I was 16 and in Florida visiting my grandparents with about a month left before my junior year in high school. I walked into the house that afternoon after a visit down to New Smyrna Beach, and my grandfather, a big baseball and football fan but who didn’t know (or give) a whit about hockey, greeted me with the last news I ever expected to hear.
“Hey, Kirk- did you hear that Wayne Gadsby just got traded?”
I must’ve stared at him blankly, because he followed up with: “You know? That hockey player from Canada?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the largest percentage of hockey players in the NHL were from Canada, but my brain was beginning to process what he’d just said.
“Wayne Gretzky got traded?” I said.
“Yes! Gretzky…that’s the one! They’ve been talking about it a lot on the TV and radio…”
He started to tell me what he knew about the deal…Los Angeles Kings…cash and young players…but his words were like the teacher in Charlie Brown (Wah-WAH-Wah-Wah-Wah.) My mind was racing: Gretzky, the Edmonton Oilers’ four-time Stanley Cup captain and face of hockey, the only player in the history of the game to score more than 200 points in a season not once, not twice, not three times but FOUR times…had been dealt in the prime of his life at 27 years old. My goodness, I thought as the realization hit me- if my grandfather Merlin in Florida is talking about this trade- how enormous of an impact is Gretzky to Tinseltown going to have on the NHL and hockey?
The truth is…in my teenage mind, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend it.
Just in case you missed it- the Boston Bruins came back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits against the Columbus Blue Jackets to win their first game of the 2016-17 NHL regular season, thanks in huge part to Brad Marchand’s two goal, five-point night (the second of his career). Marchand and linemates David Backes (2 goals, 3 points) and David Pastrnak (2 goals, 4 points) provided all of the B’s offense in a 6-3 win.
There were a lot of positive storylines to the victory. Boston continued the 2015-16 trend of being road warriors. To whit- the B’s didn’t win their first game last season until the fourth contest on the schedule, dropping its first three home games before winning on the road against Colorado.
In Columbus, it was the Marchand Show, however. Before he went on a tear in the final period, he stood out with inspired play, establishing himself as a puck possession machine while bringing his trademark speed and energy. With Patrice Bergeron out with a lower body injury, Marchand and Backes didn’t miss a beat, putting the home team on their heels once the visiting club managed to tie the game on Backes’ second tally of the second period.
After that, Marchand took over, underscoring why he was Boston’s MVP a season ago and validating the wisdom behind GM Don Sweeney’s move to lock him up to an eight-year, $49 million extension before the season began.
The 71st overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft has clearly established himself as one of hockey’s elite players. He always had a penchant for big-game play, developing a reputation as a clutch scorer in key playoff and international tournament play as a junior in the QMJHL and in his rookie AHL campaign with the Providence Bruins in 2009. Marchand’s 293 points are by far the best of any third-round player taken in ’06 (Cal Clutterbuck is next with 169 points…in 82 more games played). In rounds 4-7 no one else is even close to Marchand’s point totals, and he’s climbing on many of the guys taken ahead of him in rounds 1-2 as well. Only 10 players drafted between picks 1-70 have more career offense than Marchand does, and you can bet he’ll move up on the list as he hits the prime years of his career.
When younger, Marchand’s questionable discipline on and off the ice distracted from his emergence as one of Boston’s go-to guys, beginning in 2010-11, when he became a full-time NHLer, until last season. He wore the alternate captain’s ‘A’ for one game, then received a suspension for low-bridging Ottawa defender Mark Borowiecki, and losing the leadership symbol. However, if that was one bump in an otherwise outstanding hockey season (37 goals), Marchand is out to prove to the world that he is every bit as good as he looked in the World Cup of Hockey last month, combining with Sidney Crosby and Bergeron to form one of hockey’s most lethal lines for the ages. It was like something out of a Fantasy Hockey nightmare, as opponents of Team Canada discovered, as the trio rode the showcase’s wave all the way to the title.
With Crosby and Bergeron both out of the first games of the new NHL season, Marchand took it upon himself to grab the spotlight (along with super rook Auston Matthews) and even the most ardent fans who dislike Marchand’s style and antics have to grudgingly admit that he is one of the league’s top performers.
The Bruins knew it. That’s why they made sure he didn’t hit the open market next July.
But to think that Boston got him for an annual value of a little over $6M per season is a gift that appears sure to keep on giving. At 28, Marchand is primed for even more.
Here’s a highlight package from Marchand’s night in Ohio compliments of Dafoomie- you can follow him on Twitter:
Well, NHL Entry Draft time is upon us…I can hardly believe that I will be flying to Buffalo, N.Y. in the morning and that by this time Friday night, Bruins fans will know who the next big hopeful will be.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but rather than write an excessively long post here, I’ll take the advice of a recent blog critic who didn’t like the length of my Bruins draft strategy piece and break it down for you in about 15 minutes. He’s out of luck on the bolded names, though- sorry pal. As Kenny Loggins once crooned- I’ll meet you halfway. I’m sharing my thoughts on where the Bruins are heading into the draft, and where I think they’re going, and not just in round 1. Keep in mind this is just one person’s opinion, and lots of things can happen between now and pick No. 14 in the First Niagara Center.
Here’s the audio:
I am not going to weigh in on internet rumors surrounding Jimmy Vesey. Look, until he either signs with the Buffalo Sabres or he doesn’t and becomes an unrestricted free agent on August 15, I’m going to do my level best to stay above the fray. Because of my relationship with him and members of his family going back to his prep school days, that’s precisely *why* I’m not going to get into the middle of what is flying around. I give full credit to the Sabres for stepping up and getting his rights- that puts them in the driver’s seat, at least for the next some-odd 60 days, and Tim Murray will either convince him to forego the chance to pick his destination, or Vesey will stay the course. My thinking- and it’s just my own intuition here- is that he’s come a full four years since Nashville drafted him in Pittsburgh. What is less than two months more at this point? But if Murray and Sabres owner Terry Pegula (and don’t forget Jack Eichel) make a convincing enough pitch, there’s not much stopping him from ending the soap opera.
