Final 1st-round mock draft and Bruins draft preview (audio)

Well, NHL Entry Draft time is upon us…I can hardly believe that I will be flying to Buffalo, N.Y. in the morning and that by this time Friday night, Bruins fans will know who the next big hopeful will be.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but rather than write an excessively long post here, I’ll take the advice of a recent blog critic who didn’t like the length of my Bruins draft strategy piece and break it down for you in about 15 minutes. He’s out of luck on the bolded names, though- sorry pal. As Kenny Loggins once crooned- I’ll meet you halfway. I’m sharing my thoughts on where the Bruins are heading into the draft, and where I think they’re going, and not just in round 1. Keep in mind this is just one person’s opinion, and lots of things can happen between now and pick No. 14 in the First Niagara Center.

Here’s the audio:

I am not going to weigh in on internet rumors surrounding Jimmy Vesey. Look, until he either signs with the Buffalo Sabres or he doesn’t and becomes an unrestricted free agent on August 15, I’m going to do my level best to stay above the fray. Because of my relationship with him and members of his family going back to his prep school days, that’s precisely *why* I’m not going to get into the middle of what is flying around. I give full credit to the Sabres for stepping up and getting his rights- that puts them in the driver’s seat, at least for the next some-odd 60 days, and Tim Murray will either convince him to forego the chance to pick his destination, or Vesey will stay the course. My thinking- and it’s just my own intuition here- is that he’s come a full four years since Nashville drafted him in Pittsburgh. What is less than two months more at this point? But if Murray and Sabres owner Terry Pegula (and don’t forget Jack Eichel) make a convincing enough pitch, there’s not much stopping him from ending the soap opera.

But, if you’re looking for me to repeat things flying around various message boards- that’s not happening.

Now, onto the mock draft:

1- Toronto- Auston Matthews, C; The Leafs get their man- Arizona native’s the wire-to-wire No. 1 overall selection and with good reason.

2- Winnipeg- Patrik Laine, LW; The first big winners of the NHL’s new lotto jackpot system cash in with this pure shooter who turns goal scoring into an art form.

3- Columbus- Jesse Puljujarvi, RW; GM Jarmo Kekalainen pounces on this Finnish horse who isn’t quite the threat his countryman is, but isn’t that far off, either.

4. Edmonton- Matt Tkachuk, LW; On a team whose GM once saw firsthand what Milan Lucic could do, the Oilers grab a high-end power forward with serious bloodlines.

5- Vancouver- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW; The Canucks need help everywhere, so Jim Benning can’t go wrong here with as complete a two-way threat as there is in this class.

6- Calgary- Logan Brown, C; Described by my pal Reed Duthie (who calls Hamilton Bulldogs games) as an “aircraft carrier with feet”, this massive center is also highly skilled, meaning- he’s off the board in the blink of an eye.

7- Arizona- Olli Juolevi, D; Is this Finnish version of the old Val Kilmer movie ‘Real Genius’ the first defender off the board in Buffalo? Very possible.

8.- Buffalo- Jakob Chychrun, D; After making a splash with the Vesey trade, the Sabres fire more shots across the bow, picking up this big name at 8, but his hockey IQ has raised some doubts.

9- Montreal- Alex Nylander, RW; The Canadiens seek skill and scoring, so why not grab the player who might have absolutely been the most talented player in the OHL draft class, even if he doesn’t always bring it.

10- Colorado- Mikhail Sergachev, D; The Avalanche land a big talent that has scouts divided on his overall defensive awareness, but may be at the top end of the skill factor in the OHL.

11- New Jersey- Tyson Jost, LW-C; Ray Shero blinks- he can’t believe Jost is on the board here, and after landing Pavel Zacha a year ago, grabs another potential elite forward bound for North Dakota in the spirit of one Zach Parise 13 years ago.

12- Ottawa- Michael McLeod C; The Senators are betting that McLeod’s blend of size, skating and smarts propels him to stardom up the middle, even with questions about his NHL upside.

13- Carolina- Clayton Keller, C; Small but dynamic center has major league potential as an uber-dangerous playmaker.

14- Boston- Dante Fabbro, D; Knowing what the Bruins tend to value in their players and what they need at this stage, this defender is right up their alley at 14.

15- Minnesota- Luke Kunin, C; St. Louis native did a great job as a freshman on a poor team- the sky’s the limit and the Wild can’t resist.

16- Detroit- Charlie McAvoy, D; A player who could just as easily go to Boston two picks earlier, if he’s still on the board here the Wings pounce.

17- Nashville- Jake Bean, D; The Predators know Bean has a high-end skill set and grab him with outstanding value at 17 where others had him projected inside the top-10.

18- Philadelphia- Kieffer Bellows, LW; Passed up by his hometown Wild, Bellows doesn’t have much time to dwell  on it & makes sense as a fit in Philly with his deadly release and penchant for filling the net.

19- NY Islanders- Riley Tufte, RW; Big, massive, skates well, tremendous long-term promise and the Isles struck gold with Brock Nelson in Minnesota before, so why not take a big payoff project here?

20- Arizona via NYR- Julien Gauthier, RW Major concerns about hockey sense and a tepid second half after tearing it up early in the season mean that the Val d’Or standout slides, but he’s solid value here.

21- Carolina via LAK- Max Jones, LW; Speedy power forward has some nasty play that has gone over the line, but if the Hurricanes can harness that raw aggression- he could be one of those role guys you win with.

22- Winnipeg via CHI- Logan Stanley, D; When you pick Laine at 2, you can afford to take on more of a project player with your bonus 1st-rounder, and with Stanley’s size, skating and snarl- he looks like a solid bet to play even if he tops out as a mid-tier shutdown D.

23- Florida-German Rubtsov, C; The Russian forward in class is someone worth jumping on in the early 20’s and Dale Tallon does just that.

24- Anaheim-Tage Thompson, RW; Huge but raw with an upside that some in the NHL scouting community feels is too legit to quit, the UConn Husky becomes a part of the West Coast quack attack.

25- Dallas- Dennis Cholowski, D; It sure looks like the late-surging BCHL two-way defender is bound to land in the 1st round, and he looks like a good fit for the resurgent Stars under Jim Nill.

26- Washington- Pascal Laberge, C; Speedy and skilled, the Capitals need to find secondary scoring behind Ovechkin and Backstrom- this Victoriaville Tigre brings that in spades.

27- Tampa Bay- Brett Howden, C; Some say he looks a lot like his older brother, but this Howden seems to have more killer instinct and finish around the net. Stevie Y. will take it.

28- St. Louis- Lucas Johansen, D; With Kevin Shattenkirk likely to leave via trade, the Blues will look to infuse more offensive talent and potential with this latest product of the Kelowna D machine.

29- Boston via SJS- Markus Niemelainen, D; The B’s could go with a forward with their second pick like a surprise 1st-rounder in Wade Allison here, but if they add another 6-5 D who can really skate, this Finn will complement the right-shooting Brandon Carlo nicely at some point.

30- Anaheim via Toronto via PIT- Boris Katchouk, LW; Anaheim grabbed the big RW earlier, now they get the gritty, in-your-face and underrated Soo Greyhounds scorer at the end of the round after giving up Frederik Andersen to the Leafs. (Thanks to the readers who pointed out my mistake)

Alex DeBrincat drops out of the 1st round, but he won’t last long in the 2nd.

***

Okay- that’s it. I’m off to Buffalo.

Reminder- if you want breaking NHL draft news, picks, analysis and hot takes (or is it “taeks?”) give me a follow on Twitter: @kluedeke29 I might be able to get some Periscope action going as well, so look for that.

Will be on TSN 690 with my Red Line Report boss, Kyle Woodlief, with host Tony Marinaro this Friday, June 24, from 11-noon (Eastern) live from First Niagara Center to talk draft, draft and nothing but draft.

Will do some deeper dives on the draft at the blog in the coming days, but this is pretty much it until the big event, and even then- will just hit the wave tops, but keep checking in- I might have some Easter Eggs and surprises for you.

Vesey to Sabres and other pre-draft notes

 

It probably was not all that surprising about the news that broke Monday about the Buffalo Sabres and GM Tim Murray acquiring Jimmy Vesey’s rights from Nashville for one of three third-round picks that rebuilding team has in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Why is it not a surprise? Well, for one thing- Predators GM David Poile “burned the boats” with Vesey when he went public and essentially told everyone the kid lied to him. That was impulsive and shortsighted, as all that did was guarantee 100 percent that Vesey had no chance of coming around and agreeing to terms with the team that spent a third-round pick on him in 2012, only to see him declare his option to leverage free agency (per the CBA) four years later. We figured from the get-go that someone would try to trade for Vesey’s exclusive negotiating rights at some point, so, as Murray himself said- Why not Buffalo?

The Vesey matter is made more complex by the human element in the case. At arm’s length, there seems to be no smoking gun, no clear reason for his walking away from Nashville. Although it’s a small market team, the Predators are on the rise, and Music City is a neat place to play hockey in. There was talk that Vesey was turned off by the Nashville organization’s pressure sales pitch, and that he didn’t want to play for them right away, but preferred to finish out his semester at Harvard and then look at signing. As of now, that’s all that is- talk. We’ve heard what the team thinks, and Vesey himself has declined to weigh in on it, so as of now all we know is- by virtue of Monday’s trade, Buffalo now jumps into the ring as the one team that can negotiate with him between now and the August 15 deadline, and if he signs, then it will be a third-round pick well spent for them.

