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

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

Rob O'GaraBruins

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

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

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

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

This is what we’ll focus on today.

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Boston Bruins post-development camp prospect check- the Pros

Heinen

The purpose of this two-post series is to make a quick snapshot of where one analyst sees the Boston Bruins’ professional prospect depth chart stacking up after the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and this past week’s development camp. We’ll start with he professional players who are expected to be in Providence or in the North American and European pro ranks this season. On Monday, we’ll hit the amateur (NCAA and junior players).

Caveat up front- I did not personally attend development cam this year, so am basing my assessment on feedback from members of the Bruins organization, media and fans who were there in person to see the players. I have seen every prospect on the list, either on film or live, so the bulk of this assessment comes not from four days of on-ice drills and a 3-on-3 scrimmage, but from a season and in several cases, multiple years worth of evaluation. Note- I am only covering players aged 25 or under, so that takes Tommy Cross out of the mix on this list for those who might be wondering. Noel Acciari  and Chris Casto just make the cut as December 1991-born players.

Here we go, and I’ve done an audio file to supplement the limited write-ups below, so for all you Bruins hockey junkies, there’s more content in this post than ever…tell your friends!

The Pros (AHL, ECHL or Europe)

  1. Frank Vatrano, LW (East Longmeadow, Mass.) Plus: Put up mind-boggling numbers with 36 goals (55 points) in as many AHL games, while adding another eight goals in 39 NHL games with the big Bruins. The undrafted free agent turned himself into a sleek scoring machine as a rookie pro and is primed for a bigger Boston role this year. Minus: Without ideal NHL height, Frank the Tank will have to maintain a high-energy pace and work in all three zones to maximize his potential.
  2. Danton Heinen, RW Plus: After two high-end scoring years as a collegian, he put up a pair of assists in his second AHL game last spring; with his genius-level hockey IQ and slick hands, the 2014 fourth-rounder could earn an NHL job right away. Minus: He’s about 6-foot and not even 200 pounds, so he’s going to have his hands full with the increased speed and physicality of the pro game.
  3. Brandon Carlo, RD Plus: Like Heinen, Carlo’s on a positive trajectory at making the Bruins right away- he’s 6-5 and can really skate and move, already a beast in his own end, something Boston lacked down the stretch a year ago. Minus: Not all that instinctive in the offensive end; could stand to play a lot of minutes in more of a top role and on the power play to try and tease more offensive production and build confidence.
  4. Rob O’Gara, LD Plus: At 6-4 and north of 220 pounds, this premier shutdown/defensive mind can also skate extremely well for one so big- his speed and footwork has always been advanced, and the rest of his game has come along quite well in the five years since he was drafted in the fifth round. Minus: More of a “safe” prospect than one you would assign talk of high “upside” or “ceiling” to, O’Gara isn’t quite the physical specimen Carlo is (they’re close), but he may be a more complete defender when all is said and done.
  5. Colin Miller, RD Plus: “Chiller” has top-shelf skating, passing, shooting skills; showed off some offensive flair in his first NHL campaign, putting up a respectable 16 points in 42 games despite not having an overabundance of ice time/becoming a spare part in the season’s second half. Minus: The former LA Kings farmhand has a lot of work to do on the defensive side in terms of processing/making better decisions and improving his three-zone play.
