Dominic Tiano: What’s Next for Bruins (Pt. 10) Key offseason dates to watch

(Editor’s note- Dominic Tiano gets full credit for writing this in-depth piece on key dates linked to the 2017 NHL offseason. It’s a reminder of how plugged in he is to the business and operations side of hockey. If you ever have a question about the CBA or free agency rules or pretty much anything that deals with the nuts and bolts of the NHL’s infrastructure, then he’s the guy to follow and engage with on Twitter. @dominictiano  – KL)

Of course, some of you may think it’s early, but decision time is fast approaching. In less than two weeks, Don Sweeney, Scott Bradley and company will be busy at the week-long NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo N.Y. where they make key decisions on the future of your Boston Bruins. Plenty of time will be spent watching players do some off-ice testing and they will also be conducting plenty of player interviews. It’s when a scout sees his year long work (sometimes longer) come to the forefront.

It’s also less than two weeks away that NHL teams will have to make decisions on prior year’s draft picks if they have not already signed an NHL contract. You will see the term bona fide offer used a lot, so let me explain a bona fide offer if I may.

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

Ryan Donato

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

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

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

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Boston Bruins prospect roundup #1: Frederic, Hughes lead Sunday hit parade; Bjork & Gabrielle en fuego

The Boston College Eagles and Wisconsin Badgers Sunday tilt (the teams split the weekend series in Madison after Wisco triumphed Friday night) featured three Boston Bruins prospects and all of them made an impact in BC’s 8-5 win in what was a highly entertaining game.

The larger story for the Bruins is that the reports of freshman center Trent Frederic’s unworthiness as a first-round pick may have been greatly exaggerated, as he currently leads the Badgers in scoring with six points in four games, posting a goal and three helpers in the Sunday loss. Full disclosure- your TSP founder was one of the critics of the selection, admittedly not seeing much top-six NHL forward potential at the U18 championship last April (and this despite Frederic getting a hat trick in one of the round robin games vs. Latvia). Red Line Report had Frederic outside the top-100 and didn’t see him as much more than a fringe fourth-liner, but the perception began to change when talking to former coaches and players who knew him better than any of the talent evaluators who buried him in the rankings.

There’s much hockey left in the season, but Frederic certainly appears to be silencing the critics in the early going.

Here’s what to like about him (film study of two games): Long, powerful stride gets him up the ice quickly…smart and patient; handles the puck well and makes good decisions in where he moves it. Creative. Uses his big frame to drive the net and is effective around the net.

Frederic has an aggressive offensive mindset- more than I (and others) gave him credit for. On JD Greenway’s first collegiate goal to tie the game (after BC had taken a 2-0 lead) in the second period, Frederic led a 3-on-1 that materialized quickly in the neutral zone because he jumped on a loose puck and caught the BC defense flat-footed. Granted, it was a 3-on-1 advantage, but Frederic showed an immense amount of patience to let Greenway drive to the far post before putting a perfect pass on his blade for the easy score. This apple came after Frederic had tallied to get the Badgers on the board, and he would add two more assists as the home team got within a goal of the Eagles after going down 6-2 at one point in the second period.

But Frederic wasn’t only Wisconsin Badger who turned heads in a losing effort Sunday…

Cameron Hughes, who was drafted by the B’s in the 2015 draft’s sixth round scored as pretty (and filthy) a goal you will see late in the second period to make it a 6-3 game when he wheeled back after a turnover in the high slot of the BC zone got him the puck alone in front of Eagles netminder (and Leafs 2016 third-rounder) Joe Woll. Hughes pulled the puck behind him and through his legs and then roofed the shot up under the crossbar. Forget it…just see the play for yourself and then imagine trying to do that at top speed as Hughes did.

The Alberta native is in position to break out in his junior season after some growing pains as a freshman and sophomore. Always ultra-talented, Hughes arrived in Madison at an alleged 140-150 pounds as a freshman and he wore down pretty early, according to one source close to the Badgers program. As a result, where he was once thought of as a top-60 prospect for the 2015 NHL draft, he fell all the way down to the mid-sixth round where Boston pounced. It’s looking like a solid value pick for the B’s in hindsight- Hughes is more of a passer/playmaker but that goal will be replayed over and over, and shows a deft finishing touch that the 19-year-old hasn’t gotten much credit for.

Not to be forgotten in the game was BC senior and alternate captain Ryan Fitzgerald, who was visible with his energy and two-way play and tallied a late empty-net goal by outworking his opponents on the back wall and then beating everyone to the front of the vacated cage. That play is what makes the 2013 fourth-rounder such an effective three-zone presence for the Eagles. He scored the goal through sheer will and hustle, and that it came via an empty net should not diminish the impact of the play itself.

Anders Bjork and Jesse Gabrielle have begun the season like gangbusters for their respective teams/leagues. It’s funny, because Bjork (5th round) and Gabrielle (4th round) weren’t drafted in the top-100 picks in 2014 and 2015, and yet they’ve been two of Boston’s most productive prospects over the past full season and about a month into the new campaign. It isn’t just about giving the team and scouts credit- give a lot to the two guys who took the later selection as motivation and have both put in the work off the ice to make sure the on-ice performance translates. If I’m Don Sweeney, I’d better get hot on signing both of these players. Bjork will have to play out his NCAA season first, but Gabrielle has between now and June 1 to come to terms- he’s done enough to earn that NHL entry-level pact in our view.

On the pro side, it’s been a disappointing start for the Providence Bruins, but not altogether unexpected when you consider that they’re without Frank Vatrano (though he likely would’ve made the Bruins out of camp), Alexander Khokhlachev (KHL), Seth Griffith (lost on waivers to Toronto) and a couple of key youngsters in Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen (both in Boston) plus Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara on defense (also in Boston). We expect to see one or more of those latter names back at some point, but give goalie Zane McIntyre a lot of credit- he’s gotten off to a great start after his final 2016 start left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. He’s outplayed Malcolm Subban by a wide margin…some of it is Subban’s fault, but the team has some holes, so there are going to be some bumps in the road this season.

Bruins Amateur (NCAA/major junior/junior) Prospects as of 10/17/2016

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 4 5 5 10 2
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 6 5 4 9 6
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 2 4 6 2
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 6 2 3 5 2
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 5 4 0 4 8
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 1 3 4 4
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda* QMJHL 2 1 2 3 0
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 3 1 2 3 2
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 4 1 2 3 2
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls USHL 7 2 1 3 6
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 3 0 2 2 0
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- NCAA 2 0 0 0 0
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 4 0 0 0 2
Ryan Donato, Harvard** ECAC- NCAA 0 0 0 0 0
Wiley Sherman, Harvard** ECAC-NCAA 0 0 0 0 0

* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)

** ECAC regular season begins November 4, 2016

 

Pro and European Prospects as of 10/17/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 7 0 2 2 6
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 2 1 0 1 0
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 3 1 0 1 4
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 2
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 0
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 0
Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 2
Oskar Steen, Farjestad BK Sweden- Elite 8 1 0 1 4
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 7
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 15
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 2
Zane McIntyre, Providence AHL 2 1 0 0.57 .969
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 2 0 2 4.18 .857
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 0 0 0 0.00 .000
Peter Cehlarik, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0
Brian Ferlin, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0

* Peter Cehlarik and Brian Ferlin- injured

Quick hitter: Bruins d-camp wraps with a 6-5 scrimmage

Truth in lending,  TSP wasn’t in attendance this week at the final Boston Bruins development camp shindig until next July’s event moves to the team’s shiny new facility in Brighton, but based on various inputs I’ve gotten from fans and hockey people in attendance at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, the organization has some strength in talent coming.

Jake DeBrusk scored the winning goal for team white today in a 6-5 intrasquad 3-on-3 scrimmage, while Danton Heinen and Cameron Hughes each tallied twice for their respective teams as black blew a 5-2 lead to give up four unanswered goals. Other scorers in the scrimmy were Ryan Donato, Cam Clarke, Jesse Gabrielle, Sean Kuraly, Anders Bjork and Jack Becker based on tweets from CSNNE’s Joe Taggerty and the Bruins Twitter account.

Heinen garnered a lot of positive attention in his second B’s development camp (he did not attend in 2014 after being drafted because he was in Denver taking summer classes). He’s  seen time at both left and right wing while at DU and could earn an NHL job at RW coming out of camp and preseason if he isn’t sent down to Providence to start the year. He’s not overly big (but he’s not small either), nor is he an explosive skater (but he’s not slow), but he’s got tremendous hands and hockey IQ/creativity. Heinen is the kind of forward who projects as someone who will eventually play on the top-two lines, but he has enough strength and a 200-foot game to work his way into an NHL lineup on the lower lines the way Brad Marchand did once upon a time.

The British Columbia product’s short-area game is impressive- he does the grunt work and digs pucks out from along the walls and works plays to the net, hitting teammates in prime danger areas or taking it in himself and finishing with a nifty-quick release he can paint corners with. Hype is always something that seems to follow young players around because so many fans want to see the “shiny new toy” in the NHL and don’t want to wait and allow the prospects to gradually develop in the minors first. Honestly- and we really need to wait until September before we get too far ahead of ourselves- if there is a forward who could make a serious run at an NHL job sooner rather than later- it is Heinen. But if he starts the year in Providence and not Boston- that’s all fine, too. He has less than 10 games worth of pro experience under his belt, after all.

DeBrusk also received praise for his scoring in this camp- he did a little of it last year, scoring a memorable goal on a behind-the-back shot that made a lot of highlight reels.  But when it all comes down to it, DeBrusk has been unfairly maligned after being a surprise 14th overall selection a year ago. He’s a skilled left wing with a little bite and jam to his game, and when you add it to his natural knack for finding the back of the net and making plays from the wing, that makes him an attractive asset in Boston’s system.

