Bruins announced that forwards Austin Czarnik and Frank Vatrano, along with defensemen Linus Arnesson and Chris Casto, were sent to Providence on Tuesday.

Interestingly, the B’s brought some previously relegated players in fowards Brandon DeFazio and Ben Sexton, along with minor league defenseman Chris Breen.

This puts the current count of forwards on the roster at 20, defensemen at 11 and the B’s are carrying three goaltenders. Dennis Seidenberg is injured and won’t be available for about the first eight weeks of the season, so the D count is really at 10 right now, with Breen and Tommy Cross expected to go back down to Providence if the team opts to go with eight defensemen out of the chute (including the banged up Zdeno Chara).

The moves are not all that surprising- Czarnik, Vatrano and Arnesson all show intriguing promise, but they are all entering their first full pro season after all seeing limited action in the AHL last spring. I know that fans love their shiny new toys, but these guys need to be playing, and they weren’t going to be getting a lot of playing time in the NHL, even if they made the roster. And by the way- to keep a young forward on the big club means that the B’s would in most cases have to place another veteran on waivers. No big loss in Max Talbot you say? Well, he most likely would not be claimed, but the B’s value his experience and leadership more than a lot of the folks watching the games, so let’s just say that paying him nearly a million dollars to play in the AHL is not the best use of team resources, regardless of how he has looked in some limited preseason action.

As for the recalls, they’ll get a chance to play in the final couple of preseason contests and likely go back down.

The guys pushing for spots at forward need a strong push here at the end to make their case: Alex ‘Koko’ Khokhlachev has shown that he’s got some legitimate skills, but we’re still waiting on the production to take shape. Even when Ryan Spooner was trying to make the B’s in his previous two exhibition seasons, he was scoring goals and points in the preseason. Koko has done some good things, but the pucks haven’t been going in for him. At this rate, he’ll be one of the final cuts, but will go down to begin the year in Providence.

Tyler Randell is an interesting case. He’s a late-round pick from 2009 who never really stuck around in preseason much for fans to get a handle on, but has done the grunt work down in Providence as an enforcer. He’s a player with a good set of hands- he once scored 4 goals for the Kitchener Rangers during a 2012 OHL playoff game against the Plymouth Whalers (who featured Washington power forward Tom Wilson). Randell’s not much of a skater, but the guy can fight and he could find a spot for himself with his toughness. He wouldn’t be an every game player, but could slot in when the B’s needed to add some bite to their roster. I keep seeing Randell linked to Shawn Thornton as a comparable player and I won’t go there other than to say that they are two different players and fans have to understand that Thornton came to the B’s as an established NHL veteran who was added as much for his character as he was for the toughness he displayed. Randell’s not there yet, so temper the expectations- he’s still growing and learning as a player.

I’ve been impressed with Anton Blidh– he’s fast, gritty and energetic. He’s always moving his feet and qualifies as a grinding agitator type. It might be a situation where the B’s feel like he’s better served getting more minutes in Providence initially and then bringing him up when the inevitable injury happens up front, or he could very well make the Boston roster to start the season. These last couple of games will be critical for him, but because he can go down and not be subject to the waivers process, the team at least has options with Blidh. He’s on the bubble and close, but I predict he’ll start the year in Providence. Ditto Brian Ferlin, who has played well in preseason, but will find himself the odd man out on the right side with a chance to go back to the AHL and play top-two line minutes and in all situations.

Finally, I’m sold on Joonas Kemppainen to start the year as Boston’s fourth-line center. He’s mature, smart and does the little things for the position. I like his faceoff work and he does a nice job of making the right reads coming out of the zone and moving the puck to the open spaces on the ice. He’s not going to wow you in any one area, but I can see why the Bruins signed him out of Finland at age 27.

The final roster picture is coming into focus, but after the sluggish night against Detroit in the 3-1 loss Monday, that’s a harbinger of more nights to come. Loui Eriksson’s goal was too little, too late and the offense will have to overachieve to score regularly this season by the looks of it.

Would like to be proven wrong, but even in Boston’s victories, the cup of offense has not runneth over.

More cuts on Sunday as 4-0 preseason Bruins roster takes shape

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney announced today that eight players under NHL contract have been sent down to Providence of the AHL. Defenseman Chris Breen and forward Brandon DeFazio were put on waivers yesterday and designated for assignment- they both cleared today and will participate in the Baby B’s camp. Defenseman Ben Youds, on an AHL deal, was released from Boston camp (PTO) and sent to Providence. You can read the transaction announcement here.

Additionally, the B’s returned their remaining junior players to their respective teams, with Jakub Zboril (Saint John- QMJHL), Jake DeBrusk (Swift Current- WHL) and Brandon Carlo (Tri-City- WHL) all going back to the CHL. The B’s released Zach Senyshyn (Sault Ste. Marie- OHL) and Jeremy Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda- QMJHL) prior to the weekend’s slate of games.

In the spirit of and with a nod to the always outstanding Mike Reiss and his Patriots blog at ESPN Boston throughout the NFL training camp leading up to the final cuts day before the start of the 2015 NFL season, here’s the remaining players- locks and bubble guys along with a little analysis on what it all means going forward.

Centers

Locks: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner, Chris Kelly, Max Talbot (5)

On the bubble: Joonas Kemppainen

AHL-bound: Alex Khokhlachev, Austin Czarnik, Zack Phillips

Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci…Krejci and Bergeron…Boston’s 1-1A center punch is well entrenched, and I won’t fool around with the argument I see some people engage in over who is the B’s 1 and 2…it’s a pretty meaningless debate, because without one or the other, the team’s in deep trouble. Ryan Spooner hasn’t had a great deal of time to establish himself with new linemates, but he’s been an opportunistic scorer with the man advantage and is clearly the No. 3 man in the center pecking order. Even if the B’s might opt not to use Chris Kelly and/or Max Talbot at center, expect the team to retain both as veteran options for the bottom line with the ability to play the wings- they’ve done it before. Joonas Kemppainen has been a solid if unspectacular presence in the exhibition games he’s suited up for, and he’s effective on the draws, plays a mature two-way game, and has the size and strength to start the year as the team’s fourth-line center if that’s the plan. Austin Czarnik has been a revelation in his first pro camp after signing with the B’s last spring, using his speed, smarts and quick hands to make an impact in all three zones, but he’s better off playing on Providence’s first or second line and on both PK and PP units. If injuries take a toll on the B’s depth, don’t be surprised to see him get a chance at some point this season. If not, he’ll make it tough to cut him next year with a full season under his belt. Alex Khokhlachev, for all his talent, just hasn’t been able to find the production in his game. He’s without a doubt more talented than Kelly, Talbot or Kemppainen, but building an NHL roster isn’t just about plugging in the most skilled guys on the bottom line and expecting them to thrive. He’s improved his overall game, but if Koko had found a way to actually…you know…score some goals, then you might have more of an argument than the simple “SKILL!” that I have people hit me with onTwitter quite a bit. The B’s need to figure out how to best use him or trade him, but just because he said he doesn’t want to play in Providence forever does not mean he’s ready for primetime now. He’ll have  a few more chances before the final cuts come in, so if ever there was a time for him to impress the brass with a breakout individual performance, it’s now. Zack Phillips was waived yesterday (and cleared) but is still with the team, where he is rehabbing an injury.  Even if he had played in any of the preseason games, it’s hard to see Phillips being in the mix for a center job given how deep the team is at that position right now.

