Thursday Flashback: My 1st David Pastrnak feature- Feb 2015

David_Pastrnak

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

If you’re a Bruins fan, then it’s likely you’re indulging on a steady diet of Pasta.

Even if you’re cutting the carbs, is there anyone to be more excited about these days than David Pastrnak? With 17 goals in his first 18 games in 2018-19, we haven’t seen scoring this fierce in Boston since Cam Neely’s 50 goals in 44 games way back when yours truly was a senior in college during the 1993-94 season.

I was in Boston in January 2015 on the night then-GM Peter Chiarelli announced that the B’s would keep the Czech wunderkind in the NHL (thereby burning the 1st year of his ELC), and was lucky enough to sit down with him a day later to do the February 2015 New England Hockey Journal feature for that month.

Even back then, you just knew he was going to be special- he was humble, self-deprecating, and extremely hard-working, with Torey Krug pointing out that the 18-year-old was the first player on the ice at practice and the last one off. I still owe Eric Tosi (now with the Vegas Golden Knights) a debt of gratitude for not kicking me out of the B’s dressing room when he came in after most every other player had left. “Dos” hooked a brother up, and this remains one of my most favorite pieces written in 17 years covering the Bruins for the NEHJ.

Here it is- enjoy the journey back a little less than 4 years ago. He’s smashed expectations and to me- he’s the modern 21st century version of Rick Middleton.

Enjoy!- KL

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Pasta! Rookie sensation makes a big splash in the Bay State

By Kirk Luedeke

(Originally published in New England Hockey Journal, Feb. 2015)

David Pastrnak’s pro hockey journey has only just begun.

It started out with bus rides to a small rink in a small, blue collar European city, followed by two years in Sweden before the young prodigy with the infectious smile and a world of potential arrived in Boston last fall. The 18-year-old Czech Republic native has energized the Bruins with his mix of talent and unbridled passion for the game.

He’s a rare find in the modern era of the NHL: a teenager who is immediately ready to contribute, yet somehow managed to slip past the decision-making cycles of those early-drafting teams who could have benefited from his services and maturity the most. Instead, the Bruins landed Pastrnak in the bottom five selections of last June’s NHL Entry Draft and in just eight months since, he’s managed carve out a niche with the big club.

On Jan. 15, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli announced that the kid everyone expected would be in Sweden playing pro hockey is staying in Boston beyond the 10-game window that will toll the first of a three-year Entry-Level Contract signed last July.

“Right now I’m going to be with the team but I just need to keep working hard,” said Pastrnak. “I try to play my best and don’t think about anything else, just try to do all for the team and just play hockey.”

For anyone who saw Pastrnak’s electrifying play in a two-game stretch where he potted four goals, the decision to keep him up was a no-brainer. The B’s now have an opportunity to develop their young prize while also getting some immediate bang for the proverbial buck.

“He’s been a real pleasant surprise in terms of his coachability and willingness to learn the other things that successful NHL players can do,” Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney said recently. “We’re encouraging him to round out his game while still maintaining that 1-on-1 skill that he brings, but we need to have a little patience to see him get stronger. “

Although the 6-foot, 172-pound right wing is sure to face a season of peaks and valleys as he adjusts to the daily grind of the NHL, legions of Bruins fans clamoring for more skill in the Boston lineup have quickly embraced his electrifying style of play and obvious speed and puck skills as a man dying of thirst would take to an oasis in the desert.

The speedy Pastrnak has been forced to grow up fast in the face of personal tragedy. His own back story and the rapidity with which he’s emerged as the NHL’s youngest gun speaks to a remarkable talent, character and maturity that belies his youth.

Born and raised in the Czech Republic city of Havirov, Pastrnak grew up around the game. He said that his father, a former professional hockey player in their native country who also spent a couple of seasons in Germany, put him on skates for the first time at age two-and-a-half. By age three, he was playing competitive hockey.

But if Pastrnak’s love of the game today shines through in much of what he says and how he carries himself on and off the ice, he didn’t necessarily start out as a fanatical devotee of the sport.

“My mom told me that sometimes I didn’t want to go to practice so she (would) just leave me (at home),” Pastrnak said. “My parents were never like, ‘ you have to go practice’ they always asked me: ‘do I want to go practice?’ and I said yes or no, but if I said no, I stayed home. I think that’s an important thing too, because right now some parents are just pushing their children to play hockey all the time and that’s maybe how they stop liking it, you know?”

