Here’s a comprehensive look at the 2006 Boston Bruins draft, which transformed the franchise in a single weekend of picks and one major trade. Other than 1979, there isn’t a more impactful single draft in team history, though 1980 was quite strong, along with 2014 more recently. Here you go- KL
(Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)
The Boston Bruins franchise was in disarray at the conclusion of the 2005-06 hockey season and faced a crucial crossroads leading up to the entry draft being in Vancouver that June.
A year that began with promise with the return of NHL hockey after a lockout cancelled the 2004-05 big league campaign descended into chaos and despair when a series of big-money free agent signings went bust (Alexei Zhamnov, Brian Leetch, Dave Scatchard) and franchise face Joe Thornton was traded to San Jose before December for the kind of return that ultimately sealed Mike O’Connell’s (Cohasset, Mass.) fate as Bruins GM. O’Connell’s departure opened the door for one-time Harvard hockey captain Peter Chiarelli’s ascension as the B’s new chief of management and operations, but as the assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators, the job of riding herd over Boston’s 2006 draft and early phases of free agency fell to O’Connell’s interim replacement, Jeff Gorton.
Thanks to a win by the Columbus Blue Jackets on the final day of the 2005-06 regular season, the Bruins slid into the fifth overall draft position (not affected by the draft lottery, won by St. Louis). Two points are what separated the B’s from Phil Kessel and someone else (Derick Brassard went one selection later at sixth overall). Kessel may no longer be with the Bruins, but his impact will likely be felt in the years to come, even if the jury is still out on the players received from Toronto and then Dallas last summer.
The B’s former chief amateur scout and current director of player personnel, Scott Bradley, called 2006 a “historic” draft year and critical moment for the rebuilding of the once proud franchise’s sagging fortunes. Little did Bradley know at the time that his words would prove to be prophetic, and that just five years later, the club would reverse direction from the road to ruin to Stanley Cup glory in the very city the draft occurred, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in an epic seven-game championship series.
Boston’s selections in the second and third rounds were instrumental in the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and run to the 2013 Stanley Cup final: Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, while No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask’s history is inextricably linked to the 2006 draft as well. Although Lucic was traded five years ago, Marchand has ascended to NHL superstardom, as has Rask, who could be in line to collect the second Vezina Trophy of his career after a shortened 2019-20 season. Marchand and Rask helped lead the B’s to within one win of the 2019 Stanley Cup championship, though they fell short at home to the St. Louis Blues.
Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Boston’s 2006 draft is still making a direct and indirect impact on the team’s fortunes.
I recently posted this to the Bruins sub-Reddit- and thought it deserved a place on my blog.
Took a swing at the Boston Bruins historical draft choices, analyzing the team’s selections since the NHL implemented a rudimentary draft system 56 years ago. Bear in mind that in the pre-1969 years, the draft was different- starting in 1963 thru 1978 it was called the amateur draft before changing to the NHL Entry Draft in 1979 when the teams were allowed to draft 18-year-olds. With fewer teams in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, selections outside of 10-20 were 2nd round or later, but for purpose of exercise, I’m going to look at picks 1-30 and call it like I see it.
I’m bucking convention by starting out with 1st overall and work up to 30- in a lot of cases, the early selections for the B’s have not been kind, but in full context- most of the time the team was picking 3-7, it came in the days before the current draft system. And because the B’s had made the playoffs from 1968-97, unless they owned bad teams’ 1st rounders, they rarely got a chance to pick inside the top-10 during that time frame.
1- Best: Joe Thornton, 1997: 1st ballot HHOFer- nuf ced; Trading him opened the door for Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to join the B’s in 2006, but he’s been everything Jumbo Joe was projected to be as a teen titan with the Soo Greyhounds in 1997. He just turned 40 in July, which, given the shaggy, golden-locked kid who showed up in Boston 22 years ago at not quite 18, seems impossible to square with the grizzled graybeard who has been with the San Jose Sharks for nearly a decade and a half.
Worst: Barry Gibbs, 1966: Journeyman defenseman. He at least played in the NHL to the tune of 796 career games, most of them not with the Bruins. However, Gibbs leads the No. 1 overall bust hit parade not because of what he did, but because of the player who was selected right behind him at No. 2 in ’66 by the NY Rangers. Wait for it…Brad Park. Can you imagine Bobby Orr and Brad Park together on the Boston blue line? It actually happened for a handful of games right before Orr left for the Windy City, but had they been able to play together in their primes, we’re talking at least 2 more Stanley Cups in that era. Yikes. (H/T to Reddit user Timeless_Watch for pointing this out- I moved Kluzak down to HM)
HM: Gord Kluzak, 1982: Oh what could have been? What if…B’s had drafted Brian Bellows or Scott Stevens there instead of Kluzak? Kluzak had knee injuries in junior hockey days and then got blown up in his 2nd NHL season- without the technology to repair knees that we have today, it doomed him to being day-to-day for the rest of his career and an early retirement. He should have been a long-tenured NHL defenseman, but it didn’t happen for him, and unfortunately, he’s more of a footnote in Bruins lore, which is unfortunate.
About 24 hours ago, the Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney officially swung the Sword of Damocles that had been hanging over the organization and coach Claude Julien’s head for weeks (some would even say years), dismissing the franchise’s all-time wins leader and Stanley Cup champion behind the bench, setting off a firestorm of criticism online and in the media for the timing and way it was handled.
This post will attempt to analyze the move and the subsequent naming of assistant coach Bruce Cassidy as the B’s interim bench boss. It is by no means the first and last word on the matter, nor will it hit every bucket that the firing impacts. Whether you were someone who felt it was time to go and are angered that the team elected to do it on the morning of the New England Patriots’ victory parade, are someone who felt he was not the problem and are even more irate at the timing, or are someone who feels like the move had to be made and have no issue with it (and everyone in between), this piece will try to raise multiple perspectives and shed light on some of the other factors that led to where we are on Wednesday, February 8, 2017- nearly a decade after Julien was brought in on the heels of the failed Dave Lewis experiment.
Brandon Carlo- 2nd-round, 37th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)
Don’t be misled by the title- Boston Bruins rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo has been anything but “bad” in the first quarter of his introduction to the NHL. We use the word “bad” in the best sense to describe Carlo as a player who has rapidly carved a niche for himself with the B’s, infusing the blue line with the kind of shutdown consistency that was so lacking a year ago.
The Colorado Springs-area native and 37th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is the youngest defenseman to break into the NHL full-time alongside a future Hall of Fame partner since 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton arrived at the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.
Today’s news made official what had been rumored for a while now- that former Bruins prospect defender Matt Benning has signed an Entry-Level Contract with the Edmonton Oilers.
Benning inked a deal with the team his dad, Brian, played for (albeit very briefly) and with the GM who drafted him in 2012- Peter Chiarelli.
The younger Benning, nephew of former B’s assistant GM now Vancouver head manager Jim Benning, was a solid if unspectacular player who showed some promise as a lower-end defender with some untapped potential.
