Reed Duthie: Off the top of the head- Oskar Steen

Reed Duthie is back with another deep-dive on a European Bruins prospect- this time, Oskar Steen, who just completed his first North American pro season. The Off the top of the head and Then & Now prospect series are exclusive to The Scouting Post and we hope you are enjoying the analysis of B’s futures. -KL

oskar-steen-2020-32

In the 6th round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft the Boston Bruins used the 165th overall selection on an exciting talent from Karlstad, Sweden who had seen a breakout year jumping from Farjestad BK U20 in the SuperElit to Farjestad BK senior side in the SHL.

Immediately upon his selection Oskar Steen became one of the most intriguing prospects in the Bruins system.

As a 17-year old in the 2015-16 season, Steen was outstanding in the U20 circuit, collecting 8 goals & 24 assists for 32 points in 33 games finishing 2nd on his team, behind only August Gunnarsson who was playing his 19-year old season. Steen earned a callup to Farjestad BK in the SHL for a 17-game run where the diminutive but offensively gifted 17-year old would register 6 assists and even appear in five SHL playoff games.

Beginning the 2016-17 season, Steen clearly showed the brass for Farjestad BK and the Bruins that they had something special, recording 11 points in just 8 games at the U20 level before spending the rest of the season in the senior ranks, skating in 47 games for Farjestad BK and another 4 for legendary Swedish side MoDo in Allsvenskan (where he played with future Bruins draft pick Victor Berglund) and appeared in all 7 playoff games for Farjestad BK. Steen would spend he 2017-18 devleoping in the SHL recording 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points in 45 games for Farjestad BK and appeared in another 5 playoff games for the club but was able to strut his stuff at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships recording 4 points across 7 games playing a key role as a #2 center in Sweden’s silver medal performance.

It was the 2018-19 season that would see Steen kick his game into another gear, leading Farjestad BK in points by a forward with 37 and finishing 2nd on the team to Joakim Nygard in goals with 17 across 46 games following it up with 7 points in 14 playoff games. That run was enough for the Bruins to transition the centerman to North America for the shortened 19-20 season but Steen would show signs of the type of player he can be, finishing his AHL rookie campaign with Providence scoring 7 goals and 16 assists for 23 point, good for 8th on a fairly loaded Providence roster, while showing his durability playing in 60 games (only Ryan Fitzgerald & Josiah Didier played in more, 61 each).

Assets:

Hockey IQ – An incredibly intelligent player, Steen has the ability to read the play well ahead of the pace and react quickly because of it. His advanced mind for the game has allowed him to successfully transition from the junior level to the senior level in his home country of Sweden and then transition again to the AHL all while still being an effective contributor in multiple facets.

Versatility – From using his tremendous intelligence for the game and from his developmental time with Farjestad BK, Steen has developed a very well-rounded game. A contributor for all 200-feet of the ice, Steen is a danger with and without the puck and can play in both power-play and short-handed situations and excel in any situation on the ice.

Speed – Excellent skater with quick acceleration, though his stride will begin somewhat short Steen quickly accelerates and lengthens his stride relying on his low center of gravity and powerful legs to drive him to full speed (think Sami Kapanen).

Vision/Distribution – Though not afraid to shoot the puck, as evidenced by his 17-goal outburst in his final SHL season, Steen is at his best with the puck on his stick locating his teammates with pinpoint passes to free them into open ice and scoring opportunities. Many of Steen’s scoring opportunities have come from defenders overplaying the pass and allowing him to use an ever-improving shot and release to find the back of the net.

Weaknesses:

Size – Not as big of a hindrance as it once was but standing 5’9’’ & 187 lbs, Steen is certainly not the biggest bear in the forest. Steen is able to use his bowling ball-like frame effectively, though he won’t go out of his way for contact he won’t avoid it either, relying on his strong balance, low center of gravity and smarts to win battles. Against larger defenders Steen can be simply outsized but is crafty enough to be able to beat them one-on-one.