But, if you’re looking for me to repeat things flying around various message boards- that’s not happening.
Now, onto the mock draft:
1- Toronto- Auston Matthews, C; The Leafs get their man- Arizona native’s the wire-to-wire No. 1 overall selection and with good reason.
2- Winnipeg- Patrik Laine, LW; The first big winners of the NHL’s new lotto jackpot system cash in with this pure shooter who turns goal scoring into an art form.
3- Columbus- Jesse Puljujarvi, RW; GM Jarmo Kekalainen pounces on this Finnish horse who isn’t quite the threat his countryman is, but isn’t that far off, either.
4. Edmonton- Matt Tkachuk, LW; On a team whose GM once saw firsthand what Milan Lucic could do, the Oilers grab a high-end power forward with serious bloodlines.
5- Vancouver- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW; The Canucks need help everywhere, so Jim Benning can’t go wrong here with as complete a two-way threat as there is in this class.
6- Calgary- Logan Brown, C; Described by my pal Reed Duthie (who calls Hamilton Bulldogs games) as an “aircraft carrier with feet”, this massive center is also highly skilled, meaning- he’s off the board in the blink of an eye.
7- Arizona- Olli Juolevi, D; Is this Finnish version of the old Val Kilmer movie ‘Real Genius’ the first defender off the board in Buffalo? Very possible.
8.- Buffalo- Jakob Chychrun, D; After making a splash with the Vesey trade, the Sabres fire more shots across the bow, picking up this big name at 8, but his hockey IQ has raised some doubts.
9- Montreal- Alex Nylander, RW; The Canadiens seek skill and scoring, so why not grab the player who might have absolutely been the most talented player in the OHL draft class, even if he doesn’t always bring it.
10- Colorado- Mikhail Sergachev, D; The Avalanche land a big talent that has scouts divided on his overall defensive awareness, but may be at the top end of the skill factor in the OHL.
11- New Jersey- Tyson Jost, LW-C; Ray Shero blinks- he can’t believe Jost is on the board here, and after landing Pavel Zacha a year ago, grabs another potential elite forward bound for North Dakota in the spirit of one Zach Parise 13 years ago.
12- Ottawa- Michael McLeod C; The Senators are betting that McLeod’s blend of size, skating and smarts propels him to stardom up the middle, even with questions about his NHL upside.
13- Carolina- Clayton Keller, C; Small but dynamic center has major league potential as an uber-dangerous playmaker.
14- Boston- Dante Fabbro, D; Knowing what the Bruins tend to value in their players and what they need at this stage, this defender is right up their alley at 14.
15- Minnesota- Luke Kunin, C; St. Louis native did a great job as a freshman on a poor team- the sky’s the limit and the Wild can’t resist.
16- Detroit- Charlie McAvoy, D; A player who could just as easily go to Boston two picks earlier, if he’s still on the board here the Wings pounce.
17- Nashville- Jake Bean, D; The Predators know Bean has a high-end skill set and grab him with outstanding value at 17 where others had him projected inside the top-10.
18- Philadelphia- Kieffer Bellows, LW; Passed up by his hometown Wild, Bellows doesn’t have much time to dwell on it & makes sense as a fit in Philly with his deadly release and penchant for filling the net.
19- NY Islanders- Riley Tufte, RW; Big, massive, skates well, tremendous long-term promise and the Isles struck gold with Brock Nelson in Minnesota before, so why not take a big payoff project here?
20- Arizona via NYR- Julien Gauthier, RW Major concerns about hockey sense and a tepid second half after tearing it up early in the season mean that the Val d’Or standout slides, but he’s solid value here.
21- Carolina via LAK- Max Jones, LW; Speedy power forward has some nasty play that has gone over the line, but if the Hurricanes can harness that raw aggression- he could be one of those role guys you win with.
22- Winnipeg via CHI- Logan Stanley, D; When you pick Laine at 2, you can afford to take on more of a project player with your bonus 1st-rounder, and with Stanley’s size, skating and snarl- he looks like a solid bet to play even if he tops out as a mid-tier shutdown D.
23- Florida-German Rubtsov, C; The Russian forward in class is someone worth jumping on in the early 20’s and Dale Tallon does just that.
24- Anaheim-Tage Thompson, RW; Huge but raw with an upside that some in the NHL scouting community feels is too legit to quit, the UConn Husky becomes a part of the West Coast quack attack.
25- Dallas- Dennis Cholowski, D; It sure looks like the late-surging BCHL two-way defender is bound to land in the 1st round, and he looks like a good fit for the resurgent Stars under Jim Nill.
26- Washington- Pascal Laberge, C; Speedy and skilled, the Capitals need to find secondary scoring behind Ovechkin and Backstrom- this Victoriaville Tigre brings that in spades.
27- Tampa Bay- Brett Howden, C; Some say he looks a lot like his older brother, but this Howden seems to have more killer instinct and finish around the net. Stevie Y. will take it.
28- St. Louis- Lucas Johansen, D; With Kevin Shattenkirk likely to leave via trade, the Blues will look to infuse more offensive talent and potential with this latest product of the Kelowna D machine.
29- Boston via SJS- Markus Niemelainen, D; The B’s could go with a forward with their second pick like a surprise 1st-rounder in Wade Allison here, but if they add another 6-5 D who can really skate, this Finn will complement the right-shooting Brandon Carlo nicely at some point.
30- Anaheim via Toronto via PIT- Boris Katchouk, LW; Anaheim grabbed the big RW earlier, now they get the gritty, in-your-face and underrated Soo Greyhounds scorer at the end of the round after giving up Frederik Andersen to the Leafs. (Thanks to the readers who pointed out my mistake)
Alex DeBrincat drops out of the 1st round, but he won’t last long in the 2nd.
Okay- that’s it. I’m off to Buffalo.
Reminder- if you want breaking NHL draft news, picks, analysis and hot takes (or is it “taeks?”) give me a follow on Twitter: @kluedeke29 I might be able to get some Periscope action going as well, so look for that.