  6. Austin Czarnik, C Plus: Dazzling offensive center impressed in his first rookie pro year with 50+ points to back up his tremendous speed, lightning-quick hands and ubermensch-worthy vision/hockey sense. Minus: At barely 5-8 (and that’s probably being charitable) the former Miami RedHawks captain wasn’t drafted, and will have to overcome size concerns at a position the Bruins are pretty deep at.
  7. Malcolm Subban, G Plus: The progress has been slower than expected, but there is no doubt that he’s one of the more dazzling athletic talents at the position and when healthy, has shown some major league promise. Minus: The fractured larynx was a significant setback, and if it hasn’t been one thing for Subban, it’s been another (    outplaying him in 2014-15)- this is the year that he proves his worth to Boston and justifies his selection in the 2012 first-round once and for all.
  8. Noel Acciari, C (Johnston, R.I.) Plus: Ace two-way center earned his way to Boston for a 19-game stint at the end of the year after being an undrafted free agent less than a year earlier; a good skater, superb faceoff man and intelligent, charismatic 24-year-old who plays the game hard, but clean- he’s got a lot in common with Patrice Bergeron, without the scoring. Minus: With just one NHL assist- there isn’t a whole lot of scoring in the well for the one-time captain of Providence College’s 2015 championship squad; as he turns 25 in Dec., there probably isn’t a whole lot of development left- he’s a solid, if unspectacular grinding bottom-line pivot.
  9. Matt Grzelcyk, LD (Charlestown, Mass.) Plus: When it comes to speed, sense, and spirit/heart- they aren’t built much better than the Townie, whose veins probably bleed black and gold; the former BU captain is an ultra-slick puck-moving defender who can push the pace and get the puck out of his own end with ease. Minus: At about 5-foot-10, Grzelcyk is going to have his hands full forcing his way into Boston’s top-six D rotation and might have to benefit from some luck and minors time to get there.
  10. Peter Cehlarik, RW Plus: Big-bodied Slovak plays the off-wing and signed with Boston after spending four years playing pro hockey in Sweden; he’s got a nice 6-foot-2 frame plus some offensive chops as a late third-round pick in 2013. Minus: He’s just an okay skater- he’s gotten better and can move pretty well in a straight line, but his first few steps and acceleration are clunky; he’s not great at the quick stops/starts/direction change and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the smaller North American ice surface.
  11. Zane McIntyre, G Plus: When it comes to drive and character, they don’t come much better than the native of Thief River Falls, Minn. who once earned top goalie honors in that state- named for former Bruins great Frank Brimsek; whenever tested, the 2010 sixth-rounder has always responded with dramatic improvement and maturity beyond his years. Minus: It was a tough transition to pro hockey for the NCAA’s best goalie; he’s got technique issues to work through and will have to fend off fellow pro Daniel Vladar for internal crease competition.
  12. Seth Griffith, RW Plus: Despite the odds working against a smallish forward without dynamic wheels, the 2012 fifth-rounder has seen NHL action in each of the past two seasons; he’s a highly creative scoring mind with the superb puck skills to set up plays or finish them off. Minus: We so want to have Griffith higher on the list, but what is he at the NHL level? Scorer? Checking forward? We probably know the answer to the second question, so he’ll have to make it in the top-two lines- good luck.
  13. Daniel Vladar, G Plus: Huge (6-5), athletic and learning- he put up pretty nice numbers with the Chicago Steel of the USHL in his first North American season; very tough to beat on the first shot and improving his technique. Minus: After the B’s signed him to a 3-year ELC in the spring, where is the still quite raw Czech native going to play next year? ECHL? AHL? Europe? Clock is now ticking on his timeline.