Organizational Depth – If Steen were a natural winger his path to the Boston Bruins would be much clearer, however as a center he finds himself in a logjam behind the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle & Sean Kuraly at the NHL level with fellow Providence teammates Jack Studnicka & Trent Frederic knocking on the door and 2019 1st Round Pick John Beecher a little further away.

Future:

A steal of a 6th round pick, Don Sweeney and the Bruins staff (*cough* P.J. Axelsson *cough*) must be commended for finding such a talent late in the draft and for having a hand in quickly developing him into a player who could knock at the door of an NHL spot as early as the 2020-21 season. Steen profiles as a player who could contribute in the middle-6, and brings the type of versatility the Bruins like with a serious offensive flair. With the depth at center in the organization, it would likely benefit both Steen and the Bruins to transition to the wing. A natural right-hand shot, Steen has the intelligence and versatility to excel on either wing and would very quickly cut down his time to an opportunity with the Bruins.

He is a player to keep an eye on, a versatile and skilled  forward with jam who could be another late-round, homegrown talent that could contribute in multiple faces of the game moving forward as the Bruins look to develop their next core of talent.

Oskar Steen with a nice shorty in his final Swedish season before signing with the B’s

 

Bruins prospect interview: Kyle Keyser

Dominic Tiano did the bulk of the work here to do up the background post and track B’s undrafted free agent goaltender Kyle Keyser. We’re both glad to give you the most current update on a player who came from a non-traditional hockey market, but who played his junior hockey with one of the OHL’s most storied franchises- the Oshawa Generals. The Gennies, who most recently won the Memorial Cup in 2015, are responsible for producing some of the top Boston Bruins players in franchise history: Rick Middleton, Terry O’Reilly, Wayne Cashman, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton and…Bobby Orr. Without further ado, enjoy this post and interview about one of the more unheralded prospects in the B’s organization. With Tuukka Rask firmly entrenched as the No. 1, but getting a little long in the tooth, the Bruins must start looking to the future in net, and Keyser deserves greater attention despite not having been drafted.- KL

Goalie #38 Kyle Keyser of the Oshawa Generals

Photo: Brandon Taylor/OHL Images

A future NHL goaltender from Coral Springs Florida?

Hockey was gaining steam in Florida and more and more youngsters were getting into the game at the time Boston Bruins prospect Kyle Keyser was. But very few were willing to strap on the pads with visions of guarding the 4 X 6 cage at the National Hockey League level.

Keyser finds himself at the doorstep, but it has not been the traditional route you see goalkeepers take.

As a 14-year-old, Keyser made the move to Michigan to play Bantam AAA hockey for Belle Tire for the 2013-14 season. The following year, Keyser guarded the net for the Victory Honda Under-16 team. He even got into a game for the Under-18 squad and all he did was shut the door stopping every shot he faced.

Prior to the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, Oshawa Generals General Manager Roger Hunt had his sights set on drafting Keyser and made no secret about it. But the Flint Firebirds selected Keyser with the fourth round, 74th overall, four spots before the Generals would make their selection.

Keyser would appear in 17 games during his rookie season and was named the Ivan Tennant Memorial Award as the top academic high school player.

But prior to the 2016-17 season, Keyser asked for a trade and there was no doubt Hunt would get his netminder. Hunt would give Flint back their own second round pick at the 2017 Priority Selection to acquire Keyser.

Keyser’s NHL draft year was his first with the Generals where he posted a 3.41 goals-against-average and .891 save-percentage. And much like it has been throughout his career, his numbers are always better in the playoffs as he posted a 2.37 goals-against-average and .937 save-percentage- A true money goaltender.

Many independent scouting services had him ranked for the NHL Draft. NHL Central Scouting had him 11th among North American goaltenders. Yours Truly had him as the third ranked goaltender from the OHL behind Michael DiPietro (Round 3, 64th overall – Vancouver Canucks) and Matthew Villalta (Round 3, 72nd overall – Los Angeles Kings).

