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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Bruins prospect of the week 3: Urho Vaakanainen

We’re back with another installment of the B’s prospect series. This time, we’ll swing back over to a player who is closer to playing NHL games, and the 2017 first-round selection’s time could be closer than we think.

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Urho Vaakanainen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Urho Vaakanainen, LD

Born Jan. 1, 1999 (Finland)

6-1/185 Shoots: Left

Background Summary

The 18th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft was a bit of a surprise pick by the Bruins given that there were some higher profile players on the board at the time, including Finnish countrymen Kristian Vesalainen (24- Winnipeg) and Eeli Tolvanen (30- Nashville), dynamic scoring forward Kailer Yamamoto (22- Edmonton), heavy/skilled forward Ryan Poehling (25- Montreal) and impressive 2-way center Robert Thomas (20- St. Louis). However, the 19-year-old entering his fourth season of pro hockey serves as yet another example of the B’s sticking with their own process and how they evaluate talent.

Unlike many of his peers, Vaakanainen had played in the Finnish SM-Liiga (pro) at age 16 and 17, competing against men while the bulk of his fellow draft picks were playing junior hockey (he first played 25 pro games with the Espoo Blues in 2015-16 before switching to JyP for the 2016-17 campaign). The left-shot defender was just one of three skaters on his JyP HT Jyvaskyla squad under age 20 (Sami Niku-19, Jerry Turkulainen– 17) with a fourth teen being goalie Vaini Vehvilainen (also 17). Although billed as a two-way defender, Vaakanainen’s point totals were (understandably) modest in his rookie pro season (41 gp 2-4-6 +5), but the B’s praised his skating, mobility and potential in Chicago after making the selection.

Shifting over to SaiPa Lappeenranta last season, Vaakanainen was the youngest regular on the roster by a couple of years. He upped his production to 11 points (43 games) and got a liberal share of playing time for one so young, leading all SaiPa D with a +8 rating.

CBS Boston reporter Matt Kalman has a good article published in June that covers Vaakanainen’s season with SaiPa and speaks to several of his veteran pro teammates for an interesting perspective on him. It’s worth checking out here.

Scouting Post first saw him in Grand Forks, N.D. as a member of the eventual gold medal-winning squad at the 2016 Under-18 World Championship. He put up a respectable 1-2-3 line in 7 games and was part of a larger core of late 1998 and 1999-born players comprising that Finnish defense a year before their NHL draft (Miro Heiskanen, Juuso Valimaki, Oskari Laaksonen) . He also earned silver at the 2017 U18 tourney, doubling his production to 6 points in 5 games. The rare player who skated for his country in both the World Junior (U20) and U18 tournaments in the same season (2017), also played for Finland at the 2018 WJC.

The B’s signed him to a three-year entry level contract on June 13 and he is expected to spend the year in Providence of the AHL, but the door is open for him to potentially win a spot on the NHL club either out of camp or at some point this season.

Talent Analysis

Although not overly tall and having a relatively lean build, Vaakanainen plays with a long stick and uses his reach effectively. He’s got fluid feet: very good initial burst, an effortless stride and is crisp and balanced on his edges. This is a player who can move well in all directions- what is known as a “compass skater” in scouting parlance- and has the explosive first couple of steps and quick, smooth direction change that translates well in the short area game, something becoming more and more critical for NHL defenders going forward. Forwards who try to drive wide on him with speed will almost always run out of room to the far wall before they can make that sharp net drive- his feet are simply too good for that.

Intelligent and poised, UV sees the ice and is capable of defending the rush and keeping opponents away from the front of his net with an active stick. An economy of motion player, he is patient and will often allow skaters to take themselves out of lanes because he moves so well and keeps his stick in passing lanes.

Vaakanainen is not an exceptional player with the puck on his stick. When we scouted him at the U-18s two years ago, he moved pucks efficiently, but kept it pretty simple with higher percentage breakouts, a style in stark contrast to Charlie McAvoy, who is dynamic when in possession of the puck and can carry it out on his own when he has ice in front of him. This is not to say UV doesn’t have any skill, but he tends bring a simplified approach- he gets back quickly on retrievals and can then move the puck to the right areas. Where we have seen him get into trouble is when an aggressive forecheck either with an explosive F1 or 2-skater attack gets in on him quickly and forces UV to make faster decisions. In order to maximize his impressive skating, he’s going to have to be more decisive and avoid the temptation to hold onto the puck too long or just try the blind rim, which can lead to d-zone turnovers. He doesn’t have a heavy or overpowering shot- he tends to score by using a quick-release snap shot that he gets off his stick quickly versus an exaggerated windup and clapper. We’d like to see him try and get more pucks to the net, however.

