What’s Next For the Bruins (Pt. 7): Young Guns (Forwards)

We hope you’re enjoying the offseason series on the Boston Bruins. There’s more in the works, but this post will quickly break down several of the forward prospects who could be ready for a bigger impact/contribution with the B’s in 2017-18. Now granted- we still need to see who comes and goes when the roster shaping period begins in earnest on and after 1 July, but for now- here are just a few players we think are going to push the coaching staff to either get them into the lineup sooner rather than later, or will make the decision to send them down a tough one.

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Podcasting New England Hockey Journal’s Annual Bruins Prospects Review: Pro list

Heinen

As promised, back with part 2 of the podcasts, bringing you the outlook on the pro players in the Boston Bruins organization.

It’s a pretty solid group from top to bottom, with a couple of forwards and a goaltender at the top, along with a mix of all positions in between.

Hope you enjoy the rundown- as always- we appreciate the support for the blog!

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Bruins prospect update #2: On Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson

Boston’s second of three second-round picks in 2015 (Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon were the others) is who we thought he is.

Much like Danton Heinen, if you go to a game Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, or ‘JFK’ is playing in expecting to be dazzled or entertained by a dynamic skater who makes flashy plays all over the ice, you’re likely going to be left wanting more. However, if you understand hockey and are able to look closely at the very same things that a young 18-year-old Patrice Bergeron (he and JFK were both drafted with the 45th overall selection in their respective draft years, as was Ryan Spooner in 2010) was doing right away in the NHL after making the Boston Bruins, you can understand why so many analysts are keen on the Boston University center.

JFK and his fellow Terriers are fresh off of a nice shutout win over Quinnipiac over the weekend in a game where the B’s prospect figured in all three BU goals- notching two helpers and then adding an empty-netter to complete a points trifecta. 2017-eligible goaltender Jake Oettinger notched back-to-back blankings and has carved out first-round status for himself in the early going after impressing last April at the U18s in Grand Forks. McAvoy was pretty good on the BU blue line as well- he hasn’t taken control like he did at the USA National Evaluation Camp in August, but the talent and NHL potential have both been clearly on display in film study thus far.

The weekend belonged to JFK as far as Bruins prospects go, however.

He’s such a slick, intelligent player- he was knocked in the past for lacking pace and a sense of urgency in his game, but in looking at JFK live and on film over the past two seasons, it’s not that he’s indifferent to tempo- he just thinks the game at such a high level- his anticipation is off the charts. As a result, he’s an economy of motion kind of player in that he’s not one who needs to move his feet like the Roadrunner to get where he’s going or make plays at speed.

It also speaks volumes that JFK earned an alternate/assistant captain’s ‘A’ in just his second NCAA season. After spending a weekend in Omaha in September, there are still quite a few Lancers fans who still wear his jersey to USHL games, and they remember his high-end two-way game fondly. Given how rapidly he’s developing, it’s hard to envision him spending much more time on Comm. Ave. but we’ll see how things go. We’re sure that head coach David Quinn and his BU coaching staff would love that not to be the case, but they are also realists- they figure JFK is probably not long for the NCAA and will soon turn pro with the B’s, so they’re pulling in some pretty impressive talent to fill the void his departure will create.

For now, Forsbacka-Karlsson is doing all of the little things that coaches at all levels love and value: production, smart three-zone play, effectiveness in the faceoff circle, and a mature, quiet style of leadership.

He has the look of a winner, and while the Bergeron comparisons are a tad premature, if you’re looking hard at similarities in the way JFK applies himself in action, it doesn’t take long to find them.

We began this post with the assertion that JFK is who we thought he is, and that is someone who has the look of a future NHLer who could evolve into a key contributor in Boston once he gets several pro campaigns under his belt.

The kid’s a keeper.

And now- here’s the updated scoring numbers for Boston’s amateur and pro prospects:

Amateur Prospects as of 10/24/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 8 6 6 12 8
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 6 5 6 11 2
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 5 2 5 7 2
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 2 4 6 2
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 6 2 3 5 2
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 7 4 1 5 10
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 1 3 4 4
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 6 1 3 4 4
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 5 0 4 4 4
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda* QMJHL 2 1 2 3 0
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls USHL 9 2 1 3 8
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 6 0 1 1 4
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- NCAA 4 0 0 0 2
Ryan Donato, Harvard** ECAC- NCAA 0 0 0 0 0
Wiley Sherman, Harvard** ECAC-NCAA 0 0 0 0 0

* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)

** ECAC regular season begins November 4, 2016

 

Pro and European Prospects

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Austin Czarnik, Providence AHL 2 2 1 3 0
Peter Cehlarik, Providence AHL 2 1 1 2 2
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 8 0 2 2 6
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 4 1 0 1 0
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 5 1 0 1 4
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 0
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Oskar Steen, Farjestad BK Sweden- Elite 11 1 0 1 4
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 5
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 5 0 0 0 7
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 5 0 0 0 2
Zane McIntyre, Providence AHL 3 1 0 0.44 .977
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 4 0 3 4.50 .846
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 2 1 0 2.88 .909
Brian Ferlin, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0

*Brian Ferlin- injured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)

** ECAC regular season begins November 4, 2016

 

Pro and European Prospects as of 10/17/16

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

* Peter Cehlarik and Brian Ferlin- injured

Rookie report: Bruins-Blue Jackets 10/13/16

Here’s a quick look at how the newest Boston Bruins fared in their NHL debuts.

This is by no means an all-encompassing assessment, but more of some quick observations intended for those who couldn’t see the game or did and either saw some of the same things or might have caught some things I didn’t cover here. It’s also subjective analysis, so there are sure to be disagreements with how I broke the film down. That’s fine…ultimately, we’re in it for discussion or dialogue. This is not intended to be the final word on any of these players, especially after just one game that counts to draw from.

Enjoy.

Rob O’Gara, RD– He played the fewest minutes and didn’t make many costly mistakes. With O’Gara, less is more, so on the plus side, he showed some poise with the puck in terms of moving it to the right teammates to break the play out (for the most part) and played within his limitations. He snuck a wrist shot in on Sergei Bobrovsky in the third period that would have found the far corner of the net- the CBJ’s netminder was able to see the shot so perhaps with traffic in front of the net, O’Gara might have hit the back of the net in his first NHL contest.

On the down side, he tried to do too much at times, giving up position to chase the play and leaving Tuukka Rask without coverage. He forced a couple of passes and was guilty of contributing to a few turnovers, but nothing egregious that ended up with a Blue Jackets score. That’s all pretty minor stuff when you consider that he played within himself and didn’t try to be something he’s not. O’Gara is the Danton Heinen of the defensive youngsters- he’s not as flashy as some of the others, but he’s smart and effective. That’s what the Bruins needed more than anything, even if he had just 13 minutes in change and was protected in terms of the workload.

Brandon Carlo, RD- Like O’Gara, you have to take the good with the bad. He was a little jumpy out of the gate and just needed some time to settle in. He was slow at times to pick up coverage and react to the offensive flow in his own end, on the ice for a power play goal against and again when Seth Jones scored to give the home team a 3-1 lead. On that particular play, Carlo had two chances to get the puck out, but he put both weak clearing attempts (the first bounced back to him for a mulligan, but repeated his mistake) into players with blue uniforms. Instead of clearing the zone, the puck eventually got to Matt Beleskey, who was guilty of turning the play over to Jones for the tally, but it all started with Carlo, and Zdeno Chara as well…both of them had opportunities to make the right defensive plays that would’ve prevented the Jones goal but failed to do so.

On the plus side, he showed much promise with his mobility and play along the blue line. The first Backes goal happened in large part because Carlo knocked a clearing attempt out of the air and held the zone, allowing for the Bruins to keep the offensive pressure on Columbus. If he was a few inches shorter, he probably can’t make that play. He also notched his 1st NHL point by getting the puck in his own end and moving it to Brad Marchand as the Boston sniper was exiting the zone. It ended up being a lone helper on Marchand’s highlight reel, individual effort to score his second goal of the night. As said on this space and on the recent Dump N’ Chase podcast with ESPN New Hampshire’s Mike Grinnell, when you’re dealing with a 19-year-old defenseman in the NHL, there will be ups and downs, and while Carlo made some more obvious mistakes out there than O’Gara did, you can certainly see his potential going forward.

Austin Czarnik, C– With his speed and hands, the undrafted free agent was absolutely noticeable out there, but didn’t have much to show for it on the score sheet. He did not do well on faceoffs, and had trouble getting through traffic in the offensive zone to set up consistent scoring chances. He’s building chemistry with linemates Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes, so it’s too early to definitively assess whether that unit works or not, but with Patrice Bergeron potentially not going back into the lineup against Toronto, we should see another kick at the can. TSP thought the call against him, which led to the Columbus power play goal, was soft- it was a marginal, ticky-tack kind of infraction that NHL referees tend to assess against young players but don’t have the stones to call against veterans. Oh well.