Vesey’s camp (agent Peter Fish) issued a statement Monday, saying that the player still intends to pursue free agency. Murray, who never met a microphone he didn’t like (and I don’t mean that as a slight- he’s long been one of the most open sources of information out there) has been open about his intent to leverage Vesey’s connection to 2015 Hobey Baker Award winner and second overall pick Jack Eichel to try and sway the 2016 Hobey recipient to put aside the free agency designs and ink an ELC with the Sabres.

This does not mean Boston is out of the Vesey sweeps, however- they just have a tougher hill to climb.  I’ve seen on the internet in at least one location that I called Vesey to the Bruins as a “sure thing.” That gentleman is clearly mistaken, and should perhaps focus his efforts on some reading comprehension skills enhancement. The Bruins were clearly in the mix for a Vesey landing spot because he’s a North Reading kid and dreamed of playing for Boston, but that does not mean that when he opted out of Nashville that the Bruins and Vesey coming together was fait accompli. I think folks should pay better attention to things and not misrepresent clear positions on internet message boards and articles, but that’s just me.

Next move belongs to Murray and the Sabres and we’ll see where it all leads- he has a little less than 60 days to make inroads and land his big fish.

***

We’re just a few days from the big event in Buffalo- the Scouting Post (TSP) will be there, but much of the coverage I provide will be via Twitter, as I do not plan to do extensive blog posts from the event. You can expect a couple of wave top assessments, but the more in-depth coverage will come next week after I can interview sources at the draft and provide a more comprehensive analysis of what the Bruins did or did not accomplish. For breaking news and quick hits- I encourage you to follow my Twitter account- @kluedeke29 and I will keep things up to date as the draft rolls on.

On another note- my boss at Red Line Report Kyle Woodlief- and yours truly will be broadcasting with Tony Marinaro, hockey radio host with TSN 690 out of Montreal from the First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Friday. We’ll spend about an hour on the air with Tony from 11-noon on draft day, so if you can tune in- you’ll get your fill of pre-draft talk with the Red Line guys.

***

I’ve seen apples and oranges talk about Chilliwack D Dennis Cholowski and Dante Fabbro recently and I’m honestly not sure what the point is here. Cholowski is a meteoric riser in the second half after a strong finish and yes- his Chiefs did knock off Fabbro and Tyson Jost’s Penticton Vees in the BCHL playoffs. It’s fine to be high on Cholowski- he’s a solid first-round candidate and has some impressive tools, but what I don’t get is this urge to play the “Cholowski is better than Fabbro” game I’ve seen out there in a couple of spots.

First of all- if Cholowski gets drafted ahead of Fabbro, I’ll buy you a beer. It’s not happening. Secondly- the world does not have to be a zero sum existence- it is possible that both players are going to be very good. They bring different things to the table, but I’ll defer to other NHL scouts who saw both Cholowski and Fabbro at the World Jr. A Challenge and think that the latter was the far more impactful player.  Are there differences of opinion out there? Absolutely. And it is possible that Cholowski could eventually be the better player than Fabbro is at the NHL level.

But that doesn’t mean he’s done enough to be considered a viable option at the 10-15 range. Fabbro is no sure thing either, but one guy was the BCHL’s top defenseman and the other guy wasn’t. Let’s not make more of this than it is- both D look like nice options going forward, and anyone can make a case of one over the other, but unless things change on Friday, Fabbro is trending to be selected ahead of Cholowski. I’m curious to see if the whisper campaign out there to elevate him is agenda-driven or not, but for now- I’m sticking to my guns. I have Fabbro rated higher than the other guy, but believe both are first-rounders and have nice long-term potential in the NHL on the back end.

So- just to be clear. I like Fabbro. I like Cholowski. They’re both good. There is absolutely no need to tear down one to build up the other. But realistically, one guy is going to get drafted in the top-20 and one probably a little outside that range. I have to think both guys appeal to the Bruins, but in all likelihood- they’ll only have a shot at one of them. As things stand right now- that player is Fabbro in my view.

***

As suspected Julien Gauthier is getting a lot of attention in Boston circles and I don’t really get it.

He’s huge, he skates well and has soft hands. He also doesn’t think the game well at all- the hockey IQ is a major, major question mark. When are folks going to realize that toolsy players without the toolbox constitute needless risks? Let some other team jump on Gauthier, but  to me- he’s not going to be the best player available in the top-15 when Boston’s turn comes.

Gauthier had a blistering start and made hay at the WJC, but once again- people are focused on the past and are not paying attention to how the player trended over the second half. There are major question marks surrounding this guy, and as said before- I believe that right-shooting defensemen will constitute not only best value at 14 but also fill a need for the Bruins. That’s a two-for-one deal, and I’m not sure Gauthier  makes much sense that early- fans are still living in the past of about six months on this guy.

The B’s can wait a bit and grab a winger like Wade Allison, Cameron Morrison or Taylor Raddysh maybe even a Timmy Gettinger or Brett Murray and boost the depth and size/heavy-on-the-puck play on the wings without spending a top-15 selection on someone with real concerns about how well he sees the ice and processes the game/has the creativity to be a scorer at the next level.

That doesn’t mean Gauthier will be a failure, but I do believe he’s another one of those guys benefiting from past accomplishments, but doesn’t have a lot of buzz or the confidence of NHL clubs coming into the draft. We’ll soon find out.

***

For some late-round value, I like Minnesota forward Jack Walker– he scored 36 goals for the Victoria Royals this season as a 1996-born guy previously passed up. He’s a converted forward who played D up until a few years ago, but can skate, pass and shoot. I’m told the B’s were sniffing around him in the WHL rinks this year and it makes sense- he’s a guy who represents a more pro-ready proposition to enter the system and be closer to contributing than most other 18-year-olds available from the 1998-birth year pool.

***

That’s all for now…I’m going to post one more mock draft and do a final Bruins draft projection audio file tonight and then it’s off to Buffalo. Remember- follow me on Twitter because there won’t be a lot of blog posts on here between Friday and Monday beyond a few quick-hitters to recap the players Boston grabs.

 

 

Danton Heinen leaves Denver U, signs 3-year ELC

Heinen

As reported here about a month ago, forward Danton Heinen has given up his remaining two years of NCAA eligibility to sign a three-year entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins after they drafted him in the fourth round in 2014.

Several sources told the Scouting Post that Heinen would not be going back school for his junior season back on March 12, citing an eagerness for him to get started on a pro career. He had reportedly told several of his teammates that he would not be back, and so it was just a matter of Boston waiting for his season to end. With the recent news of 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey declining to sign with the Nashville Predators, it’s a reasonable assumption that if Boston was entertaining the thoughts of talking Heinen into remaining an amateur for one more season, they were all about bringing Heinen into their organization immediately.

The ability for college players to choose their own destinations after four years and choices by Kevin Hayes and now Vesey to not sign with the teams that drafted them means that NHL clubs will not hesitate to bring players out of the NCAA sooner now, and if a kid is not altogether thrilled to be a part of that organization, don’t be surprised to see their advisors (read: player agents) leverage tools like burning a year off the ELC in order to get them to come out on the NHL team’s timeline. The Winnipeg Jets also signed Kyle Connor yesterday after just one year at Michigan and taking the hockey world by storm. Connor is the lightning rod that Bruins fans are using to criticize Boston’s first round choices in 2015. It looks like we’ll soon find out how much the team missed out on by passing on the USHL and NCAA’s top scorer in consecutive seasons. Connor’s signing is one more reminder that the old days of guys spending four years in school is getting increasingly rare (though the B’s duo of college defenders- Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk– did just that)

Getting back to Heinen- the 20-year-old British Columbia native had a slow offensive start to the season, but erupted over the second half, tallying about two points per game to lead the Pioneers to the Frozen Four before ultimately coming up short against the eventual 2016 champion University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (PC or not they’ll always be the Fighting Sioux to me).

In two NCAA seasons in the Rocky Mountains, Heinen tallied 36 goals and 93 points in just 81 games. Playing on the Pacific Rim line or “Pac Rim” this season from January on, Heinen simply caught fire. After being at well under a point-per-game just as the calendar switched to 2016, he teamed up with fellow left coasters Dylan Gambrell (eligible for 2016 draft) and Trevor Moore (could leave school as a free agent or return- reportedly weighing his options right now) to finish atop the Pioneers with 20 goals and 48 points, adding to his 16 goals and 45 points from a season ago.

PacRimLine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heinen is about 6-foot-1 and a solid 185 pounds. As a 1995-born player he was passed over in 2013 because he was small and extremely light, but he’s hit an impressive growth spurt since and dedicated himself in the weight room, adding strength and mass to his frame.

A good skater, what makes Heinen arguably Boston’s top prospect along with Zach Senyshyn for the offensive potential both possess, is that he has exceptional vision and hockey sense, to go with one sick set of mitts. He was a center in junior but has been developed as a winger in college under head coach Jim Montgomery, first playing on the left side as a freshman before shifting over to the right (his off-wing) and settling in with the Pac Rim unit. He uses his high IQ to anticipate/read/react and after hitting a lot of posts and not getting much in the way of puck luck in the early going, his talent took over as he racked up the points down the stretch. He’s heavy on the puck and has the intelligence to take on the various responsibilities required of him in Boston’s system.

Heinen is not a flashy or dynamic player who is going to wow you by exploding to top speed in a few strides and putting defenses into near-constant back pedal mode, but what he will do is slow down the play or speed it up depending on the situation. When he gets down below the circles and in between the hashmarks, he’s deadly- either hounding the puck and hitting linemates with accurate passes to set up quality chances or burying goals with a quick release and little hesitation to shoot the puck when the lane is open for him to do so.

