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

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

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

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

Let me start with Ryan Spooner, who fans are split on. On the surface, it has looked like Spooner’s days with the Bruins have been numbered for quite some time. There were reports that former Bruins’ General Manager Peter Chiarelli almost dealt Spooner to the Sabres during the 2014-15 season. A year later, reports surface that current General Manager Don Sweeney was looking to trade the 25-year-old pivot. But, he survived the rumors and is still on the B’s roster.

The sometimes-rocky relationship between Spooner and former Coach Claude Julien is well publicized, so we won’t get too deep into that. Under (then-interim) Coach Bruce Cassidy, Spooner started out well, but reverted to some of the form that has made him the focus of criticism and rumors for some time now.

Spooner is tagged by many to be nothing but a power play specialist. There is some merit to that assertion. Having followed Spooner since his Ontario Hockey League days began with the Peterborough Petes, he has always been a threat with the man advantage and he’s produced at a high level. When Spooner has the space to create, he can be dangerous. But 5-on-5, that space just isn’t there in the NHL and Spooner lacks the size and physicality to gain an advantage and use the other assets he possesses to be that threat on a consistent enough basis to avoid the negative focus on his performance.

I’ve seen the argument made that Spooner’s abilities are being misused because he is playing with “lesser line mates” and I can agree with that to some extent. He had success playing with David Pastrnak and Milan Lucic. At the same time, I could argue that playing with Lucic gave Spooner the space he needed. While David Backes is no Lucic, Backes himself can create space with his physical play and Spooner had nowhere near the offensive success he had with Lucic.

So, what happens with Spooner going forward? There are many fans who have said they wouldn’t even give him a qualifying offer, but if you don’t, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and you lose the player for nothing. You just don’t do that with an asset like the former 45th overall pick in 2010, whether he fits into your plans or not. His current salary is just $1.1 million and his qualifying offer is the same. You must make that offer just to retain his rights.

But Spooner is a restricted free agent this summer who is arbitration eligible. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Spooner could receive as much as $3 million in arbitration, but the Bruins would have walk-away rights if they feel that doesn’t fit into their budget, but again, would lose him for nothing. Ditto with the expansion draft (we’ll cover that in a future piece).

Many feel the writing is on the wall with Spooner missing the last two games versus Ottawa in the playoffs. But as reported by Hockey Night in Canada, Spooner was not 100% and was trying to battle through an injury. Was he good enough to go? – most players will tell you they want to play. Did the Bruins staff think he wasn’t good to go? Most of us will never know, we’ll just leave it here.

If the Bruins are intent on trading him, then the time to do that is before the expansion draft. I’m sure they don’t want to go into arbitration with him and don’t want to “waste” a protected spot on the expansion draft list. But I’m also sure they don’t want to lose him for nothing, (Editor’s note- and let’s be honest- he’s probably better off with a change of scenery and fresh start- Spooner is a talented and accomplished enough player to merit some kind of return.- KL)

Next, we turn to 2015 unrestricted free agent acquisition Matt Beleskey. Chiarelli tried to acquire Beleskey back at the 2015 NHL trade deadline but was unable to consummate the deal. Sweeney was able to sign Beleskey to a five-year, $19 million deal that now has 3 seasons remaining.

After a first year in Boston in which he set a career high with 37 points, this season can be described as nothing short of “terrible” for Beleskey. He appeared in just 49 games for the Bruins, missing 23 games with a knee injury while being a healthy scratch for the others.

It’s his health that I want to focus on here. Players react and recover from injuries differently, both physically and mentally. I surmise the injury to Beleskey had a major impact on his season. For a player that isn’t a speedster to begin with, losing a step is a major concern. Hesitation in throwing the body can also come into play mentally with such an injury. Look no further than the hit department for Beleskey. This season he had his lowest total in hits per game of his past five seasons.

Beleskey is at his best when he keeps his feet moving and throwing his weight around creating space for his linemates. This observer believes that four and a half months off will give Beleskey the time to get himself back both physically and mentally.

What’s in the future?

It’s hard to imagine the Bruins protecting him in the expansion draft or that Vegas would even select him as he may not be the best option from the Bruins to select. A trade, without retaining much of his salary seems unlikely coming off the season he’s had and his contract. A buyout is also unlikely as it will cost the Bruins over $1 million dollars per season in cap hits over the next 6 years ($2 million in year 3), something they can’t afford to do. Giving up an asset for another team to take his cap hit is a possibility and the Bruins do have an abundance of assets to make that happen, but he does have a limited no-trade clause with 23 teams on his list of acceptable destinations.

Best case scenario: That I am right about next season, and a healthy and re-charged Beleskey returns to form and provides value on the third or fourth lines. (Editor’s note- He’s a better player than we saw this season, and we’ll bet that he’s itching to prove it when he’s had an offseason to heal and get his confidence back.- KL)

Moving forward, we turn to Riley Nash, who is signed for one more season at a cheap $900,000. Nash has taken some heat throughout the season from some fans, and I would suggest, some of it is unwarranted. Is he perfect? No. We did a 3 Amigos podcast last summer after the Bruins signed Nash, and while we didn’t suggest that Nash was more than the sum of his parts, we did suggest the small but important things he does on the ice would be recognized more by management and coaches than the fans would be.

