3 Amigos Podcast Ep. 8: Everything Claude Julien & Bruins trade rumors

3-amigos-gif

The 3 Amigos ride again!

Reed Duthie, Dominic Tiano and your TSP founder have reunited for another podcast. It’s been a time of transition, and we’re not a professional outfit, so we appreciate the patience over the time elapsed from our last offering. We’ll do these when we can, but for now- we’re focusing on the dismissal of Claude Julien, new B’s interim bench boss Bruce Cassidy and trade rumors swirling around the team and one name in particular out West.

Enjoy the podcast, and we’ll follow up tomorrow with the debut of our 45- minute supplementary podcast “Ask the Amigos” where we take questions our listeners and TSP readers submitted on Twitter.

Cheers.

 

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.

Continue reading

Breaking: Julien out, Cassidy in

The Boston Bruins announced this morning that the franchise’s all-time wins leader and 2011 Stanley Cup-winning head coach Claude Julien has been relieved of his duties after nearly a decade in the position and more than 400 victories. B’s assistant and former Providence Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy will serve as interim head coach in Boston. Cassidy, who previously held the head coaching job with the Washington Capitals, inherits a team that most recently lost critical points to the division rival Toronto Maple Leafs in a crushing 6-5 defeat and is fighting for its playoff lives.

With the New England Patriots victory happening today, GM Don Sweeney will hold a press conference to officially announce the move and discuss the way ahead. The timing of Julien’s dismissal is curious, to say the least, but given his pedigree- he is sure to land on his feet and won’t be unemployed for long.

More analysis on Julien’s legacy and expanded context on Cassidy and the organization to follow on the blog later tonight or in next 24 hours.

EDITOR’s note- The conference is over, with GM and new coach meeting the press, plus revelation that Joe Sacco will cover down on D and Jay Pandolfo will move to the bench during games. A lot to unpack and not sure the first/hottest take is going to cut it.

 

 

Krug train is rolling

Boston Bruins v New York Rangers - Game Four

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 23: Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins looks on against the New York Rangers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 23, 2013 in New York City. The Rangers won 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

We admit it.

This hockey blog is unabashed in its support of Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug. That’s not going to change. Ever.

Maybe it’s because while working for Red Line Report in 2011-12, we recommended the Michigan State captain as the best undrafted NCAA free agent value in the country. Not one of the best values, mind you…THE best. Almost five years later, we’ll take that bow.

Maybe it’s because we got to know Krug off the ice, before he ever really made it as an NHL regular for the Boston Bruins and realized in those moments that he not only had exceptional talent, but exceptional character as well. If a player wants it badly enough, they’ll likely get there. To this day, watching Friday Night Lights reruns on Netflix with Krug, Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner in their Providence, R.I. rookie pro bachelor pad on a December night in 2012 and hearing Krug repeat the “Clear eyes, full hearts…can’t lose” mantra with the conviction of someone absolutely confident of his NHL future stands out as one of the more surreal moments in a life spent covering past, present and future pro hockey players for the past 17 years.

Maybe it’s because ever since he broke into the big league big time during the 2013 playoffs, there has always seemed to be this segment of Bruins fandom who just can’t get past his lack of size and what we can only guess is a sexy draft pedigree that would make them feel good and clean about rooting for him, the way he deserves to be respected.

Whatever the reason, Krug has overcome an understandably slow start to become one of the NHL’s top two-way performers as the 2016-17 campaign wends its way past the halfway mark. We have always been all-aboard the Krug hype train so to speak, and if you can’t at least grudgingly recognize that he’s delivering value for his 4-year, $5.25M extension signed last summer, then you’re not welcome on the train anyway.

Continue reading

Breaking (it down on) Bad Brandon Carlo

Carlo

Brandon Carlo- 2nd-round, 37th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Don’t be misled by the title- Boston Bruins rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo has been anything but “bad” in the first quarter of his introduction to the NHL. We use the word “bad” in the best sense to describe Carlo as a player who has rapidly carved a niche for himself with the B’s, infusing the blue line with the kind of shutdown consistency that was so lacking a year ago.

The Colorado Springs-area  native and 37th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is the youngest defenseman to break into the NHL full-time alongside a future Hall of Fame partner since 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton arrived at the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.

Continue reading

On Brandon Carlo and other random thoughts on the 2-1 Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins got a big win in Winnipeg Monday night and took four out of six points in their season-opening roadie, sandwiching a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs with victories over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Jets.

Rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo netted his first NHL goal in the triumph last night, unleashing a handheld Howitzer from the slot up under the crossbar that former UMass-Lowell superstar and Mike Richter Award-winning goalie Connor Hellebuyck was powerless to stop. Here’s the goal and it’s a beauty for a 1st NHL tally: watch the way he slides up from the point to make himself available, as Andy Brickley would say and then drives the puck up high where mama hides the cookies.

Carlo has been a nom du jour in Boston circles since the B’s picked him 37th overall in the 2015 draft’s second round. It was a selection acquired from the NY Islanders in the trade for Johnny Boychuk (Minnesota defenseman Ryan Lindgren was the other second-rounder taken 49th overall last June) but the choice originally belonged to the Philadelphia Flyers, who forked it over at the 2014 trade deadline in exchange for Andy MacDonald.

The Bruins certainly look to be getting the better end of the deal these days.

Not only is Carlo a 6-foot-5-inch defender but he’s just 19 years old and has looked far more poised and refined than we gave him credit for. There are sure to be ups and downs for any rookie defender, especially one who’s skating on the top pairing with Zdeno Chara north of 20 minutes per night, but given Carlo’s physical attributes and accomplished defensive/shutdown play coming into his first full pro hockey season, it’s a solid bet that the peaks will outnumber the valleys with this kid.

