Boston Bruins cult heroes: Dean Chynoweth

With summer about to arrive, we’re still weeks away from the return of NHL training camps, so it’s time for another entry in the Bruins cult hero series with defenseman Dean Chynoweth, former 1st-round pick and depth defenseman who played just 94 career games with the B’s out of 241 career NHL contests, but was known for his toughness and willingness to pay the price for the team. He’s held numerous coaching jobs in junior and pro hockey, and is currently one of Rod Brind’Amour’s assistants with the Carolina Hurricanes. Much of this piece is lifted from an interview I conducted with Chynoweth in 2001, when he was head coach of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, and we had a chance meeting at the NHL draft in Sunrise, FL.- KL

When you think of the Boston Bruins, Dean Chynoweth’s name won’t be on the tip of your tongue.

The hard-nosed defenseman only played a total of 94 games with the team, scoring 2 goals and 10 points while totaling 259 minutes in penalties.  However, in his short time with the club, Chynoweth fit the traditional Bruin stereotype of a hockey player who battled hard for his team any given night, and while perhaps not the most talented, played the sport with toughness, tenacity and honesty.

Continue reading

May 15, 1967: Schmidt, Bruins pull off the “most lopsided trade in NHL history”

Espo Hodge

As the 1966-67 season concluded, significant change was about to happen in the National Hockey League, as it prepared to double in size from six teams to twelve. Expansion meant the end of the NHL’s Original Six era, but at the same time, something special was brewing in Boston.

After years of waiting in eager anticipation, the sad-sack Bruins and the club’s fans were rewarded with the 18-year-old hockey prodigy Robert Gordon “Bobby” Orr. The precocious blueliner arrived to remarkable fanfare in an age well before the proliferation of the internet and social media, more than living up to the hype that followed him down from Canada. Having been touted as a player who could help reverse Boston’s fortunes on ice, the rookie Orr took no time to establish himself in the NHL, going on to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best first-year player. However, superb as Orr’s performance was, hockey is a team game, and he was just one man. His presence alone was not enough to secure a finish better than fifth for the first time since 1959.

The Bruins had been moribund for the entire decade of the 1960’s, finishing sixth, or last in the field five of seven years before Orr suited up for his first professional game. Prior to that, the B’s had not won a Stanley Cup championship since 1941, the season before the league’s Original Six era began in 1942-43. Long gone were the championships authored by stalwarts like Eddie Shore, Aubrey ‘Dit’ Clapper, Cecil ‘Tiny’ Thompson, Lionel Hitchman, Milt Schmidt and Frank ‘Mr. Zero’ Brimsek. An entire generation had grown up in Boston without a championship in hockey, and the pressure was on to make the team competitive again. Or, at the very least, get out of the shadow of a powerhouse they shared the Boston Garden with.

Continue reading

Bruins prospect interview: Kyle Keyser

Dominic Tiano did the bulk of the work here to do up the background post and track B’s undrafted free agent goaltender Kyle Keyser. We’re both glad to give you the most current update on a player who came from a non-traditional hockey market, but who played his junior hockey with one of the OHL’s most storied franchises- the Oshawa Generals. The Gennies, who most recently won the Memorial Cup in 2015, are responsible for producing some of the top Boston Bruins players in franchise history: Rick Middleton, Terry O’Reilly, Wayne Cashman, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton and…Bobby Orr. Without further ado, enjoy this post and interview about one of the more unheralded prospects in the B’s organization. With Tuukka Rask firmly entrenched as the No. 1, but getting a little long in the tooth, the Bruins must start looking to the future in net, and Keyser deserves greater attention despite not having been drafted.- KL

Goalie #38 Kyle Keyser of the Oshawa Generals

Photo: Brandon Taylor/OHL Images

A future NHL goaltender from Coral Springs Florida?

Hockey was gaining steam in Florida and more and more youngsters were getting into the game at the time Boston Bruins prospect Kyle Keyser was. But very few were willing to strap on the pads with visions of guarding the 4 X 6 cage at the National Hockey League level.