No one really knows why NHL GM’s didn’t call his name at the draft. However, the NHL CBA allows teams to sign undrafted prospects to an Entry Level Contract prior to the start of the NHL season and on October 3, 2017 Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney did just that, inking Keyser to a 3-year deal. The Bruins saw enough of Keyser to make the decision an easy one that season as they drafted Keyser’s Oshawa teammate Jack Studnicka in the second round, 53rd overall.

The 2018-19 season saw Keyser take his game to yet another level, having his best regular season to date. But as I said earlier, Keyser is a money goaltender and during the Generals playoff run stood on his head leading his team to playoff wins over the rival Peterborough Petes and the heavily favoured Niagara IceDogs. It was going to take a miracle to win the Conference Finals over the Ottawa 67’s and few, if any, gave the Generals any chance of winning the series. Keyser had the best playoff save-percentage in 25 years heading into the series. But Keyser gave his teammates just that – a chance. The best performance I had ever seen from Keyser was in game 4 of that series. Leading 1-0 going into the third period and his team being outshot 24 – 18, Keyser put on a performance to be remembered during the third period as the 67’s pelted the netminder with 19 shots while the Generals mustered just 4.

But with less then 3 minutes remaining in the third, things fell apart in front of Keyser. William Ennis took the dreaded delay of game penalty and just a minute later, Nico Gross took a checking to the head penalty leaving the Gennies two men down. With DiPietro on the bench for an extra attacker and skating 6 on 3, Keyser turned aside chance after chance and tracked the puck like a bat tracks an insect.

With just 34 seconds remaining, Tye Felhaber would tie the game and send it into overtime. Still on the powerplay, Felhaber would win it just 20 seconds into overtime.

With junior hockey in the rearview, Keyser completed his first season of hockey with limited action in Providence of the AHL and Atlanta of the ECHL, looking forward to the 2020-21 as a springboard to his continued development.

Kirk and I had the chance to talk to Keyser in a question and answer session:

The Scouting Post: With all that is going on in the world today, first off, I hope you and your family are staying safe and well, have you begun any offseason training or will that come later on in the summer?

Kyle Keyser: Fortunately, with all the craziness going on in todays society, my family and I have been fortunate to be staying healthy amongst the uncertainty and challenging times that we face in the world today. It has obviously been disappointing to all of us with the season being postponed and not being able to be at the rink every day with the boys. I have started my off-season training with as many resources as I have available with keeping a conscious mind of prioritizing staying smart and healthy with workouts at my home. We have an excellent strength coach in Providence with Timmy Lebossiere, which he has been providing us at home workouts to stay heathy and in shape during these trying times. I’ve been working out 6 days a week trying to maintain good levels of strength and conditioning through his programs but the actual hard training aspect of summer won’t begin until things have resolved or slowed down with COVID-19.

TSP: Your path so far is not what you’d call a typical one, especially for a goaltender. What, as a kid from Coral Springs Florida, got you into the game and what possessed you to become a goaltender? Which goaltender did you admire growing up and do you try and model your game after him?

KK: Growing up in south Florida is not a traditional path for most people but has really allowed me to evolve into the person and goaltender that I am today. I grew up around the rinks as my older brother, Spencer, got into the game at a young age so it was natural for me to be around hockey all the time as I grew up and I fell in love with it around 3 years old and never stopped looking forward. I grew up idolizing Martin Brodeur as my favorite goalie and he was the person I constantly watched as I was growing up. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really started to watch Tuukka (Rask) and Sergei Bobrovsky as people I enjoy watching and molding my game after. This season unfortunately I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to, so I took the down time to really study a lot of their film and watch every one of their games when I was able to. I bought the NHL subscription pass to be able to watch all the Boston and Florida games whenever I could to see how they play different situations and break down their game film.

