2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series part 3: the Left Wings

Brad Marchand is the team's top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Scouting Post is back with another attempt to break down what we might see unfold during the 2016-17 NHL campaign as it pertains to the Boston Bruins.

This time, we’re hitting the left wingers, and it all starts with Brad Marchand– the lil’ ball of hate & straw that stirs the goal-scoring drink for the B’s. He’s entering a contract year after coming off a career season, and I’ll break him down in detail for you in the accompanying podcast, so no real need to say more.

Frank Vatrano is the player we have high hopes for in making it as the second-line LW in Boston this year. The Springfield Rifle is talented enough to do it, but it will entail accepting risk on the part of Claude Julien and Co. Can the East Longmeadow native be trusted to shoulder the load- TSP is confident he can. His impressive AHL rookie season was just the tip of the iceberg- Vatrano has the skill and moxie to make it work as a top-6 NHL forward.

On the third line, Matt Beleskey is the guy, though I do go into more about his value contract-wise and what he means to the B’s. I’m sold on Beleskey for the myriad little things he does on and off the ice, but I won’t argue with those who feel that the team isn’t getting enough bang for the buck on his deal. Ultimately, they could do much worse, but if he can improve on his 15 goals and 37 points from a year ago, that would be welcome news indeed.

The fourth line is pretty wide open, and my guess is that Tim Schaller has the inside track. The Merrimack, N.H. native has the size and enough big league ability to be a capable bookend along with Riley Nash over on the right side. He’s listed as a center, but if he’s not going to play in the middle, LW makes a lot of sense for the former undrafted free agent out of Buffalo.

Zac Rinaldo…we hardly knew ye! Well, he’s still hanging around, but my guess is not for much longer.

That leaves a host of other aspiring young players vying for spots on this Boston Bruins club, and I run through just about all of them- from the young pros like Colton Hargrove and Anton Blidh, to new blood AHL options like Jake DeBrusk and Peter Cehlarik. Jesse Gabrielle will be fighting (literally?) to make an impression, and he looked jacked (in a good way) when I saw him in Buffalo for draft weekend. When he’s playing like someone possessed, opponents need to keep their heads on a swivel…he can wreck it on the scoreboard and on the physical side. He’ll have his hands full trying to win a spot on this NHL team given the lack of options the B’s have, but watch for Gabrielle to open up some eyes this month- he took a major step forward last year.

Ryan Fitzgerald isn’t there because he’s entering his senior year at Boston College, but he’s a Swiss Army Knife kind of pro projected player, and he’s going to do some impressive scoring work up on Chestnut Hill this season after breaking out as a junior.

Let’s not forget a couple of undrafted camp invites in Matt Mistele (I pronounce it for you on the podcast)- a 6th-round pick of the Kings in 2014 who didn’t sign and has been a pretty major disappointment since potting 34 goals in the OHL as a 16-17-year-old prior to his draft year. He’s big and talented, but doesn’t use his size and brings inconsistent effort- sounds like he might just fit right in. Simon Stransky is the other as a WHL player this past season who put up a point-per-game with the Prince Albert Raiders and distinguished himself as a playmaking winger with top hockey sense, yet never got a draft call. Both will get an opportunity to show their potential and earn an NHL contract, but in the podcast- we’ll explain why just signing one or both is not as simple as declaring it a must on Twitter and Bruins internet message boards. There are other undrafted/unsigned/ forwards and rookie defensemen in Boston on an invitational basis for the rookie camp portion, but not going to cover them here.

Thanks for reading and listening…keeping this one short and pithy because the pod comes in at around 50 minutes. Enjoy the Winger intro and the Primus outro.

Jesse Gabrielle has added some mass since draft day and is ready for his 2nd NHL training camp

Jesse Gabrielle has added some mass since draft day and is ready for his 2nd NHL training camp

 

Quick hitter: Bruins d-camp wraps with a 6-5 scrimmage

Truth in lending,  TSP wasn’t in attendance this week at the final Boston Bruins development camp shindig until next July’s event moves to the team’s shiny new facility in Brighton, but based on various inputs I’ve gotten from fans and hockey people in attendance at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, the organization has some strength in talent coming.

Jake DeBrusk scored the winning goal for team white today in a 6-5 intrasquad 3-on-3 scrimmage, while Danton Heinen and Cameron Hughes each tallied twice for their respective teams as black blew a 5-2 lead to give up four unanswered goals. Other scorers in the scrimmy were Ryan Donato, Cam Clarke, Jesse Gabrielle, Sean Kuraly, Anders Bjork and Jack Becker based on tweets from CSNNE’s Joe Taggerty and the Bruins Twitter account.

Heinen garnered a lot of positive attention in his second B’s development camp (he did not attend in 2014 after being drafted because he was in Denver taking summer classes). He’s  seen time at both left and right wing while at DU and could earn an NHL job at RW coming out of camp and preseason if he isn’t sent down to Providence to start the year. He’s not overly big (but he’s not small either), nor is he an explosive skater (but he’s not slow), but he’s got tremendous hands and hockey IQ/creativity. Heinen is the kind of forward who projects as someone who will eventually play on the top-two lines, but he has enough strength and a 200-foot game to work his way into an NHL lineup on the lower lines the way Brad Marchand did once upon a time.

The British Columbia product’s short-area game is impressive- he does the grunt work and digs pucks out from along the walls and works plays to the net, hitting teammates in prime danger areas or taking it in himself and finishing with a nifty-quick release he can paint corners with. Hype is always something that seems to follow young players around because so many fans want to see the “shiny new toy” in the NHL and don’t want to wait and allow the prospects to gradually develop in the minors first. Honestly- and we really need to wait until September before we get too far ahead of ourselves- if there is a forward who could make a serious run at an NHL job sooner rather than later- it is Heinen. But if he starts the year in Providence and not Boston- that’s all fine, too. He has less than 10 games worth of pro experience under his belt, after all.

DeBrusk also received praise for his scoring in this camp- he did a little of it last year, scoring a memorable goal on a behind-the-back shot that made a lot of highlight reels.  But when it all comes down to it, DeBrusk has been unfairly maligned after being a surprise 14th overall selection a year ago. He’s a skilled left wing with a little bite and jam to his game, and when you add it to his natural knack for finding the back of the net and making plays from the wing, that makes him an attractive asset in Boston’s system.

Jakub Zboril by multiple reports has the look of a player who was drafted in the top-15 last year, and that’s great news. He’s reportedly leaner and sleeker than he looked a year ago, and impressed observers with his skating and hands- which is something that helped him to be drafted before his Saint John teammate Thomas Chabot, a higher-end offensive defenseman (18th overall to Ottawa) in 2015. Now, development camp drills and scrimmages are all fine and well- it’s encouraging to know that a player of Zboril’s ability and potential showed up and impressed- but the real test lies ahead in September, when he’ll need to raise the compete quotient with all of the veterans and play exhibition contests against guys wearing different colors. I’m an optimist by nature, so willing to take a positive outlook on Zboril going forward, but I refuse to get excited about development camp- I did that with Jared Knight and Ryan Button once upon a time and learned an important lesson about the dangers of putting too much stock in drills and internal scrimmages. Players don’t make teams on the strength of what they do in July, but a good showing can go a long way towards setting expectations in the fall, so good on Zboril for demonstrating some fire and hunger. It’s something we need to see more of from him, not less.

As for top pick Charlie McAvoy, the rising BU sophomore did everything he needed and then some- if anyone had questions about his status as a first-round pick in June or his intriguing NHL potential, he reportedly answered those. He’s thick through the torso and trunk, but is such a smooth skater with excellent vision and puck skills. He’s a rock and very tough to separate from the puck- McAvoy could be on the verge of breaking out big time this coming season when coaches David Quinn, Albie O’Connell and Scott Young hand him the keys to the big red Ferrari that could be the 2016-17 Boston University Terriers and turn him loose. No pressure or anything, kid- but everyone is quickly figuring out why the Bruins were so smitten with the Long Island native, and the hype around him is legit.

Even 2014 7th-round defenseman Emil Johansson is getting some love for his skill and poise. Interesting and a positive development for sure, but again- remember what I said earlier about not putting more stock in development camp showings than is warranted. It’s nice that he came into Wilmington this week and impressed- he’ll be one to follow with Djurgarden of the SHL this season, but let’s pump the brakes a bit before we bring out another shiny toy here. It sounds like he’s given the B’s plenty of reasons to sign him, so we’ll see where it all leads. I’ve only seen Johansson on film, so my perspective is limited, but have never been that overly impressed with his reads and the way he processes the game, but from the sounds of it, he was very good at handling the F1 and F2 pressure this week and getting the puck out quickly and decisively. Every NHL team needs defenders who can do that from the top of their rotation to the bottom.

In net, the goalies never get a lot of love in these development camps because they tend to get exposed more than the position players do. Daniel Vladar got a lot of positive reviews for his size, athletic ability and good positional work- he was coached last year by Peter Mannino, former Denver University standout who had cups of NHL coffee with the NY Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets before finishing out a minors career and joining the Chicago Steel. Vladar is a nice kid- impossible to root against and according to Mark Divver, there will be no QMJHL for him this year. He’s expected to play in the ECHL (don’t rule the AHL out completely) or possibly play in Europe somewhere.

There’s so much to talk about and many other players who did well and stood out, but I wasn’t there, so will add some links by those who were present and close the book on Boston’s 10th annual development camp.

 

UPDATE 7/16- As promised, here are some links to stories and features associated with Bruins development camp:

First up is Mike Sage’s (Puck Sage) blog top-10 player rundown from the week. I first met him back in 2010 development camp, and his thoughtful hockey blog goes against the grain. Mike just calls things as he sees them, which is refreshing, because there is so much of a tendency to fall in line with a few voices out there, but he is always someone who has challenged some of the conventional views out there. Besides- he and I are kindred spirits when it comes to what we value in our players, so you’ll find us agreeing more often than not. He gives college players like Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and the very intriguing Wiley Sherman very high marks for their showings this week.