Because of his skill set, Czarnik was noticeable and he deserves to be up with the big club, but there’s room for improvement. He needs to use his east-west lateral shiftiness a little more and find ways to get pucks to the net. Boston’s Little Czar of Hockey has the talent and intelligence to be a fine player in his own right.

Danton Heinen, RW- On the surface, he didn’t accomplish much and like Czarnik was hit with a nothingburger of a penalty, but showed off his impressive vision and soft hands/deft passing touch in several instances. It’s easy to watch the game and deduce that he didn’t accomplish anything, but where we saw flashes of promise going forward was in how he helped the possession game by handling backside pressure and moving the puck decisively and smartly throughout the game. As said before, Heinen is not like Czarnik, who is fun to watch because he can scoot and plays with that uptempo style that is noticeable…the rookie Boston winger will look one way and go the other and likes to slow things down and make a more deliberate play. Both styles work, but one player looks like he’s getting more done, even if he isn’t.

The B’s prevailed in their season opener mostly on the back of key veteran leaders and contributors. It’s a good reminder about why NHL teams don’t clear the decks of half their experienced lineups to make wholesale changes with untested and raw rookie/youngsters. While there was much to be encouraged about, we didn’t see the kind of performances that would lend themselves to thinking that all four will stay on the roster over the long haul going forward, but they proved they can play at this level. Even as veterans start to return and the coaches/management staff have to make decisions, the ability to see them in an audition setting is good news for the Bruins going forward.

Overall, it was a solid and encouraging showing that is sure to boost some confidence, especially presiding over a win in his first big league game. Had the B’s lost, you know that talk would have shifted to the number of young, inexperienced players in the lineup and the effect their mistakes had on the team’s performance, but the two points started it all out on the right foot.

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.

Bruins extend Marchand to team-friendly deal; drop 1st preseason game in SO

Brad_Marchand

Brad Marchand looks to be a Bruin for life after re-signing for eight more years effective in 2017 (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Monday was an exciting day for the Boston Bruins and their fans, as news of the long-awaited Brad Marchand extension popped in the morning to the tune of eight years and $49 million, with an average annual cap hit/value of $6.125 million. That comes in under projections, many of which had the former 2006 third-rounder exceeding $7M per season.

The term is perhaps the only sticking point; the new contract expires when Marchand is 37, and is a bit risky- but the reality is that the B’s not only have locked in their top goal scorer (37 goals) with their top player, Patrice Bergeron (who wears No. 37) in the prime years of his career, all spent in Boston since breaking in as a full-time NHLer in the 2010-11 season.

This is a big win for GM Don Sweeney, John Ferguson Jr. and the Bruins- after Marchand’s outstanding showing at the World Cup of Hockey in the past couple of weeks, there was buzz that his chemistry with Sidney Crosby might see the Pittsburgh Penguins come calling, but the reality is- the Bruins and Marchand had been working on this extension for weeks. It was something the B’s knew needed to get done and Sweeney set about doing it, breaking up each year with a blend of salary and signing bonuses. The signing bonus ($24M of the $49M total compensation package over the life of the contract) is interesting because it is guaranteed during a work stoppage where the standard base salary is not. It also allowed the team to break up Marchand’s compensation structure in that he is getting front-loaded pay to the tune of $8M per season in the first couple of years, and then it goes down to $7M, $6M and $5M at various points per before closing out at $4M at the end. Those numbers combine to lower the cap hit to a manageable AAV.

Bottom line: the B’s have both Marchand and Bergeron ($6.825 AAV), their top two forwards, under long-term contracts for just a combined $13M. When you compare that to other top duos around the league- mainly Chicago’s Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane combo of $10.5M AAVs for $21M total per annum- it’s pretty solid work by Boston’s front office.

Marchand has proven he’s a huge piece of this team’s fortunes, and he’s also grown up considerably after putting himself in difficult situations on and off the ice in his junior career and earlier in his Boston years. Last year, he was the MVP (in our view here) and with goal scoring at a premium, he’s shown that he’s absolutely worth the commitment. Boston needs to get more production (and health) out of David Krejci ($7.25M AAV), but Marchand and Bergeron represent some impressive savings that Sweeney can leverage elsewhere on the roster.