Matt Benning doesn’t have much in the way of size, but like Noel Acciari, he hits hard and clean, separating opponents from the puck but not taking himself out of plays or hurting his team with undisciplined, selfish antics. Benning is a good puck distributor; not blessed with a killer shot, it was nonetheless pretty heavy, and he showed progression in his offensive game. Where Benning really established his value was with his smart, effective positional play.
So, while he wasn’t a higher-end prospect who spent a lot of time at the top of Boston’s prospect depth chart for defense, he has a shot at developing into a solid role player at the NHL level given his smarts and bloodlines.
Now, how & why did this happen? To put it simply- Benning took the Blake Wheeler option.
The NHL’s CBA stipulates that a non-major junior player’s rights are held for four years after the team drafts him. That doesn’t include NCAA eligibility, so if a player is drafted in 2012, plays a year of junior hockey before going to school, he can either play all four years in college, which extends his team’s hold on him, or if he turns pro at anytime after that four-year mark, the team must sign him within 30 days of his formal relinquishment of any remaining college eligibility or he becomes a free agent.
So, like Wheeler, Benning came out of school after three years and left NCAA time on the table, but because he spent a full year in the USHL (winning a championship with the Dubuque Fighting Saints- a team Chiarelli had part ownership in at the time and still might to this day), was able to leverage free agency to go wherever he felt was the best fit for him. It’s not about loyalty- it’s about using the tools at one’s own disposal to choose a preferred destination, which is not something every player is able to benefit from.
According to veteran ProJo hockey writer Mark Divver, who had talks with a Bruins source, the B’s wanted Benning to return for his senior year and would have signed him next spring, but to the kid’s credit, he probably looked around, saw all the younger defensemen in the system, and realized that cracking the Boston roster would be a tough sell. Now, some will ask why the Bruins couldn’t just trade him for something, but this isn’t Jimmy Vesey we’re talking about here, so there’s little chance any team would offer so much as a seventh-round pick for a guy who may or may not sign there a month after he notifies the NHL that he’s leaving school (which is what Benning did), when they could just wait Boston out and make their pitch for Benning like anyone else. Given his history with Chiarelli, it isn’t all that surprising that he ended up in Edmonton, though.
TSP had time for Benning- he was lost in the sauce a bit here, but was a solid player for a sixth-round pick and it wouldn’t surprise to see him establish himself in the NHL as a role guy at some point. Or not. Even with expansion looming, breaking into the top hockey circuit is a tough racket- here’s to wishing Benning the best. He leveraged his options as the CBA allows and Boston has plenty of other players to focus on.
You can’t sign ’em all. Here’s to Benning finding his way out West- he’ll attract some attention at camp next month.
A veteran NHL scout texted yours truly the other day to lament the fact that his team didn’t draft Charlie McAvoy when they had the chance. “We (effed) up…” is how the note began and went downhill from there. In a nutshell- his team had McAvoy in their sights and passed him up for someone else. Now, there’s a little second-guessing going on. Happens all the time, especially once the post-draft euphoria wears off and the real scrutiny begins.
McAvoy is generating a lot of buzz and rightfully so- having a brilliant WJC evaluation camp will do that for you when so many NHL guys are watching. But- let’s pump the brakes here and remember that player stocks fluctuate. The 14th overall pick in last June’s draft has a mountain of expectations heading into his sophomore season at BU- he needs t build on his outstanding second half and take his play to the next level, while staying healthy. His presence at the 2017 WJC in Canada this winter will be a big test, too- the kid has broad shoulders, so the prediction here is that he’ll continue to build excitement among the fans who take the time to follow prospects much like Dougie Hamilton did after being drafted 9th overall in 2011.
But as for my NHL scout friend and his team’s buyer’s remorse- that stuff happens when your pick has an “ehhh” development camp, but the message was only half serious. It was more like- Boston landed a nice player at 14 than anything else. We can sit around and get excited about analysis and discussion, but the real rubber will meet the road in the coming season when McAvoy gets a chance to prove himself.
Wouldn’t be surprised to see them bring in another veteran forward as well. Some will question that, and it’s the nature of the beast- especially since it could block a younger (yet unproven) player from a roster spot in October, but teams hedge their bets and look to build depth (to stave off the injury bug) and foster training camp competition.
Watch for the B’s to extend a training camp invite to an experienced, and as-of-yet signed player. Can’t tell you who that might be, but some name-recognition guys still out there (who might appeal to Boston- by no means a comprehensive list and in no particular order) are: Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Santorelli,Shawn Horcoff, Alex Tanguay, David Jones, Tyler Kennedy, Patrik Elias (he’s already 40 but hard to imagine him playing for anyone else after spending all of his 1,240 NHL games and 1,025 points with the Devils), Dainius Zubrus, Mike Richards. Did I really type that name? Well, he is only 31, but yeah- slim pickings for sure.
I know, I know- there are some of you who will look at that list and immediately want to comment that none of them are needed. I get it- save yourself the trouble by not shooting the messenger, please- I’m just passing on what I’m being told. If we see another veteran forward brought in, don’t say you weren’t warned, and we’ll analyze who that someone is if/when it happens.
What Bruins player are you most intrigued with entering the season?
For me, it’s rookie Danton Heinen, who was a surprise fourth-round pick out of the BCHL in 2014, but went on to post two very good offensive seasons at Denver University before signing with Boston last April.
He’s a winger, but played center in junior, so he’s played all three forwards in the last three seasons going back to 2013-14. The Bruins and coach Claude Julien do love their versatile guys, don’t they?
But what stands out about Heinen is his smarts and offensive creativity. He’s not this explosive, dynamic presence who grabs the spotlight and demands your attention when he’s on the ice, but when you watch him closely, he’s always around the puck and tends to own the walls when a possession battle is up for grabs. Heinen has a deft passing touch and he’s no slouch with the puck on his stick when it’s time to pull the trigger, either.
Watch for him to make the big club out of camp, and he wouldn’t be a bad option to try out on that third line right out of the hopper.
Next in the undrafted free agents series covering the Boston Bruins is California-bred, Massachusetts and Vermont-developed defensive defenseman Kevan Miller. He caught Boston’s eye during a late-season ATO with the Providence Bruins in 2011, and then got an invite to the team’s rookie camp and main training camp that fall. I still remember traveling to Nassau Coliseum and seeing him get involved in a major donnybrook to start the second of the two-game series between the B’s and Islanders rooks. Miller earned an NHL contract a few weeks later, and by the midway point of 2013-14, was playing in the NHL full-time.
He’s a classic American story of hard work and overcoming hurdles, and yet Miller may be one of the more criticized players on the Boston roster, despite an impressive body of work in the realm of analytics that we’ll attempt to shine some light on later on.
This is his story.
Hard as a Rock: Kevan Miller
When it comes to Kevan Miller, few players are more polarizing to a respective fanbase than he is to supporters of the Boston Bruins. Here’s a video courtesy of friend “Dafoomie”:
The soon-to-be 29-year-old defenseman should be one of those feel good stories in hockey- a California born-and-raised defenseman who went East in high school, rose to the University of Vermont captaincy, and after being ignored in the NHL draft, willed his way into the Boston lineup less than three years after turning pro. Instead, he’s become a convenient scapegoat- a player who is an easy target for frustrations because he was asked to play a bigger role than the one to which he is best suited.
