B’s 2019 trade deadline thoughts as final stretch begins

Okay, so it wasn’t a headline-grabbing trade deadline,  but the B’s have gone 1-0-0-1 with 3 out of 4 points since acquiring veteran forwards Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson in separate trades last week and on Monday’s annual NHL trade deadline.

We’re  all still waiting on Don Sweeney’s “signature” trade- he’s made some relatively minor deals in his tenure as GM since succeeding Peter Chiarelli in spring 2015, but as of yet, we haven’t seen a major franchise-altering transaction under his watch. And that’s okay- as of right now at least- because it’s hard to argue that the Bruins haven’t at least improved since Sweeney sent scoring prospect Ryan Donato and a 5th pick to Minnesota for the Weymouth native and former San Jose 1st-rounder in 2010.

The biggest challenge facing Sweeney and Co. is the specter of the NHL’s top club in Tampa Bay (who summarily dismissed the B’s from the postseason a year ago) and an improving Toronto Maple Leafs franchise who will be an even tougher out (after taking Boston to seven games in the first round last year). It’s entirely possible that some of the consternation about what the team did at the deadline you might see out there from media and fans alike has to do with how potent the Atlantic Division is and that the perception is that Boston didn’t do enough. That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes and no one ever said winning a championship is easy.

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Happy 2019- Winter Classic thoughts

2019 is here and the Boston Bruins helped ring in the new year in style with a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL’s annual (since 2008) Winter Classic outdoor game.

Boston’s third trip outside on New Year’s Day was played at the iconic University of Notre Dame football stadium in South Bend, Indiana, the first time a non-football event was played in the home of the Fighting Irish. The B’s were 1-1 in the NHL’s signature event, beating the Philadelphia Flyers at (Frozen) Fenway Park eight years ago on a Marco Sturm OT goal, but getting pumped by the Montreal Canadiens at the home of the New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, in 2016 by a 5-1 score.

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Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

For goaltender Tuukka Rask, the 2019 game was a chance for redemption, and he found it, playing well with 36 saves including multiple breakaways and grade A scoring chances. It was also a milestone event for the veteran netminder who has only known Boston as his NHL home since the 2007-08 season. He passed Hall of Fame goalie Cecil “Tiny” Thompson as the goalie with the most career appearances in franchise history. Rask will soon own the most regular season victories for the team as well.

The soon-to-be-32-year-old may be the most polarizing figure we have seen and covered in the 40+ years of following the team as fan and correspondent. A top talent and former 1st-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was dealt to the B’s for Andrew Raycroft even-steven nearly 13 years ago, Rask is often a study in extremes. Ardent fans and supporters often pointing fingers at everyone else on the roster but the man in net when the team doesn’t win with him in the net, while there is an equally obnoxious segment of Boston fans who seem to revel in affixing blame to Rask at every opportunity and making him a convenient scapegoat for their frustrations with the club. There seems to be very little middle ground in the increasingly toxic social media environment when it comes to Rask, but at least in this space, we’ve always tried to be fair-minded in our treatment of the embattled veteran. On this day, he did his job well, and looked every bit the player the Bruins need him to be if they are going to secure a spot in the NHL playoffs for the third consecutive season this spring. The combat math is pretty simple: Rask and Jaroslav Halak give the Bruins the best 1-2 goalie punch in the league. When both of them are on top of their games, the team can beat anyone.

Which brings us to the next point- Patrice Bergeron. It never gets old watching the de facto captain play a textbook complete game of hockey. NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp talked yesterday after the game about how if you polled most NHL players about which player they would want on their team in a one-game, winner-take-all match for the Stanley Cup, you would probably see a large percentage of them vote for Boston’s consummate pro.

Yesterday, we all saw his greatness for what it is- a furious back check to deny a scoring chance at one end that would have opened up a 3-1 advantage for the ‘Hawks, and moments later, an effortless backhand shot that tied the game and opened the door for the B’s to win it on Sean “Clutch” Kuraly’s third period rebound marker (another backhand shot).