TSP: I’ve been following the OHL since the early 1970’s and I can honestly say one of the best single game performances from a goaltender I’ve seen was your game 4 performance versus Ottawa in the Conference Finals in 2019. I’m not sure you are aware of this, but heading into that series, you had the best playoff save-percentage in 25 years. Despite losing 2-1 in overtime, it was a performance to remember. What do you remember most about that game?

KK: Game 4 vs Ottawa was one of the most fun times I’ve had playing hockey. The entire playoffs, I was on an extreme adrenaline rush of playing the highest level of hockey and just trying too help our team make it as far as possible. In regards to that specific game, I felt that I was in a zone that only an athlete would be able to understand. I was doing my best to help our team’s season continue and move as far as we could. It was such an intense hockey game and series that I knew I had to play the best hockey of my life to give our team a chance to win that game. We fought extremely hard throughout the entire process and game and unfortunately, we came up a bit short. I wanted to win that series and game so bad that I knew that the only way to do that was being at my best. The hardest part of the game was knowing that if I didn’t perform my very best, that I was never going to be able to play another game in that uniform for my teammates and management, which puts a lot of things in perspective. I just wanted to go out and leave every ounce of energy and heart that I had to make sure I could give us a chance to win the game and crawl back into the series one game at a time.

TSP: In 2019, OHL coaches voted you as the best puck handling goaltender, after finishing second a year earlier. In today’s game, removing the trapezoid could have a huge impact. Do you have an opinion on whether it should remain or stay in the game?

KK: In regards to the trapezoid, I believe its an incredibly important part of the game and I wouldn’t want to remove it because it keeps the goalie in a safe environment where they know they won’t get run over or injured. Playing the puck sometimes puts you in vulnerable positions as a goalie and by removing it, I think you’d find a lot more injuries for goalies trying to help their team, which I’m all for keeping goalies more safe. I love playing the puck and being active to help our team escape sticky situations, but removing the trapezoid would increase unnecessary risk and I think its necessary to keep players and goalies protected without changing the integrity of the game.

TSP: Beyond the obvious speed/skill/age-experience factor of shooters, what have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your transition from major junior to pro hockey?

KK: I think the biggest difference is how smart the players are in pro hockey. You’re always trying to be one step ahead of your opponent at any level and its just that much harder when the players are that much more skilled. There’s not a big discrepancy in the first and fourth lines in pro hockey, so you have to be aware and alert at all times when they are coming at you regardless of who is on the ice. Another huge challenge is living on your own for the first time and being able to manage being an adult while focusing on hockey all the time. Making sure you’re eating the right foods and cooking good food to allow yourself to be at the highest level is definitely a challenge when you’re doing those things for the first time. Its a huge adjustment in learning how to balance everything in your life and making sure that you’re doing that at an elite level to be able to perform your best with a clear mind.

TSP: As the game continues to evolve with the ever-increasing speed and skill of the skaters and greater structure/systems and innovations teams are employing to improve scoring, what are some of the things you and your goalie coaches are doing to improve fundamentals like skating/footwork, hands, athleticism and even some of the tactical in-game strategies you can use as a goaltender to ensure you are on top of your game?

KK38: I think the biggest improvement and area of focus for me this year with our goalie coaches was working on the positioning aspect of the game. You find out quickly that some of the things you got away with in juniors, won’t work at the next level. I’ve always relied on my athleticism to make a lot of saves but I’ve tried to improve on using my size and positioning as the base for most of my saves in allowing myself to be square to the puck. I know that I can use my athleticism if I need to but I don’t want that to be my default in all situations. I want to have good strong positioning and patience to be able to make easy saves and then use my athletic and explosive abilities to make saves that would require those skills. Using my positioning has been a main emphasis point of focus to allow myself to be ahead of the play and then using my athletic abilities as a last resort to make saves instead of using that as my foundation.

TSP: Who are some of the best shooters you’ve faced in your career to date, and what about them made it so difficult to defend/prevent them from scoring?