Miller was a few months away from his first birthday when the Los Angeles Kings made “the trade” to bring Wayne Gretzky to Tinseltown in August, 1988. Raised in Santa Clarita, Miller represents the first generation of players who were born when Gretzky arrived and went on to reach the highest levels of professional hockey thanks in large part to the hockey boom the Great One inspired in Southern California. Miller wasn’t the first Golden Stater to make the big time, nor is he the most successful, but all things considered, the guy who the Bruins took a chance on back in 2011, and who recently earned a four-year NHL extension is much better than he gets credit for.
I realize this won’t be a popular opinion to some, who will rightly cite some of Miller’s bungled plays leading directly to goals as proof positive that he should be exiled forever to the lower rungs of the professional hockey ladder, never to take another shift for the Bruins. Of course, the flip side of that is- show me any NHL defenseman who plays enough minutes at this level, and you’ll see some poor plays that lead to bad goals. Like the dead people in the Sixth Sense, once folks lock onto a favorite target- they’ll see what they want to see, so if Miller is a bum, it’s easy to single him out for abuse.
The purpose of this post is not to argue that Miller is a potential All-Star, nor is it to feed into the idea that he’s a drag on the rest of his team and was not worthy of the $2.5M AAV and four-year investment the B’s made in him.
As is usually the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Miller is a fairly vanilla defender: he’s an average skater without much in the way of quick acceleration, but who is rugged and plays with an edge. His offensive numbers are better than one would expect for a shutdown style ‘D’ without high-end skills. He’s a natural leader and former prep (Berkshire School) and college captain who is a respected teammate and put in tremendous work to reach the NHL.
It’s a thoughtful, analytics-driven look at the most effective defensemen in the NHL from last season, and while advanced stats don’t tell the whole story, Miller’s numbers when compared to those of Zdeno Chara and Colin Miller, the other two teammates the author used for the study (boy, I sure would’ve liked to see him use Torey Krug here), are pretty favorable. If anything- it directly contradicts the idea propagated around the Internet that Miller is “horrible” or “can’t defend.”
Here’s the HERO (Horizontal Evaluative Rankings Optic) chart comparing Miller to that of trade deadline darling Kris Russell, done courtesy of the most excellent hockey analytics source and blog Own The Puck by MimicoHero http://ownthepuck.blogspot.com:
The numbers don’t lie. When it comes to things that matter on defense such as shot suppression and possession, Miller clearly has the advantage over Russell and it isn’t close. Again- advanced stats aren’t the be-all, end-all when it comes to debating the merits of an NHL player, but Miller is nothing if a serviceable defender who actually looks like a solid bargain at $10M/2.5M per through age 32.
Now, some of the friction points working against Miller could lie in the following observations:
Both of Miller and Adam McQuaid on the 2016-17 Bruins roster is problematic. They’re both right shots and bring similar attributes in terms of style and substance. McQuaid is bigger and not as adept offensively, but both are nasty and because of the physical toll their rugged style takes on their bodies, they’ve missed significant time to injuries in each of the past several NHL campaigns. Neither guy is a classic top-4 player (though if you look at the advanced metrics Miller is closer to that between the two), and when you add up their cap numbers, it’s far too much green to invest in a pair of guys like that. To say that Miller is incapable of making a positive impact is wrong. To argue that having both of Miller and McQuaid on the Boston roster puts the team at a disadvantage is a far more effective way of looking at it. One or the other…Miller or McQuaid. Something should give before the season starts because the pair effectively blocks a younger player from establishing himself at the NHL level, and if either one is on Claude Julien’s top pairing (and even middle pair is an issue), then this is not a playoff-caliber defense.
The tail end of observation No. 1 leads to a second significant challenge with Miller and that is simply- the B’s put him in a position to fail last season. At times, he was expected to carry the mail in a top-three role with expanded minutes and special teams, and naturally- his limitations were exposed. Miller is effective closer to the bottom of an NHL rotation, and he’s capable of being a solid matchup play and at even strength, when he doesn’t have his hands full as much with opponents who can make good use of added time and space. He’s not as big as Hal Gill was, but Miller is a better all-around player and defender. Unfortunately, like Gill later on in his Boston career- Miller has become an easy target with fans who just want to blame someone when a goal is scored against, never mind that the opposition’s top scorer was able to exploit a 1-on-1 matchup with the game but limited Miller.
Let’s face it- sometimes, it’s all about draft pedigree. Fans want to get behind sexy draft picks and big names- they tend to be much more skeptical of and harder on guys like Miller who come in as unknowns and outplay the “big guns.” Go back to the Reddit link I posted and look at some of Dougie Hamilton’s numbers in those categories. He’s better than Miller in a couple, egregiously worse in others. In the end, Kevan Miller’s 84.5 average (lower is better) across the various evaluated categories is better than Hamilton’s 98.2. One guy was drafted 9th overall in 2011, the other one had to make it on an invitation, fight his way onto the team and has managed to stick. Again- you can’t just hang your hat on the analytics, and no one in their right mind would trade Miller for Hamilton even-steven (no, not even Don Sweeney, guys- but nice try). The difference is- one player is making half of what the other guy makes, and maybe that $2.5AAV isn’t so terrible after all. (One more time- *not* saying Miller is better than Hamilton- put the straw man down) It’s all in how you use him, folks. That’s a legitimate debate to have, but you can’t do it in a vacuum- context matters.
Image courtesy of Greg Ezell/PezDOY
Okay- we had some fun with the image, but it’s tongue-in-cheek from this blog space. The reality is- TSP has time for Miller. He’s an honest, hard-nosed player who will give you every ounce of what he has. Unfortunately, in a results-oriented business, that alone isn’t going to lead his Bruins team to success, so the onus is on the GM to upgrade the talent around Miller so that he can be a capable and serviceable piece.
And therein lies the rub- I don’t think fans inherently dislike Miller at all. In fact, he was pretty popular when he first showed up and was hitting, fighting and playing solid D at a near veteran minimum cap hit. Alas- he lacks the high-end talent to be a firm top-4 NHL D, even if the analytics indicate he has a chance at it. Realistically- the more he plays, the more people will see him get burned, but by the same token, he suppresses a lot of chances he simply doesn’t get credit for because human nature means that those with an axe to grind will dwell on the mistakes.
Ultimately- Miller has been a nice find by the Boston scouting staff. He’s scrapped for every opportunity, but he’s a smart, driven guy- derailed a bit by shoulder injuries and the ruggedness of his style of play. On the downside- Miller and McQuaid are two fine soldiers, but the team can’t really afford to keep both. It’s the tough part of the business, but you figure the B’s signed the former before he could hit unrestricted free agency for a reason.