Like many young players these days- I caution fans not to jump squarely on the hype train just yet. Heinen is good enough of a player to challenge for NHL duty right away next fall, but that doesn’t mean that the right answer is that he will play in Boston. Frank Vatrano showed that a rookie pro with the right blend of skill and want to can make it with the big club, but we have an extended offseason ahead of us. Before we start projecting what line he’ll be on, how many goals/points he’ll score and whether he should be paired with Vesey (who as of right now until Aug. 15 or unless his rights are traded between now and then is still property of the Predators), let’s take a moment to see how he looks in Providence first. He’s there this week on at ATO (amateur tryout) and his 3-year contract won’t kick in until 2016-17. Let’s see how he looks in his first taste of pro hockey, and then keep in mind that there will be some personnel changes between now and when training camp opens up in mid-September.

I know, I know- what fun is being patient when we can entertain ourselves with endless speculation and line permutations?

For now, Heinen being in the fold is an intriguing step. He’s unproven, but the potential is higher than average and he was a super find by the Boston scouts. For more on him, check out my blog post from before the season began titled “The Curious Case of Danton Heinen” and I walk you down the path of how, as a little known commodity in the BCHL that more than a few teams were quietly tracking, the Bruins appear to have struck gold.

Time will tell…and we won’t know how successful the find was for a little while yet.

TSP Podcast: “Don’t Cry For Me Music City”- the Vesey Report

Jimmy Vesey’s decision to not sign with Nashville this week has created some legitimate hockey buzz.

Rather than write a big post about my own connection and background with Jimmy, one that goes back to his high school years when he was being seriously scouted for the USHL, and address some of the key issues around this situation, I figured I’d do a podcast on it.

It’s 50 minutes, but if you make it through- you’ll know a lot about Vesey’s past and some of the factors that might have played into his decision to part ways with the Predators. I address that team’s reaction and how they essentially burned the bridge with him…assuming he didn’t Alec Guiness the thing over the last week or so (Bridge on the River Kwai reference- check it out if you’ve never seen it). I also talk about the current NCAA loophole that allowed Blake Wheeler to choose his destination in 2008 after being Phoenix’s fifth overall pick four years earlier. Others have followed suit- Vesey certainly wasn’t the first, and if the NHL doesn’t close the avenue available to certain NCAA players that qualify, he won’t be the last.

I take a look at how the Bruins’ players under similar circumstances have fared- Zane McIntyre, Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk– Vesey’s close friend and minor hockey teammate. He’s on track to sign with the Bruins as well, so this gets to the heart of the premium the organization has placed on developing relationships and the success the team has had in signing its draft picks. Danton Heinen is next. But, if the NHL doesn’t act to provide some kind of compensation, eventually, the B’s could find themselves in a similar spot. So long as we understand that this is the way of life that the current collective bargaining agreement allows for. Don’t blame Vesey- it’s not about compensation with him, it’s about choice and the ability to decide his own NHL destination.

If you can’t get enough of Vesey analysis and news- I covered similar ground today on TSN1260 in Edmonton with Allan Mitchell. You can listen to that much shorter segment here.

Enjoy the audio commentary.

For a bonus, here’s the capsule I wrote on Vesey in the June 2012 New England Hockey Journal NHL draft preview article for the region:

1. Jimmy Vesey, LW South Shore (EJHL) 6-1, 195 Shoots: L (North Reading, Mass.)GP- 45   G- 48   A- 43 PTS- 91 PIM- 43            Central Scouting Final Rank: 77 NA

The skinny: Vesey used the draft snub as powerful motivation to shatter EJHL scoring records with the Kings under Scott Harlow (Bridgewater, Mass.). His skating continues to get better, but his high-end instincts and soft hands mean he won’t get skipped this time. The 2012 John Carlton Memorial Trophy winner as the top area scholar-athlete in hockey has also added about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame thanks to hard work with noted trainer Brian McDonough (Easton, Mass.).

Quotable: “He’s such a strong skater and was a lot more aggressive with the puck this year, taking advantage of his good hands and hockey sense. With his added strength and conditioning, he’s been so much more effective in all areas of his game.”- Gary Eggleston, regional scout, Central Scouting Service

TSP founder on TSN 1260 Edmonton with the dish on Jimmy Vesey

I went on “Lowdown with Lowetide” on TSN 1260 Edmonton with my friend Allan Mitchell today to talk about Jimmy Vesey and his decision not to sign with the Nashville Predators after a stellar Harvard Crimson career. Instead, he’ll focus on finishing his coursework and graduate with his Harvard classmates in the coming weeks. On August 15, if nothing changes, he’ll then become a free agent and open to signing with any of the other (presumably) 29 teams.

Mr. Mitchell is a good guy- I’ve been going on his radio show for about five years now, and he’s a true gentleman. I love that he used to be a rock n’ roll DJ- he weaves a lot of that music knowledge into his show and you’ll hear that when I go on with him, as the segment opens with the Knack’s “My Sharona.”

Allan aka Lowetide is an Edmonton Oilers guy (obviously) but prior to that, he was a Boston Bruins fan in the great Big Bad Bruins days of Bobby and Phil, Gerry and Chief, EJ and Turk, Don Awrey and Ken HodgeEddie Westfall and Terrible Ted and…well- you get the idea. He keeps tabs on the B’s and is kind enough to often times let me come on his show to be the voice that brings folks up to speed with the team.

Today, the focus was not on the B’s but on a Boston guy- North Reading’s own Jimmy Vesey. It’s a relatively short segment- I have a much longer and more comprehensive podcast coming to the blog later on, but this should whet the whistle a bit.

Click on the SoundCloud player to listen- I come on at 49:20 of the 1st hour:

My thanks again to Al and his producer, “Lieutenant Eric”- both good blokes who host a fine show for the nice people in Edmonton.

Blowing it

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”– Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

The Boston Bruins may have dodged a bullet last night in the standings when the Detroit Red Wings lost in regulation to the non-playoff Montreal Canadiens.

After the B’s outshot the New Jersey Devils and peppered backup goalie Keith Kinkaid with 40 shots to New Jersey’s 15, but lost by a 2-1 score on a pair of power play goals, the Wings missed out on a chance to leapfrog Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, burning their game-in-hand. Just one point separates the two.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The effort was certainly there for Boston last night, but there was simply no finish. Effort is good, but in the world of professional sports, results are ultimately king. Boston, with the exception of Saturday’s white-knuckle win over the bottom-feeding Toronto Maple Leafs, have lost six of their last seven games.

Just two weeks ago, the Bruins had a share of first place and had won some critical games they were expected to lose. Optimism was creeping back into it as the team was bringing the effort and results…until they went out to California, that is. A string of five consecutive losses, buttressed by the one road win up north has now added another ‘L’ to the ledger and the next two games could push the B’s into major non-playoff jeopardy: they travel to the Midwest to face Western Conference powers the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.

But, Kirk- they beat the ‘Hawks earlier this month, you say. That they did. But that was a different time. In the last six games, the Bruins have mustered just 10 goals for. Those two opponents could easily hang 10 or more on Boston in just the pair of games, so the B’s must not only dig deep into the effort well, but they’ve got to execute to have any chance of getting points out of the next two critical matches.

On the plus side, Brad Marchand netted his 35th goal last night and it was a beautiful, parting-of-the-Red Sea kind of goal where he split the defense, zoomed in alone on Kinkaid and shifted from his forehand to his backhand before lifting the puck into the yawning cage. Marchand owned the space in front of the net, and you just got this sense that after Kinkaid was beaten so effortlessly, that the floodgates might open. Didn’t happen.

Now, the B’s get to face either one of Brian Elliott or Jake Allen– life certainly isn’t going to get any easier. The Blues recently posted a four-game consecutive shutout string and they’re getting healthier.

As we said before, the effort is good thing to see. This team has heart and it’s been like that for much of the season. The Bruins have been in the playoff standings since December and that’s saying something when you look at the roster from top to bottom. This is a club that was expected to struggle and likely miss the playoffs. This plucky bunch deserves credit for making such a good run of things. Claude Julien and his coaches- Doug Jarvis, Joe Sacco and Doug Houda– have managed to keep their charges motivated and playing hard, which has narrowed the talent gap the team faces on many a night.

Sometimes, it has worked out for them- take the night they went into Dallas to face the vaunted Stars at home and fell behind early but came roaring back and crushed Tyler Seguin’s crew at home.  Other nights, it’s simply not enough.

Most fans understand this and realize that this team was probably playing over its head for some key stretches of the season. That the playoff race has become so tight should not be a surprise, but it’s probably a fool’s errand to rage at the team (or your television and/or computer screen) when they fall short as they did against the Devils. Frustrating as it was, losses like the one in Newark last night are probably more the rule than the exception. It isn’t like the Bruins have a high-end, championship-caliber roster: they compete hard, but the Matt Beleskeys of the world work hard, make big hits and get themselves in position to score- they just have a harder time finishing off the play than others around the NHL. It does’t make him any less of a Bruin, but it does remind us that Don Sweeney and the Boston front office has a lot of work to do.

The hard part of all of this is that we’re witnessing the Bruins sagging down the stretch, much like they did a year ago. Games against the Devils must be won, because contests with the Blues and Blackhawks aren’t expected to deliver the needed points. Now, the B’s must overachieve in order to stay ahead in the standings. Had Boston endured this slump in the middle of the season and were surging back at the end, the sentiment amongst the fans might be a little different than it is now. In the grand scheme, it’s of little consequence, but timing is everything, and as the late Yogi Berra once said- “It’s deja vu all over again.”