Marchand could no doubt have gotten more on the open market if he had held out, but the pride of Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia has found a home in Boston and wanted to stay. He’s certainly not getting paid peanuts, but he earned this deal and he’s taken the kind of contract that will help his team be competitive, rather than force the B’s to break the bank.

Fans have every reason to be excited.

***

The first preseason game is in the books, and the B’s kids dropped a shootout contest to the Columbus Blue Jackets after Danton Heinen deflected a Brandon Carlo point shot home to tie the game 2-2 early in the 3rd period.

It’s probably apropos that these two combined on the tying goal because they’re the ones who are thought to have the best chance of making the Bruins out of camp of the new crew of rookies. Carlo is huge, mobile and played a poised and effective game last night that drew post-contest raves from Boston assistant and former Providence Bruins bench boss Butch Cassidy. Heinen is just so smart and you can see his hockey sense on display with the way he works the walls and the front of the net. He had a memorable assist against the New Jersey Devils rookies on a Jake DeBrusk goal by going in for the puck then backing out for the return pass and feeding it over to DeBrusk for the one-timer. That vision, anticipation and soft passing touch are why we’ve been pumping Heinen’s tires here at TSP and could very well land him an NHL job right away given Frank Vatrano’s recent foot surgery (which happened yesterday, btw- start the three-month recovery clock now).

Carlo is so big and smooth- he’s not going to come in and dominate as a major two-way threat, but he’s showing that he could earn a role with the big club right away and help to stabilize the right side, unless the coaches feel that top minutes in Providence takes priority. He’ll have the rest of the preseason to determine that decision, but so far so good.

Jimmy Hayes scored Boston’s other goal off a nice pass from DeBrusk- he’s been impressive at the rookie camp as well and is probably ticketed for Providence (but don’t be surprised to see him in Boston at some point).

Anton Khudobin started the game and gave up two goals in two periods, while Zane McIntyre played the third and 3-on-3 overtime periods before giving up Sam Gagner’s shootout goal to end it. He looked poised and effective, which is a needed shot for his confidence going into the new season.

Heinen

 

Oil change- Benning to Edmonton & other musings

Today’s news made official what had been rumored for a while now- that former Bruins prospect defender Matt Benning has signed an Entry-Level Contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

Benning inked a deal with the team his dad, Brian, played for (albeit very briefly) and with the GM who drafted him in 2012- Peter Chiarelli.

The younger Benning, nephew of former B’s assistant GM now Vancouver head manager Jim Benning, was a solid if unspectacular player who showed some promise as a lower-end defender with some untapped potential.

Matt Benning doesn’t have much in the way of size, but like Noel Acciari, he hits hard and clean, separating opponents from the puck but not taking himself out of plays or hurting his team with undisciplined, selfish antics. Benning is a good puck distributor; not blessed with a killer shot, it was nonetheless pretty heavy, and he showed progression in his offensive game. Where Benning really established his value was with his smart, effective positional play.

So, while he wasn’t a higher-end prospect who spent a lot of time at the top of Boston’s prospect depth chart for defense, he has a shot at developing into a solid role player at the NHL level given his smarts and bloodlines.

Now, how & why did this happen? To put it simply- Benning took the Blake Wheeler option.

The NHL’s CBA stipulates that a non-major junior player’s rights are held for four years after the team drafts him. That doesn’t include NCAA eligibility, so if a player is drafted in 2012, plays a year of junior hockey before going to school, he can either play all four years in college, which extends his team’s hold on him, or if he turns pro at anytime after that four-year mark, the team must sign him within 30 days of his formal relinquishment of any remaining college eligibility or he becomes a free agent.

So, like Wheeler, Benning came out of school after three years and left NCAA time on the table, but because he spent a full year in the USHL (winning a championship with the Dubuque Fighting Saints- a team Chiarelli had part ownership in at the time and still might to this day), was able to leverage free agency to go wherever he felt was the best fit for him. It’s not about loyalty- it’s about using the tools at one’s own disposal to choose a preferred destination, which is not something every player is able to benefit from.

According to veteran ProJo hockey writer Mark Divver, who had talks with a Bruins source, the B’s wanted Benning to return for his senior year and would have signed him next spring, but to the kid’s credit, he probably looked around, saw all the younger defensemen in the system, and realized that cracking the Boston roster would be a tough sell. Now, some will ask why the Bruins couldn’t just trade him for something, but this isn’t Jimmy Vesey we’re talking about here, so there’s little chance any team would offer so much as a seventh-round pick for a guy who may or may not sign there a month after he notifies the NHL that he’s leaving school (which is what Benning did), when they could just wait Boston out and make their pitch for Benning like anyone else. Given his history with Chiarelli, it isn’t all that surprising that he ended up in Edmonton, though.