Jakub Zboril by multiple reports has the look of a player who was drafted in the top-15 last year, and that’s great news. He’s reportedly leaner and sleeker than he looked a year ago, and impressed observers with his skating and hands- which is something that helped him to be drafted before his Saint John teammate Thomas Chabot, a higher-end offensive defenseman (18th overall to Ottawa) in 2015. Now, development camp drills and scrimmages are all fine and well- it’s encouraging to know that a player of Zboril’s ability and potential showed up and impressed- but the real test lies ahead in September, when he’ll need to raise the compete quotient with all of the veterans and play exhibition contests against guys wearing different colors. I’m an optimist by nature, so willing to take a positive outlook on Zboril going forward, but I refuse to get excited about development camp- I did that with Jared Knight and Ryan Button once upon a time and learned an important lesson about the dangers of putting too much stock in drills and internal scrimmages. Players don’t make teams on the strength of what they do in July, but a good showing can go a long way towards setting expectations in the fall, so good on Zboril for demonstrating some fire and hunger. It’s something we need to see more of from him, not less.

As for top pick Charlie McAvoy, the rising BU sophomore did everything he needed and then some- if anyone had questions about his status as a first-round pick in June or his intriguing NHL potential, he reportedly answered those. He’s thick through the torso and trunk, but is such a smooth skater with excellent vision and puck skills. He’s a rock and very tough to separate from the puck- McAvoy could be on the verge of breaking out big time this coming season when coaches David Quinn, Albie O’Connell and Scott Young hand him the keys to the big red Ferrari that could be the 2016-17 Boston University Terriers and turn him loose. No pressure or anything, kid- but everyone is quickly figuring out why the Bruins were so smitten with the Long Island native, and the hype around him is legit.

Even 2014 7th-round defenseman Emil Johansson is getting some love for his skill and poise. Interesting and a positive development for sure, but again- remember what I said earlier about not putting more stock in development camp showings than is warranted. It’s nice that he came into Wilmington this week and impressed- he’ll be one to follow with Djurgarden of the SHL this season, but let’s pump the brakes a bit before we bring out another shiny toy here. It sounds like he’s given the B’s plenty of reasons to sign him, so we’ll see where it all leads. I’ve only seen Johansson on film, so my perspective is limited, but have never been that overly impressed with his reads and the way he processes the game, but from the sounds of it, he was very good at handling the F1 and F2 pressure this week and getting the puck out quickly and decisively. Every NHL team needs defenders who can do that from the top of their rotation to the bottom.

In net, the goalies never get a lot of love in these development camps because they tend to get exposed more than the position players do. Daniel Vladar got a lot of positive reviews for his size, athletic ability and good positional work- he was coached last year by Peter Mannino, former Denver University standout who had cups of NHL coffee with the NY Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets before finishing out a minors career and joining the Chicago Steel. Vladar is a nice kid- impossible to root against and according to Mark Divver, there will be no QMJHL for him this year. He’s expected to play in the ECHL (don’t rule the AHL out completely) or possibly play in Europe somewhere.

There’s so much to talk about and many other players who did well and stood out, but I wasn’t there, so will add some links by those who were present and close the book on Boston’s 10th annual development camp.

 

UPDATE 7/16- As promised, here are some links to stories and features associated with Bruins development camp:

First up is Mike Sage’s (Puck Sage) blog top-10 player rundown from the week. I first met him back in 2010 development camp, and his thoughtful hockey blog goes against the grain. Mike just calls things as he sees them, which is refreshing, because there is so much of a tendency to fall in line with a few voices out there, but he is always someone who has challenged some of the conventional views out there. Besides- he and I are kindred spirits when it comes to what we value in our players, so you’ll find us agreeing more often than not. He gives college players like Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and the very intriguing Wiley Sherman very high marks for their showings this week.

Bruins Development Camp Top 10 Performers

I missed this nugget from Joe Haggerty on Thursday. Good food for thought especially on Anders Bjork– he’s that Swiss Army knife kind of player that the B’s treasure on the lower lines, but with his speed and unexpected sophomore offense, he could end up being much, much more. Boston may need to sign him soon so as not to risk losing him as a free agent in 2018. As a fifth-round pick, he stands to make a lot of coin (and by that I mean not only the max AAV on an ELC, but with added performance bonuses that can boost the contract value and pay him closer to a first-round pick than what Boston would ideally want to slot him with based on existing salary structure) on the open market if his game keeps progressing and he opts to stay at Notre Dame all four years. The Bjork situation is one to watch- as a Wisconsin product who plays his NCAA hockey in Indiana, he has no real attachment to the Boston area, and you might see the B’s have to offer him a perk such as letting him burn a year off his ELC to get him to forego the path to free agency. We’ll see, but a lot of it will depend on how well he plays as a junior with the Fighting Irish.

http://www.csnne.com/gallery/boston-bruins/Bruins-Development-Camp-Day-3-Thoughts-and-observations

Friend DJ Bean had a nice piece on the growing pool of quality young defensemen in Boston’s system. Outside of possibly a Brandon Carlo, and/or perhaps Rob O’Gara (who wasn’t at d-camp) and Matt Grzelcyk (who was) the odds of a Jakub Zboril or Jeremy Lauzon and Charlie McAvoy contributing to Boston’s fortunes this year are pretty long. That’s not to say it is outside the realm of possibility that should McAvoy have a tremendous season on Comm. Ave that the B’s won’t sign him in the late spring and he could get some NHL games in like Torey Krug did at the end of 2011-12, but I wouldn’t count on it. Bottom line, though- the organization is putting together a pretty strong group of prospects on the blue line that could be arguably in the top third of teams around the NHL. For all the love the Dallas Stars get these days, go look at their D prospects cupboard and tell me you’re impressed with those players as a whole. Unless you’re a delusional Stars fan, you’re grudgingly concede that the Bruins have quietly assembled a promising cohort, which gets some extra credit when you throw Sherman, Ryan Lindgren and Emil Johansson in there (not to mention forgotten 2013 2nd-rounder Linus Arnesson and even undrafted Chris Casto, who could get a look in Boston this year, too).

http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/hockey/bruins/dj-bean/2016/07/16/prices-young-defensemen-steep-bruins-trying-develop-n

Here’s some of the video clips the team itself produced:

Development Camp recap:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-recap/t-277437088/c-44387103

B’s futures do community relations:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-community-events/t-277437088/c-44384403

Matt Grzelcyk weighs in:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-community-events/t-277437088/c-44384403

Ryan Fitzgerald discusses having a chip on his shoulder as one of the more unheralded prospects in the system:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/locker-room-raw-ryan-fitzgerald/t-277437088/c-44381603

The Baby B’s take a trip to Fenway Park:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-fenway-park/t-277437088/c-44381503

Ryan Lindgren talks about his first day at camp and friendship with fellow 2016 draft pick Trent Frederic among other things:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-fenway-park/t-277437088/c-44381503

Jake DeBrusk discusses the difference between last camp to this one and his progress- you can see how bright and likable a guy he is from his answers: https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/locker-room-raw-jake-debrusk/t-277437088/c-44381303

B’s correspondent Eric Russo has more on Brandon Carlo, who is a hot name heading into the fall along with Danton Heinen, as members of the youth movement who will push for NHL jobs this year. We’ll see how they look in September, but am told both impressed the team’s brass in Wilmington and that’s where it all starts:

http://bruins.nhl.com/club/blogpost.htm?id=47225

 

 

2016 Boston Bruins development camp pt. 2: the forwards

Back with the second part of the 2016 Bruins development camp series.

We previewed the goalies and defensemen who will be in Wilmington from July 12-15, and looked back at 10 years of development camps- a tradition that started in Boston during the summer of 2007 with some big names: David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask. Adam McQuaid was there as well.

This post takes a closer look at the 13 forwards who are in town for the event. Ryan Fitzgerald is the “old man” of the group at forward (goalie Zane McIntyre is the organization’s most senior prospect in his seventh camp)- the North Reading native was drafted 120th overall in 2013 and just completed his junior season at Boston College, his finest to date.

2016 Bruins development camp forwards at a glance (2015-16 club in parentheses):

Jack Becker, C/RW (Sioux Falls- USHL): This versatile skater can play the center or wing position and we’ll have to see how Tony Granato opts to use him this season at the University of Wisconsin. Boston’s last choice in 2015 was drafted as a highly raw prospect out of the Minnesota high school (Mahtomedi HS) ranks, where he battled mononucleosis early on to emerge as one of the more impressive power forward prospects at season’s end. At 6-3, 200 pounds, Becker is on the slow boat to Boston as a player who might not ever come close to playing for the big club, but it will be interesting to see how he develops if he can add an extra few steps to his skating and eventually earn a bigger role with the Badgers. He’s likely to have a bit part in his first two years at Madison.

Anders Bjork, RW (University of Notre Dame- NCAA): The 2014 fifth-rounder just completed his sophomore year in South Bend, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring (12 goals, 35 points in as many games). Drafted as more of a grinding/checking presence, the Wisconsin native has shown more of an offensive element than originally projected. Bjork can play either wing and skates with real speed and quickness- his edge control is outstanding, and he drives the net and can also score goals off the rush, catching defenders flat-footed and blowing by them in space. Don’t expect that scoring to continue in the pro ranks, but every team needs capable bottom-six forwards who can chip in with the offense, and with Bjork’s smarts and opportunistic offense, he fits that category nicely. Watch for him to take off even more as a junior, and he might have an outside chance at a contract offer next spring if he puts up another big year on the scoring ledger.

This is pretty sick goal by Bjork in the 2016 WJC bronze medal game…what was I saying about the scoring not continuing at the next level? Wow. Watch the way he goes forehand-backhand then forehand again and roofs it under the crossbar with no room to work. Sniper’s move.