At this point of Bergeron’s career, we’re out of superlatives to describe him. He’s the hockey student of the game’s idol- a player who simply does everything right, all day, every day. Some folks are drawn to the sizzle that so many super talents of hockey provide with their speed, pace and skill- you absolutely need those guys. And, the players who rack up oodles of points are always going to get more positive attention than those with middle-of-the-pack numbers. Here’s the rub, though-  those who have careers with skin in the game- whose job security depends on being on the right side of the win-loss column- Bergeron is an inspiration. The Bruins may not have multiple Stanley Cup championships to show for it, but since Bergeron joined the club as a precocious 18-year-old rookie in 2003, it has been a prosperous era for the team despite setbacks and disappointments along the way.

It’s hard to believe because there were other players who popped offensively earlier in their careers, but Bergeron has quietly and steadily climbed to be the third-highest scorer in the storied 2003 NHL Entry Draft class, behind only Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf with his 769 career points in 989 games. He’s tied with Thomas Vanek (who will play his 1,000th NHL game on Jan. 4), but Vanek’s days of high production are over- Bergeron will blow by him and establish himself solidly in 3rd behind Staal and Getzlaf. What’s important about this is that offense has never really been the thing that has defined Bergeron’s Hall of Fame career, but he’s proven that the consistent approach of 50-60 points year after year, has helped to propel him to the top of one of the greatest collective draft groups in NHL history. He should have gone over 1,000 NHL games played about 2-3 years ago and would be closing in on 1,000 career points and might be the No. 1 scorer of the 2003 draftees had it not been for 1.5 years of  lockouts and almost 2 full seasons lost to injuries of various types. But even with all the missed time, Bergeron’s impact on the Bruins and the game of hockey cannot be undersold. He is the greatest defensive forward in NHL history. No disrespect to Canadiens great Bob Gainey, who inspired the very Frank J. Selke Trophy which rewards two-way excellence up front, but Bergeron hasn’t benefited from a dynastic machine that the Habs were in the 1970’s, and the offensive production isn’t close.

Simply put- No. 37 is the best there ever was, and he’s inspired a generation of players who want to do things the right way and focus on the habits and details that are lost on so many who can only really focus on the flashy stuff that makes the game so great. There’s room for it all of course, but if I’m in a 1-game knife fight for my hockey life, there’s one guy I’d sell my soul for to have in my lineup: Patrice Bergeron.

Brad Marchand is heating up at the right time. We of course love what David Pastrnak is doing, but the driving engine of Boston’s offense is the Lil’ Ball of Hate, and when he’s finding the back of the net, the wins are plentiful. He generated multiple scoring chances and in the waning seconds, hit the empty net- notching his 42nd point of the season to quietly move closer to Pastrnak’s team-leading 50 points.

Just like Bergeron, both of these forwards embody the luck of the NHL draft- had anyone known what kind of an impact they would have, you’d have seen them go off the board with the 1st or 2nd overall selections in their respective years, and yet, they both essentially fell into Boston’s lap. In a time where fans spend more time kvetching about who the team missed on, it’s sometimes nice to be reminded that the B’s scouting staff, long under the guiding hand of veteran talent chief Scott Bradley and Ryan Nadeau’s vision and leadership, has had some tremendous bargain finds over the years. And we haven’t even gotten into Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jack Studnicka and Jakub Lauko yet.

And like Bergeron, Marchand is ascending to the top of the 2006 draft’s scoring list. Of all the players from that class, only Niklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux and Jonathan Toews have more than Marchand’s 503 points and counting.

Finally, it was great to see Zdeno Chara out there after returning from injury. Like Tim Wakefield near the end of his MLB career, Chara is a lifetime Bruin, though he played elsewhere before making the Hub his home. He has quietly racked up nearly 1,000 games in the Black and Gold, and like Bergeron, is headed for a place in Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s not the horse he was in his prime, but the steady play, experience and value he provides cannot be understated. Once he retires, whenever that is, the B’s will have a challenge to replace what he means to the club on and off the ice. Instead of rushing to anoint the next wave of youth (and there are some worthy heirs coming down the pipeline), we should all embrace the legend and enjoy him for as long as we can. Once he’s gone, we may not ever see another player quite like him.