Keyser finds himself at the doorstep, but it has not been the traditional route you see goalkeepers take.

As a 14-year-old, Keyser made the move to Michigan to play Bantam AAA hockey for Belle Tire for the 2013-14 season. The following year, Keyser guarded the net for the Victory Honda Under-16 team. He even got into a game for the Under-18 squad and all he did was shut the door stopping every shot he faced.

Prior to the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, Oshawa Generals General Manager Roger Hunt had his sights set on drafting Keyser and made no secret about it. But the Flint Firebirds selected Keyser with the fourth round, 74th overall, four spots before the Generals would make their selection.

Keyser would appear in 17 games during his rookie season and was named the Ivan Tennant Memorial Award as the top academic high school player.

But prior to the 2016-17 season, Keyser asked for a trade and there was no doubt Hunt would get his netminder. Hunt would give Flint back their own second round pick at the 2017 Priority Selection to acquire Keyser.

Keyser’s NHL draft year was his first with the Generals where he posted a 3.41 goals-against-average and .891 save-percentage. And much like it has been throughout his career, his numbers are always better in the playoffs as he posted a 2.37 goals-against-average and .937 save-percentage- A true money goaltender.

Many independent scouting services had him ranked for the NHL Draft. NHL Central Scouting had him 11th among North American goaltenders. Yours Truly had him as the third ranked goaltender from the OHL behind Michael DiPietro (Round 3, 64th overall – Vancouver Canucks) and Matthew Villalta (Round 3, 72nd overall – Los Angeles Kings).

No one really knows why NHL GM’s didn’t call his name at the draft. However, the NHL CBA allows teams to sign undrafted prospects to an Entry Level Contract prior to the start of the NHL season and on October 3, 2017 Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney did just that, inking Keyser to a 3-year deal. The Bruins saw enough of Keyser to make the decision an easy one that season as they drafted Keyser’s Oshawa teammate Jack Studnicka in the second round, 53rd overall.

The 2018-19 season saw Keyser take his game to yet another level, having his best regular season to date. But as I said earlier, Keyser is a money goaltender and during the Generals playoff run stood on his head leading his team to playoff wins over the rival Peterborough Petes and the heavily favoured Niagara IceDogs. It was going to take a miracle to win the Conference Finals over the Ottawa 67’s and few, if any, gave the Generals any chance of winning the series. Keyser had the best playoff save-percentage in 25 years heading into the series. But Keyser gave his teammates just that – a chance. The best performance I had ever seen from Keyser was in game 4 of that series. Leading 1-0 going into the third period and his team being outshot 24 – 18, Keyser put on a performance to be remembered during the third period as the 67’s pelted the netminder with 19 shots while the Generals mustered just 4.

But with less then 3 minutes remaining in the third, things fell apart in front of Keyser. William Ennis took the dreaded delay of game penalty and just a minute later, Nico Gross took a checking to the head penalty leaving the Gennies two men down. With DiPietro on the bench for an extra attacker and skating 6 on 3, Keyser turned aside chance after chance and tracked the puck like a bat tracks an insect.

With just 34 seconds remaining, Tye Felhaber would tie the game and send it into overtime. Still on the powerplay, Felhaber would win it just 20 seconds into overtime.

With junior hockey in the rearview, Keyser completed his first season of hockey with limited action in Providence of the AHL and Atlanta of the ECHL, looking forward to the 2020-21 as a springboard to his continued development.

Kirk and I had the chance to talk to Keyser in a question and answer session:

The Scouting Post: With all that is going on in the world today, first off, I hope you and your family are staying safe and well, have you begun any offseason training or will that come later on in the summer?