So, what does Riley Nash exactly bring to the Bruins? Well, he is a key part of the best penalty killing unit in the NHL. He is almost always getting into lanes taking away shots and forcing a bad pass. He battles extremely hard at clearing the puck. He has a very active stick that forces play quickly – and not always the best.

During 5-on-5 play, his positioning is almost always exemplary. He causes unforced turnovers just because of his positioning. But he’s also very good at causing turnovers with his stick. But the most underrated part of Nash is his ability to keep possession and protect the puck. Whether he’s darting in like a bull in a China Shop, or using strength, body positioning, or stick and puck position, taking the rubber away from Nash is not an easy task. He also plays the cycle game extremely well. For the casual fan, those are things that don’t appear on the scoresheet, and sometimes don’t recognize the importance of those assets. As the season progressed, Nash got better in his decisions on what to do with the puck once he had it. A lot of the mid-season “whipping boy” status he had has subsided.

So, what’s next for Nash? I think he’ll be back, and should be, as the fourth line center who can move up in a pinch. I know there are those that think ice-time should be given to the prospects instead, but you might be hard pressed to find a prospect that can bring what Nash brings, at least for next season, value for what Nash costs on the cap. That is virtually equal, and maybe cheaper if you have to consider performance bonuses.

Do they protect Nash in the expansion draft? I don’t think so, like Beleskey, there may be better options for Vegas.

Finally, let’s look at defenceman Kevan Miller. There are many that believe you can’t have Miller and Adam McQuaid on the same roster. There’s some truth to that, but many believe it to be because of style. With Charlie McAvoy showing he belongs in the NHL, Brandon Carlo looking to improve on a fine rookie season and Colin Miller showing signs of improvement (although I’m still not completely sold), it’s more the number of bodies than it is style of play.

What I saw in K. Miller was a player that obviously worked on and improved his skating in the off-season. It became more obvious in the playoffs that he had gained the confidence to skate with the puck and not afraid to take it in deep. With that improved skating, he’s become very adept at pinching at the opposition blue line and taking the puck below the goal line where coach Cassidy seems to want to set up from.

Defensively, K. Miller is part of the penalty kill. He battles hard in front of his goal and tries to give his tender a clear view of incoming shots. He’s got enormous strength and can take opponents out on the wall. He will get in opponents faces and will stand up for his teammates.

So, what’s next for him? This is where Sweeney has a difficult choice to make. Zdeno Chara must be protected in the expansion draft because of his no movement clause. Torey Krug is a lock to be protected. That means two of K. Miller, McQuaid and C. Miller will be exposed for Vegas to select. I like K. Miller here because he can play his off side.

But this may just come down to contract and cap. Miller has 3 years remaining at $2.5 million whereas McQuaid has just 2 years at $2.75 million and C. Miller just one year at $1 million. A stagnant cap may make Sweeney’s decision for him and protecting C. Miller. I just feel it should be “Killer” Kevan back next season.

I was going to add Jimmy Hayes to this piece, but I just didn’t know where to go here, so I will just say what the options are.

1) Try hard to find a trading partner. At the deadline, Sweeney notified other teams that he was available, but there were no takers. It will probably take an asset going with him for a team to pick him up.

2) Buy him out. That would cost the Bruins $566, 667 next season and $867,667 in 2018-2019.

3) Keep him as the 13th forward and absorb the $2.3 million cap hit

4) Send him to Providence for the year and save $1.025 million on the cap – this would be advantageous to Hayes as he is on a one-way contract and there is no escrow on AHL salaries, meaning he wouldn’t lose the 16% – 18% of his salary.

5) Send Vegas an asset to select him in the expansion draft.

There is no polite way of saying this, but I would settle for any of the above. If I had to choose, I’d go with option 4. That gets him off the roster the quickest with the only cost to the Bruins being to Jeremy Jacobs’ wallet.

Reed Duthie: Bruins are out…What’s next? (Part 2)

Editor’s note- Reed Duthie debuts at the Scouting Post with his thoughts on what could be on the horizon for the Boston Bruins personnel-wise. Reed is not only one of the 3 Amigos, but he is the accomplished play-by-play announcer for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. With the hockey season over, we hope to see more of Reed’s contributions here in the offseason as a longtime follower of the Bruins and astute analyst.

You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run. If this season was any indication, the Boston Bruins as a group are certainly finding their way, maybe not running just yet but certainly getting up to a brisk jog.

Although the end of season / early playoff injuries put the Bruins a hole they couldn’t recover from we learned a lot about this team in terms of heart and soul. The additions of traditional blue collar players like Noel Acciari & Sean Kuraly gave the Bruins an energy boost, while Charlie McAvoy made Bruins fans begin to dream in optimistic terms once again.

But after a hard fought loss where do the Bruins go from here?

The Bruins will have some options as both the Las Vegas Golden Knights Expansion Draft & NHL Entry Draft loom on the horizon, and are set up pretty well to play what is becoming an ever more complicated chess game in NHL front offices.