Right Wings

Locks: David Pastrnak, Loui Eriksson, Brett Connolly

On the bubble: Anton Blidh, Tyler Randell

AHL-bound: Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith

David Pastrnak is not only a sure thing, he’s the most exciting combination of pure speed/scoring talent *and* character since…well…quite a long time. He’s similar to Bergeron in terms of the kind of impact he could have on this franchise, but he’s a higher-end scoring winger and will eventually put together some impressive numbers. I don’t know if he’s quite ready to bust out with the All-Star production this year, but he’ll give it his all. Loui Eriksson plays the off-wing and will go about his business being the smart, stealthy scoring presence he was a year ago when he finished second on the team in goals. However, if the B’s are going south in the standings, don’t be surprised to see Sweeney try and move Eriksson to a contender- his current contract is up next summer and it’s doubtful he’ll be back. Brett Connolly has not had a great preseason thus far, but the team gave up a pair of second-round picks for him and has high hopes. Unlike impatient fans who expect instant near-perfection, the B’s will give Connolly a chance to see if the 2010 draft hype was real or not. Listed as a left wing but shifting over on the right  side thus far, Swedish pest Anton Blidh has impressed with his speed, energy and grit. He’s the kind of guy who could start the season right away on the bottom line, but as a young player on the first year of his ELC, he can be sent down to Providence without being placed on waivers, whereas other players can’t, so he might need to bide his time in the AHL as a third-liner who can grind it out. Tyler Randell has yet to even come close to making the NHL roster since the B’s drafted him late in 2009, but he’s in the mix because of his sheer toughness and ability to make the odd offensive play. Randell’s feet are an issue and he’ll have to be waived to get sent down, so the B’s might carry him as an extra forward to spot play when facing the more rugged teams (which admittedly are decreasing rapidly in number). Brian Ferlin scored a nice backhand goal off a turnover against Detroit and impressed in a small sample size call up a year ago, but like Blidh, he can go down without waivers, so the B’s would rather have him playing a lot than the limited time he’ll get on the bottom line. He’ll be among the first to be recalled if injuries hit. Seth Griffith’s sprained MCL suffered in a preseason game essentially means he’ll rehab the injury but likely go down to start the year and work his way into shape and consideration to be brought up when that time comes.

Left Wings

Locks: Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Zac Rinaldo

AHL-bound: Frank Vatrano

Brad Marchand led the team in scoring a year ago and he’s going nowhere- will keep riding shotgun with Bergeron to consistent effect over the past several seasons. Boston’s big-ticket free agent Matt Beleskey hasn’t set the world on fire in his first couple of preseason outings, but he’s done and said the right things. Working with Krejci and Pastrnak means that he’ll have plenty of chances to find the back of the net, but expectations need to be tempered- the B’s need him to stay healthy more than anything else right now. Local boy makes good in the case of Jimmy Hayes, who has used his enormous 6-foot-6 frame to good effect and done pretty well skating with Spooner. He’s going to grunt it out in the trenches, but he looks like an ideal fit in Boston’s top-9, playing over on the left side after being a right wing in Florida. Zac Rinaldo was acquired with a third-round pick, so even the most ardent critics will have to grudgingly admit that he’s here to stay for now at least, and we’ll see how much of a role he’ll have on the team going forward. If the B’s opt to use Kelly on the left wing of the fourth line, then Rinaldo will have to move around. Thus far, he’s drawn more penalties than he’s taken and played his patented physical style.  Frank Vatrano, along with liney Czarnik, has been a revelation, but he’s not ready to take on a full-time NHL role. He’s better off playing a lot of minutes in all situations and building his confidence by unleashing that killer shot down in the AHL for now, but watch for him to get some looks if he’s productive and keeps playing hard in all zones.

Defense

Locks: Zdeno Chara (inj.), Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Zach Trotman, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, Matt Irwin, Kevan Miller *Dennis Seidenberg (inj.)– 8-week timetable for return (mid-to-late November)

On the bubble: Linus Arnesson

AHL-bound: Tommy Cross, Chris Casto

The Bruins are hoping Zdeno Chara is ready to begin the season after taking a hit the other night in action against the NY Rangers and leaving the game in the first period. Torey Krug has stepped up in his absence, scoring the OT-winning goal against Detroit and playing with the confidence and heart of a much bigger man. Adam McQuaid is safely entrenched on the Boston roster, and Zach Trotman is also a solid bet for now as a known entity, even if he does not possess the uptempo game and sexy upside that Colin Miller and Joe Morrow bring. Both offense-minded blueliners have impressed in the preseason and the injury situation means they will both likely make the cut. Matt Irwin and Kevan Miller bring veteran ability and know-how to the mix, and if Claude Julien was serious about carrying eight defenders to begin the year (he said that even before Chara got banged up) then these are your guys. Linus Arnesson has played very well- his ice time against Detroit was notable early for how much of the first 20 minutes was played on special teams and he did well in all situations. However, with more experienced options in play, the expected move is for him to go down to the AHL where he can develop and thrive in a top role. Experienced farmhands Tommy Cross and Chris Casto will help Arnesson form a nucleus of a relatively young but game defense corps in Providence.

