The undrafted free agents: the next ones?

Wrapping up the undrafted free agents series with a Boston Bruins focus, going with four players who were in the AHL last year with the Providence Bruins. We could see one or two of them get some NHL games in with Boston this season depending on how things go.

Before we get to the four prospects, though- a little housekeeping first:

As reported in the Boston Globe, Gretzky to the Oilers as assistant GM is done, with Don Sweeney wishing his former chief scout well, lamenting the timing of the hire as an issue. Not one to stand in the way of letting their employee advance in a key managerial position even with a rival club (rival for obvious reasons I don’t need to go into), the B’s did the right thing by letting Gretzky go. This is one of those “if you love someone set them free” kind of things; the team could have played hardball, but that usually comes back to bite you. At this stage, the B’s don’t get anything for releasing Gretzky except maybe some goodwill and the hopes that they can build bridges with their former GM now in Edmonton rather than burn them. I saw someone (I don’t remember where it was) mention the other day that a Dougie Hamilton to the Oilers for Taylor Hall might have been something worth doing if relations between the teams hadn’t been so strained. I don’t know if that was even realistic to consider a year ago, and the world will never know, but cordial relations across the league are better than adversarial ones.

Now, former director of amateur scouting Scott Bradley, who held the post with Boston for more than 10 years before Wayne Smith was named to the position in 2008, will wear two hats as assistant GM and chief scout until Sweeney can find a replacement. Bradley is a good man who has spent nearly three decades in the Bruins organization. His watershed draft as scouting director was 2006 when the team landed Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand with three of their first four picks. Bradley was the guy most responsible for Lucic and a decade later, it was a hell of a find. He’s a man of integrity and a cancer survivor whose decency and dedication to the profession has earned him a great deal of respect around the league.

The Bruins are in good hands until a longer-term solution is found.

Now, onto the main topic at hand…

 

This is the last in a series of articles on undrafted free agents who have made an impact with the B’s: Torey Krug, Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari, Tim Schaller and Kevan Miller. It’s pretty rare to have four UDFAs on one roster, and the skeptics would probably tell you that it might begin to answer why the B’s have DNQ’d for the NHL playoffs in each of the past two years.

Having said that, Krug has become an integral member of the Boston defense, while Vatrano shows a great deal of promise as someone who could net 25-30 goals or more down the road with a natural scoring knack that can’t be taught. Miller is a trusted if at times miscast defensive defenseman, while Schaller and Acciari are Providence College products who look like above average bottom-six players at the NHL level if they can keep progressing. If nothing else, they’re key cogs at the AHL level.

Now, we look at four players who have yet to reach the NHL, but show enough promise to get there. It won’t be easy for any of them, as with the exception of Czarnik, none display any real higher-end potential. However, as we have learned over the years- sometimes all it takes is an opportunity. This group is likely ticketed for Providence, but stranger things have happened and injury woes or exceptional play could see one or more of these guys get a shot at the big time.

Austin Czarnik, C- Often overshadowed by Vatrano’s scoring eruption last season, Czarnik had an outstanding rookie pro season in the AHL, posting 61 points in 68 games and impressing everyone from the get-go with his speed, smarts and hustle.

The former captain of the Miami University RedHawks was snubbed in the NHL draft because of his lack of size, but he’s always had pro-caliber wheels and brings creativity and moxie to the mix as well. He was recalled to Boston late in the season on an emergency basis but didn’t get into the lineup. While not an ideal fit on the third or fourth lines given the B’s current personnel, if anything changes, the team won’t hesitate to put him in there.

One play in the preseason last year really stood out as typical of what the little Michigan buzzsaw has always been about: on what looked to be a routine dump-in to the offensive end, Czarnik could have made a line change, but he recognized his opponents were making a change and a sloppy one at that. In an instant, he turned on the jets, and blew past a defender who was on the way to the bench but couldn’t adjust his trajectory in time. Czarnik got to the puck first and then made an on-target pass for a Boston goal. Those are the kinds of plays that earn trust and respect from the coaches because of the skill and intelligence behind them. At the NHL level, nanoseconds can mean the difference between making a play and coming up short, so Czarnik seems to understand already what is at stake.

Now, exhibition play isn’t the regular season, but it spoke volumes that one so young and inexperienced at the pro level came in and clicked right away, performing at a near point-per-game pace in the minors. Watch for Czarnik to make his NHL debut this season. He’s probably not going to begin the year in Boston, but he’s a solid bet to get some games in because he’s got scoring chops but is also working on improving his all-around play and is not a defensive liability.

Here’s his first career pro hat trick from December:

Chris Casto, D- The B’s signed Casto out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2013 and at one time, he was shaping up to be a top Minnesota high school draft prospect. With good size and skating, Casto won’t win on many style points, but he can really fire the puck and he put up the best offensive totals of his three-year professional career in 2016.