Will be on TSN 690 with my Red Line Report boss, Kyle Woodlief, with host Tony Marinaro this Friday, June 24, from 11-noon (Eastern) live from First Niagara Center to talk draft, draft and nothing but draft.
Will do some deeper dives on the draft at the blog in the coming days, but this is pretty much it until the big event, and even then- will just hit the wave tops, but keep checking in- I might have some Easter Eggs and surprises for you.
As we inch closer to the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, taking place in Buffalo on June 24-25, one name hockey fans (and draftniks in particular) are hearing a lot these days is that of Dante Fabbro.
The Vancouver-area native just wrapped up a stellar season in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees, where he was named that league’s top defender. The two-way threat posted 14 goals and 67 points in just 45 games, more than doubling his production from a season ago. Fabbro, who turns 18 in a few days, carried that success over to the 2016 World Under-18 Championship tournament in April, posting eight helpers in seven games and earning recognition as arguably the top defenseman in that high-level competition in Grand Forks, N.D.
“Obviously, the U-18 tournament wasn’t what we expected from the outcome,” the Boston University-bound Fabbro told the Scouting Post from his British Columbia home this week. “I think going into that tournament, I definitely wanted to prove myself from a player standpoint just to play against those CHL guys to see how they compared, so I thought the experience was pretty cool- playing against the top players there and then moving out- it’s the summer here, and I haven’t skated all that much- on the ice a couple of times, but I’ve been working out a lot and obviously, my focus was on the (NHL) combine to excel in that.”
Fabbro participated in the NHL’s formal “get to know you” event, held in Buffalo, where the higher-ranked draft prospects on Central Scouting’s rankings congregate to conduct interviews with teams over multiple days and then do fitness testing to measure just about every aspect of their athletic ability to include a medical evaluation.
“I talked to quite a few teams there,” he said. “It was pretty crazy but I think it was a unique experience in a sense that not a lot of kids get to enjoy that experience and see that kind of thing. It was good to go through that with and be around other guys I know and have played with and will be playing with or against next year made things a lot easier for sure.”
It was an eye-opening experience for him, meeting up with the various NHL staffs and seeing how the teams operate, his first taste of what could come for him. Ultimately, Fabbro doesn’t feel like there are all that many differences in the style and methods each club employ as part of the combine interview process, but was impressed at the level of professionalism and preparation he witnessed from the staffs he interacted with.
“The biggest thing I learned going through those interviews is that you just have to be yourself because they can see right through you and they know if you’re not being yourself,” he said. “You are who you are and they’re either going to like you or they’re not going to like you, so at the end of the day you gotta keep a cool head and be humble about the whole experience and learn from it. If they have advice, you should take it to heart and use it to get better, obviously continue from there.”
He continues to forge a close bond with Vees teammate and University of North Dakota recruit Tyson Jost, who like Fabbro, had an outstanding U-18 tourney and has likely parlayed that strong performance and a 100+-point season in the BCHL into top-10 draft billing.
“We had something to prove and that was our mindset going into the thing,” Fabbro said, hinting at his awareness of talk on the Internet mostly that because he and Jost are coming out of the BCHL, they somehow should be graded lower than other major junior or NCAA prospects in the draft. “Pretty much we were on a mission not only to prove ourselves but to show the BCHL isn’t just a league for players not to develop or who can’t play in the CHL, but they can develop anywhere because you have good coaches and players around you.”
That drive has caught the notice of observers around hockey and the NHL, regardless of where he’s played over the past several years.
“His compete is so impressive,” said a Western Conference team NHL scout recently when asked about Fabbro. “Set the talent and hockey sense aside for a second…some players talk about working hard and being consistent, he goes out and proves it every night.”
Fabbro is not exactly what you would call “big” by modern NHL standards- he’s hovering around 6-foot and perhaps a more generous 6-foot-1, but with an athletic build that has room to pack on more muscle as he physically matures. He’s not undersized, but that fact sometimes can get lost in the sauce a bit as the NHL is starting to trend up towards bigger, more mobile defenders along the likes of last year’s second-round B’s pick Brandon Carlo, or 2016 prospect Jakob Chychrun, both of whom stand about 6-5 but move extremely well.
“Fabbro’s not small by any stretch,” said one NHL scout who is based in B.C. and has followed the former eighth overall WHL bantam draft pick of the Seattle Thunderbirds closely for several years. “I would say he has more of a compact build, so while he’s not got that height and long reach and the natural physical strength that goes with, he compensates nicely because he’s such a phenomenally smart player. The way he processes the game is remarkable; he’s easily one of the most intelligent and decisive players I’ve seen at any level, and that poise and calm, especially in the face of a ferocious forecheck, is something you just can’t coach in a player. They either have that knack and the ability to see the ice and make the instinctive plays or they don’t. When it comes to escapability and just being able to transition the puck up the ice effortlessly, there aren’t many players who can do it better than he does it.”
For his part, Fabbro is pretty self-aware of what he does better than anything when it comes to hockey.
“The biggest thing for me is definitely my hockey IQ and the ability to see the ice, make passes under pressure. That’s how I’ve developed my game over the past couple of years, so I know there’s a lot of things I still need to learn and get better at but hockey IQ comes naturally to me and making the simple plays. I might make too simple a play sometimes and but it all goes back to the vision, IQ and being able to escape pressure.”
By the same token, there is room for improvement, and Fabbro has identified a couple of specific focus areas he’s going to address in the offseason.
“I’ve got to improve my speed,” he said in an answer that certainly surprised the Scouting Post because he shows off some pretty deft skating and footwork already. “I felt I lacked a little bit in my pivoting (and transitions). Obviously, my separation speed is good at skating up the ice, but hockey’s a game of time and space, so you have to put in the work to get better every day and be that much quicker and faster on the puck.