Bruins Development Camp Top 10 Performers

I missed this nugget from Joe Haggerty on Thursday. Good food for thought especially on Anders Bjork– he’s that Swiss Army knife kind of player that the B’s treasure on the lower lines, but with his speed and unexpected sophomore offense, he could end up being much, much more. Boston may need to sign him soon so as not to risk losing him as a free agent in 2018. As a fifth-round pick, he stands to make a lot of coin (and by that I mean not only the max AAV on an ELC, but with added performance bonuses that can boost the contract value and pay him closer to a first-round pick than what Boston would ideally want to slot him with based on existing salary structure) on the open market if his game keeps progressing and he opts to stay at Notre Dame all four years. The Bjork situation is one to watch- as a Wisconsin product who plays his NCAA hockey in Indiana, he has no real attachment to the Boston area, and you might see the B’s have to offer him a perk such as letting him burn a year off his ELC to get him to forego the path to free agency. We’ll see, but a lot of it will depend on how well he plays as a junior with the Fighting Irish.

http://www.csnne.com/gallery/boston-bruins/Bruins-Development-Camp-Day-3-Thoughts-and-observations

Friend DJ Bean had a nice piece on the growing pool of quality young defensemen in Boston’s system. Outside of possibly a Brandon Carlo, and/or perhaps Rob O’Gara (who wasn’t at d-camp) and Matt Grzelcyk (who was) the odds of a Jakub Zboril or Jeremy Lauzon and Charlie McAvoy contributing to Boston’s fortunes this year are pretty long. That’s not to say it is outside the realm of possibility that should McAvoy have a tremendous season on Comm. Ave that the B’s won’t sign him in the late spring and he could get some NHL games in like Torey Krug did at the end of 2011-12, but I wouldn’t count on it. Bottom line, though- the organization is putting together a pretty strong group of prospects on the blue line that could be arguably in the top third of teams around the NHL. For all the love the Dallas Stars get these days, go look at their D prospects cupboard and tell me you’re impressed with those players as a whole. Unless you’re a delusional Stars fan, you’re grudgingly concede that the Bruins have quietly assembled a promising cohort, which gets some extra credit when you throw Sherman, Ryan Lindgren and Emil Johansson in there (not to mention forgotten 2013 2nd-rounder Linus Arnesson and even undrafted Chris Casto, who could get a look in Boston this year, too).

http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/hockey/bruins/dj-bean/2016/07/16/prices-young-defensemen-steep-bruins-trying-develop-n

Here’s some of the video clips the team itself produced:

Development Camp recap:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-recap/t-277437088/c-44387103

B’s futures do community relations:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-community-events/t-277437088/c-44384403

Matt Grzelcyk weighs in:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-community-events/t-277437088/c-44384403

Ryan Fitzgerald discusses having a chip on his shoulder as one of the more unheralded prospects in the system:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/locker-room-raw-ryan-fitzgerald/t-277437088/c-44381603

The Baby B’s take a trip to Fenway Park:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-fenway-park/t-277437088/c-44381503

Ryan Lindgren talks about his first day at camp and friendship with fellow 2016 draft pick Trent Frederic among other things:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-fenway-park/t-277437088/c-44381503

Jake DeBrusk discusses the difference between last camp to this one and his progress- you can see how bright and likable a guy he is from his answers: https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/locker-room-raw-jake-debrusk/t-277437088/c-44381303

B’s correspondent Eric Russo has more on Brandon Carlo, who is a hot name heading into the fall along with Danton Heinen, as members of the youth movement who will push for NHL jobs this year. We’ll see how they look in September, but am told both impressed the team’s brass in Wilmington and that’s where it all starts:

http://bruins.nhl.com/club/blogpost.htm?id=47225

 

 

2016 Boston Bruins development camp pt. 2: the forwards

Back with the second part of the 2016 Bruins development camp series.

We previewed the goalies and defensemen who will be in Wilmington from July 12-15, and looked back at 10 years of development camps- a tradition that started in Boston during the summer of 2007 with some big names: David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask. Adam McQuaid was there as well.

This post takes a closer look at the 13 forwards who are in town for the event. Ryan Fitzgerald is the “old man” of the group at forward (goalie Zane McIntyre is the organization’s most senior prospect in his seventh camp)- the North Reading native was drafted 120th overall in 2013 and just completed his junior season at Boston College, his finest to date.

2016 Bruins development camp forwards at a glance (2015-16 club in parentheses):

Jack Becker, C/RW (Sioux Falls- USHL): This versatile skater can play the center or wing position and we’ll have to see how Tony Granato opts to use him this season at the University of Wisconsin. Boston’s last choice in 2015 was drafted as a highly raw prospect out of the Minnesota high school (Mahtomedi HS) ranks, where he battled mononucleosis early on to emerge as one of the more impressive power forward prospects at season’s end. At 6-3, 200 pounds, Becker is on the slow boat to Boston as a player who might not ever come close to playing for the big club, but it will be interesting to see how he develops if he can add an extra few steps to his skating and eventually earn a bigger role with the Badgers. He’s likely to have a bit part in his first two years at Madison.

Anders Bjork, RW (University of Notre Dame- NCAA): The 2014 fifth-rounder just completed his sophomore year in South Bend, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring (12 goals, 35 points in as many games). Drafted as more of a grinding/checking presence, the Wisconsin native has shown more of an offensive element than originally projected. Bjork can play either wing and skates with real speed and quickness- his edge control is outstanding, and he drives the net and can also score goals off the rush, catching defenders flat-footed and blowing by them in space. Don’t expect that scoring to continue in the pro ranks, but every team needs capable bottom-six forwards who can chip in with the offense, and with Bjork’s smarts and opportunistic offense, he fits that category nicely. Watch for him to take off even more as a junior, and he might have an outside chance at a contract offer next spring if he puts up another big year on the scoring ledger.

This is pretty sick goal by Bjork in the 2016 WJC bronze medal game…what was I saying about the scoring not continuing at the next level? Wow. Watch the way he goes forehand-backhand then forehand again and roofs it under the crossbar with no room to work. Sniper’s move.

Here’s a nice video from Notre Dame featuring Bjork’s cousin and Fighting Irish alum Erik Condra:

Jake DeBrusk, LW (Swift Current/Red Deer- WHL): It was a good news/bad news season for the 2015 draft’s 14th overall selection. After a quick offensive start in Swift Current, DeBrusk suffered a debilitating injury early in the year that not only shelved him for several weeks, but hindered his play after he returned. He got a reprieve when the Broncos traded him in late December to the Memorial Cup host team Rebels, where he netted a hat trick in one of his first games in Red Deer. Alas, Brent Sutter spent a lot of time tinkering with his lines and DeBrusk’s offense paid the price, as his goal total dropped to half as many as he tallied en route to being a top-15 pick. Still, he stayed with it and raised his production level in the WHL playoffs and at the Memorial Cup, where he looked every bit a first-round prospect. He’s not a dynamic skater, but is quick enough to find open spaces. DeBrusk has excellent hockey sense and will often get the jump on opponents because his anticipation is so instant. With superb hands and the ability to score goals any which way, he’s dangerous with the puck on his stick anywhere in the offensive zone. As a late 1996-born player, DeBrusk can either return to the WHL for his overage season or spend the full year in the AHL with Providence. That decision will likely come down to how he looks at development camp in July and then again at main camp and the NHL’s exhibition play a few months from now. Weekend at Bergy’s put together this highlight clip from DeBrusk’s 2g, 3-pt performance against Calgary in the Memorial Cup:

His dad was a tough customer when he played and that’s not really Jake’s game, but he will drop ’em:

Ryan Donato, C (Harvard University- NCAA): The rising sophomore and second-round pick from 2014 had a strong first collegiate season. The all-time leading scorer for Dexter School in Brookline, Mass. is one of the most creative and skilled offensive prospects in Boston’s system who dominated the prep circuit and then opened some eyes in a limited USHL stint in Omaha at the end of the 2014-15 campaign. He’s bigger than his dad at about 6-1 (he gets his height from his mother’s side of the family) and doesn’t have the same blazing wheels Ted Donato did, but gets an undeserved rap for being an average skater. The younger Donato is highly cerebral and instantly processes the game, often putting himself in position to make a play before it develops. With his slick hands and underrated finishing skills, watch for him to make noise in the ECAC as one of its most dangerous offensive players.

Donato talks USHL after his first game with the Omaha Lancers back in spring 2015:

Ryan Fitzgerald, C (Boston College- NCAA): As the local standout enters his senior year on Chestnut Hill, watch for his scoring numbers to erupt as a bona fide Hobey Baker contender in 2017. Like Donato, Fitzgerald thinks the game at a high level with elite vision and offensive hockey sense. The biggest obstacle for the multiple state championship winner with Malden Catholic is his below average size, but the eldest of Tom (and Kerry) Fitzgerald’s four sons (brother and BC teammate Casey was just drafted by Buffalo with the 86th overall pick in June) is a feisty and gritty player who isn’t afraid to go into the high traffic areas and get his nose dirty. His skating is above average and he’s quick and elusive as opposed to having jets on his feet in the open ice. Fitzgerald is a slasher who is fearless in the way he goes to the net and will take a hit to make the play. He’s often overlooked in the discussion of Bruins forward prospects, but he’s primed for a huge NCAA season and should sign and turn pro in the spring after being a nice value pick for Boston at the end of the fourth round three years ago.

Ryan Fitzgerald’s 2013 NHL combine post-testing interview:

Trent Frederic, C (U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18- USHL): A significant “off the board” selection for Boston at 29th overall in Buffalo, Frederic will get his first opportunity to show Boston brass and the fans in attendance what he’s about. A big (6-2, 205) and athletic center, Frederic played on Team USA’s third line at Grand Forks in the Under-18 tournament after being the second-line pivot for much of the year (Windsor’s Logan Brown took his spot in April). There isn’t much in the way of flash or dynamic offensive ability in the St. Louis native’s game- he skates with a powerful stride but doesn’t have the quickest initial steps or fluid acceleration (though he is fine in a straight line). Frederic can handle the puck well enough, but you aren’t going to see much dangle or ability to score off the rush. Much of Frederic’s offense happens when he crashes the net and bangs in loose rebounds. His physical style- the Wisconsin Badgers recruit finishes his checks and protects the puck well- should translate well at the next level. He got high marks for his character and ability to play well on special teams, along with the way he performs in the faceoff circle. He’s got a big frame that might still be growing, and he gives the Bruins something they lacked in their system at the center position: size and strength. He compares his own playing style to that of childhood hockey idol David Backes, who could be his Boston teammate at some point, and also patterns his play after Detroit grinder Justin Abdelkader. Frederic is more of a banger than a scorer, so he’ll have his work cut out for him to win over those who wanted to see more skill drafted at that late first-round position.

Frederic’s U18 highlights from bigwhite06:

Jesse Gabrielle, LW (Prince George- WHL/Providence- AHL): The stealth bomber of Boston’s prospects… A year ago, Gabrielle was quietly snapped up in the fourth round (105th) and was traded by the Regina Pats to the Cougars in August. When the WHL season began, Gabrielle went off, finishing with 40 goals and impressing with dramatic improvement in his three-zone game. TSP had a chance to briefly speak with Gabrielle in Buffalo, where he was supporting good friend and workout partner Wade Allison (Philadelphia Flyers- 52nd) and the Saskatchewan product looks to be in tremendous physical shape. An abrasive, fast-skating winger who relishes physical contact and doing the work in the greasy, grimy areas of the rink, Gabrielle struck fear into opposing goalies with his laser release and an aggressive, finisher’s mindset. His favorite player is Brad Marchand, and while this blog normally tries to avoid comparisons- a more appropriate NHL player whose style is a better fit for the 19-year-old is two-time Stanley Cup champion (with Chicago) and new Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw. Gabrielle’s throwback style is tailor-made for Boston, but he would have to make the Bruins roster out of camp or return to the WHL for the full season. Motivated and ready for the physical challenge, if there is one player at this development camp I wouldn’t want to go into a corner against (ever), it’s Gabrielle…he’s not forgotten about his wait at the draft and it showed in his play last season, as he’s a pure buzzsaw but with some legit skill to boot. He just needs to keep raising the bar and forcing his way into the conversation with continued focus and dedication to his craft.

Gabrielle takes on a much bigger, but not as adept fighter in Ondrej Vala:

Danton Heinen, LW/RW (Denver University- NCAA/Providence- AHL): Like Gabrielle, Heinen was also a fourth-round pick (2014) who joined the Boston organization with little fanfare, but who scored 36 goals and 93 points in 81 collegiate games over two seasons with the Pioneers. As reported first at the Scouting Post last March, Heinen relinquished his remaining NCAA eligibility to sign a three-year contract with the Bruins after his team reached the Frozen Four and tallied a pair of assists in his first professional game with Providence. The left-shooting winger played both sides in college and came out of junior hockey (BCHL) as a center, so he brings the kind of versatility that Boston loves. He’s not an elite skater, but gets from point A to B pretty well and surveys the ice like a chess master, often diagramming plays well in advance and making magic from the mundane. His most memorable game last season was a five-point effort against eventual NCAA champion North Dakota, which demonstrated his excellent puck skills and offensive instincts. Although a shade under 6-1, he’s added mass to get up around 190 pounds, and even if he doesn’t make the NHL roster right away, will have every opportunity to be an impact AHL player with the P-Bruins. Heinen projects as a top-six NHL playmaking forward with 30+ goal upside, but also has the natural smarts and versatility to find a spot on the bottom two lines as well.