Pastrnak wanted to be a goalie when he first started playing, but the cost of equipment and his own father’s influence as a forward changed his mind pretty quickly in his early minor hockey days in Havirov.

Built as a coal-mining town after the Second World War, the city’s some 77,000 inhabitants work hard for all they have. With just one hockey rink in town and a single professional team (AZ Havirov) that plays a rung below the Czech Republic’s top league, it’s not surprising that those humble roots and beginning for Pastrnak have allowed him to identify with a lot of what Boston stands for and certainly a lot of the die-hard fans who come out to cheer on their Bruins.

“I live on the beginning of main-street going through the whole city and at the end of the street is (the only) hockey rink,” said Pastrnak. “I always went there on the usual bus with all the people because we didn’t have a car. It’s a small town and the only sport in Havirov is probably hockey, so we have a really good crowd and fans there.”

He began his hockey developmental path in his native Havirov, rising through the pro club’s corresponding minor system until age 16, when his father and family encouraged him to make the big step of leaving home for a higher level of competition in Sweden.

In 2012, he landed in Södertälje, an industrial city about 20 miles to the southwest of the Swedish capital Stockholm. Pastrnak’s new locale was known for being the headquarters and manufacturing base fro the Scania AB truck company as well as former tennis great Björn Borg’s hometown.

It was difficult for Pastrnak to leave when he did because his dad was battling cancer at the time. On the one hand, the teenager knew going to Sweden meant he would have a much better chance of landing on the NHL’s radar, but on the other, he didn’t know just how much time Milan Pastrnak had left. Unfortunately for David and the rest of his family, his dad lost the fight against the illness in May, 2013.

That personal loss saw the younger Pastrnak emerge as a force the following season, his draft year, opening eyes with his play with Södertälje’s top pro club, competing in Sweden’s Allsvenskan or second division. It was then that he dedicated every goal, every point to his father’s memory- beginning a personal practice of kissing his hand and pointing to the sky when he found the back of the net. As the calendar flipped over to 2014, Pastrnak had made the Czech Republic World Junior Championship team and was cruising to be selected in the June entry draft’s first round.

“At that time it was easy because my dad and my mom and everybody told me to just go there because it’s the best for you and just improve,” he said of leaving home. “It doesn’t matter how old I was –it was an important move and I don’t think I would be here if I didn’t go to Sweden.”

Riding the wave of a strong performance in the storied Under-20 tournament at the tender age of 17, Pastrnak soon took a big hit that knocked him out of the lineup for several months with a concussion. Although he was able to make it back to be a part of the Czech Republic’s silver medal-winning entry at the 2014 World Under-18 Championship in April, he wasn’t himself.

The lack of playing time in a stretch of about 80 days, a key period when NHL scouts are solidifying their views, and the mediocre performance in the event that left teams with their last impression of him didn’t help his case. More than one talent evaluator has said since that the missed games and subpar U18 showing factored into his draft day slide being projected as a top-15 pick entering the season.

Of course, there are positive stories of Pastrnak at this time, too. He arrived in Toronto for the NHL’s annual pre-draft combine, but the airline lost his bags, so he had to borrow clothes from fellow Czech and good friend Petr Vrana for his initial interviews. He took it all in stride, exhibiting none of the nervousness one would expect and made a positive impression on the teams he interviewed with.

Boston was one team in particular that was sold on his potential and attitude. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli spoke openly on the draft floor in Philadelphia after the team snagged Pastrnak with the 25th overall selection that the team tried to move up from that spot to get him. That attempt was unsuccessful, yet the B’s still got their man, and with hindsight being 20/20, they’re real glad they did.

Management wasted little time in getting Pastrnak signed to a three-year deal after he shined at their July prospects development camp, and made it clear to him that with some work, there was a pathway to the NHL as soon as the upcoming season.

“Since I’ve been drafted I just try to do the best what I can to show they picked the right player,” he said after a recent game in Boston. “And (it’s) just kind of motivation to show everybody, even the 24 teams in front of (Boston) which picked another guy, so it’s kind of motivating to work hard and show the mistake to everybody.”

A shoulder injury suffered in early training camp sessions prevented the team and its fans from getting an extended look at Pastrnak in the preseason, but he immediately established himself in Providence.