Kyle Keyser: Fortunately, with all the craziness going on in todays society, my family and I have been fortunate to be staying healthy amongst the uncertainty and challenging times that we face in the world today. It has obviously been disappointing to all of us with the season being postponed and not being able to be at the rink every day with the boys. I have started my off-season training with as many resources as I have available with keeping a conscious mind of prioritizing staying smart and healthy with workouts at my home. We have an excellent strength coach in Providence with Timmy Lebossiere, which he has been providing us at home workouts to stay heathy and in shape during these trying times. I’ve been working out 6 days a week trying to maintain good levels of strength and conditioning through his programs but the actual hard training aspect of summer won’t begin until things have resolved or slowed down with COVID-19.

TSP: Your path so far is not what you’d call a typical one, especially for a goaltender. What, as a kid from Coral Springs Florida, got you into the game and what possessed you to become a goaltender? Which goaltender did you admire growing up and do you try and model your game after him?

KK: Growing up in south Florida is not a traditional path for most people but has really allowed me to evolve into the person and goaltender that I am today. I grew up around the rinks as my older brother, Spencer, got into the game at a young age so it was natural for me to be around hockey all the time as I grew up and I fell in love with it around 3 years old and never stopped looking forward. I grew up idolizing Martin Brodeur as my favorite goalie and he was the person I constantly watched as I was growing up. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really started to watch Tuukka (Rask) and Sergei Bobrovsky as people I enjoy watching and molding my game after. This season unfortunately I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to, so I took the down time to really study a lot of their film and watch every one of their games when I was able to. I bought the NHL subscription pass to be able to watch all the Boston and Florida games whenever I could to see how they play different situations and break down their game film.

TSP: I’ve been following the OHL since the early 1970’s and I can honestly say one of the best single game performances from a goaltender I’ve seen was your game 4 performance versus Ottawa in the Conference Finals in 2019. I’m not sure you are aware of this, but heading into that series, you had the best playoff save-percentage in 25 years. Despite losing 2-1 in overtime, it was a performance to remember. What do you remember most about that game?

KK: Game 4 vs Ottawa was one of the most fun times I’ve had playing hockey. The entire playoffs, I was on an extreme adrenaline rush of playing the highest level of hockey and just trying too help our team make it as far as possible. In regards to that specific game, I felt that I was in a zone that only an athlete would be able to understand. I was doing my best to help our team’s season continue and move as far as we could. It was such an intense hockey game and series that I knew I had to play the best hockey of my life to give our team a chance to win that game. We fought extremely hard throughout the entire process and game and unfortunately, we came up a bit short. I wanted to win that series and game so bad that I knew that the only way to do that was being at my best. The hardest part of the game was knowing that if I didn’t perform my very best, that I was never going to be able to play another game in that uniform for my teammates and management, which puts a lot of things in perspective. I just wanted to go out and leave every ounce of energy and heart that I had to make sure I could give us a chance to win the game and crawl back into the series one game at a time.

TSP: In 2019, OHL coaches voted you as the best puck handling goaltender, after finishing second a year earlier. In today’s game, removing the trapezoid could have a huge impact. Do you have an opinion on whether it should remain or stay in the game?

KK: In regards to the trapezoid, I believe its an incredibly important part of the game and I wouldn’t want to remove it because it keeps the goalie in a safe environment where they know they won’t get run over or injured. Playing the puck sometimes puts you in vulnerable positions as a goalie and by removing it, I think you’d find a lot more injuries for goalies trying to help their team, which I’m all for keeping goalies more safe. I love playing the puck and being active to help our team escape sticky situations, but removing the trapezoid would increase unnecessary risk and I think its necessary to keep players and goalies protected without changing the integrity of the game.

TSP: Beyond the obvious speed/skill/age-experience factor of shooters, what have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your transition from major junior to pro hockey?

KK: I think the biggest difference is how smart the players are in pro hockey. You’re always trying to be one step ahead of your opponent at any level and its just that much harder when the players are that much more skilled. There’s not a big discrepancy in the first and fourth lines in pro hockey, so you have to be aware and alert at all times when they are coming at you regardless of who is on the ice. Another huge challenge is living on your own for the first time and being able to manage being an adult while focusing on hockey all the time. Making sure you’re eating the right foods and cooking good food to allow yourself to be at the highest level is definitely a challenge when you’re doing those things for the first time. Its a huge adjustment in learning how to balance everything in your life and making sure that you’re doing that at an elite level to be able to perform your best with a clear mind.