Most likely the Bruins will go the route of protecting 7 forwards, 3 defencemen & 1 goaltender and some of the names are obvious, 5 forwards stand out (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci & David Backes), 2 defencemen (Zdeno Chara & Torey Krug) as well as an obvious choice as the goaltender (Tuukka Rask). Up front young talent such as  Acciari, Kuraly, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson & Frank Vatrano are ineligible due to lack of professional service time, while veterans Dominic Moore, Tim Schaller & Drew Stafford are pending UFA’s and unlikely to be taken by Vegas. Riley Nash may qualify as a protected player for the Bruins simply due to his skill set as a bottom-6 forward who can play multiple positions and help shepherd younger players but the biggest question up front is the curious case of Ryan Spooner.

Spooner is an incredibly talented young player but seems to have yet fully seized that at the NHL level. The Bruins have the room to easily protect their still developing center but with Spooner being held out of Games 5 & 6 of the playoff series vs Ottawa and having been used sparingly at even strength when in the lineup questions will abound as to whether the Bruins want move forward with Spooner or could he be bait to add to a growing stable of talent on the back end of the Bruins lineup.

On defence the Bruins have clear choices in Chara & Krug but the picture gets cloudier from there, impressive rookies McAvoy & Brandon Carlo are ineligible due to service time while Colin Miller, Kevan Miller & Adam McQuaid would all need to be protected but would any of the three interest Las Vegas, and would they be replaceable for the Bruins?

The delta of these two issues comes when you look closely teams like Minnesota, Nashville, Anaheim, etc. who have a plethora of talented defencemen and not enough spots on the roster to keep them all through the expansion process.

 Could the Bruins wheel Spooner as part of a package to one of those teams and come away with a left handed shot who could be a part of the Bruins future moving forward?

In my opinion Don Sweeney and his staff through their drafts and the development of players coming through the pipeline have earned the trust to be able to navigate through what will be a wild summer in multiple aspects and they will have a multitude of options at their fingertips to improve the 2017-2018 and beyond Boston Bruins.

 

Bruins are out…what’s next? (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids

The B’s were in disarray at a time when Boston and the New England region was euphoric over the New England Patriots’ record-setting comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI to secure a fifth NFL championship since 2001, and the second in three years.

The Julien release watch had been in full effect since before the calendar flipped over to 2017, but when the team announced his dismissal on the day of the Pats’ victory parade in Boston, there was much criticism in media and fan circles about the timing. In his place, assistant coach Bruce Cassidy was given the title of “interim head coach” and handed the unenviable task of righting the ship of a team that had struggled with consistency all season long. Interestingly enough, the predictions of the defense being the club’s Achilles heel proved to be off, as a lack of balanced scoring, more than problems on the blue line, threatened a third consecutive spring out of the postseason.

Cassidy came in and was able to see immediate success by having the defense play a more aggressive, uptempo style than what fans were used to under the more measured Julien-coached teams. Ultimately, there wasn’t a huge difference in the systems the B’s employed under Cassidy vs. his predecessor, but the results were more effective. The team went .720 down the stretch and made it into the postseason (a Toronto loss on the final night of the regular season spared Boston from the eighth seed and having to run the gauntlet against the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals) for the first time since 2014 and a first-place campaign.

On paper, Cassidy has earned the chance to shed the interim tag and be the B’s head coach. However, it is curious to note that even with the strong performance down the stretch and a plucky, if ultimately unsuccessful first round, that the team has not yet made the announcement that Butch is the guy. It could mean that they were just waiting for the season to end/keep the focus on the playoff effort, or one can only wonder if there is another coaching candidate they have in mind…either way, we should find out soon enough whether Cassidy will be rewarded for his 20-12-1 record in both the regular and postseasons (hat tip to Kevin Paul Dupont for doing the work to post that final stat line), or if the team opts to go in a different direction.

Conventional thought says it should be Cassidy, but if we’ve learned one thing under the current B’s regime, they aren’t big on conventions.

Charlie McAvoy is the Real McCoy

Hype.

It’s ever present on social and in traditional media, and there’s not much we can do about it.

For the precocious defenseman, it began the day the Bruins drafted Charlie McAvoy at 14th overall after the collective D had been a major factor in the team’s stretch run flameout in 2016. It didn’t take long (you could measure it in minutes after Charles Jacobs announced McAvoy’s selection in Buffalo) for talk to immediately begin that as soon as the spring of 2017, the Long Island native and Boston University sophomore could be skating around on NHL ice with the Bruins.

Fast forward to the end of April, and after it appeared that the team would slow his development a bit by keeping him in the AHL to close out the 2016-17 campaign after he turned pro by signing a minor league deal, a massive blow to Boston’s depth on the blue line necessitated his signing to an entry-level contract and being thrown into the fire right away- his first NHL action coming in Game 1 of the B’s-Sens series.

Well, we’re happy to report that the hype is real!

McAvoy stepped in and looked like a seasoned veteran, playing close to 25 minutes a game and adding three assists in six playoff games (his 1st NHL goal was wiped out due to a successful coach’s challenge in Game 4).

