Dominic Tiano: Grading the Bruins D

Dominic Tiano is back with his assessment of how the Boston Bruins defense has played through one quarter of the 2021 NHL season. Enjoy!- KL

When Torey Krug signed with the St Louis Blues and Zdeno Chara ultimately decided to sign with the Washington Capitals, there was nothing but unanswered questions surrounding the Boston Bruins blue line for the 2020-21 National Hockey League season.

Who was going to replace Krug on the powerplay? Who is going to replace the offense from the blue line? Who was going to replace Chara on the penalty kill? Who was going to shut down the opposition’s top lines? Who was going to replace Chara’s leadership? It was question after question after question, and when you tried to answer them, fans didn’t like the answers.

We are officially at the quarter-way point of the season, so this is a good sample size to look at how the young defense has performed thus far.

The 2019-20 President’s Trophy winners dressed ten different defensemen and they combined for a total of 32 goals and 112 assists in the 70-game shortened season.

This season, the Bruins have dressed eight defensemen and only because of the injuries to Matt Grzelcyk and have scored 3 goals and 21 assists. That projects to 12 goals and 84 assists for the season. Pro-rated over 70 games, that is 15 goals and 105 assists. The helpers are fine, but they are on pace to score half of what last year’s blue line did and despite the 10-2-2 start, it could be a problem moving forward.  

Last season, the Bruins had the third best penalty kill with an 84.19% success rate Mostly on the backs of Chara and Brandon Carlo. To date this season, the Bruins rank second with an 88.0% success rate largely on the backs of Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon. They are backed up by Charlie McAvoy and Kevan Miller, with Lauzon and Miller picking up the Chara minutes.

At the other end of the ice is where the loss of Krug was thought to be most impactful, especially the powerplay. Coach Bruce Cassidy has tried different things including five forwards at times. A year ago, with Krug manning the point, the Bruins had the second best powerplay in the league converting on 25.22% of their opportunities. This season they rank eighth but are converting on 27.27% of their chances, an increase of 2.02%. But they need a blueliner that can take the reigns there and the injuries to Grzelcyk don’t help. As we saw last against the Islanders, using 5 forwards can cost you.

The loss of Chara on the blue line, and Krug for that matter, takes away some leadership on the back end, but you can’t underestimate the leadership of Miller, now the grey-beard on the team. He can keep his teammates calm and cool under pressure. Not to mention the young guys stepping into the role. Carlo has over 300 games under his belt and Grzelcyk and McAvoy around 200. They will be counted on to take up some of the leadership slack left by Chara’s departure.

Cassidy and his coaching staff have also adjusted the system employed now that he has a more mobile unit on the backend. First off, they’ve tried to employ a more traditional shut-down defender with a puck mover on each pair, something that has worked so far.

Secondly, when defending, the defense has the green light for both guys to activate below their own goal line with the centerman usually covering the net in front of Tuukka Rask or Jaroslav Halak. Third, they all have the green light to skate out of the zone. And finally, because of the young legs, they can all activate at the offensive blue line and pinch down deep, something the coaching staff keeps encouraging them to do.

Coming into the season we preached how young this defense was going to be and that there would be growing pains. The growing pains have been evident, but not consistently and it has yet to hurt the team but, there is a long way to go.

Here’s a look at the Bruins defense, our Grade, and what we’ve seen so far:

CHARLIE MCAVOY Grade: A

I will be the first to admit it: Charlie McAvoy should be an A+. But for me, to earn an A+ you need to excel in every area of the game and McAvoy is doing that in every situation except one and that is the power play, although that is through no fault of his own. Cassidy prefers a left shot defender up top on the first unit which is why, when Grzelcyk is healthy, he gets those opportunities first. Cassidy has also used five forwards (at times) in the absence of Grzelcyk instead of McAvoy with David Krejci (who happens to be a right shot) at the point.

In the absence of Krug, McAvoy has taken his game to another level offensively. He is on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points – all in just a 56-game schedule. He leads the team in assists and points, shot attempts and shots on goal and he can drive the offense from the back end like few others can.

It’s not just about offense though. He’s trusted to defend, almost always going up against the opposition’s top players. He kills penalties, he’s physical, he’s a one-man breakout machine and he easily leads his fellow blue liners in blocked shots with 29.

McAvoy is a minute eating defender who does it with quality. He leads the blue line averaging 24:19 in time on ice – 4:34 more per game than the next closest, his partner Lauzon. He leads them by a wide margin in even strength time on ice, exactly 20 minutes and he averages 2:09 in powerplay time and 2:14 in penalty kill time per game.

McAvoy will get some serious consideration for the Norris Trophy this season. Well deserved consideration. His time as a true number one defenseman in the NHL has arrived.

JEREMY LAUZON Grade: B

A lot of eyebrows were raised when it was suggested here, and the coaching staff gave Lauzon the duties of skating beside McAvoy. Has he disappointed anyone? Lauzon has been the steady defensive defenseman that can be relied upon and that in turn, gives McAvoy the opportunity to concentrate more on offense. He refuses to be outworked and leads his team in hits with 39.

He’s been winning the majority of his battles along the walls and in front of the net. Not only is he good at clearing his zone, he can make a good first pass as well and usually makes the right decisions. He’s become a staple in the penalty kill leading all Bruins blueliners in PK time on a PK that had an efficiency of 84.19% a season ago to 88.0% this season. The coaching staff is showing they are gaining more and more confidence in him and it is reflected in his average time on ice. Averaging 19:45 TOI, Lauzon trails only McAvoy at 24:19 in that department.

As we saw against the Washington Capitals on February 1, Lauzon does have some offensive abilities. Where the coaching staff used him mostly for defensive zone draws prior to that, they have been giving him more and more offensive starts lately, to the point where is starts are virtually even. Again, he trails only McAvoy in attempted shots on goal with 41 and shots on goal with 21 and Grzelcyk in percentage that get on goal with 51.2%.

MATT GRZELCYK Grade: B-

Playing in just one game in between two injuries has limited Grzelcyk to just six games on the season. Despite his size, we know what we get from him. Quick on his skates, retrieves pucks quickly and transitions even faster. Uses his positioning and his stick to defend well. His metrics across the board are very good and there is no denying that.

I know many people will question this grade but hear me out. Grzelcyk is suppose to be the guy to replace Krug on the point on the first powerplay unit. Six games just aren’t enough of a sample size to determine if he is that guy – yet. But if he is, then an A Grade is definitely on the horizon.

What we do know is Grzelcyk can sure pass and he can make smart plays. While he doesn’t posses the same kind of shot from the point that can beat a goaltender like Krug can, Grzelcyk shoots smartly. He likes to send pucks towards the goal and in just six games has directed 20 shots towards the net. A whopping 65% of those shots have reached the netminder. How good is that? Only one other defenceman is above 50% (Lauzon, 51.2%). Even McAvoy is firing at 46.4%.

That’s an important skill for a point man to have, especially since the Bruins appear to have found their permanent net front presence in Nick Ritchie. If Grzelcyk can come back and take the reigns and be effective on the powerplay, his grade can only go up.

BRANDON CARLO Grade: B

Carlo is quite simply one of the premier shut down defenders in the NHL. At 6’5” and over 210 pounds, he is a superb skater. Although he isn’t as physical as many fans want him to be, Carlo has some amazing strength that makes him a force in front of his goaltenders and a defender that the opposition doesn’t relish battling along the walls. He can go up against the oppositions best and paired with Lauzon on the penalty kill, form on of the better PK pairs in the NHL.

It’s noticeable that Carlo wants to be more involved in the offense and he has taken it upon himself to do just that. Carlo could very well surpass his career high of 19 points from a season ago, and do it in the shortened 56-game schedule.

Carlo has somewhat slowed that offensive down lately, largely due to the turnstile of partners he’s had, with little chance to get some chemistry going. He’s usually paired with Grzelcyk, but injuries have limited him to just 6 games. When the latter was out, it was with Clifton and then on what was a back-to-back situation, John Moore. And as mentioned, he is usually paired with Lauzon on the PK but also with Miller at times.

We fully expect that once Grzelcyk returns and Carlo gets a regular partner, that he will continue to push forward offensively.