TSP: As the game continues to evolve with the ever-increasing speed and skill of the skaters and greater structure/systems and innovations teams are employing to improve scoring, what are some of the things you and your goalie coaches are doing to improve fundamentals like skating/footwork, hands, athleticism and even some of the tactical in-game strategies you can use as a goaltender to ensure you are on top of your game?

KK38: I think the biggest improvement and area of focus for me this year with our goalie coaches was working on the positioning aspect of the game. You find out quickly that some of the things you got away with in juniors, won’t work at the next level. I’ve always relied on my athleticism to make a lot of saves but I’ve tried to improve on using my size and positioning as the base for most of my saves in allowing myself to be square to the puck. I know that I can use my athleticism if I need to but I don’t want that to be my default in all situations. I want to have good strong positioning and patience to be able to make easy saves and then use my athletic and explosive abilities to make saves that would require those skills. Using my positioning has been a main emphasis point of focus to allow myself to be ahead of the play and then using my athletic abilities as a last resort to make saves instead of using that as my foundation.

TSP: Who are some of the best shooters you’ve faced in your career to date, and what about them made it so difficult to defend/prevent them from scoring?

KK: Just from my experiences in training camp, some of the hardest shooters to stop would be guys like (David) Pastrnak and (Brad) Marchand. The reason is that they’re so good at not giving away where they’re going to shoot the puck and they’re always keeping you guessing. As a goalie, you’re always looking to gain an advantage in reading shooters and their tendencies but when shooters of their caliber are as unpredictable as they are, it makes it very difficult to read what they’re going to do or where they’re going to shoot. You really have to challenge yourself to be patient on your feet and make sure you’re in the best possible position to give them the least amount of space and net to shoot at because most times, if there are holes in your positioning, they’re going to exploit those areas and make you pay. Those two guys have always been difficult to stop and read from my past three training camps in Boston.

TSP: What has your experience in the Bruins organization been like with regard to the coaching, player development and person-to-person interactions you have received since signing with the team? Who has been the most instrumental in your development as a player and person?

KK: My experience so far in Boston has been nothing short of incredible. From top to bottom, the organization is first class in their staff and how they treat each and every player. Whether you’re a perennial 50 goal scorer or on an entry level deal, they treat every player with the same amount of respect and honesty, which goes a long way. I have been extremely fortunate to know that they will always put me in good positions to succeed and give me all the resources I need to play at the highest level. Coach (Bob) Essensa and Coach (Mike) Dunham, the two goalie coaches in the organization have been instrumental in my success and ability to grow. They have helped me understand different aspects of the position that I wasn’t aware of the importance. They have allowed me to grow tremendously as an individual and as a goalie by always encouraging me to improve and try new things that I didn’t know I needed to.

As an athlete, you’re always working on things to get better and reach the highest levels and those two guys have always been right by my side to provide me with insightful information and new things to help me accomplish that, so I know without their guidance, I would not be in the position I am today. They’re so great at being genuinely great people and always dropping everything if I ever needed anything whether it be from a hockey or personal aspect of life. I’m very grateful for their support and guidance throughout this journey thus far and I’m excited to keep working with them every day and growing as a person and goalie.

We want to thank Kyle Keyser for taking the time to share his insights with us here, and to 3 Amigo Dom for setting it all up and providing the analysis in this post.

 

Happy Birthday to the Greatest One

Today is Bobby Orr’s 72nd birthday- born March 20, 1948 in Parry Sound, Ontario.

My friend from New Brunswick, Ian Wilson, celebrates Robert Gordon Orr’s birthday every year and has been doing so ever since I got to know him online 22 years ago. I have no doubt Ian’s been toasting Bobby Orr Day long before I knew him, and as long as he draws breath in this world, every March 20 will be the same.