What’s interesting about players like McAvoy is there is always a yin and yang argument when it comes to fans. On one side- you have the people who love their shiny new toys and seemingly want any and every player who agrees to terms to go right into the lineup so they themselves can have the immediate gratification. On the other side, you have the “every player must go to the AHL to develop” mindset, where certain folks seem to coddle these guys and fear that exposing them to the crucible of the NHL will somehow “ruin” them if they haven’t had a chance to acclimate. Both sides are right…and both are wrong. We’re in favor of the more balanced approach, whereby you look at each player on a case-by-case basis, and accept that there are myriad factors that go into whether an individual can make an immediate impact at the NHL level, or whether they will benefit from seasoning and not being rushed into a situation they aren’t ready for. There are no hard, fast rules for this- teams and their player development folks have to sometimes make tough calls, but ultimately, there are times when the decision is taken out of their hands when situations beyond anyone’s control intervene.

Luckily for the Bruins, they got a chance to see their prized prospect in action sooner rather than later, and the payoff could be bigger than we thought when he was first drafted.

The truth with McAvoy is relatively simple- some players are talented and mentally tough enough to handle what comes their way. Developing NHL players is not a cookie-cutter process, so while some players can come right in and be successful at the highest level, others might not have that ability (or the opportunity afforded them to step right in due to injuries to key personnel as was the case with McAvoy). There was much concern initially over losing a year off of McAvoy’s NHL contract, but those fears were allayed quickly when he played such a poised, refined and high tempo game from the get-go. Much like Brandon Carlo at the beginning of the year, the B’s no doubt figured he was good, but how quickly he would establish himself at such a top level was the pleasant surprise. It was a shame that McAvoy and Carlo didn’t have a chance to be in the Boston lineup at the same time, but in the span of just seven months, the team’s defense on the right side, a gaping black hole a year ago, sure looks to be shaping up as a strength going forward.

Side note- had a fan on Twitter bark at yours truly to delete his account yesterday because of the temerity to make an observation after several OT turnovers inside his own end that McAvoy needed to tighten up his decisions. Welcome to the modern world of social media and sports, where any kind of critical observation of a play in real time is conflated with “hate” and greeted with disdain and vitriol. Sigh. This appears to be the new reality similar to the old Tuukka Rask debate, where you can’t say anything negative or attempt to hold said player accountable without being accused of being a “hater.” You actually see certain people in the media engaging in this same kind of inflammatory narrative, and it needs to stop.  With McAvoy, it’s almost as if there is this idea out there that just because someone is a 19-year-old rookie, no one is allowed to point out bad plays/errors that could result in goals against if he keeps making them. This is the sports version of special snowflakes- whereby aggressive fans adopt this see/speak/hear no evil mentality- and can’t seem to handle an honest debate about what is happening in real time. They’d rather bluster/bow up and take it personally whenever their own sense of fairness is challenged- even when one is making an honest assessment during a fluid situation. Let’s make one thing clear here, folks- McAvoy is going to make mistakes and cost his teams goals.  And  (gasp) some of them will be indefensible- it happens to every player in the NHL. Talk about it and move on, but this attempt to shut down an honest conversation/analysis in-game is what is at issue. The net benefit of McAvoy and the positive plays he’ll make will likely far outweigh those negative plays. But, if your reaction is to shoot the messenger every time someone points out an error your favorite player made or discusses an emerging negative trend line and comments on it, then you’re part of the problem. This is why we can’t have nice things, and why insiders are spending less and less time interacting with fans who can’t seem to be civil in their disagreement. Right, wrong, indifferent- we can and should all do better (present company included).

Now, back to McAvoy. Had he stayed in the AHL and not gotten his shot in Boston, we’d be talking all summer in hypotheticals about whether he could win a job out of training camp in October and wondering if he is ready to handle the rigors of the NHL. Case closed. Check the box. He can play. What we get to find out next is just how good a player he’ll become. And that’s the fun part.

Now, what we don’t know is whether he’ll come in and be able to play at the same high level he did once teams have a chance to study him on film and put more pressure on him over the course of the next full regular season. The prediction here is that he’ll continue to thrive and develop in a positive way, but if we’re honest with ourselves- we have to allow that six games is a pretty limited sample size and you can’t rule out a regression in play. That said, we saw enough to think that with the talent and swagger McAvoy has, a young super star is ascending in Boston. Give Sweeney and his staff credit for making the right call in the draft last June- we know there are teams kicking themselves for not jumping on McAvoy when they had the chance. Just like Pastrnak was quite the value in 2014, Boston’s newest hope on the blue line is on track to carry the torch for the foreseeable future.