JAKUB ZBORIL Grade: B-

Perhaps the growing pains are more evident in Zboril than any of the other d-men. And that is not a knock on him. He is the least experience of the group and the talent he possesses is clearly evident. But once in a while he might make you want to throw your remote through your 72” TV.  

Again, they were expected to happen. But if you can set them aside for a moment and look at the good things, then we should be happy with what we are seeing. It’s true that Cassidy is somewhat sheltering him with the most offensive zone starts on the blue line at 63.4%, but the coach is also trying to get him accustomed to the NHL at the same time. When Lauzon was serving his 5 plus 10 with his fight in New York, Cassidy had no hesitation in throwing Zboril out there to kill a penalty. It’s in him, but it is evident the coach wants to take it slowly.

Cassidy is also willing to use Zboril on the powerplay and eventually, Zboril might just excel at it. He has an excellent shot from the point but he definitely needs to work on getting it through. He’s third among the blueliners with 36 attempted shots on goal, but is a team worst 36.1% getting it on the net, either missing the target or having it blocked. It’s not a matter of if, but when he gets better at that, good things will happen for him.

In his own zone, he’s good at retrieving pucks and transitioning, makes a good first pass, but more importantly, he can skate out of danger. He’s learning how strong NHL players are as compared to AHL players, but that to will come and some of the misfortunes he’s had will become less and less frequent.

KEVAN MILLER Grade: B-

When General Manager Don Sweeney inked Miller to his contract there was an uproar through Bruins Nation. Many eyebrows were raised and many questions were asked. Why sign Miller before Chara? Why sign a player that has not played in almost two years? And more importantly, why sign a player that is coming off of two major knee surgeries?

Well, 14 games into the season things have changed, and might I add, dramatically. In a poll I conducted on Twitter with over 500 hundred votes, Miller was the overwhelming choice by fans as the 7th Player Award winner to date with over 40% of the vote. (He was followed by Nick Ritchie with 28%)

However, it’s more than just being able to skate in 14 games when there was doubt (in the minds of fans) that he could not just play quality hockey, but play at all. Miller can play both sides of the ice with little difference when on his weak side. We’ve seen it a lot when paired with McAvoy on the second pair killing penalties. He’s physical and hits hard, trailing only Lauzon in hits with 30.

He’s a guy the coaches can depend on to defend a one goal lead in the last minute. He wins his battles along the walls and is hard to move. As we saw against the Rangers, down a man and the Rangers goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, Miller on his off side paired with Carlo, ate up a lot of the time remaining on the clock buy keeping the puck along the boards behind the goal line.

Despite Miller’s superb work on the PK and in key defensive situations, he and his usual partner in Zboril are getting some sheltered starts from Coach Cassidy, with over 61% of the pair’s zone starts being in the offensive zone.

CONNOR CLIFTON Grade: B-

Cliffy Hockey, what can we say? If there is one player in the NHL that plays much bigger than 5’11” and 175 pounds, it’s Clifton. While Lauzon leads the team in hits, it’s actually Clifton that leads the squad in hits per game with 3.3. He plays physical, he can defend and he can skate. He’s pretty underrated in some circles as a puck carrier, but he can move the puck. And he will stand up for a teammate.

Clifton doesn’t get much specialty team time on ice. The coaching staff use him primarily in 5 on 5 situations, but when one of the other d-men are in the box, they have no hesitation in using him on the PK.

It’s hard to imagine that on many teams he wouldn’t be a starter in the top six. For now, he is the 7th defenseman on this squad who will see time when someone goes down with an injury or is in need of a break.

With Clifton what you see is what you get: 100% effort on every shift, accountability and determination. You couldn’t ask for more from a player in his spot.

John Moore was left off the list because one game just isn’t enough to grade him on, even though he had a very good first game of the season against the Islanders.

We’ve sometimes repetitively said there would be growing pains with this young defence. And there has been on any given night one guy is not at his best. What we haven’t seen is those growing pains as a group. When one is struggling, the other five pick up the slack, and that is part of the reason they sit 10-2-2 one-quarter of the way through the season.

On Zdeno Chara signing with the Capitals

Zdeno Chara returns for his tenth season as the captain of the Boston Bruins (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

As 2020 came to a merciful end, (many) Boston Bruins fans were greeted with one more bit of unwelcome news this week as captain Zdeno Chara’s 14-season run with the team came to an end with news he accepted a one-year offer from the Washington Capitals at age 43.

It seems both unimaginable and inevitable that the greatest free agent signing in team history would end in a whimper the way it did with a sudden announcement that after months of little to no movement on the renewal of a contract that most supporters felt was sure to happen. Like former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield at the end of his major league career, it appeared as if the team and player had an unofficial deal to stay in Boston until both agreed that Chara’s playing days were over.

Clearly, that was not the case, as initial news brought anger and disbelief, especially when the base salary of $795,000 for the new season to exchange the black and gold for red, white and blue, came out. Chara’s deal calls for performance bonuses that would bring his total compensation to a $1.5 million AAV (per CapFriendly.com), but it was understandable that most fans would think it ridiculous that the Bruins weren’t willing to find the money to re-sign their captain, a player who had inked four separate contracts in Boston since he first came to town at age 29 in 2006.

However, as things are often the case with Hall of Fame-caliber players, and let’s be clear- four years after Chara calls it a career, whether in 2021 or later, he will be enshrined in Toronto- the truth of the matter is rarely black and white.

As the news has settled and more has come out on the negotiations that took place between Boston and Chara, both have said complimentary things and it appears that the following are both true:

  1. The Bruins wanted Chara back for a 15th season as captain, but with caveats.
  2. Chara was not willing to return to the team he cemented his legendary status with in a reduced role.

The purpose of this post is not to defend the organization for what did or didn’t happen to facilitate an icon’s departure, but to add context and provide food for thought to those fair-minded observers who are interested in what might have happened and why the team and player took positions they did. We weren’t there, so while we have been given some information based on sources familiar with the negotiations, this is merely one view on what might have happened.

It is fair to be disappointed that Chara and the team his greatest collective and individual accomplishments happened with couldn’t find a way to keep him until age 44 or when he finally calls it a stellar career. It is also fair to be okay with the realization that Chara is no longer the player he was and that his lack of mobility and inability to play in all situations like he once did means that the organization had to make a tough choice about answering the player’s questions about how he would be employed should he sign a fifth contract and third one-year extension since 2018.

The biggest challenge the Bruins face right now is with expectations for 2021. The team is coming off of a President’s Trophy as top regular season club in 2019-20 until COVID-19 forced the campaign’s pause in March. Prior to that, they took the St. Louis Blues to a seventh game of what would have been a second Stanley Cup championship team under Chara’s captaincy out of three trips to the final series. Given Torey Krug’s departure to those very Blues via free agency, fans have a right to be concerned about how the B’s power play and penalty kill special teams units will fare without two key anchors from a season ago.

From this view in the saddle, the issue so much isn’t Chara’s departure due to a fundamental disagreement between player and team over usage going forward and how to better manage the development other players in the organization, but more of a realization that without Chara and Krug, the Boston defense as a unit is almost certain to take steps backwards in 2021. In a few short months, we’ve gone from a team many thought might win a championship after the COVID pause resumed, to one that is on the outside looking in right now and in the immediate future.

Even if one or more of Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon and even Jack Ahcan were all primed to step in and fill those roles vacated by Chara and Krug with much more certainty than what we’re currently dealing with, there would still be questions about their basic experience and ability to replicate the x-factor that such battle-tested veterans provided Boston over the last 5-7 years. That, in our view, is what is really at the heart of the negativity surrounding Chara’s departure. More than anything else, it’s a harbinger of darker times and a window that has essentially closed after the team watched other teams around the league get better while Boston’s biggest name addition in the offseason was complementary forward Craig Smith.

Boston lost the opportunity for a second championship in three years when they dropped a six-game series to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, the dawn of Krug’s era as a PP staple in Boston, while Chara was still at the height of his two-way productivity as an all-situations stalwart. The B’s followed up that disappointment with a President’s Trophy in 2014, then lost in the second round of the playoffs to their hated rival Montreal Canadiens and subsequently missed the playoffs for two years before a renaissance largely sparked by Patrice Bergeron’s continued excellence, plus the emergence of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as offensive forces from 2017-20 brought the team back into contention. Charlie McAvoy is the heir apparent on defense as potentially the next top/franchise cornerstone defenseman in Boston.