Casto is a smart and solid positional D. He plays a similar style to that of Tommy Cross, but without the second-round pedigree (and as-of-yet unfulfilled expectations) hanging over him. Casto keeps things simple: he doesn’t show off much in the way of flash, but is steady and moves the puck to the right areas. Like anyone who logs a lot of minutes, there are times when he’ll make a mistake that leads to a goal, but at the AHL level at least, he’s developed into a top-four presence who first-year Providence head coach Kevin Dean will likely lean on heavily in the new campaign.

Here’s a slow-mo video of a Casto goal from last season:

Colby Cave, C- It was a bit of a surprise that the B’s successfully signed Cave after they grabbed Czarnik and Vatrano in the spring of 2015 because Cave was viewed as one of the top undrafted free agents coming out of the WHL a year ago.

The former captain of the Swift Current Broncos saw time in 2014-15 with Boston first-rounder Jake DeBrusk, and had a solid if unspectacular first pro season in Providence last year.

Cave is a fine skater who is effective on the fore check and at forcing turnovers and plays a smart, capable two-way game. What you see is what you get with him- he’s going to take pucks to the net and make an honest 200-foot effort to compensate from a pretty average skill set. He plays the game bigger than his size, playing a rugged but clean style and his leadership no doubt appealed to Boston in their aggressive pursuit of him.

Watch for Cave to put up 20 or more goals in the AHL this year if he can stay healthy, and he could line up behind Czarnik in Providence’s top-two forward lines with the departure of Alexander Khokhlachev to the KHL. Players like Cave aren’t all that sexy or exciting, but they’ll get a shot sometimes ahead of the flashy but one-dimensional types who can only play on half of the ice surface.

Cave’s biggest problem is that he’s got Acciari and Schaller to contend with, and I don’t see him beating either guy out for a spot in Boston, so he’ll probably have to bide his time and try to elevate his play on the farm to make a case.

Cave’s first AHL goal is at about 1:02 of this highlight vid:

Justin Hickman, RW- Another WHL captain- the Bruins outbid several other NHL clubs for the Seattle Thunderbirds overager in January 2015 when he suffered a shoulder injury and had to shut it down for surgery.

He gets a pass for a mediocre rookie pro season because of the physical, rugged style of play Hickman brings and he looked a bit tentative at times as he adjusted to the pro pace after missing about 10 months of playing action by the time he started skating in the AHL.

He’s got good size and toughness- Hickman isn’t a heavyweight who can go toe-to-toe with the biggest, baddest fighters (admittedly- there aren’t many of those left), but he will actively drop the gloves to defend himself and teammates and loves to initiate contact and do the heavy lifting along the walls and in front of the net. Here you go:

Hickman doesn’t have an abundance of skill and best case for him would be to eventually land on an NHL third line somewhere as a middle-of-the-road option; he’s more likely a solid fourth-liner similar to Nate Thompson (who was coincidentally a Seattle product as well).

Stats don’t tell the whole story- Hickman was eased in and didn’t have much in the way of opportunity, but the B’s are quietly high on him and he’ll get a chance to elevate his stock as a sophomore. He’s not ready to make an NHL roster push, but a strong second pro season would go a long way for his confidence and give the team some options.

Austin Czarnik's 2013-14 Miami University Redhawks captain sweater (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Austin Czarnik’s 2013-14 Miami University Redhawks captain sweater (Kirk Luedeke photo)

(Kirk Luedeke photo)

(Kirk Luedeke photo)

Report: Keith Gretzky to Oilers as assistant GM

Multiple reports on Twitter to include the esteemed Bob McKenzie have Bruins amateur scouting chief Keith Gretzky heading west to join former B’s GM Peter Chiarelli as part of the Edmonton Oilers braintrust. I chatted with a Boston team source who didn’t confirm it, but indicated it was a done deal, so all we do now is wait for the official announcement.

Gretzky, who joined the B’s scouting staff during the 2011-12 season after being let go from his previous post as chief scout for the Arizona Coyotes. Gretzky was promoted to the head scout position in Boston in August 2013, replacing Wayne Smith.

The move is not all that surprising, as Chiarelli brought the younger brother of Wayne Gretzky to Boston as a scout and then elevated him to head up the team’s drafting efforts after two seasons in a crossover capacity.

In the three drafts since, more optimism accompanied Boston’s efforts. Gretzky and Co. hit immediately on David Pastrnak, who slipped to 25th overall. However, every other player from that 2014 draft class looks promising as well: Ryan Donato enters his sophomore season at Harvard and is primed for bigger things in Cambridge. Danton Heinen has done nothing but impress after being an unknown plucked out of the BCHL in his second year of NHL draft eligibility, posting two prolific scoring years as Denver University. Heinen could win a job in Boston right away given his skill level and versatility. Anders Bjork was a fifth-round find and gem, who led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in scoring as a sophomore, and even seventh-rounder Emil Johansson shows promise for being a late pick.

