Danton Heinen leaves Denver U, signs 3-year ELC

Heinen

As reported here about a month ago, forward Danton Heinen has given up his remaining two years of NCAA eligibility to sign a three-year entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins after they drafted him in the fourth round in 2014.

Several sources told the Scouting Post that Heinen would not be going back school for his junior season back on March 12, citing an eagerness for him to get started on a pro career. He had reportedly told several of his teammates that he would not be back, and so it was just a matter of Boston waiting for his season to end. With the recent news of 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey declining to sign with the Nashville Predators, it’s a reasonable assumption that if Boston was entertaining the thoughts of talking Heinen into remaining an amateur for one more season, they were all about bringing Heinen into their organization immediately.

The ability for college players to choose their own destinations after four years and choices by Kevin Hayes and now Vesey to not sign with the teams that drafted them means that NHL clubs will not hesitate to bring players out of the NCAA sooner now, and if a kid is not altogether thrilled to be a part of that organization, don’t be surprised to see their advisors (read: player agents) leverage tools like burning a year off the ELC in order to get them to come out on the NHL team’s timeline. The Winnipeg Jets also signed Kyle Connor yesterday after just one year at Michigan and taking the hockey world by storm. Connor is the lightning rod that Bruins fans are using to criticize Boston’s first round choices in 2015. It looks like we’ll soon find out how much the team missed out on by passing on the USHL and NCAA’s top scorer in consecutive seasons. Connor’s signing is one more reminder that the old days of guys spending four years in school is getting increasingly rare (though the B’s duo of college defenders- Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk– did just that)

Getting back to Heinen- the 20-year-old British Columbia native had a slow offensive start to the season, but erupted over the second half, tallying about two points per game to lead the Pioneers to the Frozen Four before ultimately coming up short against the eventual 2016 champion University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (PC or not they’ll always be the Fighting Sioux to me).

In two NCAA seasons in the Rocky Mountains, Heinen tallied 36 goals and 93 points in just 81 games. Playing on the Pacific Rim line or “Pac Rim” this season from January on, Heinen simply caught fire. After being at well under a point-per-game just as the calendar switched to 2016, he teamed up with fellow left coasters Dylan Gambrell (eligible for 2016 draft) and Trevor Moore (could leave school as a free agent or return- reportedly weighing his options right now) to finish atop the Pioneers with 20 goals and 48 points, adding to his 16 goals and 45 points from a season ago.

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Heinen is about 6-foot-1 and a solid 185 pounds. As a 1995-born player he was passed over in 2013 because he was small and extremely light, but he’s hit an impressive growth spurt since and dedicated himself in the weight room, adding strength and mass to his frame.

A good skater, what makes Heinen arguably Boston’s top prospect along with Zach Senyshyn for the offensive potential both possess, is that he has exceptional vision and hockey sense, to go with one sick set of mitts. He was a center in junior but has been developed as a winger in college under head coach Jim Montgomery, first playing on the left side as a freshman before shifting over to the right (his off-wing) and settling in with the Pac Rim unit. He uses his high IQ to anticipate/read/react and after hitting a lot of posts and not getting much in the way of puck luck in the early going, his talent took over as he racked up the points down the stretch. He’s heavy on the puck and has the intelligence to take on the various responsibilities required of him in Boston’s system.

Heinen is not a flashy or dynamic player who is going to wow you by exploding to top speed in a few strides and putting defenses into near-constant back pedal mode, but what he will do is slow down the play or speed it up depending on the situation. When he gets down below the circles and in between the hashmarks, he’s deadly- either hounding the puck and hitting linemates with accurate passes to set up quality chances or burying goals with a quick release and little hesitation to shoot the puck when the lane is open for him to do so.

Like many young players these days- I caution fans not to jump squarely on the hype train just yet. Heinen is good enough of a player to challenge for NHL duty right away next fall, but that doesn’t mean that the right answer is that he will play in Boston. Frank Vatrano showed that a rookie pro with the right blend of skill and want to can make it with the big club, but we have an extended offseason ahead of us. Before we start projecting what line he’ll be on, how many goals/points he’ll score and whether he should be paired with Vesey (who as of right now until Aug. 15 or unless his rights are traded between now and then is still property of the Predators), let’s take a moment to see how he looks in Providence first. He’s there this week on at ATO (amateur tryout) and his 3-year contract won’t kick in until 2016-17. Let’s see how he looks in his first taste of pro hockey, and then keep in mind that there will be some personnel changes between now and when training camp opens up in mid-September.

I know, I know- what fun is being patient when we can entertain ourselves with endless speculation and line permutations?

For now, Heinen being in the fold is an intriguing step. He’s unproven, but the potential is higher than average and he was a super find by the Boston scouts. For more on him, check out my blog post from before the season began titled “The Curious Case of Danton Heinen” and I walk you down the path of how, as a little known commodity in the BCHL that more than a few teams were quietly tracking, the Bruins appear to have struck gold.

Time will tell…and we won’t know how successful the find was for a little while yet.

Bruins roundup: Czarnik, Griffith up; Tanev to Jets

I’ve been focused on the Jimmy Vesey situation but some key events happened yesterday directly and indirectly related to the Bruins.

The news broke Wednesday morning that Providence College senior forward Brandon Tanev came to terms with the Winnipeg Jets on an entry-level contract that would pay him max money, and take him through the end of the season. Say what?  Great news for the player- he plays fewer than 10 NHL games for a non-playoff club and immediately becomes a restricted free agent (RFA) up for a second contract that will bump him up but put him that much closer to unrestricted status. Good for Tanev, who took the long road but scored the NCAA championship-winning goal a year ago and brings pure speed, grit and a mature two-way game to Winnipeg.

The Bruins wanted Tanev and were reportedly talking to him as late as Tuesday night, but with their playoff race so tight, they couldn’t afford to give him what Winnipeg could. Consider it turnabout from a year ago, when the Bruins successfully wooed Seattle Thunderbirds captain Justin Hickman away from Winnipeg. Like Tanev, Hickman was an undrafted player who had been to Jets development camp and because he was a major junior player, even went to their main camp in 2014. However, in January 2015, when he had to shut it down for season-ending shoulder surgery, the Bruins came calling and he turned down Winnipeg’s offer to sign with Boston. In Tanev, the Jets returned the favor- not that this was a driving force behind the decision, he was a prime target for them and a lot of credit goes to Winnipeg’s Mark White, former Brown University coach and now employed by them as a scout and someone to help that team develop more of a foothold in New England.

Tanev is a good player and would have been a nice add for Boston, but for that kind of a deal, I can understand why the B’s weren’t the ones he went with. The team is right to focus on the players whose rights it already controls- Matt Grzelcyk and Danton Heinen– and they can also turn their eyes to a much bigger prize in Vesey later this summer. DU winger (and Heinen’s Pacific Rim linemate) Trevor Moore could be a target, but I’ve heard major interest in him on the part of the Toronto Maple Leafs and they have more contract room to sign him plus the opportunity to slot in sooner to boot. Regardless of where Moore ends up, he’d be a good get for Boston, but he’s not in Vesey’s class, and it’s likely a situation similar to that of Tanev where they try but won’t be able to win what could be a bidding war for the small but skilled Californian’s services. We’ll see.

The Bruins made emergency recalls yesterday to Seth Griffith and Austin Czarnik.

As mentioned previously on TSP, David Krejci is obviously banged up, but Ryan Spooner did not make the trip to New Jersey. Spooner’s injury is not major, but the team is being cautious with him, so Czarnik appears to be the center fill-in and may become the third NCAA undrafted free agent to play for the Bruins this season (Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari being the others). Talk about getting bang for your buck! Czarnik was Miami’s captain (interestingly enough- his RedHawks successor Sean Kuraly just signed his ELC with the Bruins this week- let’s hear it for the Brotherhood)

UPDATE: Czarnik returned to Providence as of Thursday afternoon, so it looks like his NHL debut is turned off. For now.