And it is right for those who see the parallels between the B’s teams from 2013-14 and 2019-20 to point out that by allowing Chara to leave like this, things are setting up for another precipitous fall like the one we witnessed in 2015 and 2016.

Five years hence, the 2015 draft was a major missed opportunity. Though all three first-round picks are still in the fold and Jake DeBrusk has become a solid complementary scorer with the B’s, the chance to draft three driver-types didn’t happen, and has exacerbated the concerns surrounding the club’s current fortunes. We’ll not open that can of worms in the Chara piece at present, as the 2015 draft’s failings deserves its own treatment at some point soon, but the reality is- as the 2021 season dawns, the B’s have far more question marks on the left side of their defense corps than answers at present, and that is at the heart of the angst surrounding Chara’s exit.

Also at issue is the captain’s legacy and how things should have ended in Boston. One can certainly argue that he deserved better- a final curtain call in Boston and the ability to close out a two-plus decade career in the NHL that saw him endure as the league’s tallest player who evolved into a curious project into a dominant, Norris Trophy-winning, franchise icon who helped the Bruins organization to its first championship in nearly four decades, the first such accomplishment since Bobby Orr manned the Boston blue line. On several levels, it doesn’t make sense that the Bruins as a whole- whether you’re talking Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy or even ownership as a collective brain trust, wouldn’t see the black clouds gathering on the horizon and know that they would take a major PR hit by not closing the deal to keep Chara in the fold.

At the same time, we have to admire the team’s courage for looking at the situation and deciding that simply offering him a new contract to maintain a status quo in Boston and turn 44 in the midst of the new season without addressing what has been a declining return on investment, was a bridge too far. Right or wrong, what is always lost on fans and media members, no matter how well sourced they may be, are the team dynamics of what goes on behind the scenes. They are not sitting in the meetings that take place when leaders lay out the depth chart and talk through the myriad scenarios of player usage combined with future financial constraints and contract negotiations. No one is privy to the discussions that talk about who the team is likely to lose when the NHL’s newest expansion club, the Seattle Kraken gets to leverage the changed rules to build a far more competitive roster than all of the other NHL’s expansion clubs in history. We all watched the Las Vegas Golden Knights create a blue print for in 2017, and the Bruins are trying to manage the challenge of not losing a driver-type of player to Seattle because they didn’t know what they had in order to make the right decision when it comes to whom they protect and those who get exposed in the impending expansion draft.

Sound like excuse making? Perhaps. But, ask yourselves this: If Chara returned and continued to log key minutes in the rotation and on the PK and another player further down the depth chart departed either to Seattle or other club only to blossom as a top performer there, many of those same people unhappy about Chara’s departure would also savage the Bruins organization for allowing an aging veteran to hang on for so long and hindering the development of others in the system or at least- camouflaging their potential and preventing the B’s from making an informed decision on who to protect.

Building a winning team is a never-ending master-level jigsaw puzzle. It isn’t just about acquiring talent and skill but supplementing those stars with the right kinds of players who can come together and embrace a team’s structure and organizational values. Some fans might scoff at this quaint notion of the herculean task managers face at all meaningful levels, but the reality is- that’s why they’re fans. They might build a successful Twitter following, but they’ll never be part of a high-level team, nor will they understand the constant challenges of juggling the many dynamics needed to build a winning, championship team. For them, it is more about pointing fingers and playing to a crowd of like-minded toadies and sycophants in a social media echo chamber than thoughtful analysis and a fair-minded approach to what is going on. Like barking, clapping seals, they speak in absolutes they know nothing about. And that’s fine- it’s the world we live in, but it is also completely fair to point this out and call out some of the mind-numbing nitwits who have the loudest voices on matters they haven’t earned a shred of credibility to comment on.

What does seem to be playing out is this: the Bruins have put themselves at a disadvantage by selling off draft capital to remain competitive for playoff runs in recent years, but the time has come for them to start accruing picks and looking at building a better system. Prospects like Jack Studnicka and Mason Lohrei show significant promise as two of Boston’s most likely candidates to be drivers one day, but unlike many other teams around the league, Boston lacks the volume/depth of star power and pure skill/dynamic upside players in other systems who are on their way to the NHL in the next 3-5 years. The B’s have long done pretty well with savvy undrafted free agent signings to help bolster their draft misses and disappointments, but this puts tremendous pressure on the organization to find the rare players everyone else has not identified, and causes the GM to expend assets and capital on talent acquisition via trades and the bloated unrestricted free agent market.

Losing Chara to Washington stings, because he had so many amazing moments as a Bruin and was in many cases, the face of a franchise that had fallen on hard times when he was signed, and played a major role in a resurrection that ended with the Stanley Cup five years later and a near 10+ year run of sustained success. Just about everyone who rooted heart and soul for the Boston Bruins should be sad to see him go and appreciate what he did when he was here. But nothing, especially those lives spent in professional sports, lasts forever. Et tu, Tom Brady?

Those who are upset that Chara and the current core didn’t bring more championships to Boston have a point. Those who feel that Chara should have been treated a little differently so that he wouldn’t have felt the need to take his game elsewhere in the twilight of a tremendous career are also right. But so are those who understand that the business side of hockey sometimes means that you lose these battles and teams have to make highly unpalatable decisions because they truly feel that those are in the best interest of the club. No one has a crystal ball…sometimes, those tough decisions pay off and sometimes they don’t. But the Bruins felt that keeping the status quo for another year without addressing it with the captain was the wrong thing to do. Even if they had agreed to give him the role he was used to, would fans have demanded a change if he was unable to keep up, unable to make the plays needed for success at age 44? It’s easy to say that the team *should* have done what it took to keep him, but remember- Chara himself had a choice to stay and perform in the role that the team had for him. He chose a different path. It’s not just on the Bruins for that.

In the end, it may be precisely true that the Bruins take steps backwards in 2021. It seems a certainty in fact, that they will. But even if that happens, it does not stand as proof that the leadership lacks a plan or vision. Sweeney and his staff dug the club out of the malaise of 2015 and 2016 and built a squad that was three periods away from a championship just 1.5 years ago. History is never kind to those who are unable to close it out and attain ultimate victory, and those with an agenda to do so will almost certainly continue to overlook that or harp on the failures of the 2015 draft (without ever citing the multiple successes of 2014), but just because you feel strongly about something does not make it true.

We wish Zdeno Chara the best as he embarks on what could be one last hurrah with a new team. It’s a shame that he couldn’t finish his storied run in Boston, but like Ray Bourque before him, the show will go on.

Thanks for everything, Big Z- You were everything we thought you would be when you signed 14+ years ago…and then some.

Brutal

Not much else to be said after the Boston Bruins dropped back-to-back games to the Tampa Bay Lightning to fall behind in the series 2 games to 1.

Jaroslav Halak wasn’t great in Game 2, and was downright brutal in Game 3, getting the hook after four goals allowed.

But he had a lot of help- the team could have won Game 2, but squandered the opportunity and then was listless, with no push in Game 3, especially when falling behind early.

Sure, the on-ice officials certainly didn’t help matters with a ticky-tack call that led to a power play goal head coach Bruce Cassidy called out after the game. Then there was the egregious interference by the linesman on Jeremy Lauzon at the defensive blue line which led to another goal.

The Bruins just couldn’t get out of first gear, and Dan Vladar’s NHL debut in relief of Halak looked more like Malcolm Subban’s first taste of big league action as the team did very little in front of him and the ‘Bolts’ goals kept piling up.

The Boston PK needs help- it is too passive and the goaltending hasn’t helped, but the series will be over quickly if the B’s don’t A. find a way to stay out of the box, and B. employ a more aggressive scheme to disrupt and prevent Tampa from setting up- their offensive shooters are killing it. And, this is a team that doesn’t have Steven Stamkos in the lineup, either.

Boston needs to find a way to slow down Tampa’s speed game through the neutral zone and must get a better performance from the defense, which has been far too loose and ineffective in the last several games, including the third period of Game 1.

It’s just a 2-1 deficit but given the way the last two games have gone, it seems like much worse of a situation for the B’s. It’s time to see what the team can do to respond. Perhaps putting sparkplug Karson Kuhlman into the lineup and bringing Connor Clifton will give them some needed juice.