Gretzky’s 2015 draft could pay big dividends for Boston as well, even if some of the choices in the first round were not popular ones at the time. With 10 picks thanks to the Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic trades, the B’s have a bevy of prospects with a trio of second-rounders who have generated buzz in their own right. Time will tell whether not picking one or two of forwards Kyle Connor, Colin White and Mathew Barzal will hurt Boston in the long term, but Boston’s first six choices all seem to be developing, with 37th overall pick Brandon Carlo having the best chance to play in the NHL this season. Zach Senyshyn and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson show real promise at key forward positions (RW, C) and the B’s appear to have some potential in huge but lithe goalie Daniel Vladar (3rd round) and agitating winger Jesse Gabrielle. The B’s can’t employ all 10 of their draft picks from 2015, but they’re going to hit on a few at least.

This past June, Gretzky and his scouts went with Charlie McAvoy over Dante Fabbro– both will play at BU this season, but don’t be surprised to see McAvoy headed to the pro ranks sooner rather than later. Early returns on his Team USA development camp in Plymouth, MI this week are good and Ryan Lindgren (taken 49th) overall has really stood out. “He nearly killed a kid,” with a hard but clean open-ice hit, according to a text I got from an NHL scout on Saturday. The same individual also singled McAvoy out as the “best player on the ice.”

Gretzky caught some heat for the Trent Frederic pick and some of his subsequent comments where he admitted that the B’s don’t see the 29th overall selection as a top-six forward. He probably didn’t articulate that as well as he could have, but if we learned nothing from the Senyshyn pick the year before, it’s probably best to see how Frederic does going forward before casting judgment.

If Gretzky’s work with Boston was promising, then his track record in Arizona is more of a mixed bag. The Coyotes didn’t hit on a great deal of picks the team made on his watch, but the point I would offer up is that not every scouting staff in the league is the same. Just like the teams themselves- some clubs are more talented than others, and there’s always a multitude of factors that go into drafting. Even so, some in the business point to Gretzky’s tenure in Arizona, and with the jury still out on his Boston body of work, you just have to take it from there.

Boston could promote from within- Scott Fitzgerald is the club’s assistant director of amateur scouting and has recovered from a serious car accident in 2013 that nearly cost him his life. Dean Malkoc has also impressed as one of the club’s workhorse scouts who goes all over from his Western Canada base of operations to look for talent. Ryan Nadeau has done tremendous work in the NCAA ranks and elsewhere. B’s GM Don Sweeney could also bring in an experienced chief scout from the outside. It will be interesting to see.

All that is left to do is congratulate Gretzky for the promotion and move up. It hurts Boston, as he appears to have done fine work for the club in his five seasons here. He’ll join an Edmonton organization flush with major talent after winning the Connor McDavid sweeps a year ago and then falling into Jesse Puljujarvi at fourth overall in Buffalo. Old friend Lucic is in town, and we’ll see what Gretzky can do to help develop the talent in the system and identify new players down the road.

In the meantime, changes in Boston continue to shape the front office and Sweeney has another key hire ahead.

 

Getting to know Charlie McAvoy

McAvoy1

By the time the Boston Bruins and owner Charles Jacobs stepped up to the podium at First Niagara Center in Buffalo to announce the team’s first draft choice with the 14th overall selection last Friday, it was all but fait accompli that one of Boston University defenseman Charlie McAvoy or Boston University recruit defender Dante Fabbro out of Penticton was going to be the name called.

Both were available, both were right-shot defensemen, both represented not only what many would consider the top talent available at that spot, but were also filled a clear organizational need for the B’s.

He stumbled over the words, but the younger Jacobs, who was born in Buffalo as the son of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs- CEO of the Western N.Y. Delaware North Corporation- called McAvoy’s name and after a season of frustration and an epic meltdown over the last 30 days of a year in which the B’s had largely overachieved before crashing to earth in March and early April, Boston had their man.

“Charlie’s one of those players who can do a little bit of everything,” one NHL scout for an Eastern Conference team told the Scouting Post in Buffalo before the draft. “Some are talking top-10 for him, and I could see that. He has the talent for it. More realistically, I see him going around 15-20, but that’s not a knock on him. He’s got that wide body and a natural knack for getting up in the play. With his skating he can push it at both ends, and that’s so important in the NHL these days. He’s also a bit of a character, too. He totally rocked our interview…we’re not in a position to get him, but we all kind of looked at each other when he left and thought, that’s a good kid right there.”