As for Chara- he’ll turn 40 this season but there’s no need to throw dirt on his playing career’s grave just yet. He’s been effective in the early going and seems to be thriving with his young partner, as both have the size and skill to keep opponents away from the prime scoring areas, while also having the talent and ability to provide offense. The Boston captain had a goal negated on replay last night, but then fired a puck into the Winnipeg empty net after Carlo’s third period tally gave the B’s the insurance they needed for David Pastrnak’s team-leading fourth goal to stand up as the winner.

Chara has been a popular scapegoat over the last two seasons because he’s an aging veteran who by virtue of his outstanding play for so many years, was expected to perform better than he has (especially after a right knee injury suffered early in the 2014-15 season- he’s not been the same mobility-wise and it’s the new normal with Chara). There’s truth in that, but when you improve the supporting cast around future Hall of Famers in the twilight of their career as Chara is, it can make all the difference. It’s only been three games, but Chara and Carlo make an excellent pairing because they complement one another nicely. Unless their play falls off a cliff, the young buck is in a spot to learn a great deal from the legend. It reminds me a lot of what Kyle McLaren was exposed to when he made the Bruins as an 18-year-old in 1995-96 and skated with Ray Bourque. B’s fans will hope that Carlo ends up bringing a great deal more than McLaren did, but the latter was a top-10 pick in 1995, so more was expected of him. Carlo’s contributions, impressive as they are, fall into a pleasant surprise and bonus category, simply because he was the 11th defenseman drafted in 2015. The reality with Carlo is- he wasn’t supposed to be in Boston at 19 and playing 23 minutes-plus while contributing at both ends (he’s a +7 on top of it all with a positive Corsi rating), but we’ll take it. Free chicken never tasted so good.

It’s time to own up to the fact that TSP was far too conservative in our projections of Carlo. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the pick, and hype isn’t always a good thing, but to the former Tri-City American’s credit, he took advantage of injuries to Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid to establish himself as being worthy of sticking in the NHL. Sometimes, that’s what it takes, because veterans, by virtue of their one-way contracts and experience, will keep positions on a roster over the younger guys because of the economics and options. In this case, Carlo likely would have gone down to Providence, or very well could have begun the season as the seventh defender and a healthy scratch if not for the loss of two right-shot defenders before the start of the new season.

Sometimes, a key factor to solving a larger problem is right in front of you. Sometimes, it takes unforeseen events like injuries to open that window of opportunity to see it, but to Carlo’s credit- he’s shown a lot of poise and maturity. Again- it’s very early in the season, but his play has given the GM options, even if and when Miller and McQuaid return to the lineup. What’s more, you have other impressive young talents in the system: Rob O’Gara is getting big league games under his belt, and looks like he belongs- even if he might not be making the tangible impact on Boston’s fortunes right now that Carlo has. Matt Grzelcyk is playing with speed and confidence down in Providence. Jakub Zboril is playing more like a top-15 pick should in Saint John, and there is a lot of excitement surrounding BU defender Charlie McAvoy now that his NCAA season is underway. He’s been relatively quiet thus far, but a breakout performance is coming- just you watch. Jeremy Lauzon is on the shelf due to a concussion suffered in recent action, and according to his team- there is no timetable for his return. That’s a downer.

There’s reason for excitement down the road, but as impressive as some of those names might be, they are still unknowns. Carlo, on the other hand, is making himself into more of a known quantity each night. And, given the way things are going, it looks like he’s earning more and more trust and a prominent role from the Boston coaching staff.

It was tough to see Boychuk go, but even the most ardent critics of the trade (and granted- it was far more about the timing of it all and the expectations for that 2014-15 Bruins club than anything else), have to be encouraged that Carlo is giving Boston some tangible returns so soon.

The book on Carlo is far from written, but as the old cliché goes: so far, so good.

***

The top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and David Backes has been carrying the offense in the early going, and somethings got to change if the Bruins expect to keep adding W’s to the ledger.

Dominic Moore tallied his first goal as a Bruin off a nice feed from Tim Schaller, making his Boston debut. Fellow Providence College product Noel Acciari started the play by outworking the Winnipeg defender behind the net to chip it to Schaller who found Moore alone and off to Hellebuyck’s right for a quick snipe.

Unfortunately, the B’s have gotten bupkus from the David Krejci-Ryan Spooner connection, and that needs to change. Austin Czarnik excited watchers with his speed and hands in the first two games, but neither Matt Beleskey nor Jimmy Hayes could get anything going in terms of goal production, so right now- Claude Julien and his braintrust need to figure out how to shake things up and generate some secondary scoring.

Patrice Bergeron’s expected return will move Backes down to Krejci’s right wing and that will help. Danton Heinen hasn’t been bad- he’s made some neat plays, but as said on this space many times- his game is not flashy. We had someone on Twitter say “Heinen hasn’t caught my attention,” and that is precisely the point. He’s a cerebral, playmaking winger who has made several impressive passes and plays in the face of a big hit or effective forecheck, but because he’s not dynamic, few are noticing. Unfortunately for Heinen, in a results-oriented business, he’s expected to produce, so he’ll likely be moved down the roster (or perhaps down to Providence) to try and work out the kinks. There’s a lot of potential here, and at TSP we recognize it…but if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound?

***

Third year forward David Pastrnak is getting. After. It.

He tallied his first career four-point game (2g, 2a) against Columbus and has scored in every game thus far.

On National Pasta Day, “Pasta” threw the puck to the net and it went in off of Winnipeg defenseman Toby Enstrom. It was a shot that was “al dente” if you please, but Pastrnak is breaking out as multiple analysts thought he might. He’s got to stay healthy, but he’s playing with top talent and he’s shown progress in his physical maturity to go with a work ethic that was already outstanding when he arrived.