Here’s a nice video from Notre Dame featuring Bjork’s cousin and Fighting Irish alum Erik Condra:

Jake DeBrusk, LW (Swift Current/Red Deer- WHL): It was a good news/bad news season for the 2015 draft’s 14th overall selection. After a quick offensive start in Swift Current, DeBrusk suffered a debilitating injury early in the year that not only shelved him for several weeks, but hindered his play after he returned. He got a reprieve when the Broncos traded him in late December to the Memorial Cup host team Rebels, where he netted a hat trick in one of his first games in Red Deer. Alas, Brent Sutter spent a lot of time tinkering with his lines and DeBrusk’s offense paid the price, as his goal total dropped to half as many as he tallied en route to being a top-15 pick. Still, he stayed with it and raised his production level in the WHL playoffs and at the Memorial Cup, where he looked every bit a first-round prospect. He’s not a dynamic skater, but is quick enough to find open spaces. DeBrusk has excellent hockey sense and will often get the jump on opponents because his anticipation is so instant. With superb hands and the ability to score goals any which way, he’s dangerous with the puck on his stick anywhere in the offensive zone. As a late 1996-born player, DeBrusk can either return to the WHL for his overage season or spend the full year in the AHL with Providence. That decision will likely come down to how he looks at development camp in July and then again at main camp and the NHL’s exhibition play a few months from now. Weekend at Bergy’s put together this highlight clip from DeBrusk’s 2g, 3-pt performance against Calgary in the Memorial Cup:

His dad was a tough customer when he played and that’s not really Jake’s game, but he will drop ’em:

Ryan Donato, C (Harvard University- NCAA): The rising sophomore and second-round pick from 2014 had a strong first collegiate season. The all-time leading scorer for Dexter School in Brookline, Mass. is one of the most creative and skilled offensive prospects in Boston’s system who dominated the prep circuit and then opened some eyes in a limited USHL stint in Omaha at the end of the 2014-15 campaign. He’s bigger than his dad at about 6-1 (he gets his height from his mother’s side of the family) and doesn’t have the same blazing wheels Ted Donato did, but gets an undeserved rap for being an average skater. The younger Donato is highly cerebral and instantly processes the game, often putting himself in position to make a play before it develops. With his slick hands and underrated finishing skills, watch for him to make noise in the ECAC as one of its most dangerous offensive players.

Donato talks USHL after his first game with the Omaha Lancers back in spring 2015:

Ryan Fitzgerald, C (Boston College- NCAA): As the local standout enters his senior year on Chestnut Hill, watch for his scoring numbers to erupt as a bona fide Hobey Baker contender in 2017. Like Donato, Fitzgerald thinks the game at a high level with elite vision and offensive hockey sense. The biggest obstacle for the multiple state championship winner with Malden Catholic is his below average size, but the eldest of Tom (and Kerry) Fitzgerald’s four sons (brother and BC teammate Casey was just drafted by Buffalo with the 86th overall pick in June) is a feisty and gritty player who isn’t afraid to go into the high traffic areas and get his nose dirty. His skating is above average and he’s quick and elusive as opposed to having jets on his feet in the open ice. Fitzgerald is a slasher who is fearless in the way he goes to the net and will take a hit to make the play. He’s often overlooked in the discussion of Bruins forward prospects, but he’s primed for a huge NCAA season and should sign and turn pro in the spring after being a nice value pick for Boston at the end of the fourth round three years ago.

Ryan Fitzgerald’s 2013 NHL combine post-testing interview:

Trent Frederic, C (U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18- USHL): A significant “off the board” selection for Boston at 29th overall in Buffalo, Frederic will get his first opportunity to show Boston brass and the fans in attendance what he’s about. A big (6-2, 205) and athletic center, Frederic played on Team USA’s third line at Grand Forks in the Under-18 tournament after being the second-line pivot for much of the year (Windsor’s Logan Brown took his spot in April). There isn’t much in the way of flash or dynamic offensive ability in the St. Louis native’s game- he skates with a powerful stride but doesn’t have the quickest initial steps or fluid acceleration (though he is fine in a straight line). Frederic can handle the puck well enough, but you aren’t going to see much dangle or ability to score off the rush. Much of Frederic’s offense happens when he crashes the net and bangs in loose rebounds. His physical style- the Wisconsin Badgers recruit finishes his checks and protects the puck well- should translate well at the next level. He got high marks for his character and ability to play well on special teams, along with the way he performs in the faceoff circle. He’s got a big frame that might still be growing, and he gives the Bruins something they lacked in their system at the center position: size and strength. He compares his own playing style to that of childhood hockey idol David Backes, who could be his Boston teammate at some point, and also patterns his play after Detroit grinder Justin Abdelkader. Frederic is more of a banger than a scorer, so he’ll have his work cut out for him to win over those who wanted to see more skill drafted at that late first-round position.

Frederic’s U18 highlights from bigwhite06:

Jesse Gabrielle, LW (Prince George- WHL/Providence- AHL): The stealth bomber of Boston’s prospects… A year ago, Gabrielle was quietly snapped up in the fourth round (105th) and was traded by the Regina Pats to the Cougars in August. When the WHL season began, Gabrielle went off, finishing with 40 goals and impressing with dramatic improvement in his three-zone game. TSP had a chance to briefly speak with Gabrielle in Buffalo, where he was supporting good friend and workout partner Wade Allison (Philadelphia Flyers- 52nd) and the Saskatchewan product looks to be in tremendous physical shape. An abrasive, fast-skating winger who relishes physical contact and doing the work in the greasy, grimy areas of the rink, Gabrielle struck fear into opposing goalies with his laser release and an aggressive, finisher’s mindset. His favorite player is Brad Marchand, and while this blog normally tries to avoid comparisons- a more appropriate NHL player whose style is a better fit for the 19-year-old is two-time Stanley Cup champion (with Chicago) and new Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw. Gabrielle’s throwback style is tailor-made for Boston, but he would have to make the Bruins roster out of camp or return to the WHL for the full season. Motivated and ready for the physical challenge, if there is one player at this development camp I wouldn’t want to go into a corner against (ever), it’s Gabrielle…he’s not forgotten about his wait at the draft and it showed in his play last season, as he’s a pure buzzsaw but with some legit skill to boot. He just needs to keep raising the bar and forcing his way into the conversation with continued focus and dedication to his craft.

Gabrielle takes on a much bigger, but not as adept fighter in Ondrej Vala:

Danton Heinen, LW/RW (Denver University- NCAA/Providence- AHL): Like Gabrielle, Heinen was also a fourth-round pick (2014) who joined the Boston organization with little fanfare, but who scored 36 goals and 93 points in 81 collegiate games over two seasons with the Pioneers. As reported first at the Scouting Post last March, Heinen relinquished his remaining NCAA eligibility to sign a three-year contract with the Bruins after his team reached the Frozen Four and tallied a pair of assists in his first professional game with Providence. The left-shooting winger played both sides in college and came out of junior hockey (BCHL) as a center, so he brings the kind of versatility that Boston loves. He’s not an elite skater, but gets from point A to B pretty well and surveys the ice like a chess master, often diagramming plays well in advance and making magic from the mundane. His most memorable game last season was a five-point effort against eventual NCAA champion North Dakota, which demonstrated his excellent puck skills and offensive instincts. Although a shade under 6-1, he’s added mass to get up around 190 pounds, and even if he doesn’t make the NHL roster right away, will have every opportunity to be an impact AHL player with the P-Bruins. Heinen projects as a top-six NHL playmaking forward with 30+ goal upside, but also has the natural smarts and versatility to find a spot on the bottom two lines as well.

Cameron Hughes, C (University of Wisconsin- NCAA): Another cerebral, playmaking center- Hughes was a strong value selection in the 2015 draft’s sixth round after entering the season with top-90 hype. The Alberta product is a smooth-skating, slick-passing pivot who can speed the tempo up or slow it down. Unfortunately, he has extremely average size at just about 6-feet in height and a light frame that won’t get much bigger or stronger than he is now at about 170-ish pounds. He showed off some dynamic, high-end scoring potential when he was skating for the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints, but had a tough first NCAA season on a terrible Badgers team. He made some key strides as a sophomore, but under a new coach and system, this could be the year that Hughes breaks out. Although not very big, he’s another similar player to Fitzgerald in that he plays with an edge and isn’t afraid to take the puck into high traffic areas, even though he knows he’ll get blown up. Another project player who may or may not even get offered a contract when he exhausts his NCAA eligibility in 2018, Hughes was a good flyer to take so late in a deep draft.

Joona Koppanen, C (Ilves Tampere- Finland Jr.): Massive (6-5) center is more of a clampdown pivot who clogs up the middle and is difficult to play against as opposed to someone with intriguing potential/offensive ceiling. He’s got some athletic ability and agility for one so big, but needs to improve his initial steps and direction change to thrive at the next level. Koppanen is a deft performer at the faceoff dot, where he uses a quick stick and his large body to win key draws, especially ones in his own end. If you’ve got the lead late in a game and are looking to shut the other team down, Koppanen is a guy you want out there. Having said that, he’s not very skilled and at the most, is a long shot to establish himself as an effective fourth-line NHL center one day. Considering where he was taken, the team could have done worse, but there isn’t a great deal here to get excited about, either.

Sean Kuraly, C (Miami University- NCAA): One of two assets that came back to Boston when Don Sweeney flipped goaltender Martin Jones to the San Jose Sharks after the 2015 draft (the Frederic first-rounder was the other piece), the RedHawks captain had a disappointing statistical senior season. His production dropped from 19 goals as a junior to just six in 2016, and he may not ever be more than a third-liner assuming he is able to play his way into the NHL. On the positive side, the Ohio native is a big-bodied forward who can play an effective 200-foot game. He showed flashes of some nifty offensive ability back in 2013, when he was a member of Team USA’s gold medal-winning World Jr. Championship squad, and his 31 goals in sophomore and junior years at Miami mean that he’s not without talent, though he doesn’t possess much in the way of standout skills that would translate into a top-six scoring role at the highest level. He’s a decent skater and will do the grunt work in tight and along the walls, but will likely need to carve a niche for himself in the minors first.

Mark Naclerio, C (Brown University-NCAA/Providence-AHL): The two-year captain for the Brown Bears signed an ATO with Providence last spring after finishing his college career with 100 points. Also a captain at Avon Old Farms, Naclerio was a member of the Winged Beavers’ 2010 prep championship squad. He’s not overly big or skilled, but plays with a lot of heart, energy and opportunism. At AOF, the Milford, Conn. product scored a lot of points off the rush, but became more of a quick-strike player in college, often drifting through defensive layers to pounce on loose pucks or deflect shots in from the outside. He’s on an AHL deal at present, so he’s not technically a Boston prospect, but hard work and productivity with Providence this season could see him earn an NHL deal down the road.

Oskar Steen, RW (Färjestad BK- Sweden): At 5-9, 187 pounds, Boston’s sixth-round pick in 2016 is built like a bowling ball and plays an energetic style despite a lack of high-level talent. Smart and rugged, Steen gets a lot of his points through sheer will and effort- he’s not going to dazzle anyone and how well his ability will translate as he tries to break into the NHL one day is anyone’s guess. He did manage to suit up and play in 17 pro league games for Färjestad BK (6 assists), in his country’s highest pro league, so there’s something to be said for that. At 165th overall, there were worse choices for Boston to make at that spot than Steen, who was said to be current scout and former B’s fan favorite P.J. Axelsson’s desired target at that spot. Axelsson, who was drafted 177th overall in 1995 and went onto to play nearly 800 NHL games, all with Boston, knows a little something about what it takes to make an impression when drafted later on, as does GM Don Sweeney. At this stage, the bottom line for Steen is: why not?