KK: Just from my experiences in training camp, some of the hardest shooters to stop would be guys like (David) Pastrnak and (Brad) Marchand. The reason is that they’re so good at not giving away where they’re going to shoot the puck and they’re always keeping you guessing. As a goalie, you’re always looking to gain an advantage in reading shooters and their tendencies but when shooters of their caliber are as unpredictable as they are, it makes it very difficult to read what they’re going to do or where they’re going to shoot. You really have to challenge yourself to be patient on your feet and make sure you’re in the best possible position to give them the least amount of space and net to shoot at because most times, if there are holes in your positioning, they’re going to exploit those areas and make you pay. Those two guys have always been difficult to stop and read from my past three training camps in Boston.

TSP: What has your experience in the Bruins organization been like with regard to the coaching, player development and person-to-person interactions you have received since signing with the team? Who has been the most instrumental in your development as a player and person?

KK: My experience so far in Boston has been nothing short of incredible. From top to bottom, the organization is first class in their staff and how they treat each and every player. Whether you’re a perennial 50 goal scorer or on an entry level deal, they treat every player with the same amount of respect and honesty, which goes a long way. I have been extremely fortunate to know that they will always put me in good positions to succeed and give me all the resources I need to play at the highest level. Coach (Bob) Essensa and Coach (Mike) Dunham, the two goalie coaches in the organization have been instrumental in my success and ability to grow. They have helped me understand different aspects of the position that I wasn’t aware of the importance. They have allowed me to grow tremendously as an individual and as a goalie by always encouraging me to improve and try new things that I didn’t know I needed to.

As an athlete, you’re always working on things to get better and reach the highest levels and those two guys have always been right by my side to provide me with insightful information and new things to help me accomplish that, so I know without their guidance, I would not be in the position I am today. They’re so great at being genuinely great people and always dropping everything if I ever needed anything whether it be from a hockey or personal aspect of life. I’m very grateful for their support and guidance throughout this journey thus far and I’m excited to keep working with them every day and growing as a person and goalie.

We want to thank Kyle Keyser for taking the time to share his insights with us here, and to 3 Amigo Dom for setting it all up and providing the analysis in this post.

 

Podcast: Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network breaks down B’s prospects

The Scouting Post is pleased to present a 2-hour and change discussion with Anthony Kwetkowski– Bruins Network on his excellent work as a Boston Bruins prospect analyst.

You can follow his work and observations on Twitter at: @BruinsNetwork

In the podcast, we cover a lot of topics, starting out with a look back at the 2010 NHL draft, where Anthony caught the B’s prospects bug with the Tyler Seguin draft. We then  take a macro look at the Boston Bruins’ ability to draft (Jake DeBrusk) and sign impact players as undrafted free agents (Torey Krug, Noel Acciari, Karson Kuhlman), following up with an assessment of the 2019-20 AHL Providence Bruins. We then drill down to key AHL prospects, with AK breaking down detailed notes on Providence players  Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Zach Senyshyn.

We also talk about organizational rankings around the NHL- how they are done and why the Bruins are consistently down near the bottom of rankings from the last two years.

Players also covered/analyzed in the podcast: John Beecher, Nick Wolff, Jack Ahcan, Cooper Zech, Victor Berglund and Quinn Olson.

It was a fun discussion and we’ll have him back again- thanks again to him for coming on and providing such depth of knowledge of these players. Here’s the file:

BruinsNetwork

Dominic Tiano: A Look Back at the Man They Call ‘Studs’

 

Jack Studnicka of the Oshawa Generals. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

(Photo credit: Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Guest post by Dominic Tiano:

As most of you know, my priority is the Ontario Hockey League and the NHL Draft because that’s where my eyes are mostly focused. And when my fellow Amigos suggested that I compare what I said back in 2017 about Jack Studnicka to where he is now, I couldn’t resist even though I could have been way off the mark.

