Happy 2019- Winter Classic thoughts

2019 is here and the Boston Bruins helped ring in the new year in style with a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL’s annual (since 2008) Winter Classic outdoor game.

Boston’s third trip outside on New Year’s Day was played at the iconic University of Notre Dame football stadium in South Bend, Indiana, the first time a non-football event was played in the home of the Fighting Irish. The B’s were 1-1 in the NHL’s signature event, beating the Philadelphia Flyers at (Frozen) Fenway Park eight years ago on a Marco Sturm OT goal, but getting pumped by the Montreal Canadiens at the home of the New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, in 2016 by a 5-1 score.

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Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

For goaltender Tuukka Rask, the 2019 game was a chance for redemption, and he found it, playing well with 36 saves including multiple breakaways and grade A scoring chances. It was also a milestone event for the veteran netminder who has only known Boston as his NHL home since the 2007-08 season. He passed Hall of Fame goalie Cecil “Tiny” Thompson as the goalie with the most career appearances in franchise history. Rask will soon own the most regular season victories for the team as well.

The soon-to-be-32-year-old may be the most polarizing figure we have seen and covered in the 40+ years of following the team as fan and correspondent. A top talent and former 1st-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was dealt to the B’s for Andrew Raycroft even-steven nearly 13 years ago, Rask is often a study in extremes. Ardent fans and supporters often pointing fingers at everyone else on the roster but the man in net when the team doesn’t win with him in the net, while there is an equally obnoxious segment of Boston fans who seem to revel in affixing blame to Rask at every opportunity and making him a convenient scapegoat for their frustrations with the club. There seems to be very little middle ground in the increasingly toxic social media environment when it comes to Rask, but at least in this space, we’ve always tried to be fair-minded in our treatment of the embattled veteran. On this day, he did his job well, and looked every bit the player the Bruins need him to be if they are going to secure a spot in the NHL playoffs for the third consecutive season this spring. The combat math is pretty simple: Rask and Jaroslav Halak give the Bruins the best 1-2 goalie punch in the league. When both of them are on top of their games, the team can beat anyone.

Which brings us to the next point- Patrice Bergeron. It never gets old watching the de facto captain play a textbook complete game of hockey. NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp talked yesterday after the game about how if you polled most NHL players about which player they would want on their team in a one-game, winner-take-all match for the Stanley Cup, you would probably see a large percentage of them vote for Boston’s consummate pro.

Yesterday, we all saw his greatness for what it is- a furious back check to deny a scoring chance at one end that would have opened up a 3-1 advantage for the ‘Hawks, and moments later, an effortless backhand shot that tied the game and opened the door for the B’s to win it on Sean “Clutch” Kuraly’s third period rebound marker (another backhand shot).

At this point of Bergeron’s career, we’re out of superlatives to describe him. He’s the hockey student of the game’s idol- a player who simply does everything right, all day, every day. Some folks are drawn to the sizzle that so many super talents of hockey provide with their speed, pace and skill- you absolutely need those guys. And, the players who rack up oodles of points are always going to get more positive attention than those with middle-of-the-pack numbers. Here’s the rub, though-  those who have careers with skin in the game- whose job security depends on being on the right side of the win-loss column- Bergeron is an inspiration. The Bruins may not have multiple Stanley Cup championships to show for it, but since Bergeron joined the club as a precocious 18-year-old rookie in 2003, it has been a prosperous era for the team despite setbacks and disappointments along the way.

It’s hard to believe because there were other players who popped offensively earlier in their careers, but Bergeron has quietly and steadily climbed to be the third-highest scorer in the storied 2003 NHL Entry Draft class, behind only Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf with his 769 career points in 989 games. He’s tied with Thomas Vanek (who will play his 1,000th NHL game on Jan. 4), but Vanek’s days of high production are over- Bergeron will blow by him and establish himself solidly in 3rd behind Staal and Getzlaf. What’s important about this is that offense has never really been the thing that has defined Bergeron’s Hall of Fame career, but he’s proven that the consistent approach of 50-60 points year after year, has helped to propel him to the top of one of the greatest collective draft groups in NHL history. He should have gone over 1,000 NHL games played about 2-3 years ago and would be closing in on 1,000 career points and might be the No. 1 scorer of the 2003 draftees had it not been for 1.5 years of  lockouts and almost 2 full seasons lost to injuries of various types. But even with all the missed time, Bergeron’s impact on the Bruins and the game of hockey cannot be undersold. He is the greatest defensive forward in NHL history. No disrespect to Canadiens great Bob Gainey, who inspired the very Frank J. Selke Trophy which rewards two-way excellence up front, but Bergeron hasn’t benefited from a dynastic machine that the Habs were in the 1970’s, and the offensive production isn’t close.