What we are learning is that Boston’s core players aren’t getting it done to a high enough degree. Zdeno Chara did net the game-winner against Toronto Saturday, but he also took the boarding call that resulted in Reid Boucher’s game-winner last night. Whether it was  a weak call made by referee Steve Kozari, who one might have to strain to recall when he’s actually called a penalty against a Boston opponent in recent games, it doesn’t matter. Chara needs to be better.

David Krejci, he of the $7.2 million per year contract and no-movement clause, has to be hurt. Has to. Because if he isn’t, Peter Chiarelli’s final gift to the Bruins- the extension with five more years remaining- could be an albatross around the neck of the team going forward. Krejci turns 30 soon and his slight frame has taken a good amount of physical punishment over the years. He’s an outstanding competitor and one of the smartest offensive players in the league, but he carries a huge cap hit and a no-movement clause, both of which conspire to make him virtually impossible to move in any kind of meaningful deal unless it meant the Bruins were taking back a similar bad contract in return. That NMC remains in effect through 2019- when he’ll be 33- and then a no-trade goes for one more season- through 2020. The B’s could buy him out, but that’s not a feasible option with so much money invested in him and the crippling payout structure associated with such a move (the league did this to prevent teams from throwing money at big-ticket mistakes to make them go away).

If you think I’m picking on Krejci, then here’s an example of what’s bothered me of late: near the end the game last night, with his goaltender out of the net and Krejci going back for the puck deep in his own end, a Devils forward zipped by him and stole possession. The play didn’t lead to an empty-netter, but it did bleed valuable seconds off the clock- time the Bruins could have used to start the breakout the other way and try to get the equalizer. Speed has never been Krejci’s forte but I’ll come out and say it- he just looks slow out there. And, he seems unable to win footraces to loose pucks at critical moments- footraces Krejci used to win.  If you’re not concerned about this, I don’t know what else to say.

In net, Tuukka Rask has been up and down for most of the year. There is no question that when on his game, he is one of the NHL’s elite netminders. Unfortunately, he can also be significantly mediocre at times as well. The defense in front of him is a major issue, but the B’s could have used a stop from him on the Travis Zajac goal last night and didn’t get it.  If you read this and translate it as blaming Rask, that’s not what I’m saying, but at some point- Rask has more than 7 million reasons to play better than he has at points this season. He’s under .920 for a season-long save percentage, and on a team like this one, it’s simply not good enough.

Finally- Patrice Bergeron may be a saint, but he’s not all-powerful. He had the tying goal on his stick in close but fired the puck wide after it appeared a Devils defender got just enough of him to hamper him from getting the shot off cleanly. His 29 goals are a real testament to just how important the 30-year-old has been to Boston’s fortunes this year. Everything the Bruins stand for is symbolized in the play of Bergeron. But, he can’t do it alone. Julien shook the lines up last night to no avail- Boston could not find a way to salvage at least a point out of it to buy them some breathing room.

Brad Marchand has done his part as well. You can almost hear the cha-ching! as his next contract negotiations will begin next season with one year remaining on his current deal that pays him a bargain rate of $5 million with a $4.5M AAV. If the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, Marchand is going to be a key focal point to get them there, but he can’t carry the team. Others must find a way to take the pressure off of the team’s heavy lifters.

But by others- the pickings might be a tad slim.

Brett Connolly left the game with an injury, so now we’ll wait to see what lies ahead for him. Ryan Spooner didn’t make the trip but sources tell me his injury is not that serious- it’s just something that can be made worse if he doesn’t rest it properly. We’ll see him back soon. Jimmy Hayes is the easy target and whipping boy, but he hasn’t had much of an impact all season, so the fact that he’s done next to nothing for the past month doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. Noel Acciari has been a revelation, but he’s not going to do much offensively. Landon Ferraro is another speedy but limited contributor scoring-wise. Frank Vatrano has the speed and hands to get something done, and he’d be a nice Cinderella story if he could pot some big ones to help his team net some critical points.

What the Bruins need is more production from their core and others like Loui Eriksson and Lee Stempniak, who had a hat trick denied him a week ago on one offside and one replay call that could have gone his way, only it didn’t. He’s cooled off considerably since Boston’s 6-0-1 run after the trade deadline, and Eriksson has been hot and cold for the most part since the team opted not to trade him- Bruins need more from both of them.

The defense is trying, but as the wise sage Yoda once said (paraphrased)- trying hard isn’t good enough. Or is it- good enough trying hard is not?

I respect the effort this team has made this season. A lot of that, regardless of whether you agree with his personnel decisions or not, falls on Julien. He’s managed to take a mediocre roster and put it in the thick of the playoff rest. Contrast that to some of the other teams out there from whom much, much more was expected given how they looked on paper, but have fallen flat.

Ultimately, though, results are what matters in the NHL and in most walks of life. The Bruins weren’t seen as potential champions this year and their performance has validated that. However, many (present company included) didn’t even see them as a playoff club coming in, and they’ve demonstrated what hard work can get you.

Hard work isn’t enough to win it all in this league, but the Bruins deserve credit for coming this far.

Now, they need to dig deep and find a way to be one of the final eight teams standing in the Eastern Conference. Just missing the playoffs means they’re in the same boat they were in a year ago- the draft won’t help them all that much. At least, not in the immediate sense.

They’ve squandered the cushion they built up just a few short weeks ago, so they’ll have to make it in the hard way. If they can deny Detroit, that team’s long playoff streak of 25 years will come to an end. If not, then we’ll know that sometimes, try as one might, effort is not enough to guarantee success.

I want to believe the Bruins will get in, but this finish is too close to call.

***

On another note- I will be joining radio host Allan Mitchell aka “Lowetide” on Edmonton’s TSN 1260 today to talk about Jimmy Vesey. His recent decision not to sign with Nashville and become a free agent as of August 15 has polarized a lot of people in the hockey world, so I thought I would weigh in with my own perspectives on Vesey, whom I’ve known for a long time and the NHL’s system, which allows for a team like the Predators to get nothing after they invested time and resources into developing him over the past four years. If you forgot that hockey is a business, then the Vesey situation reminds us all that it is.

I will be going on Mr. Mitchell’s show live at approximately 12:40 EST time today but if you can’t tune in (they stream their content online), his producer is very good about posting the SoundCloud file and I will put that up on the blog later and also tweet the link if you don’t want to wait.

 

Update: final stats JFK, Grzelcyk, O’Gara

UPDATE 1 3/29/4:15 pm EST: TSP has confirmed that Rob O’Gara is signed and in the fold with Boston. Later this week, he will ink the ATO to join the Providence Bruins for the rest of the season. According to ESPN’s John Buccigross, Sean Kuraly is under contract as well. That would put the Bruins at 48  contracts (see update below), so it might be an indicator that Tanev is a bridge too far, so they’re getting Kuraly in the mix to start his pro career now. Also in play- the B’s could allocate their final contract spot on Matt Grzelcyk (more on him below).

Even more out of the box- Maxim Chudinov still technically belongs to the B’s but with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation holding the cards to a transfer of Chudinov to North America this late in the season, it’s a real long shot (h/t to friend Dominic Tiano for the connecting of the dots here). Just like Sweden did with Carl Soderberg back in 2013, the World Championship is coming up and Russia undoubtedly wants him for that event with Chudinov’s team out of the KHL playoffs. We’re not even sure Boston wants to sign Chudinov at this point (and I expressed my doubts about that in a previous post), but I guess we shall see. I wouldn’t close the book on Tanev just yet, but O’Gara is confirmed and with Kuraly appearing to be as well, that means there is one deal left- unless I got the math wrong, which is possible.

 

UPDATE 2 3/29/7:54 pm EST: Because of the ATOs, the confirmed contracts for O’Gara and Kuraly do NOT count against the 50-max limit for Boston. B’s currently at 48. Thanks to Dom for getting that information from someone in the know on CBA and contract-related stuff.

 

Original post:

Three more Boston Bruins prospects’ seasons ended in the NCAA over the weekend, with Boston University and Yale losing to Denver University and UMass-Lowell respectively.

Out of the NCAA tournament are BU Terriers Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Matt Grzelcyk. As reported on TSP yesterday, Rob O’Gara’s Yale Bulldogs fell in OT to UMass-Lowell and he should sign a 2-year entry-level deal with the Bruins real soon. What we don’t know yet is if the B’s will have him report to Providence to finish out the AHL season on an ATO (he won’t be eligible for the playoffs but can remain with the team to practice and work out with the minor league affiliate) but those details will follow.

Grzelcyk is in a similar boat: as a senior, his NCAA eligibility is exhausted, so he needs to be signed. Like Jimmy Vesey, he could opt for free agency on August 15 or sign with his hometown Bruins. TSP reached out to several sources about Grzelcyk’s status, but nothing solid has come back. In similar fashion to Sean Kuraly, the B’s can opt to wait on signing the BU captain until other contracts come off the books at the end of the season, but before the 15 August deadline to retain exclusive negotiating rights. The team could theoretically offer him an ATO to play in Providence, but without an NHL ELC in place, that would entail some risk on Grzelcyk’s part.

There has also been some below-the-radar buzz that the B’s were so impressed with JFK’s poise as a freshman that they might try to sign him right now (by right now I mean this offseason- not necessarily this week or next) and put him in the organization right away. That would be a tough loss to David Quinn’s Terriers, but if events of recent days are any indication, NHL teams might be forced to move earlier on prospects they feel strongly about rather than risk losing them to the existing NCAA loophole. Regardless, a decision on JFK doesn’t need to happen right now, so we’ll see how things play out in what is shaping up to be a very interesting offseason.