The team announced that due to family, school and travel requirements, BU sophomore Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson will not attend this year’s development camp. Zach Senyshyn, who is also recovering from a bout with mono, also is not expected to participate.

The Bruins released the development camp schedule last week:

BOSTON BRUINS 2016 DEVELOPMENT CAMP SCHEDULE AS OF JULY 6:

(Locations and times are subject to change)

Tuesday, July 12 (Wilmington, MA)

-Off-ice testing (Not open to media), Ristuccia Arena, 9:00 a.m.

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 11:00 a.m.

Wednesday, July 13 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Thursday, July 14 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Friday, July 15 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Bruins prospects in their draft years 2013-15

Back with part two of the look at Bruins prospects and how they were projected in their draft seasons by Red Line Report.

In case you missed it, I did this exercise with the 2015-16 NHL Bruins roster here...and part 1- the 2010-12 NHL drafts and B’s prospects and free agents in those draft years are covered here.

And…we’re off:

2013

Ryan Fitzgerald, C Drafted: 120 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 52                    Key comment: “Not big but we like the high hockey IQ and bloodlines.”

Observations: RLR rated him high in 2013, and that might have reflected his standing in the first half of the season with the USPHL’s Valley Jr. Warriors, as he had a downward trend heading into the draft. The nephew of Bruins assistant amateur scouting director Scott Fitzgerald is a gritty, feisty if undersized pivot for Boston College, who is coming off his finest NCAA year as a junior. In similar fashion to Seth Griffith, Fitzgerald’s major knocks are a lack of size and dynamic speed for his stature, but he has terrific hockey sense and a nonstop motor. You have to like his bloodlines- dad Tom Fitzgerald played more than 1,000 games and is Ray Shero’s assistant GM with the New Jersey Devils. Ryan grew up around the game and knows what it takes to be a pro. The Fitzgeralds are hockey royalty in New England, so it looks like the 2013 fourth-rounder will go back to BC for his senior year and then sign in spring 2017 when his eligibility is exhausted.

 

Linus Arnesson, D Drafted: 59  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 75                       Key comment: “As B.B. King would say- ‘the thrill is gone.'”

Observations: A late 1994-born player, Arnesson likely would have been taken in the late first/early second in 2012, but another year of viewing moved him down in the rankings over a lack of offensive potential. With his size and skating, Arnesson at one time looked like a potential top-2 NHL defenseman who might have some power play chops at the highest level, but as scouts got a longer look at him in an extra 2012-13 campaign, it became more evident that the steady Swede was more of a “safe” and unspectacular positional defensive defenseman than one who joins the rush and has the hands and head to be a presence on the score sheet. The good news for the Bruins is that they didn’t draft Arnesson in the late first round, so getting him at the end of the second was decent value for them. He showed promise at the end of 2014-15, when he came over to finish the season in Providence, but this past year- his first full AHL campaign was a bit of a bust as he battled nagging injuries and rollercoaster play. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a future in the Bruins organization, and as a guy who plays a vanilla game, he could earn a recall at some point if the team needs a solid defensive presence. Having said that, he looks like something the B’s already have in abundance: a 4/5/6 player who provides okay depth but best case would be an unheralded second pairing D who puts up at best 15-20 points a season but works well with a more offense-minded partner. The old adage on defense in hockey says that if a player is doing his job well, you don’t notice him. That appears to be the case with Arnesson, but the Bruins were hoping for more than that when they took him with their top choice three years ago (after giving up their first-rounder to Dallas for Jaromir Jagr).

 

Peter Cehlarik, LW Drafted: 89  (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 111                         Key comment: “Tall & lanky with great hands but feet betray him.”

Observations: This late riser ended up generating some draft buzz and is still an intriguing if oft-forgotten man when it comes to prospect discussions. 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-instride 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. Don Sweeney once described the puck coming off his stick as a “slingshot”to me, so there’s that.

 

Wiley Sherman, D   Drafted: 150  (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 125                 Key comment: “Getting around him is like circumnavigating the globe.”

Observations: Drafted as an identified project, Sherman is similar to O’Gara in that he has a lot of developing to do. The Greenwich, Conn. native is more of a gentle giant at 6-foot-6, but with his wingspan and long reach, along with pretty agile footwork for one so big, he’s tough to beat 1-on-1. He’s not a physical force but is more of a smart positional defender who angles opponents away from his net and sacrifices his body to block shots rather than look for open-ice kill shots and hammering players along the boards. When Sherman has time and space, he’s capable of moving the puck out of his own end, but when the game closes in on him quickly, his processing time lengthens and he can be forced into turning it over. Drafted out of Hotchkiss School, he took an extra year of prep before getting to Harvard, so he’s still pretty raw and will likely take the full two years remaining on his NCAA eligibility before the B’s will assess whether to bring him into the organizational fold.

 

Anton Blidh, LW      Drafted: 180  (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: One RLR European staffer summed up Blidh succinctly in Newark after the pick was made: “Gritty rugged guy, but no skills.” I’ll admit- have not really seen much to this player in the three years since he was drafted, even when he had a nice 2015 World Jr. tourney for Team Sweden. He’s gritty and rugged, but plays a very simple, straight-line game. It’s a nice fit for what the Bruins like, but Blidh is a dime-a-dozen kind of guy and it stands to reason given where they selected him. He’s not someone who is going to suddenly wake up and start lighting it up, but the team could do a lot worse than Blidh on the fourth line or in a pinch. In other words- as long as you take him for what he is, there’s no reason to get excited.

 

2014

Ryan Donato, C                        Drafted: 56  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 65               Key comment: “Great bloodlines and hockey sense with soft hands.”

Observations: The B’s grabbed the son of one of their hometown favorites and the pick looks solid two years later. Coming out of his freshman year at Harvard under dad, Ted, the younger Donato also earned a Bronze medal at the 2016 WJC with Team USA. He’s always been a heady, creative playmaking center who is bigger than his dad but doesn’t have the blazing wheels. With the Crimson, Donato showed signs of being on track to be a dominant NCAA scorer in the next couple of years. The B’s can afford to be patient with him and they will- there is no reason to rush him to the big show.

 

Danton Heinen, LW/RW           Drafted: 116 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: Nobody (outside of the NHL clubs on him) hit on Heinen…not one scouting service had him even ranked, and RLR was no exception. Two years later, Heinen scored nearly 100 points, making an immediate impact as a freshman and then following it up as a sophomore, leading the Pioneers in scoring after a slow start. He signed with Boston in April, giving up his last two years of NCAA eligibility to turn pro. Heinen made positive waves in his first AHL contest with Providence, registering a multi-point effort. He came down to earth a bit in the playoffs, but the British Columbia native looks like an intriguing playmaking wing, who uses his superior vision and creativity to control the flow and tempo in the offensive zone. He looks like a keeper. As for the questions surrounding Heinen and whether he can make the Boston roster right away, it probably wouldn’t kill folks to exert a little more patience and let him at least start in Providence to see how he adjusts to the pro challenges. He’s a talented forward with an intriguing ceiling if he continues his development, but let’s see how Heinen looks at his first pro training camp before penciling him into the Boston opening night lineup.

 

Anders Bjork,  RW      Drafted: 146 (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 178               Key comment: “Has the skating and the work ethic to make it as a checker.”

Observations: This late-round value pick is coming off a very good sophomore campaign at Notre Dame. He’s quick out of the starting blocks, accelerating quickly and demonstrating a nice short-area burst, which makes him highly effective on the fore check. He’s an energetic player and relentless in puck pursuit, but with the Fighting Irish this season, Bjork showed surprisingly consistent offensive flair, leading the club in scoring. He’ll need to keep putting up the points to project as something more than an ideal third-line forward, so expect him to come down to earth a bit next season, but he certainly looks like a nice value pick in the fifth round for the B’s because of his well-rounded game and smarts.

 

Emil Johansson, D      Drafted: 206 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: A lack of hockey sense had him off of RLR’s list, but Johansson had a strong finish to the 2015-16 season that might earn him more of a hard look going forward. He’s got a bit of a doughy build and has been knocked for his conditioning in the past. Johansson is a capable skater who moves well laterally, and handles the puck with confidence. When it comes to vision and hockey IQ, we’re not all that sure if he’s got what it takes between the ears to play at the NHL level, but admittedly- he’s made a case to at least be in the conversation. It appears he is leaving his HV71 club for MoDo, so we’ll see what comes next in his development.

 

Colby Cave, C         Drafted: Undrafted (Free Agent- Boston 2015)

Red Line ranking: 85                  Key comment: “Complete centre is versatile- can excel in any role.”

Observations: Ranked in both 2013 and 2014 RLR draft guides, he’s an industrious two-way center that impressed in Swift Current with 2015 first-rounder Jake DeBrusk before getting signed by Boston before the team made his teammate one of three top-15 picks in Sunrise. He skates well and like Bjork shows some real energy and tenacity when pressuring the opposing puck carrier coming out of the zone. He didn’t put up big numbers in Providence, but had his moments and looks like he could challenge for lower line duty in Boston if he keeps progressing.

 

2015

Jakub Zboril, D         Drafted: 13 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 26                  Key comment: “Intense, and a physical specimen with a cannon shot.”

Observations: The Bruins missed out on an impressive top tier of defenders in the top-10, instead settling for arguably the next best player in Zboril, at least in terms of talent. Ability-wise, there is no doubt the Czech product could be a top-3 defenseman in the NHL one day, but the consistency and effort levels were at times lacking in his draft season. He took a step back statistically this past year, struggling at the beginning of the season before settling into a more defense-oriented role for Danny Flynn’s Saint John Sea Dogs. Zboril plays with a physical edge and when on his game, he’s as good as anyone, but the wavering intensity and at times nonchalance has led to questions about his commitment. We’ll see if he can mature and figure it out, but there’s a reason he wasn’t a top-10 pick a year ago, and Zboril didn’t help himself a great deal last season. This time around, a bounce-back campaign would be nice, but because he’s a 1997-born player, he either has to make the Boston roster out of camp or go back to the QMJHL. That has led to speculation that he might take his game to Europe in 2016-17.

