Boston Bruins prospect update 10/05/2015

Every Monday, will recap the statistical progress of the Boston Bruins prospects in both the amateur and professional ranks. This post will provide some insights and observations based on online viewings and anecdotal feedback from sources live at those games. We’re skipping the AHL report this time around because exhibition play is ongoing, but will fire up the reports on player progress once the games start counting.

This will probably evolve some as we go, so with the CHL season underway, let’s start with Boston’s kids playing in major junior:

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 5  Goals- 4 Assists- 0 Points- 4  Penalty Min- 0 +/-  -1

Senyshyn scored three goals in two games over the weekend, including a pair against Owen Sound on Saturday. He nearly ended the game in overtime on what would have been a hat trick score, as he showed off his explosive acceleration to blow past a defender in the neutral zone and go in alone on goaltender Michael McNiven (undrafted, but… EDIT- Montreal signed him to a 3-year ELC after an impressive rookie camp- as Emily Latella used to say- Never mind), but the Attack player denied him. Senyshyn did, however, tally the decisive goal in the shootout, securing the extra point for the Hounds. He followed up that 1st star performance with a “laser” of a goal (according to friend Dominic Tiano in attendance) against Hamilton on Sunday.

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 4  Goals- 1 Assists- 7 Points- 8  Penalty Min- 10 +/-  +9

The second-round selection this past June is off to a great start offensively, showing off a deftness and poise that no doubt earned him the praise that he entered the draft with. Although not a flashy, high-profile name like other defensemen in the ‘Q’ to include Boston’s top pick Jakub Zboril, Lauzon nevertheless skates well and exhibits fine instincts while on the point when the puck is in the offensive end. He works the puck to the net by keeping things simple and not taking a big windup all the time, and has the vision to find teammates in prime scoring positions as evidenced by his three-assist night on Saturday. Lauzon plays a solid defensive game and is not afraid to take the body.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

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

Boston’s first pick, 13th overall, has yet to make a mark on the score sheet, but has also played only a couple of games. He did have a memorable hit against fellow 2015 draft pick (Tampa Bay) Dennis Yan, putting a shoulder into the skilled American-Russian dual citizen as he crossed the Saint John blue line and flattening him. This is the rugged edge that Zboril has played with since coming over to North America, so even if the offense isn’t happening for him, he plays enough of a physical game to make an impact.

WHL

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

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

Two games, a goal in each contest for the 42-goal man from a year ago after he returned from Boston’s training camp. DeBrusk showed some promise in limited exhibition action, and the best way for him to keep his developmental curve headed upwards is to get back into the scoring swing. He’s got to keep adding mass to his skinny frame and rounding out his game, as bigger things will be expected of him a year from now. He probably won’t be ready for primetime, but the team will be looking for more production and greater impact at the next round of developmental and training camp sessions/games.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 3  Goals- 3 Assists- 0 Points- 3  Penalty Min- 4 +/-  -1

Gritty, agitating winger is with his third club since the start of last season and keeps drawing comparisons to his own favorite NHL player, Brad Marchand. A second-round talent who slipped to the fourth round over concerns about overall desire has a penchant for driving the net and using a fast release to find the back of the net. He’s off to a good start and can hopefully demonstrate a strong commitment on and off the ice to his new team.

Brandon Carlo, D  Tri-City Americans

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

After a solid training camp, the B’s signed Carlo to a three-year Entry-Level Contract last week before sending him back to junior for the rest of the season. A huge (6-5) but mobile rearguard, he’s going to be an effective shutdown player at the NHL level eventually with the potential to be a little more with his ability to make a good first pass and join the rush.

USHL

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls Stampede

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

Boston’s final pick in the 2015 draft is a University of Wisconsin recruit for 2016. He’s off to a good start and was cited as a raw, but intriguing player with boom potential after the B’s selected him out of Mahtomehdi (Minnesota) High. Edit- I spoke to Becker’s former teammate, 2016 draft eligible and 1st-round prospect Kieffer Bellows, who played with him at the end of last season in Sioux Falls. Bellows says that Becker is a smart, hard-working center who impressed him in the short time they skated together. Bellows knows all about it- his dad, Brian, was a top NHL scorer himself and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as the younger Bellows scored an astounding 42 goals (33 regular season, 9 more in playoffs en route to the Clark Cup championship) in just 60 USHL games. He’s now with the U.S. NTDP.

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago Steel

GP- 1  Min- 60 GA- 6  GAA- 6.00 Spct- .833

Ouch! Czech native was not warmly welcomed to North American Jr. A, getting roughed up by the Tri-City Storm in a 6-3 loss Friday.

NCAA

The college season is not yet underway, but BU freshman Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson tallied a pair of goals in an exhibition game over the weekend. Captain Matt Grzelcyk is not expected to be ready for the start of the regular season but is skating on his own since having May knee surgery and progressing well in his rehab. Denver University sophomore Danton Heinen also had a standout exhibition game, showing signs that his strong offensive debut season was not a fluke.

We’ll have more in this space when the regular season starts up, as a large number of Bruins prospects are skating in the NCAA rinks this season.

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (SHL)

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

Boston’s second pick (third round) in 2013 has missed four of his team’s first six games due to unspecified injury. As an aside- his Lulea teammates include former Bruins prospects Anton Hedman (2004 draft) and Jonathan Sigalet (2005).