TSP had time for Benning- he was lost in the sauce a bit here, but was a solid player for a sixth-round pick and it wouldn’t surprise to see him establish himself in the NHL as a role guy at some point. Or not. Even with expansion looming, breaking into the top hockey circuit is a tough racket- here’s to wishing Benning the best. He leveraged his options as the CBA allows and Boston has plenty of other players to focus on.

You can’t sign ’em all. Here’s to Benning finding his way out West- he’ll attract some attention at camp next month.

***

A veteran NHL scout texted yours truly the other day to lament the fact that his team didn’t draft Charlie McAvoy when they had the chance. “We (effed) up…” is how the note began and went downhill from there. In a nutshell- his team had McAvoy in their sights and passed him up for someone else. Now, there’s a little second-guessing going on. Happens all the time, especially once the post-draft euphoria wears off and the real scrutiny begins.

McAvoy is generating a lot of buzz and rightfully so- having a brilliant WJC evaluation camp will do that for you when so many NHL guys are watching. But- let’s pump the brakes here and remember that player stocks fluctuate. The 14th overall pick in last June’s draft has a mountain of expectations heading into his sophomore season at BU- he needs t build on his outstanding second half and take his play to the next level, while staying healthy. His presence at the 2017 WJC in Canada this winter will be a big test, too- the kid has broad shoulders, so the prediction here is that he’ll continue to build excitement among the fans who take the time to follow prospects much like Dougie Hamilton did after being drafted 9th overall in 2011.

But as for my NHL scout friend and his team’s buyer’s remorse- that stuff happens when your pick has an “ehhh” development camp, but the message was only half serious. It was more like- Boston landed a nice player at 14 than anything else. We can sit around and get excited about analysis and discussion, but the real rubber will meet the road in the coming season when McAvoy gets a chance to prove himself.

***

Being told by a solid (non-Bruins) source that he believes that Boston is quietly working on a trade for a defenseman, but no details are forthcoming. If you haven’t already, you can read my post about the Boston D- the elephant in the room for thoughts on possible targets.

Wouldn’t be surprised to see them bring in another veteran forward as well. Some will question that, and it’s the nature of the beast- especially since it could block a younger (yet unproven) player from a roster spot in October, but teams hedge their bets and look to build depth (to stave off the injury bug) and foster training camp competition.

Watch for the B’s to extend a training camp invite to an experienced, and as-of-yet signed player. Can’t tell you who that might be, but some name-recognition guys still out there (who might appeal to Boston-  by no means a comprehensive list and in no particular order) are: Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Santorelli, Shawn Horcoff, Alex Tanguay, David Jones, Tyler Kennedy, Patrik Elias (he’s already 40 but hard to imagine him playing for anyone else after spending all of his 1,240 NHL games and 1,025 points with the Devils), Dainius ZubrusMike Richards. Did I really type that name? Well, he is only 31, but yeah- slim pickings for sure.

I know, I know- there are some of you who will look at that list and immediately want to comment that none of them are needed. I get it- save yourself the trouble by not shooting the messenger, please- I’m just passing on what I’m being told. If we see another veteran forward brought in, don’t say you weren’t warned, and we’ll analyze who that someone is if/when it happens.

***

What Bruins player are you most intrigued with entering the season?

For me, it’s rookie Danton Heinen, who was a surprise fourth-round pick out of the BCHL in 2014, but went on to post two very good offensive seasons at Denver University before signing with Boston last April.

He’s a winger, but played center in junior, so he’s played all three forwards in the last three seasons going back to 2013-14. The Bruins and coach Claude Julien do love their versatile guys, don’t they?

But what stands out about Heinen is his smarts and offensive creativity. He’s not this explosive, dynamic presence who grabs the spotlight and demands your attention when he’s on the ice, but when you watch him closely, he’s always around the puck and tends to own the walls when a possession battle is up for grabs. Heinen has a deft passing touch and he’s no slouch with the puck on his stick when it’s time to pull the trigger, either.

Watch for him to make the big club out of camp, and he wouldn’t be a bad option to try out on that third line right out of the hopper.