You really have to hand it to the Bruins scouting staff- namely Scott Fitzgerald and Ryan Nadeau– for being so instrumental in finding these gems a year ago. Vatrano (did you know that he’s another player the Jets had interest in- they invited him to a development camp in summer 2014 but he was injured and did not attend) has had a jaw-dropping rookie pro season to say the least. Acciari came in at the beginning of the month and stabilized the bottom line with his speed, savvy and ability to play a clean physical game even if there’s not much in the way of offense. Czarnik, who showed off tremendous chemistry with Vatrano in the rookie tournament and NHL exhibition before continuing the magic in Providence, is a small but ultra-skilled and fast center with high-end hockey sense. He’s a forward version of Torey Krug in terms of his character and dedication to the sport, so it will be interesting to see how he looks with the big club- if not for his size, he would have been drafted and a known commodity coming out of the NCAA.

More to the point- he’s earned this chance to come up and see his first taste of the NHL by traveling and practicing with the big club. We’ll have to see if he makes it into the lineup against St. Louis on Friday, but it’s no doubt an exciting time for Czarnik and his family, and validates his decision to sign with the B’s last year when other teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs were reportedly wooing him as well. It is also telling that Boston did not bring Alex Khokhlachev up in lieu of Czarnik. That should pretty much signal the end of Koko’s tenure with the Bruins- right, wrong or indifferent- he just never quite did enough to stick. We’ve gone over it and whether you feel like he wasn’t given enough of a chance is really moot at this point. One can only hope that the organization can get some kind of asset back in return, but if he bolts for Russia that might prove problematic. In the meantime, Czarnik deserves the audition and he’ll infuse speed, skill and energy into the Boston lineup assuming he plays.

You can question Boston’s draft record in spots, but when the team can plumb the undrafted free agent ranks for players like this trio, it elevates the organization and underscores that it is a team effort and the foundational building blocks and resources are being spent wisely. We’ll see what lies ahead for these youngsters, but the early returns are encouraging.

Griffith is back for the second time this season and it would be good for the former London Knight to give the flagging Boston offense a jolt.

The 2012 fifth-rounder is still looking to carve a niche for himself and there’s no doubting his natural knack for scoring and impressive stick. If ever there was a time for a player vying for a role in the NHL and opportunity was there for the taking, it is now for Griffith.

The Blues are on a major roll and Boston’s chances on paper aren’t good. However, with some new blood and a great game from Tuukka Rask, anything is possible.

TSP Podcast: “Don’t Cry For Me Music City”- the Vesey Report

Jimmy Vesey’s decision to not sign with Nashville this week has created some legitimate hockey buzz.

Rather than write a big post about my own connection and background with Jimmy, one that goes back to his high school years when he was being seriously scouted for the USHL, and address some of the key issues around this situation, I figured I’d do a podcast on it.

It’s 50 minutes, but if you make it through- you’ll know a lot about Vesey’s past and some of the factors that might have played into his decision to part ways with the Predators. I address that team’s reaction and how they essentially burned the bridge with him…assuming he didn’t Alec Guiness the thing over the last week or so (Bridge on the River Kwai reference- check it out if you’ve never seen it). I also talk about the current NCAA loophole that allowed Blake Wheeler to choose his destination in 2008 after being Phoenix’s fifth overall pick four years earlier. Others have followed suit- Vesey certainly wasn’t the first, and if the NHL doesn’t close the avenue available to certain NCAA players that qualify, he won’t be the last.

I take a look at how the Bruins’ players under similar circumstances have fared- Zane McIntyre, Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk– Vesey’s close friend and minor hockey teammate. He’s on track to sign with the Bruins as well, so this gets to the heart of the premium the organization has placed on developing relationships and the success the team has had in signing its draft picks. Danton Heinen is next. But, if the NHL doesn’t act to provide some kind of compensation, eventually, the B’s could find themselves in a similar spot. So long as we understand that this is the way of life that the current collective bargaining agreement allows for. Don’t blame Vesey- it’s not about compensation with him, it’s about choice and the ability to decide his own NHL destination.

If you can’t get enough of Vesey analysis and news- I covered similar ground today on TSN1260 in Edmonton with Allan Mitchell. You can listen to that much shorter segment here.

Enjoy the audio commentary.

For a bonus, here’s the capsule I wrote on Vesey in the June 2012 New England Hockey Journal NHL draft preview article for the region:

1. Jimmy Vesey, LW South Shore (EJHL) 6-1, 195 Shoots: L (North Reading, Mass.)GP- 45   G- 48   A- 43 PTS- 91 PIM- 43            Central Scouting Final Rank: 77 NA

The skinny: Vesey used the draft snub as powerful motivation to shatter EJHL scoring records with the Kings under Scott Harlow (Bridgewater, Mass.). His skating continues to get better, but his high-end instincts and soft hands mean he won’t get skipped this time. The 2012 John Carlton Memorial Trophy winner as the top area scholar-athlete in hockey has also added about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame thanks to hard work with noted trainer Brian McDonough (Easton, Mass.).

Quotable: “He’s such a strong skater and was a lot more aggressive with the puck this year, taking advantage of his good hands and hockey sense. With his added strength and conditioning, he’s been so much more effective in all areas of his game.”- Gary Eggleston, regional scout, Central Scouting Service

Source: O’Gara to sign with Bruins; Jimmy Vesey opts not to sign with Predators

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Rob O’Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (Photo courtesy of Rob O’Gara)

It was an interesting Monday, as the Scouting Post blog got wind that Boston Bruins prospect  and defenseman Rob O’Gara is expected to sign with the team this week. He will make it official by putting pen to paper after concluding his NCAA career with Yale University in a 3-2 OT loss to the University of Massachusetts- Lowell on Saturday night.

O’Gara signing with the B’s is the next step in a six-year journey that began in the fall of 2010 when the Long Island native left home to play prep hockey in Massachusetts for the Milton Academy Mustangs (ISL). He helped lead his team to the 2011 New England Prep Stuart-Corkery Elite 8 championship as a big, mobile and smart shutdown defender. He ended up being the final pick of the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the hometown Bruins, who obviously took note of him while he played in their backyard. Since then, he played one more year of prep at Milton (he was the captain in 2011-12), and then spent the previous four seasons with Yale, a key member of the Elis 2013 NCAA title team as a freshman.

While O’Gara has not officially signed with Boston yet, a source close to the situation said that family advisor Matt Keator is working with the team and it is expected to get done soon. Whether he will go to the AHL to finish out the season with Providence or remain in school to close out the semester and start fresh in the fall of 2016 with his first pro training camp (as Brian Ferlin did two springs ago) remains to be seen and is part of the details that are being worked.

It was a disappointing statistical season for O’Gara, but to simply look at the numbers would be to ignore the tremendous amount of playing time he received and how effective he was in myriad situations for Yale.   They were one of the top defensive teams in the nation and needed to be, because offense was an adventure from night to night. O’Gara was named the 2015 ECAC defensive defenseman of the year and is a fluid, intelligent rearguard who can move the puck to the right spots on the ice and while isn’t an overly aggressive hitter, uses his size and reach to very good effect. He and Brandon Carlo could become a sort of “twin towers” combination if you will- two tall (O’Gara is 6-4, Carlo 6-5), agile/mobile and very tough to beat players in their own end.

It’s too early to project where O’Gara will fit in and whether he could earn minutes with the big club next season or might need to spend at least a year or more in the AHL further developing his already mature game. However, he’s a guy who has literally grown up in the Bruins organization, as he turned 18 on the day he reported to Wilmington for his very first Boston development camp in 2011 and has progressed impressively each year since. He’s probably not one of those higher-end two-way threats that earn the distinction of being a top NHL defenseman, but O’Gara could eventually become a solid top-four, minute-munching, shutdown and character player that you win with. To get him at the end of round five is fine value in itself. His college coach, Keith Allain, called him the “best defenseman in college hockey,” last week. Sure, there’s bias there, but Allain knows defensemen and he’s probably not too far off the mark in the purest sense of the word.

Conversely, the Nashville Predators did not get the same kind of good news B’s fans can smile at today.

Earlier this evening, Hall of Fame hockey reporter and analyst Bob McKenzie tweeted that Jimmy Vesey’s representatives had informed GM David Poile and the Nashville Predators that he would not negotiate an entry-level contract and would instead elect to pursue free agency and control his own destination as of August 15.