Maxim Chudinov, D St. Petersburg (KHL)

GP- 16  Goals- 5 Assists- 2 Points- 7  Penalty Min- 32 +/-  -8

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (SHL)

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

Boston Bruins 2015-16 season preview: the Centers

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

In retrospect: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…well, not really. The 2014-15 NHL campaign was a rough one for the Boston Bruins’ men up the middle.

Patrice Bergeron led the club in scoring with 22 goals and 55 points- the lowest for a non-lockout season since 2009-10 when he and David Krejci both finished with 52 points. It was a step back for Bergeron from his 30 goals and 62 points in 2014, but Krejci’s season was downright miserable.

The 29-year-old missed 35 games and finished with just 7 goals and 31 points in the 47 contests he played after signing a lucrative contract extension that will pay him $43.5 million ($7.25M AAV) for the next six years starting in 2015. This is not to indict the team or player for that deal, but if the Bruins are going to take steps forward, then Krejci is going to have to put the last 12 months behind him and take his game back up to the level he’s capable of.

The good news for the team is that young pivot Ryan Spooner finally broke through after several years of teasing with flashes of his pure speed and offensive skill. He made the club out of camp, but after five games on a very short leash, he was returned to Providence where he battled injuries and up-and-down play until late January when he rounded into form and established himself as a consistent scoring presence. When Krejci went down for another extended absence in late February, Spooner returned to Boston and stayed there, finishing the year with 8 goals (his 1st in the NHL in spot duty the previous two seasons) and 18 points in 29 games (24 if you throw out the first five where he barely played).

Gone is third-liner Carl Soderberg (traded to Colorado for the 2016 pick Boston sent to the Avs for Max Talbot) and fourth line staple Gregory Campbell. Soderberg flashed his big-time ability in spots, but whereas he thrived in his third-line role, he was ineffective when asked to center one of the team’s top-two lines when Krejci was out. Campbell was a good soldier whose declining production and being on the wrong side of 30 made him a free agent departure to Columbus.

Overall, Boston’s 22nd-ranked offense (all the way down from third in 2014) was reflected in the team’s low scoring totals by their centers and the club’s non-playoff finish. Bergeron was steady and dependable, especially when it comes to the other things like faceoffs and defensive zone play, but the lack of production from Krejci and Soderberg, due in part to a dropoff on the wings, all contributed to a down year.

The view from here: Patrice Bergeron, as veteran forward Chris Kelly has often said, is Boston’s “Mr. Everything”- he’s arguably the true face of the franchise. He also turned 30 in July, a remarkable turn of events considering it seems like only yesterday that he was a fresh-faced 18-year-old rookie who made the veteran-laden 2003-04 Bruins out of camp after being the 45th overall selection in Nashville (with a compensation pick the B’s got for losing Bill Guerin to free agency). Since then, Bergeron has won a Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, both a men’s World and World Jr. championship and added three Frank Selke Trophies as the NHL’s top defensive forward. If you looked up “winning” in the Urban Dictionary, you’ll not find Charlie Sheen but Bergeron’s mug looking back at you.

He’s the team’s active points leader with 206 goals and 550 career points in 740 games, all with Boston. He currently sits 12th on the franchise’s all-time scoring list and is just 26 points from moving past Milt Schmidt. Assuming he stays healthy and posts another typical offensive year for him, he could move all the way up to eighth past Terry O’Reilly (606 points). Think of where Bergeron would be  on the scoring ledger had he not lost an entire 82-game season to the 04-05 lockout, another 72 games to the near career-ending hit from behind he took from Flyers defenseman Randy Jones (who?) and then another lockout-shortened half season in 2013.

What makes Bergeron so good is that he’s a complete player. Sure- he doesn’t have the open-ice speed, and to be honest- the Bruins are lucky he wasn’t quicker than he is now at age 17, or else there’s not much of a chance he would have been available for them to draft. Bergeron seriousness and dedication- evident from the very first time I sat down with him for an extended interview at our hotel in Nashville the day after the ’03 draft- is why he not only made the NHL just a few months after turning 18, and ahead of many of the more-heralded 44 picks in front of him, but is a big reason he’s thrived.

Any hopes the B’s have of getting back to being a playoff caliber club starts with him.

Krejci begins the year as the second-ranked active scorer with 409 points in 551 games. When healthy and on top of his game, he’s a cerebral centerman who compensates for his average size and speed with high-end playmaking skills like vision, soft hands and offensive creativity. The Czech product who was a steal at the 64th overall selection in 2004 is quiet off the ice but fiercely driven and competitive as evidenced by his 29 goals and 77 career playoff points, good for ninth all-time for the Bruins (and 11 more than Bergeron has in the postseason).

There isn’t much to add about the previous year’s performance other than to say that the Bruins must get more from him going forward or they’re going to be in trouble. His contract is paying him like a top-level producer, which he has shown he can be in the playoffs, but for a player who has never scored more than 23 goals or 73 points in an entire regular season, it was a generous increase, and for someone who will turn 30 in late April, the Bruins are counting on him taking his production to another level than what we have seen in his previous NHL seasons. Doable? Yes. Likely? That’s an entirely different debate.