Simply put- No. 37 is the best there ever was, and he’s inspired a generation of players who want to do things the right way and focus on the habits and details that are lost on so many who can only really focus on the flashy stuff that makes the game so great. There’s room for it all of course, but if I’m in a 1-game knife fight for my hockey life, there’s one guy I’d sell my soul for to have in my lineup: Patrice Bergeron.

Brad Marchand is heating up at the right time. We of course love what David Pastrnak is doing, but the driving engine of Boston’s offense is the Lil’ Ball of Hate, and when he’s finding the back of the net, the wins are plentiful. He generated multiple scoring chances and in the waning seconds, hit the empty net- notching his 42nd point of the season to quietly move closer to Pastrnak’s team-leading 50 points.

Just like Bergeron, both of these forwards embody the luck of the NHL draft- had anyone known what kind of an impact they would have, you’d have seen them go off the board with the 1st or 2nd overall selections in their respective years, and yet, they both essentially fell into Boston’s lap. In a time where fans spend more time kvetching about who the team missed on, it’s sometimes nice to be reminded that the B’s scouting staff, long under the guiding hand of veteran talent chief Scott Bradley and Ryan Nadeau’s vision and leadership, has had some tremendous bargain finds over the years. And we haven’t even gotten into Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jack Studnicka and Jakub Lauko yet.

And like Bergeron, Marchand is ascending to the top of the 2006 draft’s scoring list. Of all the players from that class, only Niklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux and Jonathan Toews have more than Marchand’s 503 points and counting.

Finally, it was great to see Zdeno Chara out there after returning from injury. Like Tim Wakefield near the end of his MLB career, Chara is a lifetime Bruin, though he played elsewhere before making the Hub his home. He has quietly racked up nearly 1,000 games in the Black and Gold, and like Bergeron, is headed for a place in Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s not the horse he was in his prime, but the steady play, experience and value he provides cannot be understated. Once he retires, whenever that is, the B’s will have a challenge to replace what he means to the club on and off the ice. Instead of rushing to anoint the next wave of youth (and there are some worthy heirs coming down the pipeline), we should all embrace the legend and enjoy him for as long as we can. Once he’s gone, we may not ever see another player quite like him.

Okay- that about does it. Here’s hoping you all have a great and prosperous 2019. Thanks as always for reading the sporadic posts on the blog- didn’t cover all the ground I wanted to on this one, but be on the lookout for more content as the season goes on.

Boston Bruins v Calgary Flames

3 Amigos Podcast: What’s Next for the Bruins (Pt 15)- the Finale

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The 3 Amigos are back with a 90-minute podcast in which we put the finishing touch in the “What’s Next” for the Bruins series at this blog. It’s now June and that means expansion draft and NHL Entry Draft, with July giving way to the major roster-shaping period.

Listen to the pod for an idea of the shape we think the team is in and what challenges and key events Don Sweeney is focusing on. We also talk Anders Bjork, who the Vegas Golden Knights might pluck from the roster, NHL draft options, and myriad other things.

You can listen here:

Bjork signs 3-year ELC

Anders Bjork is in the fold- the Boston Bruins announced the signing of one of their prized prospects today to a three-year entry-level contract.

There isn’t a great deal more to say that hasn’t been covered on this blog space about the now former Notre Dame Fighting Irish star. He has exceeded expectations to date and while the B’s wanted to sign him earlier and get him into the big lineup at the end of the regular season and possibly playoffs, ND’s extended run to the Frozen Four put the kibosh on that.