  14. Linus Arnesson, D Plus: A bit of a forgotten man and 2013 second-rounder didn’t forget how to play- he’s got good size, can skate, make a clean first pass and is a smart, savvy defensive player even if he’s very much on the vanilla side of the red line. Minus: Nagging injuries kept Arnesson from getting out of second gear, and questions about his vision and ability to process the game well in the offensive aspects mean that at best, he’s probably a 4/5 at the NHL level assuming he ever gets there.
  15. Brian Ferlin, RW Plus: Looking for someone who can play the right side effectively and has enough size to drive through traffic and skill to make things happen around the net? Ferlin’s your guy. Minus: After a promising rookie pro season in 2014-15 that saw him see seven NHL games near the end, a concussion forced him out of most of this year- he’s got a lot of work ahead to put himself back to the fore.
  16. Sean Kuraly, C Plus: With his pro-style body (6-2, 210) and wide skating base, the Ohioan gets around the ice pretty well and has shown the potential to be a solid if unspectacular bottom-six option, either at center or more likely on the wing somewhere. Minus: There’s just not a whole lot to get excited about when it comes to Kuraly’s hands and creativity- when forced to carry more of an offensive load for Miami U. as a senior, he flamed out.
  17. Anton Blidh, LW Plus: You gotta love this energetic, abrasive little cuss of a Swedish forward who plays bigger than his size and stands out with his pure hustle and physical style. Minus: Unless you’re fine with him on Boston’s fourth line (which is A-OK) there’s simply not enough pure talent/ability in our view for much of an impact at the NHL level.
  18. Colby Cave, C Plus: Fine skater with a fine two-way hockey IQ and the raw leadership skills that will be an asset in any room. Minus: We just don’t see much in terms of high-level skill, so he’ll have to win a spot on the bottom lines while swimming in a pretty deep pool.
  19. Chris Casto, RD Plus: With his thick build and pretty quick feet to go with a bomb of a shot, Casto is a bit like Arnesson in that he’s not suited to ride around near the top of Boston’s prospect lists; he just spent three years in Providence after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth and was qualified, so that speaks to the fact that the B’s saw something in him worth keeping around. Minus: Every team needs solid, safe, unspectacular players to feed their minor league farm teams and Casto might be that guy- unless the B’s get into a real pickle with injuries this season, it’s hard to envision him being seriously in the mix as a regular.
  20. Colton Hargrove, LW Plus: Put up surprising numbers in his first full AHL campaign; big, gritty power winger is heavy on the puck and finds ways to get dirty goals- one tough nut. Minus: There’s a lot of competition for bottom-six jobs and Hargrove  needs to improve his foot speed and maintain his focus/drive. He’s getting there.
  21. Emil Johansson, LD Plus: Another Swede in the Boston system- he impressed at development camp after a real strong finish to the Swedish pro season with HV71; he skates well and moves the puck with gusto- something the B’s desperately need. Minus: Excelling at drills against amateurs when you’re playing pro hockey overseas is one thing, being able to process, read and react in the NHL is another- still not sold on the 2014 seventh-rounder’s ultimate big league potential.
  22. Justin Hickman, F Plus: Coming off shoulder surgery, it was a frustrating year for the Seattle Thunderbirds captain and power forward who was slow out of the gate and never recovered. Minus: Undrafted free agent just another physical forward in a sea of them, but could rebound and improve his stock with better health and more confidence after playing through a challenging rookie season.
  23. Oskar Steen, F Plus: Energetic and gritty; excellent skater who has a low center of gravity and powers through would-be checkers while taking pucks tot he net. Minus: He probably deserves a better fate than to be at the bottom of the list, but someone has to bring up the rear- reports said he showed quite nicely in drills at development camp but was not as noticeable in the scrimmage/replicated game situations. A 5-9 forward has to be better at that.