Spooner is a speedy, skilled offensive forward who hit his stride after his second call-up late in the year, scoring his first NHL goal in sudden death against New Jersey and playing the best hockey of his young NHL career to finish out the season. At one time the youngest player in Peterborough Petes history to score 30 goals in a season, like Bergeron, he was the 45th overall pick (seven years after PB), slipping in the draft a bit due to a broken collarbone suffered right after the CHL Top Prospects Game in January 2010- dooming him to the “out of sight/out of mind” phenomenon that can occur in a player’s draft season. Although Spooner’s road to the NHL was more down than up, he earned a two-year contract extension and has the inside track to the third line center job when camp opens up in a few weeks. For a kid who appeared done and for whom trade rumors swirled in the first half of last season, he’s back to where the B’s thought he should be.

A player who enters camp with expectations of winning the fourth-line center job is Finnish veteran pro and newcomer Joonas Kemppainen. A member of the SM-Liiga’s championship team Karpat this past spring, Kemppainen has a big, 6-2, 200-pound frame and at age 27 is a mature two-way center who can do all of the little things you need. Although not especially fast, he has a powerful stride and uses his body well along the walls and in front of the net. He doesn’t have high-end puck skills, but he works hard in the trenches and gets his points off of opportunism and hard work. He was brought to development camp in July, but pulled a hamstring while working out at home before the trip, so fans unfortunately weren’t able to see him. He should be fine for camp, but this will be something to monitor and watch going forward.

Alexander Khokhlachev and Zack Phillips will also be vying for NHL jobs this season going into camp, but may have their hands full trying to make a splash with Boston. Koko is ready for NHL duty, but he may need to make a positional switch to the wing in order to do it. He’s not as fast as Spooner is, so splitting him out wide may be a better fit for his style of game and gives the Bruins more of a dynamic option scoring-wise- he’s not an ideal candidate for the duties and responsibilities of a fourth-line pivot, and he’d have to beat out one of the 1-3 centers to make it there, which, given his current body of work to date, is not likely.

Phillips, who was drafted 12 spots ahead of Koko in 2011 by the Wild (and Koko’s pick ended up being Minnesota’s 2nd-round selection- acquired in a trade that sent Chuck Kobasew out west early in 2009-10). He’s a talented offensive player who tallied 95 points in a Memorial Cup-winning campaign his draft year, but has struggled since to live up to the billing of being taken in the top-30. He performed well enough for Providence after being acquired even-up for Jared Knight at the deadline, tallying 11 points in 16 games, but has yet to show that he’s someone who will vie for regular NHL duty, at least as far as this season is concerned. At age 22 (he turns 23 in late Oct.), he has time, so it behooves the Bruins to take a wait-and-see approach.

Ryan Spooner enters his fourth professional season for the first time as an expected NHL roster player (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Ryan Spooner enters his fourth professional season for the first time as an expected NHL roster player (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

On the farm: If neither one of Koko or Phillips makes the Boston roster, they’ll be the 1-2 punch in Providence this year (though it stands to reason that Boston’s skilled Russian prospect might balk at another demotion- we shall see, and I’ll cover him in the forthcoming post on the B’s options on the wings as well).

There isn’t a whole lot else to speak of down in the AHL. Providence College captain Noel Acciari is a blue collar prospect as a versatile if not high-end offensive player who plays a rugged two-way game and hits everything in sight. He’s not an NHL option at this point, but has steadily developed at every other level and is a winner, having been a key part of the Friars’ first-ever NCAA title this past spring. He was a solid free agent pickup for the B’s.

Rugged WHL center Justin Hickman, a free agent signed last January after shutting it down for shoulder surgery, may be a diamond-in-the-rough at Providence this year. The former Seattle Thunderbirds captain didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, but he was starting to get there in his final major junior season until he went under the knife. He skates well for his size, plays a fearless game, and will stick up for teammates. He was still limited (no scrimmage) at development camp, but is expected to be cleared by the start of the season and could become a fan favorite in short order. Fellow WHLer Colby Cave may be another center option in Providence or could be switched to wing. He’s not as physical as Hickman but plays a smart, underrated offensive game as evidenced by the chemistry he showed at Swift Current last season with Jake DeBrusk. We’ll give him more coverage in the wingers section.

Diminutive little buzzsaw Austin Czarnik has the speed and style of game to turn heads in camp as well. Like Acciari, he captained his club- Miami University- and was a nice free agent get last spring. Although tiny by NHL standards (5-9, about 160 pounds), he’s a superb playmaking center with the quick feet and stick to back defenses up and cause problems for would-be checkers. Don’t know what I mean? Check out this highlight vid from the playoffs a few months back:

He’s going to do some good work in Providence and if he can be a forward version of Torey Krug and overcome the size bias, he has the versatility to play on the lower lines and at wing as well (though he’s best in the middle).

Look to the future: The B’s have some intriguing talent in the pipeline, even if there isn’t an elite center among a solid group of players.

Harvard University is eagerly awaiting Ryan Donato, Boston’s second-round selection in 2014 and the son of head coach (and former Bruin) Ted Donato. After starring for four years at Dexter Southfield in Brookline, Donato took his game last spring to the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, where he put up more than a point per game and silenced some of the critics and doubters. Although not blazing fast like his dad, he’s bigger and plays a more dangerous offensive game. He’s a long-term project with a sizable potential payoff.