For the Predators and their fans, this is a tough blow. Vesey was originally passed over in 2011 coming out of prep hockey with Belmont Hill despite a productive season. He was heavily recruited by USHL teams but opted to stay close to home and his family in Massachusetts, playing for Scott Harlow and the South Shore Kings in the final season of the EJHL before the league morphed into the USPHL. In 2011-12, Vesey engaged in a scorched earth campaign to terrorize opponents, shattering the EJHL’s single season scoring records with 48 goals and 91 points in 45 games. He was the New England Hockey Journal’s top-ranked player coming out of New England for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but wasn’t picked until the third round (66th overall) and after Brian Hart and Sam Kurker both went in the second round. He played with speed, skill and a deadly scoring attitude. Vesey played with a giant chip on his shoulder and it even seemed that all year he was giving one giant middle finger to all 30 NHL teams that passed on him the previous June in St. Paul. In Pittsburgh a year later, Nashville was the first to step up and say “We believe in you”- and most figured that he would eventually make his way to Music City.

But that was before he emerged as one of college hockey’s most dominant players. It didn’t happen right away, but once it did…

Vesey went on to win a gold medal in 2013 with Team USA at the World Jr. Championship tourney despite modest freshman year numbers at Harvard- 11 goals and 18 points in 27 games. He exploded as a junior, scoring 32 goals in 37 NCAA games and finishing as runner-up to fellow Bay Stater Jack Eichel for the 2015 Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey’s top player. Nashville had seen enough and wanted him to come out and sign then, but Vesey opted to remain in school and return as the Crimson’s captain for his senior year. This season, the goals weren’t as prolific and he carried a heavy burden of getting much of the defensive attention on him whenever Harvard played.

Vesey also got asked the question a lot about whether he would sign with the team that owned his rights or leverage the rare right that few aspiring pro hockey players have to choose their own NHL destination. That had to weigh on the kid, whose real desire was trying to get back to the NCAA and help Harvard win a title for the first time since his head coach, Ted Donato, was a sophomore on the team in 1989.

This column’s purpose is not to debate or pick apart the provision in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that allows college seniors to pass up all the money on the table that a team owning their rights offers and choose to sign somewhere else. We saw it last year with Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly. We saw it in August 2014 with Boston College’s Kevin Hayes, who could have won a Stanley Cup as a rookie had he signed with the team that drafted him- the Chicago Blackhawks. He instead went to the NY Rangers. Before that, it was Justin Schultz and Blake Wheeler,who in 2008 originally leveraged the loophole to be a free agent if not signed four full years after being drafted. Of course- you all know who Wheeler signed with after being the fifth overall selection of the (then) Phoenix Coyotes.

Vesey is the latest high-profile player to go the free agency route, and per the NHL’s CBA, he’s well within his rights to do it. This is America (and Canada), after all. If you believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then you ought not take issue with Vesey’s choice.

If nothing else, it’s going to give hockey people a lot to talk about in mid-August, but it’s no consolation to the Nashville Predators- Poile and assistant GM Paul Fenton but also the scouting staff and player development staff that invested heavily in Vesey: former CM defenseman (and 1994 first-rounder) Jeff Kealty, who is a Massachusetts guy. They’re all left holding the bag and get nothing- not even a compensatory pick, because unlike Hayes, Vesey was not a first-round selection, so there is no provision in the CBA to compensate a club that loses out on a high-profile prospect like him. The NHL should look at this. Vesey is perfectly within his right to pursue this action, but shouldn’t Nashville get some kind of return on their investment? Even if it is a mid-to-late pick?

The Tennessean’s Adam Vingan, and old press box buddy of mine when were were both covering the Washington Capitals circa 2009-12 (to this day, the title of his Caps blog “Kings of Leonsis” gets a chuckle out of me- he’s a gifted writer and hard worker) has more details on the story and is worth following on Twitter- not just for the Vesey stuff but for a good pulse on what is going on in Smash-ville.

Vingan’s Twitter feed indicates that Poile and company really believed that Vesey was going to sign…until informed today that he wasn’t. That’s the business of hockey and only Vesey and those closest to him know why he opted to pass on a pretty good situation in Nashville: the team is one of the hottest in hockey and was prepared to give him a top-9 spot coming right out of the disappointment of losing to Boston College Friday night in the first NCAA tourney game after losing out to Quinnipiac for the ECAC championship.

Here is part of the statement given by Poile to Nashville media during the second intermission of their game tonight (taken from @Adam Vingan via David Boclair of the Nashville Post @BoclairSports):

 

Vesey

So, after nearly four years in the organization, Nashville rolled the dice and came up snake eyes. Where will Vesey go is now the burning question.

The Toronto Maple Leafs make a whole lot of sense purely for the family reasons than many are away: both his dad (a Townie who starred at Merrimack College before becoming a part-time Blues and Bruins forward is now an area scout for the Leafs) and brother  Nolan, (drafted in 2014) are part of the TML organization. Beyond that, you have Lou Lamoriello and Brendan Shanahan running the front office and head coach Mike Babcock for credibility and the rebuild with some impressive foundational blocks already in place. The team cleared the decks of bad contracts to make a splash in free agency come July 1st and have the assets in place to maybe pull off a blockbuster trade to bring in some legitimate new blood to revitalize the sad sack Leafs, who might also get a kid named Auston Matthews in Buffalo come June. Would Toronto have coin left over to throw Vesey’s way come mid-August? You can bet dollars to (Tim Horton’s) doughnuts they will. It’s one of the few situations you could see a kid like Vesey looking at and making the tough call to say “No thanks” to a situation like Nashville.

I have little doubt it was a difficult decision.

So, let the recriminations begin…that is also the business of hockey. It isn’t fair, but that’s the way things go in life. It isn’t fair to the Predators, who will likely get criticized for not trading Vesey’s rights when they had a chance. It’s not that simple, but it’s bound to come out in some circles. It isn’t fair to Vesey, who will likely get criticized for not showing loyalty to the Predators organization, but he’s not the only one who’s followed this path and it’s doubtful he’ll be the last.

No team can talk to Vesey until August 15. Nashville could theoretically get him to change his mind, too- they have until then to do that. If not, then once their hold on him expires, he’s free to sign a deal with a new suitor. Will it be Toronto? Could he come home to Boston? Is there another team out there lying in the weeds waiting to swoop in and offer him max dollars and the lure of opportunity?

That’s what we’ll all have to wait to find out.

In the meantime, it appears that sticking with the team that picked him was good enough for O’Gara, and for that- the Bruins are grateful. However, unless or until the NHL can address the NCAA rules in the collective bargaining agreement and how player rights are handled at present, there will be a buyer beware tag associated with kids either drafted out of the college ranks or headed there.

You can’t fault some of them for taking advantage of the options available to them, but you can bet that no other team wants to be in Nashville’s shoes a year from now or two…or three. Here’s some more on the situation from TSN’s Frank Seravalli

The Bruins now have a pair of high-profile later collegiate picks that have stuck by their team in O’Gara (who admittedly has yet to make it official- will feel better once he signs on the dotted line) and Zane McIntyre, who gave up a year of eligibility to sign with Boston last summer. Slightly different circumstances, but because of when the team had drafted him (2010), he could have pursued free agency. His only decision was whether to sign with the Bruins (which he did) or stay in school, but like Nashville, the B’s could have looked on helplessly as he said “no thanks,” and pursued opportunities with a different Johnny-Come-Lately organization.

This is why relationships and player development is so important. That’s not to say Nashville didn’t invest that with Vesey- they did. But loyalty is a two-way street and at least in the case of O’Gara and McIntyre, they felt strongly enough about the time spent in the organization and the roots they had put down over the summers when they were able to work with the coaches, and then during the seasons when team officials visited them and in between, to stick with the team that brought them to the dance.

But not every story may turn out the same way in Boston, so let this serve perhaps as a cautionary tale going forward. It may also create a climate in which NCAA teams will pay the price through the law of unintended consequences, as NHL clubs might sign their kids away from those college teams earlier than ever to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

TSP put out on March 12 that Danton Heinen was going to turn pro after the season and I stand by that report (with multiple source input). Although the kid himself has said no decision has been made yet, and I respect that given his team is in the Frozen Four happening in a couple of weeks, all that’s left to do is for the ink to dry on his NHL contract. If the Bruins had any thoughts about not signing their 2014 fourth-rounder before, you can rest assured those doubts are gone now.