At some point, he’ll hit some dry spells, but for now- Pastrnak is delivering the offense that this team so desperately needs, especially with the gaping void where the second and third lines are in the early going.

Of course, the downside to all of this success is the second contract and money that Pastrnak’s agent will be looking for, but all in due time.

***

Tuukka Rask was superb against Winnipeg after allowing the breakaway goal to Blake Wheeler. The former Bruin came out of the penalty box and got behind the Boston defense before twisting Rask around and burying the puck. Moore came back with the equalizer just 19 seconds later, but Rask got the job done after that, denying and frustrating the Jets attack. This is precisely what the Bruins need from their $7 million goaltender, so he’s 2-0 this season with room for improvement, but credit where due- he’s getting it done. Oh, and he became the first Bruins goalie in franchise history to post two assists in a game, so there’s that. Not bad. He only needs 13 more assists to break the single-season mark jointly held by Grant Fuhr and Tom Barrasso.

***

Krejci and Torey Krug are taking heat for their early season struggles. Fans know they had significant offseason surgery and their original timetables to return to the lineup were not decisive in pointing to them being ready to go on opening night, yet they made it.

Now, a great deal is expected of the duo and that’s a fair point to bring up, but the game is not played by robots who magically come back at 100 percent. If they weren’t ready, it would have meant even more untested guys in the lineup and there would have been critics coming out of the woodwork.

We’re allowing a grace period to take into account that neither player was able to do their standard offseason conditioning and training, coupled with a natural confidence test as they work through the surgically repaired hip and shoulder and get a more solid footing.

Neither is performing at their normal level, but now is not the time to pile on. We’ll give it more time and call it like we see it going forward. The good news for the team is that the record is 2-1 and not 0-3…it doesn’t alter the fact that the B’s aren’t getting the high level of play that fans are accustomed to, but that can all change. We tend to make perfection the enemy of good enough. That’s life and the Internet age with pro sports, but no one should be pressing the panic button yet.

Time to go- Bruins raise curtains on 93rd season with new faces, youth movement

New Englanders tend to be realistic (pessimistic?) by nature, so while the focus has been on the defense and the potential for gaping lanes that skill teams will find available to them, as the 2016-17 NHL season begins for the Boston Bruins tonight in Columbus, Ohio, there’s some excitement swirling around the big league debuts of four players in the lineup.

Injuries to Patrice Bergeron, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller have opened the door for a pair of forwards in Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen, and a defense duo of Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara to get their first taste of NHL action against the Blue Jackets. Bergeron is expected back in the lineup for the weekend action versus Toronto and rookie sensation Auston Matthews, who last night became the only player ever to score four goals in his first NHL game. McQuaid and Miller will be out a little (in the former’s case, a lot for the latter) longer, so we temper the eagerness with which we greet the young rookies with the belief that perhaps half of them have a realistic chance of staying on Boston’s roster for the duration of the season.

In Czarnik, the B’s have a fast and skilled little (emphasis needed) center who was snubbed in the NHL draft, but looks like a pretty savvy pickup after four years at Miami University, the last two of which he wore the captain’s ‘C’. He took a high hit from behind that targeted the head in the final preseason game by Philadelphia defenseman Radko Gudas (he got a six-game layoff from the NHL’s department of player safety) but cleared the concussion protocol in time to play in his first big league game. Czarnik is a classic little engine that could as a player who always had to overcome size bias to work harder than just about everyone else to hone his skills and three zone game. After a 61-point first year in the AHL, he’s made the initial cut to stick in Boston, and that’s the stuff NHL dreams are truly made of. Czarnik is an exciting buzzsaw of a forward- he zips in and out of lanes and can put the shake n’ bake on less-agile defenders. When the puck is on his stick, he brings a similar kind of playing style to that of Brad Marchand. Note- we’re not saying he is the next Marchand, but you can see it in the way he uses his speed, vision and hands to create and give opponents fits. He’s not the abrasive agitator Marchand is, but Czarnik is a big man trapped in a little man’s body who plays the game with heart and energy. Fans love an underdog, and when coupled with Czarnik’s electrifying offensive element, it’s not hard to understand why so many are jumping on the AC Train.

More was expected of Heinen and he entered training camp as a prohibitive favorite to win a spot with the big club, but he is also a feel-good story. Passed over in his first year of NHL draft eligibility in 2013, the British Columbia native hit a significant growth spurt and then opened eyes as captain of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles. The Bruins liked Heinen enough to snatch him in the 2014 draft’s fourth round despite his being an almost complete unknown in NHL draft pubs. The rumor at the time was that several other teams were hoping to steal Heinen later on, not the least of which was none other than the Montreal Canadiens. That story isn’t verified, but damn- it feels good to B’s fans to hear it. Heinen is a thinking fan’s hockey player- he’s not especially fast or dazzling in the way he handles the puck, but he goes to the right spots, moves it to the correct spaces and plays a quietly effective and productive three-zone game. He’s the quintessential Claude Julien-style forward because he’s both intelligent and efficient. If you’re expecting to be entertained by Heinen, you’ll probably wonder what the hype is about, but if you watch the wall work, the way he slices through layers of defenses and puts himself in position to make plays at both ends of the ice, you’ll gain an appreciation for him.