 

Jake DeBrusk, LW        Drafted: 14 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 25                  Key comment: “42 goals and NHL bloodlines will attract attention.”

Observations: The son of former NHL enforcer Lou DeBrusk, the Red Deer Rebels forward finished strong with an excellent WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament after a tough year offensively. Dogged by a significant lower-body injury early on, DeBrusk was then traded by Swift Current to the Memorial Cup host city club in late December, where he appeared to be getting his production on track before getting moved around various lines and scoring at a little over a point-per-game clip. It was a step down after scoring 42 goals a year ago, but DeBrusk is still a smart winger with impressive offensive hockey sense, and he showed some opportunistic offense with the spotlight on him in the Memorial Cup last month. As a late 1996-born player, the Bruins have options: he is signed and can spend the next season in Providence, or they can return DeBrusk to the WHL for his overage season. He’s a good kid who has been unfairly maligned because of where he was drafted and the fact that most public scouting lists had him in the 20’s, but he went about 10 spots earlier. Still- 42 goals is 42 goals- watch for DeBrusk to elevate his stock because he’s got the skill, smarts and dedication to be more than the sum of his parts. He’s got to get stronger, which could factor into a decision to send him back to junior, and his skating isn’t subpar, but he could stand to add some quickness in his first few steps. He compensates at this level by reading the play so well and bursting to pucks in open ice, but that will be tougher to do in the pro ranks with the reduced time and space.

 

Zach Senyshyn, RW        Drafted: 15 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 46                  Key comment: “Love his combination of size, skating and edginess.”

Observations: The first big surprise off the draft board in 2015 sparked an immediate wave of negativity from many who had never even seen him play. At 6-2, he can really skate, rapidly exploding to top speed in just a few long strides, and often times blowing by defenders on the outside and taking pucks straight to the net. He went from 26 to 45 goals from his draft season, but there is still significant room for improvement in Senyshyn’s game, and folks should not see failure if he is returned to junior before the next season. Though an impressive physical specimen, Senyshyn still needs to develop a more complete game and avoid the tendency for younger scoring forwards to hang out and wait for their next offensive chance. The payoff on this player could be big so long as people are patient, because he has the natural NHL tools to be a top-six forward one day, but some guys take longer than others, and the B’s can afford to wait a little. Like Zboril, Senyshyn can’t play full-time in the AHL next season if he doesn’t make the Boston roster out of camp.

 

Brandon Carlo, D                     Drafted: 37 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 41                   Key comment: “Huge with improving puck/skating skating skills. Big upside.”

Observations: The gigantic Colorado product is already a fan favorite and he has all the makings of a dominant shutdown defender who can at some point help get the Boston blue line group pointed in the right direction. Like DeBrusk, Carlo can play for Providence next season, but it might all be moot, as this huge, mobile defender might just break camp and enter the season on Boston’s roster. Not to put a lot of pressure on the Tri-City Americans rearguard, but he’s talented enough to play right away. The big question is whether the Bruins will opt to let him play a bigger role in the AHL before making a decision. Either way, we’re pretty much looking at a player who looks like as solid a bet as any to play in the NHL. The question we’re left with is what kind of impact Carlo will have: on the positive side- he can really skate for a 6-5 player, with speed and agility, and he can fire off cannon drives from the point. Alas, not real sure of the vision and natural hockey sense, but his game is good enough to reach the NHL, even if he tops out as a solid 3-4 shutdown guy at that level.

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C             Drafted: 45 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 70                   Key comment: “Strong two-way pivot but a bit mechanical.”

Observations: Swedish product is coming off a superb freshman season at Boston University. A lot of observers have drawn comparisons to Patrice Bergeron, which sets the bar pretty darn high for the player known as “JFK” but he sets himself apart with his refined game, smarts and overall poise. Forsbacka-Karlsson showed a natural flair for winning draws and despite not having high-end speed, shows a nice changeup of gears through the neutral zone and often pulled players out of position with a series of deceptive movements and head fakes. With soft hands and a natural knack for threading the needle, the sky is the limit for this kid, who left home in Sweden to adjust to North America in the USHL for two years before joining the Terriers. In hindsight, RLR had him a little low for what he’s shown in the early going.

 

Jeremy Lauzon, D                          Drafted: 52 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 59                   Key comment: “Vastly underrated blue liner can hit, skate and score.”

Observations: This Red Line favorite went right around where he was projected by our Quebec guys, who saw him surge nicely in the second half. In 2015-16, he took his game up a notch, establishing offensive highs in assists and points, despite fighting through injuries that forced him out of the lineup and hampered his progress in the second half. He managed to return from a horrific skate cut to the neck during the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. His Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the league championship, and he was able to get back to action in the Memorial Cup tournament, dropping the championship game to the London Knights. Lauzon skates well enough, though he’s still addressing his transitory skating mechanics- the pivots and turns can be a little slushy at times. He has a big shot, deft passing touch and will hit and fight to defend teammates when necessary. He could be the best of the three defensemen drafted by Boston in 2015.

 

 

Daniel Vladar, G                           Drafted: 75 (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 67                   Key comment: “Poor technique, but he’s 6-5 and a human gumby.”

Observations: When it comes to high ceilings for goaltenders, Vladar was among the leaders in the class of 2015.  He played well for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, splitting the starts and posting respectable numbers, but the Czech native is still raw and years away from staking a claim for NHL time in the crease. Interestingly enough, the Bruins signed Vladar to an ELC, making him ineligible to return to the USHL, and it looks like Vladar could play in the ECHL or AHL next season. Don’t rule out a spot in the CHL despite the ban on European net minders if Vladar’s agents can successfully argue a loophole that establishes North American residency for him over the last 12 months. I guess we will see.

 

 

Jesse Gabrielle, LW                        Drafted: 105   (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 132                   Key comment: “Naturally abrasive cuss plays like a burr up under the saddle.”

Observations: At one time thought of as a potential second-rounder, Gabrielle slid to the fourth round, where his favorite team snapped him up.  One year later, he exploded for 40 goals after being dealt from the Regina Pats to the Prince George Cougars last August. Gabrielle is about 5-11, but is a thick and sturdy 205 pounds- he plays like a little wrecking ball, driving through traffic and getting pucks to the net the old fashioned way. He’s also very tough to play against as he dishes out big hits, is nasty along the walls and will go after anyone who crosses him. Gabrielle is an exciting prospect as someone who had modest expectations this season and blew them up. The key for him will be to keep progressing now that he’ll have opponents keying on him and will likely be playing back in the WHL this season as a 1997-born player. Unfortunately, the AHL is not an option for him until 2017-18

 

Cameron Hughes, C                        Drafted: 165   (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 71                  Key comment: “So underrated, underscouted he may not get drafted.”

Observations: Well, the draft snub didn’t happen- the B’s grabbed him in the middle of the sixth round- but if you put a lot of stock in the Red Line rankings, then the team got a heck of a value with the Alberta native there. A highly creative and skilled playmaking pivot, Hughes impressed RLR staffers going back to the 2013-14 season when he was a standout in the AJHL with the Spruce Grove Saints. Unfortunately, Hughes had the double whammy in his draft year of playing on a poor Wisconsin Badgers team, coupled with being physically under-developed in going up against the bigger, stronger, older NCAA competition. Hughes had a better offensive season as a sophomore and showed some flashes of NHL-caliber ability (he could work his way up to second-line center one day, as crazy as that might sound today), but the consistent production wasn’t there for him. Under a new coach and perhaps being a year older and a better surrounding cast, watch Hughes to open up some eyes this coming year.

 

Jack Becker, C/W                                         Drafted: 195 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 222

Observations: The Mahtomedi HS-drafted player and University of Wisconsin recruit had a pretty average USHL season with the Sioux Falls Stampede, scoring eight goals and 22 points in 58 games. He’s got a big frame and has some intriguing skill, but is a long shot to ever do anything of substance in the NHL. We’ll have to take the long view and see how he looks in the NCAA, but all signs point to a slow transition that will take a few years and we might not even have a realistic view on his development path until 2018 at the earliest.

 

 

Bruins prospects update- the Amateurs

We took a quick season-ending look yesterday at the B’s pro prospects who are now officially in the offseason (minus a few of the European players- oversight on my part).

It’s time to look at the major junior and NCAA (plus the Euros I didn’t include) players and provide some observations on how their seasons went, signing status and what could be next for them. As Jake DeBrusk and Jeremy Lauzon are still playing, they are not included- we’ll wrap them up after the Memorial Cup is over.

Jack Becker, C (2015 draft- 7th round): Minnesota high schooler when drafted went to the USHL this season with the Sioux Falls Stampede prior to entering University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall. The Mahtomedi native is a pretty raw product, still growing into his frame and developing an underrated skill set. It will likely take him some time to transition into being an impact performer with the Bulldogs, but for a seventh-round pick, there is some interesting long-term potential here. Current status: unsigned.

Matt Benning, D (2012 draft- 6th round): The nephew of Vancouver  (and former Boston assistant) GM Jim Benning was a key cog in the Northeastern Huskies’ run to the Hockey East championship. He doesn’t have ideal height, but plays a rugged, physical and smart defensive game and is a little underrated in terms of his vision and passing skills. He’s not going to be a big point producer in the pros, but he plays bigger than his modest 6-foot frame and looks like a future third-pairing guy and special teamer. Currently unsigned, though reports at the end of the season had the Bruins expressing interest in bringing him out of the NCAA on an ELC.

Anders Bjork, RW (2014 draft- 5th round): This sophomore had a breakout season with the University of Notre Dame, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring with 35 points in as many games. He’s a fast two-way winger (he spent most of his time on the off-wing this season) who doesn’t project as a high-end scorer in the pro ranks, but is a versatile, opportunistic three-zone player. He could very well develop into one of the better third-line forwards in the NHL one day, but as a late-round pick with other similar prospects in the mix, there is no reason to rush the Wisconsin native to turn pro. Current status: unsigned.