“It’s his foot speed, ability to make plays, putting defenses on their heels and second effort on the puck,” Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked about the things Pastrnak did in the AHL that will keep him in Boston. “He plays better away from the puck than when he got there in training camp. There’s guys who come down here and they take it to heart what you tell them and there’s other players who are like, ‘when I get (to Boston) I’m an offensive guy,’ and they don’t get it- there’s a Bruins way and that’s just the way it is.”

Growing up, Pastrnak idolized current Boston linemate David Krejci, 10 years his senior. With the announcement that the B’s were keeping the rookie beyond the audition window, Krejci commented about his new “Czech buddy,” a line rounded out by hulking left wing Milan Lucic, whose heavy game own Serbian roots make him a welcome part of the trio.

“It’s not set in stone that we’re going to play together for the rest of the year, but for now the last couple of games have been pretty strong games, so as long as we keep working on things in practices and working hard in games there’s a pretty good chance we’ll stick together,” Krejci said.

Beyond the obvious natural ability and gifted hands, Pastrnak’s intelligence and willingness to learn and improve his overall game have not only resonated with the coaching staff, but with the players in both Providence and Boston as well.

“He’s got all the talent in the world and I think that energizes this team when a guy like him comes in and he’s always smiling, he’s always have fun and he’s always looking to get better,” Boston defenseman Torey Krug said after a team practice. “I think he’s still on the ice right now- he’s always the last one off the ice and I think that’s what makes the young players that stick…that’s what makes them special.”

He put up more than a point-per-game scoring clip in Providence to begin the season, earning an initial five-game stint in Boston near the end of November (1 assist). However, Pastrnak’s coming out party came in a two-goals each outburst against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in back-to-back games last month. Even if he might not be a consistent presence on the scoresheet night in and night out, Pastrnak certainly showed why the B’s were so high on him after the draft.

“He’s definitely a great player,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Pastrnak’s ninth game, the win over the Rangers. “We all want him here and I think the decision that was made was pretty unanimous. As a coach, I want him on my team.”

Boston veterans like Patrice Bergeron, who was exactly where Pastrnak is some 12-plus seasons ago when he made the Bruins as an 18-year-old rookie, are happy for the youngster’s success and what he’s bringing to the team dynamic.

“I’m really happy for him and it’s well deserved,” said Bergeron. “Like I said before, he’s one of these kids that wants to learn, he wants to get better. He’s excited and happy to be here and I think we’re seeing a shell of what he can be and that’s something very special and we’re all here to help him and teach him the way I guess, but so far he’s been great and doesn’t need much help.”

The young boy who rode that bus down Havirov’s main street so many times is now a Boston Bruin, but the smile that could power the TD Garden jumbotron and his natural exuberance is very much ingrained in the fabric of who Pastrnak is as a player and person.

As he continues to grow and develop into the player his father always knew he would be, that natural love of the sport Milan Pastrnak helped foster in David will allow him to carve out his own legacy in Boston, one his dad would be proud of.

“I was there one day (being new to the NHL) and I was having a lot of fun, and I know he’s having a lot of fun,” Krug said. “He can help our team win right now and that’s why he’s here. That’s the biggest thing.”

Dominic Tiano: What’s Next For the Bruins (Pt. 12)- Front Office & Coaching

We all know Boston Bruins President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney have decisions to make, some of them tough ones, when it comes to players. But what decisions are there to be made in the front office or behind the bench, if any?

Let’s begin with the position of Director of Amateur Scouting, a position that has been vacant since Keith Gretzky departed to join former Bruins’ General Manager Peter Chiarelli with the Edmonton Oilers as an Assistant General Manager. Assistant General Manager Scott Bradley has been filling the role and will run the 2017 NHL Draft for the Bruins.

A decision must be made whether to keep Bradly in the duo role or focus more on one position or the other. If the Bruins brass decides to keep the two positions separate, they could look outside the organization to fill the role, much like Chiarelli did when he brought Gretzky to Boston.

They could also promote someone from within, and there are a couple of very good possibilities currently scouting for the Bruins.

Dean Malkoc has been through ten drafts with the Bruins and has scouted Western Canada, but has done more cross-over scouting recently. Ryan Nadeau is about to enter his 15th season with the Bruins. He has served as Director of Hockey Operations/Analytics for the past three seasons while also scouring the NCAA as a scout. The Bruins have done well drafting from the NCAA the past few seasons and Nadeau deserves some credit.