Not too far away from seeing duty in Boston is current Miami University captain and senior Sean Kuraly, who was acquired in late June along with San Jose’s first-round pick in 2016 for goaltender Martin Jones. Though he hasn’t been overly productive in his NCAA career to date, he has that kind of potential as he enters the new year coming off a 19-goal junior campaign. He’s a heavy player who uses his size and quickness to excel in puck possession and is at his best when creating space for his linemates and taking pucks straight to the net. Don’t be surprised to see the B’s explore bringing him straight to Boston in March or April when his season ends.

Ryan Fitzgerald is entering his junior year at Boston College and will face the team’s newest center prospect, Swedish two-way playmaker Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, who is a freshman at Boston University. The two are similar in that they can both score and play responsible defensive hockey. ‘JFK’ is a little bigger and has the better draft pedigree, but don’t count out the 2013 fourth-rounder who appears to be on the verge of breaking out with some big-time production at the Heights. I’m not sure how that will translate at the pro level, but Fitzgerald’s hockey sense and bloodlines will take him far.

2015 sixth-rounder Cameron Hughes has a lot of skill and grit if not the size- but he’s expected to play a bigger role at the University of Wisconisin this season and is definitely a player to watch as a value selection.

The verdict: Center is the strongest position in Boston currently, even if the position lacks the dynamic scoring and production other teams can boast.

In Krejci, Bergeron and Spooner- if all stay healthy and produce to their potential, you’re looking at a balanced attack that will at least put the wingers in position to finish off plays. This isn’t a sexy group by league-wide standards, but they don’t have to be. Bergeron’s leadership will continue to pay off in the room, while Krejci is the kind of guy motivated by the lost season a year ago. He took the team’s failure to make the playoffs personally, but talk is cheap- it will be interesting to see how he responds and if he can avoid the injury bug, a legitimate concern given his slight frame and the wear and tear on his body.

Kemppainen is the favorite for the bottom line coming out of camp but he’s not a lock. Should he struggle or Koko have a great outing, the coaching staff will be faced with some tough decisions. The standard play is usually to send the waiver-exempt players down and protect those who must be exposed, so we’ll see how things turn out. Chris Kelly has the versatility to play a fourth-line center role if the B’s want to use him there, but given his faceoff strengths, it makes sense to put him on the wing with Spooner on the third line until the youngster can earn more defensive zone faceoff trust from the coaches.

Ultimately, as long as the group stays healthy, the center position will be the least of Boston’s worries, but whether they can be good enough to make up for the rest of the team’s shortcomings remains to be seen.

I’ll be back with the preview on the wingers to include future options like Denver University’s LW Danton Heinen, who might be closer to the show than we realize.

Chris Kelly could be pressed into center duties if others fail (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Chris Kelly could be pressed into center duties if others fail (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The third Jake: Forsbacka-Karlsson

My desire to be clever with the Jack Nicholson tie-in to the previous post, plus the fact that center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson was not participating in the Canada-Czech Republic game means he deserves a post to himself.

JFK is donning the scarlet and white, but don't be surprised if he trades that for the black and gold soon enough.

JFK is donning the scarlet and white, but don’t be surprised if he trades that for the black and gold soon enough.

The Stockholm native who came to the U.S. two years ago was a smart pick by the Boston Bruins, who snatched him up with the 45th overall selection. Other guys the B’s have landed at that precise position have done alright for the team: there’s Ryan Spooner in 2010, Patrice Bergeron in 2003 and Henry “the Medicine Hat Machine” Kuster in 1996. Wait, what?…Okay, so two outta three ain’t bad. (Kuster was a member of another disastrous Bruins draft class which pre-dated 2007 by 11 years but was just as unproductive.)

‘JFK’ who is taking his game to Boston already- though he’ll be plying his trade on Comm. Ave vs. Causeway Street- is a slick, promising two-way pivot who has Bruins hockey written all over him. The Bruins like to break down draft prospects into the 5 S’s: Size, Skating, Shot, Sense and Spirit (read: character, work ethic, toughness, leadership- the key intangibles) so, I’ll give a swag on him- watched him live at Omaha last season and many times on film including a little online action at Bruins development and USA national eval camps, so here we go:

Size: His listed 6-1, 195 vitals are a tad generous, but he’s got long limbs and will have enough strength to hold his own. He doesn’t have the frame to pack on much more mass, and it probably would work against him in so doing. He just needs to work on his upper- and lower-body strength as best he can while maintaining a healthy playing weight.

Skating: He’s an average skater who has a long enough stride, but lacks suddenness in his first few steps and does not possess a top-end gear. He moves pretty well laterally, and has the ability to jitterbug through lanes with an easy agility that makes him a difficult mark to line up in the open ice. Let’s face it- he’s not going to be a burner, but neither is Bergeron. He just needs to improve his short-area burst as much as he can and he’ll be mobile enough to succeed at the next level.

Shot: He doesn’t shoot the puck enough, but the raw tools are there for him to find the back of the net more often than his 26 times in 110 career USHL games with the Lancers. He kind of reminds me of an early NHL Adam Oates in that he’s always looking to dish and hit that open man for a prime scoring chance rather than unleash it himself.  He’s got a pro-caliber release and is pretty accurate with it, so getting more pucks on net will be key for him. When it comes to passing and puck skills, he’s smooth and efficient, carrying the biscuit with confidence and able to feather touch-passes for tap-ins or zip sauce feeds through traffic for the one-timer. He’s at his best when keeping it simple instead of employing cute toe-drags or dangles that work at the lower levels. As the late and legendary American coach Herb Brooks once said- “You’re not talented enough to win on talent alone,” and that applies to JFK.