Okay- that about does it. Here’s hoping you all have a great and prosperous 2019. Thanks as always for reading the sporadic posts on the blog- didn’t cover all the ground I wanted to on this one, but be on the lookout for more content as the season goes on.

Boston Bruins v Calgary Flames

Another B’s audio cast: Frederick, Studnicka, Zboril, Cehlarik plus Joe Murphy & NJ Devils new/old threads

Hey all- back with another audio cast file (Eric Carmen voice) all by myself

In this 60+ minute audio cast, I continue my Boston Bruins prospect series, going with a couple of centers in Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka, both of whom I have a strong feeling will play for the B’s at some point (unless one or the other is involved in a higher-profile trade, which is possible- you never know). Also covered is 2015 13th overall pick Jakub Zboril, who had a solid 1st pro season- we try to be fair to him here. Last on deck for this one is Slovak forward Peter Cehlarik, who faces an important season after being a late third-round selection in 2013, a draft that hasn’t produced a great deal for Boston.

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3 Amigos Podcast Ep. 11: Bruins NHL Draft recap with 2nd-rounder Jack Studnicka & Free Agency preview

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The 3 Amigos are back with our post- 2017 NHL Entry Draft wrap-up show featuring Boston’s 2nd-round selection (53rd overall) Jack Studnicka, center for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Dominic Tiano worked with the Gennies to have Jack join us, and he talks about myriad topics, including his final U16 season (before being a 1st-round OHL draft pick) with Belle Tire under coach Kyle Krug, father of B’s D Torey.

Reed Duthie, Dom and myself not only interview Jack, but also break down all of Boston’s picks and discuss possible free agent targets as the annual open market derby begins Saturday, July 1.

We didn’t talk Noel Acciari’s 2-year contract extension announced yesterday, but Acciari has been a solid undrafted free agent addition, and he even showed an ability to generate some important offense down the stretch last season.

Here’s the audio- it clocks in at a little over 90 minutes. We know the audio isn’t the greatest but again- this is three guys doing this because we enjoy it- not because we’re the highest-tech operation. We appreciate your time and support in listening- we know there are plenty of other podcast options out there.

 

 

2017 Bruins Draft Review: More Steak than Sizzle

CHICAGO- The Boston Bruins entered the 2017 NHL Entry Draft with six selections and just three in the first three 111 slots after making a total of nine picks in the first two rounds in the previous pair of years. The B’s held onto all of their picks, but didn’t come away with a lot of draft excitement and buzz, even if several of the players they chose appear to have the talent and potential to one day play for the parent club.

Assistant GM Scott Bradley returned to the helm of running the B’s draft with previous amateur scouting director Keith Gretzky leaving Boston last August to take the same position with the Edmonton Oilers, where he was reunited with former Bruins boss who hired him, Peter Chiarelli. This draft class reflects Bradley’s value-based philosophy and willingness to take less risk in favor of drafting players who embrace the team’s style and represent better potential roster fits.

Here’s a quick recap of all of Boston’s picks in the draft’s two days and what fans might expect from the new arrivals down the road:

Urho Vaakanainen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Urho Vaakanainen, Rd 1.- pick 18

Left defense; 6-1/181; 01 Jan 99; JyP Jyvaskyla (Finland- SM Liiga)

Central Scouting rank: 8- Europe; Red Line Report: 50 ISS: 34 Hockey Prospect: 11

Talent analysis: Good height and long limbs; plus-skater who can move with speed, quickness and agility. Breaks out pucks efficiently with head up. Will join the rush and can handle the puck effectively from the blue line when the play is in the offensive zone. Smart defensive player who uses his length and reach to deny paths to the net. Not overly physical and prefers to use angles, gap work and  a quick stick to keep opponents from generating scoring chances. Six points for JyP in his second pro season in the SM-Liiga, but could be on the verge of breaking out offensively with SaiPa next season.

