Observations on several 2016 NHL draft hopefuls

Watched Canada-USA on 26 December in its entirety and then went back to do iso work on several of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft candidates in action to see how they looked.

A couple of points/caveats up front:

  1. I am not in Finland, so all of my analysis is based on film study.
  2. While helpful, video analysis is not as effective as a live viewing given the limitations you have in terms of not being able to see much of the play away from the puck.
  3. I will not weigh in on players with specifics about their game if I don’t see them at least on film/video. As USA-Canada was the only game I watched, I cannot provide insights on Finland-Belarus, Sweden-Switzerland or Russia-Czech Republic.

USA

Auston Matthews, C (Zurich)- The horse. The expected No. 1 overall pick in Buffalo next June has been playing pro hockey in Switzerland this season. He did not have a dominating game, but you could see his impressive natural gifts on display: his natural strength and ability to protect the puck and establish an effective cycle. He goal was vintage Matthews- he was lurking around the goal crease, and when Zach Werenski’s shot squeaked through Mason McDonald’s pads and sat near the goal line behind him, Matthews finished it off. Matthews is a powerful skater who generates good speed and demonstrates command of his edges as he works through traffic in the neutral zone and drives the net in the offensive zone. He has superior vision and he made several good passes during game action that didn’t bear fruit but showed off his deft touch with the puck and offensive IQ. He assisted on Werenski’s power play goal to make it 2-1 in the third period.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW (London- OHL)- He registered a secondary assist on the Werenski and Matthews goals (2 helpers for the game) and didn’t look out of place on the top USA line. He’s an impressive specimen, but a different player than his dad was, showing a little more creativity and shake n’ bake than the straight-ahead force of nature Keith was in his prime. The younger Tkachuk protects the puck well and spends the majority of his time in the dirty areas, banging bodies and creating space. I thought Canada did a pretty good job of preventing him from creating the kind of net-front presence and havoc-wreaking he’s been known for with the Knights this season, but you could certainly see why he’s projected as a top-3/5 pick come June. It will be interesting to see if he can impose his will on Sweden tomorrow- it will be a tough test.

Matt Tkachuk

Charlie McAvoy, RD (BU- NCAA)- Quiet game from the BU freshman who isn’t all that tall, but thickly built and strong for someone who just celebrated his 18th birthday on the 21st of this month. You can see how he skates with his head up and advances the puck effectively and with confidence. He made a couple of nifty outlets and lead passes through the neutral zone, but wasn’t all that noticeable throughout the game. Sometimes, when it comes to defensemen, that’s not such a bad thing. He’s a good forwards/backwards skater in a straight line, but his footwork could stand to get more fluid, as he can get caught flat-footed when play rapidly reverses direction and he’s not as smooth in his transitions/pivots. I like this kid- he’s got swagger and brings the kind of mobility, vision, intelligence and puck skills that are so important to the modern NHL defenseman.

Chad Krys, LD (USA U18- USHL)- Tough showing for the Connecticut product and son of former Bruins prospect Mark Krys. I’ve long admired his offensive ability- skating, puck skills, vision and instincts are first-rate, but defense is holding him back and it showed yesterday. He got caught too deep in the offensive end on the Mathew Barzal jailbreak goal and spent a good amount of time (when he was out there) puck watching. He’s an April 1998-born player, so he’s young and has plenty of time to figure things out. Yesterday won’t go into the rolls of his best games, but he’s a superb four-way skater with smooth acceleration, quick, crisp transitions and a separation/recovery gear when he’s in the open ice. He’ll make the wrong read or bad pinch- that goes with the territory and I suspect Ron Wilson will shelter him given his youth, but there’s some impressive raw material for the BU recruit for an NHL team willing to be patient.