Sense: JFK’s bread and butter- he’s intelligent and creative. He is what you would call an instinctive 200-foot player in that he can read the play, sense where the puck is going and put himself in position to make plays both offensively and defensively. He’s got that knack for understanding where he is in terms of time and space and can seamlessly transition from defense to offense in a heartbeat. He’s smart and disciplined enough not to make low percentage plays and is unselfish with the puck.  If he had that explosive initial burst, you’d see JFK zooming off on more breakaways… He’s extremely adept in the face-off circle, using a quick stick and some savvy strategies to win the bulk of his draws. As he gets stronger, he’ll get even better. I don’t know that he’ll be a top scoring threat in the NHL, but he’ll be one of those dependable role guys who makes his bones more in the playoffs at crunch time as opposed to putting up big regular season numbers.

Spirit: He’s a nice kid who speaks flawless English and is also a good teammate. He isn’t shy about naming Bergeron as the player he most tries to emulate and being around PB37 (when he eventually turns pro) will be great for JFK. He’s not a particularly gritty, fiery or tough to play against kind of guy, though. If you’re looking for urgency or someone who can really push the pace of a game the way a revved up Bergeron can (go back and watch Game 7 vs. Toronto in 2013 if you don’t know what I’m talking about), you’ll be disappointed with Forsbacka-Karlsson. He’s competitive, but not fiery…he skates hard, he’s just not coming at opponents in relentless fashion or putting defenses on their heels. He’s consistent and steady in his approach, and that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Outlook: This is a solid prospect- the kind of player you eventually win with, but he’s not flashy and isn’t going to come in and win a bunch of scoring titles. Fans should be patient with him, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him earn a big enough role as a freshman under David Quinn at BU this season because of his ability to play a disciplined game and excel on the PK. I see him as an ideal third-line center one day who might do some damage against other third-line units and lower defense pairings, but he’s going to take a while to develop and get himself in that kind of position to contribute.

Ask not what this prospect can do for you…ask what you can do to be patient and watch him grow.

Observations from USA World Jr. Evaluation Camp

I’ll keep this short and pithy, but watched streams of the two exhibition games at Lake Placid yesterday between USA White-Finland and USA Blue-Sweden.

Brandon Carlo, D USA White (Bruins)- Has the look of a modern prototype shutdown defenseman: big, fluid skater, positionally sound, tough to play against. He’s not a baggage-smasher type, but he uses his 6-5 frame and natural strength to knock opponents off the puck. I was also impressed with his confidence when handling the puck. He made quick outlets or grabbed it in the neutral zone and advanced it smartly up the ice. He’s not all that instinctive in the offensive end and doesn’t walk the blue line like top two-way defenders tend to, but he did have an assist on Sonny Milano’s second goal of the day. Keeper.

Anders Bjork, RW USA White (Bruins)- He was rotating in with Ryan Hitchcock (Yale- undrafted) so he didn’t take a regular shift. I noticed him more on the PK, where he used his speed and quick stick to pressure the Finnish puck carrier and break it out the other way. He’s an effective forechecker and energy player.

Scott Eansor, C USA White (Seattle Thunderbirds- eligible 2016)- Small ’96 from Colorado can really skate and hustle- he was buzzing all game and creating scoring chances, finding the back of the net once. Reminds me a little of Tyler Johnson back in 2010- undrafted little plucky kid from the WHL who got things done. It was one game, and he’s not an offensive dynamo in the WHL (14 goals, 37 points in 72 games) but I want to see more.

Erik Foley, LW USA Blue (Jets)- No surprise here, but this is a player I have been high on for some time and he showed it on one particular play with fellow Bay Stater Colin White, when Sweden got sloppy on the PP and White forced a turnover, streaking up the left side. When the lone Swedish defender leaked over to his side, he then hit Foley in stride in the middle of the ice- Foley walked in alone and buried it for the shorthanded marker. Throughout the game, Foley did what he is known for- grind it out along the walls and help USA’s cause in puck possession. He’s a hard worker and his goal showed he has the hands/skills to match. Jets stole one.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Sweden (Bruins)- It was a tale of two games for JFK, and not sure what happened. In the first two periods (especially the second) he was effective and energetic, making solid plays on both sides of the puck. He assisted on a second period tally by breaking up a USA chance in his own end and then transitioning the play from defense to offense with some shifty skating in the neutral zone followed by an on-target pass. In the third period, he saw his shifts reduced and didn’t accomplish much for the limited time out there. Don’t know if it was an injury or what, but it was curious.

Conor Garland, RW USA White (Coyotes)- Typical game from the undersized but skilled agitator from Scituate. It didn’t make it into the final copy of the 2015 Red Line Report draft guide, but here is what I submitted for him as an award nomination for pest/toughest player to play against- He’s like the mutant baddies in the new Mad Max movie- relentless, just keeps coming at you with the quick stick and the yapping until the puck’s in your net or you blow up, whichever comes first.

Chad Krys, D USA White (Eligible 2016)- Impressive game from the Nutmeg Stater and BU recruit- he skates very well and was poised, confident with the puck. He was effective on the point, getting shots through on net and it was his point drive that Eansor capitalized on in the 2nd period. Like many young players, he needs to guard against trying to do too much at times- he allowed a couple of turnovers because he didn’t make the smart, simple play, but he looked like a top-30 pick in this game and is someone to watch at the NTDP this year.