Goaltender

Lock: Tuukka Rask

On the bubble: Jeremy Smith, Jonas Gustavsson

And then there were three…with both of Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre being optioned to Providence today, this leaves it between Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith to be Tuukka Rask’s backup. Gustavsson just returned to the team after dealing with a personal matter, so he hasn’t had much playing time outside of an 18-shot, 18-save half of work in Boston’s first preseason contest against the New Jersey Devils. Smith has been a little up and down, struggling to find his game against the Rangers, but digging in and making some key stops at crunch time to preserve a 4-3 shootout win after letting in some softies to fall behind 3-1. In Gustavsson (who is on a PTO and would still need to be signed if the B’s like what they see), the team gets an NHL-experienced backup who has proven he has the tools to be a capable starter should something happen to Rask (knock on wood, please). On the downside, ‘the Monster’ has had injury issues, so even if the B’s go with him this year, there is a chance he’ll end up on IR at some point, meaning the team has to go deeper into the bullpen. As for Smith, he’s a one-time second-round pick from 2007, so at one point, he was seen as an impressive pro prospect, but he has zero NHL experience, so the B’s are going right back where they were a year ago when they went with the unproven Niklas Svedberg, who could not win Julien’s confidence to spell Rask more than once in a blue moon. It would be one thing if Smith had completely shut everyone down thus far in exhibition play, but he hasn’t done that. He also hasn’t been as bad as some folks have shared with me online, either. At the same time, Gustavsson’s effort was in a very small sample size…but then again- you know he can stop pucks at the NHL level, at least. My guess: Gustavsson stays, Smith goes down to the AHL, and at that point, the B’s will probably need to either option McIntyre to the ECHL or figure out another AHL team for Smith- three goalies in Providence is not the kind of situation Boston wants.

B’s-Caps game notes: Pasta night at TD Garden

The Boston Bruins played their second preseason game of the exhibition schedule, getting both goals compliments of David Pastrnak in a 2-1 OT win against the visiting Washington Capitals.

We got our first game look at new Bruin Matt Beleskey, who skated on a line with Czech Davids- Krejci (with both helpers on the goals) and Pastrnak.

There wasn’t a great deal of flow to this one, and the game was scoreless in the first 40 minutes before getting some offense in the final frame. Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre combined to make 26 stops and secure the win, making the B’s 2-0 in exhibition play.

Here are some notes on the players who caught my attention:

Goaltenders

Malcolm Subban- Solid outing for the 21-year-old, as he stopped all 17 of the shots he faced in 29:43 of action. He seemed to be a little hopped up at first, but settled in nicely and made one memorable shorthanded stop on Jay Beagle, showcasing his natural blend of quickness and power. Subban has come a long way from when he first turned pro and was all over the place technique-wise. He still plays deep in his net, but when you’re as fluid and fast as he is, it isn’t as much of a glaring deficiency as some would have you believe. Even with the 100 percent save percentage- there are still plenty of things to work on, and there’s no better way to do that than down in the AHL as opposed to sitting at the end of the Boston bench.

Zane McIntyre- He was beaten on what appeared to be a screen by Nate Schmidt’s seeing eye shot during a Caps PP but other than that, the first year pro handled business, stopping 9 of 10 shots he faced. He’s a lot more together stylistically than he used to be, employing better economy of motion in his game and letting the puck hit him more than he did earlier in his junior and college careers. The NCAA’s top goalie has not looked out of place so far, but it’s pretty evident that he’s not ready to be an NHL backup and will benefit from the playing time and seasoning in the minors.

Defense-

Linus Arnesson- He looked very good in both rookie games and had another effective, unspectacular outing tonight. He’s a smooth skater who plays with a maturity and poise beyond his years when it comes to his own end. He understands positioning and can get the puck out quickly. I don’t see much in the way of an attacking defender who will put up a lot of points, but he can get up the ice well enough and will be able to evolve into an effective penalty killer because of his feet and defensive awareness. He is what he is, I think- just a solid defenseman who will give you a good effort and consistent, steady play. He doesn’t need to be rushed into the NHL lineup, nor should he be viewed as a real difference maker when he eventually arrives in Boston. Put simply- you win with guys like Arnesson, but fans should avoid making him into something he is not: a top-level two-way D.

Torey Krug- The Michigander was wearing an ‘A’ on his sweater and that will soon become a permanent accessory on his game attire. He’s skating with a lot of confidence and bringing that edge that is important for him even if he doesn’t possess ideal NHL size. With Krug it’s about smarts and effort- he’s getting better with his reads and making the right decisions under pressure, and nobody will outwork him for a puck, even if they might be able to win a physical battle. I could go on and on, but won’t- he’s going to keep improving and for those who haven’t figured it out yet- be a core contributor to Boston’s fortunes for a long time. He led all blue liners in ice time tonight with nearly 24 minutes and his regular season time will surely increase as he eases into that top-four role he’s earning each day with his work on and off the ice.

Kevan Miller- If people are looking for excuses to write off this free agent find and former captain at the University of Vermont, Miller isn’t giving much room there. He played his brand of physical hockey, keeping things simple and preventing the Caps from getting much going offensively with some hits and good breakups. The Californian is a no-frills, bottom-pairing kind of guy, but he’s tough and cheap. He’s back after missing the second half of the year with shoulder surgery.

Joe Morrow- I liked his game tonight. Morrow is at his best when using his piston-like stride to vault up the ice and push the offensive pace from the back end. He’s got to do a better job of hitting the net with that big point drive of his, but you can see the way he can make tough passes with relative ease and Morrow brings the much needed mobility and puckhandling skills to the defense if he can make the big club and stick.

Forwards

David Pastrnak- Scored Boston’s regulation goal with a flourish after taking a Krejci pass and beating Philipp Grubauer with a nifty backhand. He followed that up by scoring the OT goal in 3-on-3 play just 12 seconds in, securing the win. He’s tracking to be a special player- he’s got that rare blend of natural talent plus the attitude, work ethic and charisma to be a franchise presence in Boston. We saw it in flashes last year as a rookie. This time around, as long as he can stay healthy, he’ll score with more regularity, but the big breakout is on the short horizon. It’s hard not to get caught up in the hype with this kid (and he is a kid- just turned 19 in May), but if you’ve been around him for just 30 seconds, you can see why the B’s treasure him (and why, in 2017- they’ll be opening up the checkbook- big time).

Anton Blidh- What is Claude Julien to do? This guy looks like the real deal for your bottom line right wing position, even with the veterans under contract. The Swedish sixth-rounder in 2013 brings a lot of speed, tenacity and relentless forechecking to the mix, even if he may lack the offensive toolbox to be a top-six forward at this level. He was grinding it out early, drawing penalties and attracting notice for his verve and finishing of checks when there wasn’t a lot of flow to this game. Because he can be sent down without being placed on waivers, chances are- Blidh (pronounced “bleed”) will begin the year in Providence. However, if he keeps playing like this, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the team as a 13th forward.