No place to go but up.

Barnburner: B’s steal 3-1 series lead

Krejci2

It wasn’t a textbook victory, but the Boston Bruins went on a 15-0 shots run in the 3rd period to overcome an 0-2 deficit and steal a 4-3 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on a night that goaltender Jaroslav Halak was not sharp and the team in front of him had trouble getting anything done around the net in the game’s first 40 minutes.

Here are some quick notes on what we saw and what the B’s will need to do to close out Rod Brind’Amour’s crew on Wednesday in Game 5.

  1. Boston won despite a poor performance in net from Halak. He gave up a leaky first goal to Justin Williams that beat him cleanly from the outside and without a screen. Jordan Martinook’s tally in the second period, wasn’t much better- a shot from the outside that an NHL goalie has to stop. The third goal, which happened on a 6-on-5 and admittedly when the Bruins were running around ineffectively, was the first shot of the final frame from Carolina again- was shaky and made the final 39 seconds a white-knuckle nail-biter. Simply put, Halak must be better going forward- that kind of a performance is usually a recipe for disaster, but the B’s pulled it out.
  2. Zdeno Chara is a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he’s playing too much- and it’s going to burn the B’s at some point. He simply doesn’t have the footspeed and range to do what we all marveled at when he was in his prime. He’s such a competitor that he’s not going to willingly limit his minutes, so the onus is on Bruce Cassidy and his staff to figure out how to manage his workload effectively. Easier said than done, but has to happen- he’s one of the weaker links in the defense chain, and that’s not a slight on the legacy he owns as one of the all-time greats- it’s just that his best years are well behind him.
  3. Cliffy hockey is back! A year after bursting onto the scene in the 2019 playoffs, Connor Clifton did it again as No. 75 jumped up from the point and hammered home the tying goal on a nice rip. He’s the perfect playoff depth defenseman, as he can wheel and plays a robust physical game with the ability to score in timely situations.
  4. Jake DeBrusk came through with two goals- the first to get the B’s off the schneid and then the eventual winner on a nice net drive. Streakiness is what we all have to live with, but there is no doubting that he’s one of the purest natural scorers on the team and when he gets it going, the 2015 first-rounder provides important secondary scoring for the team.
  5. You just knew that when Brad Marchand got in behind the Carolina defense, he was going to bury it and that he did, going against the grain to slide the puck through the five-hole to take the lead. Big-game play there.
  6. Charlie McAvoy’s hit on Jordan Staal showed us another important dimension of Boston’s future workhorse on the back end. We obviously all see the offensive upside McAvoy brings, but that kind of a tone-setting hit that forced the veteran to the locker room was not only clean, but made an immediate impact on the game and started the comeback. It’s like you tell younger players- don’t worry about scoring on every shift- just find a way to make a difference and finish with a net positive on your shifts at the end of the game. That hit was a big positive.
  7. David Krejci had it going last night, creating some quality scoring chances including a hit post on a nice feed from rookie Jack Studnicka in the second period. These two started to show some chemistry and an invigorated Krejci is a good sign for Boston, especially with David Pastrnak expected back for Game 5.
  8. Speaking of Studnicka- he’s the Joe Juneau ’92 of this year’s postseason run. He’s picking up steam and is sure to get more ice going forward after last night’s performance. 28 years ago, Juneau joined the B’s after the Albertville Olympics and No. 49 became an instant fan favorite for his dazzling offensive prowess. Studnicka plays a different style, but he’s generating a similar buzz as a player who looks like a veteran despite his youth.
  9. You have to hand it to Justin Williams– the final pick of the 2000 draft’s first round is Mr. Playoffs and continues to make big plays for his teams in the postseason. Last night’s first goal is indicative of his three Stanley Cup rings (1 with Carolina, 2 with the Kings)- he had a shooting lane and got the puck to the net. He shouldn’t have scored on that shot, but this is why kids should not pass on chances to shoot- Halak whiffed and boom- 1-0 just like that. Carolina needs more from its top youngsters, though- and missing Andrei Svechnikov doesn’t help matters.
  10. Deja vu all over again for James Reimer who played a heck of a game for 40 minutes and stymied the Bruins- just like another playoff game way back in 2013. However, when the B’s started that comeback, you just sensed Reimer was thinking about what happened at TD Garden seven years ago, and in less than 7 minutes, his 2-0 lead was a 2-4 deficit.

Keys to victory in Game 5:

  1. Shoot often and from anywhere. Whether it’s Reimer or Petr Mrazek in net, the B’s cannot afford to let Carolina catch a glimmer of hope. Hammer pucks to the net, drive the lanes and be relentless…perimeter passing and looking for the perfect shot won’t get it done.
  2. Tighten up defensively- the Hurricanes will be looking to push and catch the Bruins D flat-footed, driving wide with speed and getting pucks to the net after Halak’s shaky play. This means the Boston forecheck will be critical in disrupting Carolina’s ability to generate speed through the neutral zone and that the Bruins D will have to gap up and not take chances will ill-timed steps or activate at the wrong times.
  3. The Pasta Factor- assuming No. 88 returns to the lineup, Boston might be well served funneling pucks to him especially on the man advantage. He excels in finding quiet ice much like HHOFer Mike Bossy did in his glory years with the Islanders. If Pastrnak can find soft seams in the offensive zone, he should be able to unleash his trademark shot to good effect, even if he’s not quite at 100 percent.
  4. Roll with the hot hand. Cassidy does a good job of sensing who is hot and who isn’t and getting matchups in their favor. With Boston back as home team for Game 5, this matchup game will be to the B’s advantage- leave nothing on the table and get after it.

Bruins playoff roster quick hits: Forwards (Pt 1)

We’re back with another post about the Boston Bruins’ playoff roster. These are thoughts, observations and insights based on what’s out there, but much more to come as we have an exhibition game on the docket now late this month against Columbus before the B’s round robin schedule begins on August 2nd.

The B’s remain in camp on home practice ice through July 25, then travel to hub city Toronto for the next phase and (hopefully) resumption of NHL hockey.

Here’s a breakdown of the 1st nine forwards (in alphabetical order) and we’ll post up the others tomorrow. We appropriately lead with the most senior Bruin, Mssr. Bergeron…

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Patrice Bergeron- Former Bruin Chris Kelly liked to call the B’s longest-tenured player Mr. Everything, and nine years after first hearing him say it in a soundbite, it’s holding up better than ever. Though Bergeron will turn 35 next week, he’s on a similar career arc to another famous (and former) New England sports icon Tom Brady, in that his most productive years in the NHL have come after he turned 30. His 31 goals in 61 games this season marked the third consecutive year he hit the 30-goal mark, and 4th in five seasons dating back to 2016. Had it not been for the season pause, he would’ve easily beaten his single-season best of 32 goals.

What more can you say about Bergeron that hasn’t been covered already? Though not an elite scorer, he’s productive and has always had a knack for scoring big goals in big moments (Hey, Toronto- we see you!). His defensive play has known no peer for years, and it is only the biased voting of sportswriters who would rather elevate other players around the league to the Frank J. Selke Trophy rather than see Bergeron win his fifth or sixth awards. No disrespect to the recent winners, but they aren’t in Bergeron’s class when it comes to defensive play, but they put up enough offense to justify the voters feeling good enough about themselves to cast the vote. We won’t talk about some of the dishonest Montreal and Chicago reporters who purposefully left him off their ballots in 2013 so that Jonathan Toews would win in a razor-close vote. But, given Bergeron’s class, he wouldn’t dwell on that, so we’ll channel Idina Menzel here and…let it go.

Bottom line- Bergeron has gotten better with age, and when he’s healthy, he’s the glue that makes Boston’s top line go. He’s got over 130 playoff games worth of experience, has a genius-level hockey IQ and oh, did we mention that he’s fully rested and healthy? Sounds like a recipe for some good times.