Auston Matthews, C USA White (Eligible 2016)- The pure skill and talent jumps out at you. It wasn’t a dominant performance by Matthews and he reminded me a little of Jack Eichel last year on a few shifts in that he seemed to be revved up and trying to do it all himself. He’s got that long, fluid stride and anticipates the play so well, often getting the jump on a defender because he has that elite vision and sense for where the puck is going.

Sonny Milano, RW USA White (Blue Jackets)- He put a stamp on the game with his first goal to tie it up- streaking in alone and putting a series of moves on the Finnish netminder before closing out the play. He then tallied again in the final frame on another jailbreak play, beating the Finns with his speed and flashing his lightning release.

Jesse Puljujärvi, RW Finland (Eligible 2016)- Currently projected as a top-5 candidate next June, this wasn’t a great showing for the big Finn. He did assist on Patrik Laine’s goal to open the scoring, but was largely ineffective in terms of sustaining offensive pressure or making the kinds of plays you would expect of someone with his talent. He showed it in flashes- on one shift late in the game, he took the puck off the faceoff and bulled his way through 2 USA defenders only to have the puck knocked off his stick before he could shoot. It was only one game- the ability is there. Looks like one of those big horses who can take control of the flow on one shift, but it didn’t happen yesterday.

Alex Tuch, RW USA Blue (Wild)- Snarly, effective game from the skilled New York and BC power winger. Milano and Tuch were their state’s first two players off the board in 2014 and they showed why yesterday with pretty disparate styles. Tuch’s team was on the receiving end of a loss, but he created space for himself and his linemates and stood out, especially in the second period.

Boston Bruins prospects update- Jr/NCAA

Boston Bruins prospects update- Amateur

Earlier, we took a look at the AHL/European pro prospects in attendance at Boston Bruins development camp this week, but the bulk of the recent draft picks from 2013, 2014 and 2015 are still playing in the major junior and NCAA ranks.

This post covers the players who were in Wilmington, Mass. this week (those who did not attend due to injury or other commitment are not included) and is intended to scratch the surface of what each brings to the table for the organization. Enjoy!

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL); 6-3, 190

Acquired: 7th round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Lanky Minnesota high school product is about as raw as it gets at this stage, but could bring some long-term boom potential if he continues to progress. Felled by a bout with mononucleosis this season, he came back strong to finish the season at Mahtomedi High and then played a couple of USHL games at Sioux Falls. He lacks initial burst and agility in his skating, but crashes the net hard and scores goals the old fashioned way. Watch for this son of a former NY Islanders draft pick to make noise at Wisconsin eventually.

 Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA); 6-0, 200

Acquired: 6th round, 2012 NHL Entry Draft

Vancouver GM Jim Benning’s nephew didn’t find the back of the net last season, but was one of the Huskies’ top players for his all-around game and ability to move the puck effectively. For someone with pretty average size for a defender, Benning activates smartly on offense, takes care of his own end without fanfare and has a knack for making contact in the open ice. There isn’t a whole lot here to get excited about, but the NHL needs rugged, dependable blue liners of his ilk. If you are a believer that “less is more” with defensemen, Benning fits that category as someone who makes the right plays and uses his natural hockey sense to make it look easy.

 Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA); 6-0, 180

Acquired: 5th round, 2014 NHL Entry Draft

Smart, speedy two-way forward took some time last season to adjust to the NCAA with the Fighting Irish, but came on strong in the spring. Look for bigger numbers and contributions from this former U.S. NTDP star who may not have the silky hands to put up major points, but uses his speed to back defenses up and has the vision/hockey IQ to make plays offensively. He didn’t make a lot of noise at camp this summer, but for a player of Bjork’s style, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Brandon Carlo-

Brandon Carlo- “shiny new toy?” (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City; 6-5, 210

Acquired: 2nd round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Enormous rearguard has an even bigger reach; this value selection (acquired with one of the picks in the Johnny Boychuk trade) brings fine mobility and agility for such a big kid. Concerns about his offensive game may have dropped him down to 37, but he skates with his head up and can advance the puck effectively enough even if the production doesn’t develop as hoped. Where Carlo’s real value lies is in his size and quickness as a player who will be very difficult for opponents to get around and make them pay for every inch of real estate with a physical, hard-nosed style. Don’t expect him to win a job with the Bruins this season, as the team will likely want him to keep playing prime minutes in the WHL under all situations. Carlo appears to be the latest example of “shiny new toy” syndrome- that phenomenon where fans glom onto a name and seem to obsess over him making the NHL right away- but if he does happen to join the Bruins out of the gate, it will take a phenomenal training camp and preseason, and not what he did at Ristuccia in July.

 

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current (WHL); 6-1, 180

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The son of former NHL enforcer Louie DeBrusk finished 6th in the WHL with 42 goals playing alongside fellow Bronco and B’s prospect Colby Cave (35 goals) last season. Much bigger things are expected of this natural finisher, who can find the back of the net from just about anywhere on the ice. DeBrusk is not a power forward, but more of a skill forward who uses his offensive instincts and quickness to make things happen around the net but is far from a finished product in terms of his complete game. He has quite a bit of physical maturing to do, but the natural scoring tools are there for him to evolve into a top prospect.

 

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University (ECAC); 6-1, 190 (Scituate, Mass.)