Austin Czarnik- Carried over his strong showing at the rookie tournament in Buffalo in this one. Little waterbug is so fast, skilled with the puck but shows off the little things away from the puck as well that should endear him to the Boston and Providence coaches. As a player who was skipped over in the draft because of his size, he’s going to have to put in twice the effort, but if the early signs are any indication, Czarnik will be an immediate impact performer for Butch Cassidy and might even play his well into an appearance or two with Boston sooner than anyone thinks. With the team so deep with centers, his time might have to be down the road, but plenty to like here.

Zach Senyshyn- He didn’t have any points tonight, but I continue to like with the big, eager winger brings to the table. With his long, loping stride- he’s rangy and gets up and down the ice so well that he can catch defenders flat-footed if they don’t watch their gaps with him. The Soo Greyhound just needs to keep things simple- take pucks to the net and do the things he’s known for and that got him 26 goals playing on the lower lines in the OHL. The more people who see him play, the less we hear about what a “reach” he was because you can’t teach his size or willingness.

Alex Khokhlachev- It was a mixed bag for him. I thought he looked pretty poor on Boston’s first power play opportunity but he seemed to relax as the game went on and showed his talent off in flashes. Again- flashes aren’t enough, here- he’s got to find ways to produce and pointing to the linemates is just making excuses at some point. If you want to beat out the guys ahead of you on the depth chart, you have to leave the coaches with little choice but to keep you- has he really done that in the two games thus far? Not enough to the degree needed, in my view.

David Krejci- If the B’s get this healthy version of their longtime top-2 center, then they’re on the right track this year. You figured he would come back hungry and motivated after last year essentially being a wash and he was on it tonight, with two primary assists on the only goals his team produced. Now, we’ve seen just 4 goals in two exhibition wins for the B’s, but in this one, you wanted to see some offense from the club’s top unit and they delivered. It’s pretty cool to think that when a young David Pastrnak was looking up at his room’s wall in Havirov and seeing a photo of Krejci pinned up there, he probably never imagined he would one day be getting the puck direct from his hockey hero. That one is just entering his prime and the other has a world of talent to take full advantage is an exciting thought for Boston fans.

Justin Hickman- Dropped the gloves in the second period against Tyler Lewington and scored the takedown after some punches exchanged, but that’s the toughness and presence that the former Seattle Thunderbirds captain was expected to bring. His skill is a work in progress, and he’ll likely not be a major factor down in Providence this season as he’ll gravitate towards the grunt work as he gets acclimated to that level, but he skates well enough and brings the kind of physicality that the B’s value. Watch for him to develop into a Providence fan fave pretty quickly, and he’ll score some nice goals down there, even if they don’t come in bunches.

Frank Vatrano- He came close to scoring in the first when the B’s were on the PP with that shot of his…ooh la la. What can you say? The kid’s release and heavy, accurate drive is just sublime. He’s getting quicker and will round out the rest of his game as he’s allowed to develop in the minors. B’s just might have a real homegrown diamond-in-the-rough here.

Matt Beleskey- Oof. He’ll get better, but it looked like he was trying a little too hard. He did win kudos early in going to Krejci’s defense in a scrum- he’s not afraid to stick his nose in and defend teammates even if he doesn’t have Milan Lucic’s size or toughness. Needs to go have fun, loosen up on the stick and cut down on the turnovers/forcing of the play. You see the chemistry that Krejci and Pastrnak already have- he’ll benefit from it too, if he just lets the play come to him a bit and doesn’t overthink it. This is why we have a preseason schedule…

Addendum to Khokhlachev observations

I went back and looked at film of last night’s 2-0 preseason win for the Bruins before work this morning just to make sure I wasn’t being too hard on Boston center Alex Khokhlachev. I don’t think I was unfair, but I do want to drill down a bit and focus on what I saw last night so as to generate a more honest discussion.

I don’t want this to turn into a “he’s a hater” kind of situation because Koko deserves credit for some strong play in a game where a lot of players were still shaking the rust off. I also feel like sometimes there is this echo chamber where the kid can do no wrong and a certain segment of fans can’t get past this desire for him to be on the Boston roster, regardless of whether he currently has the attributes and 200-foot game to make it work, or not so much. And, let’s be honest here- there’s only a few opinions that matter enough to influence Koko’s current situation: that of the Boston Bruins brass and coaches.

So, in the spirit of debate, here is some additional analysis, and believe me- I welcome disagreement here. We’d live in a mighty boring world if everyone agreed with what everybody else had to say on a topic. And whether you think this is right, wrong or something else entirely- I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

What he should sustain: The kid can play hockey. He was visibly skating hard and hustling…that deserves specific mention, because he’s always played the game with noteworthy energy and exuberance. I saw a couple of instances, especially in the first period, where his effort resulted in underrated moves at his own blue line to spring the break out by not hurrying the play and taking what was given to him. I also felt that he put in a good effort on the defensive side of the puck- he’s getting there and he deserves the opportunity to show what he can do in a lot of different situations.

Koko is not a burner on the ice, but he’s got some nifty agility and a very good short-area burst, which makes him so slippery and tough to contain when he starts jitterbugging back and forth with the puck. My issue with him sometimes is that he overhandles it and in turn, passes up available space when a less is more approach might work out better. He’s quick and aggressive- you could see that last night as he was looking to transition to the attack every time he was around the puck. At the same time, he still needs to recognize when the windows of a scoring chance open up and capitalize on those.

He’s one of the most creative players on the Bruins and you could see that from him last night. It didn’t pay dividends, but there were a couple of plays early on where he and Seth Griffith combined in the offensive zone on some quick developing chances. Unfortunately for Koko, hockey is a results-oriented business and he didn’t cash in.

What needs improvement: As I mentioned in the recap- for all the hustle, he didn’t get a great deal accomplished last night. All of the skill and talent in the world isn’t going to get you far if you can’t find a way to break through and actually score/finish off the play. Koko obviously needs more time and opportunities to shine in Boston- but if you’re coming to the table and using his offensive abilities as the big selling point- even the most ardent supporter has to grudgingly admit that he was given the ice time last night and was unable to make that lasting impression on the score sheet.

The creativity with Koko is key, but I believe he has a tendency to overthink and try things less likely to work instead of making a simple play and allowing it develop into something more dangerous. We saw it from him a few times last night when instead of dishing at the blue line when the Devils D was backing in or at least trying to move the puck as he approached the top of the circles, he held onto the puck and was forced around the back of the net where the defense was able to re-set.

Koko is entering his fourth full season as a pro and I’m not sure that he’s figured out yet that sometimes playing that straight ahead game beats getting cute or trying a lower percentage play just because he can.