We’ll have to see what Sweeney and Co’s vision is for the defense and where Miller fits in, but he deserves a more even shake than the one he’s gotten. In the right role, he’s a lot like what these guys are singing:
Five years ago, the Boston Bruins had just won the Stanley Cup and made six selections 10 days after raising hockey’s silver chalice in Vancouver. Just two picks from the 2011 Bruins draft class remain: fourth-round choice Brian Ferlin reached the NHL in 2014-15 season, playing seven big league games (1 assist) before his development was derailed by concussion issues stemming from a hit he took in the 2015 AHL playoffs. (Editor’s note- Alexander Khokhlachev- taken 40th overall that year- is still technically Boston property after getting a qualifying offer to retain his rights as a RFA, but he signed with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL and if he ever makes it back to the NHL, it won’t likely be with the Bruins.)
Defenseman Rob O’Gara, who was drafted one round after Ferlin, has taken a longer, more gradual developmental path to pro hockey, but is finally beginning his first full season after completing a four-year degree at Yale University. The 23-year-old (he celebrated his birthday last week), who spent another year in prep hockey with the Milton Academy Mustangs after the Bruins made him the final selection of the fifth round (151st overall) five years ago, won a NCAA title as a freshman and earned ECAC defensive defenseman of the year as a junior. Although he has just five pro hockey games under his belt (he did score his 1st pro goal in the process) with a late-season appearance in the AHL with Providence, O’Gara is a dark horse candidate to see playing time in Boston at some point this season if everything breaks right for him.
This post will peel back the onion so to speak on one of Boston’s more unheralded prospects- a guy who has been as consistent and effective a player since bursting onto the prep hockey scene six years ago and forcing NHL teams to take notice of him en route to Milton’s 2011 championship. O’Gara isn’t flashy, but with his size, skating and potential, he could be a solid contributor to the organization’s fortunes sooner rather than later.
Prep hockey 2010-12
O’Gara was an unknown commodity when he left his home in Nesconset and the Long Island Royals 16U minor hockey program for Massachusetts and prep school at Milton Academy.
At about 6-3 at the time (and very thin/lanky), he caught the eye of scouts immediately because he moved pretty well and didn’t show a lot of that gangly awkwardness that is so prevalent with players at that size/age. What also stood out was the contrast O’Gara provided to his Milton defense partner Pat McNally, another New York guy who had been drafted in 2010 by the Vancouver Canucks (now with the San Jose Sharks organization). McNally was an attacking, push-the-pace and often get caught up the ice defender, so O’Gara stood out for his more measured style and for the fact that McNally’s gambles at times meant that his partner was back to defend odd-man rushes on his own. O’Gara showed off a natural poise and smarts right away to go with an active stick- he landed on NHL radars and was identified as one of the top New York talents available in the 2011 draft.
O’Gara reached his zenith in March, when in the championship game against a Kent Lions team that featured current Boston Bruin Noel Acciari (the captain) along with 2012 NHL second-rounder Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, he made a critical play along the blue line to keep the puck inside the offensive zone during a 2-2 game late in regulation. He then made an on-target pass to teammate Sean Okita, who buried the puck for the winning goal. O’Gara only had seven assists (along with two goals) that year, but one of those helpers was as big as it gets, which gets to the heart of where his big league potential might truly lie: he’s always been big time in the clutch (more on that later).
O’Gara told TSP about the game and play just a few short weeks later, when yours truly maintained the 2011 Bruins Draft Watch blog:
“That was just amazing; I have trouble putting it into words sometimes just how awesome it was to be part of such a great team here,” O’Gara said recently from his Milton Academy dorm room, where he is finishing up the semester and playing lacrosse to keep his body in peak form. “We went back and watched the DVD of that game (3-2 win over Kent School) and the tempo was unbelievable- the fast pace of that game and how everything was up-and-down the whole time. We went into that third period with the score 2-2 and knowing that we had 18 minutes. It was do or die time and we pulled it off.”
Although not invited to the NHL’s annual draft combine because he was not ranked inside the top-50 among North American skaters, O’Gara interviewed with at least five NHL clubs during the spring and more clubs expressed interest before the draft. He and his family opted to stay home rather than travel to Minneapolis/St. Paul and he followed the selections along with his father, Brian (and mom Christine). Although the family grew up staunch NY Islanders fans and supporters, that all changed when the Bruins called Rob’s name at the end of the fifth round.
Soon afterwards, he attended his first Bruins development camp, arriving on July 6, 2011- his 18th birthday- and O’Gara was no doubt raw, but game- his skating and fluid footwork stood out in positive fashion even then. Current Bruins GM Don Sweeney was the assistant GM back then and long recognized as Boston’s player development chief. He had this to say about O’Gara after the first day of that camp:
“Robby [O’Gara]’s a piece of clay right now, albeit it’s a big piece. At 6’4” it can change. Things have come at him here a little quicker in the last, I’d say, eight months. But we got a chance, I did in particular and other people got a chance, to see him a lot…The good thing is there’s no timetable for him. He’s not going to get any smaller. He’s only going to fill out and continue to get better. And he’s going to be right in our backyard for another year then on to a real good program in Yale. So I think that he’ll learn a lot. He’ll be one of those kids that walks out of here, hopefully, and learns an awful lot and takes some of this stuff going forward.”– Sweeney
Here’s my own assessment of him from that very first on-ice session at development camp five years ago:
Turned 18 just yesterday and his skating really came to the fore today. He’s tall, but a stringbean. But, have to keep going back to the fluid stride and quick, agile footwork. Had he spent two years at Milton Academy before the draft instead of just the one, I’m convinced that he would have been as high as a third-round pick, but solid at least a solid fourth-rounder. I don’t think enough NHL teams knew about this kid going in, but Boston did because he plays in their backyard. Long-term project, but O’Gara could be a steal. Size + mobility + intelligence + character almost always = player.
He returned to Milton for his senior season in 2011-12, wearing the captain’s ‘C’ and while the team did not enjoy the success of the previous year with so many veteran departures, O’Gara produced at nearly a point per game pace (25 in 24 games after 9 in 29 as a junior) and was widely recognized as the top defenseman in prep hockey that season, earning All-New England recognition.
With that, he completed his prep career and moved on to the next challenge in New Haven, Conn. with Yale.
Yale University: 2012-16
O’Gara wasted little time demonstrating to head coach Keith Allain and ECAC hockey watchers that he was a worthy NHL prospect, quickly establishing himself in a lineup that would go on to win it all in the span of about five months once the 2012-13 campaign got underway.
As was the case in prep, O’Gara was relied upon to be a defense-first, stay-at-home guy as a freshman with the Elis, and he carried it off well, despite not finding the back of the net at all- posting seven assists in 37 games. Never one to dwell on the numbers, the real pride O’Gara had was in showing off the kind of ability and poise to earn a regular shift in Allain’s rotation throughout the year. His team allowed just two total goals in its two-game Frozen Four appearance that year in capturing Yale’s first (and only) NCAA title.
In Yale’s 4-0 championship game over Quinnipiac University, as the clock ticked down to zero, O’Gara was on the ice playing a tenacious defense and making sure that he did his part to preserve the shutout.