Cameron Hughes, C (University of Wisconsin- NCAA): Another cerebral, playmaking center- Hughes was a strong value selection in the 2015 draft’s sixth round after entering the season with top-90 hype. The Alberta product is a smooth-skating, slick-passing pivot who can speed the tempo up or slow it down. Unfortunately, he has extremely average size at just about 6-feet in height and a light frame that won’t get much bigger or stronger than he is now at about 170-ish pounds. He showed off some dynamic, high-end scoring potential when he was skating for the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints, but had a tough first NCAA season on a terrible Badgers team. He made some key strides as a sophomore, but under a new coach and system, this could be the year that Hughes breaks out. Although not very big, he’s another similar player to Fitzgerald in that he plays with an edge and isn’t afraid to take the puck into high traffic areas, even though he knows he’ll get blown up. Another project player who may or may not even get offered a contract when he exhausts his NCAA eligibility in 2018, Hughes was a good flyer to take so late in a deep draft.

Joona Koppanen, C (Ilves Tampere- Finland Jr.): Massive (6-5) center is more of a clampdown pivot who clogs up the middle and is difficult to play against as opposed to someone with intriguing potential/offensive ceiling. He’s got some athletic ability and agility for one so big, but needs to improve his initial steps and direction change to thrive at the next level. Koppanen is a deft performer at the faceoff dot, where he uses a quick stick and his large body to win key draws, especially ones in his own end. If you’ve got the lead late in a game and are looking to shut the other team down, Koppanen is a guy you want out there. Having said that, he’s not very skilled and at the most, is a long shot to establish himself as an effective fourth-line NHL center one day. Considering where he was taken, the team could have done worse, but there isn’t a great deal here to get excited about, either.

Sean Kuraly, C (Miami University- NCAA): One of two assets that came back to Boston when Don Sweeney flipped goaltender Martin Jones to the San Jose Sharks after the 2015 draft (the Frederic first-rounder was the other piece), the RedHawks captain had a disappointing statistical senior season. His production dropped from 19 goals as a junior to just six in 2016, and he may not ever be more than a third-liner assuming he is able to play his way into the NHL. On the positive side, the Ohio native is a big-bodied forward who can play an effective 200-foot game. He showed flashes of some nifty offensive ability back in 2013, when he was a member of Team USA’s gold medal-winning World Jr. Championship squad, and his 31 goals in sophomore and junior years at Miami mean that he’s not without talent, though he doesn’t possess much in the way of standout skills that would translate into a top-six scoring role at the highest level. He’s a decent skater and will do the grunt work in tight and along the walls, but will likely need to carve a niche for himself in the minors first.

Mark Naclerio, C (Brown University-NCAA/Providence-AHL): The two-year captain for the Brown Bears signed an ATO with Providence last spring after finishing his college career with 100 points. Also a captain at Avon Old Farms, Naclerio was a member of the Winged Beavers’ 2010 prep championship squad. He’s not overly big or skilled, but plays with a lot of heart, energy and opportunism. At AOF, the Milford, Conn. product scored a lot of points off the rush, but became more of a quick-strike player in college, often drifting through defensive layers to pounce on loose pucks or deflect shots in from the outside. He’s on an AHL deal at present, so he’s not technically a Boston prospect, but hard work and productivity with Providence this season could see him earn an NHL deal down the road.

Oskar Steen, RW (Färjestad BK- Sweden): At 5-9, 187 pounds, Boston’s sixth-round pick in 2016 is built like a bowling ball and plays an energetic style despite a lack of high-level talent. Smart and rugged, Steen gets a lot of his points through sheer will and effort- he’s not going to dazzle anyone and how well his ability will translate as he tries to break into the NHL one day is anyone’s guess. He did manage to suit up and play in 17 pro league games for Färjestad BK (6 assists), in his country’s highest pro league, so there’s something to be said for that. At 165th overall, there were worse choices for Boston to make at that spot than Steen, who was said to be current scout and former B’s fan favorite P.J. Axelsson’s desired target at that spot. Axelsson, who was drafted 177th overall in 1995 and went onto to play nearly 800 NHL games, all with Boston, knows a little something about what it takes to make an impression when drafted later on, as does GM Don Sweeney. At this stage, the bottom line for Steen is: why not?

The team announced that due to family, school and travel requirements, BU sophomore Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson will not attend this year’s development camp. Zach Senyshyn, who is also recovering from a bout with mono, also is not expected to participate.

The Bruins released the development camp schedule last week:

BOSTON BRUINS 2016 DEVELOPMENT CAMP SCHEDULE AS OF JULY 6:

(Locations and times are subject to change)

Tuesday, July 12 (Wilmington, MA)

-Off-ice testing (Not open to media), Ristuccia Arena, 9:00 a.m.

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 11:00 a.m.

Wednesday, July 13 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Thursday, July 14 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Friday, July 15 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Bruins prospects in their draft years 2013-15

Back with part two of the look at Bruins prospects and how they were projected in their draft seasons by Red Line Report.

In case you missed it, I did this exercise with the 2015-16 NHL Bruins roster here...and part 1- the 2010-12 NHL drafts and B’s prospects and free agents in those draft years are covered here.

And…we’re off:

2013

Ryan Fitzgerald, C Drafted: 120 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 52                    Key comment: “Not big but we like the high hockey IQ and bloodlines.”

Observations: RLR rated him high in 2013, and that might have reflected his standing in the first half of the season with the USPHL’s Valley Jr. Warriors, as he had a downward trend heading into the draft. The nephew of Bruins assistant amateur scouting director Scott Fitzgerald is a gritty, feisty if undersized pivot for Boston College, who is coming off his finest NCAA year as a junior. In similar fashion to Seth Griffith, Fitzgerald’s major knocks are a lack of size and dynamic speed for his stature, but he has terrific hockey sense and a nonstop motor. You have to like his bloodlines- dad Tom Fitzgerald played more than 1,000 games and is Ray Shero’s assistant GM with the New Jersey Devils. Ryan grew up around the game and knows what it takes to be a pro. The Fitzgeralds are hockey royalty in New England, so it looks like the 2013 fourth-rounder will go back to BC for his senior year and then sign in spring 2017 when his eligibility is exhausted.

 

Linus Arnesson, D Drafted: 59  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 75                       Key comment: “As B.B. King would say- ‘the thrill is gone.'”

Observations: A late 1994-born player, Arnesson likely would have been taken in the late first/early second in 2012, but another year of viewing moved him down in the rankings over a lack of offensive potential. With his size and skating, Arnesson at one time looked like a potential top-2 NHL defenseman who might have some power play chops at the highest level, but as scouts got a longer look at him in an extra 2012-13 campaign, it became more evident that the steady Swede was more of a “safe” and unspectacular positional defensive defenseman than one who joins the rush and has the hands and head to be a presence on the score sheet. The good news for the Bruins is that they didn’t draft Arnesson in the late first round, so getting him at the end of the second was decent value for them. He showed promise at the end of 2014-15, when he came over to finish the season in Providence, but this past year- his first full AHL campaign was a bit of a bust as he battled nagging injuries and rollercoaster play. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a future in the Bruins organization, and as a guy who plays a vanilla game, he could earn a recall at some point if the team needs a solid defensive presence. Having said that, he looks like something the B’s already have in abundance: a 4/5/6 player who provides okay depth but best case would be an unheralded second pairing D who puts up at best 15-20 points a season but works well with a more offense-minded partner. The old adage on defense in hockey says that if a player is doing his job well, you don’t notice him. That appears to be the case with Arnesson, but the Bruins were hoping for more than that when they took him with their top choice three years ago (after giving up their first-rounder to Dallas for Jaromir Jagr).

 

Peter Cehlarik, LW Drafted: 89  (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 111                         Key comment: “Tall & lanky with great hands but feet betray him.”

Observations: This late riser ended up generating some draft buzz and is still an intriguing if oft-forgotten man when it comes to prospect discussions. The Slovak, who has spent the past three seasons playing in Sweden, is a top-six NHL forward dark horse kind of prospect, but he’s also one of those guys who is tough to peg because if he doesn’t make it as a scorer, it’s hard to envision him playing a heavy and responsible enough game to succeed on the third or fourth lines in Boston. His initial first steps are a bit clunky, though with a long, efficient stride, he can work well in open space with good straight line speed. Cehlarik improved his skating from when he was first drafted, but it will never be a strength. He has a quick release that allows him to score goals off the rush- an-instride drive that sometimes handcuffs goalies. He’ll also take the puck in close and shows some pretty fine dangle in getting net minders to open up and commit. Don Sweeney once described the puck coming off his stick as a “slingshot”to me, so there’s that.

 

Wiley Sherman, D   Drafted: 150  (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 125                 Key comment: “Getting around him is like circumnavigating the globe.”

Observations: Drafted as an identified project, Sherman is similar to O’Gara in that he has a lot of developing to do. The Greenwich, Conn. native is more of a gentle giant at 6-foot-6, but with his wingspan and long reach, along with pretty agile footwork for one so big, he’s tough to beat 1-on-1. He’s not a physical force but is more of a smart positional defender who angles opponents away from his net and sacrifices his body to block shots rather than look for open-ice kill shots and hammering players along the boards. When Sherman has time and space, he’s capable of moving the puck out of his own end, but when the game closes in on him quickly, his processing time lengthens and he can be forced into turning it over. Drafted out of Hotchkiss School, he took an extra year of prep before getting to Harvard, so he’s still pretty raw and will likely take the full two years remaining on his NCAA eligibility before the B’s will assess whether to bring him into the organizational fold.

 

Anton Blidh, LW      Drafted: 180  (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: One RLR European staffer summed up Blidh succinctly in Newark after the pick was made: “Gritty rugged guy, but no skills.” I’ll admit- have not really seen much to this player in the three years since he was drafted, even when he had a nice 2015 World Jr. tourney for Team Sweden. He’s gritty and rugged, but plays a very simple, straight-line game. It’s a nice fit for what the Bruins like, but Blidh is a dime-a-dozen kind of guy and it stands to reason given where they selected him. He’s not someone who is going to suddenly wake up and start lighting it up, but the team could do a lot worse than Blidh on the fourth line or in a pinch. In other words- as long as you take him for what he is, there’s no reason to get excited.

 

2014

Ryan Donato, C                        Drafted: 56  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 65               Key comment: “Great bloodlines and hockey sense with soft hands.”

Observations: The B’s grabbed the son of one of their hometown favorites and the pick looks solid two years later. Coming out of his freshman year at Harvard under dad, Ted, the younger Donato also earned a Bronze medal at the 2016 WJC with Team USA. He’s always been a heady, creative playmaking center who is bigger than his dad but doesn’t have the blazing wheels. With the Crimson, Donato showed signs of being on track to be a dominant NCAA scorer in the next couple of years. The B’s can afford to be patient with him and they will- there is no reason to rush him to the big show.