The offseason and a trip to the World Championships where he played sparingly with Team USA gave the B’s another opportunity to get his name on a contract, and so now it will be interesting to see where in the lineup he ends up. It won’t be just handed to him, but we have to think there were certain discussions that convinced him to forego his senior season and a chance to test unrestricted free agency (where the Blackhawks were already rumored to be circling like vultures) to stick with Boston.

Of course- Bjork has said publicly that the B’s said and did all the right things (you can check out his interview with CBS Boston.com’s Matt Kalman here), so ultimately- fans should give both sides credit here for getting a deal done and one of the organization’s top prospects into the pro ranks where he could have a chance to make an immediate impact. Just don’t ask us to project where he’s going to be in the Boston lineup- it’s late May. Let’s see what happens next, first.

Now, it’s onto the offseason, the expansion draft, entry draft and what should be a decision point for Don Sweeney to perhaps make a trade or three to free up some breathing room in the organization while upgrading his NHL roster in the process. He has the organizational assets to do something, and with Bjork on board, flexibility to pare things down a bit and streamline.

This whole re-tooling on the fly thing seems to be working out well enough…

 

What’s next for the Bruins (Pt. 9): Rounding out the forwards

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(Ryan Donato, Boston’s 2nd-round selection in 2014 NHL Entry Draft )

We’re going to close out the forwards portion of our “What’s Next” for the Boston Bruins series with this entry on the prospects we didn’t cover in the two previous posts on the subject. These are players who are either unsigned (NCAA) or out of Europe. Some are closer to making a possible impact (Anders Bjork) than others (Ryan Donato), but this more proof that the B’s have a lot of options within their organization, and that doesn’t include the next talent boost, with the 2017 NHL Entry Draft about five weeks away.

So, in the spirit of the previous post- here’s a list of the players we think are going to not only challenge for NHL jobs sooner than later, but will also make an impact:

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Dominic Tiano: What’s Next for the Bruins (Part 4)

So, here I am with another post with my 3 Amigos colleagues Kirk Luedeke (the founder of TSP) and Reed Duthie. If you missed the previous posts, look back not too far and you will find them. I hope (I’m sure) you will find them informative.

Decisions, decisions, decisions: That’s what is facing Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney, President Cam Neely and the brain trust of your Boston Bruins. The most critical decision dropped this week when the interim tag was removed from coach Bruce Cassidy. It was crucial for this to be done as early as possible because, despite being two months away from the expansion draft and the entry draft, some key decisions are going to have to be made by mid-June as to which players receive qualifying offers and contracts, and who moves on, potential buyouts and buried contracts.

This is what we’ll focus on today.

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McAvoy, JFK in the Bruins’ fold…Bjork is on deck

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UPDATE: 14 April 2017

Editor’s note- The Anders Bjork watch continues more than a week after the Fighting Irish were eliminated by the eventual NCAA champion Denver University Pioneers. What can we say? Our optimistic outlook was based on a reliable source, but also illustrates the fluid situation and challenges involved in signing young players to NHL contracts. We’re not completely closing the door on Bjork reaching an agreement to turn pro and forego his senior season in South Bend, but each day that passes without an agreement looks less favorable to an ELC. We’ll see, but once again- we learn an important lesson about information and perhaps value in sitting on things to let them percolate before we contribute to hopes being built up. The information we received was accurate, but things changed, beginning with  the Irish overachieving and going far deeper in the NCAA tourney than expected, not to mention the bad luck of the NHL’s regular season ending so soon after Notre Dame was eliminated. We have no further updates, so we’ll have to see how it all plays out. We’re leaving the original post as is- we stand by our source and will chalk this one up to an evolving situation that perhaps changed due to other factors that intervened in what was believed to be a solid course of action for player to turn pro.

The one-and-done 80’s alt-pop band Timbuk3 sang about the future being so bright- they had to wear shades. Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney might be having similar sentiments after he got ink to paper for two of his club’s top prospects this past week in a pair of Boston University studs- defenseman Charlie McAvoy and center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson or “JFK” as he is more popularly known.