Peter Cehlarik, LW (2013 draft- 3rd round): The 90th overall pick out of the Swedish Hockey League is a Slovakia native coming off his best pro season. He tallied 11 goals and 20 points in the regular season for Lulea, then followed up with three more tallies in 11 games in the postseason, reaching the SHL semifinals before falling to eventual champion Frolunda. With a 6-foot-1 frame and weighing in at about 200 pounds, Cehlarik has the size to do effective work in the high danger areas and along the walls, but needs to get heavier on the puck. His skating has improved since he was drafted, but he’s still relatively average in terms of his initial burst. Has quick hands and a heavy shot. Current status: unsigned.

Ryan Donato, C (2014 draft- 2nd round):The son of his Harvard coach (and former Bruin Ted Donato) is the Brookline-based Dexter School’s all-time leading scorer (he played there under his uncle, Dan Donato) is coming off a strong freshman campaign. He split 2014-15 between the USPHL, prep school and the USHL. The skilled and cerebral center hails from Scituate, Mass. and earned a bronze medal in the 2016 World Jr. Championship tourney in Helsinki last January. He’s got a real head for the game plus silky-smooth hands and is bigger than his dad was (though not as fast a skater). He’s another project that will take more time to develop, but could challenge for top-six forward status in Boston one day. Current status: unsigned.

Ryan Fitzgerald, C/W (2013 draft- 4th round): Another player with deep local hockey ties and Bruins bloodlines (dad Tom Fitzgerald starred at Austin Prep and Providence College before embarking on a 1,000+-game NHL career). The former Malden Catholic Lancer and Valley Jr. Warrior just posted his best NCAA season as a junior at Boston College, tallying 24 goals and 47 points. Though not possessing ideal NHL size and speed, Fitzgerald is ultra-smart and competitive, often anticipating the play to gain a step on defenders and playing the game with unbridled energy and an edge. He’s often overlooked (guilty here) but has the kind of natural grit and characteristics that lead to pro hockey success. His ceiling might top out on the third line, but he could be an effective contributor there eventually. Current status: unsigned.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C (2015 draft- 2nd round): Stockholm native spent the two years prior to this one in the USHL with Omaha before joining the BU Terriers last fall. Highly intelligent, slick center immediately impressed his coaches and teammates with his maturity and complete game. Good hands and instincts- more of a set-up man than a finisher, he’s a right-handed shot and plays a similar style to that of Patrice Bergeron. Although he stands at about 6-foot-1, he’s quite lean with a lot of physical maturing to do. He’s on the verge of breaking out in a big way next season as a sophomore and is one of the players the Bruins are eagerly anticipating down the road. Current status: unsigned.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW (2015 draft- 4th round): Surprise! The 105th overall pick last June scored 40 goals for the Prince George Cougars and impressed with his aggressive speed and physical, agitating game. A lack of talent was not the reason he allegedly slipped down to the fourth round, and Gabrielle will get his opportunity to develop and grow within the Bruins organization as he matures and learns more about what it takes to be a pro. Unfortunately, he’s a 1997-born player, so unless he makes the NHL roster out of camp next fall (not all that likely) he’ll have to return to junior for the entire season. He did get three AHL games in with Providence at the end of the year, but did not suit up for the playoffs (no ELC in place). It’s easy to get excited about the 40-goal season, but it will be important for Gabrielle not to take steps backwards this season with expectations now higher. He looks like a future top-9 NHL forward but he’s going to need seasoning first. Current status: unsigned.

Cameron Hughes, C (2015 draft- 6th round): Entering the 2014-15 season, Hughes was thought of as top-three round prospect after starring with Spruce Grove of the AJHL, but he was underdeveloped physically and playing for a poor team in the Wisconsin Badgers. Things improved for Hughes this past year (5 goals, 25 points in 32 games), though Wisconsin was still below .500, costing head coach Mike Eaves his position. The Edmonton native is an above average playmaker who sees the ice beautifully and sets the table well. Watch for him to take the offense up a notch as a junior, but he needs to keep adding weight to his skinny frame, and will likely be asked to shoot the puck more. Current status: unsigned.

Emil Johansson, D (2014 draft- 7th round): After a pretty mediocre regular season, Johansson heated up in the final games and SHL playoffs, flashing the promise he had shown at ages 16 and 17 before being a late pick in 2014. He’s only an average-sized defenseman by pro hockey standards, but skates well, with good straight-line speed and lateral agility. Observers question his hockey IQ and ability to process the play quickly enough to be an impact player, but after going without a goal in the first 40 games, he tallied five in the final 16 (10 plus 6 playoff contests) for HV71. Expectations are still where they ought to be for a seventh-round pick, but he’s produced more in Swedish pro than 2013 second-rounder Linus Arnesson did. Current status: unsigned.

Zach Senyshyn, RW (2015 draft- 1st round): After scoring 26 goals as a fourth-liner with very little power play time, the 15th overall selection netted 45 in a much bigger role with the Soo Greyhounds. With his 6-foot-2 size, he’s an explosive skater who regularly beats defenses to the outside and displays a knack for jumping on openings and finishing off plays. He’s got a lot of work to do on his overall game, yet. The biggest knock on Senyshyn right now is his shift-to-shift consistency and a tendency to hang back looking for scoring chances rather than going into his own end and doing the grunt work for loose pucks with regularity. That’s not to say he’s a lazy player- he’s not- but he won’t beat out some of the other older, more advanced right wingers in the system with the goal scoring alone. It will be interesting to see how he fares at the July 12-15 development camp and then in September with the rest of the veterans now that he knows what is expected of him. He played like a first-round pick after the B’s were hammered in the court of public opinion for taking him where they did, but even with the big boost in offense, he’s not ready for primetime. Like Gabrielle, he can’t play in the AHL this season if he doesn’t make the NHL roster in October, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the B’s keep Senyshyn for an extended period and then send him back before he hits the 10-game limit. That will depend on him and how he looks in the fall. He’s already signed his ELC- a three-year pact at $925,000 per season, which goes into effect either when he begins playing in the AHL regularly or passes the 10-game mark in the NHL. It does not toll while he is still in the OHL.

Wiley Sherman, D (2013 draft- 5th round): Huge 6-foot-6 defenseman had a solid sophomore season, scoring his first three NCAA goals after not finding the back of the net in 2014-15 with Harvard. The former Hotchkiss Bearcat is still quite raw and remains a significant project who is nowhere close to making a case for an NHL job in Boston. He’s a good skater for one so big and has capable puck-moving ability. However, when the game closes in on Sherman and he’s forced to make decisions under duress, that’s when things start to go off the rails for him. You can’t coach his size and tremendous wingspan and reach, and it bears noting that there isn’t much of an offensive ceiling for him, but he could develop into a capable bottom-pairing guy with the investment of more work and patience. The Greenwich, Connecticut native is a good guy with a fine disposition, but doesn’t bring the kind of nasty, snarly temperament that would be embraced in Boston. Current status: unsigned.

Jakub Zboril, D (2015 draft- 1st round): Boston’s top choice (13th overall- acquired with the pick from Los Angeles for Milan Lucic) has the tools to be a top-three NHL defender but he raised some concerns after an average season. The Czech had a much better 2014-15 campaign, when he overcame an MCL injury to post 33 points in 44 games. This season, he missed time to some nagging injuries and the World Jr. tourney, but only managed 20 points in 50. Zboril had a much better playoffs with 10 points in 17 games as the Saint John Seadogs advanced to the third round of the QMJHL postseason before falling to Shawinigan. When on his game, this player can skate, shoot, pass and hit; he makes opponents pay the price for real estate in front of his net and has the skill and swagger of an effective two-way D at the highest level. Unfortunately, Zboril can go long stretches where he appears passive and disengaged. That lack of consistency was the biggest reason why he wasn’t ranked in the top tier of defenders in the 2015 draft class, and has stood in stark contrast to teammate and fellow first-rounder Thomas Chabot (Ottawa- 18th overall), who really emerged  as Danny Flynn’s go-to guy on the blue line this season. Zboril has the talent to play in the NHL right now…but is the maturity and self-discipline there? We’ll soon find out, but as a 1997-born player drafted in the CHL he has to make the Boston roster or go back to the ‘Q’. This is why we’re hearing whispers that Zboril may opt to play in Europe somewhere, but with that season beginning before NHL training camp starts up, any such decision will likely have to wait. He signed his ELC with Boston last summer- three years at $925k with the same caveat in place as Senyshyn (and Brandon Carlo/Jake DeBrusk’s ) deal.

*Should Carlo and DeBrusk play in the AHL next season, their ELC first year will toll for the 2016-17 season.

 

 

Bruins Prospects Update 10/26/15

With the final weekend in October now in the books, the Providence B’s are getting a boost from Seth Griffith, who tallied a trio of assists in his first AHL game of the year Friday before adding a goal on Sunday in a loss to Lehigh Valley. A lower body injury (suffered on a questionable hit from Devils forward Tuomo Ruuttu) derailed his hopes of making the big club out of camp, but if he continues producing on the farm, he could be brought back up. However, with the Boston offense clicking right now, that’s a long shot unless someone else gets knocked out of the lineup.

Frank Vatrano scored another goal to keep pace at more than a goal per game, but Austin Czarnik remained out since taking a big hit in the open ice more than a week ago- he’s missed the last three Providence games.

In the major junior ranks, second-round defenseman Jeremy Lauzon continues to produce. Even more impressive than the points, has been his ability to log 30 minutes of ice time a night while playing a mobile, smart defense. He looks like an all-around player at this point who was terrific value where the Bruins got him as the third of three Calgary picks acquired for Dougie Hamilton on draft weekend. It was also a good week for the WHL forwards Jake DeBrusk and Jesse Gabrielle.

AHL

Frank Vatrano, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 7  Goals- 8  Assists- 2 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 4 +/-  -1

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 7  Goals- 2  Assists- 9 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 0  +/- 2

Four assists over the week put him on top of the Providence Bruins scoring list, as Koko continues to make his case for NHL time in the best possible way: with production.

Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 2 Goals- 1 Assists- 3 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 0

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 7 Goals- 4 Assists- 0 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -3

Former Swift Current captain tallied a pair of goals in Providence’s Friday night victory.

 Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 6  MIN- 362 GA- 20 GAA- 3.31  Spct- .882 W- 2 L- 2 OTL- 2

With the exception of one game, McIntyre has started every other contest for Providence with mixed results.