Rob O’Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (Photo courtesy of Rob O’Gara)
In the span of just two years, O’Gara had claimed the rarest of feats- championships at the high school and college level. While his Yale team was not able to repeat their national title in his remaining three NCAA seasons, O’Gara went on to earn numerous accolades under Allain and the Yale staff:
In 2013-14, O’Gara earned the team’s John Poinier Award as Yale’s top defender. He also earned Second All-Ivy and ECAC All-Academic honors.
In 2014-15, he was named the ECAC’s top defensive defenseman, which is impressive because he also posted his career-best in offense with six goals and 21 points, leading the Yale blue line in scoring. He was First Team ACA/CCM All-American (East), First-Team All-ECAC and First-Team All-Ivy among several other distinctions to include another Poinier Award as team defensive MVP.
2015-16 was disappointing statistically compared to his breakout in 2015, but O’Gara finished his college career strong, nominated for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player, named a semifinalist for the Walter Brown Award (New England’s top college player) and a second consecutive All-Ivy League First Team selection.
TSP featured O’Gara last October, as he prepared to embark on his senior year. For those who missed it, you can read it here.
“He really epitomizes what we want our hockey players to be,” said Yale coach Keith Allain, who also worked in the NHL for 15 years as an assistant coach, goalie coach and scout.
“He’s got great size and reach. He’s extremely mobile, particularly for a big guy. He has great defensive awareness, can make a pass and he’s got the ability to jump up into the play on offense. I see him as an all-around defenseman. I expect him to one day be a regular defenseman in the National Hockey League.”
O’Gara joined the Providence Bruins late in the season, commuting between Rhode Island and Connecticut so that he could complete his course work and graduate with the degree in Economics he worked four years to achieve. Scoring his first professional goal for the P-Bruins was an added thrill for a player who won’t likely be known for his contributions on the offensive side of the ledger, but who is built for the modern NHL with his sturdy 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame- the body sculpting having taken quite some time to build.
With nine defensemen in Wilmington this week, O’Gara is not required to join in the development camp fun, having benefited enough (in the team’s eyes) from his 2011-15 experiences. With his first full NHL training camp ahead in September, O’Gara will keep working out to prepare for that new challenge.
If you’re into flashy, “upside” players then O’Gara won’t be at the top of the list, but when it comes to the big-bodied, mobile and smart defenders that have become critical components to winning in the modern NHL, Boston’s investment over time appears to be inching closer to paying off.
He’s always been a smooth skater for his size- able to stay contain speed and prevent forwards from getting around him wide. While not an intimidating hitter and snarly type, O’Gara uses his body effectively and has made substantial gains in strength and quickness in the five years since the B’s chose him. With his long reach and positional savvy, he’s difficult to beat 1-on-1, but probably doesn’t get enough respect for his ability to skate with his head up and advance the puck quickly with a crisp outlet. This is not to say that he’ll be a classic two-way threat on defense, but he has enough in the feet, hands and head department that he can chip in with timely offense when needed. The guy is a winner- he always has been- and there is a great deal to be said for that. He made a critical play that resulted in a high school-level championship and then was put out in the final minute of a collegiate title as a freshman (full disclosure- his team was up by four goals)- that tells you all you need to know about what kind of performer O’Gara is when the game is on the line.
As Jack Nicholson aka Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessup once said- “You want me on that wall…you need me on that wall!”
Why O’Gara will play in the NHL this season: You can’t teach his size or physical attributes, and his steady development means that he’s mentally and physically ready to come in and play a lower pairing role right away (or in a pinch if the team is hit with injuries). He’s a likable guy who can walk into any room and fit right in because he’s always had the people skills and carried with him a measure of respect- he’ll sit down and listen/process everything around him and isn’t one to spend a lot of talking. When it comes to doing his job, O’Gara is the consummate quiet professional who gets after it without fanfare and is just as happy being a cog in the bigger machine- he doesn’t have a thirst for attention.
Why O’Gara won’t play in the NHL this season: Right now, the B’s have some pretty well-established veteran players on the blue-line who like O’Gara, are left-shooting players. There is no need to rush him to the big show when he can take another year to play prime minutes in the AHL in just about every situation and shoot for making the Boston lineup when he has more pro experience under his belt.
Whether he plays NHL minutes this season or doesn’t is not the question, but rather- that he continues to move forward and progress in his developmental trajectory. There will be ups and downs at the pro level, like many young players there are times when he will get caught puck watching or won’t make the physical play on defense when it is there for him. If you watch enough hockey, no matter how accomplished, every defenseman will be part of a goal scored against, it’s just a matter of learning from mistakes and not repeating them.
When it comes to Rob O’Gara, the promise he showed as a mature and capable prep school defender more than a half decade ago is coming sharply into focus. Dougie Hamilton, who was taken 142 spots earlier than O’Gara was, is a Boston footnote who now plays in Calgary. As we all know from the old tortoise and hare parable, the race is not always to the swift…it appears that Boston will benefit from the faith and patience they showed in this player.
Because of his playing style, O’Gara has never really occupied space near the top of the various Boston prospect lists nor has he been at the tip of everyone’s tongue when it comes to projecting who will meet or exceed expectations, but there aren’t many who have performed with more consistency or promise.
He’s on the verge of achieving that goal that others selected well before him have not yet come close to. Don’t call him a tortoise, but he’s been steady as she goes all along.
Weekend at Bergy’s has his first pro goal- a rocket from the point (wearing his old No. 15 from Milton Academy days):
UPDATE 1 3/29/4:15 pm EST: TSP has confirmed that Rob O’Gara is signed and in the fold with Boston. Later this week, he will ink the ATO to join the Providence Bruins for the rest of the season. According to ESPN’s John Buccigross, Sean Kuraly is under contract as well. That would put the Bruins at 48 contracts (see update below), so it might be an indicator that Tanev is a bridge too far, so they’re getting Kuraly in the mix to start his pro career now. Also in play- the B’s could allocate their final contract spot on Matt Grzelcyk (more on him below).
Even more out of the box- Maxim Chudinov still technically belongs to the B’s but with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation holding the cards to a transfer of Chudinov to North America this late in the season, it’s a real long shot (h/t to friend Dominic Tiano for the connecting of the dots here). Just like Sweden did with Carl Soderberg back in 2013, the World Championship is coming up and Russia undoubtedly wants him for that event with Chudinov’s team out of the KHL playoffs. We’re not even sure Boston wants to sign Chudinov at this point (and I expressed my doubts about that in a previous post), but I guess we shall see. I wouldn’t close the book on Tanev just yet, but O’Gara is confirmed and with Kuraly appearing to be as well, that means there is one deal left- unless I got the math wrong, which is possible.
UPDATE 2 3/29/7:54 pm EST: Because of the ATOs, the confirmed contracts for O’Gara and Kuraly do NOT count against the 50-max limit for Boston. B’s currently at 48. Thanks to Dom for getting that information from someone in the know on CBA and contract-related stuff.