Anders Bjork- “Maybe the best player,” as described by B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy after day 1 of practice this week, will be in position to deliver on the promise that has surrounded him since he turned pro three years ago. As a reward, he slotted into David Pastrnak’s spot on the right wing with Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Inexperience and injuries have prevented the former Notre Dame Fighting Irish star from demonstrating the offensive talent the B’s have always felt he possesses, and while he’s not likely to develop into a frontline NHL scorer, his speed and intelligence make him a threat to become a solid complementary piece, the kind you win with. The offensive numbers to date belie the ability Bjork has to potentially get hot and provide some key offense at crunch time- he was one of the most valuable, if unheralded, members of a high-flying U.S. NTDP team from the stacked 1996 birth year.

Anton Blidh- If 2014 was a bonanza of a draft year, then the Bruins wouldn’t mind a redo of 2013. Only Blidh and fringe prospect D Wiley Sherman remain from that class, and Blidh was a late pick projected to be a role player/grinder at the NHL level if he could get there. He’s played at least one game with Boston in every NHL season since 16-17, with the most coming in a 19-game span that year. He brings speed and energy with some jam, but there’s very little skill and beyond being a depth guy to use in a pinch, you’re not likely to see him as a long-term option for the B’s.

Paul Carey- The Massachusetts native and longtime pro journeyman after four years at Boston College is the Trent Whitfield of this playoff roster. A solid all-around pro, Carey is a classic NHL ‘tweener- effective AHL player who is good enough to play NHL games, but is missing that element to carve out a niche for himself in the show beyond one full year on the non-playoff New York Rangers in 2017-18. This is not a diss- he’s seen NHL stints with every organization he’s been a part of- he’s a veteran, character guy who boosts the culture and has the experience to be a Swiss Army knife-type when pressed into duty. Having said that, with the B’s as a legitimate contender, it would be an extreme scenario indeed to see Carey on game night.

Charlie Coyle- One of Don Sweeney’s more savvy acquisitions a year ago at the trade deadline, the East Weymouth product delivered some important playoff contributions in 2019, and was having the second-best offensive campaign of his career when the music stopped in March. At 28 and fully rested and healed, he’s in his prime to be the anchor of a hard-to-play-against third line and is at his best when employed up the middle. It’s hard to believe it’s been a full decade since the San Jose Sharks drafted him 28th overall, but he’s continued to grow and flourish as a heavy, complementary center who is versatile enough to play any role and excels in the possession game. The best is yet to come offensively from Mr. Coyle, whose 9 goals and 16 points in the 2019 playoffs put him well ahead of his regular season points-per-game average. He’s a crunch-time player and the B’s were smart to extend him and keep him home in Boston.

Jake DeBrusk- Although streaky like many young forwards, DeBrusk’s skill and IQ make him one of Boston’s few pure scorers, and when he gets hot, look out. He’s up for a new contract after this postseason run, but the Bruins might be the ultimate beneficiaries up his up-and-down scoring, as a breakthrough year for him would have driven up the price of his second contract. Having said that, DeBrusk plays with pace and high energy- he’s been nothing if consistent in his three NHL seasons in terms of point production, so you know he’s going to do something. If he can get going in the postseason, he could be a major wild card for Boston’s playoff hopes. He’s been kind of a forgotten man without meeting the higher expectations coming into 19-20, but that could change quickly if he turns a few speedy rushes into red lights early on.

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

Trent Frederic- It’s not yet time for the second of two 1st-rounders in 2016 with the Bruins, but Frederic is close. He’s big, fast and has some skill, but will be more of a Charlie Coyle-lite as he works his way into more of an NHL role. For now, he’s here to soak up the experience and culture and benefit from being around the best Boston has to offer.

Ondrej Kase- Although not back on the ice yet, the most recent B’s acquisition is close to practicing with the team, and it will be interesting to see where and how he is employed after a very limited post-trade sample size before the pause. The 24-year-old posted just one assist in 6 games with the B’s, and while he didn’t play poorly, nor did he establish himself off the hop as a player ready to establish himself in the top-six. With his hands and offensive instincts there’s a lot to like, and with the benefit of the extended rest coming off an upper-body injury and a training camp to better acclimate himself and practice with the rest of the Boston team, we expect to see a different player come August.

Krejci2

David Krejci- He’s an appropriate bookend to Bergeron on this post, because the two are the top active playoff scorers for the franchise (they both have 103 points but Krejci has played in four fewer game to Bergeron’s 136). He was well off his regular season pace of 73 points from a year ago when the season stopped, but if we’ve learned anything about the crafty Krejci over his long career with the B’s, it’s that he usually saves his best for the postseason.

Now 34, he is a part of an aging core that must maximize their chances at taking advantage of a current championship window, so the added rest and recuperation has been critical for Krejci and the rest of the Bruins who were the regular season’s best club, and now have a chance to go for the jugular with the unprecedented break in schedule that has allowed an older, veteran club to get the kind of recharge that will benefit them better than many of the other younger teams.

With Krejci, we could see a return to the player who twice led the club in scoring en route to a Stanley Cup win in 2011 and the close-but-no-cigar run in 2013.

 

 

Reed Duthie: Off the top of the head- Matias Mantykivi

3 Amigo Reed Duthie is back to continue his steady march through Europe to bring you the goods on B’s Finnish forward prospect Matias Mantykivi. Enjoy!- KL

In the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins would continue a recent trend of swinging for the fences in the late round in Scandinavia. With the teams’ 6th round pick (185th overall) the Bruins would turn to the SaiPa program in Finalnd to select talented center Matias Mantykivi.

Very likely catching the Bruins eye originally in the 2017-18 season when he rose from the U18 to U20 as a 16-year old, it could have been happenstance for Mantykivi as Bruins 2017 1st round pick Urho Vaakanainen was playing for the SaiPa senior squad at the time. In his 2018-19 draft season Mantykivi’s meteoric rise continued. Starting with the SaiPa U18 side, he would post 13 points across 9 games and quickly return to the U20 team where, as a 17-year old, he would post 12 goals & 24 assists for 36 points across 34 games finishing 3rd on the team in points and second in PPG. Mantykivi’s performances at the U20 level would see him join the SaiPa senior team for 6 games in the SM-Liiga recording a goal but finding his most success at the professional level with Kettera of the Mestis (Finland’s second division) posting 4 assists through 11 regular season games and adding a goal and 5 assists for 6 points across 13 playoff games.

The quick rise through the Finnish ranks led to the Bruins utilizing a draft pick on Mantykivi, and they would already see the rewards of drafting him in the 2019-20 season. After posting 2 points in 2 games at the U20 level to open the season, Mantykivi would quickly join the SaiPa senior side as the SM-Liiga season got going, as an 18-year old his ice time at Finland’s top level would be limited but he would still record 3 goals & 3 assists for 6 points across 42 games in addition to once again joining Kettera in Mestis for 8 games where he would again excel recording 7 assists.

Still a few seasons from a potential NHL run, Mantykivi’s development has been more of a straight line upwards as opposed to a curve. Expected to play a more significant role in the SM-Liiga following a contract extension with SaiPa as well as an expectation to be a part of Finland’s 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship team, this could be the season where Matias Mantykivi takes his game to another level and builds his way towards his eventual jump to North America and joining the Bruins franchise.

Assets:

Vision/Distribution – Much like current Providence Bruins forward Oskar Steen, Mantykivi’s biggest offensive strength, and perhaps biggest strength overall, would be his vision and ability to distribute the puck. Able to fit hard passes into small windows and pick out teammates even through crowded ice, Mantykivi has drawn a lot of attention for that ability.

Attitude – Playing on the hybrid ice in Finland (blend between international and NHL sizes) Mantykivi has no issues maximizing a 5’11’’ 170lbs frame to drive the net, scoring an abundance of his U20 goals from right in front of the net. A no fear style that the Bruins like, even in their skill players is clearly on display with the talented Finn.

Agility – Although not the fastest player on the ice, Mantykivi’s greatest skating strength is his agility, strength on his edges and ability to quickly cut and dart in and out of traffic, even in possession of the puck. Very similar to Bruins current star David Krejci in that regard.

Weaknesses:

Size – As mentioned with Steen, not nearly as a big of a hindrance as it once was, Mantykivi has a 5’11’’ frame but currently sits around the 170lbs mark. He will need to take a page from Steen’s playbook and add more strength to his toolbox to continue to play his preferred style at the next level.

