Dominic Tiano: What’s Next For the Bruins (Pt. 12)- Front Office & Coaching

We all know Boston Bruins President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney have decisions to make, some of them tough ones, when it comes to players. But what decisions are there to be made in the front office or behind the bench, if any?

Let’s begin with the position of Director of Amateur Scouting, a position that has been vacant since Keith Gretzky departed to join former Bruins’ General Manager Peter Chiarelli with the Edmonton Oilers as an Assistant General Manager. Assistant General Manager Scott Bradley has been filling the role and will run the 2017 NHL Draft for the Bruins.

A decision must be made whether to keep Bradly in the duo role or focus more on one position or the other. If the Bruins brass decides to keep the two positions separate, they could look outside the organization to fill the role, much like Chiarelli did when he brought Gretzky to Boston.

They could also promote someone from within, and there are a couple of very good possibilities currently scouting for the Bruins.

Dean Malkoc has been through ten drafts with the Bruins and has scouted Western Canada, but has done more cross-over scouting recently. Ryan Nadeau is about to enter his 15th season with the Bruins. He has served as Director of Hockey Operations/Analytics for the past three seasons while also scouring the NCAA as a scout. The Bruins have done well drafting from the NCAA the past few seasons and Nadeau deserves some credit.

With the interim tag being removed from coach Bruce “Butch” Cassidy, the head coaching job is filled. As an assistant under Claude Julien when he was dismissed by Sweeney during the season, could/should the Bruins be looking for another assistant now to serve under Cassidy?

Joe Sacco and Jay Pandolfo serve as assistants. Bob Essensa is the goaltending coach, but spent a lot of time watching from upstairs once the coaching change was made. It’s not known yet who may become available that has a professional resume under his belt, or if one will even become available.

The Bruins could also look at the minor-league level, juniors or the NCAA for coaching talent.

Allow me to throw a name into the circle if I may, he’s a long shot, but a very capable coach. Rocky Thompson, head coach of the Windsor Spitfires, who are currently competing for the Memorial Cup.

Thompson began his coaching career with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. He would become an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League and in 2014, spend a season as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers. Last season, he returned to junior hockey and was named head coach of the Spitfires.

If you know me, then you know one area of concern I’ve had for the Bruins for some time now is the professional scouting department. The group is made up of Matt Lindblad, Adam Creighton, Tom McVie and Dennis Bonvie.

Creighton and McVie are the elders of the group, having been with the Bruins for 16 and 23 years respectively. There really isn’t enough of a sample size to judge Lindblad, added a year ago, and Bonvie, added two years ago. But this is one area I feel Neely and Sweeney must address this off season.

 

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.

 

Another Heinen post

The Rink Blog over at the New England Hockey Journal website is gone, but here is an article I wrote for it on Danton Heinen last March after I had a chance to talk to him during the NCHC playoffs.

It’s some bonus reading for a guy who should be ranked solidly inside the top-10 of Bruins prospect lists in my view because he does so many things well.

Here’s the story:

***

When the Boston Bruins called forward Danton Heinen’s name late in the fourth round of last June’s NHL Entry Draft, fans and prognosticators were sent scrambling for their guides and cheat sheets, to little avail.

There wasn’t a whole lot of information available on the previously passed over forward when the B’s nabbed the 2014 NHL lottery’s mystery man 116th overall. However, in the months since, the former captain of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles has emerged as one of the best players in the NCAA with a productive and mature game that belies his relative inexperience in the NCHC.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Heinen said before the second-seeded Denver University’s sweep of University of Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. “I don’t know that I expected to have this level of personal success coming into my first year (at DU) but being part of a winning team is what I’m most happy about.”

Currently second only to hockey prodigy Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.) in scoring among first year NCAA players, Heinen adjusted immediately to the competition at Denver and never looked back, posting 16 goals and 44 points in 36 games as of March 15, pacing the Pioneers in scoring. Denver head coach (and former University of Maine scoring star and member of 1993 national championship squad) Jim Montgomery is on the record giving much of the credit for Heinen to assistant David Carle, who recognized the potential and acted quickly to bring him into the fold last year.

“It was Coach Carle who did the most to bring me here,” said Heinen. “He came out to see me play (at Surrey) last year and made the team’s interest in me known. They brought me to Denver for a visit and everything clicked right away; I loved it. For me, the decision to commit was a no-brainer, so I came out last summer to do course and conditioning work to get ready for the season and the opportunity to play here right away.”