Canada

Julien Gauthier, RW (Val-d’Or- QMJHL)- Massive man child (6-4, 221) oozes potential with his impressive skating and shot for one so big. The Foreurs winger strikes me as more of a complementary player who needs skilled playmakers on his line to make it work, but someone will jump on him early. You could see his skating- a long, powerful stride- on display yesterday as he was generating speed off the rush. He started the Barzal goal play by blocking a Louis Belpedio shot and then charging up the ice with USA backpedaling. He got the secondary assist- getting the puck to Rourke Chartier– and showed an adeptness at recognizing the situation when Belpedio had the puck and closing quickly– putting his body in front of the shot and then taking off up the ice. Those are the kinds of plays that will have NHL clubs knocking on his door real soon.

2015 All-American Prospects Game notebook: NHL sons Tkachuk, McInnis lead hit parade

Had a chance to watch last night’s All-American Prospects Game played at First Niagara Center in Buffalo (broadcast on NHL Network for those like me who couldn’t be there in person) and the United States has some impressive talent coming into the draft next June 24-25 (in the same building, by the way).

The game, which began as a tradition in 2012 by USA Hockey as a model on the CHL’s highly successful Top Prospects Game played every January for the past 15 years or so, featured a teams coached by former NHLers Jeremy Roenick and Derek Plante. Plante’s blue shirts came from behind to win it late thanks to a goal from Massachusetts product Luke McInnis (son of former NHL and Bruins forward Marty McInnis) in a 6-4 contest.

Based on what I have seen so far (and it’s admittedly early) if the Bruins end up with two early picks in 2016, it’s hard to envision a better scenario for them than coming away with Sarnia Sting defenseman Jakob Chychrun and London Knights winger Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk blew the doors off of observers early last month with his showing at Team USA World Jr. National Evaluation Camp at Lake Placid, and he continued his tremendous play in the AAPG last night. He’s not the same kind of pure power forward that his dad was, but with a 6-1 frame, he’s big enough to get in there and is reportedly weighing in at around 200 pounds these days. The eldest Tkachuk son just might have better skills and offensive hockey sense than his old man, though- and that’s saying a hell of a lot. We’ll see how it goes, but expect him to leave a trail of destruction in the OHL this year. B’s will need both picks in the top-five, possibly even top-three to make this scenario work, and there is a lot of hockey to be played between now and next June.

And now- here are the notes on some (not all) players:

Team Roenick

Matthew Tkachuk, LW- He made an immediate impression with an assist on St. Louis minor hockey teammate Luke Kunin’s goal in the opening moments. Tkachuk is a good skater who has tremendous anticipation and ability to read the unfolding play in front of him. He plays has that killer instinct that all great scorers must have- he goes down into the trenches out in front of the net and finds ways to get his stick on pucks. Tkachuk takes pucks straight to the net and uses his body and skill to protect the puck and maintain possession against an aggressive defense. He might bear quite a physical resemblance to his father at the same age, but Matt is a different player, and fans should be careful not to make direct comparisons between the two at this stage of the younger Tkachuk’s development. He’s got some high-end hands and hockey sense, so he looks like the  real McCoy. He’ll be in one of the premier hockey programs in the world this season at London, a year after posting 36 goals and 96 points at the U.S. NTDP. Tkachuk scored a goal in the second period last night from his knees after taking an initial shot from inside the left faceoff circle and losing his balance. The puck squirted back out to him on the rebound and he put it in- not a highlight reel score, but a goal scorer’s tally for sure. 10 seconds later, the same line broke back into the zone and Tkachuk fed Kunin with a quick go feed at the offensive blue line for Kunin’s second goal of the night to make it 4-3.

Luke Kunin, RW- Had a fine game, scoring right off the bat with a bar-down, under-the-crossbar beauty from the right circle over Evan Sarthou’s shoulder after breaking in. He showed some terrific chemistry with friend and minor mate Tkachuk and will be a kid to watch this season at the University of Wisconsin.

Griffin Luce, D- Big defenseman is the grandson of former Buffalo Sabres great Don Luce and his dad, Scott, heads the Florida Panthers’ player development and amateur scouting staff. A dual citizen (he was born in Ontario but claims Williamsville, N.Y. as his home), at one point Luce looked like he might be evolving into a dominant blue line presence a couple of years back at Salisbury School. After a year at the NTDP, the University of Michigan recruit looks like a solid defense-first, shutdown player but does not project as much of an offensive threat at the higher levels. He’s big and physical- needs to improve his skating transitions and direction changes.