Bruins prospects in their draft years 2013-15

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

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

And…we’re off:

2013

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

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

 

2014

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

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

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

 

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

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

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

 

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

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

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

 

2015

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Red Line ranking: 222

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

 

 

B’s prospects deep dive 3: Grzelcyk, O’Gara, Lauzon & Arnesson

We’re back with four more B’s prospects- a defense-focused edition that looks at a pair of NCAA players, a major junior D and one unheralded Providence performer who is all but the forgotten man in Boston’s system.

Speaking of unheralded- the next post will take a look at BC junior Ryan Fitzgerald’s progress, plus Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork and Seth Griffith. This blog will continue to be forward thinking…(get it?)

Matt Grzelcyk, D

The Boston University senior has overcome injuries this season to post another fine offensive season from the blue line. He’s already matched his single season-best 10 goals from a year ago, but in 17 fewer games.

Grzelcyk had off-season knee surgery in May, which caused him to miss the beginning of the 2015-16 NCAA season with the Terriers. Unfortunately, after just a few contests back and an immediate contribution on the offensive ledger, he injured his other knee and was lost for several more weeks. However, he came back with a flourish early in the new calendar year and promptly scored his first career NCAA hat trick in the process.

Although he stands about 5-foot-10, Grzelcyk has huge heart and a high-end hockey IQ. He’s an outstanding 4-way compass skater with instant burst, rapid acceleration/top straight-line speed and the ability to move laterally and change direction quickly with smooth pivots and transitions. The 22-year-old Townie pushes the pace by using that pure speed and quickness to lead the rush and has improved his shot significantly from where he was when the B’s drafted him in the third round four years ago.

The two-year captain is more of a skater/puck-mover/distributor in the offensive end than he is a pure trigger man and finisher, but he has the vision and creativity to set the table and finish off plays as one who isn’t afraid to go into the high danger areas and expose himself to a big hit to get pucks to the net. After scoring six total goals in his first two years (57 games- lower minutes/60 than he played as a junior and senior) in the NCAA, Grzelcyk has potted a nifty 20 and counting in the last two seasons (65 games) with a little more to go before he closes out his college career.

Like Torey Krug, Grzelcyk will be forced to prove that he can develop into an NHL defenseman but he’s so dynamic in terms of his skating and ability to get back on pucks quickly in retrieval and then advance the play back up the ice. I avoid player comparisons in general, so I don’t want people to get the idea that Grzelcyk = Krug…they’re two pretty different players once you get past the physical similarities. Grzelcyk will probably beat the Boston veteran (sounds weird typing that, but Krug’s three full NHL seasons and 225 career games affords him that distinction) in a foot race, but Krug’s got a bigger shot and (this year aside) is more of a scoring threat when he uncorks his drives from the blue line and out near the circles. He’s snakebit, but Krug didn’t score 26 goals in his first two NHL campaigns by accident. Both D are good at carrying the puck out of their own end and getting it up the ice with the quick first pass to beat the forechecking pressure or rushing it themselves through the neutral zone and negate any attempt to trap them into surrendering possession. Those are key attributes for the modern NHL rearguard.

Unfortunately, because of Grzelcyk’s size, coaches have to use him in favorable matchups and as Claude Julien has often mentioned when discussing Krug over the past several seasons, the smaller defender has to outwit and play a savvy positional game. Mitigating physical 1-on-1 matchups is the key to not getting overpowered when covering down in your own end, so the more Grzelcyk can help the B’s move the puck out of their own end and maintain possession in the offensive zone, the lest actual defending he’ll have to do.

Factor in the natural leadership and character and he’s the right kind of person and player to bring along and one day put into the NHL lineup. But first things first- he’s trying to get his Terriers back to the national championship after falling short in 2015.

Current assessment: The Bruins are no doubt looking forward to getting this player into their pro system when his college season ends in the next month or so. They took him much earlier than he was projected to go in 2012 and he’s steadily progressed in his development in the Hockey East. He has had two major surgeries, however- his 2013-14 campaign ended early due to shoulder surgery and then he had the aforementioned knee procedure about a year ago. That’s something for the B’s to keep an eye on, but it should not stand in the way of them signing Grzelcyk. Given his dream of playing for Boston and his connection to the team with his father’s position on the TD Garden bull gang, it is difficult to envision a scenario where he would attempt to not sign and become a free agent on August 1. He’ll likely need time in the AHL first but could gradually work into a role in Boston within the next season or two.

Rob O’Gara, D

Brandon Carlo has gotten a lot of attention as a top prospect in the Bruins organization for his size, skating and shutdown potential, but O’Gara is a few years older and plays a more refined game with a similar style and physical package.

O’Gara, who like Grzelcyk, is finishing up his NCAA hockey career after four strong years. The Yale Bulldog was named the ECAC’s best defensive defenseman last season after also putting up career offensive numbers as a junior. The production is down this year, but the Long Island native who turns 23 in July is not the kind of player who should be judged by statistics and offensive output. His three goals and 11 points in 27 games this season are well off his six goal & 21-point effort from a year ago (33 games), but more par for the course in terms of how he’s performed at Yale since arriving for the 2012-13 campaign.