On the defensive side of things, Carlo is a favorite of those B’s fans who religiously follow the NHL draft and Boston’s prospect development system. Picked 37th overall in 2015, he looks like a brilliant pick in hindsight as his natural 6-foot-5-inch size, mobility and reach instantly jump out at you. Back in 1997, a young Hal Gill caught the eye of fans because he was 6-7, and was the biggest cat in the NHL before some guy named Zdeno Chara showed up on Long Island about a year later. The thing about Carlo is that while he’s not quite as tall as Gill, he’s a better skater and has long arms, therefore brings a similar reach. Fans are excited about Carlo because he’s big and fluid and does a real good job of keeping opposing forwards from walking straight to the net…a turnstile he is not. The jury is out on how much offensive hockey sense/creativity Carlo has, but he’s certainly not limited in terms of being able to handle the puck and join the rush. Having said all that, there will be natural growing pains as is with the case with any 19-year-old defenseman, but to the Coloradan’s credit, he impressed a year ago in his first NHL training camp and exhibition season and then carried that forward to make the Boston Bruins before age 20. He’s not a snarly, intimidating beast on the physical side, but he will rub guys out and is sure to be well-liked in the dressing room because he’s got an even-keeled personality.

Last but not least is O’Gara- a TSP personal favorite going back to 2010-11 when he left the Long Island Royals AAA midget program to win a prep championship with the Milton Academy Mustangs. The B’s drafted him with the final selection of the fifth round, and he was described by then-assistant GM Don Sweeney as a “big piece of clay” that required a great deal of molding and shaping. Five years later, the 23-year-old Yale grad might not be a finished product, but he’s close enough and tonight will earn a status no one can take away from him- NHL player. O’Gara is a good skater- it’s less about speed and stride with him than it is fluid and agile footwork, which allows him to pivot and change direction quickly and efficiently. He’s got size and reach…and he can make an effective outlet pass to aid in the transition game. Like Carlo, there are sure to be mistakes and mishaps, but O’Gara is smart and motivated- he’s a quick study and character guy who has been around long enough that he understands the system and is ready to prove himself. It might mean more of an apprenticeship in Providence when other players return, but for now, O’Gara has earned the opportunity and will begin on the second pairing with Torey Krug on the right side (ROG shoots left, so it speaks volumes about the level of trust he’s earned that the Boston coaching staff is fine with him playing his “off” side).

David Backes will skate on a line tonight with Marchand and David Pastrnak if nothing changes between now and puck drop, and with Bergeron out (albeit temporarily), maybe bringing in an experienced veteran center wasn’t such a bad idea after all. David Krejci has a great deal to prove, and with Heinen and Ryan Spooner flanking him, there’s no shortage of offensive creativity on that unit. Spooner’s speed is a welcome addition to the lessened pace of Krejci and Heinen, but the trio provide quite an intriguing matchup on paper. All three of them are or have been centers before, so that’s a line that gives Julien a lot of flexibility and versatility.

Czarnik will likely test his NHL mettle with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. Beleskey doesn’t have the high-end skill to put up big numbers (and he’d be on the top two lines in any event if that were the case) but he’s gritty and should develop some chemistry with Czarnik. Hayes is the wild card- the B’s desperately need a revival from him this season much like Reilly Smith had with Florida a year ago. It would be foolish to think that Hayes doesn’t want to make it work in Boston, but he’ll have to shrug off the external pressures and get down to the basics by just doing what he does best. He doesn’t have either of his linemates’ wheels, so it will be interesting to see if they have some set plays to leverage Hayes as a trailer into the zone with his soft hands and big shot.

Tim Schaller is back up with Boston with Bergeron out and may get a chance to skate with Noel Acciari and Dominic Moore, but the guess here is that Riley Nash will round out the fourth line. It’s not a nasty unit in terms of abundant physicality, but they’ll all grind it out and bring some veteran smarts to go with Acciari’s exuberance.

Defensively, the Bruins need their veterans- Chara, Krug and John-Michael Liles– to provide some glue for the younger guys- Carlo (Chara), O’Gara (Krug) and Colin Miller (Liles) as they shake out the butterflies and deal with the immense difference in speed, skill and pace from what they are used to. Chiller got enough action in last year, and Joe Morrow is also around to step in should anyone get hurt or falter, but this is an untested bunch and the biggest source of consternation with the 2016-17 Bruins.

Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin were the tandem in Boston’s net the last time the B’s went to the Stanley Cup final series in 2013, so there are no concerns with the talent or experience. They can’t carry a team on their backs, though- so everyone will have to row hard in the same direction. If the talent gap becomes too great, then Sweeney will have to act at some point.

That’s all going to have to wait for the time being, because this is what the B’s are going with to begin the new season.

As the Dropkick Murphys so aptly like to belt out- drop the puck…it’s time to go. (Thanks BruinsBabe176)

B’s rookies making hay in preseason

Carlo

Help coming in the form of Brandon Carlo? He’s ready for the NHL grind.(Kirk Luedeke photo)

The Boston Bruins iced a largely untested lineup Thursday against a more experienced and closer-to-opening-night roster in Columbus versus the Blue Jackets, and the kids skated away with a 2-1 regulation victory.

After carrying play for the first 40 minutes, the Baby B’s found themselves on their heels a bit- they did get goals from Matt Beleskey (1st period on a deflection of a Colin Miller point shot) and Seth Griffith (on a beautiful sauce pass from Jake DeBrusk) to make it 2-0 Boston in the third.  When Brandon Saad beat the D with his speed and Malcolm Subban with a bullet shot to make it 2-1, the home team put on a furious surge, but Subban proved up to the task and stopped everything else that came his way including a last-second Zach Werenski would-be equalizer.