Shot – Again much like Steen while he worked his way to the SHL, Mantykivi has stepped forward as a tremendous playmaker but will need to round out his game by being able to score while teams over play his passing options. He has a good shot and solid release but doesn’t seem to use it as much as he could, preferring to add his goals by getting to the net and cleaning up loose pucks. If he can gain confidence in his shot over the next season or two, it will take Mantykivi to the next level.

Future:

Another potential late round steal, Mantykivi has a ton of room to grow and quickly climb the Bruins prospect charts. A player who would have likely gone under the radar with most other organizations, the Bruins took a player with a ton of raw talent who just needed continued refinement. His rise from the junior to professional ranks in Finland have proven he can translate his biggest assets to the pro level in Europe. The next steps will be to have a breakout in the SM-Liiga before making the jump to Providence in the AHL. Likely a middle-6 NHL forward ceiling, Mantykivi fits the Bruins system perfectly as a team that tries to run 3 offensively balanced lines that can threaten and even as a “third line” player, Mantykivi could find both his offense and 200-foot games very handily deployed by a coach like Bruce Cassidy.

Not much video out there on him, but we found a YouTube clip from early in his draft season:

Zach Senyshyn: Then & Now

We continue updating Boston Bruins prospects in two different series with Zach Senyshyn. We’re taking the longer, more detailed approach with the 15th overall selection from 2015, with some superb past content from Dominic Tiano who has been following him longer than most of us.-KL

Zach Senyshyn Then on Scouting Post:

July 18, 2015 (One of the very first posts of the blog)

Zachary Senyshyn, RW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-2, 195

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The 2015 NHL draft’s first true off-the-board pick has the natural skills to eventually justify the selection, even if the Bruins took an acknowledged risk with other more established players on the board. The good news: the Ottawa-area product is a fine skater who can beat defenders wide with his speed, takes pucks to the net and has the hands to find the back of the net with regularity. On the downside- scouts question his natural creativity and there is significant risk associated with him if he does not take the next anticipated step in the OHL with the departure of several key veterans he was playing behind. Although he isn’t an intimidating presence on the ice, Senyshyn is saying and doing all the right things and demonstrated his raw, but promising talent at development camp.

August 16, 2015

Zach Senyshyn scouting report:
Senyshyn plays a north/south game with very good size and still room to fill out. He has a very powerful skating stride with quick acceleration in his first few strides and top end speed. He has the ability to beat defenders with that speed one-on- one and the tenacity to drive to the net with the puck.

Senyshyn can throw a big hit but it’s not something he goes out looking for. He will battle along the boards for pucks and wins more of those battles than he loses. He possesses that same work ethic in his own zone. He plays the game in high gear from the drop of the puck to the final buzzer.

At times, Senyshyn has shown to make an excellent pass. His playmaking abilities weren’t really noticeable in his first year, but as he enters year two in the OHL, and playing with more talented players, it’ll be his time to shine.– Dominic Tiano

July 18, 2016: Bruins development camp roundup

Zach Senyshyn, RW

Plus: A year after tallying 26 goals on the bottom line and without much special teams time, the 15th selection in 2015 scored 45 goals to lead the Soo Greyhounds; he’s a big, explosive and skilled scoring presence on the right side. Minus: The goals are great, but the 19-year-old has work to do in his 200-foot game; he has a tendency to wait for the next scoring chance or let others go and get him the puck.

May 12, 2017- Another profile of Senyshyn from OHL analyst Dominic Tiano:

We all know Senyshyn is an elite-level skater who can beat defenders wide. He also possesses an NHL shot already. He’s willing to stand in front of the goal and take his licks and knock in rebounds. He plays smart with his stick seemingly always on the ice waiting for the pass. He has subtle little moves that allow for that extra 6-12 inches to get into a lane. Only time will tell how it translates to the NHL.

But for now, a year in the AHL is probably the best thing for him and the Bruins.

Zach Senyshyn now:

Three years into his pro career and after the above post was written, the time has mostly been spent in the AHL with the exception of 6 NHL games (1 empty-net goal, 3 points).  The projection on Senyshyn is just about in focus: He’s probably more of a third-line/middle-of-the-roster forward at the NHL level at best, which, in the context of his draft position, validates the concerns around the choice when it was made.

Mat Barzal (Islanders), Kyle Connor (Jets), Brock Boeser (Canucks), Travis Konecny (Flyers) and Anthony Beauvilier (Islanders)- all forwards drafted after the 15th selection, have established themselves as impact players, each with at least 121 NHL points (Barzal leads the pack with 207, while Connor is close behind with 201). There is no denying five years after the draft that the Bruins did not get the best value out of that pick. Like fellow 1st-rounder Jakub Zboril, Senyshyn has been a victim of others’ success more than the has been a subpar performer. And there is no denying the fact that a lot of people have taken great pains to point that out from day one.

Even with the potential surrounding the Senyshyn pick at the time, it was a given that he would be a project who would take time to justify the selection. However, the slower, more deliberate NHL timeline we predicted on this blog at the time of the selection ended up being optimistic.

Although he popped offensively in junior with 45 and 42 goals, his staple tool-  offense at the pro level has been slow in materializing. He’s had to learn how to be a more complete player to succeed in the Providence system, which adopts many of the same set plays and player responsibilities as the parent Bruins club. While we can say that his game has improved and he’s taken positive strides in terms of his pro habits that the AHL experiences have taught him, it’s not a stretch to say that more was and is expected.

Senyshyn is 23, and in a four-game NHL recall in late October/early November, he started to show why the B’s were high enough on him to invest ahead of the others. He showed some jump and was impacting shifts with his speed and an energetic style that despite limited even strength minutes, was making a difference and starting to move the needle. Then, he suffered an injury that ended the promising stretch just as things were getting started.

Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald reported on the lower body injury in a detailed piece back in December, when Senyshyn was returned to Providence five weeks after leaving the NHL lineup.

Here is Bruce Cassidy, quoted from the Conroy Herald piece with key analysis on the player’s Boston stint bolded for emphasis: “He did his job. He’s one of those guys who hasn’t earned his way yet so we haven’t used him on the power play or penalty kill, it’s all even-strength minutes, so you can get lost some nights in that role. We’ve seen that with Brett (Ritchie) a little bit, getting that motor turned on when you’ve got to sit for extended periods. And that’s where I thought (Senyshyn) did a decent job for us when he didn’t play. As a young guy, sometimes the mind wanders. I thought he went out and stayed true to his game and got on pucks, protected them in the O-zone. I thought he influenced the play well for us. It’s too bad when he got hurt. He was starting to gain a little bit of confidence and we were starting to see what we had. So he has to start over a little bit. Hopefully he picks up where he left off, whether it’s here or Providence and gains a little bit of confidence knowing that there is a role for him in this league.”

Cassidy, like most successful coaches at any level, focuses on the details- the little things. And going back to his junior years, we had scouts tell us that while Senyshyn had the tools to thrive in the NHL, his overall game and commitment to those habits and attributes that most successful NHLers have weren’t quite there. When it doesn’t come naturally to a player, then there is a window of time extended to figure it out. Not everyone can be Patrice Bergeron and play like a seasoned veteran at age 18, but any organization only has so much patience with the process before others pass you on the depth chart, and potential is either reached or left unfulfilled.

There’s no guarantee that had Senyshyn not gotten hurt that he would have been able to keep a spot on the Boston roster, but in missing the time he did, he needed to get back down to the AHL to get his conditioning and timing back on track, and there would be no other NHL opportunities after that.

Outlook:

At TSP, we can only guess that the positive, albeit baby steps towards earning a regular NHL shift might have done enough to convince management to hold on and give him more time. When you read between the lines of Cassidy’s comments back in December, he’s essentially saying that Senyshyn is young, but figuring it out and is trending in the right direction. That’s a good sign, and it likely means that with a qualifying offer in hand and another year under NHL contract, the third of three first-round picks will get another opportunity to prove he can play here.

That doesn’t change the fact that the projections here were overly rosy about him in the early going, but we won’t apologize for being high on a player who scored 114 goals in 195 junior games. Even though he was projected to go in the second round that year, we won’t fault the scouts who pushed for him in Sunrise, because sometimes you make gut calls based on passion for a player that pans out in a big way- like Bergeron and more recently, David Pastrnak. And sometimes, the player you believe in doesn’t deliver like you hoped. No one scout, no one team- no matter who they are- ever has a perfect track record. Every team can continue to learn as an organization in developing a sustained productive process from the decisions that don’t work out, just as much as the validation received from successful picks. Learning organizations might stumble, but they rarely fall.