I would like to see the B’s try Koko out with wingers who bring more speed to the mix. He and Griffith are a little similar in that they are smaller players who don’t possess the dynamic, game-breaking speed you want from guys of their style. As a result, the two sometimes have a tougher time gaining separation, and therefore have to rely on their hands and hockey IQ to make plays. A speedier linemate would allow Koko to stretch the ice more with his great passing ability and then trail the play into the offensive zone as the defense collapses back, giving him more time and space to operate where he is most dangerous.

The last word: I don’t have a problem with Koko centering Boston’s bottom line, but he needs to win that position on something more than simply the argument that he’s more talented than other bottom-liners ergo- he should have the job. I know this might come as a shock to some observers out there, but there’s a lot more to building a winning team than simply plugging in the most talented players and sending them out there. I’m not trying to be facetious here- but some players are simply better suited to the demands and responsibilities of playing on the penalty killing units and garnering the tougher, more physical assignments that fourth lines typically face when matching up against opposition lower lines.

Koko has a world of potential. By virtue of his offensive prowess and the fact that the B’s went out of character to draft a Russian player earlier than they had since the Yury Alexandrov experiment didn’t work out, people are excited about him. I’ve watched him enough to know that he’ll go long stretches in games without accomplishing a whole lot, but can then break things open with a memorable shift or three. Unfortunately, that has meant that he has not been able to crack the Boston lineup at center, where the club is deep and more is expected at that position than simply scoring and playing a flashy style.

Will the B’s give him a chance? That is not for me to say, though if he keeps working hard and finds ways to put up points with the solid play, he’ll do more to earn a spot on the team than he will standing in front of reporters and lamenting the lack of opportunities he feels he’s not been given to date. At the same time, the team should have learned a valuable lesson about handling assets from the way things went with Ryan Spooner last year. Leadership should sit Koko down and make it clear to him that they see him as part of the solution in Boston if that is truly the case. If not, then the latest might have sped up the timetable on the next shoe to drop.

Skill alone is not enough of a reason to simply grab a spot on the team, even if the video game-playing set can go out and score 50 goals with him on skating on the bottom line. It would be one thing if he was tearing it up and outplaying everyone ahead of him on the depth chart, but can anyone really argue with a straight face that he has? In fairness- it is still very early, so with six more exhibition games ahead before the start of the regular season, we shall soon see how serious Boston is about getting him into the mix and seeing if he can, in fact, win a spot on the NHL club to begin the year.

As dying Ranger Captain John Miller said to the young man he was charged to bring home in Saving Private Ryan: “Earn this.”

Of course, in Koko’s case, that might end up being a whole lot easier said than done.

B’s blank Devils in first preseason game of 2015-16

Hockey is back!

Just a couple of days after the NHL opened up main training camps around the league, the exhibition games started, with the Boston Bruins taking on the New Jersey Devils in a home game at Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence R.I. Sunday evening.

The Black and Gold got a pair of power play goals from free agent addition Matt Irwin on defense, as he and fellow blue liner Colin Miller made strong cases for themselves in the first real glimpse fans got of them. Goaltenders Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith split the game down the middle and combined to pitch the shutout, with Gustavsson making 18 saves and keeping the Devils from taking advantage of a quicker start.

It was just one preseason game, but Boston’s biggest area of concern going into the season is on defense- and the performances of Irwin and Miller might be bringing that picture into focus more.

And here are the player notes (not quite covering everyone):

Boston Bruins

Goaltenders

Jonas Gustavsson- The Monster did not let anything by him on his watch, though he did knock the puck into his own net after Adam Henrique gloved down a drive inside the crease. Referee Chris Rooney was on hand to waive the goal off, however. The veteran Swedish netminder did a good job of staying square to the shooter and tracking the puck during his 30 minutes of action last night. As is the case with him on occasion, he got overly aggressive and came out of his net, nearly getting caught for what would have been an open net goal during one sequence in the second period, but his defense bailed him out. This was the kind of performance Gustavsson was looking for as a player in camp on a PTO- he has NHL experience and the ability/mentality to be the right kind of backup for Tuukka Rask.

Jeremy Smith- Came in halfway through the second period and picked up where Gustavsson left off, doing a nice job of smothering rebounds and using his glove to good effect. People forget, but Smith was once a second-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2007, so he entered the pro ranks with some promise that he appears to be on the verge of putting together in terms of reaching the NHL. He came into the B’s organization a year ago with hopes of providing a veteran presence in the AHL while Malcolm Subban took on a bigger role for Providence, but “Smitty” played so well that he ended up with a lot more starts than originally planned. He could win the backup job coming out of camp in a few weeks, but he would still represent risk for Boston given his lack of NHL experience.

Defense

Matt Irwin- The former UMass rearguard from British Columbia could not have asked for a better first look in a Boston uniform. Though not a speedster, he moves well laterally and has some impressive offensive instincts. The first goal he scored happened in the second period when he slipped in from the point, took a perfect pass from Ryan Spooner, and put a shot past former Union goalie Keith Kinkaid. His second goal was a point blast after his D partner Miller put a pass right into his wheelhouse, and Irwin didn’t miss. He had eight shots on goal and could have had at least a hat trick if not 4 goals- that’s how involved he was in the play. Don Sweeney talked about how Irwin impressed the team with his power play work on the San Jose Sharks, so credit the pro scouts who recommended him- he did not look out of place. Granted- it’s just one preseason game, but Irwin looks like a player.

Colin Miller- When the B’s traded Milan Lucic to the Kings, Miller was the one piece coming back (not counting Martin Jones– Marty, we hardly knew ye!) that could pay immediate dividends and based on last night, we’ll be seeing Miller in Boston. The first thing that jumps out at you is his skating- he can really scoot, and is capable of pushing the pace when he has the puck. In the offensive zone, he shows a lot of poise and handles the puck with confidence, using his vision and offensive IQ to make the right passes and find open space. He and Irwin were highly effective on the power play all night, as the B’s not only tallied twice, but did a pretty good job of maintaining possession and generating scoring chances, even the ones that didn’t go in. Miller even made a highlight hip check that would have made old school and Hall of Fame B’s defenseman Leo “Billy Boy” Boivin proud.

Miller is still learning the defensive aspect of the game, but Miller brings something the B’s are in desperate need of- speed/mobility and puck skills from the blue line to go with a big, powerful shot. He no doubt impressed Claude Julien, Doug Houda and the Boston coaches last night. He’s a right shot, which makes him even more appealing when it comes to balancing the defense pairs and available talent. Miller delivered the goods last night as advertised with assists on both Irwin goals.