After the game, Boston head coach Claude Julien was effusive in his praise of multiple young players, with most of his positive waves going to defenseman Brandon Carlo and DeBrusk. We’re less than a week from the start of the 2016-17 regular season, and you have to think that Julien was encouraged by what he saw last night on the road. Sure- veterans with bigger-ticket contracts will still likely benefit from the economic reality and make the team ahead of young, lower-cost guys who can go down to Providence without being exposed on waivers, but one of the more important purposes of these exhibition games is to give the coaches a sense of who they would want in the lineup should a veteran get injured, underperform or find himself headed out of Boston in a trade or transaction. The B’s win over Columbus likely earned some respect, even if it may not have been enough to solidify NHL roster spots for a few of the standouts.

Even though many observers tend to seek an egalitarian viewpoint when it comes to deciding who makes it and who goes down, not to mention a natural, shall we call it- an “implicit bias” to want to see shiny new toys up with the NHL club, the league’s salary cap system often makes that a tough balancing act. It is easy to blame coaches like Julien for wanting to ice “binkies” (read: safe, experienced but low-upside veterans)- in lieu of accepting risk with younger, more skilled guys who are also more prone to making mistakes and potentially costing the team points.

The truth is- it isn’t that simple, and management/ownership gets a vote, too. Right or wrong- it doesn’t make sense to spend millions of dollars on one-way contracts in the minors and while you can criticize the wisdom of signing players like Riley Nash and Dominic Moore, there is no shortage of fans and media types who would have blasted the team for putting too much stock in young, untested players. NHL teams have always hedged against putting too much trust in the youth movement, it’s just that the modern era of cost certainty makes some of those moves look bad in hindsight. At the same time, just because a rookie plays well in the preseason does not mean he’s ready for primetime (Cameron Mann, anyone?). And so- it does become a balancing act in terms of deciding whether the value lies in having a young player with the NHL team in a smaller role but benefiting from being at the highest level and immersed in that big league culture on and off the ice, or whether he’s better off playing more minutes in expanded situations in the AHL. Because entry-level contracts are two-way deals, it makes more economic sense in many instances for management and coaches to send the player down for more seasoning at the ‘AAA’ equivalent level.

Having said that, here are many of the Boston rookies (or at least those still with the team as of today) and where we think they stand as the team will make its final cuts in the coming days and ice a lineup next week that will undoubtedly look different from the one that will take the ice in Game 82. Whether the B’s will be looking forward to the postseason at that point or we’re headed back to the drawing board for another disappointing offseason is the great hockey adventure that will unfold over the next six months.

The locks (or who we think will see action in Boston at some point in 2016-17, even if they don’t make the NHL roster out of camp)

Noel Acciari, C- This versatile forward played 19 NHL games with the B’s to close out 2015-16 and is already a trusted agent with the coaching staff. His challenge is to make the opening night roster with the additions of other similar, but more experienced NHLers having been brought in during the summer months. We think he can do it, but going back down to Providence for a spell might help refine this more defensive, grinding center’s offensive skills. He hits hard, but clean and has been a revelation after being one of multiple free agent signings in the spring of 2015.

Brandon Carlo, D- The B’s are lean on right-shooting defenders, so while the soon-to-be 20-year-old is pretty green and raw yet, with his size, reach and mobility- he just might have done enough to grab a roster spot out of the gate. Even if the 2015 second-rounder (acquired with the first of two draft picks for Johnny Boychuk) doesn’t earn his way into the top-six defensive rotation on opening night, we expect that he’s close and should get an opportunity to see playing time when inevitable injuries or other situations occur. He shouldn’t be seen as a dominant two-way D/savior kind of player, but he’s still developing and could eventually become a solid NHL No. 3 who already has advanced shutdown type potential.

Austin Czarnik, F- What else can we say about the little buzzsaw who keeps opening eyes around the organization? Czarnik might be just 5-9 (barely…and that’s in skates), but he’s a speed demon who has the creativity and puck skills to be an offensive threat while is smart and defensively aware enough to thrive in Julien’s system. The biggest question with Czarnik is whether he’ll make it as a center or be employed at wing, where he’s been practicing, but the Bruins love versatile guys who can play anywhere. He was called up late last season but didn’t make his NHL debut. This year, he’s going to get into the historical ledger at some point, even if his role is yet to be determined.

Danton Heinen, F- The first-year pro has been a nom du jour in Boston hockey circles for a while now, as he put up two very good NCAA seasons with Denver University before signing last April. He’s not flashy or dynamic the way Czarnik is…Heinen doesn’t have the seek-and-destroy (without headhunting) mentality of Acciari or Beleskey, either…but he’s fast enough to make plays at both ends and strong enough to excel in the wall work and net-front power needed for the modern NHL. Just when you start to say to yourself “what does this guy do?” he’ll make a sweet dish or bury a quick strike to the back of the net. Julien loves guys like Heinen, and the organization has been highly impressed with Heinen’s mature and refined game for some time now. With Frank Vatrano in recovery from foot surgery, opportunities are there for players like Heinen to take advantage of.

On the cusp (don’t count them out, but likely headed to Providence to begin the season)

Jake DeBrusk, LW- It’s no secret that we’ve been bullish on DeBrusk since before the 2015 draft and perhaps Bruins fans are starting to see flashes of why after he suffered through an agonizing injury last year that left stat watchers ignorantly ranting about him on Twitter and the Internets. Part of why DeBrusk has caught flack in some circles of Boston fandom is something completely foolish that he can’t control- the old covetous attitude of wanting different players taken at the 14th spot instead of him. That’s life and sports- and to be honest- there is an honest argument to be made for several guys whom Boston could have had, but didn’t, Unfortunately, that kind of what-if stuff is counter productive, so have it, but you won’t see it here at TSP. Instead- DeBrusk continues to show off a high-end creativity and offensive skill that saw him net 41 goals in his draft year. Last night’s pass to Griffith for the game-winner was subtle and perfect- he protected the puck from the defender who was hooking and obstructing him to no avail. DeBrusk pulled away and then put it in the one spot his teammate could get to it and fire the shot home. That was a hockey player’s move and DeBrusk is a hockey player. He’s got some rounding out to do in his game and should get a chance to do that in the AHL rather than being forced into the NHL’s bright lights right away.