McAvoy is a nice fit in Boston with his blue collar roots. He grew up on Long Island the son of a plumber and fireman who was a natural at hockey but came from a large family, and finances did not permit him to continue playing the sport at the higher levels. A staunch NY Rangers fan, hockey remained his favorite after moving onto other sports like football and baseball, but he vowed to do what it took to allow his son to stay in hockey if that’s what Charlie desired.

That desire took McAvoy through the Long Island Gulls and New Jersey Rockets minor hockey programs before he landed a spot with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Team USA moved to Plymouth, Mich. before the start of the 2015-16 hockey season). While there, he emerged as a legitimate first-round NHL option, and carried that potential forward to fruition in his very own Empire State on June 24, 2016.

Born on December 21, 1997, the younger McAvoy missed the Rangers’ first and only Stanley Cup victory since 1940 by three-plus years. He was a Broadway Blueshirts fanatic whose first favorite player was Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Leetch. To this day, Leetch remains the player he most tries to emulate in his playing style. At the rate he’s going, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that McAvoy could develop into a successful NHL star with similar attributes.

“I’m at a loss for words; it’s an unbelievable feeling and I’m so happy to be a part of this,” McAvoy said after the selection and he made his way into the bowels of the arena to meet the press for the first time as a member of the Boston Bruins. “I’ve gotten close with (the Bruins) this year and I’m sure my friends at home are happy, but I’m kind of cutting the ties with New York sports. Boston’s an unbelievable city and it’s a great place with great people and I’m happy to be staying there.”

Although not tall, McAvoy has a thick, strong build. His BU coach, David Quinn, spoke to the Scouting Post (TSP) after the selection briefly and credited the newest Boston first-rounder with putting in a lot of weight room work to get himself into better game shape after arriving, and said that the 18-year-old made significant progress as a player in all facets from the beginning of the 2015-16 season until the end. He also talked of Charlie’s “magnetic personality” and that players want to spend time with him.

“That was something that I worked on a lot- the defensive side of the puck,” McAvoy said. “It was something I needed to grow in and get better in and I feel like I made great strides throughout the year.”

McAvoy is a natural offensive talent. In his own words, he sees himself as a threat to be effective at both ends.

“I’m a two-way defenseman,” said McAvoy. “I can play the offensive side of the puck and that’s something I like to do, but I’ve grown a lot on the defensive side of the game.”

During a pre-draft podcast, TSP likened McAvoy to one of the pirates of old who liked to set his hair on fire before plundering a hapless vessel. He’s a classic push-the-pace, aggressive defender who likes to lead the rush and has the skating and puck skills to carry the puck out of his end on his own and can make all of the key outlet passing and long leads. There are times where his riverboat gambler mentality will get him out of position, but McAvoy has the natural hockey sense to learn from that and with continued strong coaching at BU by Quinn, Albie O’Connell and Scott Young– he’s sure to get better with his reads and decisions.

His defense partner, former BU captain and future Bruin Matt Grzelcyk, had left-seat ride with McAvoy all year, watching the 17-year-old arrive on campus last summer to complete his academic requirements so he could play in the NCAA while other peers remained in high school. That maturity and self-discipline to see it through impressed Grzelcyk enough, but it was McAvoy’s poise and ability that elevated him as the season went on.

EDIT- I managed to exchange texts with Grzelcyk and this is what he has to say about his former teammate and fellow Bruins prospect:

“Playing with Charlie was an awesome experience,” Grzelcyk, who just concluded an outstanding four-year career at BU (two years as captain) after being a third-round pick by his hometown B’s in 2012, said. “Even though he was the youngest player in college hockey last year he was mature both on and off the ice as soon as he stepped foot on campus.

“He’s a great skater who’s tough to knock of the puck and was able to add a bit of an edge to his game; in my opinion, it made his impact on the game even greater. Over the course of the year, I believe he was best when he was able to simplify his game and allow his skill to take over. He was an unbelievable D partner to have, and an even better teammate. I could not be happier to see him picked by the Bruins.”

Now, with his first collegiate season under his belt (he scored three goals, but added an impressive 22 assists in 37 games, which was more than Noah Hanifin had a year ago), he’s looking to kick things up a notch on Commonwealth Ave, after the Terriers took a disappointing step back last year.

“I was joking with (Don) Sweeney, I said- Grizzy and JFK- they can’t get rid of me now,” he said. “They’re unbelievable players and great people. It’s going to be exciting to go through all this stuff with them.”

McAvoy’s national team coach, Don Granato, who left the NTDP to join his brother Tony as an assistant with the University of Wisconsin, talked to TSP about his former defenseman and said that McAvoy has one of those even-keeled yet outgoing personalities- teammates just gravitate to him because of who he is and how he conducts himself. He’s a 1st-round talent and a 1st-round person, he said, citing that McAvoy is one of the most loyal players of any he has coached in his career. “Anything we told him, he soaked up like a sponge,” said Granato. “He wanted to get better, and that kind of loyalty and dedication in a player is something that helps you go the extra mile as a coach.”