Now, with the University of Notre Dame preparing to take on Denver University on Thursday night in one of two NCAA Frozen Four semifinal games, junior winger Anders Bjork is expected to be the third and final domino to fall in terms of new blood coming to the Bruins. Reliable sources (some of the same ones who told TSP several weeks ago that JFK was leaning towards coming out/turning pro) have told us that Bjork essentially has a deal with Boston in place pending his NCAA team’s status. Obviously, if the Irish beat the Pioneers- he’ll keep playing. The college championship/big enchilada is on Saturday night, the same day Boston would play their final regular season game, so whether Bjork is seen this season or makes his NHL debut in the 2017 playoffs (B’s still have work to do on that front) or next season remains to be seen. But, for those fans who watched the Jimmy Vesey saga last spring, it would appear that the B’s don’t have to worry about that, as arguably one of the best NCAA players in the country in Bjork- will leave school a year early to turn pro with the team that drafted him in the fifth round three years ago.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the signings and what each player might do for the Black and Gold:

Charlie McAvoy, RD

As reported a week ago Sunday by your TSP founder, McAvoy was the first of the dominoes to fall- he signed an amateur tryout (ATO) to turn pro with the Providence Bruins, and has already made a positive impression in two AHL games, registering an assist in each contest.

Amidst speculation that there might have been a wink-and-handshake NHL option included in the offer to get McAvoy to come out after two years at BU, the feeling on this blog all along was that the 19-year-old and 14th overall pick in last June’s NHL draft is ready for the show right now. There is always a segment of folks who believe that minor league seasoning is the smart play, and there is probably higher than average concern about losing a year off of the entry-level contracts of any one of the three NCAA prospects featured in this post. While you can’t dismiss that business-centric aspect of the signings, there’s probably more concern than warranted. Sure, a player like McAvoy incurs some risk by being one year closer to restricted free agency as a result of playing one or two games at the end of a season, but if the B’s were to make the postseason and McAvoy were to play or at least be around the team to practice with the veterans and work out with the NHL club while being subjected to the higher-intensity atmosphere of the postseason, that would in itself carry enough of a benefit to at least make a worthy case to “burn” the year off the ELC. For some, it won’t matter, but at the end of the day- fans sitting behind computers aren’t going to impact the decision process- Bruins management will ultimately weigh the cost/benefits and make that decision.

In McAvoy, the B’s are getting a skilled right-shot defender who can play with pace and move the puck better than just about anyone on the team right now not named Torey Krug. He’s an aggressive offense-minded player who still has a good bit to learn defensively, but the B’s have enough vanilla shutdown guys that can protect him when he goes into riverboat gambler mode and is deep in the offensive zone trying to force the play. He’s a fun kid who has a magnetic personality and will likely add to the dressing room dynamic with his good nature and ability to keep things loose. His U.S. National Team coach, Don Granato, told us at the draft last June that other players tend to gravitate to C-Mac- they want to be a part of his circle and he’s a guy who knows when to dial it in and get down to business. He has the potential to come into the Boston room and thrive under some of the veteran players on defense and up front.

Simply put- while he’s a still a bit of a wild young colt, you don’t want to clamp the reins on him- McAvoy’s pure skill and big play ability (check out his overtime goal vs. North Dakota or highlights from the gold medal WJC game vs. Canada) have a better chance at helping the Bruins now than hurting them. Sure- keeping him in Providence is the safe play, but I don’t know if playing it safe makes the most sense with a potential high-ender like this guy. We’ve seen a lot of talk about him being “ruined” or his confidence “damaged” by getting a shot at the NHL, but enough with the coddling- if you know even a little about McAvoy, he’s the type of guy who will benefit from the experience, even if there are some rocky moments for him.

We think he’s ready and that he’ll make his Boston debut soon.

JFK

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, RC

When the B’s announced that he signed and would join the big club for the 2016-17 on Sunday evening, it ended the “will he/won’t he” drama that had been circulating around Boston since BU’s season ended a week ago Saturday at the hands of Minnesota-Duluth.

JFK could just as easily have gone back to BU for his junior year, where there’s a good chance he would have been the captain and could have taken his production to another level. We’re sure Coach Quinn and the BU Terriers wish that were the case- he’s a serious student and we hear that his family wanted him to get a little closer to his degree with another year in school.