 

 

 

Report: Keith Gretzky to Oilers as assistant GM

Multiple reports on Twitter to include the esteemed Bob McKenzie have Bruins amateur scouting chief Keith Gretzky heading west to join former B’s GM Peter Chiarelli as part of the Edmonton Oilers braintrust. I chatted with a Boston team source who didn’t confirm it, but indicated it was a done deal, so all we do now is wait for the official announcement.

Gretzky, who joined the B’s scouting staff during the 2011-12 season after being let go from his previous post as chief scout for the Arizona Coyotes. Gretzky was promoted to the head scout position in Boston in August 2013, replacing Wayne Smith.

The move is not all that surprising, as Chiarelli brought the younger brother of Wayne Gretzky to Boston as a scout and then elevated him to head up the team’s drafting efforts after two seasons in a crossover capacity.

In the three drafts since, more optimism accompanied Boston’s efforts. Gretzky and Co. hit immediately on David Pastrnak, who slipped to 25th overall. However, every other player from that 2014 draft class looks promising as well: Ryan Donato enters his sophomore season at Harvard and is primed for bigger things in Cambridge. Danton Heinen has done nothing but impress after being an unknown plucked out of the BCHL in his second year of NHL draft eligibility, posting two prolific scoring years as Denver University. Heinen could win a job in Boston right away given his skill level and versatility. Anders Bjork was a fifth-round find and gem, who led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in scoring as a sophomore, and even seventh-rounder Emil Johansson shows promise for being a late pick.

Gretzky’s 2015 draft could pay big dividends for Boston as well, even if some of the choices in the first round were not popular ones at the time. With 10 picks thanks to the Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic trades, the B’s have a bevy of prospects with a trio of second-rounders who have generated buzz in their own right. Time will tell whether not picking one or two of forwards Kyle Connor, Colin White and Mathew Barzal will hurt Boston in the long term, but Boston’s first six choices all seem to be developing, with 37th overall pick Brandon Carlo having the best chance to play in the NHL this season. Zach Senyshyn and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson show real promise at key forward positions (RW, C) and the B’s appear to have some potential in huge but lithe goalie Daniel Vladar (3rd round) and agitating winger Jesse Gabrielle. The B’s can’t employ all 10 of their draft picks from 2015, but they’re going to hit on a few at least.

This past June, Gretzky and his scouts went with Charlie McAvoy over Dante Fabbro– both will play at BU this season, but don’t be surprised to see McAvoy headed to the pro ranks sooner rather than later. Early returns on his Team USA development camp in Plymouth, MI this week are good and Ryan Lindgren (taken 49th) overall has really stood out. “He nearly killed a kid,” with a hard but clean open-ice hit, according to a text I got from an NHL scout on Saturday. The same individual also singled McAvoy out as the “best player on the ice.”

Gretzky caught some heat for the Trent Frederic pick and some of his subsequent comments where he admitted that the B’s don’t see the 29th overall selection as a top-six forward. He probably didn’t articulate that as well as he could have, but if we learned nothing from the Senyshyn pick the year before, it’s probably best to see how Frederic does going forward before casting judgment.

If Gretzky’s work with Boston was promising, then his track record in Arizona is more of a mixed bag. The Coyotes didn’t hit on a great deal of picks the team made on his watch, but the point I would offer up is that not every scouting staff in the league is the same. Just like the teams themselves- some clubs are more talented than others, and there’s always a multitude of factors that go into drafting. Even so, some in the business point to Gretzky’s tenure in Arizona, and with the jury still out on his Boston body of work, you just have to take it from there.

Boston could promote from within- Scott Fitzgerald is the club’s assistant director of amateur scouting and has recovered from a serious car accident in 2013 that nearly cost him his life. Dean Malkoc has also impressed as one of the club’s workhorse scouts who goes all over from his Western Canada base of operations to look for talent. Ryan Nadeau has done tremendous work in the NCAA ranks and elsewhere. B’s GM Don Sweeney could also bring in an experienced chief scout from the outside. It will be interesting to see.

All that is left to do is congratulate Gretzky for the promotion and move up. It hurts Boston, as he appears to have done fine work for the club in his five seasons here. He’ll join an Edmonton organization flush with major talent after winning the Connor McDavid sweeps a year ago and then falling into Jesse Puljujarvi at fourth overall in Buffalo. Old friend Lucic is in town, and we’ll see what Gretzky can do to help develop the talent in the system and identify new players down the road.

In the meantime, changes in Boston continue to shape the front office and Sweeney has another key hire ahead.