I never saw Orr play live…at least not that I remember. I wasn’t yet 4 when he left Boston and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1976, but by being a student of the game and watching endless clips of Orr’s glory years with the Bruins, I’m comfortable with calling him the greatest hockey player of all in my own opinion. After all, there are a lot of smart hockey people out there who played with him, played against him, saw him…and if they say he’s the greatest hockey player who ever lived, then who am I to disagree?

Wayne Gretzky revolutionized scoring and there will never be another one like him- there was so much that came together at the right time for the Great One to score the zillions of points he did with the Edmonton Oilers in the early 1980’s- that firewagon hockey that he exemplified will not be seen again. The goalies are much better today than ever, and that isn’t going to change. Different era, different game.

But Orr was in a class of his own in terms of how he redefined the way the defense position was played- he didn’t just perform- Orr revolutionized the entire concept of how defenders could join the rush and be as dangerous on offense as they could shut down scoring chances in their own end. Those words to describe what Orr did for the game seem so paltry and inadequate to capture the kind of effect No. 4 had on hockey. In the end, Orr changed the game. Scorers will come and go, and I’ll not take anything away from that- Gretzky owns the all-time record for career goals and Alexander Ovechkin may or may not ever break that one…but for me, Mike Bossy was the best pure goal scorer I ever saw. And that includes Mssrs. Gretzky, Ovechkin, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull. No one can ever “win” the debate- there are those who will effectively argue for their respective player. As for me, I’ll take Orr…please and thank you.

The world-renowned Spittin’ Chiclets podcast recently had Orr’s close friend and teammate Derek Sanderson on their show and the ever-colorful Turk had some terrific recollections of Orr. One of the best was when he said that he never saw anyone get the puck away from Orr when he had it…ever. And Sanderson is not exaggerating in the slightest. If you haven’t heard that episode, get going already…

As great as Orr’s eight consecutive Norris Trophies, 2 Stanley Cup championships, 2 Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP and Hall of Fame resume is, the sad thing is that we never really saw what he was capable of. Years of playing through serious knee injuries and deteriorating joints took an immeasurable toll on what might have been if Orr had the durability and staying power of someone like Ray Bourque.

What’s amazing about Orr’s accomplishments as a Bruin is that he did it from age 18-28. He left the city and team in his prime, though was fated to play only 26 more career games in the Windy City before his ravaged knees forced him to walk away from the game as a player forever.  There would be no miracle comebacks for Orr, though had he played several decades later, he might’ve had a 15-20 year career…we’ll never know.

Orr is firmly cemented on Boston’s Mount Rushmore of sports icons and no one will ever take his place.

But don’t take my word for it- just watch him for yourselves. I’ve chosen these videos because they will give you a close look at the man…in his own words, as well as those of others who knew him best, competed against him and knew better than anyone what he was accomplishing for the sport.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Orr- may you enjoy many more!

NHL 100-year Tribute video

Peter Mansbridge’s interview on CBC from Bobby Orr’s autobiography launch in 2013

Don Sweeney named NHL GM of Year

The 2019 NHL Awards Show happened tonight in Las Vegas and Don Sweeney captured the hardware as the league’s General Manager of the Year as voted on by his peers and a smaller/more select panel of media broadcasters.

Sweeney earned it with a steady, methodical build of the Bruins from an organization that was in disarray at the end of the 2015 season, to coming within one game of a Stanley Cup championship four years later.

To be sure, it hasn’t been perfect- you had the Zac Rinaldo misstep right out of the gate, followed by the well-intentioned but ultimately fruitless Jimmy Hayes trade that sent Reilly Smith to Florida. And of course- you still have people twitching online about the 2015 draft, when  the B’s could’ve had Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor. Or is it Thomas Chabot? Or Travis Konecny or Sebastian Aho or (insert the name of every player taken after the B’s sandwiched Jake DeBrusk between Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn who has had some NHL success to date) but we digress…

The successes, by and large, have been prolific.