Ultimately, however, the Bruins felt that the slick Swede’s time was now and made a final, aggressive push to sign him on Friday, meeting with him and obviously convincing the 45th overall selection in 2015 to make the pro plunge. We had reported several weeks ago that he was leaning towards turning pro, but like many youngsters, that sentiment had gone back and forth, with it looking more and more in recent days that he would stay in school- give credit to the Bruins for getting their guy, and fans will get a good lesson in the idea that if you feel strongly enough about a player, then close the deal. Anything could happen if JFK had gone back to school for another year, so the signing makes a lot of sense.

He’s been repeatedly compared to Patrice Bergeron, and like Boston’s star and longest-tenured player, he’s not a dynamic type who is going to pull you out of your seat. However, if you love the game of hockey, you will be drawn to the details in his game- the smart stick and vision; the ability to change gears and match the tempo of play; the ability to play effectively in all zones. He’s not zooming up the ice with his hair on fire, but if you stop and look closely at what he’s doing, he’s disrupting opposition breakouts by being in the right place and getting his stick into passing lanes; in the faceoff dot, he’s winning far more draws than not and in key situations both offensively and defensively; he’s aiding clean zone entries with on-target passes or gaining the blue line himself with shifty, but controlled movements with the puck to evade defenders and force opponents off their spots with his agility. JFK is also known for popping in big goals or making money passes for scores when his team needs it most. Yes, he didn’t put up dominant scoring totals at BU, but then again, neither did Bergeron when he was with the Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL.

Questioning whether JFK is ready to come in and make more positive plays than negative ones in the NHL is a fair one, and there is always an element of risk to putting in younger players in pressure-packed situations, but at the same time- if there is one player who has the mature, refined game and temperament to do it, then this centerman is it. His Omaha (USHL) coach told us at a team dinner last night as the news of JFK’s signing broke that his pulse/emotions are always in the green- he’s as cool as ice and that shouldn’t be mistaken for being laid back or having no pulse, but that he brings a relentless kind of steady state to his performance in that you’re getting the same level of execution and production, regardless of the situation. Earlier in his junior career, some questioned his sense of urgency, but JFK has answered that in definitive fashion with his two years at BU.

Now, the fun begins- we’ll have to wait for him to get his work visa stuff straightened out and see where Coach Bruce Cassidy (note to reader- this is a more formal way of saying, don’t ask us when he’s going to play or where he’ll slot into the Bosotn lineup) has him on the lines at practice, but getting JFK signed and in the fold was a major step- the payoff might not be that far behind.

Again, don’t fixate on the numbers- there’s not always a direct correlation between scoring at the lower level and to the NHL. There’s a good chance JFK isn’t going to be a big point-getter at the NHL level, but it’s not always about the pure production. If he’s value-added with his versatility and ability to play any role in key situations, that in itself is a big reward.

Anders Bjork, RW/LW

When it comes to prospects, few have generated both the buzz and concern than Boston’s fifth-round pick in 2014.

The buzz stems from his third consecutive season of improved offensive output for the Fighting Irish after an impressive freshman debut in 2014-15. Since the 7-15-22 line in 41 games that first NCAA year, Bjork jumped to 12-23-35 in 35 games before taking it to another level this season with 21-31-52 totals in 38 games with one or two more left depending on what happens this week in the Frozen Four.

Pigeonholed in a defensive forward role with the U.S. National Team, Bjork slipped down to the middle of the draft, but one team source in Boston told TSP that several of the scouts high on him during the 2013-14 season felt that he was miscast and could have been more effective as a top-6 winger with Team USA.

Versatility and speed/pace are Bjork’s calling cards: he can play any of the forward positions and while playing more on the right side in his last two campaigns under head coach Jeff Jackson, he started out as a left wing in South Bend and could potentially slot in alongside David Krejci sometime soon given his style and smarts. Bjork played some center in Ann Arbor with the NTDP, so that Swiss Army Knife flavor is something that the B’s (and every team for that matter) look for in their forwards. He’s an explosive skater- getting up to speed in just a few slashing strides, and he is dangerously creative, able to thread the needle with pinpoint passes or take pucks to the net himself. He can dangle or snap off shots in tight spaces. Like JFK- he’s a three-zone player, and with his wheels and head- we’re sold. Bjork is the real deal and the B’s were ahead of the curve on him- it’s about time to be rewarded for that foresight.