Not a physical defender, UV manages his gaps well, using his lateral agility and long reach to angle effectively and close off skating lanes in the middle of the ice, where attacking forwards are at their most dangerous. The lack of physicality and bulk means that he’ll likely need support from his forwards when the puck gets down low and along the walls.

Overall, the offensive projection is still a work in progress- the B’s don’t need him to shoot the lights out or rack up assists as long as he can help speed the transition game to break pucks out while also keeping the opposition to the outside. His pro experience gives him a refined game, maturity and poise beyond where  many of his peers are- he doesn’t turn 20 until January and many of the guys picked in the same draft are going back to junior for one more year.

2018-19 Projection

Signs point to an AHL campaign with Providence, a level of competition comparable to what he’s spent the last two full seasons skating in. This means that there shouldn’t be a huge learning curve- he’ll have to transition to playing on the smaller ice surface where he won’t have as much time and space to read, process and react, but Vaakanainen’s natural confidence and adaptability to the pace/tempo, an aspect that often confounds junior-to-pro players, isn’t expected to be a factor.

Don’t rule out UV breaking camp with the big club, either, especially if some unforeseen injuries take a toll as was the case a couple of years ago because of the aforementioned pro experience in his native Finland. The B’s won’t force the issue, but the thinking here is that the Boston brain trust will be more comfortable will trying him out if he gets off to a strong start and can make consistent plays at both ends.

The smart money says that developing him in Providence makes the most sense, but the player should get a vote here, and the expectation is that he might not look that out of place. GM Don Sweeney alluded to the fact that he might not have been in ideal condition for the development camp in late June, so that will be something to watch.

At the end of the day, we think UV is a safe selection- he’s going to play in the NHL, and even if he doesn’t reach the desired production Boston sees him capable of providing, he’s probably going to be a solid middle-of-the-roster player who gives them success at the 18th overall spot of the draft. If you wanted more boom potential from the pick, you’re left wanting more, but he’s a good player.

(Here’s SportsNet’s analysis after the B’s made the pick- some interesting observations)

 

Urho Vaakanainen factoids

Born in Joensuu, but raised in Jyväskylä.  Father, Harri, played pro hockey in Finland.

Vaakanainen’s coach at SaiPa, Tero Lehtera, is the uncle of NHL forward (PHI in 2017-18) Jori Lehtera.

In pre-draft interviews, Vaakanainen said that he patterns his game after Hampus Lindholm and Roman Josi.

His 109 total games in the Finnish SM-Liiga (comparable to the AHL) is 41 more than Jakub Zboril’s AHL total of 68 last season…the B’s 2015 1st-rounder is 2 years older than Vaakanainen.

 

What’s Next for the Bruins (Pt. 13): The Young D

Editor’s Note- No, not Dominic Tiano this time. I’ll do a quick-hitter between packing up the moving truck (that’s dedication for you) and driving away to provide a snapshot of the younger defensemen coming up through the ranks in the Boston system. Because Charlie McAvoy proved himself ready for primetime against Ottawa in six games, he’s not a part of this post- you all saw him and what he’s capable of.- KL

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The B’s young defense is shaping up, but even with the immediate splash provided by McAvoy in the 2017 NHL playoffs, there is no surefire way to predict that the team will continue to enjoy the fruits of their system to the degree we saw with their 2016 top pick. However, there are several (left-shot heavy) young blue liners who are signed (we’re not including the college kids like Ryan Lindgren, Wiley Sherman and Cameron Clarke in this particular post but will address them later) and if not playing in Boston regularly next season, will probably make cameos at some point.

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Dominic Tiano: What’s Next for the Bruins (Part 4)

So, here I am with another post with my 3 Amigos colleagues Kirk Luedeke (the founder of TSP) and Reed Duthie. If you missed the previous posts, look back not too far and you will find them. I hope (I’m sure) you will find them informative.

Decisions, decisions, decisions: That’s what is facing Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney, President Cam Neely and the brain trust of your Boston Bruins. The most critical decision dropped this week when the interim tag was removed from coach Bruce Cassidy. It was crucial for this to be done as early as possible because, despite being two months away from the expansion draft and the entry draft, some key decisions are going to have to be made by mid-June as to which players receive qualifying offers and contracts, and who moves on, potential buyouts and buried contracts.

This is what we’ll focus on today.

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Bruins prospects update 1/30/17: Re-ordering the amateur prospect rankings

We’re one month into the recent publication of the New England Hockey Journal’s annual Boston Bruins prospects ranking- we always do it in January, so we have about half a season to gauge how the kids look before ranking them.

Well, what can we say? There’s already some buyer’s remorse and after conversations with several people we trust and value as professional talent evaluators, we thought we’d take another stab at the B’s top-10 with a fresher perspective. Consider it an alternate take- a sort of Bizarro World version of the published list, with the impact of other ideas and rationales applied to some of the players who rose and fell.