“So, I’ve been doing a lot of off-ice work this summer, and I’m about to get back into my on-ice training and try to get every last ounce of the workouts in and making them benefit before the draft and I head to Boston for summer school. I’m just making sure that I can prove myself not only as a player but as a human being as well. ”
Whether he ends up as a player who is even available to the Bruins when they pick at 14, and if he would be the player GM Don Sweeney and chief amateur scout Keith Gretzky call to the stage to put on the spoked-B and Boston draft cap, Fabbro will soon be known to area hockey fans as he prepares to join an impressive cast of characters on Commonwealth Avenue under head coach David Quinn.
“It was one of those things where it felt right, and in talking to Coach Quinn and (associate head coach) Albie (O’Connell) they seemed like genuine and trustworthy people who are building something special there,” Fabbro said. “I’m lucky to have a chance to play for and grow under guys like that for however long it takes me to make pro. I’m pretty appreciative of what they’ve done for me so far and I’m looking forward to the summer work and then obviously, the season ahead.
“Another thing in my decision was the recruits coming in- it’s a pretty high class of players coming in, plus the players already there. The big thing for me in deciding on BU was the knowledge that it would be a challenge to remain in any position in a lineup like that, and to be surrounded by such good players and coaches can only be positive for my own development. You’re always going to have that challenge no matter where you play, and there’s always going to be someone better than you, so you want to try and beat them at whatever you can.”
And, having grown up outside of one of Canada’s biggest and most beautiful cities, there was something about Boston that drew him in, even if it meant being thousands of miles away from friends and family.
“What’s not to love about Boston? It’s a college town, it’s a sports city- there’s Fenway Park right around the corner, there’s TD Garden…it’s a place that I just connected with right away on my visit and is definitely the whole package for sure.”
There’s an old adage that talks about players having tools (size, skating, shot- all the physical attributes you need to play in the NHL) but no toolbox (hockey sense, ability to think the game), so in Fabbro’s case, he’s blessed with both. There is little doubt that if he were a couple of inches taller and had perhaps opted to play in the WHL, he’d be in the discussion with Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine for top billing. Having said that, Fabbro isn’t concerned about the various opinions about his projections and where he might or might not go in the draft and what is long-term potential in the NHL is at present.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that I’m not someone to take any crap but I’m pretty subtle in how I go about things and I think before I act,” he said. “I’m not someone who is going to act out or put my team in a tough spot, and I try to approach most situations like that by making sure I control what I can. I’m a pretty relaxed guy but when the competition starts, I ramp it up and I am how you see me. When people get to know me, I speak a little bit but I’m there for my team and that competitiveness shows.”
It’s more proof at a player who is mature beyond his years and grounded. However, at the end of the day- what gets you to the NHL and keeps you there is ability. Fabbro has the building blocks, but he also appears to possess the drive and want to that could propel him to big league success one day.
“There’s still lots of work ahead of us,” he said of himself and Jost, but in reality, was speaking for every member of the 2016 NHL draft class. “The big thing with us is that we’re dedicated and obviously want to get results. We’re striving for more every day and we continue to get better.”
The Dante Fabbro file
Height/Wt (RLR): 6-0, 190; Shoots: Right
Born: June 20, 1998 in
2015-16 club: Penticton Vees (BCHL)
Minor hockey program: Burnaby Winter Hockey Club
Favorite NHL team growing up: Vancouver Canucks
NHL player he most tries to emulate: Duncan Keith
Scouting report: Elite hockey sense, some of the best of any player in the 2016 draft: panoramic vision allows him to survey entire ice surface, instantly process and activate at right times. Pushes the pace with quick feet and effortless skating. Quick hands and a knack for delivering on-target passes at any range. Driven and competitive…a leader…mature and poised. Not overly physical but smart defensively and knows how to angle opponents away from skating lanes. Has everything you want in a top NHL defender except for ideal size. Working to add mass to his frame and increase power on shot along with pivots and transitions.
Quotable: “Dante Fabbro is probably fifth on the list for many teams, but we love his off-the-charts hockey sense and character. For that reason, we think he’s the safest bet of the bunch to be an intelligent two-way contributor who plays 10-12 years and eats huge minutes while playing on both special teams. He almost never makes a mistake or a bad decision, has great positioning, and has tremendous vision and passing skills. He lacks a dangerous point shot, though.”- Kyle Woodlief, USA Today June 15, 2016
Every year, Red Line Report chief scout (my boss) Kyle Woodlief, puts out an article on USA Today that breaks down the top players at every position.
Here is this year’s offering of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft forwards and it shows a top-10 chock full of talent. This gets back to what I was talking about on the recent Days of Y’Orr podcast, when I was contrasting last year and how the top-3 defenders were a given to come off the board inside the top-10. This time, if Boston wants a top defenseman, they might get him by simply standing pat and waiting for their turn at 14 because there are so many intriguing forwards in an impressive group at the top.
Here’s the article and you’ll notice that Kyle mentions Tri-City Storm right wing (and Western Michigan University recruit) Wade Allison as the sleeper. He’s bang on- Allison is surging up draft lists after a dominant second half and big time USHL playoffs en route to the league championship and playoff MVP honors. Allison has size, skating, a very nice shot and the spirit/character to be a future leader. I don’t like to make comparisons- but he reminds me of Joe Pavelski in that he comes off like one of those guys who ratchets up his play in big moments. Who doesn’t want someone like that? And, a team could very well grab Allison in the 1st round when all is said and done.
It says a lot about the quality at the top of this draft class when guys like Clayton Keller, Kieffer Bellows, Julien Gauthier and Alex DeBrincat don’t even make it in the top-10 up front.
For those who aren’t that keen on the Boston Bruins, this podcast is for you!
In it, I break down some of the top talents in this year’s class- where they’re probably going and also discuss some risers (Luke Kunin, Dennis Cholowski are just two).
We’re about 2 weeks out and the combine is in the books, so more and more info will start to leak out. Is it legit? Is it deception operations from teams looking to distract away from the guys they want?
June is finally here and in addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins being up 3 games to 1 in the Stanley Cup Final series against the San Jose Sharks, it means that the NHL Entry Draft is about 2 weeks away.