Fans (and the team) can breathe a little easier for now, in that it appears that Bjork is ready to begin his pro career. The Fighting Irish’s run to the Frozen Four has put that on hold, in large part- thanks to his heroics especially against the University of Minnesota, when he assisted on the tying goal, then scored the game-winner, figuring in all three of his team’s scores. For good measure, Bjork set up the OT-winner against UMass-Lowell to secure the trip to Chicago, which is where he grew up.

The B’s will have to wait a little longer, and the details and timeline are TBD- but it looks like all signals are green (no pun intended) and that whether the NCAA season ends for Bjork on Thursday or Saturday night, we’ll be seeing him in Boston soon.

 

Bruins prospect update 3/15/17: JFK on a roll- what’s next? Lindgren done, Koppanen top Finland Jr. player & Fitzy update too

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Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK” earned his second consecutive Hockey East player of the week honor after his BU Terriers defeated reigning HEA champs- the Northeastern Huskies- over the weekend. He shared the honor with BC’s Austin Cangelosi, scoring the opening goal in the clinching 3-2 win Sunday, while assisting on the other two, culminating in a Chad Krys-winning strike with about 25 seconds left in regulation.

Breaking news alert- We’re hearing via a reliable NHL source that JFK turning pro after the NCAA season wraps is close- (EDIT- we’re going to take a step back and soften the language since the source is not JFK- we were wrong to write the post with such definitive language and for that we apologize to JFK and- K.L.)  The BU sophomore is leaning towards signing with Boston at the conclusion of his final sophomore year contest. While he’s not a dynamic player who will grab you, JFK’s game is all about the details- he does everything well and coaches love having him because of the high trust factor. That’s not to say that he grabs you with blistering speed or pace on every shift, but for those who are students of the game, JFK needs no explaining- he just gets it. And, you win with players like him in your lineup at any level. We’re not sure if he’ll play in Boston right away or sign an ATO to finish the year in Providence, but we do feel strongly that JFK’s Boston debut is not that far off, regardless of how things play out in the immediate timeline.

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Bruins prospects update 1/30/17: Re-ordering the amateur prospect rankings

We’re one month into the recent publication of the New England Hockey Journal’s annual Boston Bruins prospects ranking- we always do it in January, so we have about half a season to gauge how the kids look before ranking them.

Well, what can we say? There’s already some buyer’s remorse and after conversations with several people we trust and value as professional talent evaluators, we thought we’d take another stab at the B’s top-10 with a fresher perspective. Consider it an alternate take- a sort of Bizarro World version of the published list, with the impact of other ideas and rationales applied to some of the players who rose and fell.

Ultimately, the exercise reminds us all that opinions are varied. No matter how well you might rank order players, you’re never going to achieve 100 percent consensus, and that should not be the goal. You call it like you see it and you either stick to your guns and stand by your convictions or you don’t. At the same time, it is important in a fluid situation such a hockey season, to maintain room to allow your views to evolve.

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Podcasting New England Hockey Journal’s Bruins annual prospects review: Amateur list

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TSP did this last year, so bringing it back for the 2017 version of the New England Hockey Journal’s Boston Bruins organizational prospect rankings.

You can read the full article at http://www.hockeyjournal.com; a top-20 is broken into a pair of pro and amateur lists. This podcast covers the non-pro futures, plus the HM 11th player who didn’t get an in-print capsule, but is a very good prospect for the B’s down the road.

Want to know who we’re talking about to the tune of about a 45-minute breakdown? Just click on the audio file to listen…

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Trent Frederic was Boston’s 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

 

Bruins sign Jesse Gabrielle to ELC

The Boston Bruins announced today (December 11) that the team has signed 2015 fourth-round pick Jesse Gabrielle to a three-year entry-level contract.

This comes as welcome news for some who were already starting to beat the drum on Twitter and other places that the team needed to get off the pot and make it happen. Now, of course, that Gabrielle is in the fold- the focus has no doubt shifted to signing Anders Bjork, the sensational University of Notre Dame junior right wing and 2014 fifth-rounder who has captured the imaginations of B’s fans everywhere by being up near the top of the NCAA scoring list all year. That’s the nature of the beast, we suppose- once you get a player like Gabrielle under contract, the feeling is to move onto the next shiny object…in this case- Bjork.