 

We’ll be back with more Bruins storylines in the coming days…

 

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

McAvoy2

UPDATE: 14 April 2017

Editor’s note- The Anders Bjork watch continues more than a week after the Fighting Irish were eliminated by the eventual NCAA champion Denver University Pioneers. What can we say? Our optimistic outlook was based on a reliable source, but also illustrates the fluid situation and challenges involved in signing young players to NHL contracts. We’re not completely closing the door on Bjork reaching an agreement to turn pro and forego his senior season in South Bend, but each day that passes without an agreement looks less favorable to an ELC. We’ll see, but once again- we learn an important lesson about information and perhaps value in sitting on things to let them percolate before we contribute to hopes being built up. The information we received was accurate, but things changed, beginning with  the Irish overachieving and going far deeper in the NCAA tourney than expected, not to mention the bad luck of the NHL’s regular season ending so soon after Notre Dame was eliminated. We have no further updates, so we’ll have to see how it all plays out. We’re leaving the original post as is- we stand by our source and will chalk this one up to an evolving situation that perhaps changed due to other factors that intervened in what was believed to be a solid course of action for player to turn pro.

The one-and-done 80’s alt-pop band Timbuk3 sang about the future being so bright- they had to wear shades. Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney might be having similar sentiments after he got ink to paper for two of his club’s top prospects this past week in a pair of Boston University studs- defenseman Charlie McAvoy and center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson or “JFK” as he is more popularly known.

Now, with the University of Notre Dame preparing to take on Denver University on Thursday night in one of two NCAA Frozen Four semifinal games, junior winger Anders Bjork is expected to be the third and final domino to fall in terms of new blood coming to the Bruins. Reliable sources (some of the same ones who told TSP several weeks ago that JFK was leaning towards coming out/turning pro) have told us that Bjork essentially has a deal with Boston in place pending his NCAA team’s status. Obviously, if the Irish beat the Pioneers- he’ll keep playing. The college championship/big enchilada is on Saturday night, the same day Boston would play their final regular season game, so whether Bjork is seen this season or makes his NHL debut in the 2017 playoffs (B’s still have work to do on that front) or next season remains to be seen. But, for those fans who watched the Jimmy Vesey saga last spring, it would appear that the B’s don’t have to worry about that, as arguably one of the best NCAA players in the country in Bjork- will leave school a year early to turn pro with the team that drafted him in the fifth round three years ago.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the signings and what each player might do for the Black and Gold:

Charlie McAvoy, RD

As reported a week ago Sunday by your TSP founder, McAvoy was the first of the dominoes to fall- he signed an amateur tryout (ATO) to turn pro with the Providence Bruins, and has already made a positive impression in two AHL games, registering an assist in each contest.

Amidst speculation that there might have been a wink-and-handshake NHL option included in the offer to get McAvoy to come out after two years at BU, the feeling on this blog all along was that the 19-year-old and 14th overall pick in last June’s NHL draft is ready for the show right now. There is always a segment of folks who believe that minor league seasoning is the smart play, and there is probably higher than average concern about losing a year off of the entry-level contracts of any one of the three NCAA prospects featured in this post. While you can’t dismiss that business-centric aspect of the signings, there’s probably more concern than warranted. Sure, a player like McAvoy incurs some risk by being one year closer to restricted free agency as a result of playing one or two games at the end of a season, but if the B’s were to make the postseason and McAvoy were to play or at least be around the team to practice with the veterans and work out with the NHL club while being subjected to the higher-intensity atmosphere of the postseason, that would in itself carry enough of a benefit to at least make a worthy case to “burn” the year off the ELC. For some, it won’t matter, but at the end of the day- fans sitting behind computers aren’t going to impact the decision process- Bruins management will ultimately weigh the cost/benefits and make that decision.

In McAvoy, the B’s are getting a skilled right-shot defender who can play with pace and move the puck better than just about anyone on the team right now not named Torey Krug. He’s an aggressive offense-minded player who still has a good bit to learn defensively, but the B’s have enough vanilla shutdown guys that can protect him when he goes into riverboat gambler mode and is deep in the offensive zone trying to force the play. He’s a fun kid who has a magnetic personality and will likely add to the dressing room dynamic with his good nature and ability to keep things loose. His U.S. National Team coach, Don Granato, told us at the draft last June that other players tend to gravitate to C-Mac- they want to be a part of his circle and he’s a guy who knows when to dial it in and get down to business. He has the potential to come into the Boston room and thrive under some of the veteran players on defense and up front.

Simply put- while he’s a still a bit of a wild young colt, you don’t want to clamp the reins on him- McAvoy’s pure skill and big play ability (check out his overtime goal vs. North Dakota or highlights from the gold medal WJC game vs. Canada) have a better chance at helping the Bruins now than hurting them. Sure- keeping him in Providence is the safe play, but I don’t know if playing it safe makes the most sense with a potential high-ender like this guy. We’ve seen a lot of talk about him being “ruined” or his confidence “damaged” by getting a shot at the NHL, but enough with the coddling- if you know even a little about McAvoy, he’s the type of guy who will benefit from the experience, even if there are some rocky moments for him.

We think he’s ready and that he’ll make his Boston debut soon.

JFK

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, RC

When the B’s announced that he signed and would join the big club for the 2016-17 on Sunday evening, it ended the “will he/won’t he” drama that had been circulating around Boston since BU’s season ended a week ago Saturday at the hands of Minnesota-Duluth.

JFK could just as easily have gone back to BU for his junior year, where there’s a good chance he would have been the captain and could have taken his production to another level. We’re sure Coach Quinn and the BU Terriers wish that were the case- he’s a serious student and we hear that his family wanted him to get a little closer to his degree with another year in school.