So, lets go back to March 5, 2017 when I first wrote this:

I don’t believe Studnicka is an offense first player, which I see tagged to him plenty. He puts as much attention to detail on the defensive side as he does on the offense. He plays in all situations and takes key faceoffs for the Generals. He’s quietly become the Generals’ top face off man at 53%. It’s his extremely high compete level that makes him pay attention at both ends.

Studnicka has good size – although adding bulk will be key for him. He is an excellent skater who has an explosive first step and decent top end speed who can change direction with ease. He possesses very good vision with high quality playmaking skills with an ability to set up his teammates. His shot is underrated in my opinion. His release is deceptive and accurate and he puts every shot on goal with a purpose.

Studnicka can be elusive in the offensive zone. He can break away from coverage almost undetected and put himself into scoring positions. He has very good puck skills and strong possession skills. Although he needs to add some muscle, he will not shy away from the hard areas. Once he gets stronger, it will become an area where he wins more often than he loses because of it – and his work ethic.

If anything has changed in three years its that he has improved even on the skills he was already good at. Yes, he was deemed as just an offensive player in many circles back then, but not to these eyes. What has impressed me most is that he continues to put the work in, even in areas he excels at. And that continued work defensively has only made him stronger in that area. He was one of the best penalty killers in the AHL and while he took care of his own zone, he was a threat to score while down a man each and every time.

While he was already a “polished” skater in the faceoff circle, that wasn’t enough for Captain Jack. Much like Patrice Bergeron – he has similar traits to the Bruins Alternate Captain – he continues to work at it to become even better. For Studnicka, like Bergeron, good is just never good enough.

All that hard work has paid off for Studnicka as he quickly moved up to the top of the Bruins prospect rankings, something I am sure even Jack didn’t think would happen this quickly.

If there is one area that I would have liked to see accelerated in this process, it’s adding bulk to his frame. While every part of his game – the IQ, vision, skating, 200-foot game, faceoff success, offense, penalty killing – are NHL ready, adding some extra bulk to his frame this offseason will prepare him for the long grind of the NHL season.

With the extra long offseason for Studnicka, the opportunity is there to put in the work. What we do know 100%, is that he will put in that work.

Off the top of the head: John Beecher

In this new series, will break down what we know about Bruins prospects and bring you up to speed. It’s “off the top of the head,” so there’s really not much else to it- not spending time scouring the internet to look at what others are saying, but just giving the wavetop look and trying to project what might come next.

John Beecher, C/LW

1st selection, 30th overall in 2019 NHL Entry Draft

Current team: University of Michigan (B1G 10)- rising sophomore

Previous team: U.S. NTDP U18

Strengths: Pro-style frame at 6-3/210 pounds- will get bigger and stronger. Terrific skater: plus-acceleration and first-step quickness; can blow by defenders in a straight line and has the agility to go east-west/pull defenders out of skating lanes. Hard worker who can do strong work along the walls when he’s on the flank or drive through the middle of the ice. Excels in puck possession, where he uses his big frame and natural strength to shield the puck and soften defenses up with an effective cycle game. Hard, heavy shot- dangerous below the dots.

Weaknesses: Puck skills are not high-end; isn’t going to carry it through traffic or beat many top D with 1-on-1 moves when he’s facing a tight/hard gap. Vision/offensive IQ is average- not overly creative. Can create space for linemates, but not a line driver. Not a punishing physical presence- long fuse and not afraid of contact, just doesn’t use his natural size to seek and destroy- inconsistent with finishing his hits.

Overall analysis: Generated a ton of excitement over the summer when he shined at Bruins development camp and in the Summer Hockey Showcase with Team USA, using that as a springboard to make the 2020 WJC team. Always kind of lost in the constellation of stars that comprised the USA ’01 birth year, Beecher is a surefire NHL player because of his physical attributes. With his size, speed and ability to get up and down the ice and drive right to the net, he’s tailor-made for the modern game, but he doesn’t have the pure offensive skills or instincts of other USA teammates like Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield and Matthew Boldy (to say nothing of 1st overall pick Jack Hughes). He scored .5 points per game as a true freshman at Michigan, which isn’t bad given his role. Unfortunately, he’s also the victim of inflated expectations that come from being a first-round NHL pick and one who got hyped because of the summer he had. He’s exactly a week away from turning 19, so this is an example of the hype train getting out of line with realistic expectations. All in all, he didn’t have a bad first NCAA season and he’ll get the opportunity to do more as a sophomore.