With the interim tag being removed from coach Bruce “Butch” Cassidy, the head coaching job is filled. As an assistant under Claude Julien when he was dismissed by Sweeney during the season, could/should the Bruins be looking for another assistant now to serve under Cassidy?

Joe Sacco and Jay Pandolfo serve as assistants. Bob Essensa is the goaltending coach, but spent a lot of time watching from upstairs once the coaching change was made. It’s not known yet who may become available that has a professional resume under his belt, or if one will even become available.

The Bruins could also look at the minor-league level, juniors or the NCAA for coaching talent.

Allow me to throw a name into the circle if I may, he’s a long shot, but a very capable coach. Rocky Thompson, head coach of the Windsor Spitfires, who are currently competing for the Memorial Cup.

Thompson began his coaching career with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. He would become an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League and in 2014, spend a season as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers. Last season, he returned to junior hockey and was named head coach of the Spitfires.

If you know me, then you know one area of concern I’ve had for the Bruins for some time now is the professional scouting department. The group is made up of Matt Lindblad, Adam Creighton, Tom McVie and Dennis Bonvie.

Creighton and McVie are the elders of the group, having been with the Bruins for 16 and 23 years respectively. There really isn’t enough of a sample size to judge Lindblad, added a year ago, and Bonvie, added two years ago. But this is one area I feel Neely and Sweeney must address this off season.

 

What’s Next For the Bruins (Pt. 7): Young Guns (Forwards)

We hope you’re enjoying the offseason series on the Boston Bruins. There’s more in the works, but this post will quickly break down several of the forward prospects who could be ready for a bigger impact/contribution with the B’s in 2017-18. Now granted- we still need to see who comes and goes when the roster shaping period begins in earnest on and after 1 July, but for now- here are just a few players we think are going to push the coaching staff to either get them into the lineup sooner rather than later, or will make the decision to send them down a tough one.

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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.

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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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Dominic Tiano: What’s Next for the Bruins? (Part 3)

Editor’s note: We continue our series here at the Scouting Post on the end of the 2016-17 Boston Bruins season and 3 Amigo/guest columnist and fan favorite Dominic Tiano is here to provide his informed perspective once again. -KL

TSP founder Kirk Luedeke began this series once the Boston Bruins were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators Sunday from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. When he asked 3 Amigos Podcast Partners Reed Duthie and myself for our contributions, I immediately jumped on the task of shining some light on a few of the boys in Black in Gold that have, for a large part of the season, been “whipping boys” among the Bruins faithful.

Take this as one person’s opinion. Constructive criticism is always welcome but it is what it is, an opinion.

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It’s official: Bruce Cassidy sheds interim tag- named HC of the Boston B’s

The Bruins and GM Don Sweeney made official what most believed was the case today- Bruce Cassidy has been named the 28th head coach in team history.

Here’s a part of the release. The rest is over at the Boston Bruins website.

BOSTON – Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced today, April 26, that Bruce Cassidy has been named the 28th head coach of the Boston Bruins.

Cassidy served as Interim Head Coach for the Bruins’ final 33 regular and postseason games, compiling a 18-8-1 regular season record and propelling the team to a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 season. Since Cassidy assumed head coaching responsibilities on February 9, the Bruins ranked first in the NHL in goals per game (3.37), first in the NHL in fewest shots allowed (741), tied for second in the NHL in wins (18), tied for second in the NHL in power play percentage (27.8%), tied for third in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.30), tied for fifth in the NHL in faceoff percentage (53.6%) and tied for sixth in the NHL in takeaways (229).

Before joining Boston as an assistant prior to the start of the 2016-17 season, Cassidy spent five seasons (2011-16) as head coach of the Providence Bruins, having spent the three previous seasons (2008-11) with the club as an assistant. The 51-year-old native of Ottawa, Ontario compiled a 207-128-45 overall record in 380 games at the helm, including winning seasons in all five years and postseason berths in each of his final four seasons in Providence. In 2015-16, Cassidy helped lead the P-Bruins to a 41-22-13 record.

 

TSP take: It’s hard to argue with the way the team pulled together down the stretch to make the playoffs after two cringe-inducing flameouts in 2015 and 2016. Cassidy earned the chance to take charge of the team going forward. He’s a very knowledgeable hockey guy who appears to have learned from some mistakes and missteps that were publicized when he was with the Washington Capitals.