TSP founder’s note- Truth in lending- going to plug a product here, and for those who might not be aware, I am a member of the staff that produced it, so this is not an objective product review. As long as you’re okay with that, read on…
The 2016 draft previews and guides are out. Red Line Report’s 22nd annual draft issue arrived in mail boxes yesterday (or today if you’re further away from Lake Placid) and you can also order it on pdf at a $50 fee.
Why so expensive?
Well, for one- Red Line Report is an independent hockey scouting service founded by professionals and designed for professionals. There are no bells and whistles- no photos, statistics or any of the eye candy that you want in a classic magazine format publication. What you are paying for is hard information and scouting reports, insider notes and analysis on players that RLR scouts (all of whom have proven hockey backgrounds either as players or analysts) have all seen *live* in multiple viewings.
Back in the mid-1990s, several smart hockey men (one of whom is a D1 NCAA hockey head coach) realized that there was no existing professional journal for hockey insiders, and thus Red Line was born- with an idea of providing hard news and notes on players and prospects that might be of interest to various team executives, staffers and coaches. The original RLR did not exist in the format that it does today, but by 1997, it was becoming increasingly more of a deeper dive into NHL draft prospects than what the public typically saw from the annual Hockey News draft preview issues published every spring since 1984.
When Nashville Predators scout Kyle Woodlief left his position in 1998, he had previously done work for Red Line before his NHL scouting job and saw an opportunity to bring his vision to life. Woodlief purchased the publication and immediately set about shaping RLR into the NHL’s unofficial 31st team- running his staff like an NHL team does and building an annual amateur player ranking very similarly to the way the 30 pro hockey clubs do.
As such, RLR never, ever uses our inside knowledge to put players on our list where we think they *might* get drafted- we rank the players from top to bottom based on how we see it, and that’s why a player like Boston University defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who very well could be a top-10 selection in Buffalo and should fall no lower than 15-18 in a few weeks, is currently ranked just outside our first round. This is nothing against McAvoy, who has the makings of a good player, we’re just not convinced he’s better than the 30-odd players we have ranked ahead of him. Sometimes we’re spot on, and other times- not so much. But you can say that about 100% of the NHL teams out there and every individual who has claimed to be a draft analyst- no one has a perfect track record…that’s just not how the world works.
In the near two decades that Woodlief has owned RLR, he’s helped more than 10 of his staffers land scouting jobs with NHL teams. All 30 NHL clubs currently subscribe to Red Line’s professional season-long service along with myriad junior, NCAA and other pro clubs. When it comes to independent scouting, RLR is the recognized standard. That is not to say the other draft publications aren’t, but I’ll let them make their own cases to the marketplace. I know the people involved, and there is mutual respect there.
So, what are you getting for your $50?
For starters- the Red Line business model is simple: less is more.
Our draft guide is just 32 pages because we know that there is such a thing as paralysis by analysis. If you want more product, then there are other options out there worth exploring, but we won’t expand our guide to compete, because we believe in our approach- largely unaltered since 1999.
Inside, you get our draft list of players from 1 (Auston Matthews) to 312 (Julien Tessier). Yes, we know there are only 211 draft spots (2014 1st-rounder Conner Bleakley’s re-entry means that Phoenix gets a 2nd-round comp pick for him after acquiring his rights but not signing him by June 1), but we see a lot of players, so there is no harm in building a more robust base list, which helps teams with a perspective as they finalize their own lists.
Of those 312 listed players in RLR, we do in-depth scouting reports on the top-116. These scouting reports are typically around 120 words a pop, so you’re not going to get a lot of repetitive language to describe how crisply a player’s edging contributes to his game. We know your time is precious, so we get to the point and cover the gamut of what a player does and what we think he can be at the pro level one day. Every profile comes with an NHL projection of what kind of contribution we think he’ll make (if he makes it) and an NHL player comparison.
Also in the guide-
— 2 mock drafts in which Kyle and yours truly attempt to determine what the 2016 first round will look like. These mocks are very different from our own list because in it, we *are* using our inside info in certain spots to predict what teams will draft whom where. For example- McAvoy is a top-20 pick in both.
— A comprehensive team needs analysis to assist you with what we think each NHL club is lacking and how some of those needs might factor into their draft strategy.
— A European free agent roundup. Some players on our list have already been signed to NHL deals and we list them out. Other European vets are available, so it gives you the reader a head start should your favorite NHL team snap one up between now and the September start of training camp.
— The 2017 NHL draft top-67. This is how we see things some 400 days before next year’s draft and a lot can change. In our 2015 draft guide, here’s what our top-5 looked like:
1- Auston Matthews
2- Jakob Chychrun
3- Jesse Puljujarvi
4- Logan Brown
5- Jake Bean
One year later, all five of those guys are in the running for top-10 selections, with Matthews a cinch to be No. 1 overall and Puljujarvi very likely going 3rd. Truth in lending- we whiffed on Patrik Laine, who was 48 in June 2015- that had much more to do with a lack of work ethic and maturity last year, but he proved us all wrong and is a firm No. 2 on our 2016 draft guide list. Oh, and B’s fans- we had Dante Fabbro at 7th overall a year ago (and he’s pretty close to that ranking in June 2016), so don’t let anyone tell you he wasn’t highly regarded coming into the season- that’s bunk.
— Finally, our draft guide has its annual “special categories and awards” section, where we rank the most underrated, overrated, best and worst skaters, scorers…best character guys, toughest, and then those who we find lacking for one reason or another. When you hear people (agents?) complain about RLR, this is usually at the crux of the matter, but this is something that is as much a part of the draft guide as jelly is with peanut butter on a sandwich.
So…that’s the pitch.
$50 is a lot to spend on any publication and our product is not for everyone. But again- if you are a hard core hockey and draft enthusiast, and you want what the pros use (true story- sat next to Blues scout and HHOFer Al MacInnis on a flight to Pittsburgh and when I introduced myself as a RLR staffer, he pulled out our draft guide), then it’s a good investment. (Yes, tooting the own horn here, but it’s an honest statement- NHL guys read RLR)
You can order the guide (sans subscription) a la carte at the aforementioned price by going to http://www.redlinereport.com or by simply calling Kyle at 518-523-4289 and placing your order. If the year-long subscription interests you, there are several options you can choose from. And when you get Mr. Woodlief on the phone, tell him Kirk sent you. I won’t get anything more than a boot in the backside when the staff meets up in Buffalo for the draft, but at least he’ll know I’m working for a living.