Size and skating are the two main pillars for O’Gara: at 6-foot-4 and about 220 pounds, he’s big and strong, yet mobile enough to thrive in the modern professional hockey circuit. Ever since the B’s drafted him out of Milton Academy at the end of the 2011 draft’s fifth round, O’Gara has impressed with his fluid footwork and smooth, powerful skating stride. Even at his first Bruins development camp (he turned 18 the day he reported to Wilmington), he stood out with his poise and ability to move well and defend his own net. He was an extremely raw young player when drafted, but in the nearly five years since, has developed into one of the more poised and dependable shutdown defenders in the entire NCAA.

O’Gara leads his peers with a quiet tenacity manifested in the near-universal respect he garners from teammates, coaches and scouts. He’s not a rah-rah, in-your-face, fiery leader, but sets the right example and inspires others to follow him through consistency and his natural humility. In his first year of prep school with the Milton Mustangs, he often times had to cover for his higher-risk D partner Pat McNally, but did so with the skill and poise of a polished and seasoned player at that level. Since leading the Mustangs to a prep championship in 2011 (Milton lost the 2016 NEPSIHA/Elite 8 title yesterday to the Gunnery), O’Gara was a member of Yale’s first (and only) NCAA title-winning squad in 2013, his freshman season. He has a proven track record of being part of a winning formula, which is one of the things that attracted the Bruins to him in the first place.

Even as a shutdown prospect, O’Gara is an underrated passer and puck mover. He moves confidently up the ice with his head up, looking to hit forwards in stride to force defenses back on their heels. When the play is coming at him, he keeps the puck in front of him and uses his smarts to angle the carrier away from his net and out to more oblique angles to cut down on quality scoring chances. He’s not an overly physical defender but will make contact and use his natural strength to win board battles. He uses his long reach to make effective poke checks in the open ice. Like any young ‘D’ he has to guard sometimes against running around and trying to do too much, but when O’Gara keeps things safe and simple, he’s difficult to beat 1-on-1.

Current assessment: Like Grzelcyk, O’Gara has been carefully cultivated and developed in the Bruins organization, so the expectation here is that he will sign once he plays his last game for Yale. Whether that means he makes the jump to pro hockey right away or finishes out his semester in New Haven as Cornell’s Brian Ferlin did in the spring of 2014 after signing his entry-level contract with the B’s remains to be seen, however. He’s been patient in terms of his development and a long but steadily upwards developmental curve, and the team has exhibited the same kind of patience as well. It’s probably too much to expect him to jump right to Boston straight out of college, but stranger things have happened. If he goes to Providence to finish out the regular season, he’ll likely benefit from the chance to get his feet wet and experience the faster pace and higher skill level of the AHL before he begins his first full pro season in 2016-17. Regardless, O’Gara appears on track for bigger and better things, and consistently is underrated and overlooked when in fact the organization is solidly and firmly in his corner as a solution player going forward.

Jeremy Lauzon, D

The third of three defensemen drafted out of ten selections in 2015 might provide the best payoff of the trio in pro hockey when all is said and done.

Though not a truly exceptional player in any key area or specific hockey skill, Lauzon nevertheless is above average and more than capable at just about everything. He’s got good (Lauzon is about 6-1, 195 pounds) if not great (6-4, 220+ pounds or more is what is considered ideal in the modern NHL for D) size, and skates well though doesn’t provide dynamic speed and quickness. He’s a deft passer and effective goal scorer from the blue line, and has the ruggedness and smarts to neutralize opposition rushes and prevent players from getting to the front of his net.

Lauzon is putting up the best offensive numbers of his major junior career with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in his third season with them. He’s off his goals pace from a year ago (eight vs the 15 he netted in 2015) but with 44 points in 41 contests, Lauzon has already exceeded his 36 points set last season. He’s had to deal with some nagging lower body injuries that have limited his effectiveness in the new year after injuring himself after returning from Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship training camp in December. As one of the final cuts, Lauzon opened a lot of eyes around the CHL this year after being the 52nd overall selection by Boston last June.