 

Danton Heinen, LW/RW           Drafted: 116 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: Nobody (outside of the NHL clubs on him) hit on Heinen…not one scouting service had him even ranked, and RLR was no exception. Two years later, Heinen scored nearly 100 points, making an immediate impact as a freshman and then following it up as a sophomore, leading the Pioneers in scoring after a slow start. He signed with Boston in April, giving up his last two years of NCAA eligibility to turn pro. Heinen made positive waves in his first AHL contest with Providence, registering a multi-point effort. He came down to earth a bit in the playoffs, but the British Columbia native looks like an intriguing playmaking wing, who uses his superior vision and creativity to control the flow and tempo in the offensive zone. He looks like a keeper. As for the questions surrounding Heinen and whether he can make the Boston roster right away, it probably wouldn’t kill folks to exert a little more patience and let him at least start in Providence to see how he adjusts to the pro challenges. He’s a talented forward with an intriguing ceiling if he continues his development, but let’s see how Heinen looks at his first pro training camp before penciling him into the Boston opening night lineup.

 

Anders Bjork,  RW      Drafted: 146 (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 178               Key comment: “Has the skating and the work ethic to make it as a checker.”

Observations: This late-round value pick is coming off a very good sophomore campaign at Notre Dame. He’s quick out of the starting blocks, accelerating quickly and demonstrating a nice short-area burst, which makes him highly effective on the fore check. He’s an energetic player and relentless in puck pursuit, but with the Fighting Irish this season, Bjork showed surprisingly consistent offensive flair, leading the club in scoring. He’ll need to keep putting up the points to project as something more than an ideal third-line forward, so expect him to come down to earth a bit next season, but he certainly looks like a nice value pick in the fifth round for the B’s because of his well-rounded game and smarts.

 

Emil Johansson, D      Drafted: 206 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: A lack of hockey sense had him off of RLR’s list, but Johansson had a strong finish to the 2015-16 season that might earn him more of a hard look going forward. He’s got a bit of a doughy build and has been knocked for his conditioning in the past. Johansson is a capable skater who moves well laterally, and handles the puck with confidence. When it comes to vision and hockey IQ, we’re not all that sure if he’s got what it takes between the ears to play at the NHL level, but admittedly- he’s made a case to at least be in the conversation. It appears he is leaving his HV71 club for MoDo, so we’ll see what comes next in his development.

 

Colby Cave, C         Drafted: Undrafted (Free Agent- Boston 2015)

Red Line ranking: 85                  Key comment: “Complete centre is versatile- can excel in any role.”

Observations: Ranked in both 2013 and 2014 RLR draft guides, he’s an industrious two-way center that impressed in Swift Current with 2015 first-rounder Jake DeBrusk before getting signed by Boston before the team made his teammate one of three top-15 picks in Sunrise. He skates well and like Bjork shows some real energy and tenacity when pressuring the opposing puck carrier coming out of the zone. He didn’t put up big numbers in Providence, but had his moments and looks like he could challenge for lower line duty in Boston if he keeps progressing.

 

2015

Jakub Zboril, D         Drafted: 13 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 26                  Key comment: “Intense, and a physical specimen with a cannon shot.”

Observations: The Bruins missed out on an impressive top tier of defenders in the top-10, instead settling for arguably the next best player in Zboril, at least in terms of talent. Ability-wise, there is no doubt the Czech product could be a top-3 defenseman in the NHL one day, but the consistency and effort levels were at times lacking in his draft season. He took a step back statistically this past year, struggling at the beginning of the season before settling into a more defense-oriented role for Danny Flynn’s Saint John Sea Dogs. Zboril plays with a physical edge and when on his game, he’s as good as anyone, but the wavering intensity and at times nonchalance has led to questions about his commitment. We’ll see if he can mature and figure it out, but there’s a reason he wasn’t a top-10 pick a year ago, and Zboril didn’t help himself a great deal last season. This time around, a bounce-back campaign would be nice, but because he’s a 1997-born player, he either has to make the Boston roster out of camp or go back to the QMJHL. That has led to speculation that he might take his game to Europe in 2016-17.

 

Jake DeBrusk, LW        Drafted: 14 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 25                  Key comment: “42 goals and NHL bloodlines will attract attention.”

Observations: The son of former NHL enforcer Lou DeBrusk, the Red Deer Rebels forward finished strong with an excellent WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament after a tough year offensively. Dogged by a significant lower-body injury early on, DeBrusk was then traded by Swift Current to the Memorial Cup host city club in late December, where he appeared to be getting his production on track before getting moved around various lines and scoring at a little over a point-per-game clip. It was a step down after scoring 42 goals a year ago, but DeBrusk is still a smart winger with impressive offensive hockey sense, and he showed some opportunistic offense with the spotlight on him in the Memorial Cup last month. As a late 1996-born player, the Bruins have options: he is signed and can spend the next season in Providence, or they can return DeBrusk to the WHL for his overage season. He’s a good kid who has been unfairly maligned because of where he was drafted and the fact that most public scouting lists had him in the 20’s, but he went about 10 spots earlier. Still- 42 goals is 42 goals- watch for DeBrusk to elevate his stock because he’s got the skill, smarts and dedication to be more than the sum of his parts. He’s got to get stronger, which could factor into a decision to send him back to junior, and his skating isn’t subpar, but he could stand to add some quickness in his first few steps. He compensates at this level by reading the play so well and bursting to pucks in open ice, but that will be tougher to do in the pro ranks with the reduced time and space.

 

Zach Senyshyn, RW        Drafted: 15 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 46                  Key comment: “Love his combination of size, skating and edginess.”

Observations: The first big surprise off the draft board in 2015 sparked an immediate wave of negativity from many who had never even seen him play. At 6-2, he can really skate, rapidly exploding to top speed in just a few long strides, and often times blowing by defenders on the outside and taking pucks straight to the net. He went from 26 to 45 goals from his draft season, but there is still significant room for improvement in Senyshyn’s game, and folks should not see failure if he is returned to junior before the next season. Though an impressive physical specimen, Senyshyn still needs to develop a more complete game and avoid the tendency for younger scoring forwards to hang out and wait for their next offensive chance. The payoff on this player could be big so long as people are patient, because he has the natural NHL tools to be a top-six forward one day, but some guys take longer than others, and the B’s can afford to wait a little. Like Zboril, Senyshyn can’t play full-time in the AHL next season if he doesn’t make the Boston roster out of camp.

 

Brandon Carlo, D                     Drafted: 37 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 41                   Key comment: “Huge with improving puck/skating skating skills. Big upside.”

Observations: The gigantic Colorado product is already a fan favorite and he has all the makings of a dominant shutdown defender who can at some point help get the Boston blue line group pointed in the right direction. Like DeBrusk, Carlo can play for Providence next season, but it might all be moot, as this huge, mobile defender might just break camp and enter the season on Boston’s roster. Not to put a lot of pressure on the Tri-City Americans rearguard, but he’s talented enough to play right away. The big question is whether the Bruins will opt to let him play a bigger role in the AHL before making a decision. Either way, we’re pretty much looking at a player who looks like as solid a bet as any to play in the NHL. The question we’re left with is what kind of impact Carlo will have: on the positive side- he can really skate for a 6-5 player, with speed and agility, and he can fire off cannon drives from the point. Alas, not real sure of the vision and natural hockey sense, but his game is good enough to reach the NHL, even if he tops out as a solid 3-4 shutdown guy at that level.

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C             Drafted: 45 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 70                   Key comment: “Strong two-way pivot but a bit mechanical.”

Observations: Swedish product is coming off a superb freshman season at Boston University. A lot of observers have drawn comparisons to Patrice Bergeron, which sets the bar pretty darn high for the player known as “JFK” but he sets himself apart with his refined game, smarts and overall poise. Forsbacka-Karlsson showed a natural flair for winning draws and despite not having high-end speed, shows a nice changeup of gears through the neutral zone and often pulled players out of position with a series of deceptive movements and head fakes. With soft hands and a natural knack for threading the needle, the sky is the limit for this kid, who left home in Sweden to adjust to North America in the USHL for two years before joining the Terriers. In hindsight, RLR had him a little low for what he’s shown in the early going.

 

Jeremy Lauzon, D                          Drafted: 52 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 59                   Key comment: “Vastly underrated blue liner can hit, skate and score.”

Observations: This Red Line favorite went right around where he was projected by our Quebec guys, who saw him surge nicely in the second half. In 2015-16, he took his game up a notch, establishing offensive highs in assists and points, despite fighting through injuries that forced him out of the lineup and hampered his progress in the second half. He managed to return from a horrific skate cut to the neck during the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. His Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the league championship, and he was able to get back to action in the Memorial Cup tournament, dropping the championship game to the London Knights. Lauzon skates well enough, though he’s still addressing his transitory skating mechanics- the pivots and turns can be a little slushy at times. He has a big shot, deft passing touch and will hit and fight to defend teammates when necessary. He could be the best of the three defensemen drafted by Boston in 2015.

 

 

Daniel Vladar, G                           Drafted: 75 (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 67                   Key comment: “Poor technique, but he’s 6-5 and a human gumby.”

Observations: When it comes to high ceilings for goaltenders, Vladar was among the leaders in the class of 2015.  He played well for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, splitting the starts and posting respectable numbers, but the Czech native is still raw and years away from staking a claim for NHL time in the crease. Interestingly enough, the Bruins signed Vladar to an ELC, making him ineligible to return to the USHL, and it looks like Vladar could play in the ECHL or AHL next season. Don’t rule out a spot in the CHL despite the ban on European net minders if Vladar’s agents can successfully argue a loophole that establishes North American residency for him over the last 12 months. I guess we will see.

 

 

Jesse Gabrielle, LW                        Drafted: 105   (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 132                   Key comment: “Naturally abrasive cuss plays like a burr up under the saddle.”

Observations: At one time thought of as a potential second-rounder, Gabrielle slid to the fourth round, where his favorite team snapped him up.  One year later, he exploded for 40 goals after being dealt from the Regina Pats to the Prince George Cougars last August. Gabrielle is about 5-11, but is a thick and sturdy 205 pounds- he plays like a little wrecking ball, driving through traffic and getting pucks to the net the old fashioned way. He’s also very tough to play against as he dishes out big hits, is nasty along the walls and will go after anyone who crosses him. Gabrielle is an exciting prospect as someone who had modest expectations this season and blew them up. The key for him will be to keep progressing now that he’ll have opponents keying on him and will likely be playing back in the WHL this season as a 1997-born player. Unfortunately, the AHL is not an option for him until 2017-18

 

Cameron Hughes, C                        Drafted: 165   (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 71                  Key comment: “So underrated, underscouted he may not get drafted.”

Observations: Well, the draft snub didn’t happen- the B’s grabbed him in the middle of the sixth round- but if you put a lot of stock in the Red Line rankings, then the team got a heck of a value with the Alberta native there. A highly creative and skilled playmaking pivot, Hughes impressed RLR staffers going back to the 2013-14 season when he was a standout in the AJHL with the Spruce Grove Saints. Unfortunately, Hughes had the double whammy in his draft year of playing on a poor Wisconsin Badgers team, coupled with being physically under-developed in going up against the bigger, stronger, older NCAA competition. Hughes had a better offensive season as a sophomore and showed some flashes of NHL-caliber ability (he could work his way up to second-line center one day, as crazy as that might sound today), but the consistent production wasn’t there for him. Under a new coach and perhaps being a year older and a better surrounding cast, watch Hughes to open up some eyes this coming year.