Chad Krys, D- I just really like this kid’s refined offensive game and skating. He doesn’t possess ideal size at a shade under 6-foot and has to work on his positional play overall, but when it comes to vision and feel for the flow of a contest, Krys is a legitimate threat to make something happen on every shift.

Team Plante

Max Jones, LW- Son of former NHLer Brad Jones drove the net hard on his first goal, a wicked shot and finish on a jailbreak play. Jones and Tkachuk are mates on the Knights in the OHL this season and the two of them are going to give opponents fits. With his 6-2 size, he’s still filling out, but Jones is a gritty and skilled player who can do a little bit of everything. He tied the game at four goals apiece with about 6 minutes remaining in the third period on a bad-angle snipe through the shortside post that beat Stephen Dhillon.

Luke McInnis, D- The undersized but speedy defenseman from Hingham, Mass. left Dexter Southfield to skate in the USHL with the Youngstown Phantoms this season. Like his dad, he can really skate (and as is the case with Tkachuk- he looks just like him when the two dads were on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team together). The Boston College recruit scored the winning goal with less than 2 minutes remaining and earned MVP honors, though I think other players made better cases to take top honors. His NHL caliber wheels allow him to motor up the ice to be an offensive threat. He’s a project player who will need a lot of time to mature physically while refining his game- he was beaten pretty cleanly by Kunin on a move in the second period because he allowed the Roenick forward to close on him too fast with the puck and opened himself up to Kunin put the puck through his skates and then zip around him. He later prevented a goal in the third frame when Roenick D Sam Rossini took a shot that leaked through behind goalie Ryan Edquist, but McInnis made the poised play to secure the puck and get the whistle. These things will have to come along gradually for McInnis, but he’s a smart, industrious player with the raw tools to develop.

Kieffer Bellows, LW- Another NHL scion, he scored an empty-net goal to seal the victory, but had some great chances generated with linemate Clayton Keller. A Minnesota native from his father’s North Stars connections, the apple did not fall far from the tree, as the younger Bellows shows the same kind of wicked shot and finishing skills. A Boston University recruit, Bellows could terrorize the Hockey East in short order next year after another season in the USHL. He was that league’s rookie of the year after setting the record for most goals by a 16-year-old in 2014-15. His empty netter happened on a nice athletic play- he leaped over a sliding Chad Krys at the blueline while Team Plante was shorthanded and on a 6-on-4 disadvantage, and then while falling to the ice, shot the puck down the ice and into the open cage. Pure athletic and competitive hustle play right there.

Clayton Keller, C- Although he’s smallish, this pivot has outstanding skills and creativity. He played a good game, generating scoring chances from broken plays and using his speed and quick stick to create headaches for Team Roenick. Keller has first-round skill, but it remains to be seen if he can stay healthy and productive over the course of the year with the NTDP U18 team to remain there. He’s another good get for BU, so he and Bellows will be able to keep a good thing going when they get to Comm Ave.

J.D. Greenway, D- Jordan’s younger brother made a memorable play when he grabbed the puck at the blue line, beat a defender down low with some good footwork (10-to-2) to open up some space for himself and then finding a breaking Trent Frederic at the right circle for the quick-strike. He’s not quite as massive as his older sibling, but he has enough in the way of size and NHL-caliber measurables that he’ll be someone to watch as the season goes on.

Logan Brown, C- Former long-time NHL defenseman Jeff Brown’s son had a relatively quiet game save for his wicked one-timer goal in the second period off a William Knierim feed. The younger Brown was cut from Team Canada’s Under-18 team that won gold at the Ivan Hlinka tourney this past August, so he might leverage his dual citizenship to pursue an international track with USA Hockey- we’ll see what happens. At 6-6, he’s huge and a load to handle when he’s going to the net, but he also goes stretches where he’s a little passive and doesn’t use his tremendous physical gifts enough.