If only every decision were that simple.

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Rob O’Gara looks on during an on-ice session at the 2014 Boston Bruins development camp (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Sean Kuraly and Danton Heinen update plus NCAA playoffs & the underrated Matt Benning

As tweeted out over the weekend, several reliable sources told me that Denver University sophomore forward Danton Heinen will turn pro after he plays his last game for the Pioneers. What remains to be seen is how soon the Boston Bruins will sign their fourth-round selection from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

With the team at 47 contracts and allowed a max of 50, the B’s have some decisions to make on timing of signings, as in addition to Heinen, there are three other NCAA seniors that will need NHL deals before August 1: Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara and Sean Kuraly, who was acquired from San Jose last June along with the Sharks’ first-round selection for goaltender Martin Jones. With respect to Heinen, he has NCAA eligibility remaining, and the other guys don’t, so that’s a total of four contracts assuming the B’s sign all of them.

Last weekend, the RedHawks and captain Kuraly saw their NCAA tournament hopes dashed by the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who knocked them out of the NCHC playoffs. That makes Kuraly eligible to sign now and go to Providence on an ATO to finish out the season in the AHL if the Bruins so choose. Whether they will do so is going to come down to an internal organizational decision, as the 23-year-old center is less of a scoring/top-six type of forward and more of a bottom-six/grind-it-out checking player who plays a heavy game but doesn’t bring much in the way of a high offensive ceiling for the NHL.

Kuraly is coming off of a disappointing statistical season- one that saw him crash from a career-best 19 goals as a junior to just six tallies in 36 games with head coach Enrico Blasi’s Redhawks. He’s a good skater for his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame and has a hard, heavy shot. The Ohio native is not all that creative nor does he bring much of a high-end skillset with the puck. He’s a good faceoff man and penalty killer, so there’s promise here- not everyone can progress on to the NHL and once there, then slot into a prime scoring role. In Kuraly’s case, he’s always been one of those players whose game and versatility translated more as a checking forward at the highest level and there’s nothing wrong with that. One member of the Bruins organization told me hours after the trade bringing Kuraly to Boston went public that they were hoping he would one day be a third-liner for them, so even at the most optimistic period- coming off a career year in Oxford- the B’s didn’t have many illusions about what type of player he was going to project as for them.

That brings us back to Heinen. To say his upside is considerably bigger than that of Kuraly is an understatement. After a tough team start offensively (DU was just 7-7-4 and 3-4-1 in the NCHC back in late December- the Pios finished with a 17-5-2 conference record, going 14-1-1 after the halfway point) Heinen and the Pacific Rim line went into overdrive when the calendar turned over to 2016 and he’s been absolute dynamite since February. The versatile winger who played LW for Jim Montgomery as a freshman after being a center in junior hockey, has been over on the right side this season with Trevor Moore on the left and Dylan Gambrell in the middle. Denver just knocked University of Nebraska-Omaha out of the postseason, with Heinen playing a prominent role and his 18 goals in 36 games leads the club (he’s third overall in scoring behind his linemates with 40 points). Even if the Pioneers don’t win the NCHC (they face stiff competition in the Frozen Faceoff to include No. 1-ranked North Dakota), they’re a lock for the NCAA tournament, which means he could be playing into April and won’t be available until late March or into the middle of April.

We’ll leave it to the Bruins to figure it out- timing is an issue for Heinen signing, but it’s a done deal that he will not stay another year in the NCAA, as he has reportedly told the Pioneers of his desire to move on. So, when the Bruins officially announce the signing (whenever that happens), you’ll know the decision was in the works for some time.

Meanwhile, the B’s will have to see what happens out East as well, with a pair of senior defensemen in Grzelcyk and O’Gara who are wrapping up their collegiate careers. Grzelcyk’s BU Terriers were unceremoniously bounced by the upstart UMass-Lowell Riverhawks, who got some outstanding goaltending from Kevin Boyle (a UMass castoff, btw- I bet the Minutemen could have used him, eh?) but are expected to make the NCAA tournament card, so we’ll have to see how that plays out first.

Also knocked out of the Hockey East tourney in surprising fashion- the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (and B’s prospect Anders Bjork) by Northeastern University, featuring B’s 2012 draft choice Matt Benning on defense. The 21-year-old junior and nephew of Vancouver Canucks GM (and former Boston AGM) Jim Benning is a defense-first guy who plays bigger and with an impressive physical edge for possessing pretty average size at 6-foot, 200+ pounds. He’s posted a career-best five goals this season after not finding the back of the net at all last year (his 24 assists/points still rate as his highest NCAA single season total to date). Benning isn’t going to wow you- he’s a consistent presence if nothing else. He’s not flashy or dynamic but is smart and rugged. He fills lanes quickly, gaps up well, and will pop you good if there are any thoughts of trying to cut to the middle- keep the head on a swivel when Benning is out there for the Huskies. His father, Brian, played more than 500 NHL games as a defenseman and tallied nearly 300 career points, so while his career wasn’t all that long (he retired at age 29), he was an impact two-way threat/effective puck-mover who was at his best in the late 1980s with the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Matt Benning is a chip off the old block- he’s got nice vision, the ability to make an effective first pass and a willingness to join the rush, not to mention the little bit of nasty he brings to bear during the trench battles along the walls and in front of the net.

Come to think of it, young Benning might be one of the most underrated prospects in Boston’s system. He’s rarely discussed or talked about and because he’s a sixth-round pick, he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to NHL draft pedigree. He’s been nothing but solid since the B’s drafted him- helping the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints win the 2013 Clark Cup championship and being one of head coach Jim Madigan’s go-to guys (he was an alternate captain this season). With his active stick and watching him effortlessly slide across the ice to put a shoulder into an encroaching opponent and often times get the better of physical matchups against bigger players, there is a lot to like about Benning and his pro future, even if he isn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Here’s an excellent Hockey East All Access feature on him (including the tidbits about his grandfather Elmer, longtime NHL scout and his efforts to have his son and grandson get involved with figure skating as youngsters to improve their balance, edging and overall mobility):

Everyone is excited to see how NU will do against Boston College (and Ryan Fitzgerald) this coming weekend’s semifinal match in their bid for Hockey East supremacy.

As for O’Gara, he and his Yale second-seed mates were bounced out of the ECAC tourney over the weekend in two close, hard-fought games by the seventh-seed Dartmouth Big Green. Dartmouth’s goaltender stopped nearly 96% of the shots he faced in overtime and regulation wins Friday and Saturday. Yale played well enough to win those games, but the offense failed them at a critical juncture. O’Gara and Yale will find out their NCAA tournament fate (along with BU) on March 20 when the entire field of 16 teams (which includes the automatic-bid six conference champions) is announced.

If neither BU nor Yale get a chance to see their seasons extended, then Boston’s hand could be forced sooner rather than later.

Things are heating up…not just a sign of the coming spring but on the ice for the NCAA playoffs as well.

 

Bruins key prospect updates: Senyshyn, Heinen, Gabrielle, Carlo

Zachary Senyshyn Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Zachary Senyshyn Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

We’re getting down near the end of the CHL regular season schedule, and the NCAA playoffs are firing up around the nation.  This is as good a time as any to do a deeper dive into the progress of some of Boston’s key prospects and where they stand in their development thus far.

Zach Senyshyn, RW

Thursday night served as a reminder of how productive Zach Senyshyn has been in his second full season of OHL play.

He tallied two goals to push his season total to 38 (in 59 games) and added a helper. He’s equaled his assist total from last year (19) in seven fewer games, but he’s also playing more minutes/60 so that statistic needs more context. Bottom line with Senyshyn- he’s scoring more- as to be expected from moving from bottom-line duty and no special teams to first line and first unit power play.

Senyshyn is a powerful skater who has a nifty burst for someone who is 6-foot-2- he gets out of the blocks quickly and can separate in the open ice when he gets to top speed. He’s also pretty agile in that he’ll cut across the grain to shake defenders. His signature move remains the power rush down the right side- he just turns on the jets and will often beat the defender to the corner and then cut straight to the net. I don’t know that he’ll be able to get away with that in the AHL and NHL as consistently as he does in junior, but then again- I thought teams would be able to defend him better this year because they saw him burning them as a rookie, but it hasn’t happened.