Lauzon is a smart player who often does the little things in terms of maintaining his gaps, keeping the proper stick positioning and forcing opponents into committing early. He likes to go for hits in the open ice and will take every opportunity to finish his checks along the boards and remind guys in the other sweaters that he’s there. Though not a feared fighter, he’s willing to drop the gloves to defend teammates and plays a naturally rugged and aggressive defensive style that will translate well in Boston.

Current assessment: Lauzon has work to do in terms of refinements and tweaks to his overall body of work, and unfortunately, as a 1997-born player, won’t be able to jump to the AHL next season. The good news for Lauzon is that after his camp showing in December, he’s just about a sure bet to skate for Team Canada at the 2017 WJC (along with fellow B’s prospects Zach Senyshyn and Jesse Gabrielle I would add) assuming he stays healthy and continues to progress. He’s currently tracking as a potential top-3 NHL defender one day, but will need time to develop in junior. Depending on how Boston’s blue line situation looks in 2017, we’ll have a good read on how much AHL time he might require before he’s ready to stake a serious claim to regular NHL work.

Linus Arnesson, D

Like O’Gara anyone looking at the 2013 second-round selection’s offensive numbers is likely going to think that the smart and poised Swedish defensive defenseman is headed for Bustville.

That’s not the case, though some of us were admittedly thinking that he might develop into more of a two-way threat when Boston drafted him.

The 60th overall pick that year is a lean 6-foot-1 who moves around the ice efficiently with a long, mechanically-sound stride and is known for his consistent and effective two-zone ability. The product of the Djurgardens club isn’t going to wow you on any particular night, as he tends to play a pretty vanilla style. He keeps his stick in passing lanes, makes quick decisions and essentially keeps it simple without taking needless risks. No one is going to mistake him as the next Erik Karlsson, but he’s a more impactful than his four assists in 43 games might attest.

Because Arnesson is a smart and engaged player, he’s picked up fairly quickly on Providence (and Boston’s) zone-oriented scheme after playing more of a man-to-man defense in Europe. It hasn’t been a perfectly smooth transition to date, but when you go back and watch the film, there aren’t many glaring mistakes or issues jumping out at you either. Think about it- how many times do you hear or read about Arnesson and his play in Providence this season? I would submit to you- not very often. And if ever the old adage that says you don’t notice a good defenseman if he’s doing his job properly holds true with anyone, it’s the case with Arnesson.

Current assessment: Because he’s not exciting, dynamic or carries a first-round draft pedigree, it’s easy to overlook or forget about Arnesson. Whether he can carve out a niche for himself in Boston as a solid, steady middle-pairing D who may get you about 10-15 points per season tops but who can likely be paired with a smaller, but more offensively-inclined (read: risk-taking) partner or just never does enough to stick in the Boston organization is something we’ll all have to find out. When Dennis Seidenberg was helping the Bruins win a Stanley Cup and get to the final series of second championship, a lot of people could see his utility. Arnesson is obviously not the same player that Seidenberg is, but he brings the kind of safe, but limited ceiling that every good club needs.

 

 

Kids go down, some vets come up as 2015-16 B’s roster comes into focus

The Boston Bruins announced that forwards Austin Czarnik and Frank Vatrano, along with defensemen Linus Arnesson and Chris Casto, were sent to Providence on Tuesday.

Interestingly, the B’s brought some previously relegated players in fowards Brandon DeFazio and Ben Sexton, along with minor league defenseman Chris Breen.

This puts the current count of forwards on the roster at 20, defensemen at 11 and the B’s are carrying three goaltenders. Dennis Seidenberg is injured and won’t be available for about the first eight weeks of the season, so the D count is really at 10 right now, with Breen and Tommy Cross expected to go back down to Providence if the team opts to go with eight defensemen out of the chute (including the banged up Zdeno Chara).