Ultimately, however, the Bruins felt that the slick Swede’s time was now and made a final, aggressive push to sign him on Friday, meeting with him and obviously convincing the 45th overall selection in 2015 to make the pro plunge. We had reported several weeks ago that he was leaning towards turning pro, but like many youngsters, that sentiment had gone back and forth, with it looking more and more in recent days that he would stay in school- give credit to the Bruins for getting their guy, and fans will get a good lesson in the idea that if you feel strongly enough about a player, then close the deal. Anything could happen if JFK had gone back to school for another year, so the signing makes a lot of sense.

He’s been repeatedly compared to Patrice Bergeron, and like Boston’s star and longest-tenured player, he’s not a dynamic type who is going to pull you out of your seat. However, if you love the game of hockey, you will be drawn to the details in his game- the smart stick and vision; the ability to change gears and match the tempo of play; the ability to play effectively in all zones. He’s not zooming up the ice with his hair on fire, but if you stop and look closely at what he’s doing, he’s disrupting opposition breakouts by being in the right place and getting his stick into passing lanes; in the faceoff dot, he’s winning far more draws than not and in key situations both offensively and defensively; he’s aiding clean zone entries with on-target passes or gaining the blue line himself with shifty, but controlled movements with the puck to evade defenders and force opponents off their spots with his agility. JFK is also known for popping in big goals or making money passes for scores when his team needs it most. Yes, he didn’t put up dominant scoring totals at BU, but then again, neither did Bergeron when he was with the Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL.

Questioning whether JFK is ready to come in and make more positive plays than negative ones in the NHL is a fair one, and there is always an element of risk to putting in younger players in pressure-packed situations, but at the same time- if there is one player who has the mature, refined game and temperament to do it, then this centerman is it. His Omaha (USHL) coach told us at a team dinner last night as the news of JFK’s signing broke that his pulse/emotions are always in the green- he’s as cool as ice and that shouldn’t be mistaken for being laid back or having no pulse, but that he brings a relentless kind of steady state to his performance in that you’re getting the same level of execution and production, regardless of the situation. Earlier in his junior career, some questioned his sense of urgency, but JFK has answered that in definitive fashion with his two years at BU.

Now, the fun begins- we’ll have to wait for him to get his work visa stuff straightened out and see where Coach Bruce Cassidy (note to reader- this is a more formal way of saying, don’t ask us when he’s going to play or where he’ll slot into the Bosotn lineup) has him on the lines at practice, but getting JFK signed and in the fold was a major step- the payoff might not be that far behind.

Again, don’t fixate on the numbers- there’s not always a direct correlation between scoring at the lower level and to the NHL. There’s a good chance JFK isn’t going to be a big point-getter at the NHL level, but it’s not always about the pure production. If he’s value-added with his versatility and ability to play any role in key situations, that in itself is a big reward.

Anders Bjork, RW/LW

When it comes to prospects, few have generated both the buzz and concern than Boston’s fifth-round pick in 2014.

The buzz stems from his third consecutive season of improved offensive output for the Fighting Irish after an impressive freshman debut in 2014-15. Since the 7-15-22 line in 41 games that first NCAA year, Bjork jumped to 12-23-35 in 35 games before taking it to another level this season with 21-31-52 totals in 38 games with one or two more left depending on what happens this week in the Frozen Four.

Pigeonholed in a defensive forward role with the U.S. National Team, Bjork slipped down to the middle of the draft, but one team source in Boston told TSP that several of the scouts high on him during the 2013-14 season felt that he was miscast and could have been more effective as a top-6 winger with Team USA.

Versatility and speed/pace are Bjork’s calling cards: he can play any of the forward positions and while playing more on the right side in his last two campaigns under head coach Jeff Jackson, he started out as a left wing in South Bend and could potentially slot in alongside David Krejci sometime soon given his style and smarts. Bjork played some center in Ann Arbor with the NTDP, so that Swiss Army Knife flavor is something that the B’s (and every team for that matter) look for in their forwards. He’s an explosive skater- getting up to speed in just a few slashing strides, and he is dangerously creative, able to thread the needle with pinpoint passes or take pucks to the net himself. He can dangle or snap off shots in tight spaces. Like JFK- he’s a three-zone player, and with his wheels and head- we’re sold. Bjork is the real deal and the B’s were ahead of the curve on him- it’s about time to be rewarded for that foresight.

Fans (and the team) can breathe a little easier for now, in that it appears that Bjork is ready to begin his pro career. The Fighting Irish’s run to the Frozen Four has put that on hold, in large part- thanks to his heroics especially against the University of Minnesota, when he assisted on the tying goal, then scored the game-winner, figuring in all three of his team’s scores. For good measure, Bjork set up the OT-winner against UMass-Lowell to secure the trip to Chicago, which is where he grew up.

The B’s will have to wait a little longer, and the details and timeline are TBD- but it looks like all signals are green (no pun intended) and that whether the NCAA season ends for Bjork on Thursday or Saturday night, we’ll be seeing him in Boston soon.