Sean Kuraly, F- Czarnik’s Miami University (the Brotherhood!) teammate was acquired on June 30, 2015 in the deal that sent Martin Jones to San Jose. He’s a big guy who can skate quite well for his size and has underrated hands, but probably lacks the higher-end vision and hockey IQ to be a top-six NHL forward. Having said that, the Ohio native brings the kind of traits to the table that the Bruins value: he’s heavy on the puck, willing to grind and take hits needed to gain and maintain puck possession and will go to the greasy areas of the ice. He’s been impressive after a pretty lackluster senior year scoring-wise in which more was expected, but a member of the Bruins organization told TSP back when the team acquired him that they envisioned him as a 3rd or 4th-line checking winger, so in that regard- Kuraly is on target. Because he can go down to Providence without being put on waivers, he’ll likely need that chance to play and develop rather than be a spare part in Boston, but he could get a shot at the big time at some point.

Rob O’Gara, D- We agonized over putting the 23-year-old Yale product in the locks section, but in the end- the belief here is that he’s more valuable in the AHL soaking up big minutes in all situations and developing under Kevin Dean rather than sitting in the press box in Boston. Barring a rash of injuries, O’Gara needs to be playing a lot at this stage and he’ll get that chance in Providence moreso than if he slots into Boston, where the left side is pretty well established between Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, John-Michael Liles and even Christian Ehrhoff, who is in on a tryout but is a left-shooting D. O’Gara’s going to be a good one- he’s shown that time and time again in college, his brief AHL look last spring and in a few impressive spots here in the preseason. But, we don’t think his NHL time is quite now.

Malcolm Subban, G- Give him some credit- the first-round pick in 2012 showed some poise and moxie against Columbus in preserving the win he was handed when he came into the game after Anton Khudobin. Tuukka Rask and Khudobin are Boston’s 1-2 goalies this year, but Subban is showing the coaches that he’s got the stuff to come up and be a backup goalie if someone should get hurt. He’s such an athlete…but that’s also been the knock on him, as he tends to overcompensate for flaws in his technique through his athleticism. As he continues to gain experience and get better in dealing with in-game situations, Subban is looking more and more like he could one day start to fulfill the potential Boston saw enough of in him to grab him where they did. But, he’s also hit setbacks in each and every year of his pro hockey career, so this is huge season for him to stay healthy and be ready to go if Boston needs him.

Not likely

Brian Ferlin, RW- He’s a good guy and you feel for him given the concussion he suffered in April 2015 and its lingering effects. Unfortunately, Ferlin brings a certain lower-line appeal in a sea of players who have the same style and relatively low ceiling. He’s a big-bodied winger who has some untapped offensive tools (he was Kuraly’s USHL teammate with the Indiana Ice), but needs more time to work that out in the AHL- the B’s can’t really afford to keep him around based on the talent and experience levels of others fighting for the same position on the team.

Don’t forget about…

Seth Griffith, RW- He’s technically not a rookie, but he’s still in the mix and last night backed up what he’s been good at (at least in the AHL)- finding  the back of the net. We still can’t help but think he’s a ‘tweener, but he does have sweet hands and a good offensive mind. Ultimately, he’d have to be put on waivers to be sent down to the AHL, so that could mean the Bruins will keep him at the expense of someone else who doesn’t have to clear. Or- he could be included in some kind of trade package going forward. Either way, Griffith is still scrapping for a job and that’s a credit to him after he got injured a year ago and lost his shot at the NHL. He’s a superb player for Providence, but the jury is still very much out as to whether that excellence can translate to the highest level.

Austin Czarnik will make the final roster

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

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

It’s the classic hockey saw: Small guys must prove they can play, while big players need only prove they can’t.

NHL teams were scared off by Austin Czarnik’s size, so they didn’t draft him.

The Michigan native was a scoring whiz at every level, displaying speed, creativity, puck skills and a willingness to battle and make a difference. But in the end, when it came to the NHL draft, no joy.

So, he went to Miami University, ended up being the captain and was even a Hobey Baker finalist. He dazzled with some serious scoring mojo while he was at Oxford and the Bruins managed to beat out other suitors to get him on April 1, 2015.

It was no fool’s joke- the kid can just flat-out play. He showed it a year ago as he provided consistent offense and nearly scored at a point-per-game clip for Providence as a rookie pro in the AHL. That after impressing with the Bruins during the exhibition season, where he showed some instant chemistry with Frank Vatrano.

Czarnik played so well that he was a late-season emergency callup to go into the Boston lineup if a banged-up David Krejci was waved off. That didn’t happen, but if not for that, Czarnik would have made his NHL debut already.

He’s generously listed at 5-foot-9, but has pure speed in open ice that makes him so fun to watch. Witness tonight, as he burned past Andrei Markov in the Habs’ zone to get to a loose puck and rifle it over Al Montoya’s shoulder.

TSP has seen all we need to- the guy is skilled enough to play in the NHL…right now. He’s a winner. He’s worked hard to improve in the offseason and he’s putting that effort into practice with consistent offense during exhibition play. Of course, offense alone isn’t a guarantee that Czarnik will make the big club out of camp, but it certainly helps. Working against him is his natural center position and the depth the Bruins currently have there. We suspect he’s versatile enough to play out of position and still make things happen, and he’d probably do manual labor if the team asked him to- he’s that kind of guy.