Finally, the silver lining to the slow development, modest production and injury setbacks is that Senyshyn is still in the mix to establish himself as a player and could yet develop into a capable middle-of-the-roster forward. That’s not going to erase the criticism surrounding his selection, but even if the selection ends up being a bloop single to shallow right field, it is preferable to striking out swinging. With his growing confidence and a willingness to work, he has a chance to get on base.

Although it is cliche to say, the jury is still out on Senyshyn, but fire up some Europe if you can- it’s the final countdown.

For more on Senyshyn with analysis from Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network,check out this recent podcast. He starts talking about him at the 1:18:50 mark of the audio.

Zach Senyshyn’s 1st NHL goal vs Minnesota to close out the 2019 regular season

Senyshyn- 2 goals in a 2018 preseason game vs Washington (plus a nice breakaway goal at 1:50 by Jakub Lauko– speed!) 1st at 2:03 vs Ilya Samsonov and the second (a fluky bounce) at 2:40, but he threw the puck at the net off the rush- good things happen.

Jeremy Lauzon: Then & Now

The Bruins prospects series rolls on with a player who might’ve been on the verge of graduating to NHL regular status when the 2019-20 season was put on pause. He’s an interesting profile to write because he’s finally paying some real dividends at the highest level.- KL

Jeremy Lauzon Then on Scouting Post:

Watch this Guy: Jeremy Lauzon July 24, 2015

So, why might Lauzon be the best between Jakub Zboril (13th overall) and Brandon Carlo (37th overall)? Like Zboril, Lauzon brings similar size and a mix of offense and defense. He’s more of a consistent competitor in my view, despite some reports of Boston’s top choice Zboril being “ultra-competitive” (I wouldn’t go that far based on what I saw in film study). Carlo is a massive rearguard who excels in a shutdown role, but I don’t know that he has the offensive skill/sense to be much of a consistent points producer. That leaves Lauzon as the best combination of the three- not as talented as Zboril or as big/defensively savvy as Carlo, but solid across the board and a gritty, hard-to-play against -d-man.

Prospect deep dive: Jeremy Lauzon March 7, 2016

Though not a truly exceptional player in any key area or specific hockey skill, Lauzon nevertheless is above average and more than capable at just about everything. He’s got good (Lauzon is about 6-1, 195 pounds) if not great (6-4, 220+ pounds or more is what is considered ideal in the modern NHL for D) size, and skates well though doesn’t provide dynamic speed and quickness. He’s a deft passer and effective goal scorer from the blue line, and has the ruggedness and smarts to neutralize opposition rushes and prevent players from getting to the front of his net.

Lauzon is putting up the best offensive numbers of his major junior career with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in his third season with them. He’s off his goals pace from a year ago (eight vs the 15 he netted in 2015) but with 44 points in 41 contests, Lauzon has already exceeded his 36 points set last season. He’s had to deal with some nagging lower body injuries that have limited his effectiveness in the new year after injuring himself after returning from Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship training camp in December. As one of the final cuts, Lauzon opened a lot of eyes around the CHL this year after being the 52nd overall selection by Boston last June.

Lauzon is a smart player who often does the little things in terms of maintaining his gaps, keeping the proper stick positioning and forcing opponents into committing early. He likes to go for hits in the open ice and will take every opportunity to finish his checks along the boards and remind guys in the other sweaters that he’s there. Though not a feared fighter, he’s willing to drop the gloves to defend teammates and plays a naturally rugged and aggressive defensive style that will translate well in Boston.

What’s Next For the Bruins- The Young D May 24, 2017

Jeremy Lauzon, LD, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)- Injuries impacted Lauzon’s season and he didn’t put up the kind of regular season numbers in his fourth major junior campaign as he did a year ago. However, when it comes to Lauzon, it’s not so much about the stats as it is the consistency and balance. Besides, he had an outstanding playoffs (albeit an earlier-than-expected exit at the hands of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the second round of the Quebec League run), posting 5 goals and 14 points in 13 games with the Huskies.

With Lauzon, less is more- he made Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship squad but wasn’t given as much ice time as some of the other defenders. Still- he scored a big goal in the gold medal game against USA, and seemed to make the most of the opportunities he had. He’s got enough skill to score, but he’s also a tenacious, even nasty competitor on the back end who makes forwards pay for the real estate they try to occupy. He’s not huge, but big enough- he’s got a great stick and impressive vision. We said it back after the 2015 draft, but as a shutdown guy, he’s not as effective as Carlo and as an offensive presence, he’s not quite as talented as Jakub Zboril, but if your idea of success is a player who can thrive over all 200 feet of the ice surface, then Lauzon is your man. He’s been with Providence since his playoffs ended, learning and benefiting from being around the team, but he wasn’t ready to go health-wise after playing hurt against Chicoutimi and the way things have gone for the Baby B’s has meant that he’s on the outside looking in for now. His time will come, though.

Jeremy Lauzon Now-

The now 6-2, 205-pound left-shot defenseman made his NHL debut in 2018-19, playing 16 games as an injury replacement and scoring his first NHL goal against Las Vegas. In 2019-20, he came up in the middle of the season and was just rounding into form, having played his way into the nightly lineup consistently when the season was put on pause.

The numbers- 2 goals and 1 helper in 35 games split between last season and the current one- aren’t anything to write home about, but there is room in his growth and development to be more of a point producer than he has thus far shown at age 22 (he turns 23 on Tuesday). Of course, he’s not been a point-getter in the AHL to date, and isn’t likely going to blossom into a 40-50-point guy in the NHL in his prime. But, like many young players who are in the process of breaking into the NHL while seeing limited minutes in a more specific role to place a priority on playing defense, Lauzon has been fine.

He competes hard, plays with good intelligence and vision, making the right decisions with and without the puck; Lauzon does his job with his mobility, a smart stick and has enjoyed the trust of head coach Bruce Cassidy and assistant coach Kevin Dean for his willingness to keep things simple.

Style analysis: 

Why does one defenseman who seems to have all the major league tools and who was a first-round draft pick have trouble establishing himself as an NHL regular, while another who was drafted later the same year and carries a significantly more modest skill set has leapfrogged the first on an organizational depth chart?

With Lauzon, we think it simply has to do with the fact that he’s a better defender and brings a high hockey IQ to the table, along with a certain poise and ability to do the little things to make plays in his own end.  He’s willing to lay out to block shots and he’ll drop the gloves. He’s not a heavyweight fighter, but he’s tough enough, and in Boston, that matters.

NHL defensemen who can both produce points and effectively defend their own zone are coveted commodities and franchise cornerstones- that’s why there are so few of them available across the NHL. That leaves the rest of the population at the position: players who might bring more offensive abilities to the table, while others are better at taking care of their own end. Gone are the pure specialists: the “offenseman”- a player who lines up behind the forwards to take faceoffs, but is essentially a fourth forward on the ice- taking the puck and rushing it up the ice, but lacking the instincts or wherewithal or both to provide capable defense, or the “shutdown” D- a euphemism for a big, powerful player who lacked the skills to skate and carry pucks out of danger, but could grapple and pin and obstruct players in the defensive zone effectively enough to justify their spot on an NHL roster.

Now, if you expect to play defense in the NHL and stay there, you had best be a hybrid 2-way defender or at least be an exceptional enough player in your own end with the mobility to angle, retrieve and win foot races to loose pucks. The modern NHL defenseman has to be able to skate, think, pass and understand how to play within his team’s structure and systems, or he won’t be long on the roster.

Lauzon isn’t fancy, but he’s just tough- able to get up and down the ice, make the first pass and brings a tenacity and competitiveness that endears him to the coaches and teammates he plays with. His best junior season was a 50-point campaign, so his offensive numbers at the highest level will be modest at best, but Lauzon’s value transcends pure point production. He’s going to eventually develop into a player who can play a good chunk of minutes as a steadying influence on the back end.