Continue reading

Cassidy on Cassidy

If you haven’t yet had a chance to listen to the Bruce Cassidy interview conducted this morning on 98.5’s Toucher & Rich Show, stop what you’re doing and devote your next 19 minutes to one of the more candid engagements in radio format that you’ll hear from an NHL coach, period.

This is vintage Cassidy- in my dealings with him, he’s always taken extra time to go into the details of what makes a player successful or why he’s not performing to a level capable. Cassidy is a true student of the game and he won’t sugarcoat things. If someone plays well (he once went into an extended commentary about Brian Ferlin that timed out at more than 3 minutes- it’s a shame injuries- a concussion and major knee injury have derailed his development in Boston.) he says so. If someone isn’t holding up their end of things, or their play doesn’t warrant a key role in the lineup, he says so. And, he does it by giving the listener more details and a rationale that you don’t always get from bench bosses who will speak cryptically and in clichés more often than not.

Continue reading

The Original Six: The Arenas by Dominic Tiano

Editor’s Note- The Scouting Post is pleased to publish friend and fellow 3 Amigo Dominic Tiano’s first column on this blog. He’s had the rare opportunity to visit all of the Original Six arenas/venues for hockey and is treating us with his own observations about those old, grand barns. Enjoy. – K.L.

In his own words: Milt Schmidt addendum

In the birthday tribute post to Mr. Milton C. Schmidt, I referenced an article I wrote on him where I had the opportunity to speak at length with him about his NHL career and the game of hockey.

I went through my archives and found the draft I submitted to my editors at New England Hockey Journal 15 years ago, so here it is- unedited and in it’s original format. Enjoy!- KL

Continue reading

How will Bruins D affect forward production and Jack Becker postscript

I want to thank you, loyal readers, for the largest volume of traffic to the blog over the last two days since the Scouting Post started up in mid-July. I guess that means that you’re either starting to make this a regular destination in your daily internet travels or you’re just desperate for something, anything to get ready for the new NHL season. I thank all of the other sites like Stanley Cup of Chowder and several hockey writers and colleagues who have linked to my pieces as well- much appreciated!

***

In trying to get the wingers piece up yesterday morning to beat a work deadline, I realized when a friend of mine on another Bruins forum brought up a point about the Boston defense that I missed out on a prime chance to briefly touch on some of the vulnerabilities the B’s wingers and collective forwards face as a group in the 2015-16 season, so let me hit on that now.

Roger T. wrote: But I do think a good part of that will depend on the D … ie how reliable they are defensively, whether they’ll be effective at containing speed, how often they can get to the puck first, how effective they’ll be at transitioning out of their zone (into capable offense) … and how well the B’s play overall team-defense 5 on 5.

This is a fundamental point that sometimes gets lost in the sauce and gets back to the second and third order effects that exist on hockey teams in the middle of the pack or in the bottom half of the league. It’s what separates the upper tier clubs from the mediocre ones. Allow me to explain:

It used to be that the ability of an individual to defend held primacy in the way that NHL teams viewed their players on the back line, and so having big guys with the long reach who could physically impose their will along the walls and out in front of their net was the accepted norm.   Bobby Orr revolutionized the concept of the two-way threat who could control the flow of a game on offense and defense. His supernova achievements paved the way for the speed merchants of the 80’s like Paul Coffey and Phil Housley, who were more offensive catalysts and less counted on to help keep pucks out of the net. Scott Niedermayer may have been the best blending of the speed/offense with the positional savvy and discipline to shut down the best opposition (once his game matured). Team speed on defense, which didn’t used to be an essential ingredient because offenses tended to move in straight lines, dump the puck at the blue line and go get it and establish possession with speed and energy up front, is now overcome with the more restrictive rules on obstruction which has encouraged teams to employ their mobility and skill at all positions to gain the offensive zone and maintain possession throughout.