He’s taken a big step forward in scoring this year, BUT (there’s always a but isn’t there?)- that does *not* mean Senyshyn is ready to come in and play for the Bruins next season. As most inherently understand- there’s a difference between how well a player scores and whether he is playing the game effectively. I credit hockey analyst and NESN analyst Billy Jaffe on that one, because he recently asked me the same question- he acknowledged Senyshyn was scoring, but wanted to know how well he was playing.

This is not a simple answer. Senyshyn’s offense is dynamic and impressive, but he’s got substantial work to do on the other side of the puck. The good news is- he understands that and his coaches in the Soo (former NHL defender Drew Bannister is in his first year there as the head coach) are working on his shift-to-shift consistency and making sure he moves his feet and commits to his responsibilities in all zones. I’ve been told he has a penchant to disappear over stretches of play by multiple sources and Hamilton Bulldogs play-by-play man/hockey analyst Reed Duthie also said as much in his “Duthie Dish” column posted here back in January. Senyshyn has to do less hanging back and waiting for the next offensive chance and do more in puck support and bringing the same effort levels to each situation that he does when he’s exploding down the ice or forcing turnovers and burying shots into the net as he did last night.

Current assessment: Senyshyn is clearly playing like the top-15 pick he (surprisingly) was last June, but that doesn’t mean fans should expect him to be taking a regular shift in Boston next season. Another year in the OHL will help him to be the better player he’s developing into. Because he was born in 1997 and drafted out of major junior, Senyshyn is not eligible for the AHL next season, so if he doesn’t make the Bruins roster out of camp, he must go back to the OHL. Those are the rules, and unfortunately, a player like Senyshyn might be in that middle ground between being a dominant OHL forward at age 19-20 next season but not being ready for regular duty with Boston, yet unable to be optioned to Providence. This means the B’s coaches and management will have to see how Senyshyn looks at camp next fall and make the decision then. He might get the nine-game look, or he might not, but that’s not something we can predict in March, 2016.

Danton Heinen, RW/LW/C

Playing the right side of Denver University’s top scoring unit- the Pacific Rim line- comprised of three forwards from Washington, California and Heinen’s native British Columbia, he’s exploded for 21 points in his last 10 contests after the Pioneers offense struggled as a whole for much of the season.

This versatile forward can play every position. He was a center in the BCHL but then shifted to the left wing as a freshman under Jim Montgomery. In his second NCAA season, he’s been the right wing with center Dylan Gambrell and Trevor Moore. Every team loves a forward who is adaptive and can play in multiple situations, but it sure looks like the B’s are projecting him to be a wing at the pro level, and one who can slide in to take faceoffs and will understand his responsibilities at the position if needed.

On the plus side, Heinen’s vision and offensive creativity is elite- he currently has 15 goals and 35 points in 32 games, which is significant because at one point he was hovering around a .5 points/game pace. He’s really turned it on, and the lack of production was not for effort- he has been creating scoring chances throughout the season, but pucks weren’t going in for him and his line.

Heinen isn’t a blazing-fast skater, but he’s fast enough and has good quickness and directional change. He gets his share of breakaways not because he outskates a lot of the opposition but because he reads the developing play so well and anticipates, getting an extra step and then being quick enough to maintain that separation. He did that beautifully in what was the best NCAA game I saw all season last month against the University of North Dakota.

Soft hands and an underrated shot round out Heinen’s skills package and make him a forward that could project in a top-6 NHL role one day. If nothing else, he looks like a higher-end third-liner, which is not a bad thing. He’s put on weight and looks bigger out on the ice- he’s only about 6-foot in height, but the extra weight has helped him win puck battles along the boards and establish a net-front presence.

Additionally, he’s a more polished and refined three-zone player than Senyshyn is at this stage (and at two years older, he probably should be). He’s not a shutdown type of defensive forward, but he back checks diligently and uses his hockey sense and instincts to break up plays and transition back to offense.

Current assessment: I ranked Heinen Boston’s No. 2 amateur prospect in the January issue of New England Hockey Journal and he looks even better now than he did because the numbers have come up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bruins look to sign him and put him into the system, but that will largely depend on what the organization’s priorities are and whether they see him pushing for an NHL job in the next three years. At this point, you can go either way and returning to Denver for a third year wouldn’t be a bad thing for his development, though based on what I see, he’s ready to turn pro.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW

Wow! Where did this season come from?!

Actually, for those who charted Gabrielle’s progress in previous years and right up until the second half of 2014-15, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise because when it came to his talent and hockey ability, the Saskatchewan native (who played some Minnesota HS hockey in there too) was projected as an early second-round pick in some circles (Red Line Report had him there as late as March 2015, for example), and that was in a strong draft class.

Gabrielle’s stumble down to the mid-fourth round allegedly had to do with commitment and effort questions, but it’s hard to question what he’s done for the Prince George Cougars this season, as he began the year like he was shot out of a cannon and has been a top performer in the WHL all season long.

His 39 goals and 72 points in 65 game tie Gabrielle with overager Chase Witala for the team lead, but he’s shattered his previous season best of 23 goals and 44 points set last season. He’s producing a high rate of P/60 and he’s playing his patented rugged, agitating style. Gabrielle is commonly compared to Brad Marchand, who also happens to be his favorite player, but he’s a taller, thicker player than Marchand and while not quite as dynamic or fast, brings the same kind of goal scoring upside as No. 63 has.

Not afraid to drop the gloves either, Gabrielle can pick fights and then will answer for his chippy play unlike other agitators. He’s not a feared heavyweight, but he’s can be a nasty opponent who plays on the edge but has the toughness to fight his own battles. He finishes his checks and hits to hurt, a widely disliked opponent but respected for how dangerous and productive he’s been. In other words- teams hate playing against him, but would embrace him on their club for his sheer effectiveness. Much like Marchand.

Now, the question I most often get on Gabrielle is- how did he end up being a fourth-round pick last June?

Well, without being in the various war rooms, I can only go by what I’ve been told in snippets here and there, but there was some obvious concern with Gabrielle, or else he would not have slipped down past 100 as he did. However, the Bruins can be glad that happened. The draft sometimes works out that way- we hear about players who rise and fall, but sometimes, the fallers aren’t indicative of the larger picture.

Based on the way Gabrielle is playing, he’s motivated to prove the teams who passed on him wrong, and at the end of the day- he’s a Bruins fan, so he was probably relieved and elated that the B’s of all clubs called his name, even if it came later than he thought.

Current assessment: Like Senyshyn, Gabrielle is in all likelihood not ready to make the NHL right away, even though he’s scoring plenty and playing a heavy, effective game on the whole. As a June 1997-born player he’s in the same boat in terms of the requirement for him to return to major junior next season if he doesn’t make Boston’s opening night roster. He’s a better fit for lower line duty at the NHL level, but the B’s have a lot of guys knocking on the door- fans should resist the “shiny new toy” urge to get Gabrielle plugged in right away. Either way, we won’t have a good handle on his situation at this point- we’ll have to reevaluate how he looks at the July development and then main training camp next fall.

Brandon Carlo, D

Boston’s best shutdown defense prospect is heading towards a possible AHL debut in Providence shortly, as his Tri-City Americans are in danger of missing the WHL playoffs, which would make him eligible to sign an amateur tryout option (ATO) and join the Baby B’s for the final games of the regular season.

Unlike Senyshyn and Gabrielle (and Jake DeBrusk is in the same boat as Carlo) he was a late 1996-born player which means he *can* spend the 2016-17 season in the AHL as opposed to going back to the WHL if he doesn’t make the Boston roster. The team could still send Carlo back to the Dub as an overager, but I would be surprised to see that. He looks to be on track to see his first AHL action here in the spring and then benefit from spending time in Providence next year in a full-time role (assuming he doesn’t crush it in camp to the point that the big club doesn’t put him in their top-six).