In other words- Czarnik is earning a job with the Boston Bruins the right way. He’s not a big-time draft pedigree guy, but he’s showing that Ryan Nadeau and the rest of the staff that scouted him and helped to close the deal in 2015 deserve a lot of credit for seeing this kind of potential in him.

Let’s not ruin the party by talking about projections and ceilings just yet- all in good time. For now, let’s enjoy the excellent play and results Czarnik is getting. He’s proving he might be small, but he has big talent and a bigger heart.

That’s a fact we suspect is not lost on Don Sweeney, Claude Julien and the Boston coaches.

(Kirk Luedeke photo)

(Kirk Luedeke photo)

 

 

Boston Bruins exhibition season update

The Boston Bruins made their first series of cuts on Sunday and there weren’t many, if even any, surprises.

All of the team’s major junior-required players were sent back to their respective leagues: Jakub Zboril (QMJHL), Zach Senyshyn (OHL), Jeremy Lauzon (QMJHL) and Jesse Gabrielle (WHL) all made strides from their first NHL camp a year ago, but because of the CHL (Canadian Hockey League- the umbrella organization of all three major junior leagues) agreement with the NHL to return all players who don’t turn 20 by December 31 of the season back to their junior teams if they don’t make the big roster, it was wishful thinking in the extreme for anyone to believe that any one of those players had a real shot at breaking camp in Boston.

They’re good prospects, all four- but they aren’t ready to seriously compete for NHL jobs. You have to balance the optimism and desire to roll out the shiny new toys with the reality of the current roster makeup and understand that for every major junior kid you try to shoehorn into the lineup, someone else will likely have to be exposed to waivers to keep them on the NHL roster. When you consider the fact that not one of them showed a readiness to be top-end contributors out of the hopper, what is the point of even entertaining keeping them around? Better to return them to junior and let them dominate if that’s their mission. Whether we agree that the inability to put them in the AHL is an issue or not, it’s a moot point, because that’s the system we have, not the one we wish we had.

All of Zboril, Senyshyn, Lauzon and Gabrielle show impressive promise and at some point, their time will come to take their place on the Boston roster…or not. But that time is not now, and the B’s needed to put the emphasis where it belongs: on those who are realistic options to make the team and contribute to the 2016-17 pro hockey campaign.

A raft of players were sent down to Providence, whose AHL training camp opens this week. Peter Mueller, who was in Boston on a professional tryout (PTO) before being released on Sunday will give it a go with Providence in hopes of landing an AHL contract and possibly more. The eighth overall pick in 2006 is 28 and could help the B’s farm team, but any hopes of his being able to make an impact at the NHL level after concussions essentially halted his progression. He’s spent the last three seasons in Europe trying to work his back to the top rung of the hockey ladder, but the Cinderella comeback just wasn’t happening based on early returns with the B’s.

Forwards Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Peter Cehlarik, Colton Hargrove and Justin Hickman were returned to Providence, along with defenders Linus Arnesson and Matt Grzelcyk plus goaltenders Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar. Veteran minor league defensemen Chris Casto, Tommy Cross and Alex Grant (all under contract to the Bruins) were placed on waivers and cleared for assignment to Providence. Players on AHL deals: Mark Naclerio, AJ White (forwards); Josh Atkinson, Chris Breen, Alex Roach (defensemen) and goaltender Matt Ginn will attend the P-Bruins camp this week.

Truth in lending here: we keep seeing raves about Blidh’s play and the Scouting Post (TSP) simply can’t get excited about this guy. He’s an agitating, energetic player but we just don’t see the skill/smarts needed to offset his average size at the highest level. Blidh’s moxie is appealing, but he looks like another solid AHL guy but not someone who is going to do much more than contribute in limited fashion if he ever makes the NHL. Unlike Vladimir Sobotka, who actually has some hands and creativity to go with his physical, agitating style, Blidh is an undersized mucker who isn’t going to do much offensively. Those types are a dime-a-dozen, so again- why get excited about a player like this? If he makes it, great- but we wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

TSP is higher on Cehlarik- he does have the size and offensive game to eventually work his way into the NHL mix. His skating has gotten better than when he was first drafted and there’s some upside here, he just needs more time to adjust to the North American pro game and it made little sense to do discovery learning in Boston when he can see a bigger role in Providence.

Grzelcyk showed some impressive flashes that we’ve long known him capable of bringing as an offense-minded defender and power play guy, but like Torey Krug four years ago- he needs to be in Providence where he can play a lot and develop properly under Kevin Dean, the Providence 1st-year head coach after being Butch Cassidy’s assistant for several seasons.

Hargrove and Hickman are both big, rugged power forward bookends who don’t bring much sizzle or flash, but play that heavy, grinding style with the ability to put pucks in the net. Neither is ready for primetime, but watch for both to have expanded roles in Providence this season and work their way towards seeing time in Boston, much like Tyler Randell had to do.

We’ve said it before, but Arnesson is not the droid we’re looking for. He’s a good guy with a solid skating and defensive mindset, but he’s not progressed much from when the B’s took him at the end of round 2 in 2013, and he’s just another guy at this point in a system that has more than enough of those. Talent-wise, he could play on the B’s right now, but he’s not going to make much of an impact. The clock is ticking, but other than being a pedestrian, bottom-pair kind of defensive D-man, it’s hard to project Arnesson as much of an impact player in Boston.

McIntyre showed promising signs of rebounding from a tough finish to the 2016 season. He’s got work to do in refining his technique, but we’re confident he’ll take strides forward this season in the AHL.

The AHL cuts mean that both of Brandon Carlo and Jake DeBrusk are still on the Boston roster, along with fellow rookie pros Danton Heinen, Rob O’Gara and Sean Kuraly. Put these players in the dark horse category for earning NHL spots out of the gate, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that one or two could make the cut. Heinen seems to be the most mature/refined of the bunch and the B’s took a hit at wing when Frank Vatrano was lost for three months after foot surgery last week.