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 12 Goals- 6 Assists- 3 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -6

No points for Senyshyn, who has cooled off after a hot start with six goals in his first 7 OHL games.

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 12 Goals- 3 Assists- 17 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 22 +/- +13

With five assists in three games last week, the Val-d’Or native just keeps on rolling. His point totals are something a forward would be proud of. He’s a rugged, capable defender as well- which makes his early scoring all the more compelling. This blog said back in July that Lauzon might be the best of the three defenders taken in 2015, with the first two (Jakub Zboril, Brandon Carlo) grabbing more of the attention and spotlight. Both of them have already signed ELCs with the B’s, but the team would be wise to lock up Lauzon as well.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 8 Goals- 0 Assists- 3 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 8 +/- 0

WHL

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

GP- 11 Goals- 5 Assists- 11 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 13 +/- -3

The goals have not been as plentiful in the early going for DeBrusk, but he’s setting them up from the left wing side to good effect. He’s the kind of player who doesn’t wow you with his skill when he’s out there, but then he’ll make an impressive pass or shot and you’re reminded that he was the 14th overall pick in last June’s draft.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 10 Goals- 6 Assists- 3 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -5

Senyshyn only had an assist in a couple of games this week after tallying six goals in his first eight contests. Part of that has to do with the offensive struggles of teammate Blake Speers.

WHL

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

GP- 8 Goals- 4 Assists- 7 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 9 +/- -4

After scoring goals in each of his first two WHL games after being returned from Boston, DeBrusk did not find the back of the net in three contests this week. He did put up a couple of assists, and while his point totals aren’t anything to write home about, the focal point of Swift Current’s offense will pick up the scoring pace.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 11 Goals- 9 Assists- 2 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 23 +/- 4

Gabrielle went on a tear since the last update, firing home five goals and throwing in a fight for good measure. He’s getting on the radar as someone who has a higher-level talent base than where he was drafted in the mid-fourth round and will have to guard against undisciplined play.

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 11 Goals- 1 Assists- 7 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 32 +/- -3

NCAA

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University Terriers (HEA)

GP- 3 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 1

The impressive freshman notched his first multi-point game of his collegiate career with a goal and helper over the weekend.

Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 5 Goals- 3 Assists- 2 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 8 +/- 5

The 2013 fourth-rounder is off to another solid start with the Eagles in his junior season. He doesn’t possess ideal size, but he’s instinctive and adept in all three zones.

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 4 Goals- 1 Assists- 1 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 10 +/- -1

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

GP- 6 Goals- 0 Assists- 2 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -4

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA)

GP- 4 Goals- 0 Assists- 4 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 2

Boston Bruins 2015-16 season preview: the Centers

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

In retrospect: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…well, not really. The 2014-15 NHL campaign was a rough one for the Boston Bruins’ men up the middle.

Patrice Bergeron led the club in scoring with 22 goals and 55 points- the lowest for a non-lockout season since 2009-10 when he and David Krejci both finished with 52 points. It was a step back for Bergeron from his 30 goals and 62 points in 2014, but Krejci’s season was downright miserable.

The 29-year-old missed 35 games and finished with just 7 goals and 31 points in the 47 contests he played after signing a lucrative contract extension that will pay him $43.5 million ($7.25M AAV) for the next six years starting in 2015. This is not to indict the team or player for that deal, but if the Bruins are going to take steps forward, then Krejci is going to have to put the last 12 months behind him and take his game back up to the level he’s capable of.

The good news for the team is that young pivot Ryan Spooner finally broke through after several years of teasing with flashes of his pure speed and offensive skill. He made the club out of camp, but after five games on a very short leash, he was returned to Providence where he battled injuries and up-and-down play until late January when he rounded into form and established himself as a consistent scoring presence. When Krejci went down for another extended absence in late February, Spooner returned to Boston and stayed there, finishing the year with 8 goals (his 1st in the NHL in spot duty the previous two seasons) and 18 points in 29 games (24 if you throw out the first five where he barely played).

Gone is third-liner Carl Soderberg (traded to Colorado for the 2016 pick Boston sent to the Avs for Max Talbot) and fourth line staple Gregory Campbell. Soderberg flashed his big-time ability in spots, but whereas he thrived in his third-line role, he was ineffective when asked to center one of the team’s top-two lines when Krejci was out. Campbell was a good soldier whose declining production and being on the wrong side of 30 made him a free agent departure to Columbus.

Overall, Boston’s 22nd-ranked offense (all the way down from third in 2014) was reflected in the team’s low scoring totals by their centers and the club’s non-playoff finish. Bergeron was steady and dependable, especially when it comes to the other things like faceoffs and defensive zone play, but the lack of production from Krejci and Soderberg, due in part to a dropoff on the wings, all contributed to a down year.

The view from here: Patrice Bergeron, as veteran forward Chris Kelly has often said, is Boston’s “Mr. Everything”- he’s arguably the true face of the franchise. He also turned 30 in July, a remarkable turn of events considering it seems like only yesterday that he was a fresh-faced 18-year-old rookie who made the veteran-laden 2003-04 Bruins out of camp after being the 45th overall selection in Nashville (with a compensation pick the B’s got for losing Bill Guerin to free agency). Since then, Bergeron has won a Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, both a men’s World and World Jr. championship and added three Frank Selke Trophies as the NHL’s top defensive forward. If you looked up “winning” in the Urban Dictionary, you’ll not find Charlie Sheen but Bergeron’s mug looking back at you.

He’s the team’s active points leader with 206 goals and 550 career points in 740 games, all with Boston. He currently sits 12th on the franchise’s all-time scoring list and is just 26 points from moving past Milt Schmidt. Assuming he stays healthy and posts another typical offensive year for him, he could move all the way up to eighth past Terry O’Reilly (606 points). Think of where Bergeron would be  on the scoring ledger had he not lost an entire 82-game season to the 04-05 lockout, another 72 games to the near career-ending hit from behind he took from Flyers defenseman Randy Jones (who?) and then another lockout-shortened half season in 2013.

What makes Bergeron so good is that he’s a complete player. Sure- he doesn’t have the open-ice speed, and to be honest- the Bruins are lucky he wasn’t quicker than he is now at age 17, or else there’s not much of a chance he would have been available for them to draft. Bergeron seriousness and dedication- evident from the very first time I sat down with him for an extended interview at our hotel in Nashville the day after the ’03 draft- is why he not only made the NHL just a few months after turning 18, and ahead of many of the more-heralded 44 picks in front of him, but is a big reason he’s thrived.

Any hopes the B’s have of getting back to being a playoff caliber club starts with him.

Krejci begins the year as the second-ranked active scorer with 409 points in 551 games. When healthy and on top of his game, he’s a cerebral centerman who compensates for his average size and speed with high-end playmaking skills like vision, soft hands and offensive creativity. The Czech product who was a steal at the 64th overall selection in 2004 is quiet off the ice but fiercely driven and competitive as evidenced by his 29 goals and 77 career playoff points, good for ninth all-time for the Bruins (and 11 more than Bergeron has in the postseason).

There isn’t much to add about the previous year’s performance other than to say that the Bruins must get more from him going forward or they’re going to be in trouble. His contract is paying him like a top-level producer, which he has shown he can be in the playoffs, but for a player who has never scored more than 23 goals or 73 points in an entire regular season, it was a generous increase, and for someone who will turn 30 in late April, the Bruins are counting on him taking his production to another level than what we have seen in his previous NHL seasons. Doable? Yes. Likely? That’s an entirely different debate.

Spooner is a speedy, skilled offensive forward who hit his stride after his second call-up late in the year, scoring his first NHL goal in sudden death against New Jersey and playing the best hockey of his young NHL career to finish out the season. At one time the youngest player in Peterborough Petes history to score 30 goals in a season, like Bergeron, he was the 45th overall pick (seven years after PB), slipping in the draft a bit due to a broken collarbone suffered right after the CHL Top Prospects Game in January 2010- dooming him to the “out of sight/out of mind” phenomenon that can occur in a player’s draft season. Although Spooner’s road to the NHL was more down than up, he earned a two-year contract extension and has the inside track to the third line center job when camp opens up in a few weeks. For a kid who appeared done and for whom trade rumors swirled in the first half of last season, he’s back to where the B’s thought he should be.

A player who enters camp with expectations of winning the fourth-line center job is Finnish veteran pro and newcomer Joonas Kemppainen. A member of the SM-Liiga’s championship team Karpat this past spring, Kemppainen has a big, 6-2, 200-pound frame and at age 27 is a mature two-way center who can do all of the little things you need. Although not especially fast, he has a powerful stride and uses his body well along the walls and in front of the net. He doesn’t have high-end puck skills, but he works hard in the trenches and gets his points off of opportunism and hard work. He was brought to development camp in July, but pulled a hamstring while working out at home before the trip, so fans unfortunately weren’t able to see him. He should be fine for camp, but this will be something to monitor and watch going forward.

Alexander Khokhlachev and Zack Phillips will also be vying for NHL jobs this season going into camp, but may have their hands full trying to make a splash with Boston. Koko is ready for NHL duty, but he may need to make a positional switch to the wing in order to do it. He’s not as fast as Spooner is, so splitting him out wide may be a better fit for his style of game and gives the Bruins more of a dynamic option scoring-wise- he’s not an ideal candidate for the duties and responsibilities of a fourth-line pivot, and he’d have to beat out one of the 1-3 centers to make it there, which, given his current body of work to date, is not likely.

Phillips, who was drafted 12 spots ahead of Koko in 2011 by the Wild (and Koko’s pick ended up being Minnesota’s 2nd-round selection- acquired in a trade that sent Chuck Kobasew out west early in 2009-10). He’s a talented offensive player who tallied 95 points in a Memorial Cup-winning campaign his draft year, but has struggled since to live up to the billing of being taken in the top-30. He performed well enough for Providence after being acquired even-up for Jared Knight at the deadline, tallying 11 points in 16 games, but has yet to show that he’s someone who will vie for regular NHL duty, at least as far as this season is concerned. At age 22 (he turns 23 in late Oct.), he has time, so it behooves the Bruins to take a wait-and-see approach.