The biggest things (no pun intended) with Carlo are his size/reach and fluid skating for a guy so large. His 6-5 height is one thing, but he has long arms, which give him the reach of someone closer to 6-7. We see this effect often when players try to carry the puck by him on the rush- Carlo is deft with the poke check, and his active stick creates a significant advantage for him defensively. Because he’s so mobile, he’s able to square up with the puck and put himself in position to block the shot or disrupt the puck carrier’s speed and path to the net.

Carlo is not a vicious or intimidating open-ice hitter, but he does effectively use his size/strength to pin opponents to the boards and move forwards out from the front of the net and his goaltender’s sight lines. He’s not looking to crush people but he will initiate contact and will fight to defend teammates, even if he’s not someone to be feared. He’s a rugged defender but doesn’t play with that natural kind of mean streak that other more physical, tough players have made their bones doing over the years.

Offensively, he can chip in, but is not the kind of instinctive, push the pace kind of two-way threat who projects to thrive in a top 1 or 2 NHL defender role. He handles the puck well enough to make the first pass and gets a good amount of points by getting shots on net for tips or rebound scoring plays. Carlo is not a classic puck-mover who joins and even leads the rush and is capable of making nice offensive contributions but is not a player with the natural offensive hockey IQ or vision to be a regular point producer at the pro level.

Current analysis: The Colorado native gets a lot of buzz for his impressive physical package and smart, lockdown defensive acumen. There is certainly a place for him on Boston’s blue line and that time might not be too long in coming. However, fans should temper their expectations- and not view him as someone who will come in right away and stabilize the Boston defense corps. Once upon a time Zdeno Chara was not seen as a future Norris Trophy winner either- otherwise no team would have allowed him to get to the third round. So, it’s not a complete stretch to say that Carlo could develop into something more than I currently see, but it shouldn’t be expected.

That about does it for this post, I will make this a series and go down the line on other Boston prospects if you like what you’ve read.

 

Bruins prospects update: 1/24/16

 

Frank Vatrano was returned to the AHL from Boston last week, and he wasted little time re-establishing himself as a scorer at that level.

Seth Griffith continues to lead Providence in scoring, and Koko and Austin Czarnik have done well to keep pace.

Malcolm Subban continues to play well as the team’s undisputed No. 1 this season, and while Zane McIntyre has had his ups and downs, there is plenty of positive raw potential with him going forward.

In the amateur ranks, Zach Senyshyn and Jesse Gabrielle have 29 goals apiece- good for the best goal totals of all Boston prospects at any level. Jake DeBrusk’s offensive play has tailed off after a hot start in Red Deer, but is not a major cause for concern, as he’s still creating chances- they just aren’t going in.

Ryan Fitzgerald remains atop the NCAA scoring list for Boston prospects with 30 points for BC- second on the team in scoring to Sens 2015 first-rounder Colin White. Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson continues his impressive, mature two-way play, while Danton Heinen had a big weekend production-wise, as did Sean Kuraly, who lit it up against University of Nebraska-Omaha. Otherwise- it’s been a pretty forgettable year for him production-wise.

Now, here’s the update:

AHL

Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 33 Goals- 13 Assists- 28 Points- 41 Penalty Min- 20 +/- 0

Griffith had a great month in December and has continued his scoring into the new year.

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 31 Goals- 12 Assists- 22 Points- 34 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -6

 

Austin Czarnik, C Providence Bruins

GP- 35 Goals- 11 Assists- 20 Points- 31 Penalty Min- 10 +/- 1

 

Colton Hargrove, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 34 Goals-11 Assists- 8 Points- 19 Penalty Min- 40 +/- 3

Three goals and four points in five games since the last update- Hargrove continues to be a pleasant surprise as a rookie pro who is producing well above where most projected him.

Frank Vatrano, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 12 Goals- 12 Assists- 4 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 4 +/- 0

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 42 Goals- 7 Assists- 9 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -8

Chris Casto, D Providence Bruins

GP- 38 Goals- 4 Assists- 11 Points- 15 Penalty Min- 24 +/- -9

Zack Phillips, C Providence Bruins

GP- 37 Goals- 5 Assists- 9 Points-14 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -14

 

 

Tommy Cross, D Providence Bruins

GP- 34 Goals- 1 Assists- 11 Points- 12 Penalty Min- 49 +/- -10

Anton Blidh, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 40 Goals- 9 Assists- 2 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 20 +/- -5

Blidh finally added some totals to the assists column in his scoring line, but it took him more than 35 games to do it. He is a grinding, agitating bottom-line type- fans should not expect much more than that if he reaches the NHL.

Noel Acciari, C Providence Bruins

GP- 30 Goals- 5 Assists-5 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 13 +/-  0

 

Anthony Camara, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 25 Goals- 0 Assists- 3 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 37 +/- -3

Justin Hickman, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 34 Goals- 1 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 32 +/- -7

Linus Arnesson, D Providence Bruins

GP- 28 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -4

Malcolm Subban, G Providence Bruins

GP- 24 MIN- 1450 GA- 61 GAA- 2.52 Spct- .911 W- 12 L-8 OTL 4 SO- 1

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 18 MIN- 1026 GA- 52 GAA- 3.04 Spct- .884 W- 6 L- 6 OTL- 5

Injured- Brian Ferlin (upper body)- 1 game played.

 

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 43 Goals- 29 Assists- 12 Points- 41 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -3

 

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 29 Goals- 5 Assists- 30 Points- 35 Penalty Min- 52 +/- 26

Injured- no games since last update.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 28 Goals- 4 Assists- 6 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 30 +/- 6

Zboril’s play has picked up since his return from the WJC, but he is well off his offensive pace from a year ago. He has, however, embraced a more physical edge with better attention to the defensive side of his game, but is still prone to stretches without urgency.

 

WHL

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 48 Goals- 29 Assists- 21 Points- 50 Penalty Min- 71 +/- 3

Jake DeBrusk, LW Red Deer Rebels

SCB: GP- 24 Goals- 9 Assists- 17 Points- 26 Penalty Min- 15 +/- -5

RDR: GP- 14 Goals- 5 Assists- 9 Points- 14 Penalty Min- 13 +/-  5

After erupting for five goals in his first four games with the Rebels after being traded, DeBrusk’s offense dried up considerably with just three assists in his last six games. He’s far too talented a player to be held without a goal for long, but he’s nowhere close to the 42-goal season he had a year ago.

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 26 Goals- 2 Assists- 13 Points- 15 Penalty Min- 59 +/- -5

 

NCAA

Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 23 Goals- 14 Assists- 16 Points- 30 Penalty Min- 35 +/- 22

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA)

GP- 23 Goals- 10 Assists- 16 Points- 26 Penalty Min- 4 +/- 22

The 2014 5th-rounder has been on a tear since returning from the WJC, notching three goals and eight points in his last five games. He’s blown by his freshman season scoring totals (23 points) in half the games.

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

GP- 24 Goals- 7 Assists- 15 Points- 22 Penalty Min- 10 +/- 2

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 24 Goals- 9 Assists- 9 Points- 18 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -4

Had four points over the weekend in a two-game series.

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

GP- 12 Goals- 8 Assists- 5 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 20 +/- 7

Senior D and 85th overall pick in 2012 continues to find the back of the net- he is just three markers shy of passing his season best set a year ago (in 41 games).

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 16 Goals- 5 Assists- 6 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 14 +/- 2

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

GP- 19 Goals- 2 Assists- 9 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -9

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

GP- 25 Goals- 4 Assists- 6 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 21 +/- -5

Curious statistical inversion- a year ago, Benning did not score in 36 games, yet posted 24 assists. This season,  he has four goals but just six helpers. He’s still seeing considerable minutes and power play time, but without several key scorers in the lineup, NU’s scoring is down.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University (NCHC)

GP- 23 Goals- 3 Assists- 10 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 21 +/- -6

The former San Jose prospect went on a tear with 1g and 6 points in his last three games. He’s not a high-end scoring player at the next level, but it’s a good sign for him after a rough senior season statistically speaking.