Having a mobile, puck-carrying *unit* on defense is essential to success these days because what it really comes down to in the modern NHL is this: the less able a team defense is able to begin the transition game and beat the opposing F1 and F2 with either their feet or accurate outlet passes, the harder it is for the forwards to back the opposition D up and create lanes in the offensive end that ultimately lead to quality scoring chances. We saw it last year more than any of us wanted to- Boston opponents standing them up at the blue line and forcing the B’s to surrender possession with the dump and chase or having to cycle back into the NZ and attempt re-entry…when that happens and defenses are able to be set up and largely static and prepared for the zone entry, it leads to lower percentage scoring chances from the outside or worse- turnovers at the offensive blue line that a fast and skilled opponent can exploit the other way.

When the defense lacks foot speed and the puck handling/passing to retrieve and immediately transition the play back the other way so, as Torey Krug told me in his interview here, they’re not having to play defense anymore, then more is required of the forwards who often have to fight back against the grain of the play to support the D or worse, receive the puck in the neutral zone without enough forward momentum to beat the next layer of defense, either surrendering possession or unable to gain a clean offensive zone entry. A defense that can’t beat the forechecking pressure to the puck either loses possession in their own end, or can’t make a clean pass to either the D partner or supporting forward, meaning that the other guy now has to make a play under pressure and before you know it, your team is running around in their own end and the play breaks down.

Just as defensemen who aren’t having to play a lot of defense because their team has the puck in the offensive zone more is a good thing for them, forwards who spend more time in their own end because their D can’t move it out and develop the transition and attack with speed is not a good thing. You need an awfully long stick to score a goal when you’re stuck in your own end for long periods of a given shift.

It’s not just speed when it comes to defensemen, either. It’s the transitions- the footwork- the pivots and directional changes that are so important in today’s NHL skill set for that position. That’s why a player like Rob O’Gara is one the Bruins are so high on. He’s not blasting up and down the ice with his 6-4 frame, but when opposing forwards are coming at him with speed and attempting to shake-n-bake at the blue line, he’s got the agility and quickness to stay with them and then either uses his reach to knock the puck off the stick or can lock on and ride that forward into the wall away from his net until he gets support on the puck. When opponents dump the puck in, watch him use his long, fluid stride to get back quickly and then make the smooth pivot with it to either wheel it out himself or spot the high percentage breakout play ahead of the forecheck. Speed’s great, but your defensemen must be able to change direction rapidly and then put the puck on the sticks of their skill players with on-target feeds that don’t require a player to break stride. Those are the hallmarks of a top-quality hockey team at any level.

It’s kind of like that old definition of pornography- you don’t have to define it to know what it is. You take for granted sometimes that a team defense can quickly move the puck out of its own end and transition to offense…until you watch a team that struggles to do it consistently. It ends up becoming a vicious cycle. And that, as Forrest Gump liked to tell us, is all I have to say about that.

***

I missed out on a chance to mention Minnesota forward Jack Becker in the two previews I did on Boston’s futures up front. I covered the seventh-rounder in a blog post a few weeks back, but the bottom line with him is- long-term project with a nice potential payoff.

Becker has size and plays a physical straight-ahead game, getting a lot of his points by going right to the net and crashing the crease. He fought through a bout of mononucleosis, which is never a good thing, especially in one’s draft year. However, around March and April, he put together his best stretch of hockey all season with Mahtomedi High in Minnesota, finishing the year with 22 goals and 47 points in just 23 games. The numbers themselves must be put in context of public high school competition, but when you factor in the mono and effect it had on him physically, he really heated up at the finish.

The Bruins will have to wait a while on this kid- he’ll skate in the USHL with Sioux Falls and then is off to University of Wisconsin in 2016, but if he continues to develop, they could have a nice hybrid power forward on their hands eventually. As a seventh rounder, it’s a long shot, but if you’re going to draft someone that late, taking a chance on someone with some emerging upside is never a bad deal.