Up next on the blog- will do a Boston Bruins draft strategy analysis for you, whereby I will attempt to break down the team’s philosophy and what I believe they need and how that all dovetails into what they will do in Buffalo.
As we finalize the Stanley Cup semi-finalists, with San Jose and Nashville duking it out in Game 7 tonight on the West Coast, I’ll expand the mock to cover all 30 1st-rounders, but for now, I had done this on another forum and will post it here.
A couple of notes- mock drafts are fun, but this one obviously needs a lot of work and as we get closer to June, certain picks will come more into focus. After all, we still have the Memorial Cup to get to.
In the meantime, a Twitter user had asked me to do something like this, so thank AJ/@fantefuturist for this first of several versions of a mock draft for next month’s big event in Buffalo.
1. Toronto- Auston Matthews, C- The talk about fantastic Finn Patrik Laine being selected here is intriguing, but ultimately, Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello are all about rebuilding the Leafs franchise- and getting a potential No. 1 cornerstone center is the way they’ll go.
2. Winnipeg- Patrik Laine, LW- The Jets jumped into the top-2 from 6 and the breaks continue to go this franchise’s way. They have one of the more robust scouting staffs and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been willing to spend a lot of money on drafting and development- they’re about to hit a homerun with a future 40-goal man who will fire up the already fanatical Winnipeg fanbase for years to come.
3. Columbus- Jesse Puljujarvi, RW- Another team to jump up and push the Edmonton Oilers out of the top-three, even if GM Jarmo Kekalainen wasn’t a Finn, they’d be taking this high-end forward with size and skill who is deadly on the PP. Speaking of the GM, some might not remember this, but he was a bit of a thorn in Edmonton’s side when he was with the Bruins for a cup of coffee during the 1989-90 season (11 games), scoring his only 2 goals of the year against Bill Ranford.
4. Edmonton- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW- There’s talk that Peter Chiarelli will deal this pick to get some higher-end D help, as the Oilers don’t really need another early draft pick. But if they stand pat, they get a well-rounded forward with a high ceiling that might allow them to move other players up front for a good return.
5. Vancouver- Matt Tkachuk, LW- If the Oilers (or whomever sits at No. 4) takes Dubois, then Tkachuk here is about as no-brainer a pick as there is. He had an outstanding year in the OHL and is a coveted package of productive power forwards and big-name bloodlines. Can’t imagine Keith’s kid slipping out of the top-5.
6. Calgary- Jakob Chychrun, D- At one time thought of as a cinch to be taken No. 2 overall, he’s still the best defenseman in the draft and the top talent available here to the Flames. They don’t hesitate to add a potential cornerstone after falling out of the top-5.
7. Arizona- Olli Juolevi, D- The Desert Dogs address a need and a top player on the board. Juolevi’s buzz is quite high among the NHL scouting community and it makes sense that he goes here. If the Flames opt for Juolevi at 6, then Chychrun is probably the pick here.
8. Buffalo- Alex Nylander, RW- The Sabres grab another high-end winger to go with their marquee center in Jack Eichel. Nylander is a sexy name with a high ceiling, and the Sabres will swing for the fences here, even if Nylander might be one of those players who feasts on weaker competition but has trouble getting it done against better opponents and in tighter checking games.
9. Monteal- Mikhail Sergachev, D- If they don’t take Logan Brown here, the Habs will look to find a potential key D to fill a void if they eventually opt to move on from PK Subban. The Habs like their Russian D and Sergachev has the talent to be better than anyone they’ve had in recent memory.
10. Colorado- Clayton Keller, C- After a strong U-18 performance, Keller’s stock is up and he could end up being the second-best center in the entire draft class when all is said and done.
11. New Jersey- Jake Bean, D- The Devils could use help just about anywhere, but they go high-end scoring defender here…24 goals is 24 goals and he’ll kill the interviews, too.
12. Ottawa -Tyson Jost, LW- The Senators get good value from this electric forward who lit up the U-18s and looks like a future NHL fixture on the left side.
13. Carolina- Logan Brown, C- Just a hunch, but the Hurricanes are hurting for centers, and I could see them being enamored with Brown’s tremendous size and skill set. The ‘Canes are hurting for centers, and their GM (who knows the value of a 2-way guy up the middle) pounce on the Windsor product who was born in NC when his dad played there. Win-win.
14. Boston- Dante Fabbro, D- Even with Charlie McAvoy on the board and a choice between the two similar BU (with Fabbro headed there this fall) blue liners, the B’s will go with the more complete D-man in Fabbro. Assuming, that is, they hold onto this pick and don’t trade it for NHL help at the position.
Guys who could crack top-14:
Michael McLeod, C Charlie McAvoy, D Julien Gauthier, LW Luke Kunin, C Kieffer Bellows, LW
Well, it was long shot that the Boston Bruins could move from 14 to the top-3, but in the spirit of (Lloyd) Christmas, the Black and Gold faithful were hoping the lottery balls would come up with a spoked-B. The NHL went gaga with its lottery show, but it didn’t do much to generate a lot of excitement when the top-three teams were finally drawn.
Boston fans holding out hope for a draft miracle found there was no such luck, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were rewarded with their ineptitude, as they come away with the top choice. They’re all but sure to grab franchise center-in-waiting Auston Matthews.
The Winnipeg Jets continued to have some breaks go their way- a year ago they were an upstart playoff team only to crash to earth this season. They’re going to add another fabulous Finn to the ‘Peg in the form of Patrik Laine. Yes, it’s a different franchise (Teemu Selanne’s records reside with the Arizona Coyotes) but the thought of a Nikolaj Ehlers-Mark Scheifele-Laine line has to be getting the Jets giddy.