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

GP- 19 Goals- 0 Assists- 7 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 20 +/- -1

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 18 Goals- 3 Assists- 3 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 8 +/-  6

 

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden)

GP- 30 Goals- 8 Assists- 6 Points- 14 Penalty Min- 0 +/-  2

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (Sweden)

GP- 34 Goals- 0 Assists- 3 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 12 +/-  1

Maxim Chudinov, D St Petersburg SKA (Russia)

GP- 48 Goals- 8 Assists- 9 Points- 17 Penalty Min- 77 +/- -11

His goal total is the highest it has been since joining St. Petersburg and just one away from his career high of 9 in a season set in 2011-12 with Cherepovets.

USHL

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago (USHL)

GP- 16 MIN- 928 GA- 34 GAA- 2.20 Spct .920 SO- 2; 4-6-4

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL)

GP- 35 Goals- 4 Assists- 7 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -9

Stat watchers beware- Heinen succeeding despite down numbers

Heinen

A year ago, Danton Heinen came out of left field in the BCHL (and the fourth round of the NHL draft) to post one of the most productive seasons of any freshman NCAA player not named Jack Eichel.

His 16 goals and 45 points in 40 games a year ago for Denver University highlighted his fine puck skills and fine vision/offensive hockey sense. He’s a good skater, though lacks a top gear that would make him even more of a consistent threat on every shift. The biggest knock on Heinen a year ago was his average size and though he’s still listed at 161 pounds on some rosters, in speaking to him and others in the Bruins organization, he’s north of 180 pounds now. He’s still got some growing and physical maturing to do, but don’t be fooled by the outdated 160-pound measurement.

This season, it’s been tougher sledding for Heinen offensively. In 18 games, he has five goals and 11 points. Folks who just look at the stats line are starting to ask questions about that, so this is a quick post to provide some observations from several games I’ve seen from him on film. Interestingly enough, he had no points in either game, and even more intriguing- he was in my opinion, the best DU Pioneers player on the ice. I also recently interviewed Jay Pandolfo, Boston’s player development director, and he said the same thing- Heinen’s play has not been an issue at all, even if the pucks aren’t going in for him.

In his most recent weekend series against Notre Dame (officially ties), the Pioneers carried the offensive play, outplaying and shooting the Fighting Irish by a wide margin in both games. Thanks to Notre Dame goalie (and Sabres prospect) Cal Peterson, DU scored just three goals on 95 shots in both games. Give Peterson credit, because anything less than the stellar performance he brought with him from South Bend, and the outcome would have been different.

On Friday evening Heinen played extremely well, officially credited with five shots out of DU’s 50, but he also had multiple shot attempts- close to doubling that total in shots either blocked or ones that missed the net. Several of his shots on goal were of the high danger variety- Peterson made a great save to deny him on the power play and then another of Heinen’s shots squeaked through his pads but died on the goal line. The play went to review but was called a no goal. On one opportunity, he got behind the Notre Dame defense and broke in alone on Peterson, only to ring the puck off the post on the blocker side. Heinen’s line had 23 shots between them, so that unit was a going concern all night and only thanks to the Notre Dame netminder was the damage nearly negated (Moore scored on a flukey goal that hit Peterson’s mask, then pinballed into the net off his defenseman in front).

It’s easy sometimes to get caught up in a player’s statistical success, and Heinen would probably be the first to express his disappointment that the offense isn’t happening for him the way it did a year ago, but the good news for the player is that he’s still working hard and creating scoring chances. Losses of upperclassmen like Joe Laleggia, Daniel Doremus, Ty Loney and Zac Larraza haven’t helped much, either. Heinen is currently skating on a line with junior Trevor Moore (who is an undrafted free agent and looked real good against Notre Dame) and freshman Dylan Gambrell (named NCHC freshman of the week), and they are DU’s most productive unit, with all three currently in the team’s top-4 for scoring.

In the fast food mentality of modern sports fans, it is easy to look at Heinen’s lack of production and simply assume that he is playing poorly, but that is not the case. While there is a certain bottom line to everything in that Heinen is inviting criticism for not raising the scoring bar in his sophomore season, there are other factors in play. Denver as a team is collectively struggling to score and sometimes the blind luck of doing everything right on a play but still not having the puck go in for you play a part. Hovering around .500, the top scorer, Gambrell, has just 15 points in 18 games, so offense is at a premium. On a different club, and given the quality chances I’ve seen Heinen generating this year, it is a reasonable assertion that he would be faring better in that situation.

This is often lost on the stat watchers who aren’t seeing  many (if any) of the games and instead of seeking to find the right context, engage in the easy way out of assuming a player is not performing. In the eyes of Pandolfo and DU head coach Jim Montgomery, Heinen is doing the little things and as long as he keeps his high effort levels up, he’ll eventually be rewarded with production much like Matt Beleskey has in Boston.

In the end, Heinen’s best attributes- his soft hands, his superior vision and three-zone game and work ethic are all prized assets for any pro. It might mean the B’s will want him to return to DU for one more season in lieu of signing this spring, but the down numbers are not a major cause for alarm.

Bruins Prospects Update 12/15/15

In the AHL, Koko has been crisp since coming back from a hand injury that took him out of action for several weeks. He’s put some distance between him and Seth Griffith atop Providence’s scoring race, going at a point-per-game clip.

Defenseman Chris Casto is quietly having a career year. The former Minnesota high school and Minnesota-Duluth standout was at one time thought of to be a potential top-three round NHL draft pick but it never happened for him.  He had a largely uneventful first two seasons in the Bruins organization since signing as a free agent in spring 2013, but he might make the B’s re-think signing him to an extension at the rate he’s going. The team has a glut of similar type of players at the position- big, mobile, but ultimately limited and lower pairing guys- but Casto is opening some eyes in the early going.

Providence has been getting much better goaltending of late from both of Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre, which is good news for the Bruins and the offense, which doesn’t have to put up major production to have a chance at winning these days.

Multiple Boston prospects are at their respective countries’ World Jr. Championship evaluation camps: Jeremy Lauzon (Canada), Anders Bjork, Brandon Carlo, Ryan Donato (USA), Daniel Vladar, Jakub Zboril (Czech Republic) and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (Sweden) are all in the mix to earn spots at the annual prestigious under-20 hockey showcase. Watch for Zach Senyshyn and Jesse Gabrielle to be there for Team Canada a year from now.

AHL

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 17 Goals- 6 Assists- 14 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -2

With a goal and 4 points in his last three AHL games, Koko is keeping pace for his most productive year of three professional seasons with Providence.

Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 19 Goals- 8 Assists- 10 Points- 18 Penalty Min- 14 +/- -1

Three goals and five points in three games for Griffith gave Providence a nice boost in getting the team back on a winning track.

Austin Czarnik, C Providence Bruins

GP- 19  Goals- 5 Assists- 10 Points- 15 Penalty Min- 10 +/- 5

Heating up as a rookie pro who is figuring out that he’s at his best when pushing the offensive tempo of a game and playing his patented buzzsaw style.

Chris Casto, D Providence Bruins

GP- 22 Goals- 1 Assists- 10 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 16 +/- -5

Scored his first goal of the season; his next assist equals his entire output from 2014-15 (in 62 AHL games).

Tommy Cross, D Providence Bruins

GP- 18 Goals- 1 Assists- 9 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 29 +/- -5

Injured- did not play.

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 26 Goals- 7 Assists- 3 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -5

Colton Hargrove, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 18 Goals- 4 Assists- 3 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 23 +/- -2

He scored a big power play goal over the weekend in a win over Hartford.

Noel Acciari, C Providence Bruins

GP- 21 Goals- 3 Assists-3 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 7 +/- -1

Surgery not required, but still out after taking a shot that broke his jaw in several places. Will wear a full face shield upon his return, perhaps as early as this week.

Anton Blidh, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 24 Goals- 6 Assists- 0 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -2

Zack Phillips, C Providence Bruins

GP- 23 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -14

Has played better of late; posted a pair of assists last week.

Linus Arnesson, D Providence Bruins

GP- 18 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -1

Arnesson returned to action last week.

Malcolm Subban, G Providence Bruins

GP- 11 MIN- 788 GA- 35 GAA- 2.66 Spct- .899 W- 5 L-5 OTL 3 SO- 1

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 12 MIN- 718 GA- 34 GAA- 2.84 Spct- .889 W- 5 L- 4 OTL- 3

McIntyre still has much to learn as he adjusts to the speed and demands of pro hockey, but he’s been more consistent than Subban in the early going. Given his overall ability and work ethic, the former North Dakota star puck stopper is more than the sum of his parts.