 

Bruins prospect update 3/15/17: JFK on a roll- what’s next? Lindgren done, Koppanen top Finland Jr. player & Fitzy update too

JFK

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK” earned his second consecutive Hockey East player of the week honor after his BU Terriers defeated reigning HEA champs- the Northeastern Huskies- over the weekend. He shared the honor with BC’s Austin Cangelosi, scoring the opening goal in the clinching 3-2 win Sunday, while assisting on the other two, culminating in a Chad Krys-winning strike with about 25 seconds left in regulation.

Breaking news alert- We’re hearing via a reliable NHL source that JFK turning pro after the NCAA season wraps is close- (EDIT- we’re going to take a step back and soften the language since the source is not JFK- we were wrong to write the post with such definitive language and for that we apologize to JFK and- K.L.)  The BU sophomore is leaning towards signing with Boston at the conclusion of his final sophomore year contest. While he’s not a dynamic player who will grab you, JFK’s game is all about the details- he does everything well and coaches love having him because of the high trust factor. That’s not to say that he grabs you with blistering speed or pace on every shift, but for those who are students of the game, JFK needs no explaining- he just gets it. And, you win with players like him in your lineup at any level. We’re not sure if he’ll play in Boston right away or sign an ATO to finish the year in Providence, but we do feel strongly that JFK’s Boston debut is not that far off, regardless of how things play out in the immediate timeline.

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Bruins prospects update: Beanpot Trophy goes to Harvard, Donato shines with highlight reel goal

The 65th Beanpot championship is in the books and for the first time since 1993, a team not named Boston College or Boston University has won it, with the Harvard Crimson grabbing the trophy Monday night at the TD Garden.

 

 The game between Harvard and the BU Terriers featured four Bruins prospects, and for the BU guys, it was an obviously disappointing night as the team sought a record 31st Beanpot title.

 

 The championship’s outcome was not so much about Charlie McAvoy or Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson playing poorly (though neither had particularly strong performances) as it was about Harvard rising up and then Ryan Donato putting an exclamation point on the win with a great individual effort. Teammate and 2013 fifth-round project pick Wiley Sherman is enjoying a solid junior season in Cambridge as well.

 

 With 16 goals in 25 games including 5 in his last two, Donato is starting to show the hockey world the sheer offensive acumen that saw him drafted in the second round after David Pastrnak in 2014. As a junior with Dexter, he potted nearly 3 points per game and rode that to a 56th overall selection in Philadelphia. Now, Donato is taking his game to another level as a sophomore after a solid freshman campaign. He began to really put things together at the end of the 2014-15 season when he finished the year (after Dexter lost the 2015 prep championship to Salisbury) out in Nebraska with JFK and the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. Lancer fans still talk about how impressive Donato was in his short time there and rue the fact that he wasn’t able to spend the whole season on that club.

 

 He’s got elite offensive hockey sense with tremendous hands and a will to compete and win.  Last year about this time, TSP interviewed Donato after losing in the 2016 Beanpot tourney and the soon-to-be 21-year-old declared that the Crimson would be back in 2017, and that winning one for the first time since just after his dad left the team to join the U.S. Olympic squad and then the Bruins at the conclusion of the 1992 Albertville Winter Games was something he was determined to achieve.  Donato’s third period goal is worth watching over and over, because it shows that determination that is easy to talk about in an interview, but harder to pull off when the game is on the line.

Here’s the full highlight reel from the game courtesy of NESN, but the Donato goal comes at 5:45 for those only interested in that play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izboCRird3A

 

 There is also no need to rush Donato into the mix. He’s a sophomore and the Bruins can afford to wait another year before signing him, however- there is always a thought about the ticking clock on when he could become an unrestricted free agent. Like Anders Bjork, he will be eligible to sign with any team after August 15, 2018 (though he’s still NCAA-compliant to play through the 2018-19 season if he doesn’t turn pro). However, given his history with the city of Boston and the Bruins, it would be hard to imagine Donato passing up a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing for the Black and Gold.

 

 For now- the Scituate native is one more impressive prospect to keep an eye on.


Amateur Prospects as of 02/15/17


Name/Team

League

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George

WHL

46

26

21

47

67

Zach Senyshyn, SSM

OHL

45

33

13

46

25

Anders Bjork, Notre Dame

HE-NCAA

29

17

23

40

12

Jakub Zboril, Saint John

QMJHL

35

9

22

31

36

Trent Frederic, Wisconsin

Big10- NCAA

20

10

16

26

24

 

Ryan Donato, Harvard

 

ECAC- NCAA

25

16

10

26

12

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU

HE- NCAA

30

11

14

25

26

Ryan Fitzgerald, BC

HE-NCAA

26

7

18

25

36

Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin

 

Big10- NCAA

26

6

19

25

12

Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda

 

QMJHL

24

4

13

17

19

Jack Becker, Sioux Falls

 

USHL

35

10

7

17

30

Charlie McAvoy, BU

HE-NCAA

29

3

13

16

47

Cameron Clarke, Ferris St.