That loyalty might have been part of a small theater of the absurd that cropped up Friday night when someone got ahold of a tweet that McAvoy sent in May, 2013 at age 15. For those who might have been under a rock at that time, the Bruins were in the second round of the playoffs against McAvoy’s Rangers and had just taken a 3-0 series lead (they would win it in five games on their way to the Stanley Cup final against Chicago). The die-hard Broadway Blueshirts-supporting teen sent out a tweet expressing his hatred for all things Bruins. It’s a sad commentary when people are so thin-skinned and petty that more than three years later, some were actually holding that against him. If you’re one of those people- do yourself a favor- look in the mirror and give your head a shake. You need some perspective in life, and shame on TSN and any other media outlets who picked up on a teenager’s tweet and made it a circus sideshow on the biggest night of his young life.

“Not necessarily,” was McAvoy’s attempt at diplomacy when a reporter asked him point blank if he “hated” all Boston sports teams growing up (he even chuckled before responding). “You grow up- kinda- I guess you’re taught not to like them (Boston sports) because of the rivalry but I’ve got a Red Sox hat now, so that’s the first step and I’ve got this Bruins jersey, so that’s pretty cool. I’ll just keep growing.”

He then demonstrated what his coaches and teammates talk about when they say what a good, fun guy he is to have in the room, showing one last bastion of loyalty to his New York Giants:

“I don’t know if I can be a Pats fan,” he quipped with perfect comedic timing, drawing an instant reaction from the Boston media (pro tip- we thought it was funny). “But we’ll see. Give it a little a time.”

The Bruins, for their part, could have opted for the more defensively-polished and serious Fabbro. TSP was not shy in saying that Fabbro was the higher-rated option, but at the same time- the margin between the two was razor thin. The British Columbia-bred Fabbro went 17th overall to the Nashville Predators, and will join McAvoy at BU next season. We said it all along- if the Bruins had a choice between the two, it was win-win either way. McAvoy has a higher offensive upside, but Fabbro was a little better defensively. Both are winners, so if you felt like you were sold on Fabbro over McAvoy, just consider that perhaps playing in Boston’s back yard tipped the scales.

With four first-round picks either at BU or headed there next year (Clayton Keller, McAvoy, Fabbro and Kieffer Bellows), McAvoy said that they all got together for lunch on Friday before the draft and that he can’t wait to get going again. Assuming everyone arrives on schedule (there is talk of Keller perhaps playing in the OHL, as the Windsor Spitfires own his major junior rights), the Terriers are poised to be the beasts of the Hockey East.

“I’m excited to be Charlie’s teammate and excited about joining that BU tradition,” Fabbro told TSP before the draft. “Coach Quinn and Albie and everyone has built something special and I’m just looking forward to being a part of it and doing what I can to help the Terriers win.”

As for the Bruins, they admitted to having a tough choice between the two players, and in hindsight- it might have been easier had one or the other come off the board before 14. In the end, they simply liked McAvoy a little more, and Bruins chief scout Keith Gretzky made mention that playing well against guys as much as six years older than McAvoy was one of many factors that tilted the B’s towards him.

“We’re excited with the skill set and the upside he has as as player with and without the puck,” Sweeney told assembled reporters Friday night. “He’s a multi-tool player; we feel like he has offensive upside that will continue to get better. You know, he steps into the college game and you can track where he was in the first half of the season, second half and understand that he got acclimated.

“People had spoken about him maybe to try to do a little too much at times, and he’s playing against guys that are four or five years older in some cases and really handled himself very well. He’s a very physical player at times- we’d actually need to back him off, but it’s another very good quality he has. He can puck-separate; he finds the middle of the ice and as a matter of fact, ‘JFK’ spoke highly of that in terms of a centerman wants the puck, and he wants it in motion when he’s going up ice and I think today, it’s paramount for defensemen to be able to establish more than one option; be able to recognize it, be able to execute it and I think Charlie does it well.”

In the end, McAvoy’s selection infused some excitement at a time the team needed it. He’s headed back to BU for at least one more season, but with his advanced strength and physical maturity, don’t be surprised to see the Bruins bring him out as early as next spring when his season ends. It wouldn’t constitute the impossible to see him turn pro sooner than that depending on how he looks at the B’s development camp the week of July 11, but having him return to school for one more NCAA campaign looks more realistic at this stage. If he takes the anticipated step forward, Boston won’t wait long to get him into their system and see if he can contribute to the NHL roster sooner rather than later.

Even with the optimistic outlook, however, McAvoy knows that the work is only beginning and that he can’t afford to take anything for granted. He’s got some work to do conditioning-wise and one can only imagine that noted Boston strength coach John Whitesides is eagerly awaiting the chance to sink his teeth into McAvoy and tease even more performance out of the youngster’s impressive natural physical package.