Zach Trotman- It was a solid night for Trotman, who showed off his NHL experience with an effective game in his own end, not allowing much to get by him and using his size/mobility combo to keep the Devils away from the front of his net. It was more of a case of what you see is what you get from Trotman, and while he was not impactful to the degree that Irwin and Miller were, he didn’t hurt himself last night. Being a right shot helps, and he’s been projected as Zdeno Chara’s opening night defense partner. We’ll see how that goes, but for now he’s still tracking.

Jakub Zboril- You can certainly see the skill and potential on display with Boston’s top draft choice in 2015, but he’ll go back to the QMJHL this season with plenty to work on. The first thing that catches your eye is the skating- he powers into top speed with an impressive first few steps and generates enough momentum that he can beat opponents with his glide in open ice before churning up more speed to gain the opposition blue line. He wants the puck and handles it with confidence. I thought there were a few times when he got to running around as a result of missed opportunities to make the simple play, but he’ll get there.

Brandon Carlo- I saw some people singling him out for a strong performance last night, and honestly didn’t really see it. It’s not to say he played poorly- he didn’t, but again- I guess I don’t get the urge to go out of the way to heap praise on a solid player with promise, but who isn’t in any position to win an NHL job this season. This is not a knock on him at all as Carlo’s size and mobility are very good- he has NHL tools and he played a pretty mistake-free game. An old saw says that if you don’t really notice a defenseman then it means he did his job pretty well. He’s got a real active stick, controls his gaps well and is not afraid to throw his body around. He’s looking like a very good value at 37th overall, but no need to rush him- the payoff will come in due time.

Tommy Cross- It was a gritty, energetic performance from the Connecticut native and former high second-round pick of the Bruins in 2007. The Boston College captain has one of the best characters and personalities of anyone, but he hasn’t lived up to his draft position. Even if he makes the NHL (which is a tall order at this stage of his development), it’s hard to envision him doing it as more than a bottom pairing guy , and with the surplus of similar type defenders ahead of him in the pecking order, it’s hard to see it happening for him in Boston. That said, he made good reads, was involved all night and even got into several scraps, including one fight at the end with Seth Helgeson. If his goal was to send a message to the B’s brass that he’s still here and willing to work for it, he certainly succeeded.

Forwards

Ryan Spooner- It was a good game for the projected third-line pivot to begin the season. His primary assist on the winning goal was vintage Spooner- he took the puck over at the right half-wall and used his puck skill and shifty elusiveness to create space for himself while his teammates helped collapse the Devils PK in front of the net. Then, spotting Irwin leaking in from the blue line, got the puck cleanly to him through traffic so he could make a play on it and put the B’s in front. That’s what Boston most needs from Spooner, and he had his speed game going all night, working well with Jimmy Hayes. He solidified his case as a roster regular last night with his overall play, especially with the man advantage.

Alex Khokhlachev- He raised some eyebrows this weekend with his comments about wanting more of a chance to play in Boston. While his sentiments understandable, he didn’t exactly help his case last night. While his supporters and the folks whose answer to any attempt at meaningful debate when it comes to Koko these days seems to be “SKILL!” are no doubt pointing to the flashes of ability he showed last night. I thought that he looked mighty good at not accomplishing a whole heck of a lot against New Jersey, however. Koko is a very good offensive talent…but he’s not as elite as some make him out to be in my mind at least, and he’s got room for improvement…at the tender age of 22. If he (or his agent) is trying to force Boston’s hands for a better situation where he doesn’t have as many impediments to playing center and getting to the NHL is therefore easier, you can get where he’s coming from, but it isn’t like the B’s have buried him. He should be willing to stick it out and continue to work. An injury here or there and he’ll get his chance. But if you’re pointing to last night as proof positive that he’s earned that chance right now, don’t really see it. He’s shown his offensive skill in flashes, but this is a results-oriented business and he didn’t get them last night.

Jimmy Hayes- It was a nice first game for Hayes who went up and down the wing as advertised and helped on Irwin’s second goal by setting up in front of Scott Wedgewood as the point shot came in. He’s not a snarly, physical presence, but Hayes uses his big frame effectively. Spooner nearly hit him with a nifty behind the back pass on a third-period rush that if, on target, likely would have found the back of the net. The Dorchester native certainly looked the part of a Boston Bruin last night.

Brett Connolly- If Hayes played well on Spooner’s left wing, then Connolly did not have a very good showing over on the right. He did not show much in the way of the skating and speed that he’s known to possess and seemed to have a hard time handling the puck cleanly or getting to open spaces. Let’s face it- when you’re the sixth overall pick, and a team gave up two second-round picks for you, a lot more is expected. We can chalk it up to rust and it being the first action of the new season, but Connolly did not send any kind of message that he’s ready to supplant David Pastrnak or Loui Eriksson on the top-two lines. Where’s the beef?

Jake DeBrusk- Boston’s first forward choice showed some good things last night, but he’s clearly not ready for prime time and will go back to Swift Current soon. On the plus side, he’s active in the offensive end and instinctively reacts as the play develops by getting to the right spots on the ice to make something happen. He also played with some jam, as on one third period play, he fired a shot that Wedgewood made a good save on, then went right to Devils defender Eric Gelinas behind the net and got in his face after Gelinas gave him a little tap, with the two engaging in a quick scrum/wrestling match that the refs broke up before it escalated. I liked the feistiness from DeBrusk, because that’s not really his game. He’s a polarizing player because like Connolly, much is expected of him offensively, so he’ll have to translate the flashes of talent into production here soon.

Joonas Kemppainen- At 27, he had the look and feel of a mature, poised pro forward last night. He didn’t make any real eye-opening plays, but did the little things well like protecting the puck, going to the net and supporting his defense when the play went the other way. He’s not going to wow you, but the B’s could do much worse than entrusting a fourth-line spot to him. We’re still getting the book on him, but Kemppainen has the tools at least to compete- we’ll see where the rest of the exhibition season takes him.

Brandon DeFazio- I thought the free agent depth pickup played a real solid game- he was noticeable and played with energy and jam, showing a willingness to do the dirty work and stick up for teammates. Clearly acquired to be one of Providence’s veteran leaders this year, the former Clarkson Golden Knight who got two NHL games in last year with the Vancouver Canucks did not look out of place as a gritty grinder. He looked like he wanted to kill Tuomo Ruutu near the end of the game, which was good- Ruutu took out Seth Griffith with a knee-on-knee hit in the second period and Boston’s prospect did not return, a fact that was not lost on the Bruins. The refs kept DeFazio from engaging Ruutu, but he showed the willingness to battle- I liked what I saw.