Pick analysis: Vaakanainen was the eighth-ranked European skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service and projected to go around where the B’s drafted him. Some public lists had him closer to 11-13 range, while others had him solidly in the second round. The Bruins were looking to add a quality left-shot defenseman and when countryman Juuso Valimaki went off the board to the Calgary Flames at 16, the team went with another of Finland’s quality young D who was a member of both of his country’s successful two most recent U18 squads (gold, silver in 2016-17) and the very disappointing 2017 U20 World Jr. Team. Vaakanainen is not all that flashy or dynamic a player, but he is mobile, skilled and represents a potential blossoming offensive upside that may not be reflected in his pedestrian stats. He’s probably not a high-end prospect, but a solid complementary kind of player who further strengthens the future left side and gives GM Don Sweeney more options to move some of the prospects out in potential packages for NHL-level trades.

On the board at 18: F- Kristian Vesalainen; F- Ryan Poehling; F- Kailer Yamamoto; F- Eeli Tolvanen; F- Klim Kostin; F- Robert Thomas; D- Nic Hague; F- Filip Chytil; D- Connor Timmins; F- Isaac Ratcliffe; D- Pierre-Olivier Joseph; G- Jake Oettinger

Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Jack Studnicka, Rd 2.- pick 53

Center; 6-1/172; 18 Feb 99; Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Central Scouting rank: 120- North America; Red Line Report: 68; ISS: 41; Hockey Prospect: 73

Talent analysis: Rangy center’s stock really came on after a disappointing regular season got a surge with strong OHL playoff and subsequent World Under-18 tournament performances. His thin, reedy build will require significant off-ice conditioning work to add some mass and strength to. Above average skater who has the quick-burst to get to pucks in short areas and can also beat defenders in open ice. Handles and shoots the puck well; has the offensive tool kit to put up bigger numbers in the OHL next year and beyond. A smart, hard-working two-way center who is good on faceoffs and understands the importance of three-zone hockey. Solid citizen and leader type- will have a letter on his jersey at some point.

Pick analysis: Doesn’t project as a top-line offensive threat but has the potential to develop into a solid third-line center with a second-line ceiling if he can take another step in his development. Rankings for Studnicka were all over the map, but the reality is- he was a late-rising player whose ability to step up in key moments with the Gennies and Team Canada (albeit in disappointing Hlinka and U18 finishes) speaks well to his pro potential. More Jack-of-all-Trades versus sleek, sexy scoring forward, but there is always value to having these kinds of players on your NHL roster if he can earn a spot one day. There weren’t many complete players of Studnicka’s ability on the board at 53, but there were some prospects with a bigger risk-reward factors, so time will tell if going the safer route was the right decision.

On the board at 53: G- Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen; G- Michael DiPietro; G- Keith Petruzzelli; F- Joni Ikonen; F- Matthew Strome; D- Josh Brook; F- Morgan Geekie; G- Matthew Villalta; D- Ben Mirageas; D- Reilly Walsh;

 

Jeremy Swayman, Rd 4.- pick 111

Goaltender; 6-2/190; 24 Nov 98; Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)

Central Scouting rank: 12- North America; Red Line Report: NR; Hockey Prospect: NR

Talent analysis: High-end athlete with good size who probably isn’t finished growing (his dad is 6-6) checks all the boxes for a developmental project goalie. Excellent quickness and great hands- glove and blocker are effective at catching pucks or directing them away from danger areas. Gets a good lateral push and tracks pucks well. Put up very good save percentage and GAA numbers (.914, 2.90) on a non-playoff USHL club, and was often lost in the spotlight of other bigger-name goalies playing in that league. Needs to be more patient at times- gets caught trying to do too much and will have to put in the work to refine his game and keep getting better. Says all the right things, but the proof will be in the continued progression and body of work.