“You can’t get caught up in it because this is one day,” he said of the excitement of being a first-round NHL draft pick. “I’m going to enjoy this with my family and my friends but I’ll be at school Monday and I’ll be working out in the morning and I’ll be back in class and that’s really where it all starts: growing and continuing to grow, and getting ready to play in the NHL every single day.”

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Point-Counterpoint Podcast: Trent Frederic

No pick was more polarizing at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft than Boston’s selection of U.S. National Team Development Program center Trent Frederic.

The Missouri native is a 6-2, 205-pound two-way pivot who scored 20 goals and 40 points in 61 games with Team USA. He’s a natural athlete who starred in three sports (hockey, football, baseball) and whose family consists of multiple high-end achievers and NCAA D1 athletes in the form of male and female siblings.

Frederic got high marks from the Bruins for his physicality and character.

Truth in lending- I was not all that impressed with him when I watched Frederic at the World Under-18 tourney, and if I had to guess, knowing where the staff at Red Line Report had him ranked, he’s got a good shot at being the most “overvalued” pick in the annual July draft recap issue coming in a couple of weeks. I could have put out a list of at least 20 players I would have picked before Frederic had you pinned me down on the 29th overall selection beforehand.

Having said that, he’s not a terrible player and could very well force a lot of folks (present company included) to eat crow at some point.

What follows is an attempt to provide a balanced podcast/audio file that argues both sides of the debate- that Frederic is a microcosm of the myriad doubts and issues that fans have with the Boston Bruins and their front office- versus the idea that Don Sweeney and chief scout Keith Gretzky knew what they were doing when they stood pat and picked Frederic with the second of two first-rounders.

Here’s the podcast. It clocks in at under 45 minutes and once again proves that brevity is not always my friend. There are 5 points that I argue both sides on:

  1. Frederic at 29 is bad asset management given that he wasn’t projected in the opening round.
  2. Gretzky being on the record that the team doesn’t see him as a top-2 line forward is an admission of failure and a disaster of a decision.
  3. Picking a checking/bottom-6 forward in the first round is *never* an option.
  4. If the Bruins wanted Frederic, then all they should have done is trade down and get him in the 30’s or 40’s.
  5. Because Frederic was ranked by most public lists lower than 29th overall, the team had no business picking him there.

Here’s the file…I fully understand I won’t convince everyone either way, but the goal here is to inform and give you some food for thought. If you’re at least willing to allow that there might be room to be patient on both sides, then we’re getting somewhere.

The one point I didn’t make enough in the podcast is an old scouting saw: Take the player you want where/when you want him. It’s easy for fans who haven’t scouted the players and logged the miles/put in the time all season to watch these guys and are invested in having them join the organization to demand that the team trade down, but it all comes down to how much risk the team’s leaders are willing to take.

For those who stick it out, I hope you’ll find it worth your time.

Reminder- I’ll be doing a more comprehensive post-draft recap podcast with Dominc Tiano and Reed Duthie aka “the 3 Amigos- LTD” on Thursday.

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.

‘Fab’ D Fabbro rides draft wave into Buffalo

(Video courtesy of Seer Video posted on YouTube)

As we inch closer to the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, taking place in Buffalo on June 24-25, one name hockey fans (and draftniks in particular) are hearing a lot these days is that of Dante Fabbro.

 

The Vancouver-area native just wrapped up a stellar season in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees, where he was named that league’s top defender. The two-way threat posted 14 goals and 67 points in just 45 games, more than doubling his production from a season ago. Fabbro, who turns 18 in a few days, carried that success over to the 2016 World Under-18 Championship tournament in April, posting eight helpers in seven games and earning recognition as arguably the top defenseman in that high-level competition in Grand Forks, N.D.

 

“Obviously, the U-18 tournament wasn’t what we expected from the outcome,” the Boston University-bound Fabbro told the Scouting Post from his British Columbia home this week. “I think going into that tournament, I definitely wanted to prove myself from a player standpoint just to play against those CHL guys to see how they compared, so I thought the experience was pretty cool- playing against the top players there and then moving out- it’s the summer here, and I haven’t skated all that much- on the ice a couple of times, but I’ve been working out a lot and obviously, my focus was on the (NHL) combine to excel in that.”

 

Fabbro participated in the NHL’s formal “get to know you” event, held in Buffalo, where the higher-ranked draft prospects on Central Scouting’s rankings congregate to conduct interviews with teams over multiple days and then do fitness testing to measure just about every aspect of their athletic ability to include a medical evaluation.

 

“I talked to quite a few teams there,” he said. “It was pretty crazy but I think it was a unique experience in a sense that not a lot of kids get to enjoy that experience and see that kind of thing. It was good to go through that with and be around other guys I know and have played with and will be playing with or against next year made things a lot easier for sure.”