Acquired: 2nd round, 2014 NHL Entry Draft

The most dominant scorer in prep hockey a season ago took a step back offensively at Dexter School as a senior, but sacrificed numbers in leading his team to the championship game before falling to Salisbury. Ted Donato’s eldest of three sons finished the year with a flourish in Omaha of the USHL, registering more than a point per game and showing off his creativity and dynamic game-breaking ability on numerous occasions. Although his top speed is not like his dad’s, the younger Donato projects to be a more dangerous scorer, and will get a chance to prove it with the Crimson.

 

Ryan Fitzgerald, LW Boston College (HEA); 5-10, 180 (North Reading, Mass.)

Acquired: 4th round, 2013 NHL Entry Draft

The rising junior has two productive scoring years with the Eagles in the books, and will be even more dangerous offensively this season. Although not blessed with a lot of size or blazing speed, the nephew of Bruins assistant scouting director Scott Fitzgerald has elite vision and some of the softest hands of any Boston prospect. Because he slipped down to the end of the fourth round in his draft year, the two-time state champion with Malden Catholic doesn’t get as much attention as other players with higher draft pedigrees, nor is a development camp a great setting to display what Fitzgerald does best, but his smarts and energy will carry him far.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University (HEA); 6-1, 185

Acquired: 2nd round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

“JFK” wasted little time in telling media at the draft that the NHL player he most tries to emulate is Patrice Bergeron. Like Boston’s three-time Selke Trophy winner and franchise center, this Swedish import plays a polished defensive game in addition to a pretty underrated offensive skill set. He’s got quite a bit of physical developing ahead of him with the Terriers, but film study reveals a player with slick hands and a knack for making plays in key situations. A superb faceoff man, watch for Karlsson to earn David Quinn’s trust early on with key defensive zone draws. He’s been knocked for not playing with as much pace and urgency as his talent level will allow, but seems to be making strides in addressing that shortcoming as he goes forward. A recent discussion with a member of the Bruins organization kept going back to JFK’s natural smarts and intelligence- he certainly showed that at camp and should draw positive attention to himself on Comm. Ave. this year.

JFK

Jakob “JFK” Forsbacka-Karlsson, 45th overall, 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Regina (WHL); 6-0, 200

Acquired: 4th round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Built like a spark plug and with the fiery, agitating demeanor to match, this draft choice could one day turn out in similar fashion to the one NHL player Gabrielle tries to pattern his play after: Brad Marchand. He may not have Marchand’s high-end speed and stickhandling ability, but can blow the puck past goalies and has a high motor. He’s a little bigger and stronger than Marchand, and able to be more effective along the walls and down in the dirty areas, where he uses his strength to fight through checks and maintain possession. The Saskatchewan native who grew up rooting for the B’s needs to prove he can work as hard off the ice as he does on it, but was a solid value choice at 105th overall.

 

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University (WCHA); 6-0, 180

Acquired: 4th round, 2014 NHL Entry Draft

Perhaps one of the 2014’s draft’s true stealth picks, the former Surrey Eagles (BCHL) captain burst onto the scene for the Pioneers last year to finish 15th in the nation in scoring as a freshman. Bigger things are expected this time, which could be a challenge for the slick, heady playmaking wing who shows an excellent grasp of how to play with and without the puck. Appearing in just his first development camp (he was enrolled in classes at DU a year ago), Heinen showed the fans in attendance what the buzz building from last year was about with a standout performance, making high-end passes and plays look pretty routine.

Cameron Hughes, LW University of Wisconsin (Big Ten); 5-11, 170

Acquired: 6th round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

If there is one player in the current Boston draft class that could pull off a surprise like Heinen did a year ago, it is Hughes, who was an offensive star for the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints in 2013-14 before landing with the Badgers and being relegated to a smaller role in Madison. A speedy, intelligent forward who also plays with energy and grit despite not having an abundance of size, he’s the model type of player the Bruins talk about having. If the unproductive freshman season was a reflection of a lack of opportunity, then watch for Hughes to breakout offensively as a sophomore and earn a lot more positive attention. He’s relatively undersized at present, but has room to grow and add strength in the coming years.

Sean Kuraly, C/LW Miami University (NCHC); 6-2, 200

Acquired: Trade with San Jose- 2015

The RedHawks’ captain this season was acquired along with a first-round pick in the trade that sent goaltender Martin Jones to the Sharks late last month. While not a high-end prospect the Ohio native is big, skates well, and plays a strong two-way, grinding game. He scored 19 goals a year ago, so he might be primed for a bigger offensive jump this season. Realistically, Kuraly projects more as a third-line winger in Boston if he reaches the NHL, but has the makings of a solid forward who will be tough to play against and can move around up front as the coaches need him to.

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL) 6-1, 195

Acquired: 2nd round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

This Red Line Report favorite for his combination of size, skating, shot and smarts didn’t get a lot of advance billing throughout the season, but started to generate buzz before the June NHL draft. In addition to being the QMJHL’s top goal-scorer among draft eligible defenders, Lauzon also displayed a physical, edgy side to his game as well, making him the kind of ideal fit in Boston if he can translate his junior success at the pro level. The 52nd overall selection will likely spend two more years in the ‘Q’ but don’t be surprised if he makes a run for an NHL job shortly thereafter, as he appears to have the blend of skill and moxie that every team looks out for.