 

WCHA- NCAA

30

1

8

9

24

Wiley Sherman, Harvard

 

ECAC-NCAA

25

0

8

8

16

Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota

 

Big10- NCAA

24

1

4

5

55



 

Pro and European Prospects


Name/Team

League

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

Peter Cehlarik, Providence

 

AHL

40

18

15

33

12

Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr.*

U20- Finland

19

9

17

26

2

Danton Heinen, Providence

 

AHL

38

9

17

26

10

Colby Cave, Providence

 

AHL

50

10

16

26

28

Jake DeBrusk, Providence

AHL

48

11

14

25

13

 

Matt Grzelcyk, Providence

 

AHL

44

2

18

20

12

Sean Kuraly, Providence

 

AHL

37

9

8

17

19

Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF

 

Sweden- Elite

38

6

7

12

22

Colton Hargrove, Providence

 

AHL

41

5

9

14

39

Anton Blidh, Providence

 

AHL

30

7

5

12

22

Chris Casto, Providence

 

AHL

41

1

9

10

28

Noel Acciari, Providence

AHL

18

4

4

8

11

Rob O’Gara, Providence

 

AHL

33

2

6

8

12

Austin Czarnik, Providence#

 

AHL

2

1

2

3

0

Justin Hickman, Providence

 

AHL

21

2

1

3

17

Oskar Steen, Farjestad

 

Sweden- Elite

37

1

1

2

6

Linus Arnesson, Providence*

 

AHL

18

0

1

1

4

Brian Ferlin, Providence*

 

AHL

2

0

0

0

0

Zane McIntyre, Providence

                         Atlanta

 

AHL

ECHL

14

2

11

0

0 (1)

1(1)

1.63

1.99

.944

.931

Dan Vladar, Providence

                    Atlanta

 

AHL

ECHL

6

5

3

2

0 (3)

2 (1)

2.84

3.58

.914

.889

Malcolm Subban, Providence

 

AHL

23

7

10 (1)

2.44

.919


# Czarnik recalled to Boston


*Arnesson, Ferlin injured


 Tyler Randell, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant > age 25- not listed

 

Deconstructing the Claude Julien firing

About 24 hours ago, the Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney officially swung the Sword of Damocles that had been hanging over the organization and coach Claude Julien’s head for weeks (some would even say years), dismissing the franchise’s all-time wins leader and Stanley Cup champion behind the bench, setting off a firestorm of criticism online and in the media for the timing and way it was handled.

This post will attempt to analyze the move and the subsequent naming of assistant coach Bruce Cassidy as the B’s interim bench boss. It is by no means the first and last word on the matter, nor will it hit every bucket that the firing impacts. Whether you were someone who felt it was time to go and are angered that the team elected to do it on the morning of the New England Patriots’ victory parade, are someone who felt he was not the problem and are even more irate at the timing, or are someone who feels like the move had to be made and have no issue with it (and everyone in between), this piece will try to raise multiple perspectives and shed light on some of the other factors that led to where we are on Wednesday, February 8, 2017- nearly a decade after Julien was brought in on the heels of the failed Dave Lewis experiment.

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Bruins prospects update 1/30/17: Re-ordering the amateur prospect rankings

We’re one month into the recent publication of the New England Hockey Journal’s annual Boston Bruins prospects ranking- we always do it in January, so we have about half a season to gauge how the kids look before ranking them.

Well, what can we say? There’s already some buyer’s remorse and after conversations with several people we trust and value as professional talent evaluators, we thought we’d take another stab at the B’s top-10 with a fresher perspective. Consider it an alternate take- a sort of Bizarro World version of the published list, with the impact of other ideas and rationales applied to some of the players who rose and fell.

Ultimately, the exercise reminds us all that opinions are varied. No matter how well you might rank order players, you’re never going to achieve 100 percent consensus, and that should not be the goal. You call it like you see it and you either stick to your guns and stand by your convictions or you don’t. At the same time, it is important in a fluid situation such a hockey season, to maintain room to allow your views to evolve.

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Bruins Prospect Update: 01/08/2017- Golden USA- B’s World Jr. recap

If there were any skeptics left wondering if Charlie McAvoy had the stuff to be a top-flight 2-way defenseman in the NHL one day, that train has pretty much left the station after his player of the game and tourney all-star selection in helping lead Team USA to its third gold medal at the World Jr. (Under-20) Championship since 2010.

The 14th overall selection in 2016 scored USA’s first goal of the game, cutting into Canada’s 2-0 lead (the second goal having been scored by fellow future Bruin Jeremy Lauzon). McAvoy was the trailer on the play, taking a pass from BU teammate and Minnesota Wild prospect Jordan Greenway before lasering the shot over Canada goalie Carter Hart’s glove hand.

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Podcasting New England Hockey Journal’s Bruins annual prospects review: Amateur list

McAvoy1

TSP did this last year, so bringing it back for the 2017 version of the New England Hockey Journal’s Boston Bruins organizational prospect rankings.

You can read the full article at http://www.hockeyjournal.com; a top-20 is broken into a pair of pro and amateur lists. This podcast covers the non-pro futures, plus the HM 11th player who didn’t get an in-print capsule, but is a very good prospect for the B’s down the road.

Want to know who we’re talking about to the tune of about a 45-minute breakdown? Just click on the audio file to listen…

Frederic1

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