Three more Boston Bruins prospects’ seasons ended in the NCAA over the weekend, with Boston University and Yale losing to Denver University and UMass-Lowell respectively.
Out of the NCAA tournament are BU Terriers Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Matt Grzelcyk. As reported on TSP yesterday, Rob O’Gara’s Yale Bulldogs fell in OT to UMass-Lowell and he should sign a 2-year entry-level deal with the Bruins real soon. What we don’t know yet is if the B’s will have him report to Providence to finish out the AHL season on an ATO (he won’t be eligible for the playoffs but can remain with the team to practice and work out with the minor league affiliate) but those details will follow.
Grzelcyk is in a similar boat: as a senior, his NCAA eligibility is exhausted, so he needs to be signed. Like Jimmy Vesey, he could opt for free agency on August 15 or sign with his hometown Bruins. TSP reached out to several sources about Grzelcyk’s status, but nothing solid has come back. In similar fashion to Sean Kuraly, the B’s can opt to wait on signing the BU captain until other contracts come off the books at the end of the season, but before the 15 August deadline to retain exclusive negotiating rights. The team could theoretically offer him an ATO to play in Providence, but without an NHL ELC in place, that would entail some risk on Grzelcyk’s part.
There has also been some below-the-radar buzz that the B’s were so impressed with JFK’s poise as a freshman that they might try to sign him right now (by right now I mean this offseason- not necessarily this week or next) and put him in the organization right away. That would be a tough loss to David Quinn’s Terriers, but if events of recent days are any indication, NHL teams might be forced to move earlier on prospects they feel strongly about rather than risk losing them to the existing NCAA loophole. Regardless, a decision on JFK doesn’t need to happen right now, so we’ll see how things play out in what is shaping up to be a very interesting offseason.
Don Sweeney and his team are still focused on trying to make the NHL playoffs, and given how much the Bruins were mocked at the 2015 NHL draft for what they were doing, they’re in a pretty decent spot as of right now. First things first, but signing O’Gara now makes sense and the team can afford to take a wait-and-see approach, especially with undrafted free agent Brandon Tanev still unsigned and the Bruins very much in the mix (though facing stiff competition from other serious suitors).
If Tanev signs along with O’Gara, that puts the Bruins at 49 contracts, so they might have to wait for the 2015-16 deals to expire before moving forward on anything else.
Here’s the final stats on JFK, Grzelcyk and O’Gara in the meantime. Since I covered him in depth in yesterday’s post, O’Gara’s writeup is a little thinner than the Terrier duo.
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University (HEA)
Season in review: After being the 45th overall selection in 2015 (incidentally the same exact draft position as that of Patrice Bergeron in 2003 and Ryan Spooner seven years later), JFK opened a lot of eyes around the Hockey East with his smooth, poised and refined game as a freshman, playing all 39 of his club’s games. At least two NHL scouts told TSP at various times during the season that JFK was the top player on the ice in games they witnessed, marveling at his smarts and ability to play such an effective and complete 200-foot game. The Stockholm native who spent the previous two years with Omaha of the USHL (a big reason for the disparity in statistics between his last junior season and first NCAA campaign) finished third on the team in scoring behind accomplished seniors Danny O’Regan (Sharks) and undrafted free agent Ahti Oksanen, a former defenseman who converted to forward as a junior. More impressive than the numbers, however, was JFK’s defensive presence on special teams and a polished, veteran-like ability in the faceoff dot.
Outlook: It would be interesting to see the B’s lure the 19-year-old out of school so soon, but not all that surprising. With the possible (probable?) departure of enigmatic center and restricted free agent Alexander Khokhlachev in the offseason, the Providence Bruins would have room to accommodate another young and talented pivot. One thing that could keep JFK at BU is that he’s on the lower spectrum of his physical development at present. Although he’s about 6-foot-1, he’s still pretty light at under 190 pounds and has one of those body types that will be hard to keep weight on his frame during the season. He’s not one of those players who pushes the pace throughout a game- he’s a good skater with a rangy stride, but at times will slow the play down and be more deliberate in the way he operates. We’ve seen him drive defenders back on their heels, so the capacity exists for JFK to be a dangerous offensive table-setter when he wants to be. Right now, he appears to be well on his way to eventually making the Bruins as a third-line center with top-two line upside who can do a little bit of everything for his team. Forsbacka-Karlsson draws a lot of comparisons to Bergeron in terms of his cerebral approach and versatility, but you couldn’t heap more pressure on a kid by likening him to No. 37, so we’ll have to see where it all leads. For now, the first of two second-round selections as part of the trio of picks acquired from Calgary last June for Dougie Hamilton, appears to be on track for bigger and better things in the not-too-distant future.
Games played: -14 Goals: even Assists: -15 Points: -15 Penalty Minutes: even +/- -15
Season in review: It was a tale of two hockey seasons for the second-year captain and Charlestown native who was picked in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by his hometown team. He missed the beginning of the year recovering from knee surgery last May and wasted no time making his presence felt, only to injure the opposite knee just six games into his schedule, forcing him to miss 12 total contests on the year. He tied his previous season high of 10 goals, including netting his first career NCAA hat trick against UMass. His assist totals dipped, but considering the number of games lost to injury, put him on a comparable pace to his junior year totals of 28 helpers and 41 total points. Offense was more of a challenge for BU this season, and that shouldn’t come as a major surprise given the loss of 2015 MVP and Hobey Baker-winning center Jack Eichel to the NHL. Grzelcyk gutted it out by playing through the pain associated with an LBI, and when speed is your bread-and-butter, that’s a significant challenge to overcome. He did it without complaint and aplomb, which is typical of his character and why his teammates elected him captain in a landslide. Twice.
Outlook: Although undersized, Grzelcyk has the speed, vision and hockey IQ to be an impact NHLer one day. The easy comparison in playing style is Torey Krug, but outside of the size, the two are their own defender. The former Belmont Hill and U.S. National Team star who led the Americans to a fourth-consecutive gold medal at the U18 championship in 2012 is a faster skater and plays more of a finesse game than Krug’s natural scrappiness. Krug is an aggressive shooter and despite his woes this season at finding the back of the net is probably the better finisher at the NHL level than Grzelcyk will be if he makes it. Both players can carry the puck out of their own zone and when the defender known as “Grizzy” has the time and gets it cranked up in his own end, he can effortlessly go coast-to-coast with the speed and puckhandling ability to beat defenses that try and stand up at the blue line. As mentioned previously, he has no NCAA eligibility remaining, so the Bruins have until August 15 to sign him to an ELC. Because the team is up against the 50 contract limit, they may opt to kick the can down the road until they get some breathing room at the end of the NHL season. Such a decision doesn’t speak ill of Grzelcyk, and where he fits into the organization’s plans going forward, but might reflect a desire for him to have a chance to get healthy and be fully ready to go for the 2016-17 season. Signing him now and sending him to Providence opens the door to the possibility of further injury; not sure the cost-benefit is there just to play a few pro games to close out the year.