As far as Bjork goes, he can’t sign an NHL contract and maintain his NCAA eligibility, so the earliest movement we can see on him will be after the Fighting Irish season ends. We’re being told that the Bruins are going to push hard to bring him out of school this spring and they may have to get creative to do it, but we don’t see it being a Jimmy Vesey situation, because Bjork is still more than 1.5 years away from being able to exercise his rights in the CBA as an unrestricted free agent. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about it, or won’t take the same course of action, but the B’s will get a chance to make a hard pitch to him this spring. If he rebuffs them, they may have to recalibrate and eventually prepare for him pursuing free agency, but for now, this won’t be resolved anytime soon, so relax and enjoy the season he’s having. He potted two more goals last night against Boston College including a filthy shorthanded strike. Bjork lacks ideal NHL size, but he’s fast, smart and tenacious- it’s not hard to figure out why he’s generating so much buzz.

Speaking of fast and tenacious- we had an inkling that something was up with Gabrielle this week because he was scheduled to do a 3 Amigos podcast with us on Thursday afternoon, but we got a message from him early that morning that something “really good” had come up and he needed to reschedule until resolved. The initial thought was that he might be getting a shot at Team Canada for the World Jr. tournament, but the other belief that the three of us kicked around was that he was working on a contract. Well done, Jesse and congratulations- he patiently waited for his turn after the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th choices from 2015 signed (the 5th choice- Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson– will be next, as we anticipate him coming out this spring when his BU season ends) ELCs with the B’s, and he can now focus on playing the season without the distraction of a looming June 1 signing deadline.

Gabrielle is tailor-made for what the Bruins want in their forwards: he’s got good (not great) size, but has worked hard in the offseasons to add strength and mass to his frame, and it hasn’t cost him any of his speed. He’s still able to fly up and down the wings and slash into the middle of the ice and unleashing lasers to corners or driving the net and banging home rebounds. Gabrielle relishes physical contact and thrives in the dirtiest areas of the ice. People keep asking about Brad Marchand comparisons…we’ll try it one more time here…

Marchand is the player Gabrielle (a Bruins fan) enjoys watching the most for his goal scoring acumen and moxie/abrasiveness. But, we don’t see a lot of Marchand in Gabrielle- to TSP, he’s more of an Andrew Shaw type without (hopefully) the un-PC, self-defeating bullshit that Shaw has engaged in at times. This is a prime example of why we don’t like making player comparisons to begin with, though. Comparing Gabrielle to Marchand sets the bar high right off the bat, and Shaw is a proven playoff performer who plays with a lot of jam and is an opportunistic scorer also known for meltdowns and selfish penalties. Gabrielle is probably somewhere in the middle between the two, but he’s his own player and one who has potted more goals in the WHL over the past two seasons (59 and counting) with the exception of Tyler Wong (63). At some point, you have to let these players just be themselves without having to picture what they could be in your mind. We’re talking about a guy who scores, hits and fights- you don’t need a name attached to those attributes to get an idea about where Gabrielle might fit in Boston one day.

Gabrielle has done a better job this season of picking his spots and not spending as much time in the penalty box. His overall game is coming along, but the goal scoring continues to move at a nice clip, and the B’s love the edge/skill combo he brings. This is a kid who was deadlifting 450 pounds when he was about 15 years old, so he’s got the natural strength to thrive in just about any role on an NHL club, especially if it means working his way up from a bottom-unit grinder to eventually establish himself as more of a scorer…just like his hockey idol Brad Marchand once did.

Bottom line- Gabrielle has been one of the top prospects for Boston performance-wise since they drafted him in the fourth round some 18 months ago, and it’s nice to see the team get the deal done if nothing else so that we are spared the drama of hand-wringing and the demands of fans to sign him on their convenient timelines while conveniently overlooking the fact that the B’s have managed to do a pretty good job of getting their prospects to sign on the line that is dotted. (There is some Glengarry Glen Ross for you on a Sunday)