Seth Griffith- Tough night for him, as he began the game playing with Koko and the two did combine to generate a couple of nice scoring chances early. Unfortunately, while on the power play in the second period, he took a knee-on-knee hit from Ruutu and that was the end of his night- hopefully, he did not suffer a serious injury on the play, but we’ll soon find out.

Max Talbot- The veteran did his thing, though it is pretty clear that he’ll make his bones on the bottom line and the team won’t get much in the way of offense from him. On the wrong side of 30, he’s lost a step, which means he has to work that much harder to generate scoring opportunities, but he’s still a feisty, savvy defensive player who understands his role and will be a good example for the younger players around him.

Zac Rinaldo- Well, what can you say about the most polarizing of all the new additions in the offseason? He had one memorable play when he took a Ben Sexton pass and blew by Devils defender Reece Scarlett before cranking a shot off the post. Had it gone in, it would have been a highlight reel goal, but even so, it demonstrated that even if Rinaldo lacks the pure skill and hockey sense to be a productive player, he can still put opponents on their heels. When on his game, he plays with energy, hustle and forces opponents to play with their heads on a swivel. That’s a good thing…so long as he does not cross the line. He drew several penalties which is what the Bruins were looking for. When he’s putting his club shorthanded with stupid, undisciplined plays, however- that’s when he’ll get in trouble.

Devils notes

It was the second loss to the Bruins in a week for New Jersey, who appears to be in for another tough season under new head coach John Hynes. Like Boston, they don’t have a great deal of high-end talent, so they have to out-work their opponents and depend on great goaltending from Cory Schneider to steal games for them. I thought both of Kinkaid and Wedgewood played well tonight- they made some stops that kept the score close and their team in the game.

Pavel Zacha was the sixth overall pick in last June’s draft and showed flashes of why that was the case even if he’s still pretty raw yet and didn’t have anything to show for it. He’s got size and skating but used his vision and anticipation nicely on a few plays where he got in behind the defense. With a little more patience, he might have been able to turn those flashes into goals. The Devils sure look like they got a player with him, and while there are sure to be ups and downs, he’s going to make that pick pay off for them.

I was also impressed with forward John Quenneville last night. The Brandon Wheat Kings star had some jump in his play and demonstrated a nice blend of creativity and skill. He was on Boston’s list in 2014, and had Pastrnak not been there, they might have gone with Quenneville at 25. He went to them with the final pick of the first round, 30th overall.

Damon Severson will build on a solid rookie year that saw him get off to a hot start offensively before injuries took a toll. He is mobile, smart and involved in the offensive flow. He was a real power play threat with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and will continue to see time with the man advantage in the NHL.

Scouting Dispatches: Twitter mailbag #4

Frank Vatrano, UMass Minutemen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Frank Vatrano, UMass Minutemen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Boston Bruins training camp is in full swing after the rookies had their day in Buffalo over the weekend, going 1-0-1 in 2 exhibition games against the Devils and Sabres. Frank Vatrano certainly turned heads with his performance, but now, all eyes are on the B’s veterans who are back and looking to build on last year’s disappointing non-playoff finish.

With that in mind, let’s get to your questions. As always- thanks for sending them along. I try to answer one per person, so if I didn’t get one because you sent multiple entries, try again next time.

If you had to pick one dark horse that’d surprise all and force his way onto roster (now or later in year), who would it be?– Jason Silva @JasonSilva67

Honestly, I’m not sure there are many “dark horses” who are in line for a big opportunity this year unless the bottom falls out of things injury-wise.

We’re getting a closer look at the three first-round picks from 2015 and they all look like they need to go back to junior.

Based purely on the rookie camp, my dark horse is Frank Vatrano– the former UMass standout scored three goals in two games including the OT-winner against the New Jersey rookies when he helped to force a turnover deep in the Devils’ end, then cut right to the net where linemate Austin Czarnik found him with a shot he tipped home. If the B’s suffered an unusual rash of injuries or just wanted a shakeup up front for game or two, Vantrano would be an interesting player up front because of his hands and energy. I cannot say enough how impressive he’s been over the last couple of seasons after playing just one NCAA game in 2013-14.

Realistically speaking, though- we’re probably not going to get a David Pastrnak-like breakthrough this year. Free agent Joonas Kemppainen was signed last spring on the heels of his Finnish league championship run. He’ll turn 28 this year and so I wouldn’t really call him a surprise- the B’s brought him on board I believe with every intention of getting him some time with the big club as a natural center who plays a strong three-zone game. If he makes the roster out of camp, it will be more by design than overachieving on his part.

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)

Where do Pasta, Hayes and Connolly play?- Matt Kalin @katomck1981

David Pastrnak is firmly entrenched on David Krejci’s right side for now, and I think the Bruins will try to capitalize on the potential those two have together, not just as fellow Czech Republic natives but because they both bring elite creativity and offensive vision to the mix and Pastrnak’s speed and tenacity is a perfect match for what Krejci brings when on top of his game. Matt Beleskey on that left side filling the spot vacated by Milan Lucic is a good call- he’s not as big as Lucic, but will bring the physicality to help address the loss of time and space ML17 used to bring.

I’ve seen that Jimmy Hayes (normally a RW) is over on the left side flanking Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly in early B’s camp sessions, and I think that is an intriguing trio for sure. I thought that perhaps the B’s would move Loui Eriksson over to the left side on third line to allow one of Connolly and Hayes to move up to the second line behind Pastrnak (if you slot the Krejci line at the top, that is). However, it looks like Claude Julien and Co. want to keep Eriksson with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and Eriksson (a left shot) playing on his off-wing.

What’s interesting to me about a Hayes-Spooner-Connolly third line is that this has the potential to be a model example of the new trend towards NHL clubs icing more of a top-9 attack, with three balanced and skilled scoring lines to aggressively attack opposing defenses as opposed to the older top-six/bottom-six design. Connolly was drafted 5 years ago to be a scoring wing, while Hayes is coming off a career-best 19 goals for Florida. Spooner was taken in the same draft as Connolly, and believe me- it wasn’t to be a grinder. If the B’s can figure out how to get enough ice for all three forward units, that third line could give other teams fits, allowing a clamp-down line of Chris Kelly and Max Talbot (and Joonas Kemppainen?) to grind it out and spell the top-9 forwards.

Jared Knight – any NHL upside at all at this point ? Thanks- @pprohaska

If Knight makes the NHL, it will be as a bottom-six, grinding forward in all likelihood.