Charlie McAvoy, D- Was not really impressed with McAvoy’s play for much of the night, but he came up big when needed, skating through the zone and around the back of the net before finding a wide-open McInnis out high for the winning power play goal. Right before that, he fumbled the puck at the blue line and struggled to make the play against the fore checker. The BU freshman is extremely talented and smart, but this wasn’t really his night. It happens.

Final thoughts on USA World Jr. evaluation camp

The hopefuls for Team USA’s 2016 World Jr. (under 20) squad closed up shop at Lake Placid over the weekend, closing out the event with a 32-player roster (whittled down from the original 39 invites) powering USA to a 6-1 win over Finland.

Here is the final USA roster:

http://worldjuniors.usahockey.com/page/show/1909970-2015-final-u-s-national-junior-evaluation-camp-roster

Here are some random thoughts on players I feel are worth mentioning. Because of my work with Red Line Report, I can’t go into too much detail, but here’s hoping we can give you enough of a tease to get an idea of what some of these players bring to the table for the 2016 NHL draft, and for those players already drafted- more insights into what your favorite (or not so favorite) NHL club might be getting in a few years if not sooner.

2016 NHL draft candidates

Scott Eansor, C- Small, speedy undrafted buzzsaw center out of Seattle of the WHL showed some versatility and tenacity here. Watch for him to boost his production this season and get a look in next June’s draft in his final window of eligibility. He’s got some moxie to go with his opportunistic approach and did not look at all out of place in this setting.

Auston Matthews, C- He made it official last week- the Arizona wunderkind will be skating in Switzerland for the Zurich Lions of that nation’s top pro league. Matthews then gave Zurich fans a glimpse of what is in store against Finland with a highlight reel goal just 53 seconds into the final exhibition contest, skating through three defenders at the offensive blueline and then finishing off the play with a filthy backhand shot that snuck in past the short side post. The 2015-16 hasn’t even started yet, but Matthews is doing everything to justify the pre-season prediction that he’ll be the top overall pick in next June’s NHL draft.

Chad Krys, D- The youngest player on the final roster played well for Team USA, showing some impressive poise with the puck. The BU recruit (his dad also played there) ranges anywhere from being projected as a first- or second-round pick on various public lists, but if he plays the entire season like he did in Lake Placid, he looks bound for a top-30 selection.

Charlie McAvoy, D- New York native is my pick as the top Empire Stater for the NHL draft. He’s got good size, vision and keeps things pretty simple. NHL clubs are looking for two-way players on defense- it’s no longer enough to simply defend or score- the most sought-after guys are the ones who can do both. McAvoy fits that bill and will likely get better as he continues to mature and fill out.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW- This winger needs no introduction to American hockey fans who remember how big of an impact his dad, Keith, had as a premier power forward in the 1990s. He led USA with 8 points in the games and he was a shark around the net, pouncing on loose pucks and demonstrating that killer instinct that goal scorers all possess. He’s not one of those coast-to-coast types, but when the play breaks down in front of the net and the puck is pinballing around, he has that natural ease for getting his stick on it and putting it into the cage.

Drafted players

Paul Bittner, F (Blue Jackets)- Big, skilled Portland Winterhawks winger slipped to the second round and Columbus pounced. With his physical tools, he has the potential to flourish as a top-six power winger in the NHL one day- he just needs to be more consistent and use his natural size and strength to his advantage more. But, after camp, you could see why some were projecting him as a first-round pick.

Anders Bjork, F (Bruins)- The 2014 fifth-rounder closed out the event in style, bagging a pair of back-to-back goals in the second period. He’s not a high-end scorer, but there is some natural hockey sense and opportunism in his approach. He takes straight lines to the net, puts himself in areas where rebounds occur and manages to outwork opponents to loose pucks. Bjork has the makings of a solid third-line NHL winger.

Brock Boeser, F (Canucks)- Vancouver’s top selection made his bones offensively in the USHL with Waterloo, and his hot stick carried over. Whenever the offense was flowing, Boeser seemed to be involved, setting up plays or finishing them off. He’s not a dynamic, flashy player who jumps off the screen at you, but you noticed him because he’s smart and made sure he was in the middle of the play.