 

It was an eye-opening experience for him, meeting up with the various NHL staffs and seeing how the teams operate, his first taste of what could come for him. Ultimately, Fabbro doesn’t feel like there are all that many differences in the style and methods each club employ as part of the combine interview process, but was impressed at the level of professionalism and preparation he witnessed from the staffs he interacted with.

 

“The biggest thing I learned going through those interviews is that you just have to be yourself because they can see right through you and they know if you’re not being yourself,” he said. “You are who you are and they’re either going to like you or they’re not going to like you, so at the end of the day you gotta keep a cool head and be humble about the whole experience and learn from it. If they have advice, you should take it to heart and use it to get better, obviously continue from there.”

 

He continues to forge a close bond with Vees teammate and University of North Dakota recruit Tyson Jost, who like Fabbro, had an outstanding U-18 tourney and has likely parlayed that strong performance and a 100+-point season in the BCHL into top-10 draft billing.

 

“We had something to prove and that was our mindset going into the thing,” Fabbro said, hinting at his awareness of talk on the Internet mostly that because he and Jost are coming out of the BCHL, they somehow should be graded lower than other major junior or NCAA prospects in the draft. “Pretty much we were on a mission not only to prove ourselves but to show the BCHL isn’t just a league for players not to develop or who can’t play in the CHL, but they can develop anywhere because you have good coaches and players around you.”

 

That drive has caught the notice of observers around hockey and the NHL, regardless of where he’s played over the past several years.

 

“His compete is so impressive,” said a Western Conference team NHL scout recently when asked about Fabbro. “Set the talent and hockey sense aside for a second…some players talk about working hard and being consistent, he goes out and proves it every night.”

 

Fabbro is not exactly what you would call “big” by modern NHL standards- he’s hovering around 6-foot and perhaps a more generous 6-foot-1, but  with an athletic build that has room to pack on more muscle as he physically matures. He’s not undersized, but that fact sometimes can get lost in the sauce a bit as the NHL is starting to trend up towards bigger, more mobile defenders along the likes of last year’s second-round B’s pick Brandon Carlo, or 2016 prospect Jakob Chychrun, both of whom stand about 6-5 but move extremely well.

 

“Fabbro’s not small by any stretch,” said one NHL scout who is based in B.C. and has followed the former eighth overall WHL bantam draft pick of the Seattle Thunderbirds closely for several years. “I would say he has more of a compact build, so while he’s not got that height and long reach and the natural physical strength that goes with, he compensates nicely because he’s such a phenomenally smart player. The way he processes the game is remarkable; he’s easily one of the most intelligent and decisive players I’ve seen at any level, and that poise and calm, especially in the face of a ferocious forecheck, is something you just can’t coach in a player. They either have that knack and the ability to see the ice and make the instinctive plays or they don’t. When it comes to escapability and just being able to transition the puck up the ice effortlessly, there aren’t many players who can do it better than he does it.”

 

For his part, Fabbro is pretty self-aware of what he does better than anything when it comes to hockey.

 

“The biggest thing for me is definitely my hockey IQ and the ability to see the ice, make passes under pressure. That’s how I’ve developed my game over the past couple of years, so I know there’s a lot of things I still need to learn and get better at but hockey IQ comes naturally to me and making the simple plays. I might make too simple a play sometimes and but it all goes back to the vision, IQ and being able to escape pressure.”

 

By the same token, there is room for improvement, and Fabbro has identified a couple of specific focus areas he’s going to address in the offseason.

 

“I’ve got to improve my speed,” he said in an answer that certainly surprised the Scouting Post because he shows off some pretty deft skating and footwork already. “I felt I lacked a little bit in my pivoting (and transitions). Obviously, my separation speed is good at skating up the ice, but hockey’s a game of time and space, so you have to put in the work to get better every day and be that much quicker and faster on the puck.

 

“So, I’ve been doing a lot of off-ice work this summer, and I’m about to get back into my on-ice training and try to get every last ounce of the workouts in and making them benefit before the draft and I head to Boston for summer school. I’m just making sure that I can prove myself not only as a player but as a human being as well. ”

 

Whether he ends up as a player who is even available to the Bruins when they pick at 14, and if he would be the player GM Don Sweeney and chief amateur scout Keith Gretzky call to the stage to put on the spoked-B and Boston draft cap, Fabbro will soon be known to area hockey fans as he prepares to join an impressive cast of characters on Commonwealth Avenue under head coach David Quinn.

 

“It was one of those things where it felt right, and in talking to Coach Quinn and (associate head coach) Albie (O’Connell) they seemed like genuine and trustworthy people who are building something special there,” Fabbro said. “I’m lucky to have a chance to play for and grow under guys like that for however long it takes me to make pro. I’m pretty appreciative of what they’ve done for me so far and I’m looking forward to the summer work and then obviously, the season ahead.