Projection: Beecher looks like a rock-solid eventual 3rd-line NHL center, but could move up or down the lineup and make an impact first on the wing. It’s not going to happen quickly for him (he’ll likely follow Trent Frederic’s blueprint and get seasoning in the AHL first), but he’s a good fit for the type of team the Bruins are all about: mobile, heavy on pucks and potentially has an untapped offensive dimension to his game. He’s not the physical, tough-to-play against type of forward like Frederic or Nick Ritchie, but as someone who has seen it firsthand, Beecher has it in him to grab the puck and skate down the ice like a runaway freight train…when he dips his shoulder and goes to the net it’s a thing of beauty.

He’s a complementary piece in our view, but the perfect kind of supporting cast player for a team like the Bruins, whose systems and style will suit him perfectly. The B’s could have drafted more skill at the 30th pick with someone like Bobby Brink, but Beecher is solid and after Jack Studnicka, represents the best the B’s have in the prospect pipeline at forward.

Here’s the USHL interview (Ben Gislason) with him after the Bruins called his name in Vancouver.

Ask the Amigos: Quarantine Podcast 2020

IMG_1906

Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Dom, Reed and Kirk got together for a 3 Amigos reunion, making sure to practice social distancing in the process.

We’ve got more than 2 hours of (mostly) hockey talk, breaking down questions that readers submitted. A lot of it centers around uncertainty around David Krejci and Torey Krug going forward, Jack Studnicka’s promising early returns, and a look at how expansion might impact the NHL and Boston Bruins in 2021.

We recorded the audio before news of the Jack Ahcan signing broke, so we don’t have anything on the newest free agent signing for the B’s, but you can check out the quick-hitter we posted on him here yesterday on the blog.

So, let’s go- here’s the audio file. We’ve also posted it over at SoundCloud so that you can listen on the go…

SoundCloud download:

B’s 2019 Development Camp in full swing

None of us are there, so relying on second hand reports, but the second day of Boston Bruins Development Camp is ongoing and a few prospects are attracting notice from various observers.

Here’s a quick recap:

Drafted division

Oskar Steen, F- We’ll admit we weren’t thrilled with Steen’s selection in the 2016 draft, but the ’98-born forward is coming off an impressive breakout season in his native Sweden’s highest pro league, putting up nearly a point per game and finishing 10th overall in scoring. He played center, but whether he slots in the middle in North America or splits out to the wing remains to be seen. He’s fast, agile, skilled and plays with some p & v. During a camp interview posted on the B’s Twitter feed, Steen says he’s coming in to make the big club, but barring a major run at camp/preseason, he’ll likely begin the year in Providence.

John Beecher, F- Boston’s top selection in Vancouver did not disappoint onlookers with his impressive skating/speed, plus won locals over with his declaration that he and his brother broke with family tradition to root for the Boston Red Sox growing up in a New York Yankees household. The Elmira, NY native was a Buffalo Sabres fan on the hockey side, but he’s hitting the right notes in his first look after being taken 30th overall. He’s big, powerful and can really scoot for one so big- if his offensive skills improve, the B’s could have a real prospect on their hands.

Pavel  Shen, F- The 2018 7th-rounder and Russian pro looks the part: decent size, skating and skills. He was a standout for Russia at the 2019 World Jr. Championship tourney last winter and could be a sleeper to develop into a solid NHL player at some point. He can handle the puck in tight spaces and has vision/creativity to make plays. If he pans out, it could be another feather in the cap for a Boston scouting staff that is doing a nice job of finding players from all corners of the globe.