Jeremy Bracco, F (Maple Leafs)- The final pick of the 2015 draft’s second round is such a skilled offensive player. His vision and creativity is off the charts and he brings such a dangerous element to any line he’s skating on. I don’t even care anymore that he doesn’t have a game-breaking explosion- he looks plenty fast to me when he’s taking pucks to the net or dishing through a maze of sticks to a wide open teammate. Bracco is going to make more than a few teams sorry they passed on him.

Brandon Carlo, D (Bruins)- It was a solid camp overall for Boston’s first of three second-round picks in June. Don’t make him into something more than he is right now, which is a superb defensive player with the size and skating to perhaps develop into more of a threat offensively. I thought he looked very strong in the games he played in, and the B’s desperately need an infusion of size and fluid skating on their blue line. He was a very good value pick at 37, but let’s not put him in the Hall of Fame just yet.

Erik Foley, F (Jets)- If anyone was wondering going in who this kid is, they have a much better idea now. He showed on more than one occasion that his skill level allows him to keep up with some of the bigger names in the draft. Foley’s heart and hustle are what make him such a good prospect- he’s not afraid to do the dirty grunt work along the walls or pay the price in front of the net. But, he’ll also take the puck down the ice and beat the goalie with a wicked shot, too. Winner.

Dylan Larkin, F (Red Wings)- Man, this guy is smooth. If he isn’t tearing it up at the WJC next December/January it will be for one reason only: he’s skating for the big club in Detroit and has bigger fish to fry in the NHL. Larkin’s speed, skill and sense will make him a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t imagine the Wings will keep him in the minors for very long if at all.

Jack Roslovic, F (Jets)- This American sniper knows how to finish around the net and showed off his instincts and intelligence throughout. Another example of a player who isn’t going to make the eye-catching play but just finds ways to put the puck in the net, it’s hard to imagine that the Jets came away with Roslovic, Kyle Connor AND Foley. With that trio, they’re living that Dawes song- it’s a little bit of everything.

Jake Walman, D (Blues)- Providence College standout with dual citizenship really brought his two-way game to the mix. It’s a case of the rich getting richer with Walman, who looks about to emerge as a NCAA force after being a solid value selection in the third round in 2014.

Colin White, F (Senators)- White is looking more and more like a real nice roll of the dice at 21 for Ottawa. There’s a lot to like about him- he can skate, play a 200-foot game, is great on draws…but the offense that went missing earlier in the season is making its way back. Watch for him to be a regular story at BC with the Eagles.

Observations from USA World Jr. Evaluation Camp

I’ll keep this short and pithy, but watched streams of the two exhibition games at Lake Placid yesterday between USA White-Finland and USA Blue-Sweden.

Brandon Carlo, D USA White (Bruins)- Has the look of a modern prototype shutdown defenseman: big, fluid skater, positionally sound, tough to play against. He’s not a baggage-smasher type, but he uses his 6-5 frame and natural strength to knock opponents off the puck. I was also impressed with his confidence when handling the puck. He made quick outlets or grabbed it in the neutral zone and advanced it smartly up the ice. He’s not all that instinctive in the offensive end and doesn’t walk the blue line like top two-way defenders tend to, but he did have an assist on Sonny Milano’s second goal of the day. Keeper.

Anders Bjork, RW USA White (Bruins)- He was rotating in with Ryan Hitchcock (Yale- undrafted) so he didn’t take a regular shift. I noticed him more on the PK, where he used his speed and quick stick to pressure the Finnish puck carrier and break it out the other way. He’s an effective forechecker and energy player.

Scott Eansor, C USA White (Seattle Thunderbirds- eligible 2016)- Small ’96 from Colorado can really skate and hustle- he was buzzing all game and creating scoring chances, finding the back of the net once. Reminds me a little of Tyler Johnson back in 2010- undrafted little plucky kid from the WHL who got things done. It was one game, and he’s not an offensive dynamo in the WHL (14 goals, 37 points in 72 games) but I want to see more.