 

Jack Becker, C/W                                         Drafted: 195 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 222

Observations: The Mahtomedi HS-drafted player and University of Wisconsin recruit had a pretty average USHL season with the Sioux Falls Stampede, scoring eight goals and 22 points in 58 games. He’s got a big frame and has some intriguing skill, but is a long shot to ever do anything of substance in the NHL. We’ll have to take the long view and see how he looks in the NCAA, but all signs point to a slow transition that will take a few years and we might not even have a realistic view on his development path until 2018 at the earliest.

 

 

Bruins prospects update- the Amateurs

We took a quick season-ending look yesterday at the B’s pro prospects who are now officially in the offseason (minus a few of the European players- oversight on my part).

It’s time to look at the major junior and NCAA (plus the Euros I didn’t include) players and provide some observations on how their seasons went, signing status and what could be next for them. As Jake DeBrusk and Jeremy Lauzon are still playing, they are not included- we’ll wrap them up after the Memorial Cup is over.

Jack Becker, C (2015 draft- 7th round): Minnesota high schooler when drafted went to the USHL this season with the Sioux Falls Stampede prior to entering University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall. The Mahtomedi native is a pretty raw product, still growing into his frame and developing an underrated skill set. It will likely take him some time to transition into being an impact performer with the Bulldogs, but for a seventh-round pick, there is some interesting long-term potential here. Current status: unsigned.

Matt Benning, D (2012 draft- 6th round): The nephew of Vancouver  (and former Boston assistant) GM Jim Benning was a key cog in the Northeastern Huskies’ run to the Hockey East championship. He doesn’t have ideal height, but plays a rugged, physical and smart defensive game and is a little underrated in terms of his vision and passing skills. He’s not going to be a big point producer in the pros, but he plays bigger than his modest 6-foot frame and looks like a future third-pairing guy and special teamer. Currently unsigned, though reports at the end of the season had the Bruins expressing interest in bringing him out of the NCAA on an ELC.

Anders Bjork, RW (2014 draft- 5th round): This sophomore had a breakout season with the University of Notre Dame, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring with 35 points in as many games. He’s a fast two-way winger (he spent most of his time on the off-wing this season) who doesn’t project as a high-end scorer in the pro ranks, but is a versatile, opportunistic three-zone player. He could very well develop into one of the better third-line forwards in the NHL one day, but as a late-round pick with other similar prospects in the mix, there is no reason to rush the Wisconsin native to turn pro. Current status: unsigned.

Peter Cehlarik, LW (2013 draft- 3rd round): The 90th overall pick out of the Swedish Hockey League is a Slovakia native coming off his best pro season. He tallied 11 goals and 20 points in the regular season for Lulea, then followed up with three more tallies in 11 games in the postseason, reaching the SHL semifinals before falling to eventual champion Frolunda. With a 6-foot-1 frame and weighing in at about 200 pounds, Cehlarik has the size to do effective work in the high danger areas and along the walls, but needs to get heavier on the puck. His skating has improved since he was drafted, but he’s still relatively average in terms of his initial burst. Has quick hands and a heavy shot. Current status: unsigned.

Ryan Donato, C (2014 draft- 2nd round):The son of his Harvard coach (and former Bruin Ted Donato) is the Brookline-based Dexter School’s all-time leading scorer (he played there under his uncle, Dan Donato) is coming off a strong freshman campaign. He split 2014-15 between the USPHL, prep school and the USHL. The skilled and cerebral center hails from Scituate, Mass. and earned a bronze medal in the 2016 World Jr. Championship tourney in Helsinki last January. He’s got a real head for the game plus silky-smooth hands and is bigger than his dad was (though not as fast a skater). He’s another project that will take more time to develop, but could challenge for top-six forward status in Boston one day. Current status: unsigned.

Ryan Fitzgerald, C/W (2013 draft- 4th round): Another player with deep local hockey ties and Bruins bloodlines (dad Tom Fitzgerald starred at Austin Prep and Providence College before embarking on a 1,000+-game NHL career). The former Malden Catholic Lancer and Valley Jr. Warrior just posted his best NCAA season as a junior at Boston College, tallying 24 goals and 47 points. Though not possessing ideal NHL size and speed, Fitzgerald is ultra-smart and competitive, often anticipating the play to gain a step on defenders and playing the game with unbridled energy and an edge. He’s often overlooked (guilty here) but has the kind of natural grit and characteristics that lead to pro hockey success. His ceiling might top out on the third line, but he could be an effective contributor there eventually. Current status: unsigned.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C (2015 draft- 2nd round): Stockholm native spent the two years prior to this one in the USHL with Omaha before joining the BU Terriers last fall. Highly intelligent, slick center immediately impressed his coaches and teammates with his maturity and complete game. Good hands and instincts- more of a set-up man than a finisher, he’s a right-handed shot and plays a similar style to that of Patrice Bergeron. Although he stands at about 6-foot-1, he’s quite lean with a lot of physical maturing to do. He’s on the verge of breaking out in a big way next season as a sophomore and is one of the players the Bruins are eagerly anticipating down the road. Current status: unsigned.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW (2015 draft- 4th round): Surprise! The 105th overall pick last June scored 40 goals for the Prince George Cougars and impressed with his aggressive speed and physical, agitating game. A lack of talent was not the reason he allegedly slipped down to the fourth round, and Gabrielle will get his opportunity to develop and grow within the Bruins organization as he matures and learns more about what it takes to be a pro. Unfortunately, he’s a 1997-born player, so unless he makes the NHL roster out of camp next fall (not all that likely) he’ll have to return to junior for the entire season. He did get three AHL games in with Providence at the end of the year, but did not suit up for the playoffs (no ELC in place). It’s easy to get excited about the 40-goal season, but it will be important for Gabrielle not to take steps backwards this season with expectations now higher. He looks like a future top-9 NHL forward but he’s going to need seasoning first. Current status: unsigned.

Cameron Hughes, C (2015 draft- 6th round): Entering the 2014-15 season, Hughes was thought of as top-three round prospect after starring with Spruce Grove of the AJHL, but he was underdeveloped physically and playing for a poor team in the Wisconsin Badgers. Things improved for Hughes this past year (5 goals, 25 points in 32 games), though Wisconsin was still below .500, costing head coach Mike Eaves his position. The Edmonton native is an above average playmaker who sees the ice beautifully and sets the table well. Watch for him to take the offense up a notch as a junior, but he needs to keep adding weight to his skinny frame, and will likely be asked to shoot the puck more. Current status: unsigned.

Emil Johansson, D (2014 draft- 7th round): After a pretty mediocre regular season, Johansson heated up in the final games and SHL playoffs, flashing the promise he had shown at ages 16 and 17 before being a late pick in 2014. He’s only an average-sized defenseman by pro hockey standards, but skates well, with good straight-line speed and lateral agility. Observers question his hockey IQ and ability to process the play quickly enough to be an impact player, but after going without a goal in the first 40 games, he tallied five in the final 16 (10 plus 6 playoff contests) for HV71. Expectations are still where they ought to be for a seventh-round pick, but he’s produced more in Swedish pro than 2013 second-rounder Linus Arnesson did. Current status: unsigned.

Zach Senyshyn, RW (2015 draft- 1st round): After scoring 26 goals as a fourth-liner with very little power play time, the 15th overall selection netted 45 in a much bigger role with the Soo Greyhounds. With his 6-foot-2 size, he’s an explosive skater who regularly beats defenses to the outside and displays a knack for jumping on openings and finishing off plays. He’s got a lot of work to do on his overall game, yet. The biggest knock on Senyshyn right now is his shift-to-shift consistency and a tendency to hang back looking for scoring chances rather than going into his own end and doing the grunt work for loose pucks with regularity. That’s not to say he’s a lazy player- he’s not- but he won’t beat out some of the other older, more advanced right wingers in the system with the goal scoring alone. It will be interesting to see how he fares at the July 12-15 development camp and then in September with the rest of the veterans now that he knows what is expected of him. He played like a first-round pick after the B’s were hammered in the court of public opinion for taking him where they did, but even with the big boost in offense, he’s not ready for primetime. Like Gabrielle, he can’t play in the AHL this season if he doesn’t make the NHL roster in October, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the B’s keep Senyshyn for an extended period and then send him back before he hits the 10-game limit. That will depend on him and how he looks in the fall. He’s already signed his ELC- a three-year pact at $925,000 per season, which goes into effect either when he begins playing in the AHL regularly or passes the 10-game mark in the NHL. It does not toll while he is still in the OHL.

Wiley Sherman, D (2013 draft- 5th round): Huge 6-foot-6 defenseman had a solid sophomore season, scoring his first three NCAA goals after not finding the back of the net in 2014-15 with Harvard. The former Hotchkiss Bearcat is still quite raw and remains a significant project who is nowhere close to making a case for an NHL job in Boston. He’s a good skater for one so big and has capable puck-moving ability. However, when the game closes in on Sherman and he’s forced to make decisions under duress, that’s when things start to go off the rails for him. You can’t coach his size and tremendous wingspan and reach, and it bears noting that there isn’t much of an offensive ceiling for him, but he could develop into a capable bottom-pairing guy with the investment of more work and patience. The Greenwich, Connecticut native is a good guy with a fine disposition, but doesn’t bring the kind of nasty, snarly temperament that would be embraced in Boston. Current status: unsigned.

Jakub Zboril, D (2015 draft- 1st round): Boston’s top choice (13th overall- acquired with the pick from Los Angeles for Milan Lucic) has the tools to be a top-three NHL defender but he raised some concerns after an average season. The Czech had a much better 2014-15 campaign, when he overcame an MCL injury to post 33 points in 44 games. This season, he missed time to some nagging injuries and the World Jr. tourney, but only managed 20 points in 50. Zboril had a much better playoffs with 10 points in 17 games as the Saint John Seadogs advanced to the third round of the QMJHL postseason before falling to Shawinigan. When on his game, this player can skate, shoot, pass and hit; he makes opponents pay the price for real estate in front of his net and has the skill and swagger of an effective two-way D at the highest level. Unfortunately, Zboril can go long stretches where he appears passive and disengaged. That lack of consistency was the biggest reason why he wasn’t ranked in the top tier of defenders in the 2015 draft class, and has stood in stark contrast to teammate and fellow first-rounder Thomas Chabot (Ottawa- 18th overall), who really emerged  as Danny Flynn’s go-to guy on the blue line this season. Zboril has the talent to play in the NHL right now…but is the maturity and self-discipline there? We’ll soon find out, but as a 1997-born player drafted in the CHL he has to make the Boston roster or go back to the ‘Q’. This is why we’re hearing whispers that Zboril may opt to play in Europe somewhere, but with that season beginning before NHL training camp starts up, any such decision will likely have to wait. He signed his ELC with Boston last summer- three years at $925k with the same caveat in place as Senyshyn (and Brandon Carlo/Jake DeBrusk’s ) deal.

*Should Carlo and DeBrusk play in the AHL next season, their ELC first year will toll for the 2016-17 season.

 

 

B’s CHL prospects final regular season stats

The Canadian Hockey League (major junior) 2015-16 regular season officially ended yesterday and playoffs are up next for all but one of the six B’s futures from the 2015 NHL draft in major junior.

Defenseman Brandon Carlo and his Tri-City Americans failed to qualify for the WHL postseason, so the 37th overall selection will likely be headed to Providence of the AHL this week. Theoretically, the B’s could bring him to Boston, but given the surplus of defensemen with the big club at present, it’s hard to see the team waiving a player they’ve kept up with the team all year to make room for a junior player. The B’s will more likely exercise the amateur tryout option for Carlo to finish out the final regular season games of the year in Providence, but he won’t be eligible for the AHL playoffs.