By virtue of being late-’96 born players, both of Carlo and DeBrusk can play in Providence this season. DeBrusk is a personal favorite- he can score in a variety of ways and is a good kid. I don’t think he makes the final cut in Boston, but wouldn’t completely count him out, either. He scored the decisive goal against Philadelphia via shootout on a wicked laser beam, and he’s done what the B’s have asked of him since being the 14th overall pick in 2015. Now- admittedly, guys like Kyle Connor and Colin White are players you can make an obvious case for over DeBrusk at that spot, but that’s spilled milk at this point- the former Swift Current and Red Deer (WHL) standout has shown himself to have first-round talent and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts as a rookie pro. If he can make a rapid adjustment, 20-25 goals in the AHL is not an unreasonable projection.

Carlo is another guy who could possibly earn an NHL roster spot right away, and if he does that, more power to him. Even if he plays a reduced role from what he would in Providence, Carlo has the size, mobility and drive to make an impact this year. By virtue of being in Boston and practicing with the team he’ll develop, but it is up to the coaches and management to decide what scenario is most beneficial for him.

Everybody likes Danton…and that makes sense. Heinen is a versatile, mature and polished winger who signed with Boston after two years at Denver University (friendly reminder that you heard that here first, folks). TSP has said this repeatedly- he’s not someone who will dazzle you with his skill and ability- you have to be a student of the game to appreciate what Heinen brings in spades. The board work, the subtle passing touch and right spaces he moves the puck to under pressure, the ability to get in position for a quick shot or deflection to find the back of the net. He’s been everything as advertised, and yet we still see folks taking that “entertain me” approach with him and questioning what all the hype was about- well, if you buy into the hype, that’s your problem. Much of what I have seen from Heinen is right on par with what he did in the NCAA after the B’s took him in the fourth round two years ago. He’s making this team, folks- that’s the story and we’re sticking to it.

O’Gara and Kuraly are longer shots. Both have played well, but by virtue of being able to go down to Providence without being exposed to waivers, they’ll likely begin the season on the farm. O’Gara is the sure, steady, shutdown guy we’ve come to take for granted. If O’Gara somehow sticks in Boston, it won’t be that much of a surprise, but given the current makeup of the defense, he’d really have to knock at least one if not more veterans out of the mix- that’s a tall order for a rookie. Kuraly is impressing with his size and skating, but I still don’t see a great deal in the way of puck skills or hockey sense to be a top-six NHL forward. He probably tops out as a lower-end third line guy at the top level, but could be an effective fourth-liner.

Pro prospects Noel Acciari, Austin Czarnik and Seth Griffith are still in the mix as well, and offseason free agent Tim Schaller has battled injuries, but will be given an opportunity to make the final Boston roster. All, save for Czarnik, have NHL experience.

Looks like Acciari dodged a bullet/leg injury in the preseason and is back in action- the B’s are trying him on the wing after he played fourth-line center in the final 19 games of 2015-16. He’s a heavy-on-the-puck hitter ideally suited for a grinding role, and I have to think Claude Julien is looking for excuses to keep him on the NHL roster after what he showed last spring. Czarnik is a little engine that could-type guy- small, but tremendously fast and skilled. He’s making noise in camp after being a top performer in Providence as a rookie last season. He’s a little buzzsaw of offensive playmaking ability (with an underappreciated goal scorer’s knack) and the smarts to be a capable three-zone player in time. The B’s would have to make room for him this season, but Czarnik is earning it the old fashioned way- by working hard in offseason and practice and then going out and performing. Lack of size is the only knock on the former Miami University captain.

Griffith is still hanging around, and good on him. TSP’s position on him is that he’s headed into dreaded ‘tweener territory- an effective AHL scorer who lacks that extra something that translates to the NHL level. Without size and speed, he’s hard-pressed to excel in a bottom-six checking role in Boston.

Schaller, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent on 1 July, was a top defensive forward for Providence College before turning pro with the Buffalo Sabres. He’s split his career between the AHL and NHL, but given that he would have to be exposed to waivers to be sent down, watch for him to be given every opportunity to make the Bruins roster. This gives him an inside edge on Kuraly, who can be optioned down to Providence without being subject to waivers.

Finally- the B’s also brought in veteran defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on a PTO. He’s no longer the player he was for Vancouver in 2010-11 when he was one of the most sought-after free agents, and to be completely honest- isn’t likely to return to his zenith as a top-2 NHL defender- so even if Don Sweeney were to sign him, he represents a marginal upgrade at best. The problem isn’t Boston’s back-four- it’s the top-two/three. Ehrhoff is more fool’s gold- he’s a name guy from five years ago who simply hasn’t performed to the level of expectations after elevating himself over a two-season period with a top Canucks team. He’s probably better than Joe Morrow, who has shown he has the tools but might lack the toolbox to be an effective NHL defender (and we were big on Morrow’s potential coming out of the 2011 draft and after the B’s acquired him two years later), but saying that is more akin to putting lipstick on a pig at this point. At 34, he’s not getting any younger, but with almost 800 NHL games under his belt he’s got experience and can play both the left and right sides even though he’s a left shot.

The Bruins are already being projected to miss the playoffs for a third straight season. Barring any significant change to the top of the defense, that’s not a prediction to taking major umbrage to, but the team is showing signs of developing talent to contribute down the road. That isn’t going to help the 2016-17 B’s roster all that much, but with a savvy move or two, not to mention key NCAA prospects like Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and possibly even Anders Bjork on the horizon- there is reason for optimism.