In hindsight, it looks like we were overly optimistic in thinking he could be the best of the three D Boston took in 2015, and to Brandon Carlo’s credit, he’s taken the bull by the horns to establish himself as an anchor on the B’s blueline, while coming off his best offensive season to date with 19 points in 67 games. But Carlo is also a physical specimen at 6-5 whose mobility opened the door for him earlier in Boston than most, and he took full advantage. Lauzon, on the other hand, has been on a longer (and expected) developmental path. He can’t match Carlo’s physical gifts in terms of pure size, strength and reach, but he’s not far off at being able to contain opponents and neutralize scoring chances.

Outlook:

Lauzon’s persistence has paid off, not only in the form of an increased role with the big club, but with a two-year contract extension at a bargain rate of $850k per that will take him through the 21-22 season. He might even be in danger of being the one Bruin that new NHL franchise Seattle could walk away with in next June’s expansion draft. That might be putting the cart before the horse, but with his experience, cap hit and potential, Lauzon just might be the kind of player who makes perfect sense for GM Ron Francis and Co. if he plays at least 40 games for the B’s in 20-21.

If not, then he’s on the up and up as a player who should be able to slot into Boston’s top-6 going forward. He’s got just enough skill, a good amount of smarts and plenty of ruggedness to make it as a solid role player and maybe something more. It’s not overly complicated when it comes to figuring out if players will earn more NHL ice time or not- if the coaches trust them, then they’ll play.

It might not always make sense to media and fans who will look at other shiny, flashier objects in the system and say, “Why not him?”  Well, because if the flashy guy turns pucks over and can’t establish a solid level of the t-word with the team’s coaches, he’s not going into the game.

Lauzon won’t win a lot of style contests, but in the end, style doesn’t always win hockey games. As the season abruptly ended in March, the coaches trusted him because he proved that he is trustworthy.

Sometimes, that’s really all you need.

***

First NHL goal on former B’s 1st-rounder & prospect Malcolm Subban from late 2018

Squares off vs Matthew Tkachuk- noogie time:

 

A preseason fight vs the NJ Devils’ Nathan Bastian

 

Closing time: Thoughts on Peter Cehlarik

One story that cropped up late in the weekend and got some mild traction in Boston and the Bruins beat Monday was word out of Slovakia where it appears that left wing Peter Cehlarik’s time with the team is up. The 2013 third-round selection was interviewed in local media outlet Ta3.com, expressing his frustration at not having carved out more of an NHL role for himself, and appearing to levy a sizeable share of the blame to coach Bruce Cassidy (admittedly, we’re going off of translation devices and the interpretations of other sources) for his inability to do so.

We’ve tried to be fair to Cehlarik here, observing in the past that given his hands/skills and potential to generate offense, he was worthy of opportunities in Boston. Having said that, it was never a secret that he was a surprising pick of the Bruins in Newark at the end of the third round because he did not have the kind of typical attributes that the B’s prize in their forwards: higher-end skating and/or ability to play with pace/urgency, willingness to consistently get to the front of the net and play hard between the dots, and a modicum of jam- basically-  being hard to play against. Even when putting up decent numbers in Sweden, Cehlarik could never be identified as a player who was a rugged competitor and a tough opponent. Although possessing a big frame, slick hands and the vision to create, he was a soft-skill, perimeter player.

Back in 2016, we had this to say about him after he signed his NHL contract with Boston:

The Slovak, who has spent the past three seasons playing in Sweden, is a top-six NHL forward dark horse kind of prospect, but he’s also one of those guys who is tough to peg because if he doesn’t make it as a scorer, it’s hard to envision him playing a heavy and responsible enough game to succeed on the third or fourth lines in Boston. His initial first steps are a bit clunky, though with a long, efficient stride, he can work well in open space with good straight line speed. Cehlarik improved his skating from when he was first drafted, but it will never be a strength. He has a quick release that allows him to score goals off the rush;  an-in-stride drive that sometimes handcuffs goalies. He’ll also take the puck in close and shows some pretty fine dangle in getting net minders to open up and commit.

So, now- we’re facing the reality that the 2013 draft class was a bust for the Bruins. They traded their 1st-rounder (Jason Dickinson) to Dallas for Jaromir Jagr, so the first choice was at the end of the 2nd round after reaching the Stanley Cup Final that spring. Linus Arnesson was Boston’s first selection, and the “2-way”, “puck-moving” defenseman has already come and gone from North America, returning to Sweden after the end of his ELC and 79 games, 1 goal for the Providence Bruins from 2015-17. Cehlarik joins him as the next highest-drafted player to not meet hopes and expectations.

The point of this post is not to highlight some of the organization’s missteps in the draft- it happens to every team and organization and while some seem to prefer to call attention to the draft failures by this club, that’s not the key takeaway here. What is important to note is that the B’s broke away from their normal draft model to take a swing at a player who did not fit with their organizational values and style. When it works, great- but when it doesn’t, should anyone be surprised?

The good news for the club is that they have done a better job than any other NHL franchise at identifying undrafted talent and getting production from that viable pipeline. It’s not  something you want to get into the habit of depending on, but if the 2013 Boston draft is shaping up as a dud (Ryan Fitzgerald is a group 6 free agent, Wiley Sherman may not be offered an extension given the recent NCAA signings) with only Cehlarik and Anton Blidh having played any NHL games, at least the lack of success in Newark hasn’t adversely impacted the team’s fortunes seven years later.

Final points on Cehlarik before we wrap up: He isn’t a terrible player. He probably could and should have gotten more playing time than he did, but at the same time, the idea we’ve seen put forth by some that he wasn’t given a “fair shake” rings hollow. What is a “fair shake,” exactly? We heard the same comments with Alexander Khokhlachev when it didn’t work out for him here, too- is a “fair shake” being gifted 15+ minutes a night on a top line regardless of production? Is a “fair shake” continuing to roll out a player who, for whatever reason, doesn’t enjoy the trust and confidence of the coaching staff and fellow teammates? Even if the player isn’t doing his part in practice and games to earn his way? Is a “fair shake” getting opportunities to play with David Krejci and Charlie Coyle? No one is entitled to a “fair shake”, whatever that means- you get what you earn.

The fact of the matter is- Cehlarik got 40 games in the NHL spread out over three seasons, and was unable to make it work. He says that Cassidy essentially blocked him from succeeding. That’s his view and he’s welcome to it. Cassidy said at various times when he was up that Cehlarik’s lack of details and at times urgency are what prevented him from sticking in Boston. Both can be true- it isn’t necessarily an either/or. The Bruins obviously wanted him to succeed- there is not a conspiracy to keep a good young player down, and it is not wrong to assert that he didn’t do enough to make it in world’s best league, despite some neat flashes of what could have been.

We could go on, but what is the point?

TSP friend Ty Anderson has done some solid work on the recent Cehlarik analysis. As a matter of fact, Ty’s insights and opinions over at 98.5 the Sports Hub are almost always on point. Whether you agree or disagree, he takes the time to put some meat on his opinions and loves a good debate. His coverage on the latest with Cehlarik here and here are worth checking out if you haven’t already.

In the end, we wish Cehlarik well in Sweden. He’s probably better suited to be a solid pro in Europe where his style of game will translate. We do not see him being an NHL player going forward- all teams had a chance to claim him on waivers and any one or more could have made a push to trade for him. It didn’t happen, so both parties are moving on.

As the old song goes, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

 

Here’s video of Cehlarik’s best night- his only NHL multi-goal game. Credit to “Dafoomie”, who does a great job at archiving B’s clips for us all over on YouTube:

 

 

 

 

Tribute to Colby Cave 1994-2020

Boston Bruins graphic courtesy of BostonBruins.com

Colby Cave

Today came the devastating news that days after emergency surgery for a brain bleed, Edmonton Oilers forward and former Boston Bruin Colby Cave passed away at age 25.

Words can’t even begin to convey the depth of loss and tragedy that the player affectionately known as “Caver” meant to his family, friends, fans and all who were touched by him in one way or another.

I didn’t know him all that well or cover him closely during his time in the Bruins organization, but the times I did interact with him were indicative of a former junior team captain and underdog who worked and willed himself to the big show after being passed over in the NHL draft. Despite modest expectations, Cave achieved far more than so many players drafted in 2013 and 2014, the two years any one of the NHL’s 30 clubs could have selected him. Here are a few honest observations and anecdotes about a player who is gone well before his time.

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