Pick analysis: Textbook case of the perception of the “shallow” 2017 NHL draft, where many of the more conventional and established names on public lists were passed on by teams who scouted their own players and went with a lesser known commodity in Swayman, an Alaska native who played for a tougher-to-see USHL club. Originally thought to be spending another year in junior, TSP confirmed that Swayman will play at the University of Maine next season. That may or may not be the best for his development, but the B’s and fans will likely have to get used to what could be a bit of a rollercoaster for him in terms of strong vs. shaky outings and stretches of play. Swayman’s pure physical package means that he’s bound to have some quality starts that will generate buzz, but he’s also likely to have some rougher stretches that will underscore the time and patience needed to properly develop a goaltender in this day and age.

On the board at 111: F- Kyle Olson; D- Michael Karow; F- Noah Cates; G- Cayden Primeau; F- Nick Campoli

 

Cedric Pare, Rd. 6- pick 173

Center; 6-2/205; 24 Jan 99; Saint John Sea Dogs

Central Scouting Rank: 146- North America

Talent analysis: Big-bodied, toolsy center who didn’t see a lot of playing time on a stacked, veteran team that won the QMJHL championship and played for the 2017 Memorial Cup. Strong below the dots and in the corners, but skating needs to improve mainly in the first steps and lateral agility to boost an effective short-area game. Hard shot, but needs to get it off faster. Grinds for pucks and does well to shield them in possession but not overly skilled or creative. At his best when driving the net and using his size to box out defenders.

Pick analysis: This is a pure project selection that drew a mixed bag of reviews, as several NHL scouts informally polled either liked the pick or didn’t. Conventional thought is that Pare, who resembles a blend of Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Spooner in terms of his looks, has a chance to play a more prominent role in Saint John next season. He’s not flashy, but plays that heavy-on-pucks style the Bruins like. Time will tell if they were ahead of the curve in terms of a budding offensive game, or if he’s going to be another in a glut of bottom-line prospects.

On the board at 173: F- Morgan Barron, F- Sasha Chmelevski; F- Cole Guttman; G- Dylan Ferguson

Cedric Pare (Kirk Luedeke photo)

 

5. Victor Berglund, Rd. 7- pick 195

Right Defense; 6-0/165; 02 Aug 99; MoDo (Sweden)

Central Scouting Rank: 109- Europe

Talent analysis: Small, skilled defender was a total stealth/under the radar pick, as no one we were with at the draft knew who he was. We’ll let Bradley describe him thus: “Our Swedish guys were on top of him. They think he’s a mobile D. He’s skilled, ultra-skilled, and he skates well. Small. Six-footer, but [European scouts] P.J. [Axelsson] and Sven [Svensson] and Victor [Nybladh], they were pounding the table for him and we went along with it and I think we might have something there. Talking to his strength coach after the pick, he’s got him working on putting some muscle and weight on so we look forward to seeing him, too, at development camp.”

Pick analysis: It’s the seventh round. Why not?

On the board at 195: G- Cayden Primeau; F- Sammy Walker; F- Logan Cockerill; D- Croix Evingson; D- Phil Kemp

 

6. Daniel Bukac, Rd. 7- pick 204

Right Defense; 6-4/195; 29 Apr 99; Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Central Scouting Rank: 173; Red Line Report: 97

Talent analysis: Big, rangy Czech defender is raw and needs a lot of development, but could have a decent payoff down the road. Good skater for his size who will get better and more powerful in his stride as he adds lower leg strength. Long stick- terrific reach. Didn’t put up many points, but had a tough transition to North America with the Wheaties and came on strong at the end. More from Bradley: “He’s raw. He’s a project. Kid from the Czech Republic that played in the Western Hockey League. At the start of the year – he’s come leaps and bounds with his development. Talking to the people – the coaches, the management, and the GM in Brandon, they’re very excited about him coming back to Brandon. They’re expecting big things from him. We look forward to seeing him in camp.”

Pick analysis: When you’re picking this late, taking a project D with size and upside is a pretty good way to go.

On the board at 204: G- Dayton Rasmussen; F- Nick Swaney; D- Dylan Coghlan