Axel Andersson, D- Boston’s top choice (2nd round) a year ago can really skate- his wheels/footwork is the most impressive asset he brings to the table. The slick Swede checks the boxes for what the Bruins tend to value in their players: highly mobile and sees the ice pretty well. We’re not sure about the overall skill level for Andersson to develop into a top-3 NHL defenseman, but he appears to have the tools to be a role player and special teams asset. Interestingly enough, he was drafted today in the CHL Import Draft 30th overall by the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL- that marks the second year in a row that a CHL team has rolled the dice to select Andersson.

Jeremy Swayman, G- Somewhat of a surprise pick in 2017 simply because there were other more highly-ranked goaltenders in the USHL available when the B’s grabbed him in the 4th round, the University of Maine rising junior has posted two solid seasons in the Hockey East. He’s got the size, athletic ability and production/pedigree to continue to rise up the prospect ladder within the organization. On the downside, fans won’t get to see a head-to-head matchup between Swayman and undrafted free agent Kyle Keyser this week- Keyser is being held off the ice (along with Jakub Lauko and Jack Studnicka) after he got nicked up at some point during his playoff run in the OHL and AHL (plus Black Ace duty with the B’s).

Undrafted division

Kudos to the Bruins staff for having an impressive group of current and rising NCAA players here this week who had notable junior hockey careers. Here are a couple:

Matt Brown, F- The smallish but highly skilled ’99 just finished a 30-goal season with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL and will play at UMass-Lowell in the fall. He’s dynamic with the puck on his stick and plays with some real jam as a feisty underdog who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Brown was a key member of the USA squad that captured gold at the World Jr. A Challenge last December, beating pretty much the same Russian team that knocked out the USA NTDP galaxy of all stars in April at the World U18s. Looking back on it, given some of the players who were picked in Vancouver, Brown should have had his name called at some point, even late in the seventh round- that was probably a mistake for the NHL’s 31 clubs.

Nathan Burke, F- The former NAHL standout with the Aberdeen Wings would have been a top USHL player, but went in to the University of Minnesota this past season. He’s a smart playmaking forward who has excellent vision/hockey IQ and works hard on the details of his game. Although still pretty lean for his 6-foot frame, he’s noticeable for the way he tracks back on pucks and finds quiet ice in the offensive zone. Burke was rumored to be a close candidate to be drafted a year ago as a late bloomer in his final window of eligibility but it didn’t happen. Watch for him to be a high-profile NCAA free agent in 1-2 years when he can pick his destination, and fans will catch a glimpse of what could be this week.

Nick Wolff, D- Two-time NCAA champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is big and a nasty, tough competitor who helped anchor a suffocating defense in the NCHC last season. He’s massive at 6-4, and the skating isn’t a strength (especially when Scott Perunovich is flying around the same ice), but he’s a smart defender who uses his size, strength and stick effectively. The assistant captain from 2018-19 was rumored to be considering turning pro in the spring, but opted to return for his senior season, and he should sign a pro contract in the spring of 2020. Wolff attended B’s development camp a year ago and despite numerous offers by other teams opted to return to Boston in 2019. He’s a throwback type…if you liked Adam McQuaid, Wolff is a guy you’ll have time for as a defense-first, physical, hard-to-play against glue role D.

Cooper Zech, D- The B’s signed the Michigan native to an AHL deal after just one impressive NCAA season with Ferris State (where his teammates included Boston prospect Cam Clarke), putting up nearly a point per game. Although he never played in the USHL, Zech helped the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild win that league’s championship in 2018 and though he lacks size, is a fast, tenacious player who is already evoking comparisons to Connor Clifton. Zech doesn’t know Torey Krug personally, but according to Conor Ryan of Boston Sports Journal, Zech said that Krug’s dad Kyle once cut him from the Belle Tire 16U midget AAA team. That would put Zech in some pretty exclusive company…the elder Krug is famous for cutting another player back in the day you might have heard of…Mike Modano.

 

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.

Tuukka_Rask

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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