Ryan Spooner enters his fourth professional season for the first time as an expected NHL roster player (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Ryan Spooner enters his fourth professional season for the first time as an expected NHL roster player (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

On the farm: If neither one of Koko or Phillips makes the Boston roster, they’ll be the 1-2 punch in Providence this year (though it stands to reason that Boston’s skilled Russian prospect might balk at another demotion- we shall see, and I’ll cover him in the forthcoming post on the B’s options on the wings as well).

There isn’t a whole lot else to speak of down in the AHL. Providence College captain Noel Acciari is a blue collar prospect as a versatile if not high-end offensive player who plays a rugged two-way game and hits everything in sight. He’s not an NHL option at this point, but has steadily developed at every other level and is a winner, having been a key part of the Friars’ first-ever NCAA title this past spring. He was a solid free agent pickup for the B’s.

Rugged WHL center Justin Hickman, a free agent signed last January after shutting it down for shoulder surgery, may be a diamond-in-the-rough at Providence this year. The former Seattle Thunderbirds captain didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, but he was starting to get there in his final major junior season until he went under the knife. He skates well for his size, plays a fearless game, and will stick up for teammates. He was still limited (no scrimmage) at development camp, but is expected to be cleared by the start of the season and could become a fan favorite in short order. Fellow WHLer Colby Cave may be another center option in Providence or could be switched to wing. He’s not as physical as Hickman but plays a smart, underrated offensive game as evidenced by the chemistry he showed at Swift Current last season with Jake DeBrusk. We’ll give him more coverage in the wingers section.

Diminutive little buzzsaw Austin Czarnik has the speed and style of game to turn heads in camp as well. Like Acciari, he captained his club- Miami University- and was a nice free agent get last spring. Although tiny by NHL standards (5-9, about 160 pounds), he’s a superb playmaking center with the quick feet and stick to back defenses up and cause problems for would-be checkers. Don’t know what I mean? Check out this highlight vid from the playoffs a few months back:

He’s going to do some good work in Providence and if he can be a forward version of Torey Krug and overcome the size bias, he has the versatility to play on the lower lines and at wing as well (though he’s best in the middle).

Look to the future: The B’s have some intriguing talent in the pipeline, even if there isn’t an elite center among a solid group of players.

Harvard University is eagerly awaiting Ryan Donato, Boston’s second-round selection in 2014 and the son of head coach (and former Bruin) Ted Donato. After starring for four years at Dexter Southfield in Brookline, Donato took his game last spring to the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, where he put up more than a point per game and silenced some of the critics and doubters. Although not blazing fast like his dad, he’s bigger and plays a more dangerous offensive game. He’s a long-term project with a sizable potential payoff.

Not too far away from seeing duty in Boston is current Miami University captain and senior Sean Kuraly, who was acquired in late June along with San Jose’s first-round pick in 2016 for goaltender Martin Jones. Though he hasn’t been overly productive in his NCAA career to date, he has that kind of potential as he enters the new year coming off a 19-goal junior campaign. He’s a heavy player who uses his size and quickness to excel in puck possession and is at his best when creating space for his linemates and taking pucks straight to the net. Don’t be surprised to see the B’s explore bringing him straight to Boston in March or April when his season ends.

Ryan Fitzgerald is entering his junior year at Boston College and will face the team’s newest center prospect, Swedish two-way playmaker Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, who is a freshman at Boston University. The two are similar in that they can both score and play responsible defensive hockey. ‘JFK’ is a little bigger and has the better draft pedigree, but don’t count out the 2013 fourth-rounder who appears to be on the verge of breaking out with some big-time production at the Heights. I’m not sure how that will translate at the pro level, but Fitzgerald’s hockey sense and bloodlines will take him far.

2015 sixth-rounder Cameron Hughes has a lot of skill and grit if not the size- but he’s expected to play a bigger role at the University of Wisconisin this season and is definitely a player to watch as a value selection.

The verdict: Center is the strongest position in Boston currently, even if the position lacks the dynamic scoring and production other teams can boast.

In Krejci, Bergeron and Spooner- if all stay healthy and produce to their potential, you’re looking at a balanced attack that will at least put the wingers in position to finish off plays. This isn’t a sexy group by league-wide standards, but they don’t have to be. Bergeron’s leadership will continue to pay off in the room, while Krejci is the kind of guy motivated by the lost season a year ago. He took the team’s failure to make the playoffs personally, but talk is cheap- it will be interesting to see how he responds and if he can avoid the injury bug, a legitimate concern given his slight frame and the wear and tear on his body.

Kemppainen is the favorite for the bottom line coming out of camp but he’s not a lock. Should he struggle or Koko have a great outing, the coaching staff will be faced with some tough decisions. The standard play is usually to send the waiver-exempt players down and protect those who must be exposed, so we’ll see how things turn out. Chris Kelly has the versatility to play a fourth-line center role if the B’s want to use him there, but given his faceoff strengths, it makes sense to put him on the wing with Spooner on the third line until the youngster can earn more defensive zone faceoff trust from the coaches.

Ultimately, as long as the group stays healthy, the center position will be the least of Boston’s worries, but whether they can be good enough to make up for the rest of the team’s shortcomings remains to be seen.

I’ll be back with the preview on the wingers to include future options like Denver University’s LW Danton Heinen, who might be closer to the show than we realize.

Chris Kelly could be pressed into center duties if others fail (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Chris Kelly could be pressed into center duties if others fail (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Last in Line- Cameron Hughes & Jack Becker

With the Boston Bruins having six picks in the top-52 selections of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and just five more scheduled for rounds 3-7 (the B’s moved their fifth-rounder to Minnesota in exchange for the Wild’s fifth in 2016), there hasn’t been a great deal of attention placed on the four players the team took later on.

However, if the club believes that its first and second rounds will build a future foundation of promise, the selections of forwards Cameron Hughes and Jack Becker could tip the scales towards 2015 being a seminal draft class for this franchise. We have a long way to go before it can compare to Bruins hauls in 1979, 1980 and 2006, but the value and upside the team and others feel it got from this duo of raw-but-talented players is encouraging.

Hughes, acquired with the 165th overall selection in the sixth round, came into the season with the promise of being a top-two round selection according to scouts. A product of the Spruce Grove Saints of the tier 2 Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), the same club that brought Matt Benning to the 2012 draft, Hughes is a Western Canadian who passed on the traditional major junior route to play in the NCAA for the University of Wisconsin last season.

Here’s an except on him from the 2015 Red Line Report draft guide:

“We really like this slick centre’s vision and imaginative playmaking with the puck. Plus, he’s a very gritty, feisty kid who never backs down from a physical confrontation despite his mediocre size- aggressive attitude.”

That’s the kind of skill set that resonates with a team like Boston, whose president, Cam Neely, has talked repeatedly of infusing that “hard to play against” mantra back into the organization.

“He probably made the jump to Wisconsin too early,” said an NHL scout highly familiar with both Huges and Becker. “Had he stayed in junior another season he probably would have gone earlier- perhaps end of the second round or solidly in the third because he would have put up bigger numbers.”

The scout went on to say that he thinks Hughes arrived in Madison at about 140-150 pounds and the lack of strength showed. It isn’t that he didn’t get a lot of opportunities at first, but that the lack of physical readiness when playing against mostly 20-23-year-old men wore the 17-year-old true freshman down. Being on a poor team didn’t help Hughes much, either.

“He’s a creative playmaker,” the scout said. “He’s very intelligent and competitive and skilled. He doesn’t back down from anything, kills penalties, blocks shots and then will skate down to the other end of the ice and score. If there is something I think he could work on it’s his skating. He’s not a poor skater, but when you look at a player with his average size, you want him to be a little quicker and faster out there.”

Hughes demonstrated his impressive skill set at Boston’s development camp last week, standing out for many of the things the scout described, and as he grows and develops physically, watch for him to break out in a big way for the Badgers if not this year, certainly as a junior.

Mark Staudinger, who covers Western Canada for RLR, keeps going back to what Hughes did at Spruce Grove last season as a far better indicator of his potential than the one over-his-head physically year at Wisconsin:

“He was so skilled and smart,” Staudinger said of Hughes in the 2014 AJHL playoffs. “But he’s a tough little SOB, too. He sticks his nose in, fights hard along the boards and wins puck battles against bigger guys because he’s so tenacious.”

Becker, who was Boston’s final selection in the seventh round at 195th overall, is a different animal from Hughes.

The Mahtomedi High School (Minnesota) forward is the son of Russ Becker, whom the NY Islanders drafted in the 11th round, 228th overall in the 1984 NHL draft as a Virginia, Minnesota HS standout who went on to play at Michigan Tech. Cousin Aaron Miskovich was a 1997 Colorado Avalanche draft pick and had a brief pro career, so there are some bloodlines in the mix.

“I saw him earlier in the season and he was this tall kid who was really lanky, couldn’t skate very well, but people told me to just watch- that has the highest work ethic of any player in Minnesota and teams will be kicking themselves for not drafting him,” the NHL scout said. “I went back to watch Becker in April and I was shocked at how good he was.”

Becker was felled by a bout with mononucleosis early in the season, usually a harbinger of a ruined year. But to Becker’s credit, after recovering from the illness, he came back strong to play his best hockey.

“He plays a straight-ahead game,” said the scout. “He goes through people and right to the net. He gets his points by going straight in to to the blue paint and has the hands to score goals in tight. What I like about him is that he has NHL habits already: the stops and starts, he gets back quickly when the play goes the other way, he goes to the net and stops. Those things you don’t tend to see at the high school level when kids can dominate without doing the little things that are so important at the next level.”

Good friend and Red Line scout Dan Shrader saw Becker multiple times this season and smartly listed him in the RLR final rankings.

“He’s not a facilitator but is a great crash and bang type,” Shrader said. “He’s terrific with the give and go net drives. He’s a bit thorny (in his development) and needs time but could be a player when all is said and done. No one in Minnesota high school hockey crashed the net harder than Becker this year.”

Becker will spend a season in the USHL and then is off to Wisconsin where he might get an opportunity to team up with Hughes in the 2016-17 season.

In all honesty, past trends show that you can’t bank on great production from players taken in the latter rounds of the NHL draft, but in Hughes and Becker, the B’s appear to have a duo that are only beginning to scratch the surface of their potential. As the old saying goes- time will tell.

To take it on home, here’s their ‘Last in Line’ anthem from the great Ronnie James (RIP):