Here’s a quick rundown of Carlo and the rest of the Boston prospects in major junior and how they did during the regular schedule as they prepare for the second season. They are ranked in order of their scoring production, and I’ve also provided the points differentials from the previous year on the basic categories, so you can see what specific categories showed improvement. I plan to do more of an advanced statistical breakdown at the end of the playoffs.

But for now, here’s where the major junior players rack and stack after another CHL season is in the books:

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars (WHL)

2015-16 regular season stats:

GP  72   Goals  40   Assists  35   Points   75  Penalty Minutes  101      +/-   4

Previous season differentials:

GP +6  Goals+17   Assists +14   Points +31  Penalty Minutes -11  +/-  +12

Season in review: The 2015 fourth-round pick played for his third WHL club since the beginning of 2014-15 led all Bruins prospects at the amateur level with 75 points. At one point in the season, Gabrielle was leading the WHL in goals scored, but he cooled down the stretch, finishing tied with teammate Chase Witala for tops on the Cougars and 12th in the league (Dryden Hunt finished with 58 to lead the WHL). He finished with just two goals in his last 9 games (four points) and went without a strike in the final six games of the regular season. His best month was a 9-goal, 18-point December in 13 games, and he stayed hot in the months of January and February, tallying 15 goals and 31 points in 26 games.

Outlook: Gabrielle was a revelation this season, rebounding his stock after a disappointing fall in the draft. In a world where people just love player comparisons, the name you hear most often associated with him is Brad Marchand, but the more I watch film on Gabrielle, the less I see another version of Marchand. Yes, Marchand is the player he aspires to be like, but Gabrielle is bigger, stronger and has a nasty element to his game whereby he fights his own battles and comes out on top more often than not. He’s not big enough to go up against the true heavyweights, but he’s going to surprise some people in the NHL when he gets his dander up. Hockey Fights gives you some insight on that here:

Gabrielle reminds me more of a wing version of Mike Richards (in his prime) than anything- good speed but not blazing wheels, not all that tall but stout and able to do his most damage in high traffic areas where he can get that wicked shot off quickly.

As a 1997-born player Gabrielle cannot play in the AHL next season with Providence. If he does not make the Boston roster out of training camp in October, he must go back to junior (though he could play pro hockey in Europe- there is nothing preventing that in the transfer agreement between the CHL and NHL). Given the other players in Boston’s system who are further along in their pro/developmental timelines, it would be a tall order for Gabrielle to establish himself in the NHL next season, but it’s not an impossibility despite the low odds of it happening. We’ll see how he looks in September. Beyiond that, Gabrielle is a leading candidate to make Canada’s 2017 World Jr. Championship squad along with Zach Senyshyn and Jeremy Lauzon.

Here’s a closer look at him from early November courtesy of Shaw TV (Northern BC):

Zach Senyshyn, RW Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

2015-16 regular season stats:

GP  66   Goals  45   Assists  20   Points   65  Penalty Minutes  20      +/-   5

Previous season differentials:

GP 0  Goals+19   Assists +1   Points +20  Penalty Minutes +3  +/-  -25

Season in review: Senyshyn passed the eye test in impressive fashion in his second full year in the OHL after scoring 26 goals as a rookie in a limited role. After spending much of the year on the Greyhounds’ top line, he moved to the second unit late in the year and it didn’t hamper his production despite playing with less-talented/experienced linemates. Senyshyn is one of the best skaters in the OHL, and that’s saying something as he would often explode past defenders in the open ice on the way to the net. His 45 goals finished seventh (he equaled Aaron Berisha and Dylan Sadowy but played more games than they did) in the OHL behind league leader Christian Dvorak (52). The assist totals compared to what he posted a year ago, but is a reflection of several factors: his role as a finisher who was asked to score goals rather than set them up, and an average supporting cast for starters. His goal and assist totals put him 31st in league scoring behind OHL leader (and Sharks prospect) Kevin Labanc (127 points). He played a far more prominent role in the Soo this year, playing in the top-six and seeing extensive time on special teams.

Outlook: 45 goals in any league is an impressive showing, and Senyshyn has effectively silenced many of the doubts surrounding his 15th overall selection last June. The outstanding seasons from Kyle Connor (who will probably win the Hobey Baker this year- the second consecutive season a freshman has won NCAA hockey’s top award) and Mathew Barzal haven’t ended the debate by any stretch, as critics have now turned their attention to Jake DeBrusk. This is the kind of pointless, unproductive silliness that we saw directed at Senyshyn last summer, so at this stage, we can only look at the significant improvement across the board by the 15th overall selection and chart his continued progress. Senyshyn is not a finished product- he still needs to address consistency and continue to refine his awareness and effort in all zones as he continues to develop. Like Gabrielle, he is a ’97, so he cannot play in Providence next year in a full-time capacity.

Sportsnet ran this brief draft feature on him almost a year ago:

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos-Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

2015-16 regular season stats:

GP  61   Goals  21   Assists  44   Points   65  Penalty Minutes  47      +/-   10

Previous season differentials:

GP -11  Goals -21   Assists +5   Points -16  Penalty Minutes +7        +/-  +19

Season in review: Purely on the face of it, DeBrusk had a tough 2015-16 campaign. He scored just half as many goals as his 42 from a season ago, dealt with a debilitating lower body injury that cost him several weeks of the season, and was traded to Red Deer just before the new year. In looking at the film, there’s an obvious explanation for the dip in production- once he was traded away from Swift Current, he was relegated to a secondary scoring role behind the older Adam Helewka, who was acquired at the same time and made the most of his opportunities under Brent Sutter, scoring 26 goals in 34 games when compared to DeBrusk’s 12 (in 37). DeBrusk raised his assist totals to a career best this season, but there is no denying that the dip in overall production creates questions that a strong playoff showing and eventual Memorial Cup opportunity (Red Deer is the host city this year) can alleviate. DeBrusk isn’t flashy or dynamic, which makes him an easy target of critics whereas if he zipped around the ice in noticeable fashion, he might get more benefit of the doubt. Although he lacks high-end skating and a “wow” factor, DeBrusk has fine hands and exceptional offensive hockey sense and creativity. He improved his two-way game this season and playing for Sutter will benefit him going forward.

Outlook: A good kid with a solid attitude, DeBrusk attracted the Bruins with his finishing skills, maturity and willingness to work. He’s had a series of disappointments since being drafted- from a mediocre Team Canada World Jr. evaluation camp in August, to the embarrassment of failing the B’s conditioning run (along with Senyshyn and Zboril) at his first real NHL training camp, the rough start to his WHL season and surgery, to being completely left off the roster of Canada’s final training camp roster in December. All of those things feed into negativity surrounding DeBrusk, but too much is being made of it. He got off to a blistering offensive start with the Rebels in early January but cooled off and had to deal with line shuffling as he adjusted to a new system and different requirements. Whether he can rebound from the setbacks and finish strong is one of the more compelling Bruins-related story lines as Spring arrives. No one should be writing DeBrusk off this early in his timeline, but by the same token, it’s not unfair to question where he’s headed in his development after the fall off in goals and the general disappointment surrounding his post-draft season.

A late 1996-born player like Carlo, DeBrusk is signed and will likely spend the 2016-17 season in the AHL with Providence. Given a better than average chance that Frank Vatrano will earn a promotion to Boston next fall, DeBrusk provides another solid option to slot in on the left side for the Baby B’s and could  open some eyes with his natural scoring instincts, especially if he gets a chance to play with a skilled playmaker like Austin Czarnik.

Here’s the segment from when he was drafted which has the interview with his dad, former NHL enforcer Louie DeBrusk:

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)

2015-16 regular season stats:

GP  46   Goals  10   Assists  40   Points   50  Penalty Minutes  80      +/-   40

Previous season differentials:

GP -14  Goals -5   Assists +19   Points +14  Penalty Minutes  -8        +/-  +28

Season in review: A tremendous start to the year was highlighted in late December by Lauzon being sent to Team Canada WJC camp after roster invite Jake Walman suffered an injury and was unable to go. Lauzon did not look out of place and was one of the final cuts to the roster, impressing observers with his poise and two-way game. Unfortunately, he also suffered a lower body injury that became one of the nagging variety, shelving him for much of January and hampering play well into February. All told- he missed 22 games, but still finished as his team’s leading scorer on defense (fifth overall). He typically played around 20 minutes per game and was a key contributor in all situations for the Quebec League-leading Huskies (54-9-3-2).

Outlook: It has been said before but bears repeating here: of the three defensemen the B’s drafted in 2015, Lauzon is the most complete and could go on to have the most pro success going forward. He’s not as offensively skilled as Jakub Zboril (though he nearly tripled Zboril’s production this season), nor does he have the natural size to be as dominant a shutdown force as Carlo seems to project as. However, Lauzon has no real flaws in his game as a player who can skate and move the puck effectively, but also plays with strong awareness and has a gritty ruggedness to him that will earn him points with the Boston coaches. Whether Lauzon has the chops to live up to some encouraging potential as a top-3 NHL defender one day or grades out more as a solid, safe 4-6 remains to be seen, but given his ability and attitude, he should play in some capacity if injuries don’t hold him back.

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans (WHL)

2015-16 regular season stats:

GP  52   Goals  5   Assists  22   Points   27  Penalty Minutes  94      +/-   8

Previous season differentials:

GP -9  Goals +1   Assists +1   Points +2  Penalty Minutes  +4        +/-  +23

Season in review: From a personal perspective, it was another standard but solid statistical year of output for the right-shooting Coloradan. He scored one more goal and added one more helper in nine fewer games played from a season ago. He lost contests to minor injuries and a two-week stint with the USA World Jr squad for the second straight year, capturing a bronze medal in Finland. The 6-5 defender is an impressive physical specimen with a massive reach and wingspan, which makes him extremely difficult to beat 1-on-1. He’s not overly physical or aggressive, but uses his big frame to staple opponents to the walls and move traffic from the front of his netminder. Unfortunately for Carlo, collective success with the Americans was fleeting this season, as his squad failed to qualify for the WHL postseason.

Outlook: As mentioned earlier, watch for Carlo to join the Providence Bruins this week and possibly even suit up for games this coming weekend, as he gets a head start on his professional career. He’s currently projected to play full-time in the AHL next season, and has an outside chance at earning an NHL job in the process, but fans should temper their expectations going into training camp next fall. While it wouldn’t be unheard of for him to make the jump to the highest level at age 19 (he turns 20 in late November), his chances are tied to whatever offseason moves the Bruins are likely to make at the defense position. He’s got the kind of size you can’t teach and rock solid temperament, but there’s no need to rush Carlo into the mix. If he earns it, so be it- but starting the season in Providence next October will not be an indictment of his potential, but rather- an opportunity for him to play a key developmental role in the AHL after three full years of major junior hockey.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

2015-16 regular season stats:

GP  50   Goals  6   Assists  14   Points   20  Penalty Minutes  57      +/-   10

Previous season differentials:

GP +6   Goals -7   Assists -6    Points -13   Penalty Minutes  -16        +/-  +8

Season in review: Where to start? After playing well in the B’s rookie tourney and not looking out of place at training camp, he struggled at both ends of the ice upon his return to Saint John. He missed games to nagging injuries, a two-week WJC hiatus with the Czech Republic squad and even a game misconduct-related suspension. The offense did not seem to come as naturally for him in his second Quebec League season as it did in the first and he took a backseat to fellow 2015 first-rounder Thomas Chabot (drafted five spots later by Ottawa). Chabot emerged as the clear-cut top defender on the Sea Dogs, though his offensive production did not jump appreciably from what it had been in his draft year. On the positive side, Zboril continued to play a punishing physical brand of defense, which makes him a natural fit for the more rugged North American style. His on-the-edge (borderline dirty) physical tactics earned him the ire of opponents, but marked him as a difficult player to go up against. Like DeBrusk, the step back in offensive production was disappointing, but Zboril is a work in progress.