The moves are not all that surprising- Czarnik, Vatrano and Arnesson all show intriguing promise, but they are all entering their first full pro season after all seeing limited action in the AHL last spring. I know that fans love their shiny new toys, but these guys need to be playing, and they weren’t going to be getting a lot of playing time in the NHL, even if they made the roster. And by the way- to keep a young forward on the big club means that the B’s would in most cases have to place another veteran on waivers. No big loss in Max Talbot you say? Well, he most likely would not be claimed, but the B’s value his experience and leadership more than a lot of the folks watching the games, so let’s just say that paying him nearly a million dollars to play in the AHL is not the best use of team resources, regardless of how he has looked in some limited preseason action.

As for the recalls, they’ll get a chance to play in the final couple of preseason contests and likely go back down.

The guys pushing for spots at forward need a strong push here at the end to make their case: Alex ‘Koko’ Khokhlachev has shown that he’s got some legitimate skills, but we’re still waiting on the production to take shape. Even when Ryan Spooner was trying to make the B’s in his previous two exhibition seasons, he was scoring goals and points in the preseason. Koko has done some good things, but the pucks haven’t been going in for him. At this rate, he’ll be one of the final cuts, but will go down to begin the year in Providence.

Tyler Randell is an interesting case. He’s a late-round pick from 2009 who never really stuck around in preseason much for fans to get a handle on, but has done the grunt work down in Providence as an enforcer. He’s a player with a good set of hands- he once scored 4 goals for the Kitchener Rangers during a 2012 OHL playoff game against the Plymouth Whalers (who featured Washington power forward Tom Wilson). Randell’s not much of a skater, but the guy can fight and he could find a spot for himself with his toughness. He wouldn’t be an every game player, but could slot in when the B’s needed to add some bite to their roster. I keep seeing Randell linked to Shawn Thornton as a comparable player and I won’t go there other than to say that they are two different players and fans have to understand that Thornton came to the B’s as an established NHL veteran who was added as much for his character as he was for the toughness he displayed. Randell’s not there yet, so temper the expectations- he’s still growing and learning as a player.

I’ve been impressed with Anton Blidh– he’s fast, gritty and energetic. He’s always moving his feet and qualifies as a grinding agitator type. It might be a situation where the B’s feel like he’s better served getting more minutes in Providence initially and then bringing him up when the inevitable injury happens up front, or he could very well make the Boston roster to start the season. These last couple of games will be critical for him, but because he can go down and not be subject to the waivers process, the team at least has options with Blidh. He’s on the bubble and close, but I predict he’ll start the year in Providence. Ditto Brian Ferlin, who has played well in preseason, but will find himself the odd man out on the right side with a chance to go back to the AHL and play top-two line minutes and in all situations.

Finally, I’m sold on Joonas Kemppainen to start the year as Boston’s fourth-line center. He’s mature, smart and does the little things for the position. I like his faceoff work and he does a nice job of making the right reads coming out of the zone and moving the puck to the open spaces on the ice. He’s not going to wow you in any one area, but I can see why the Bruins signed him out of Finland at age 27.

The final roster picture is coming into focus, but after the sluggish night against Detroit in the 3-1 loss Monday, that’s a harbinger of more nights to come. Loui Eriksson’s goal was too little, too late and the offense will have to overachieve to score regularly this season by the looks of it.

Would like to be proven wrong, but even in Boston’s victories, the cup of offense has not runneth over.

More cuts on Sunday as 4-0 preseason Bruins roster takes shape

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

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

The Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney announced today that eight players under NHL contract have been sent down to Providence of the AHL. Defenseman Chris Breen and forward Brandon DeFazio were put on waivers yesterday and designated for assignment- they both cleared today and will participate in the Baby B’s camp. Defenseman Ben Youds, on an AHL deal, was released from Boston camp (PTO) and sent to Providence. You can read the transaction announcement here.

Additionally, the B’s returned their remaining junior players to their respective teams, with Jakub Zboril (Saint John- QMJHL), Jake DeBrusk (Swift Current- WHL) and Brandon Carlo (Tri-City- WHL) all going back to the CHL. The B’s released Zach Senyshyn (Sault Ste. Marie- OHL) and Jeremy Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda- QMJHL) prior to the weekend’s slate of games.