Season in review: The numbers were down from what was expected a year after O’Gara posted his best offensive season with six goals and 21 points, to lead the Yale blue line in scoring. Even so, the senior logged consistent minutes in all situations and played a lot with Ryan Obuchowski (undrafted) as coach Keith Allain’s most trusted pairing. In bigger context, Yale is not an offensive team, but limits goals against and scores just enough to come out on top more often than not. Fixating on the statistics does not tell the entire story, even if the scoring totals were a step back for O’Gara this year.
Outlook: The former prep star and graduate of the Long Island Royals minor hockey program has the size (6-4/220) and smarts plus a top-shelf attitude to develop into an anchor-type presence on the Boston blue line. He’s not a flashy, top-end kind of defenseman but is a player you win with. He’s continued to grow and progress since the B’s took a chance on him in the wake of their Stanley Cup victory, but more seasoning and refinement for him in the AHL before he’s ready for primetime wouldn’t be a bad thing. At the same time, O’Gara has the maturity and physical attributes/experience to be a pleasant surprise at Bruins camp next year and challenge for an NHL job as early as 2016-17. Given that we don’t know what kind of offseason changes lie ahead, especially to Boston’s defense as a whole, trying to project O’Gara in the short term is premature.
I was invited to go on host on Edmonton-based Allan Mitchell aka Lowetide’s mid-day sports radio show on TSN 1260 yesterday.
Mr. Mitchell is a thoughtful guy with a lot of interest in hockey at all levels. Before the Oilers came along, he was a Bruins guy during their glory years of the early 1970s, so he’s been kind enough to have me on his show to talk Boston since 2011, when he got his own show and has developed quite a following. I do appreciate his kind words about the blog (and me) on his show.
Yesterday, I was asked about Boston’s youth movement (David Pastrnak, Noel Acciari), drilled down on Ryan Spooner’s progress, and an update on the Dougie Hamilton trade. I also talked Riley Tufte, Dante Fabbro and a New England prep sleeper for the 2016 NHL draft.
I hope you will give it a listen. I come on at the 6:55 mark of the SoundCloud clip for a 12-minute segment. And you can follow me on Twitter if you want more: @kluedeke29
Zach Trotman is poised to make the Bruins on opening night for the first time since he turned pro for the 2012-13 season. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)
Boston Bruins defenseman is an NHL draft rarity: he’s only the third player selected with the final pick in a class since 2000 to ever see a single shift in the NHL. The other two- Jonathan Ericsson (Red Wings- 2002) and Patric Hornqvist (Predators- 2005) have gone on to have solid big league careers, each with 400+ NHL games and counting.
Trotman’s 29 NHL games (1 goal, 5 points) is a far cry from them at present, but since the B’s traded with Chicago to acquire the pick they used to tab the Indiana native out of Lake Superior State University 210th overall, he’s gone on to reward the team’s patient approach with him.
At 6-foot-4 and a shade under 220 pounds headed into training camp, Trotman is one of the bigger and stronger players on the team. He’s a fluid skater for a guy his size and he sometimes does not get enough credit for his vision and ability to move the puck. His rocket shot forces penalty killing units to respect him by trying to disrupt and take away his time and space.
Though he’s not likely to ever develop into a dangerous two-way threat, his size, reach and smarts makes Trotman a good bet to be a solid supporting cast player as a bottom-pairing NHL defender with the chance to evolve his game into the middle pair with special teams contributions down the road.
Trotman spoke to the Scouting Post while on the road today to Indiana for a quick stop before he drives to Boston this week. With the B’s, the team that gave him a chance five years ago as a twice previously passed up player in the NHL draft, he is in the second of a 2-year pact and the first in which he receives 1-way pay. Bigger things are expected of Trotman this season and he has the inside track (in my view) of taking one of the available defense positions when the regular season begins.
It has been a pleasure to bring you this series, which started with center Ryan Spooner, continued with Boston blueliner Torey Krug in 2 parts, detoured a little with Flames goalie prospect and NCAA champion Jon Gillies before concluding with Trotman.
I think that sometimes, fans have trouble managing expectations due to draft pedigree. Some of the bigger critics of Trotman’s chances of sticking in the NHL would likely have less of an issue with him had he been 18 when drafted and picked earlier, but because he was just one selection away from being an undrafted free agent, some hold that against him. Well, that’s a fair point, but given how far he’s progressed from the raw, gangly 20-year-old at his first Boston development camp, I’d submit that the B’s have done pretty well with him. There will be bumps in the road along the way, but he’s got the tools and character to become a solid, if unspectacular presence at a bargain rate for this club, and has performed far better than a good number of defensemen taken well before him in the class of 2010.
Enjoy the interview- more in store with the blog this week, including a two-part rookie camps preview by Conference with players to watch and some guys I just happen to like and why I like ’em.
Kirk Luedeke: Zach, the last pick in the NHL Entry Draft may not come with as much fanfare as the “Mr. Irrelevant” selection in the NFL draft does, but take us back to 2010 and tell us what you remember about being the final pick, how you found out about it, and what it has meant to you to work your way into the 29 NHL games you have played since the 2013-14 season.
Zach Trotman: It started during my freshman season (at Lake Superior State University)- I started get to get a little more notoriety and some interest from NHL teams. I interviewed with New York and my agent had kind of told me there were some (NHL development) camps that I was going to be able to get into next summer and all that, so I kind of viewed it as a long shot to be drafted into the NHL and didn’t really think that I was going to have that opportunity.
I knew I was a late bloomer and I was coming around later, so I was hoping for a chance but never really expected to be drafted, so just the interest teams had and the possibility of being drafted was cool for me and then as it got closer to the draft, it seemed like it might happen, so I watched it…not real closely or anything…I watched the first round and a little bit of the second and third round the next day, so I was driving home from Lake State- was working camps up there. I was on the way home and it was kind of later (Kirk note- the 2010 draft was held on the West Coast in Los Angeles) five or six o’clock maybe, and my agent gave me a call. I thought, the draft is over, and I knew he was going to talk to a couple of teams about getting me into some camps, and so I thought that’s what his call was all about. He called me and told me that Chicago had traded the last overall pick to Boston and that they had picked me with it.
Naturally, I was ecstatic and awestruck I guess. It was a surreal feeling. I obviously called my parents right away and I was extremely excited and at the same time, I knew that it set me up for a lot of hard work that I had to do to overcome being the last overall pick- those are long odds. So, I think in a way, it kind of made me more focused and more determined to prove myself.
KL: You’re only the third player in the last 15 years going back to the 2000 NHL draft to play in an NHL game after being the last selection. The other two are Jonathan Ericsson in 2002 and Patric Hornqvist in 2005, so it is a rarity. People who have reached the NHL say that getting there is difficult enough, but staying in the NHL is the real challenge. What are your own thoughts and perspectives on that given your own experiences in Boston over the last two seasons?