Outlook: The coming 2016-17 campaign will be a telling one for Zboril in terms of how he raises his stock going forward. Playing for the Maritime Division’s top regular season club, he gets a chance to reverse his fortunes this spring in the QMJHL playoffs but it would not come as a total surprise if perhaps Zboril received a junior change of address in the offseason. Meanwhile, he’s got enough in the way of hockey skills and vision to elevate his scoring and if he can focus on being a more consistent presence on the Sea Dogs blue line, the team could go far this spring. Their first test comes against Patrice Bergeron’s old club, the Acadie-Bathurst (or just Bathurst) Titan in the opening round of the President’s Cup playoffs.

Like Senyshyn, Lauzon and Gabrielle, Zboril is not eligible for full-time duty in the AHL next year, so it is possible to see him opt for a year of pro hockey in Europe versus playing a third season in the QMJHL. In any case- it is hard to envision any scenario that has him making the Bruins next year out of camp, but stranger things have happened. You don’t want to be overly negative at this stage of the game for someone who is still quite young and plenty of room for growth and improvement, but bigger things were expected of him this season.

Here’s his draft day selection video, so you know the potential is there for Zboril to be the guy the Bruins believed they were getting last June:

 

 

Bruins key prospect updates: Senyshyn, Heinen, Gabrielle, Carlo

Zachary Senyshyn Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Zachary Senyshyn Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

We’re getting down near the end of the CHL regular season schedule, and the NCAA playoffs are firing up around the nation.  This is as good a time as any to do a deeper dive into the progress of some of Boston’s key prospects and where they stand in their development thus far.

Zach Senyshyn, RW

Thursday night served as a reminder of how productive Zach Senyshyn has been in his second full season of OHL play.

He tallied two goals to push his season total to 38 (in 59 games) and added a helper. He’s equaled his assist total from last year (19) in seven fewer games, but he’s also playing more minutes/60 so that statistic needs more context. Bottom line with Senyshyn- he’s scoring more- as to be expected from moving from bottom-line duty and no special teams to first line and first unit power play.

Senyshyn is a powerful skater who has a nifty burst for someone who is 6-foot-2- he gets out of the blocks quickly and can separate in the open ice when he gets to top speed. He’s also pretty agile in that he’ll cut across the grain to shake defenders. His signature move remains the power rush down the right side- he just turns on the jets and will often beat the defender to the corner and then cut straight to the net. I don’t know that he’ll be able to get away with that in the AHL and NHL as consistently as he does in junior, but then again- I thought teams would be able to defend him better this year because they saw him burning them as a rookie, but it hasn’t happened.

He’s taken a big step forward in scoring this year, BUT (there’s always a but isn’t there?)- that does *not* mean Senyshyn is ready to come in and play for the Bruins next season. As most inherently understand- there’s a difference between how well a player scores and whether he is playing the game effectively. I credit hockey analyst and NESN analyst Billy Jaffe on that one, because he recently asked me the same question- he acknowledged Senyshyn was scoring, but wanted to know how well he was playing.

This is not a simple answer. Senyshyn’s offense is dynamic and impressive, but he’s got substantial work to do on the other side of the puck. The good news is- he understands that and his coaches in the Soo (former NHL defender Drew Bannister is in his first year there as the head coach) are working on his shift-to-shift consistency and making sure he moves his feet and commits to his responsibilities in all zones. I’ve been told he has a penchant to disappear over stretches of play by multiple sources and Hamilton Bulldogs play-by-play man/hockey analyst Reed Duthie also said as much in his “Duthie Dish” column posted here back in January. Senyshyn has to do less hanging back and waiting for the next offensive chance and do more in puck support and bringing the same effort levels to each situation that he does when he’s exploding down the ice or forcing turnovers and burying shots into the net as he did last night.

Current assessment: Senyshyn is clearly playing like the top-15 pick he (surprisingly) was last June, but that doesn’t mean fans should expect him to be taking a regular shift in Boston next season. Another year in the OHL will help him to be the better player he’s developing into. Because he was born in 1997 and drafted out of major junior, Senyshyn is not eligible for the AHL next season, so if he doesn’t make the Bruins roster out of camp, he must go back to the OHL. Those are the rules, and unfortunately, a player like Senyshyn might be in that middle ground between being a dominant OHL forward at age 19-20 next season but not being ready for regular duty with Boston, yet unable to be optioned to Providence. This means the B’s coaches and management will have to see how Senyshyn looks at camp next fall and make the decision then. He might get the nine-game look, or he might not, but that’s not something we can predict in March, 2016.

Danton Heinen, RW/LW/C

Playing the right side of Denver University’s top scoring unit- the Pacific Rim line- comprised of three forwards from Washington, California and Heinen’s native British Columbia, he’s exploded for 21 points in his last 10 contests after the Pioneers offense struggled as a whole for much of the season.

This versatile forward can play every position. He was a center in the BCHL but then shifted to the left wing as a freshman under Jim Montgomery. In his second NCAA season, he’s been the right wing with center Dylan Gambrell and Trevor Moore. Every team loves a forward who is adaptive and can play in multiple situations, but it sure looks like the B’s are projecting him to be a wing at the pro level, and one who can slide in to take faceoffs and will understand his responsibilities at the position if needed.

On the plus side, Heinen’s vision and offensive creativity is elite- he currently has 15 goals and 35 points in 32 games, which is significant because at one point he was hovering around a .5 points/game pace. He’s really turned it on, and the lack of production was not for effort- he has been creating scoring chances throughout the season, but pucks weren’t going in for him and his line.

Heinen isn’t a blazing-fast skater, but he’s fast enough and has good quickness and directional change. He gets his share of breakaways not because he outskates a lot of the opposition but because he reads the developing play so well and anticipates, getting an extra step and then being quick enough to maintain that separation. He did that beautifully in what was the best NCAA game I saw all season last month against the University of North Dakota.

Soft hands and an underrated shot round out Heinen’s skills package and make him a forward that could project in a top-6 NHL role one day. If nothing else, he looks like a higher-end third-liner, which is not a bad thing. He’s put on weight and looks bigger out on the ice- he’s only about 6-foot in height, but the extra weight has helped him win puck battles along the boards and establish a net-front presence.

Additionally, he’s a more polished and refined three-zone player than Senyshyn is at this stage (and at two years older, he probably should be). He’s not a shutdown type of defensive forward, but he back checks diligently and uses his hockey sense and instincts to break up plays and transition back to offense.

Current assessment: I ranked Heinen Boston’s No. 2 amateur prospect in the January issue of New England Hockey Journal and he looks even better now than he did because the numbers have come up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bruins look to sign him and put him into the system, but that will largely depend on what the organization’s priorities are and whether they see him pushing for an NHL job in the next three years. At this point, you can go either way and returning to Denver for a third year wouldn’t be a bad thing for his development, though based on what I see, he’s ready to turn pro.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW

Wow! Where did this season come from?!

Actually, for those who charted Gabrielle’s progress in previous years and right up until the second half of 2014-15, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise because when it came to his talent and hockey ability, the Saskatchewan native (who played some Minnesota HS hockey in there too) was projected as an early second-round pick in some circles (Red Line Report had him there as late as March 2015, for example), and that was in a strong draft class.

Gabrielle’s stumble down to the mid-fourth round allegedly had to do with commitment and effort questions, but it’s hard to question what he’s done for the Prince George Cougars this season, as he began the year like he was shot out of a cannon and has been a top performer in the WHL all season long.

His 39 goals and 72 points in 65 game tie Gabrielle with overager Chase Witala for the team lead, but he’s shattered his previous season best of 23 goals and 44 points set last season. He’s producing a high rate of P/60 and he’s playing his patented rugged, agitating style. Gabrielle is commonly compared to Brad Marchand, who also happens to be his favorite player, but he’s a taller, thicker player than Marchand and while not quite as dynamic or fast, brings the same kind of goal scoring upside as No. 63 has.

Not afraid to drop the gloves either, Gabrielle can pick fights and then will answer for his chippy play unlike other agitators. He’s not a feared heavyweight, but he’s can be a nasty opponent who plays on the edge but has the toughness to fight his own battles. He finishes his checks and hits to hurt, a widely disliked opponent but respected for how dangerous and productive he’s been. In other words- teams hate playing against him, but would embrace him on their club for his sheer effectiveness. Much like Marchand.

Now, the question I most often get on Gabrielle is- how did he end up being a fourth-round pick last June?

Well, without being in the various war rooms, I can only go by what I’ve been told in snippets here and there, but there was some obvious concern with Gabrielle, or else he would not have slipped down past 100 as he did. However, the Bruins can be glad that happened. The draft sometimes works out that way- we hear about players who rise and fall, but sometimes, the fallers aren’t indicative of the larger picture.

Based on the way Gabrielle is playing, he’s motivated to prove the teams who passed on him wrong, and at the end of the day- he’s a Bruins fan, so he was probably relieved and elated that the B’s of all clubs called his name, even if it came later than he thought.

Current assessment: Like Senyshyn, Gabrielle is in all likelihood not ready to make the NHL right away, even though he’s scoring plenty and playing a heavy, effective game on the whole. As a June 1997-born player he’s in the same boat in terms of the requirement for him to return to major junior next season if he doesn’t make Boston’s opening night roster. He’s a better fit for lower line duty at the NHL level, but the B’s have a lot of guys knocking on the door- fans should resist the “shiny new toy” urge to get Gabrielle plugged in right away. Either way, we won’t have a good handle on his situation at this point- we’ll have to reevaluate how he looks at the July development and then main training camp next fall.

Brandon Carlo, D

Boston’s best shutdown defense prospect is heading towards a possible AHL debut in Providence shortly, as his Tri-City Americans are in danger of missing the WHL playoffs, which would make him eligible to sign an amateur tryout option (ATO) and join the Baby B’s for the final games of the regular season.

Unlike Senyshyn and Gabrielle (and Jake DeBrusk is in the same boat as Carlo) he was a late 1996-born player which means he *can* spend the 2016-17 season in the AHL as opposed to going back to the WHL if he doesn’t make the Boston roster. The team could still send Carlo back to the Dub as an overager, but I would be surprised to see that. He looks to be on track to see his first AHL action here in the spring and then benefit from spending time in Providence next year in a full-time role (assuming he doesn’t crush it in camp to the point that the big club doesn’t put him in their top-six).

The biggest things (no pun intended) with Carlo are his size/reach and fluid skating for a guy so large. His 6-5 height is one thing, but he has long arms, which give him the reach of someone closer to 6-7. We see this effect often when players try to carry the puck by him on the rush- Carlo is deft with the poke check, and his active stick creates a significant advantage for him defensively. Because he’s so mobile, he’s able to square up with the puck and put himself in position to block the shot or disrupt the puck carrier’s speed and path to the net.

Carlo is not a vicious or intimidating open-ice hitter, but he does effectively use his size/strength to pin opponents to the boards and move forwards out from the front of the net and his goaltender’s sight lines. He’s not looking to crush people but he will initiate contact and will fight to defend teammates, even if he’s not someone to be feared. He’s a rugged defender but doesn’t play with that natural kind of mean streak that other more physical, tough players have made their bones doing over the years.