Ultimately, the exercise reminds us all that opinions are varied. No matter how well you might rank order players, you’re never going to achieve 100 percent consensus, and that should not be the goal. You call it like you see it and you either stick to your guns and stand by your convictions or you don’t. At the same time, it is important in a fluid situation such a hockey season, to maintain room to allow your views to evolve.

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Jakub Zboril: the Good Cop-Bad Cop theory

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When the Boston Bruins drafted Czech defenseman Jakub Zboril 13th overall in 2015 out of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, few raised any eyebrows.

After all- the pick made sense at the time for myriad reasons: talent-wise, he was right around where he could and should go. He had posted a 13-goal, 33-point season in just 44 games in his first North American stint. He had the size, skating, puck skills, shot and even some physical nasty to his game to validate being chosen there. Defense was also becoming a major issue for Boston- then-GM Peter Chiarelli had traded veteran two-way machine & fan favorite Johnny Boychuk on the eve of the 2014-15 campaign for futures (well, as we type this Brandon Carlo is certainly thriving in the present) and he subsequently went off, posting a career-best 9 goals and 35 points, while Boston’s defense contributed to the late-season swoon that cost the B’s a playoff appearance for the first time since 2007. In short- Zboril was a typical crowd-pleaser in that not only did he address an obvious organizational need, but no one could screech loudly on Twitter and Internet message boards about his being a “reach” for the team where he was picked.

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Bruins Prospect Update: 01/08/2017- Golden USA- B’s World Jr. recap

If there were any skeptics left wondering if Charlie McAvoy had the stuff to be a top-flight 2-way defenseman in the NHL one day, that train has pretty much left the station after his player of the game and tourney all-star selection in helping lead Team USA to its third gold medal at the World Jr. (Under-20) Championship since 2010.

The 14th overall selection in 2016 scored USA’s first goal of the game, cutting into Canada’s 2-0 lead (the second goal having been scored by fellow future Bruin Jeremy Lauzon). McAvoy was the trailer on the play, taking a pass from BU teammate and Minnesota Wild prospect Jordan Greenway before lasering the shot over Canada goalie Carter Hart’s glove hand.

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Podcasting New England Hockey Journal’s Bruins annual prospects review: Amateur list

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TSP did this last year, so bringing it back for the 2017 version of the New England Hockey Journal’s Boston Bruins organizational prospect rankings.

You can read the full article at http://www.hockeyjournal.com; a top-20 is broken into a pair of pro and amateur lists. This podcast covers the non-pro futures, plus the HM 11th player who didn’t get an in-print capsule, but is a very good prospect for the B’s down the road.

Want to know who we’re talking about to the tune of about a 45-minute breakdown? Just click on the audio file to listen…

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Trent Frederic was Boston’s 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

 

3 Amigos Podcast Ep. 7: Special Guest Zane McIntyre + 2017 World Jr & B’s prospects impact

 

Howdy, all- the 3 Amigos ride again with our seventh (or is it eighth?- We don’t know- we have so much fun with these that we’ve lost count) episode of our podcast. Dom, Reed and myself are especially pleased with this latest effort and hope you are as well…

Today’s offering- the final one of 2016- features 4th Amigo and Bruins goaltending prospect of note Zane McIntyre. For those of you who might be living under a rock, McIntyre is the top AHL goalie, currently sporting a 9-0-0 record with 1.35 GAA and .953 save percentage in leading the P-Bruins to an excellent start under first year head coach Kevin Dean.

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Bruins prospect update 12/27/2016: 2017 WJC- McAvoy leads the way

The 2017 World Junior (Under-20) Championship started on Dec. 26 in Toronto and Montreal for Groups A & B in the round robin portion of the annual NHL prospect extravaganza that will run into the first week of January.

The Boston Bruins have five players (four defensemen and one goaltender) currently competing in the tourney: USA’s Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Lindgren; Jeremy Lauzon on Team Canada, Czech Republic D Jakub Zboril and goaltender Daniel Vladar round out the group. Guys who did not make the cut for their respective countries: Zach Senyshyn (Canada) and Oskar Steen (Sweden). Trent Frederic was not invited to the USA evaluation camp portion, but he was coming off of a hand injury that might have influenced USA Hockey’s decision to have him return to school. We don’t know for sure, but watch for Frederic to be solidly in the mix for the 2018 USA WJC squad. Canada did not even invite Jesse Gabrielle to the eval camp, which is probably more of a reflection of his not being part of the Canada Program of Excellence than anything else- you would think that a gritty power forward who can score and affect game flow with his physicality would be of value, but apparently not enough in Canada’s eyes. With both Canada and USA winning their opening games, the rosters look fine for now.

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