As pointed out by a fan on Twitter, he doesn’t have a stellar playoff record in the AHL, but it’s hard to hold the 2017 series against Ottawa against him with the kind of depleted lineup he oversaw- the guys played hard and showed a lot of fight in a closely-contested series with the Senators. It could have gone Boston’s way, but didn’t.

Cassidy’s work in Providence gives him an advantage that Claude Julien didn’t have when he was hired in 2007, coming into the organization new after being dismissed by New Jersey. Cassidy’s firsthand knowledge of many of the younger players in the system who either played for him in the AHL or at the summer development camps will allow for a different mindset and decision-making than fans were perhaps used to seeing with Julien. At least in the next year or two, that is-  as Cassidy spreads his wings and establishes himself as the Boston bench boss. We could see a change in personnel in the coaching staff as well, but for now- the focus is on Cassidy and a fresh new era in B’s coaching for the first time in a decade.

We’ll always respect Julien for what he accomplished, culminating in one Stanley Cup championship in 2011 and nearly another in 2013. Nothing lasts forever, and for now- Cassidy is the right person to lead the team in a new direction.

We congratulate Coach Cassidy on securing the job and know he’s already rolling up the sleeves and getting to work. As a kid who grew up cheering for Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins, you have to be happy for him- this is truly a dream job, and you can bet that he’ll do his best to stay on.

 

Bruins are out…what’s next? (Part 1)

For the sixth time in as many games in the Boston Bruins-Ottawa Senators 2017 NHL playoff series, the contest was decided by just one goal, and went to overtime for the fourth occasion. Unfortunately for the B’s and their faithful, an untimely David Pastrnak penalty (and it was a penalty, even though the men in stripes once again open themselves up to criticism by not calling other similar infractions in OT) opened the door for the Senators to send them home.

Given the tumultuous season that ultimately ended in what we feel is positive fashion despite the disappointing outcome (the B’s lost all three of its home games), there are reasons for fans to be optimistic about the organization going forward. Here are a few story lines to keep an eye on as the B’s made the postseason for the first time in Don Sweeney’s tenure as GM, and gave the Senators all they could handle. Some bounces here and there, and perhaps a little more consistency in the officiating, and who knows? Maybe the team could’ve pulled off an upset, but we see more reasons to  be positive than negative given where things stood in early February when Claude Julien was fired.

This post will focus on Bruce Cassidy and Charlie McAvoy as the team clears out lockers and begins the offseason. Other parts will look at different topics rather  than generate one gigantic 4,000-word (or more) post. Yes, the posts have been more and more infrequent- what can we tell you- professional and personal life has intervened and this is a side project. As always- appreciate the support of this blog.

Now, for the first in a series of “calling it like we see it” posts about the Bruins and where they go from here:

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

McAvoy2

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.

 

Revisiting Austin Czarnik

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With the unfortunate setback of Boston Bruins center Ryan Spooner’s concussion this week, another door of opportunity has opened for Austin Czarnik.

The undrafted free agent and former Miami University Redhawks captain had spent most of the season with the big club after a standout rookie pro campaign a year ago with the Providence Bruins. The Michigan native made the big club out of camp before taking a cheap hit late in the preseason that caused him to miss a little time up front.

“I know what he’s going through,” Czarnik said of Spooner’s situation after the Boston morning skate prior to their Wednesday night game against the flailing Detroit Red Wings. “He said it’s a mild one, but still- it’s a concussion, so you just gotta be careful with it. I felt good when I came back, but I felt like I was 100 percent, but maybe my cognitive (ability) wasn’t all there. Just moving back and forth, but it felt great. But when I got on the ice, it was a little bit different, so I think I may have rushed it just a little but it just takes time.”

Czarnik has always been a high-end skill player with the hockey sense and creativity to be an offensive force, but his lack of size resulted in a lot of disappointments throughout his progression up the developmental ladder.

“For me, it was hard growing up because I was cut from every triple-A team pretty much because I was too small,” said Czarnik. “It was a hard process for me, but I always had at least one person who believed in me throughout my whole career pretty much. They believe in me right now, and I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to show what I have again in Boston.”

Czarnik hinted at maybe being a little too conservative in his approach, which may be a reflection of his reticence to try higher-risk plays as a rookie. Or, it could have been a veiled reference to his only NHL coach to date (at least until Bruce Cassidy takes his place behind the Boston bench tonight), Claude Julien, and his reputation for a lower-risk, team defense system.