Once again the Blue Jackets are picking high and given GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s background, Columbus won’t hesitate to bring Jesse Puljujarvi to the Buckeye State.
Of course- the Edmonton Oilers didn’t win the lottery this time. They’re only picking fourth. They can take their choice of a d-man or stick with BPA and add either Matt Tkachuk or Pierre-Luc Dubois to their growing stable of high-end forwards.
Vancouver rounds out the top-five.
We’re less than 60 days out…bring on Buffalo and the 2016 NHL Entry Draft! (Did I really just say bring on Buffalo?)
Rob O’Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (Photo courtesy of Rob O’Gara)
It was an interesting Monday, as the Scouting Post blog got wind that Boston Bruins prospect and defenseman Rob O’Gara is expected to sign with the team this week. He will make it official by putting pen to paper after concluding his NCAA career with Yale University in a 3-2 OT loss to the University of Massachusetts- Lowell on Saturday night.
O’Gara signing with the B’s is the next step in a six-year journey that began in the fall of 2010 when the Long Island native left home to play prep hockey in Massachusetts for the Milton Academy Mustangs (ISL). He helped lead his team to the 2011 New England Prep Stuart-Corkery Elite 8 championship as a big, mobile and smart shutdown defender. He ended up being the final pick of the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the hometown Bruins, who obviously took note of him while he played in their backyard. Since then, he played one more year of prep at Milton (he was the captain in 2011-12), and then spent the previous four seasons with Yale, a key member of the Elis 2013 NCAA title team as a freshman.
While O’Gara has not officially signed with Boston yet, a source close to the situation said that family advisor Matt Keator is working with the team and it is expected to get done soon. Whether he will go to the AHL to finish out the season with Providence or remain in school to close out the semester and start fresh in the fall of 2016 with his first pro training camp (as Brian Ferlin did two springs ago) remains to be seen and is part of the details that are being worked.
It was a disappointing statistical season for O’Gara, but to simply look at the numbers would be to ignore the tremendous amount of playing time he received and how effective he was in myriad situations for Yale. They were one of the top defensive teams in the nation and needed to be, because offense was an adventure from night to night. O’Gara was named the 2015 ECAC defensive defenseman of the year and is a fluid, intelligent rearguard who can move the puck to the right spots on the ice and while isn’t an overly aggressive hitter, uses his size and reach to very good effect. He and Brandon Carlo could become a sort of “twin towers” combination if you will- two tall (O’Gara is 6-4, Carlo 6-5), agile/mobile and very tough to beat players in their own end.
It’s too early to project where O’Gara will fit in and whether he could earn minutes with the big club next season or might need to spend at least a year or more in the AHL further developing his already mature game. However, he’s a guy who has literally grown up in the Bruins organization, as he turned 18 on the day he reported to Wilmington for his very first Boston development camp in 2011 and has progressed impressively each year since. He’s probably not one of those higher-end two-way threats that earn the distinction of being a top NHL defenseman, but O’Gara could eventually become a solid top-four, minute-munching, shutdown and character player that you win with. To get him at the end of round five is fine value in itself. His college coach, Keith Allain, called him the “best defenseman in college hockey,” last week. Sure, there’s bias there, but Allain knows defensemen and he’s probably not too far off the mark in the purest sense of the word.
Conversely, the Nashville Predators did not get the same kind of good news B’s fans can smile at today.
Earlier this evening, Hall of Fame hockey reporter and analyst Bob McKenzie tweeted that Jimmy Vesey’srepresentatives had informed GM David Poile and the Nashville Predators that he would not negotiate an entry-level contract and would instead elect to pursue free agency and control his own destination as of August 15.
For the Predators and their fans, this is a tough blow. Vesey was originally passed over in 2011 coming out of prep hockey with Belmont Hill despite a productive season. He was heavily recruited by USHL teams but opted to stay close to home and his family in Massachusetts, playing for Scott Harlow and the South Shore Kings in the final season of the EJHL before the league morphed into the USPHL. In 2011-12, Vesey engaged in a scorched earth campaign to terrorize opponents, shattering the EJHL’s single season scoring records with 48 goals and 91 points in 45 games. He was the New England Hockey Journal’s top-ranked player coming out of New England for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but wasn’t picked until the third round (66th overall) and after Brian Hart and Sam Kurker both went in the second round. He played with speed, skill and a deadly scoring attitude. Vesey played with a giant chip on his shoulder and it even seemed that all year he was giving one giant middle finger to all 30 NHL teams that passed on him the previous June in St. Paul. In Pittsburgh a year later, Nashville was the first to step up and say “We believe in you”- and most figured that he would eventually make his way to Music City.
But that was before he emerged as one of college hockey’s most dominant players. It didn’t happen right away, but once it did…
Vesey went on to win a gold medal in 2013 with Team USA at the World Jr. Championship tourney despite modest freshman year numbers at Harvard- 11 goals and 18 points in 27 games. He exploded as a junior, scoring 32 goals in 37 NCAA games and finishing as runner-up to fellow Bay Stater Jack Eichel for the 2015 Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey’s top player. Nashville had seen enough and wanted him to come out and sign then, but Vesey opted to remain in school and return as the Crimson’s captain for his senior year. This season, the goals weren’t as prolific and he carried a heavy burden of getting much of the defensive attention on him whenever Harvard played.
Vesey also got asked the question a lot about whether he would sign with the team that owned his rights or leverage the rare right that few aspiring pro hockey players have to choose their own NHL destination. That had to weigh on the kid, whose real desire was trying to get back to the NCAA and help Harvard win a title for the first time since his head coach, Ted Donato, was a sophomore on the team in 1989.
This column’s purpose is not to debate or pick apart the provision in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that allows college seniors to pass up all the money on the table that a team owning their rights offers and choose to sign somewhere else. We saw it last year with Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly. We saw it in August 2014 with Boston College’s Kevin Hayes, who could have won a Stanley Cup as a rookie had he signed with the team that drafted him- the Chicago Blackhawks. He instead went to the NY Rangers. Before that, it was Justin Schultz and Blake Wheeler,who in 2008 originally leveraged the loophole to be a free agent if not signed four full years after being drafted. Of course- you all know who Wheeler signed with after being the fifth overall selection of the (then) Phoenix Coyotes.