Erik Foley, LW USA Blue (Jets)- No surprise here, but this is a player I have been high on for some time and he showed it on one particular play with fellow Bay Stater Colin White, when Sweden got sloppy on the PP and White forced a turnover, streaking up the left side. When the lone Swedish defender leaked over to his side, he then hit Foley in stride in the middle of the ice- Foley walked in alone and buried it for the shorthanded marker. Throughout the game, Foley did what he is known for- grind it out along the walls and help USA’s cause in puck possession. He’s a hard worker and his goal showed he has the hands/skills to match. Jets stole one.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Sweden (Bruins)- It was a tale of two games for JFK, and not sure what happened. In the first two periods (especially the second) he was effective and energetic, making solid plays on both sides of the puck. He assisted on a second period tally by breaking up a USA chance in his own end and then transitioning the play from defense to offense with some shifty skating in the neutral zone followed by an on-target pass. In the third period, he saw his shifts reduced and didn’t accomplish much for the limited time out there. Don’t know if it was an injury or what, but it was curious.

Conor Garland, RW USA White (Coyotes)- Typical game from the undersized but skilled agitator from Scituate. It didn’t make it into the final copy of the 2015 Red Line Report draft guide, but here is what I submitted for him as an award nomination for pest/toughest player to play against- He’s like the mutant baddies in the new Mad Max movie- relentless, just keeps coming at you with the quick stick and the yapping until the puck’s in your net or you blow up, whichever comes first.

Chad Krys, D USA White (Eligible 2016)- Impressive game from the Nutmeg Stater and BU recruit- he skates very well and was poised, confident with the puck. He was effective on the point, getting shots through on net and it was his point drive that Eansor capitalized on in the 2nd period. Like many young players, he needs to guard against trying to do too much at times- he allowed a couple of turnovers because he didn’t make the smart, simple play, but he looked like a top-30 pick in this game and is someone to watch at the NTDP this year.

Auston Matthews, C USA White (Eligible 2016)- The pure skill and talent jumps out at you. It wasn’t a dominant performance by Matthews and he reminded me a little of Jack Eichel last year on a few shifts in that he seemed to be revved up and trying to do it all himself. He’s got that long, fluid stride and anticipates the play so well, often getting the jump on a defender because he has that elite vision and sense for where the puck is going.

Sonny Milano, RW USA White (Blue Jackets)- He put a stamp on the game with his first goal to tie it up- streaking in alone and putting a series of moves on the Finnish netminder before closing out the play. He then tallied again in the final frame on another jailbreak play, beating the Finns with his speed and flashing his lightning release.

Jesse Puljujärvi, RW Finland (Eligible 2016)- Currently projected as a top-5 candidate next June, this wasn’t a great showing for the big Finn. He did assist on Patrik Laine’s goal to open the scoring, but was largely ineffective in terms of sustaining offensive pressure or making the kinds of plays you would expect of someone with his talent. He showed it in flashes- on one shift late in the game, he took the puck off the faceoff and bulled his way through 2 USA defenders only to have the puck knocked off his stick before he could shoot. It was only one game- the ability is there. Looks like one of those big horses who can take control of the flow on one shift, but it didn’t happen yesterday.

Alex Tuch, RW USA Blue (Wild)- Snarly, effective game from the skilled New York and BC power winger. Milano and Tuch were their state’s first two players off the board in 2014 and they showed why yesterday with pretty disparate styles. Tuch’s team was on the receiving end of a loss, but he created space for himself and his linemates and stood out, especially in the second period.

Dog Days of Summer- Franson, WJC National Eval Camp & Ivan Hlinka

We’re at that point in the offseason where there simply isn’t a whole lot going on hockey-wise. The top free agents are signed and off the market, many of the 30 NHL teams’ personnel are taking what little time off they can before annual August events pull them back into rinks and onto the job for the 2015-16 season.

Here are a few notes to keep us all centered, especially as NFL training camps open up and the pending football season grabs a lot of the headlines (not touching Tom Brady or Deflategate, though folks- and many of you are probably glad for that).

Cody Franson to the Bruins would certainly bring a player with name recognition to the team, but I’m not sure it’s the right kind of move for the long term.