ZT: I spent three years in Providence and my (first NHL when the Bruins were playing in Ottawa) call up was based on me being lucky enough to have my passport on me and that’s what gave me the opportunity just to get a game in. I think that was a huge opportunity and the fact that I think I had a pretty good game kind of opened eyes, like, ‘Oh, wow- he can play at this level,’ and from there it almost gave me a little more attention and allowed people to realize I had another level I could go to. So I think that you’re right- it takes a lot to get there, not only in terms of hard work and the right tools, but just the opportunities, too. And so actually being able to get there took a lot of things to line up right and once I did get there, and I wouldn’t consider that I’m there (in Boston) yet, even though I’m on the one-way next year- I have a lot of work ahead of me to stay at this level and play consistently and be successful both as a player and as a team, which is the biggest part.
I’m looking forward to the challenge from just getting there to staying there and becoming a regular and not just being a bubble guy or someone where people think- ‘maybe he can play here or maybe he can’t’ play here- I want to be one of those guys who can play every night and so that’s the next step and it’s something that’s going to be very difficult.
KL: Your first NHL goal came against Detroit. It was not only the winning goal, but happened in front of friends and family given your years spent living in Novi. How special was it for you not only to get that 1st NHL goal but to have it happen under those circumstances and against the Red Wings as well?
ZT: It was an awesome feeling- it was one of those things where I hadn’t really gone through a long stretch of games like that before where I hadn’t scored a goal. I’m not a huge goal scorer but I manage to get some in every once in a while with my shot, so being up there for quite a few games before it happened and then you get to a point where you say, ‘I’ve had my chances, and I’m wondering if I’m ever going to get another one to go in here,’ and then I just stuck with it and kept shooting and for that one to go through in overtime, in Detroit, with all my friends and family there and such a critical part of the season- it couldn’t have happened in a better way and looking back on it now, it makes the wait worth it- just to have the first goal be such a special one like that. It was incredible.
KL: Were you a Wings fan growing up? Who were some of the NHL players you always admired and rooted for? Who are some of the defensemen you’ve always tried to model your game after?
ZT: I was. I always watched Nick Lidstrom growing up and I’m sure there are a ton of defensemen who say that. But, being right there in Detroit and it gave me a chance to watch him a lot and obviously, everyone wants to model their game after a guy like that. The style of play…he was such a smart player who knew where everyone was, what was happening on the ice- it almost seemed effortless in the way he would shut down plays and move the puck and get his shot through. Those are all things I’ve always wanted to be able to do and bring to my game. Obviously, I’m less of the finesse side and a little bit more of the larger player side so I have to bring the physicality aspect along with that and those main things of moving the puck quickly and efficiently, being a smart IQ player and knowing what’s going on at all times and trying to use that to your advantage are definitely things I picked up on watching him over the years.
KL: Looking back on the several Bruins development camps you attended before becoming a pro, what aspects of your game do you think have seen the biggest improvement since 2010, and how important were those camps to your preparation in terms of getting to Providence and knowing some guys and understanding the systems and what was expected of you when you got there as opposed to seeing and hearing it all for the first time?
ZT: In college, we played a lot more of a man-on-man system, so for me, closing on guys was a lot different in pro than it was in college because I could contain more in college. Once I got to pro, and it’s more of a zone, you need to close on guys and end the play so that the rest of your teammates can read off of you and then the system starts to take effect. So, I think the biggest challenge for me was continuing how to learn to close on guys and using my size more efficiently to be physically punishing in corners and reading when I could jump a guy and really close him off like that. It wasn’t easy- it was difficult, and I struggled with it my first year and then progressively got better with it from there. I think that’s one thing that has improved a lot and can continue to improve. I would say that my physicality has gone up but some more big hits, learning how to catch guys a little more so I can make those closings and those hits in the corner more punishing on people so that the next time they go into the corner, they’re thinking about what happened the last time.
KL: So when you talk about closing on players and the man-to-man system you played in college versus the zone schemes Providence and Boston employ, for the layman- and I mean sometimes, players or analysts throw out terms that fans might not be familiar with, so this is a chance for Hockey 201 with Zach Trotman– you’re talking about gap control. So, for folks who might not know what that is- can you talk about gap control and why that is such an important skill for an NHL defenseman to have?
ZT: Whether it’s in the neutral zone or the offensive zone, it’s keeping the distance between me and the player with the puck or the puck itself close- a small distance so that when something happens or I have the opportunity to make a hit on a player to separate them from the puck, it’s not very far that I have to go to do that. I don’t give them extra room to make a play, I don’t give them room to get a shot off or have time to do something and feel comfortable with the puck. It comes back to watching Lidstrom when I grew up because I could recognize when can I play a little tighter on this guy or do I need to back off a little bit. So, that really gives me an extra step and jump a guy in the corner before he can make a play and be able to play tighter on guys and realizing when you can do that and taking a good angle on the play so they can’t beat you out of the corner or beat you down the wall on the rush.
KL: Bruins have had a summer of change here- what are your thoughts on how you felt when getting the news that both Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton were traded on the same day? The larger thing is that neither player brought back a plethora of talent that are expected to play and contribute right away. What are your thoughts on the opportunity that Dougie’s departure presents for someone like you and the other defensemen in the Boston system?
ZT: Obviously, it’s an NHL defenseman that’s out of the system but it’s not one that is going to be easily replaced. He was a huge presence- he ate up a lot of minutes and put up a lot of points. He was a very talented player and so in some way, shape or form, that’s a job we’re going to have to take care of as a (defense) corps and especially the right-handed ‘D’ this year- finding a way to create offense to make up for that loss, and then trying to eat up those minutes. He’s a good player and he ‘ll be tough to replace, but I think we can do it.
Seeing Looch go obviously is tough because he’s a great guy as well, and he’s a very hard-nosed, physical player that can put up points. He’s a Bruins-type player, but every once in a while I guess things just have to change and the team needs some fresh faces. We’ve got some guys like (Matt) Beleskey and (Jimmy) Hayes that are big and play that hard, strong game. I think the team has filled in what we lost or traded and I think we’re going to be a really good team this year.
KL: Do you think that you and Torey Krug– I know you’re an Indiana native but you can also claim Michigan because you spent a lot of years and finished high school there- a couple of Michigan guys would be a good pairing there in Boston and are you looking forward to maybe seeing more of a chance to settle in and play some extended minutes with him if it works out?
ZT: I think I played with him a couple of times last year at points and he’s an extremely talented offensive player and he’s extremely smart in the d-zone as well, so playing with a guy who can move the puck like that, who can make plays offensively would be a complementary pairing where I can be more of a shutdown guy and keep it simple in the offensive zone by getting my shots through and covering for him so that he can feel like he can jump in the play. I think it would be a blast to play with Torey- he’s a really talented player. He plays with a lot of heart and that’s something that’s contagious.
KL: Congratulations on your engagement- is it safe to say that the people of Boston might eventually see an even bigger talent with your fiance, Jeanna, who got her Master’s from Boston University’s journalism school and is already the sports director for her television station in Rochester, Minnesota?
ZT: Yeah- she’s definitely got all the talent over there (laughter). Talent and hard work- that’s how she’s earned her success- I just try to keep up.