Vesey is the latest high-profile player to go the free agency route, and per the NHL’s CBA, he’s well within his rights to do it. This is America (and Canada), after all. If you believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then you ought not take issue with Vesey’s choice.
If nothing else, it’s going to give hockey people a lot to talk about in mid-August, but it’s no consolation to the Nashville Predators- Poile and assistant GM Paul Fenton but also the scouting staff and player development staff that invested heavily in Vesey: former CM defenseman (and 1994 first-rounder) Jeff Kealty, who is a Massachusetts guy. They’re all left holding the bag and get nothing- not even a compensatory pick, because unlike Hayes, Vesey was not a first-round selection, so there is no provision in the CBA to compensate a club that loses out on a high-profile prospect like him. The NHL should look at this. Vesey is perfectly within his right to pursue this action, but shouldn’t Nashville get some kind of return on their investment? Even if it is a mid-to-late pick?
The Tennessean’s Adam Vingan, and old press box buddy of mine when were were both covering the Washington Capitals circa 2009-12 (to this day, the title of his Caps blog “Kings of Leonsis” gets a chuckle out of me- he’s a gifted writer and hard worker) has more details on the story and is worth following on Twitter- not just for the Vesey stuff but for a good pulse on what is going on in Smash-ville.
Vingan’s Twitter feed indicates that Poile and company really believed that Vesey was going to sign…until informed today that he wasn’t. That’s the business of hockey and only Vesey and those closest to him know why he opted to pass on a pretty good situation in Nashville: the team is one of the hottest in hockey and was prepared to give him a top-9 spot coming right out of the disappointment of losing to Boston College Friday night in the first NCAA tourney game after losing out to Quinnipiac for the ECAC championship.
Here is part of the statement given by Poile to Nashville media during the second intermission of their game tonight (taken from @Adam Vingan via David Boclair of the Nashville Post @BoclairSports):
So, after nearly four years in the organization, Nashville rolled the dice and came up snake eyes. Where will Vesey go is now the burning question.
The Toronto Maple Leafs make a whole lot of sense purely for the family reasons than many are away: both his dad (a Townie who starred at Merrimack College before becoming a part-time Blues and Bruins forward is now an area scout for the Leafs) and brother Nolan, (drafted in 2014) are part of the TML organization. Beyond that, you have Lou Lamoriello and Brendan Shanahan running the front office and head coach Mike Babcock for credibility and the rebuild with some impressive foundational blocks already in place. The team cleared the decks of bad contracts to make a splash in free agency come July 1st and have the assets in place to maybe pull off a blockbuster trade to bring in some legitimate new blood to revitalize the sad sack Leafs, who might also get a kid named Auston Matthews in Buffalo come June. Would Toronto have coin left over to throw Vesey’s way come mid-August? You can bet dollars to (Tim Horton’s) doughnuts they will. It’s one of the few situations you could see a kid like Vesey looking at and making the tough call to say “No thanks” to a situation like Nashville.
I have little doubt it was a difficult decision.
So, let the recriminations begin…that is also the business of hockey. It isn’t fair, but that’s the way things go in life. It isn’t fair to the Predators, who will likely get criticized for not trading Vesey’s rights when they had a chance. It’s not that simple, but it’s bound to come out in some circles. It isn’t fair to Vesey, who will likely get criticized for not showing loyalty to the Predators organization, but he’s not the only one who’s followed this path and it’s doubtful he’ll be the last.
No team can talk to Vesey until August 15. Nashville could theoretically get him to change his mind, too- they have until then to do that. If not, then once their hold on him expires, he’s free to sign a deal with a new suitor. Will it be Toronto? Could he come home to Boston? Is there another team out there lying in the weeds waiting to swoop in and offer him max dollars and the lure of opportunity?
That’s what we’ll all have to wait to find out.
In the meantime, it appears that sticking with the team that picked him was good enough for O’Gara, and for that- the Bruins are grateful. However, unless or until the NHL can address the NCAA rules in the collective bargaining agreement and how player rights are handled at present, there will be a buyer beware tag associated with kids either drafted out of the college ranks or headed there.
The Bruins now have a pair of high-profile later collegiate picks that have stuck by their team in O’Gara (who admittedly has yet to make it official- will feel better once he signs on the dotted line) and Zane McIntyre, who gave up a year of eligibility to sign with Boston last summer. Slightly different circumstances, but because of when the team had drafted him (2010), he could have pursued free agency. His only decision was whether to sign with the Bruins (which he did) or stay in school, but like Nashville, the B’s could have looked on helplessly as he said “no thanks,” and pursued opportunities with a different Johnny-Come-Lately organization.
This is why relationships and player development is so important. That’s not to say Nashville didn’t invest that with Vesey- they did. But loyalty is a two-way street and at least in the case of O’Gara and McIntyre, they felt strongly enough about the time spent in the organization and the roots they had put down over the summers when they were able to work with the coaches, and then during the seasons when team officials visited them and in between, to stick with the team that brought them to the dance.
But not every story may turn out the same way in Boston, so let this serve perhaps as a cautionary tale going forward. It may also create a climate in which NCAA teams will pay the price through the law of unintended consequences, as NHL clubs might sign their kids away from those college teams earlier than ever to prevent this kind of thing from happening.
TSP put out on March 12 that Danton Heinen was going to turn pro after the season and I stand by that report (with multiple source input). Although the kid himself has said no decision has been made yet, and I respect that given his team is in the Frozen Four happening in a couple of weeks, all that’s left to do is for the ink to dry on his NHL contract. If the Bruins had any thoughts about not signing their 2014 fourth-rounder before, you can rest assured those doubts are gone now.
If only every decision were that simple.
Rob O’Gara looks on during an on-ice session at the 2014 Boston Bruins development camp (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)