Don Sweeney and his team are still focused on trying to make the NHL playoffs, and given how much the Bruins were mocked at the 2015 NHL draft for what they were doing, they’re in a pretty decent spot as of right now. First things first, but signing O’Gara now makes sense and the team can afford to take a wait-and-see approach, especially with undrafted free agent Brandon Tanev still unsigned and the Bruins very much in the mix (though facing stiff competition from other serious suitors).

If Tanev signs along with O’Gara, that puts the Bruins at 49 contracts, so they might have to wait for the 2015-16 deals to expire before moving forward on anything else.

Here’s the final stats on JFK, Grzelcyk and O’Gara in the meantime. Since I covered him in depth in yesterday’s post, O’Gara’s writeup is a little thinner than the Terrier duo.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University (HEA)

2015-16 final statistics:

Games played: 39  Goals: 10  Assists: 20  Points: 30  Penalty Minutes: 28  +/-  4

2014-15 stats differential (USHL)

Games played: -11  Goals: -5  Assists: -18  Points: -23  Penalty Minutes: -10  +/-  -6

Season in review: After being the 45th overall selection in 2015 (incidentally the same exact draft position as that of Patrice Bergeron in 2003 and Ryan Spooner seven years later), JFK opened a lot of eyes around the Hockey East with his smooth, poised and refined game as a freshman, playing all 39 of his club’s games. At least two NHL scouts told TSP at various times during the season that JFK was the top player on the ice in games they witnessed, marveling at his smarts and ability to play such an effective and complete 200-foot game. The Stockholm native who spent the previous two years with Omaha of the USHL (a big reason for the disparity in statistics between his last junior season and first NCAA campaign) finished third on the team in scoring behind accomplished seniors Danny O’Regan (Sharks) and undrafted free agent Ahti Oksanen, a former defenseman who converted to forward as a junior. More impressive than the numbers, however, was JFK’s defensive presence on special teams and a polished, veteran-like ability in the faceoff dot.

Outlook: It would be interesting to see the B’s lure the 19-year-old out of school so soon, but not all that surprising. With the possible (probable?) departure of enigmatic center and restricted free agent Alexander Khokhlachev in the offseason, the Providence Bruins would have room to accommodate another young and talented pivot. One thing that could keep JFK at BU is that he’s on the lower spectrum of his physical development at present. Although he’s about 6-foot-1, he’s still pretty light at under 190 pounds and has one of those body types that will be hard to keep weight on his frame during the season. He’s not one of those players who pushes the pace throughout a game- he’s a good skater with a rangy stride, but at times will slow the play down and be more deliberate in the way he operates. We’ve seen him drive defenders back on their heels, so the capacity exists for JFK to be a dangerous offensive table-setter when he wants to be. Right now, he appears to be well on his way to eventually making the Bruins as a third-line center with top-two line upside who can do a little bit of everything for his team. Forsbacka-Karlsson draws a lot of comparisons to Bergeron in terms of his cerebral approach and versatility, but you couldn’t heap more pressure on a kid by likening him to No. 37, so we’ll have to see where it all leads. For now, the first of two second-round selections as part of the trio of picks acquired from Calgary last June for Dougie Hamilton, appears to be on track for bigger and better things in the not-too-distant future.

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

2015-16 final statistics:

Games played: 27  Goals: 10  Assists: 13  Points: 23  Penalty Minutes: 36  +/-  17

2014-15 stats differential (USHL)

Games played: -14  Goals: even  Assists: -15  Points: -15  Penalty Minutes: even  +/-  -15

Season in review: It was a tale of two hockey seasons for the second-year captain and Charlestown native who was picked in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by his hometown team. He missed the beginning of the year recovering from knee surgery last May and wasted no time making his presence felt, only to injure the opposite knee just six games into his schedule, forcing him to miss 12 total contests on the year. He tied his previous season high of 10 goals, including netting his first career NCAA hat trick against UMass. His assist totals dipped, but considering the number of games lost to injury, put him on a comparable pace to his junior year totals of 28 helpers and 41 total points. Offense was more of a challenge for BU this season, and that shouldn’t come as a major surprise given the loss of 2015 MVP and Hobey Baker-winning center Jack Eichel to the NHL. Grzelcyk gutted it out by playing through the pain associated with an LBI, and when speed is your bread-and-butter, that’s a significant challenge to overcome. He did it without complaint and aplomb, which is typical of his character and why his teammates elected him captain in a landslide. Twice.

Outlook: Although undersized, Grzelcyk has the speed, vision and hockey IQ to be an impact NHLer one day. The easy comparison in playing style is Torey Krug, but outside of the size, the two are their own defender. The former Belmont Hill and U.S. National Team star who led the Americans to a fourth-consecutive gold medal at the U18 championship in 2012 is a faster skater and plays more of a finesse game than Krug’s natural scrappiness. Krug is an aggressive shooter and despite his woes this season at finding the back of the net is probably the better finisher at the NHL level than Grzelcyk will be if he makes it. Both players can carry the puck out of their own zone and when the defender known as “Grizzy” has the time and gets it cranked up in his own end, he can effortlessly go coast-to-coast with the speed and puckhandling ability to beat defenses that try and stand up at the blue line. As mentioned previously, he has no NCAA eligibility remaining, so the Bruins have until August 15 to sign him to an ELC. Because the team is up against the 50 contract limit, they may opt to kick the can down the road until they get some breathing room at the end of the NHL season. Such a decision doesn’t speak ill of Grzelcyk, and where he fits into the organization’s plans going forward, but might reflect a desire for him to have a chance to get healthy and be fully ready to go for the 2016-17 season. Signing him now and sending him to Providence opens the door to the possibility of further injury; not sure the cost-benefit is there just to play a few pro games to close out the year.

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

2015-16 final statistics:

Games played: 30  Goals: 4  Assists: 8  Points: 12  Penalty Minutes: 41  +/-  5

2014-15 stats differential (USHL)

Games played: -3  Goals: -2   Assists: -7  Points: -9  Penalty Minutes: +10  +/-  -10

Season in review: The numbers were down from what was expected a year after O’Gara posted his best offensive season with six goals and 21 points, to lead the Yale blue line in scoring. Even so, the senior logged consistent minutes in all situations and played a lot with Ryan Obuchowski (undrafted) as coach Keith Allain’s most trusted pairing. In bigger context, Yale is not an offensive team, but limits goals against and scores just enough to come out on top more often than not. Fixating on the statistics does not tell the entire story, even if the scoring totals were a step back for O’Gara this year.

Outlook: The former prep star and graduate of the Long Island Royals minor hockey program has the size (6-4/220) and smarts plus a top-shelf attitude to develop into an anchor-type presence on the Boston blue line. He’s not a flashy, top-end kind of defenseman but is a player you win with. He’s continued to grow and progress since the B’s took a chance on him in the wake of their Stanley Cup victory, but more seasoning and refinement for him in the AHL before he’s ready for primetime wouldn’t be a bad thing. At the same time, O’Gara has the maturity and physical attributes/experience to be a pleasant surprise at Bruins camp next year and challenge for an NHL job as early as 2016-17. Given that we don’t know what kind of offseason changes lie ahead, especially to Boston’s defense as a whole, trying to project O’Gara in the short term is premature.

Source: O’Gara to sign with Bruins; Jimmy Vesey opts not to sign with Predators

cropped-ogara-national-champ.jpg

Rob O’Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (Photo courtesy of Rob O’Gara)

It was an interesting Monday, as the Scouting Post blog got wind that Boston Bruins prospect  and defenseman Rob O’Gara is expected to sign with the team this week. He will make it official by putting pen to paper after concluding his NCAA career with Yale University in a 3-2 OT loss to the University of Massachusetts- Lowell on Saturday night.

O’Gara signing with the B’s is the next step in a six-year journey that began in the fall of 2010 when the Long Island native left home to play prep hockey in Massachusetts for the Milton Academy Mustangs (ISL). He helped lead his team to the 2011 New England Prep Stuart-Corkery Elite 8 championship as a big, mobile and smart shutdown defender. He ended up being the final pick of the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the hometown Bruins, who obviously took note of him while he played in their backyard. Since then, he played one more year of prep at Milton (he was the captain in 2011-12), and then spent the previous four seasons with Yale, a key member of the Elis 2013 NCAA title team as a freshman.

While O’Gara has not officially signed with Boston yet, a source close to the situation said that family advisor Matt Keator is working with the team and it is expected to get done soon. Whether he will go to the AHL to finish out the season with Providence or remain in school to close out the semester and start fresh in the fall of 2016 with his first pro training camp (as Brian Ferlin did two springs ago) remains to be seen and is part of the details that are being worked.

It was a disappointing statistical season for O’Gara, but to simply look at the numbers would be to ignore the tremendous amount of playing time he received and how effective he was in myriad situations for Yale.   They were one of the top defensive teams in the nation and needed to be, because offense was an adventure from night to night. O’Gara was named the 2015 ECAC defensive defenseman of the year and is a fluid, intelligent rearguard who can move the puck to the right spots on the ice and while isn’t an overly aggressive hitter, uses his size and reach to very good effect. He and Brandon Carlo could become a sort of “twin towers” combination if you will- two tall (O’Gara is 6-4, Carlo 6-5), agile/mobile and very tough to beat players in their own end.