Injured- Brian Ferlin (upper body)- 1 game played.

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 30 Goals- 18 Assists- 10 Points- 28 Penalty Min- 6 +/- -9

A three-assist performance in one game over the weekend has boosted him near the points-per-game level.

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 26 Goals- 5 Assists- 28 Points- 34 Penalty Min- 50 +/- 26

Named to Team Canada’s World Jr. Camp as an injury replacement for Jake Walman, Lauzon did not play any QMJHL games last week.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 21 Goals- 3 Assists- 6 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 26 +/- 2

Zboril is with Team Czech Republic in preparation for the 2016 World Jr. Championship in Finland.

WHL

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 31 Goals- 17 Assists- 15 Points- 32 Penalty Min- 49 +/- 5

With a goal and five assists since the last update, Gabrielle continues to be a scoring force for his team while also bringing a gritty, physical game.

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

GP- 21 Goals- 9 Assists- 16 Points- 25 Penalty Min- 13 +/- -1

Rounding into form in the weeks since coming back from a serious groin injury that required surgery.

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 22 Goals- 2 Assists- 12 Points- 14 Penalty Min- 57 +/- -5

Carlo played two scoreless games before departing for Boston to attend Team USA WJC camp. He’s a lock to make the 2016 squad after playing well at the WJC last year.

 

NCAA

Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 15 Goals- 11 Assists- 10 Points- 21 Penalty Min- 33 +/- 17

No points in just one game (loss to Notre Dame) since the last update.

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

GP- 18 Goals- 4 Assists- 10 Points- 14 Penalty Min- 10 +/- -2

JFK is now with Team Sweden preparing for the WJC after playing 2 scoreless games since the last update.

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA)

GP- 17 Goals- 5 Assists- 11 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 4 +/- 17

Posted a helper in the Fighting Irish’s win over Boston College last week. Now with Team USA in Boston for WJC camp.

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 16 Goals- 5 Assists- 6 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -3

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 10 Goals- 4 Assists- 5 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 10 +/- 6

Did not play; now at USA WJC camp.

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

GP- 14 Goals- 1 Assists- 8 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 6 +/- -6

Did not play.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University (NCHC)

GP- 16 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 17 +/- -5

Did not play

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

GP- 17 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 17 +/- -12

Did not play

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

GP-6 Goals 2 Assists- 3 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 12 +/- 2

Grzelcyk is still out with a lower body (knee injury).

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 10 Goals- 2 Assists- 2 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 6 +/- 5

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

GP- 12 Goals- 0 Assists- 4 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 16 +/- -4

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden)

GP- 21 Goals- 6 Assists- 4 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 0

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (Sweden)

GP- 25 Goals- 0 Assists- 2 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -1

Maxim Chudinov, D St Petersburg SKA (Russia)

GP- 37 Goals- 6 Assists- 8 Points- 14 Penalty Min- 75 +/- -7

USHL

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago (USHL)

GP- 13 MIN- 737 GA- 26 GAA- 2.12 Spct .925 SO- 2; 3-5-3

Vladar has left his team to participate in Team Czech Republic WJC camp.

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL)

GP- 25 Goals- 4 Assists- 5 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 6 +/- 0

University of Wisconsin recruit scored a goal last week, his first since mid-November.

Bruins Prospects Update 11/09/15

With only one game on the Providence schedule, a 5-1 loss to the Vancouver affiliate Utica Comets, there isn’t much in the way of AHL updates this week. Unfortunately for Boston, Alex Khokhlachev suffered an unknown injury to his hand, and per Mark Divver of the Providence Journal is in Boston being seen by a hand specialist to determine the extent of it. The hits just keep on coming. Rugged forward Colton Hargrove got the lone goal of the week down on the farm, his second in eight games this year.

Frank Vatrano is off the list for now while he is up with Boston, but his 10 goals in 10 AHL games served as a nice springboard for his callup to the big club and his first NHL goal against Montreal.

Also injured out in the WHL are 2015 picks Jake DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo, neither of whom played last week.

The NCAA prospects form the bulk of the system nucleus beyond the AHL guys and it was a busy week for them, with Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen and Ryan Fitzgerald all continuing to score for their clubs. Anders Bjork is quietly having a productive sophomore year with the Fighting Irish, with 9 points already in just eight games.

The bigger news in college play this past weekend was Matt Grzelcyk’s return to action after May knee surgery. He scored goals in his first two games for BU this weekend, quite a departure from a year ago, when he went well into 2015 before tallying his first goal.

AHL

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 11 Goals- 4 Assists- 9 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 6

The reported hand injury is something to monitor going forward. With Austin Czarnik still out since game 4 of the new season, the Providence forward depth has taken a hit.

Tommy Cross, D Providence Bruins

GP- 8 Goals- 0 Assists- 7 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 25 +/- -3

Chris Casto, D Providence Bruins

GP- 11 Goals- 0 Assists- 6 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -7

Austin Czarnik, C Providence Bruins

GP- 4 Goals- 1 Assists- 4 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 6 +/- 4

Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 6 Goals- 2 Assists- 3 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -4

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 11 Goals- 5 Assists- 0 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -4

Colton Hargrove, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 8 Goals- 2 Assists- 1 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 6 +/- -2

Hargrove scored the lone goal of the week for Providence, which came in a 5-1 loss to Utica.

Malcolm Subban, G Providence Bruins

GP- 3 MIN- 179 GA- 13 GAA- 4.35 Spct- ..847 W- 1 L-2

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

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

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 18 Goals- 10 Assists- 4 Points- 14 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -6

Senyshyn’s one goal scored this past week was a memorable one against Saginaw Spirit. Be sure to check out the video on the update I posted here on him Saturday.

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 17 Goals- 3 Assists- 21 Points- 24 Penalty Min- 34 +/- +19

Quiet week for Lauzon, who was held pointless in two games.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 13 Goals- 3 Assists- 4 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 20 +/- 1

Zboril had a goal and assist this week, plus some roughing penalties and also got into the plus column.

WHL

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

GP- 14 Goals- 6 Assists- 14 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 13 +/- -3

DeBrusk took a hard shot to the groin area and has not played since.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 16 Goals- 11 Assists- 4 Points- 15 Penalty Min- 25 +/- 2

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

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

Carlo is injured and did not play this past week.

NCAA

Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 8 Goals- 5 Assists- 4 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 27 +/- 11

Fitzgerald returned to action and scored a goal after sitting out a game for a match/DQ penalty last week, which carries an automatic one-game suspension. If nothing else- Fitzgerald is scrappy and intense- plays with a real chip on his shoulder.

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA)

GP- 8 Goals- 2 Assists- 7 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 9

The 2014 fifth-rounder is tied for the team lead in scoring as a sophomore after posting 22 points in all of last season.

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 8 Goals- 4 Assists- 4 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 5

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

GP- 8 Goals- 1 Assists- 6 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 6 +/- 1

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 4 Goals- 3 Assists- 2 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 4

The 2014 second-rounder is off to a great start at Harvard. He posted his first two-goal game (one was an empty-netter) against Brown University in a win over the weekend.

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

GP- 10 Goals- 1 Assists- 3 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -2

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

GP-2 Goals 2 Assists- 1 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 6 +/- 2

The Terriers got a big boost with the return of their captain, who tallied a goal and assist in his first game of the season Friday night in a win over Northeastern.

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

GP- 9 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 13 +/- -9

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard University (ECAC)

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

The 6-foot-6 defenseman is still looking for his first NCAA goal, but is off to a solid statistical start with two helpers in his first four games after posting three in 37 games as a freshman.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University (NCHC)

GP- 10 Goals- 0 Assists- 3 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 10 +/- -4

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

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

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden)

GP- 12 Goals- 3 Assists- 3 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -1

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (Sweden)

GP- 14 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -2

Maxim Chudninov, D St Petersburg SKA (Russia)

GP- 24 Goals- 5 Assists- 4 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 71 +/- -5

USHL

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL)

GP- 12 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -3

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago (USHL)

GP- 8 MIN- 469 GA- 19 GAA- 2.43 Spct .907 SO- 1; 1-4-2