“I’ve been simple so much this year- I think I can start trying to make plays,” he said. “Realize what plays I have on the ice to make and not just try to get the puck in, things like that. So, that’s what I’m going to try and focus on and just try to create space out there for my linemates.”

As a productive player at the USHL and NCAA levels, it seems more than a little surprising in hindsight that not one of the 30 NHL clubs took a late-round flyer on Czarnik. However, what happened in the past is of little consequence, as these days, with the Second Chance Saloon open for business in terms of the annual NCAA free agent derby that occurs each spring as college hockey seasons come to an end, he was able to parlay his talent and production into an opportunity with the Bruins, much like another Michigander in Boston teammate Torey Krug, was able to do.

“Obviously, it’s every kid’s dream to get drafted, so I was a little hurt when I didn’t,” he said. “The second year, I didn’t even get picked up either out of college, so I was kind of hurt by that time, but I realized I just had to prove them wrong again, so that was the main thing and I’m happy it happened because I had options to pick from and things like that. So- any kid that doesn’t get drafted, it’s probably the best thing that can happen to you because you’ll have teams that want you if you work hard. That’s the biggest thing- you can just pick from your hand, so it was a cool feeling.”

Czarnik credited a former college teammate, since departed from the Bruins organization in forward Reilly Smith, with helping him to decide on Boston over the other suitors he had in the spring of 2015. He said that the tradition surrounding the B’s and the chance to play in a city like this one were major factors in his decision, one that seems to have paid off for the time being, as he is living his NHL dream with another opportunity to stick after being returned to Providence late last month.

“I think we’re just going to try and stay on the same page in terms of what they’ve been on,” Czarnik said of his slotting onto the third line in hopes of recapturing some of the magical chemistry he had with left wing Frank Vatrano in Providence last year as rookies. “Obviously, Spooner’s a really good player; I’m going to try and fill some of his shoes, but it’s going to be hard because he always makes plays. We just want to keep the train rolling and go from there.”

After an NHL stint on IR, Czarnik was sent down to Providence where he played five AHL games before being summoned to take Spooner’s place in the lineup. He talked about the importance of getting his conditioning back under control after missing three weeks and knocking the rust off of his timing and overall game with a lot of minutes at even strength, on the power play and killing penalties. He’s glad he had the chance to get some games in rather that have to regain his timing in NHL action.

Czarnik’s familiarity with former Providence head coach Cassidy will certainly help with the transition in his first game with the latter in charge of the Boston roster.

“When he’s playing his game, he’s got good energy; he’s on the puck, he’s creating turnovers with his foot speed, his stick, his hockey IQ and he’s making plays- him and Vatrano certainly have some chemistry,” Cassidy told assembled media during his post-skate presser. “He’s been good in situational hockey for us. He’s PK work’s been pretty solid. The power play…we’re going to move him around…he was up high before and I think he’s ideally better suited to be making plays around the net so he’s going to get to play in all situations and hopefully, he’s ready to respond. He’s had some experience up here; he should know what to expect in that regard, and he’s healthy.”

When asked by your TSP founder about Czarnik’s progression from rookie pro to where he is now, Cassidy opened up with more thoughtful and detailed commentary:

“His understanding of the game is better- he’s playing against men. The American League is certainly big guys, energetic guys, but they’re not men yet and as a smaller guy, he’s had to learn what he can get away with and what he can’t. This time around, we’re going to find out what he’s learned in that area. Like a lot of players, it’s the reps- getting to play with and against top-end, world-class talent, and he’s a smart guy; he’s got good hockey IQ. He thinks the game well, so it has to be one of his best assets. That, and a high motor- we’ve talked about that. If he’s not playing with a high motor, his effectiveness will decrease. And so those are the things we’re looking for in him. We expect an energy guy, using his speed…He’s got to use it and he’s got to use it all the time. I think that’s how he stays in this league.”

Cassidy declined to confirm whether Czarnik will need to make his bones at center or wing to remain in the NHL, saying that he thinks the youngster is better at center but has the versatility to play all three forward positions and has been moved around to find the best matchups.

“The jury is still out,” Cassidy said to close out his comments on Czarnik’s fit up the middle in the NHL going forward, but the by the gist of his comments, the interim head coach will give him every opportunity to try and establish himself there.

Austin Czarnik 13-14 Miami home front

Austin Czarnik’s 2013-14 Miami University Redhawks captain sweater (Kirk Luedeke photo)