It’s too early to project where O’Gara will fit in and whether he could earn minutes with the big club next season or might need to spend at least a year or more in the AHL further developing his already mature game. However, he’s a guy who has literally grown up in the Bruins organization, as he turned 18 on the day he reported to Wilmington for his very first Boston development camp in 2011 and has progressed impressively each year since. He’s probably not one of those higher-end two-way threats that earn the distinction of being a top NHL defenseman, but O’Gara could eventually become a solid top-four, minute-munching, shutdown and character player that you win with. To get him at the end of round five is fine value in itself. His college coach, Keith Allain, called him the “best defenseman in college hockey,” last week. Sure, there’s bias there, but Allain knows defensemen and he’s probably not too far off the mark in the purest sense of the word.

Conversely, the Nashville Predators did not get the same kind of good news B’s fans can smile at today.

Earlier this evening, Hall of Fame hockey reporter and analyst Bob McKenzie tweeted that Jimmy Vesey’s representatives had informed GM David Poile and the Nashville Predators that he would not negotiate an entry-level contract and would instead elect to pursue free agency and control his own destination as of August 15.

For the Predators and their fans, this is a tough blow. Vesey was originally passed over in 2011 coming out of prep hockey with Belmont Hill despite a productive season. He was heavily recruited by USHL teams but opted to stay close to home and his family in Massachusetts, playing for Scott Harlow and the South Shore Kings in the final season of the EJHL before the league morphed into the USPHL. In 2011-12, Vesey engaged in a scorched earth campaign to terrorize opponents, shattering the EJHL’s single season scoring records with 48 goals and 91 points in 45 games. He was the New England Hockey Journal’s top-ranked player coming out of New England for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but wasn’t picked until the third round (66th overall) and after Brian Hart and Sam Kurker both went in the second round. He played with speed, skill and a deadly scoring attitude. Vesey played with a giant chip on his shoulder and it even seemed that all year he was giving one giant middle finger to all 30 NHL teams that passed on him the previous June in St. Paul. In Pittsburgh a year later, Nashville was the first to step up and say “We believe in you”- and most figured that he would eventually make his way to Music City.

But that was before he emerged as one of college hockey’s most dominant players. It didn’t happen right away, but once it did…

Vesey went on to win a gold medal in 2013 with Team USA at the World Jr. Championship tourney despite modest freshman year numbers at Harvard- 11 goals and 18 points in 27 games. He exploded as a junior, scoring 32 goals in 37 NCAA games and finishing as runner-up to fellow Bay Stater Jack Eichel for the 2015 Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey’s top player. Nashville had seen enough and wanted him to come out and sign then, but Vesey opted to remain in school and return as the Crimson’s captain for his senior year. This season, the goals weren’t as prolific and he carried a heavy burden of getting much of the defensive attention on him whenever Harvard played.

Vesey also got asked the question a lot about whether he would sign with the team that owned his rights or leverage the rare right that few aspiring pro hockey players have to choose their own NHL destination. That had to weigh on the kid, whose real desire was trying to get back to the NCAA and help Harvard win a title for the first time since his head coach, Ted Donato, was a sophomore on the team in 1989.

This column’s purpose is not to debate or pick apart the provision in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that allows college seniors to pass up all the money on the table that a team owning their rights offers and choose to sign somewhere else. We saw it last year with Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly. We saw it in August 2014 with Boston College’s Kevin Hayes, who could have won a Stanley Cup as a rookie had he signed with the team that drafted him- the Chicago Blackhawks. He instead went to the NY Rangers. Before that, it was Justin Schultz and Blake Wheeler,who in 2008 originally leveraged the loophole to be a free agent if not signed four full years after being drafted. Of course- you all know who Wheeler signed with after being the fifth overall selection of the (then) Phoenix Coyotes.

Vesey is the latest high-profile player to go the free agency route, and per the NHL’s CBA, he’s well within his rights to do it. This is America (and Canada), after all. If you believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then you ought not take issue with Vesey’s choice.

If nothing else, it’s going to give hockey people a lot to talk about in mid-August, but it’s no consolation to the Nashville Predators- Poile and assistant GM Paul Fenton but also the scouting staff and player development staff that invested heavily in Vesey: former CM defenseman (and 1994 first-rounder) Jeff Kealty, who is a Massachusetts guy. They’re all left holding the bag and get nothing- not even a compensatory pick, because unlike Hayes, Vesey was not a first-round selection, so there is no provision in the CBA to compensate a club that loses out on a high-profile prospect like him. The NHL should look at this. Vesey is perfectly within his right to pursue this action, but shouldn’t Nashville get some kind of return on their investment? Even if it is a mid-to-late pick?

The Tennessean’s Adam Vingan, and old press box buddy of mine when were were both covering the Washington Capitals circa 2009-12 (to this day, the title of his Caps blog “Kings of Leonsis” gets a chuckle out of me- he’s a gifted writer and hard worker) has more details on the story and is worth following on Twitter- not just for the Vesey stuff but for a good pulse on what is going on in Smash-ville.

Vingan’s Twitter feed indicates that Poile and company really believed that Vesey was going to sign…until informed today that he wasn’t. That’s the business of hockey and only Vesey and those closest to him know why he opted to pass on a pretty good situation in Nashville: the team is one of the hottest in hockey and was prepared to give him a top-9 spot coming right out of the disappointment of losing to Boston College Friday night in the first NCAA tourney game after losing out to Quinnipiac for the ECAC championship.

Here is part of the statement given by Poile to Nashville media during the second intermission of their game tonight (taken from @Adam Vingan via David Boclair of the Nashville Post @BoclairSports):

 

Vesey

So, after nearly four years in the organization, Nashville rolled the dice and came up snake eyes. Where will Vesey go is now the burning question.

The Toronto Maple Leafs make a whole lot of sense purely for the family reasons than many are away: both his dad (a Townie who starred at Merrimack College before becoming a part-time Blues and Bruins forward is now an area scout for the Leafs) and brother  Nolan, (drafted in 2014) are part of the TML organization. Beyond that, you have Lou Lamoriello and Brendan Shanahan running the front office and head coach Mike Babcock for credibility and the rebuild with some impressive foundational blocks already in place. The team cleared the decks of bad contracts to make a splash in free agency come July 1st and have the assets in place to maybe pull off a blockbuster trade to bring in some legitimate new blood to revitalize the sad sack Leafs, who might also get a kid named Auston Matthews in Buffalo come June. Would Toronto have coin left over to throw Vesey’s way come mid-August? You can bet dollars to (Tim Horton’s) doughnuts they will. It’s one of the few situations you could see a kid like Vesey looking at and making the tough call to say “No thanks” to a situation like Nashville.

I have little doubt it was a difficult decision.

So, let the recriminations begin…that is also the business of hockey. It isn’t fair, but that’s the way things go in life. It isn’t fair to the Predators, who will likely get criticized for not trading Vesey’s rights when they had a chance. It’s not that simple, but it’s bound to come out in some circles. It isn’t fair to Vesey, who will likely get criticized for not showing loyalty to the Predators organization, but he’s not the only one who’s followed this path and it’s doubtful he’ll be the last.

No team can talk to Vesey until August 15. Nashville could theoretically get him to change his mind, too- they have until then to do that. If not, then once their hold on him expires, he’s free to sign a deal with a new suitor. Will it be Toronto? Could he come home to Boston? Is there another team out there lying in the weeds waiting to swoop in and offer him max dollars and the lure of opportunity?

That’s what we’ll all have to wait to find out.

In the meantime, it appears that sticking with the team that picked him was good enough for O’Gara, and for that- the Bruins are grateful. However, unless or until the NHL can address the NCAA rules in the collective bargaining agreement and how player rights are handled at present, there will be a buyer beware tag associated with kids either drafted out of the college ranks or headed there.

You can’t fault some of them for taking advantage of the options available to them, but you can bet that no other team wants to be in Nashville’s shoes a year from now or two…or three. Here’s some more on the situation from TSN’s Frank Seravalli

The Bruins now have a pair of high-profile later collegiate picks that have stuck by their team in O’Gara (who admittedly has yet to make it official- will feel better once he signs on the dotted line) and Zane McIntyre, who gave up a year of eligibility to sign with Boston last summer. Slightly different circumstances, but because of when the team had drafted him (2010), he could have pursued free agency. His only decision was whether to sign with the Bruins (which he did) or stay in school, but like Nashville, the B’s could have looked on helplessly as he said “no thanks,” and pursued opportunities with a different Johnny-Come-Lately organization.

This is why relationships and player development is so important. That’s not to say Nashville didn’t invest that with Vesey- they did. But loyalty is a two-way street and at least in the case of O’Gara and McIntyre, they felt strongly enough about the time spent in the organization and the roots they had put down over the summers when they were able to work with the coaches, and then during the seasons when team officials visited them and in between, to stick with the team that brought them to the dance.

But not every story may turn out the same way in Boston, so let this serve perhaps as a cautionary tale going forward. It may also create a climate in which NCAA teams will pay the price through the law of unintended consequences, as NHL clubs might sign their kids away from those college teams earlier than ever to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

TSP put out on March 12 that Danton Heinen was going to turn pro after the season and I stand by that report (with multiple source input). Although the kid himself has said no decision has been made yet, and I respect that given his team is in the Frozen Four happening in a couple of weeks, all that’s left to do is for the ink to dry on his NHL contract. If the Bruins had any thoughts about not signing their 2014 fourth-rounder before, you can rest assured those doubts are gone now.

If only every decision were that simple.

Rob O'Gara 1010152

Rob O’Gara looks on during an on-ice session at the 2014 Boston Bruins development camp (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Update: final stats Benning, Bjork, Donato, Sherman plus Tanev watch

The 2015-16 hockey season came to an end in the first round of games at the NCAA D1 championship tournament Friday for a trio of Bruins prospects, plus a fourth who was injured and didn’t suit up for Harvard’s 4-1 loss to Boston College.