Heinen’s arrival on the collegiate stage has been so sudden, yet so jarring for certain NHL teams that completely missed the boat on him that the 19-year-old’s season has made for some interesting backroom conversations.

“Our college guys are so impressed with him,” said one NHL scout who told New England Hockey Journal that Heinen has been a topic of conversation recently. “The recurring theme is that he’s played so well for Denver, and we’re trying to figure out how he got so good, so fast given that not many were on him a year ago when he was in junior.”

Some evaluators point to a sudden growth spurt after he turned 18 as one aspect of the 6-foot, 180-pound Langley, B.C. native’s impressive showing at this level. As a July, 1995-born prospect who had been eligible for the 2013 NHL draft, and despite other ’95 players being in a similar situation such as Buffalo fifth-round draft choice and Brown freshman Max Willman (Barnstable, Mass.), Heinen got nary a sniff from the various hockey draft publications.

Even if the public lists weren’t tracking him, Heinen says he interviewed with multiple teams including Boston, during the course of the 2013-14 hockey season. Even though he knew he had some NHL interest, he wasn’t altogether positive he would get a call. He was following the draft on his computer at home, but when the fourth round rolled around, he wasn’t tracking the selections all that closely. Heinen learned of his selection from his family advisor via a phone call.

Although not a blazing skater with game-breaking open ice speed, Heinen displays NHL-caliber quickness and smarts, tenacity around the puck. He is on track to develop into a well-rounded , three-zone player with top-six forward potential in Boston. At the very least, he looks like a future third-line fixture on the wing if he continues his upward trajectory and willingness to compete hard in the greasy areas of the ice.“I see myself as more of a playmaker,” Heinen said. “I can see the ice and set up guys for more scoring opportunities.”

Heinen’s rapid arrival in the NCAA and the potential that more and more around the NHL are acknowledging are why it is all the more baffling that so many seemed to completely miss on his potential a year ago. The Bruins, for their part, played it smart. Western Canada scout (and former B’s defender) Dean Malkoc watched him enough to get a solid perspective on the youngster’s potential, and then as is often the case with Boston, multiple scouts and members of the front office, including current assistant GM Scott Bradley (who makes his off-season home in British Columbia), went out West to see him.

“We had a couple of guys in the west that sat on Danton pretty hard,” Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney said in December. “We were real glad to get him where we did. We’re excited that he made it to school this year after there was talk he might delay it one more season, and clearly- he can handle the college game.”

Unlike other teams who were perhaps on Heinen for a little longer than the B’s were, give GM Peter Chiarelli and his staff credit for taking him where they wanted to instead of playing the we can wait and get him later game that may have burned other suitors (Montreal rumored to be chief among them) and cost them a shot at one of college hockey’s hottest properties.

“He’s an ‘A’ prospect in my view,” said another NHL scout outside of the Boston organization. “Our guys are saying that if Heinen was an undrafted free agent, he’d have 30 offers lined up as soon as he was ready to turn pro because of how promising and complete a player he is. His hockey IQ and vision are outstanding. He just finds ways to make plays whenever he’s out there. He shows an intelligence and refined game that’s rare for someone in their first season of college hockey.”

It stands to reason, then, that at the recently concluded NHL trade deadline, the B’s reportedly had several teams asking them about the prized fourth-round pick. Given what he’s shown, don’t expect the team to give up on this prized asset unless any prospective team is willing to pay a significant return.

All of the high praise aside, Heinen knows that there is still much work to be done. As has been the case for the entire season, he put words to action by scoring goals in both of DU’s playoff wins over UMD, extending his team scoring lead.

The last player Montgomery coached who topped the charts as a rookie was none other than Calgary’s NHL Rookie of the Year candidate Johnny Gaudreau, who did it with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2010-11. While Heinen has a long way to go before he will generate the kind of buzz that followed “Johnny Hockey” during his electric Hobey Baker-winning career at Boston College, he’s far exceeded the modest expectations that preceded his arrival in the Rocky Mountains.

“He’s gained 10 pounds and is a cerebral kid on the ice, a hard-worker off the ice,” Sweeney said. “Not enough good things can be said about how much he’s grown under (Montgomery) and he’ll continue to put up points in that system. He’s still an open canvas in terms of how much bigger and stronger he’s going to get, but we’re pleased at the progress he’s making.”