 

“Another thing in my decision was the recruits coming in- it’s a pretty high class of players coming in, plus the players already there. The big thing for me in deciding on BU was the knowledge that it would be a challenge to remain in any position in a lineup like that, and to be surrounded by such good players and coaches can only be positive for my own development. You’re always going to have that challenge no matter where you play, and there’s always going to be someone better than you, so you want to try and beat them at whatever you can.”

 

And, having grown up outside of one of Canada’s biggest and most beautiful cities, there was something about Boston that drew him in, even if it meant being thousands of miles away from friends and family.

 

“What’s not to love about Boston? It’s a college town, it’s a sports city- there’s Fenway Park right around the corner, there’s TD Garden…it’s a place that I just connected with right away on my visit and is definitely the whole package for sure.”

 

There’s an old adage that talks about players having tools (size, skating, shot- all the physical attributes you need to play in the NHL) but no toolbox (hockey sense, ability to think the game), so in Fabbro’s case, he’s blessed with both. There is little doubt that if he were a couple of inches taller and had perhaps opted to play in the WHL, he’d be in the discussion with Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine for top billing. Having said that, Fabbro isn’t concerned about the various opinions about his projections and where he might or might not go in the draft and what is long-term potential in the NHL is at present.

 

“I think the biggest thing for me is that I’m not someone to take any crap but I’m pretty subtle in how I go about things and I think before I act,” he said. “I’m not someone who is going to act out or put my team in a tough spot, and I try to approach most situations like that by making sure I control what I can. I’m a pretty relaxed guy but when the competition starts, I ramp it up and I am how you see me. When people get to know me, I speak a little bit but I’m there for my team and that competitiveness shows.”

 

It’s more proof at a player who is mature beyond his years and grounded. However, at the end of the day- what gets you to the NHL and keeps you there is ability. Fabbro has the building blocks, but he also appears to possess the drive and want to that could propel him to big league success one day.

 

“There’s still lots of work ahead of us,” he said of himself and Jost, but in reality, was speaking for every member of the 2016 NHL draft class. “The big thing with us is that we’re dedicated and obviously want to get results. We’re striving for more every day and we continue to get better.”

 

The Dante Fabbro file

 

Height/Wt (RLR): 6-0, 190; Shoots: Right

Born: June 20, 1998 in

2015-16 club: Penticton Vees (BCHL)

Minor hockey program: Burnaby Winter Hockey Club

Favorite NHL team growing up: Vancouver Canucks

NHL player he most tries to emulate: Duncan Keith

 

Scouting report: Elite hockey sense, some of the best of any player in the 2016 draft: panoramic vision allows him to survey entire ice surface, instantly process and activate at right times. Pushes the pace with quick feet and effortless skating. Quick hands and a knack for delivering on-target passes at any range. Driven and competitive…a leader…mature and poised. Not overly physical but smart defensively and knows how to angle opponents away from skating lanes. Has everything you want in a top NHL defender except for ideal size. Working to add mass to his frame and increase power on shot along with pivots and transitions.

 

Quotable:Dante Fabbro is probably fifth on the list for many teams, but we love his off-the-charts hockey sense and character. For that reason, we think he’s the safest bet of the bunch to be an intelligent two-way contributor who plays 10-12 years and eats huge minutes while playing on both special teams. He almost never makes a mistake or a bad decision, has great positioning, and has tremendous vision and passing skills. He lacks a dangerous point shot, though.”- Kyle Woodlief, USA Today June 15, 2016

Confirmed: Bruins hire veteran scout Andrew Shaw to cover Ontario

Since letting Mike Chiarelli go after his brother was relieved of the GM duties, the Boston Bruins had been without a dedicated Ontario amateur scout.

Several sources have told me that Don Sweeney, Keith Gretzky and Co. have brought longtime scout and OHL veteran talent evaluator Andrew Shaw on board. He, obviously, is not the Chicago Blackhawks forward who was instrumental in beating the B’s in the 2013 Stanley Cup final.

You can read more on Shaw here- it’s a press release announcing his hiring as head scout of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves back in 2012.

Shaw is a respected presence and voice of scouting experience throughout Ontario, though the Wolves did not have the greatest of runs while he was a part of that organization. We’re in a wait-and-see pattern with his three OHL drafts as Sudbury’s scouting chief, but he did some good work with Columbus and Sarnia.

To have NHL guys already coming up on the net and telling me that this is a good hire is solid enough evidence for me, so watch for news coming out of the organization in the coming days announcing Shaw formally, along with perhaps another addition in the Quebec and Maritimes (QMJHL) region.

Update: Team source says yep. Shaw now in the fold- good guy, good add sayeth scouts from outside the org. NY Islanders’ Matt Martin one of his guys from Sarnia days, I’m told.