Offensively, he can chip in, but is not the kind of instinctive, push the pace kind of two-way threat who projects to thrive in a top 1 or 2 NHL defender role. He handles the puck well enough to make the first pass and gets a good amount of points by getting shots on net for tips or rebound scoring plays. Carlo is not a classic puck-mover who joins and even leads the rush and is capable of making nice offensive contributions but is not a player with the natural offensive hockey IQ or vision to be a regular point producer at the pro level.

Current analysis: The Colorado native gets a lot of buzz for his impressive physical package and smart, lockdown defensive acumen. There is certainly a place for him on Boston’s blue line and that time might not be too long in coming. However, fans should temper their expectations- and not view him as someone who will come in right away and stabilize the Boston defense corps. Once upon a time Zdeno Chara was not seen as a future Norris Trophy winner either- otherwise no team would have allowed him to get to the third round. So, it’s not a complete stretch to say that Carlo could develop into something more than I currently see, but it shouldn’t be expected.

That about does it for this post, I will make this a series and go down the line on other Boston prospects if you like what you’ve read.

 

Bruins prospects update 2/15/16

Frank Vatrano continued his goal scoring blitzkrieg in the AHL since being returned to Providence late last month. He’s only a few markers off the AHL lead, but in far fewer games. The kid is a keeper.

Unfortunately for Providence, Malcolm Subban suffered a fractured larynx during warmups in Portland eight days ago. He had successful surgery but faces a minimum eight-week layoff before he’ll even be able to be an option to return to the nets. That prompted a recall of Jeremy Smith from the Iowa Wild and both Smith and Zane McIntyre have done well to keep the P-Bruins rolling.

Jesse Gabrielle leads all Bruins prospects with 35 goals and 67 points for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. Zach Senyshyn is second in goal scoring with 33 tallies for the Soo Greyhounds.

Ryan Donato notched his first career NCAA hat trick over the weekend, while Ryan Fitzgerald continues to produce for BC- he now has 16 goals and 35 points- a new career best in points and just one off to Colin White for the team lead. Notre Dame RW Anders Bjork scored a highlight reel goal over the weekend as well- he continues to add to his breakout sophomore season.

On the defensive side of things, Jakub Zboril’s play is steadily improving and he’s now getting some production to go with his physical, edgy play. Jeremy Lauzon is back in action after dealing with a nagging groin injury that has limited his participation since January. Harvard sophomore Wiley Sherman did not find the back of the net at all during his freshman season, but already has four goals and has tripled his points totals. He’s raw but with his 6-foot-6 size and good mobility, he’s an intriguing project player to watch for the long term.

And now for the update:

AHL

Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 40 Goals- 16 Assists- 35 Points- 51 Penalty Min- 22 +/-   5

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 38 Goals- 15 Assists- 26 Points- 41 Penalty Min- 8 +/-  -6

Austin Czarnik, C Providence Bruins

GP- 41 Goals- 13 Assists- 23 Points- 36 Penalty Min- 14 +/-  3

Frank Vatrano, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 19 Goals- 20 Assists- 10 Points- 30 Penalty Min- 8 +/-   7

Four goals and four assists in his last five AHL games for Vatrano to keep his stick red hot.

Colton Hargrove, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 41 Goals-12 Assists- 9 Points- 21 Penalty Min- 49 +/-   7

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 49 Goals- 10 Assists- 10 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 10 +/- -6

Chris Casto, D Providence Bruins

GP- 45 Goals- 5 Assists- 12 Points- 17 Penalty Min- 35 +/- -5

Tommy Cross, D Providence Bruins

GP- 38 Goals- 2 Assists- 13 Points- 15 Penalty Min- 61 +/- -4

Zack Phillips, C Providence Bruins

GP- 39 Goals- 5 Assists- 9 Points-14 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -14

Noel Acciari, C Providence Bruins

GP- 36 Goals- 6 Assists-7 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 15 +/-  5

Anton Blidh, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 47 Goals- 9 Assists- 3 Points- 12 Penalty Min- 27 +/- -3

Anthony Camara, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 29 Goals- 0 Assists- 5 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 37 +/- -1

Justin Hickman, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 39 Goals- 3 Assists- 2 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 36 +/- -4

Linus Arnesson, D Providence Bruins

GP- 35 Goals- 0 Assists- 3 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -3

Brian Ferlin, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 4 Goals- 1 Assists- 0 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 2 +/-  2

Ferlin is back from a concussion after missing all but one of the previous games on Providence’s schedule- he tallied his first goal of the season last week.

Malcolm Subban, G Providence Bruins

GP- 27 MIN- 1635 GA- 67 GAA- 2.46 Spct- .911 W- 14 L-8 OTL 5 SO- 1

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 20 MIN- 1146 GA- 55 GAA- 2.88 Spct- .892 W- 8 L- 6 OTL- 5

Jeremy Smith, G Providence Bruins

Iowa: GP- 23 MIN- 1326 GA- 65 GAA- 2.94 Spct- .911 W- 5 L- 14 OTL- 3

Providence: GP- 2 MIN- 120 GA- 4 GAA- 2.00 Spct- .925 W- 2 L- 0 OTL- 0

 

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 52 Goals- 33 Assists- 16 Points- 49 Penalty Min- 20 +/- 3

 

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 33 Goals- 5 Assists- 32 Points- 37 Penalty Min- 56 +/- 28

He’s back in action and has played 4 games (2 assists) since the last update as he works through constraints of a nagging groin injury.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 35 Goals- 4 Assists- 12 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 36 +/- 9

With four assists in his last five games, Zboril is getting more done on the score sheet after a brutal statistical start.

 

WHL

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 57 Goals- 35 Assists- 32 Points- 67 Penalty Min- 86 +/- 8

With 11 points in his last six games, Gabrielle has elevated his overall game at the right time.

Jake DeBrusk, LW Red Deer Rebels

SCB: GP- 24 Goals- 9 Assists- 17 Points- 26 Penalty Min- 15 +/- -5

RDR: GP- 21 Goals- 8 Assists- 16 Points- 24 Penalty Min- 13 +/-  13

With eight points (seven assists) in his last six games, DeBrusk is often a forgotten player in major junior this year, but his more balanced offensive game is a good sign for the future, even if his goal numbers are way down from a year ago.

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 35 Goals- 2 Assists- 17 Points- 19 Penalty Min- 69 +/- 0

 

NCAA

Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 29 Goals- 16 Assists- 19 Points- 35 Penalty Min- 39 +/-  21

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish (HEA)

GP- 28 Goals- 11 Assists- 18 Points- 29 Penalty Min- 4 +/-  24

Danton Heinen, RW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 28 Goals- 12 Assists- 15 Points- 27 Penalty Min- 4 +/-   8

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University Terriers (HEA)

GP- 30 Goals- 7 Assists- 16 Points- 23 Penalty Min- 16 +/-   1

The scoring has cooled a bit for the BU freshman, but he’s still a high riser and strong bet for eventual NHL success as a top two-way center.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University Redhawks (NCHC)

GP- 28 Goals- 6 Assists- 13 Points- 19 Penalty Min- 31 +/-   4

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

GP- 18 Goals- 8 Assists- 8 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 28 +/-  11

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University Crimson (ECAC)

GP- 23 Goals- 10 Assists- 6 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 18 +/-   5

Four goals in five games including a hat trick for Donato since last update.

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)

GP- 23 Goals- 3 Assists- 13 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -10

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University Huskies (HEA)

GP- 30 Goals- 4 Assists- 9 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 25 +/- -6

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard University Crimson (ECAC)

GP- 25 Goals- 4 Assists- 5 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 8 +/-   8

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University Bulldogs (ECAC)

GP- 23 Goals- 1 Assists- 7 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 39  +/-  2

 

 

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden)

GP- 36 Goals- 9 Assists- 8 Points- 17 Penalty Min- 2 +/-   4

Cehlarik established a new personal season high for  goals  in the Swedish Hockey League (formerly the elite league) to date, eclipsing his 6 goals in 46 games last year.

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (Sweden)

GP- 40 Goals- 0 Assists- 5 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 12 +/-  2

Maxim Chudinov, D St Petersburg SKA (Russia)

GP- 54 Goals- 8 Assists- 9 Points- 17 Penalty Min- 87 +/- -9

 

USHL

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago Steel (USHL)

GP- 19 MIN- 1106 GA- 39 GAA- 2.11 Spct .922 SO- 3; 6-7-4

Played one game since last update- a shutout.

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)

GP- 40 Goals- 5 Assists- 8 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -11

Scouting Post podcast: pre-NHL trade deadline

I solicited questions on Twitter and got a lot of solid queries about various topics, much of them related to the Boston Bruins, but some of them not.

The podcast is a little over an hour long, and in it- I address the chances of the B’s landing a younger, higher-end defenseman at the trade deadline, what will happen with Loui Eriksson going forward, whether the team should bring Frank Vatrano back, a few questions about the 2016 NHL draft, and other topics. I close out by answering who I would keep if the Bruins could have just one prospect at every position, which is a much tougher question to answer than you might think.

So, settle in, grab some popcorn and check it out. Or not. An hour is a lot of anyone’s time to give up, but I appreciate the support this blog has gotten since I launched it back in July.

TSP Bruins Prospects of the Month: Gabrielle & Subban

Gabrielle

We have a tie for Scouting Post Bruins Prospect of the Month for January: With eight goals and 16 points in 14 games and seven wins in eight starts and a .935 save percentage and 1.84 GAA, Prince George Cougars left wing Jesse Gabrielle and Providence Bruins goaltender Malcolm Subban are your top honored players. Both played so well- it would be a shame to elevate one at the expense of the other, and since one is currently playing in the pro ranks and the other still in junior, it made sense to give the nod to both.

Gabrielle’s 20 goals and 41 points in the last 31 games is the best offensive output of any B’s prospect in the season thus far, but the 2015 fourth-round pick is also getting it done in myriad other ways. He plays a chippy, agitating game and is contributing on the power play and as a dangerous penalty killer. His six short-handed markers leads the WHL. His 86 penalty minutes in 55 games are a testament to his ruggedness and willingness to play a physical game.

Gabrielle has been a revelation this season as a player who certainly had the tools to be an NHL prospect, but who has put things together nicely and is playing with a burr up under his saddle. As a fan of the Bruins and Brad Marchand, he was thrilled to get the call from Boston last June, even if he did have to wait a little longer for it, and is ringing the bell with a flourish.

His 34 goals is tied for second in the WHL right now behind Dryden Hunt (35) and is just one short of tying his entire output for the previous *two* seasons with Brandon and Regina.

Subban, who is currently sidelined indefinitely with a fractured larynx after taking a puck to the throat during warmups in Portland Saturday (Zane McIntyre played his best game of the season in relief, making 35 saves in a 3-1 win), won seven of eight games for the month, losing just one overtime contest to Portland by a 2-1 score.

Subban turned things around after a brutal start to the season. He missed most of October with a lower body injury and then went just 1-5-2 in November with a bloated 2.99 GAA and .869 save percentage. The 2012 1st-rounder then spent the months of December and January getting his totals back to a respectable mark, sitting with 14-8-5 record, 2.46 GAA and .911 save percentage.

With Subban out for the time being, veteran Jeremy Smith has been summoned to Providence from the Iowa Wild and it will be interesting to see how much of a split he and McIntyre take on in terms of the workload going forward. For now, we wish Malcolm the absolute best for a speedy recovery from a scary situation and injury.

Malcolm_Subban

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)