It’s been a tough road for him over the past three seasons, so the team did him a big favor by getting him out of there and providing a change of scenery. I thought he played with more confidence in the AHL when he went out West, and so I would not rule him out of eventually earning an NHL job. The issue with him is- will he ever justify his draft position as the 32nd overall selection? That might be a bridge too far, as he’s a rugged, hard-working winger but does not appear to have the natural scoring ability to be an NHL-caliber top two line guy.

The deal appeared to be one of those “my bust for your bust” things- where neither Knight nor Zack Phillips, who was quite the hot shot going into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, sneaking into the late first round, got off on the right foot and things seemed to compound for them. Phillips is more skilled than Knight is, but his lack of pure foot speed works against him. I expect Phillips to be a key cog in Providence’s machine this year, and who knows? If he’s productive enough, he might get a brief look at some point. Realistically, though, like Knight- Phillips is an unenviable position right now as a high draft pick who still needs to prove he can play at the AHL level before we even start talking about the NHL.

I’ve known Knight since the B’s drafted him and he’s a quality person with a great attitude. If anyone can reinvent himself to be that gritty lower-line forward who skates up and down the wing and chips in some modest offense while playing a strong 200-foot game, it is him. I wish him the best.

What do you think about (Joonas) Kemppainen and his potential fit on the team?– davrion @davrion

I think the signing made sense from a pragmatic standpoint- the B’s have an opening for a bottom-line center and the 27-year-old Finn has spent nearly a decade in the pro hockey circuit there, meaning that instead of taking an NHL-inexperienced skill player who is probably ill-suited to play the fourth-line center role as Alexander Khokhlachev is, they’re hedging their bets with an older, more mature player who is more refined and has the intelligence, size and pro hockey experience to come right in and not look too out of place.

I don’t know how effective Kemppainen will be…the B’s have had mixed results when they have brought over older European forwards in the past, but I don’t buy the Carl Soderberg comparisons I’ve seen cropping up on the internet, either. Soderberg was talented, and a lot more was expected of him offensively, but he ultimately played too passive a game and his personality was not a great fit in the room. Kemppainen is quiet and perhaps shy, but I’m told by people who know him that he’ll earn respect because he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him. Plus, having Tuukka Rask around will help him adjust to North America and the B’s dressing room culture.

I like the move- it’s a no-risk attempt to infuse a winner who possesses the size and two-way game (and perhaps some underrated offensive ability) on the checking unit without taking a square peg and forcing it into a round hole. This is not an indictment of Koko, but if people are honest with themselves, they know that expecting him to thrive on the fourth line when he’s a player who is at his best in scoring role (just don’t ask me who he’s going to beat out to provide that in Boston as of today) is a tall order. You don’t call an electrician if your toilet needs fixing…the same principle applies here, so Kemppainen seems like a much better fit at least to start the year. Whether he has the ability to keep the job, however…we’ll find out soon enough.

Could you see Ryan Spooner having a 2008-09 Krejci-esque year (70 points) in his third line role w/ good line mates & PP time?– ETD51 @ETD51

I try not to set expectations on players today based on what others did in the past.

Spooner is to be lauded for seizing the opportunity presented him at the end of last year to establish himself as one of the few bright spots on the 2014-15 Boston Bruins.

Having said that, even though the two players’ (David Krejci and Spooner) numbers are similar at the same age and experience level, unless something happens to move Spooner up to the top two lines for a big chunk of the 2015-16 season, that 70 points is going to happen for him on the third line.

He’s a talented player and if he gets 50 points on that third unit, it will be a big win. Scoring is so down around the league- Jamie Benn won the NHL’s points title last year with 87- so thinking that a third-line player on any team, let alone one that struggled mightily to generate consistent offense a year ago is going to hit 70 points in this current environment (unless there is a major swing of the pendulum that is) isn’t very realistic.

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Do you see Subban being traded or will he be the backup goalie all year?- Chris @FribbleLover

How about…neither?

I think the B’s would certainly entertain any offers they get for Malcolm Subban, but they aren’t just going to deal him for the sake of doing so.

I’m also not sure Subban wins the backup job in Boston this year after as yet not having established himself as an AHL starter.  I’m not a believer in young (and he’s not even 22 yet) goalies sitting and watching games as a backup during a critical development period in their careers, and I just don’t think the Bruins are going to put Subban in that situation when he could be starting and honing his technique/building confidence at the lower levels.

As for trading Subban, I’ve said this before- the value they would receive for him right now is not likely to justify the effort. Hold onto him and see how he performs in this important third season since he turned pro. If a team comes along and wants to give the B’s a good return for him, they’d be silly not to consider it, but while I’m sure more than a few teams would be happy to take him off of Boston’s hands for a song, that’s what I believe they want to give up. That doesn’t help Boston. Remember- the B’s once hoodwinked Toronto in getting Tuukka Rask even-Steven for Andrew Raycroft. How did that work out for the team that gave up an at-the-time unproven goalie talent for an established commodity?

Patience, young Grasshopper. Resist the urge to play fantasy hockey GM questing for shiny new toy returns and leave Subban where he is for now. The B’s used a top-30 pick on him for a reason.

I would like to know the upside/possibilities of Brandon Carlo?- Anthony Amico @anthonyamico

Carlo looks like the prototypical modern NHL defender: big at 6-foot-5, mobile, physical with a long reach and an ability to make a strong first pass.

I’m not sure that I buy into the over-the-moon excitement I’ve seen about him in some circles on the Internet, however.

Don’t misread that remark into believing I’m not high on the kid, but some fans have let the hype machine get out of control already, with some penciling him into the NHL lineup and I think we have to slow the roll on him. Given the other veteran and other pro defenders vying for spots, it would take a jaw-dropping camp and exhibition performance from the 18-year-old Colorado native to leapfrog some of the guys ahead of him on the depth chart. I fully expect he’ll be back in the WHL this year, but as a late ’96 birthdate, he’ll be eligible to play in Providence for the 2016-17 hockey season, at least.

As for Carlo’s upside, he has a big shot from the point, but I wonder about the vision and offensive creativity that is needed to emerge as a true-blue, top two-way threat at the NHL level. Instead, I see Carlo as more of a solid middle pair defenseman who can shut down opposition offenses because he moves well and uses his stick and physical strength to keep forwards to the outside. He’s also on the snarly side and will be his team’s captain this year at Tri-City, so there is a lot to like about the kid.

Just temper the expectations and don’t be in such a rush to see him in Boston- all in due time.

Brandon Carlo- "shiny new toy?" (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Brandon Carlo- “shiny new toy?” (Kirk Luedeke photo)