Now, we have both Franson and Don Sweeney admitting that the two sides are in talks (among others) and I know that back in 2005, he was high on Boston’s draft list- they contemplated taking him in the 2nd round (they went with flash in the pan Petr Kalus instead). Some of you may remember that coming out of the lockout, the ’05 lottery was a snake draft, meaning that the B’s had the 22nd selection of the first round, then the order reversed in the second, giving them 9th pick and then back to the original order in the 3rd and so on- like the fantasy drafts for those who are into that sort of thing. So, the B’s contemplated taking Franson as early as 39, and then were hoping he would fall to them with the 22nd pick of the 3rd round. They got close, but it didn’t happen and they ended up with Finnish bust Mikko Lehtonen (later traded to Minnesota as part of a package for Anton Khudobin) instead.

Getting back to Franson- he was in prime position to cash in as an unrestricted free agent at mid-season, having the best year offensively of his career, but when the wheels fell off in Toronto and he was moved to Nashville for a premium return, he was unable to get going on a playoff team. That’s a red flag, and he’s a cautionary tale for the cap era, giving teams pause in locking him up for term and value because depending on which version of Franson you get, it’s the kind of signing that can make or break a team trying to contend.

On the upside, he’s an effective power play performer and physical defender who uses his 6-5 frame and long reach well enough. On the downside, he’s not all that mobile (the B’s have enough issues with team speed, thanks) and is not the most instinctive of players. To me- he’s more of a complementary piece who looks good on paper but isn’t talented enough to be a real difference maker. Some would argue that his performance in Toronto means that he plays better on a poorer club than on a good one, but I need to take a deeper look at some analytics on this one.

Should the Bruins end up signing Franson, I’ll do just that, but for now- I think the team is better off preserving the some $4 million it has in cap space and maintaining some flexibility to make an in-stride course correction without being up against the cap ceiling, which is what signing Franson will entail.

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The annual Team USA National Junior Evaluation Camp will get underway next week, and it’s a pretty good group of players attending this year’s event in Lake Placid August 1-8.  A complete roster of the invites can be found here. 

The Bruins have two prospects attending: 2015 second-rounder Brandon Carlo and 2014 pick Anders Bjork. Carlo played for Team USA at the 2015 World Jr. tourney and acquitted himself well as a late ’96 who had just turned 18 when he played. Bjork made it to the national evaluation camp but was cut from the squad. My guess is that the savvy two-way forward who finished his first season at Notre Dame makes it this time around because of his speed and versatility, but he’ll have his work cut out for him.

Carlo is a lock after having made the last WJC entry and with his 6-5 and condor’s wingspan, USA will need him. He’s an intriguing prospect because of his pure size and mobility (contrast that to Franson for example). It’s going to be interesting to follow the Colorado native in 2016.

Also attending are New England favorites Noah Hanifin (Hurricanes) and Johnathan MacLeod (Lightning) on defense; Colin White (Senators), Erik Foley (Jets) and Conor Garland (Coyotes).  Connecticut native Chad Krys is a 2016 draft eligible and will also be in attendance. He is my top area native for the draft class going into the season as an effective two-way defender.

Several other high-profile Americans for 2016 are at the camp as well- Auston Matthews (who made the cut a year ago at 17) will attract a ton of attention, of course. Matthew Tkachuk is on the roster as well, and is taking his game north to the OHL and Dale Hunter’s London Knights this season.

The 2016 WJC takes place from December 26, 2015-January 5, 2016 in Helsinki, Finland.

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The Ivan Hlinka select tournament is the annual NHL draft’s 1st/2nd round primer and is happening from 10-18 August in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia.

Here’s the USA roster for the Hlinka. Many will note that the National Team Development Program kids are not in this group, so this is a good place to explain why that is. The NTDP typically competes in the bulk of the Under-18 tournaments throughout the course of a season, but the Hlinka tourney is one time that USA Hockey takes a roster from all over the country with players that are not in the NTDP.