Northeastern University had a killer draw, facing the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, who didn’t win the NCHC (St. Cloud State captured that honor), but were at or near the top of the NCAA poll all season. The Huskies took the early lead but UND scored five unanswered goals in what was an eventual 6-2 victory for the Hawks. B’s prospect Matt Benning scored NU’s final goal of the season, his sixth tally overall.

Anders Bjork was the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s top scorer yesterday, ripping a laser beam past University of Michigan goalie Steve Racine to tie the game at 1 in the first. He then assisted on Thomas DiPauli’s second period goal with a highlight reel move through three Wolverines players to gain the offensive zone, then one-hand a drop pass to the goal scorer. Unfortunately for Bjork and his mates, the game went to overtime and the famed ‘CCM line’ of J.T. Compher, Kyle Connor and Tyler Motte ended Notre Dame’s season with Motte’s sudden death strike.

The Harvard Crimson played hard, but a tough start and 0-3 hole was too tough to overcome against the BC Eagles. Ryan Donato showed some impressive flashes of what could be to come for the talented pivot, but was held off the score sheet. His linemate, Seb Lloyd, tallied Harvard’s only goal. On the other side of things, Ryan Fitzgerald was on the winning club, and assisted on Alex Tuch’s somewhat controversial goal to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead. Tuch appeared to drive Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen into the net before the puck ended up over the goal line, but after a lengthy delay on two reviews, the goal call was upheld.

Providence College’s double-overtime loss not only means that the Friars’ defense of their 2015 NCAA championship title is finished, but also began the Brandon Tanev free agent watch, and the Bruins along with another usual suspect in the NHL are rumored to be in on the speedy forward from Toronto.

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 41  Goals: 6  Assists: 13  Points: 19  Penalty Minutes: 37  +/-:  0

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: +5  Goals: +6  Assists: -11 Points: -5 Penalty Minutes: +1  +/-: -6

Season in review: One year after scoring nary a goal in a 24-assist sophomore season, the former Spruce Grove Saint (AJHL) and Dubuque Fighting Saint (USHL) found the net six times and finished with 19 points from the blue line, good for second place on the Huskies among defensemen (Garrett Cockerill-22 points). Benning played a career-high 41 games as a junior. He was as solid and dependable a defensive presence as they come; Benning is not a big point getter, but he played a lot of minutes at even strength and special teams for NU coaches Jim Madigan and Jerry Keefe as one of the Huskies’ alternate captains.

Outlook: In a more recent update, TSP (this blog for those who might be wondering) talked about Benning being one of the more underrated prospects in the Boston organization. He’s not flashy or dynamic- he skates well and uses his natural hockey savvy to be in the right place to make plays in his own end. He’s not big by NHL standards, but like a defense version of Noel Acciari hits hard and clean. The son of former NHL rearguard Brian Benning isn’t an in-your-face intimidator, but he’ll step into players in the open ice with his ability to come across the grain smoothly with effective lateral glide and footwork. He’s just a smart player who motors along while other more hyped players get the lion’s share of the attention, but his goal yesterday was a statement and reminder that after being an unheralded sixth-round pick in 2012, he’s still progressing and growing. Don’t sleep on Benning as a solid eventual middle tier contributor in the NHL who just might have the same kind of stealthy upside his dad brought as a legit No. 2-3 two-way defender in his prime.

 

Anders Bjork, RW  University of Notre Dame (HEA)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 35  Goals: 12  Assists: 23  Points: 35  Penalty Minutes: 8  +/-:  28

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: -6  Goals: +5  Assists: +8 Points: +13 Penalty Minutes: -6  +/-: +31

Season in review: One word for Bjork’s sophomore campaign in South Bend: impressive! The 2014 fifth-rounder doesn’t have much in the way of size with a 6-foot frame that isn’t going to put on a lot of mass beyond his already 187 pounds. However, he used it to max advantage this year, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring despite being the third-youngest player on the roster behind fellow 1996-born skaters Dennis Gilbert (October vs. August) and Dylan Malmqvist (another Aug. ’96 who is younger by just a couple of weeks). Bjork consistently found his way on the scoring ledger all year and demonstrated an impressive ability to set the play from the off-wing.  He plays a heavy game despite not having an abundance of size and against Michigan in the NCAA tourney he was dangerous and pushing the pace well until it appeared he took an awkward spill that might have affected him. He was not as effective the rest of the way, but still was a noticeable presence as Notre Dame put a scare into the Wolverines.

Outlook: As a sophomore, the Bruins will likely leave Bjork in school for at least one more season, maybe two. He’s not what you would consider an elite scoring forward but there are no flaws in his game. The Wisconsin native is smart, hard-working and opportunistic. He’s shown a penchant for scoring the highlight reel variety of goal, particularly in the USA bronze medal-clinching game last winter at the World Jr. Championship. While I’m not one to throw the words “draft steal” around all the time, Bjork looks like superb value at 146th overall. He’s got the speed, smarts and tough mental makeup of a higher-end third-liner if he continues to develop and progress. The Bruins are thrilled with what Bjork has done since they drafted him.

Ryan Donato, C  Harvard Crimson (ECAC)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 32 Goals: 13 Assists: 8 Points: 21 Penalty Minutes: 26 +/-: 4

Differentials from 2014-15 stats: (combined from USHL, USPHL, prep- Dexter)

Games played: -20 Goals: -15 Assists: -37 Points: -52 Penalty Minutes: -6 +/-: +1

Season in review: Don’t be alarmed at the statistical differentials, as the biggest disparity comes from Donato’s senior prep season- he scored 53 points in 31 high school games. His NCAA freshman season production compares more favorably to his stints in the USPHL with South Shore and USHL at Omaha. As a center playing for his father, Donato showed promise and validated his standing as a late second-round draft pick in 2014. He took a backseat to Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot and Kyle Criscuolo when it came to scoring, but he flashed his impressive offensive talent throughout his first ECAC season. Last night, he made one memorable play in the first period when he came out of the corner and took the puck to the net, evading one BC defender before cutting back against the grain and nearly tucked a shot inside the left post. He was denied by Thatcher Demko, who made a great athletic play, but that kind of display of stick handling and hockey sense is a reminder of why Donato was such a dominant prep forward at Dexter School. Donato also looked good with Team USA at the World Jr. Championship, scoring a pair of goals in the bronze medal game but also showing a willingness to bear down and play a more limited/checking role for the American squad.

Outlook: Steady as she goes for Donato, who has the hockey bloodlines and passion to be a real good one in time. The Bruins aren’t in any immediate need to have him develop on a rapid timeline, so they can afford to be patient and take their time- expect him to play at least two more seasons in Cambridge, possibly three. However, he’s got to get stronger and keep improving his three-zone game. Watch for the production to jump as he will soon be one of Harvard’s most skilled forwards with the departure of Vesey and other upperclassmen.

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard Crimson (ECAC)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 31 Goals: 4 Assists: 6 Points: 10 Penalty Minutes: 10 +/-: 9

Differentials from 2014-15 stats: 

Games played: -6 Goals: +4 Assists: +3 Points: +7 Penalty Minutes: +6 +/-: +9

Season in review: A solid sophomore year ended in disappointment with Sherman injured and out of the last couple of games. He finished second in scoring on the Crimson blue line with 10 points, scoring his first goal after going without hitting twine in 37 games as a freshman. With his mobility and reach, he showed improved play in his defensive end and his confidence is growing. Not having him against BC made a tough slog that much more difficult for Harvard, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in his next couple of seasons and if he can become a dominant shutdown presence in the ECAC.

Outlook: The 2013 fifth-rounder out of the Hotchkiss Bearcats is 6-foot-6 and skates fluidly for a guy so tall. He’s still lanky and has a lot of filling out to do. He’s more of a gentle giant than a tough, intimidating baggage-masher, however. When afforded time and space, Sherman moves the puck quickly and effectively. However, when the game speeds up and closes in on him, he can be forced into turnovers and questionable decisions. Extremely raw when the Bruins drafted him, even then-GM Peter Chiarelli said that Sherman was going to be a project player. He’s coming along well, but it’s far too early to project him with a crowded organization of middle-to-lower tier defense types. It will be another two years before the B’s are forced to make a decision on him, so watch for them to take the maximum time and assess how he performs as an upperclassman when he’s given a larger role as the anchor of the Crimson blue line corps.

The Brandon Tanev watch is on:

Brandon Tanev is officially on the market

Born on on the last day of 1991, the 24-year-old undrafted free agent out just finished his fourth and final NCAA season at Providence College.

The brother of Vancouver Canucks D-man Chris Tanev has blazing wheels and can put defenders on their heels with his pure open ice speed. More of a defensive/energy forward than a high-upside scoring winger (Tanev can play either side), he’s one of the better free agent options this spring,  but should not be expected as an immediate impact guy in the NHL.

He’s smart and tenacious- and make no mistake- if you come out of Nate Leaman’s demanding system, you’re well-coached and know what it takes to succeed as a pro. Here’s his 2014-15 highlights package courtesy of the Providence College Friars (and he did score the NCAA championship-winning goal btw):

The Bruins brought Tanev to their development camp last summer, but that is no guarantee in itself that they can successfully convince him to sign with them. The familiarity no doubt helps, and the B’s have done a good job of keeping tabs on him and making their faith in him known. Whether it is enough to convince him to come to Boston or he opts for a team that can provide him a better opportunity to come in and play sooner/with less potential competition could be the deciding factor. Of course, if he’s looking at Frank Vatrano, PC pal Noel Acciari and even how well Austin Czarnik has done this season in the AHL, Tanev is already well aware of the opportunity that exists in Boston.