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC) 6-4, 215

Acquired: 5th round, 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Like Zane McIntyre, the Long Island native is one of Boston’s longest-tenured prospects, having been chosen four drafts and five B’s development camps ago. The tall, relatively lean defenseman still has more room to add mass and will likely hit his peak playing weight at about 225 pounds as he continues to mature. At 22, O’Gara is an advanced player who has superb skating and footwork and has also continued to develop as a fine puck-mover even if he isn’t projected to put up big numbers at the pro level. A smart player and tireless worker, he’s returning to Yale for his senior season and is expected to sign with Boston after his final game. Also like McIntyre, O’Gara would qualify for the free agency loophole, but has had such a good experience with the Bruins, he’ll likely stay true to the club that has believed in him all along.

Zachary Senyshyn, RW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-2, 195

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The 2015 NHL draft’s first true off-the-board pick has the natural skills to eventually justify the selection, even if the Bruins took an acknowledged risk with other more established players on the board. The good news: the Ottawa-area product is a fine skater who can beat defenders wide with his speed, takes pucks to the net and has the hands to find the back of the net with regularity. On the downside- scouts question his natural creativity and there is significant risk associated with him if he does not take the next anticipated step in the OHL with the departure of several key veterans he was playing behind. Although he isn’t an intimidating presence on the ice, Senyshyn is saying and doing all the right things and demonstrated his raw, but promising talent at development camp.

Daniel

Daniel “Darth” Vladar- 3rd round, 75th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago (USHL) 6-5, 190

Acquired: 3rd round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

This massive netminder from the same Czech program that produced Jaromir Jagr 25 years ago has major long-term potential, but will need to address holes in his game and refine his technique before he sets foot anywhere near NHL ice. An outstanding athlete, “Darth Vladar” has the natural quickness to make beating him on the first shot a chore, but gets into trouble when he doesn’t square up to the shooter or allows pucks to get through him/his equipment when in position to make the save. A good kid with a solid work ethic, coming to the USHL and possibly going the NCAA route will help him adapt to North American hockey, but some observers feel that he lacks a natural feel for the play, and falls prey to allowing goals because he is late reacting to where the puck is coming from. Vladar is a good flyer to take in the mid-third round, especially after the B’s watched what Mike Hutchinson, their third-rounder in 2008, did for the Winnipeg Jets this season.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John (QMJHL) 6-2, 190

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Boston’s top pick last month, 13th overall, has already signed a three-year Entry Level Contract (ELC) with the team, but that won’t affect his timeline to the NHL unless something unforeseen occurs. On the positive side, Zboril has all of the key attributes you look for in the modern big league defender, and his skating and vision in particular makes him someone who will be able to carry the puck and run the power play down the road. Reviews on his work ethic however, are mixed, and he had issues with his knees last season, something he unfortunately has in common with his father, who reportedly saw a promising athletic career cut short because of. Make no mistake- Zboril’s booming point drive and ability to distribute the puck with ease, not to mention a snarly, physical side to the way he defends made him a solid choice for the Bruins, but like the other two first-round selections, he carries some risk that will bear close watching as we go forward.

AHL contract/invites

Here are some notes on a few of the development camp invited players I’m familiar with/who stood out in live and online viewing during the past several seasons and at development camp.

Max Iafrate, D Providence (AHL) 6-3, 215

Al Iafrate’s son got a lot of attention for his family pedigree and like his dad, he can scoot-n-shoot. However, Max is not his father, and after going undrafted while playing in the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers, he signed an AHL contract with the P-Bruins. With his size and physicality, the younger Iafrate is an intriguing player to watch if he can make better decisions and keep things simple. Putting him out with someone like Tommy Cross could make for a mighty interesting duo.

 

Frank DiChiara, RW Yale (ECAC) 6-2, 218

The rising Yale junior has been a favorite of mine since the 2012-13 season, when the Ronkonkoma, N.Y. native helped lead the USHL’s Dubque Fighting Saints (he was on the team with Matt Benning) to the Clark Cup. Although he went undrafted, DiChiara is a big-bodied winger who uses his size and soft hands to find the back of the net and generate offense. He’s not an ideal skater, but if he can improve his initial quickness, his straight-line speed and natural strength will appeal to NHL clubs come free agency time because he has a nose for the net. In addition to Benning, DiChiara is a current and former (in minor hockey) teammate of Rob O’Gara and the two are close friends.

 

Brien Diffley, D Boston University (HEA) 6-2, 200 (Burlington, Mass.)

Honestly thought this ’95 defender who posted a solid freshman season with the Terriers would get drafted last month. What you see is what you get with Diffley: he skates and moves laterally well, has an active stick to disrupt passes with, fills lanes and willingly blocks shots- in other words, he does all the little things you need your back end to do. There is not much in the way of upside, but if you’re looking for a safe, steady defenseman, there aren’t many undrafted options out there better than Diffley is.

 

Mike Vecchione, LW Union College (ECAC) 5-10, 185 (Saugus, Mass.)

After winning a state championship at MC with Fitzgerald, this smallish but talented and creative winger spent two years in the USHL before winning an NCAA title with Union College in 2014. Speed is the name of the game with Vecchione, who has explosive initial quickness and has an impressive glide. He’s also a savvy two-way forward who shows hustle and diligence on the back check and with his defensive responsibilities. With 33 goals in his first two college seasons, he is primed for a major breakthrough this year and big bucks as a free agent.