Bruins fans may not know that Zane McIntyre was USA’s goalie at the Hlinka tourney in August 2009. For him, it was his first real taste of international competition, and he used it as a springboard to greater success at the World Jr. A Challenge in the next couple of years after Boston took him in the 6th round in 2010. And of course- Johnny Gaudreau– anything but a household name in August of 2010, tore it up for USA and led them to a silver medal (along with the stellar goaltending of Harvard star Steve Michalek).

Canada owns the Hlinka because they can send their best under-18 players from the CHL without missing out on those who are often in the playoffs during the annual under-18 championship tournament each April. If you look at Canada’s roster for the Hlinka, it is literally a “who’s who” of top-60 picks for the next draft (and in some cases, the following year).

Once the Hlinka happens, the CHL is right around the corner and before you know it, summer is over and the 2015-16 hockey season is underway.

So, enjoy the dog days– boating, backyard barbeques and whatever you enjoy in the summer months, because winter is coming.

Random thoughts on the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Auston Matthews vs Jakob Chychrun. Center vs. Defenseman. Arizona offensive wunderkind with Mexican roots vs. Florida-born Ontario product and son of a former NHLer. Both bring a lot to the table in terms of potential and there is a lot left to play out before the draft. Just like 2013 when Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones came into the season with a lot of hype, you could see a similar dynamic play out. If Matthews ends up in Switzerland it would be a fascinating side story to the normal draft race and I don’t think too many NHL scouts would complain about having to go over there to see him. Matthews’ great uncle, Wes, played in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins in 1966, so the high-end athletic ability runs in the family.

As is the case every year, you get a good dose of bloodlines with each draft class. Some of the big names coming down the pike this year: Logan Brown (Windsor Spitfires), Kieffer Bellows (playing in Sioux Falls of the USHL), Matthew Tkachuk (London Knights), and Alex Nylander (AIK) are all sons of NHL players and very good ones at that. Jeff Chychrun was not a high-end player but he was tough and gritty- his son brings some of his dad’s toughness but some top-level skill at the defense position as well.

In Kieffer Bellows’ case- the apple has not fallen far from the tree. The BU-bound center scored 33 goals in the USHL as a 16-year-old which is a remarkable feat when you consider how much older and stronger so many of the guys in that league are. His dad, Brian, was the second overall pick in the 1982 NHL draft, going to the Minnesota North Stars behind Gord Kluzak when the North Stars gave Harry Sinden a couple of journeymen not to take the elder Bellows. In retrospect, Scott Stevens was the real gem of that draft class, taken fifth overall by the Washington Capitals, but Bellows scored 55 goals in 1990, won a Stanley Cup with Montreal three years later, and finished his NHL career with 485 goals and 1,022 points. No pressure or anything, kid!

This could be the year of the Finns, as Jesse Puljujarvi is up near the top of the draft class as a power forward with legitimate skill and scoring ability to go with good size. Defensemen Olli Juolevi and Markus Niemelainen begin the year with 1st-round promise as well.

I’m going to keep an eye on Mississauga defenseman Sean Day this season mainly because a friend of mine who knows his OHL hockey told me I should going back to last year. Day has put up nice numbers so far and seems to have the requisite tools to be the first-round prospect many see him as going into 2015-16.

It’s not as strong a year in New England, but that’s to be expected after Massachusetts saw three players come off the board in the top-21 selections and 13 overall. U.S. NTDP two-way defenseman Chad Krys of Connecticut is the top ranked area native for the preseason. His dad, Mark, was a Boston Bruins draft pick who played at Boston University and the AHL’s Providence Bruins but never cracked an NHL roster. I also like John Leonard, the lone area representative of the USA Under-18 select squad that will play in the annual Ivan Hlinka tourney in Slovakia to make some mid-round noise this year with Green Bay of the USHL. He’s leaving Springfield, Mass. power Cathedral High and it’s a good move for the UMass recruit to play at a higher level of competition. The August Hlinka, along with USA WJC camp at Lake Placid is always the harbingers of the new season for me, and they’re right around the corner.

Until then, smoke ’em if you got ’em and enjoy the hot summer days and nights.