There’s also this- a solid source mentioned today that the Chicago Blackhawks like Tanev as well. It’s amazing what a winning organization can accomplish- the ‘Hawks know they can unload draft picks every spring, but when they can attract the better free agent options, losing picks in favor or more developed and mature players on a faster timeline to the NHL is the way a top team stays in the elite. We saw it with Artemi Panarin a year ago, and while Tanev might not presently project as a top-six NHL forward, with his speed and smarts, he’s one of those guys you win with. If Chicago wins the bidding for him, then it’s one more shot across the bow to the rest of the league that at times to be playing checkers while Stan Bowman is playing chess.

Of course, Boston and Chicago are just two teams after Tanev…there are others. You can bet on it.

We shall see where Tanev ends up, but as of now, the B’s are in on him, so we’ll just have to see where it all leads.

The son also rises: Ryan Donato

If he’s gotten lost in the shuffle a bit from David Pastrnak’s rapid path to the NHL and a ten-selection draft one year after the Bruins took him in the second round, Harvard freshman Ryan Donato is doing his part to shine.

The son of his Crimson coach and former Catholic Memorial and Harvard hockey star-turned-Boston Bruin (796 NHL games played with the B’s, Islanders, Ducks, Kings, Stars, Blues and Rangers before going back to Boston to finish his career in 2004)  the 56th overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft is having a terrific 2016, and we’re only in mid February.

To whit:

  • Donato not only made the Team USA 2016 World Jr. squad, but helped the Americans salvage a disappointing semifinal loss to Russia with a resounding bronze medal game victory with a two-goal thumping over the Czech Republic.
  • He played in his first Beanpot hockey tournament after years as a spectator and scored his first goal of that storied tournament, checking two big boxes off of his personal hockey bucket list. Next stop: Win the darn thing and complete the usurpation of Boston College or Boston University for the first time since 1993, three full years before Donato was born. His dad won a Beanpot as a player- in 1989- the same year Donato and his Harvard Crimson mates went on to win the NCAA championship- but doing so as a head coach has thus far eluded him.
  • Donato scored his first career NCAA hat trick over the weekend, his 8th, 9th and 10th goals of the season to get to double digits. For any freshman, that’s a solid achievement but better things are surely in store for the Scituate, Mass. native.

The oldest of Ted and Jeannine Donato’s four talented (and highly competitive) kids comes from impressive athletic stock. Everyone knows about his dad’s NHL pedigree, but his mother played college soccer at Villanova, and her brother, Matt McLees, is a former NFL linebacker with the Cleveland Browns. His son and Ryan’s cousin, Tyler McLees, is a senior at West Point and the captain of the USMA Black Knights varsity wrestling squad.

At this stage of his development, it’s pretty fair to say that Donato is living up to the immense promise that saw his hometown team call his name in Philadelphia with the second of just five total draft picks after a standout career of prep hockey at Dexter School in Brookline, where he skated under his uncle, Dan Donato (who played hockey at Boston University and was a pro baseball player after college).

Ryan Donato has been an impact player in his first year of ECAC competition, in many respects validating the faith his hometown team has in him to one day be a part of the solution in Boston.

“One thing I notice is just paying attention in practice,” he told the Scouting Post blog. “I think one of the biggest things is being a student of the game. There are a lot of things you learn from playing at this level, and a lot of things that the upperclassmen, the older guys- the seniors and juniors can teach you and a lot of the experiences and knowledge that the coaches have. That’s the biggest thing at this level- making sure you’re doing the little things right and I think everything pays off if you pay attention to the things that matter.”

Donato is looking forward to being a part of another potential Harvard run to the ECAC championship, a berth in the NCAA tournament and competing for a chance to be the first Crimson (on only) team to win a national title since 1989. That year, his dad was the NCAA tournament MVP and finished fifth in team scoring with 14 goals and 51 points in 34 games.

“I think there are a lot of guys who really want it, we really want it” Donato said of a veteran group that has the firepower to do some damage if Harvard can come together at the right time. “The difference with our team is that we have a lot of great depth and guys who are sitting out, but every single day they bring it to practice and make sure they’re ready to go for the playoffs. Guys like Jimmy Vesey, Kyle Criscuolo…learning from those guys. Honestly, it’s one of the best things I have to say- it’s an unbelievable opportunity.”

His stats line is a respectable one- 10 goals and 16 points in 23 games with Harvard, good for fourth place behind seniors Vesey and Criscuolo and junior center Alexander Kerfoot. This follows on the heels of being Dexter’s top scorer in that hockey program’s history. If his experience at this month’s Beanpot is any indication, Harvard could be in pretty good hands come 2017 when Donato and company will get another shot at bringing the trophy to Cambridge.

“Honestly, before (the games) I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous because I knew that all of my friends and family were going to be there,” said Donato. “It was something special from the beginning, and I think I’ve been going to the (Beanpot) games for 14 years or a long, long time. I think just getting on the ice for the first time, I had a pit in my stomach going around in warmups. Hopefully, this (the TD Garden) can be my home and after scoring the first goal, I enjoyed the feeling of getting one there and I hope I’ll have other opportunities.

“The Beanpot was such a great tournament but there weren’t many great results for us, but hopefully over the next couple of years, we’ll have a Beanpot title. It’s kind of a whirlwind at the beginning for your first Beanpot because you don’t really know what to expect. Being a Boston boy there are a lot more nerves that go into it beforehand as opposed to maybe a Minnesota guy who doesn’t know what the Beanpot is about.”

However, even with production of more than 200 career points at prep level, there were whispers about him dominating the competition level and how long it might take him to make an impact in the NCAA without being challenged over a full season of junior hockey.

“If there were any doubts about (Donato) after his senior year at Dexter I think they’re pretty minimal now,” said one New England-based NHL scout from an Eastern Conference team. “He put in the (offseason) work and made sure he was ready to go right out of the gate. I think making the World Jr. team was a big statement for him- he beat out some bigger name guys to make the squad and it did wonders for his confidence. We’re seeing it more and more, and he looks like a player who is going to be a key part of his team at Harvard going forward.”

The WJC experience of competing against the top under-20 talent in the world and coming home with a bronze medal certainly framed 2016 in a positive manner for Donato.

“It was a blast, obviously,” he said of his time with Team USA in Helsinki. “The guys I met and played with and against were unbelievable players on the ice and unbelievable people off the ice. I think the coaching staff was great as well- Coach Chelios definitely helped me along the way. He was our ‘D’ coach but was a special guy and influence on all of us just by the way he carried himself around the rink. I’m hoping that just by the way he acts around the rink and with the players is something I can emulate.”

He admitted to having an open mind for the WJC training camp and selection process, not taking anything for granted, especially since he was not a graduate of the U.S. National Team Development Program (Donato did play a few games with the NTDP as an augmentation to the roster and competed in the Under-18 Four Nations tourney in Turku, Finland in November of 2013).

“Going into the tryouts I was kind of nervous because I wasn’t sure what kind of style it would be,” he said. “But I think the NCAA and especially the ECAC is a pretty hard-nosed style with a lot of hitting- some nights, it’s like a wrestling match below the dots. So, when I went there, it felt like there was a lot more space. I wouldn’t say it was a softer game (in the IIHF) but more of a finesse game, which I wasn’t as used to but it wasn’t that hard to adjust, but it’s a style of play I’m more comfortable with.”

Donato completed his second development camp with the Bruins last July, taking the experiences he had in 2014 and applying them to get a little more out of his second summer in Wilmington.

“I’ve just been trying to play a solid game, a reliable game,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things that the Bruins staff is looking for now, and that is a strong, solid game. Being a strong player physically off the ice and on the ice is something I’ve learned that they’re looking for, and getting stronger off the ice is something I’ve focused on, and making sure I know the systems and play the game the right way.”

Bigger than his dad at around 6-foot-1 in height, he doesn’t quite have the senior Donato’s wheels, but uses his high-end hockey sense to get the jump on opponents and has outstanding puck skills to rack up the offensive production at even strength and on the man advantage. One of the knocks on Donato is that he’s lacking in foot speed enough to maximize his impressive hands and head. However, that is not a consensus view in the scouting community.

“I think some people make an issue of his skating where there isn’t much of one in my opinion,” the scout said. “He may not have his dad’s speed, but he’s bigger and is heavier on the puck than Teddy was. I sometimes get the feeling that if it wasn’t for the fact that his father’s calling card was that pure speed, you wouldn’t hear about it being an issue as much with Ryan. Having said that, there’s room for improvement- he can pick up a couple of steps and it’s something he continues to work on.”

When the Bruins drafted Donato in 2014, everyone knew he was a long-term project who would need ample time to grow and mature as a player before he was ready to try and follow in his NHL father’s footsteps. A little less than two years later, that steady growth and development is evident with the 19-year-old, as he has already made an impact and added to his family’s legacy at Harvard.

“Being drafted by Boston was a symbol of all the work that I would have to put in over the coming years,” said Donato. “Things that the team wanted me to work on since then is my body and getting stronger and learning how to play the game right. I think that’s one of the biggest things for the transition that coaches have said for players is making sure they play the game of hockey the right way.”

And how, exactly, does Donato describe that in his own words?

“I think it’s all about doing the little things that will make the difference both on the ice and off the ice,” he said.  “I’ve seen that it pays off in college and will hopefully pay off in the NHL one day.”

Here’s the New England Hockey Journal show episode on Ryan Donato after he was drafted by Boston– it’s worth sitting down and watching in its entirety if you haven’t seen it.