In the spirit of and with a nod to the always outstanding Mike Reiss and his Patriots blog at ESPN Boston throughout the NFL training camp leading up to the final cuts day before the start of the 2015 NFL season, here’s the remaining players- locks and bubble guys along with a little analysis on what it all means going forward.

Centers

Locks: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner, Chris Kelly, Max Talbot (5)

On the bubble: Joonas Kemppainen

AHL-bound: Alex Khokhlachev, Austin Czarnik, Zack Phillips

Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci…Krejci and Bergeron…Boston’s 1-1A center punch is well entrenched, and I won’t fool around with the argument I see some people engage in over who is the B’s 1 and 2…it’s a pretty meaningless debate, because without one or the other, the team’s in deep trouble. Ryan Spooner hasn’t had a great deal of time to establish himself with new linemates, but he’s been an opportunistic scorer with the man advantage and is clearly the No. 3 man in the center pecking order. Even if the B’s might opt not to use Chris Kelly and/or Max Talbot at center, expect the team to retain both as veteran options for the bottom line with the ability to play the wings- they’ve done it before. Joonas Kemppainen has been a solid if unspectacular presence in the exhibition games he’s suited up for, and he’s effective on the draws, plays a mature two-way game, and has the size and strength to start the year as the team’s fourth-line center if that’s the plan. Austin Czarnik has been a revelation in his first pro camp after signing with the B’s last spring, using his speed, smarts and quick hands to make an impact in all three zones, but he’s better off playing on Providence’s first or second line and on both PK and PP units. If injuries take a toll on the B’s depth, don’t be surprised to see him get a chance at some point this season. If not, he’ll make it tough to cut him next year with a full season under his belt. Alex Khokhlachev, for all his talent, just hasn’t been able to find the production in his game. He’s without a doubt more talented than Kelly, Talbot or Kemppainen, but building an NHL roster isn’t just about plugging in the most skilled guys on the bottom line and expecting them to thrive. He’s improved his overall game, but if Koko had found a way to actually…you know…score some goals, then you might have more of an argument than the simple “SKILL!” that I have people hit me with onTwitter quite a bit. The B’s need to figure out how to best use him or trade him, but just because he said he doesn’t want to play in Providence forever does not mean he’s ready for primetime now. He’ll have  a few more chances before the final cuts come in, so if ever there was a time for him to impress the brass with a breakout individual performance, it’s now. Zack Phillips was waived yesterday (and cleared) but is still with the team, where he is rehabbing an injury.  Even if he had played in any of the preseason games, it’s hard to see Phillips being in the mix for a center job given how deep the team is at that position right now.

Right Wings

Locks: David Pastrnak, Loui Eriksson, Brett Connolly

On the bubble: Anton Blidh, Tyler Randell

AHL-bound: Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith

David Pastrnak is not only a sure thing, he’s the most exciting combination of pure speed/scoring talent *and* character since…well…quite a long time. He’s similar to Bergeron in terms of the kind of impact he could have on this franchise, but he’s a higher-end scoring winger and will eventually put together some impressive numbers. I don’t know if he’s quite ready to bust out with the All-Star production this year, but he’ll give it his all. Loui Eriksson plays the off-wing and will go about his business being the smart, stealthy scoring presence he was a year ago when he finished second on the team in goals. However, if the B’s are going south in the standings, don’t be surprised to see Sweeney try and move Eriksson to a contender- his current contract is up next summer and it’s doubtful he’ll be back. Brett Connolly has not had a great preseason thus far, but the team gave up a pair of second-round picks for him and has high hopes. Unlike impatient fans who expect instant near-perfection, the B’s will give Connolly a chance to see if the 2010 draft hype was real or not. Listed as a left wing but shifting over on the right  side thus far, Swedish pest Anton Blidh has impressed with his speed, energy and grit. He’s the kind of guy who could start the season right away on the bottom line, but as a young player on the first year of his ELC, he can be sent down to Providence without being placed on waivers, whereas other players can’t, so he might need to bide his time in the AHL as a third-liner who can grind it out. Tyler Randell has yet to even come close to making the NHL roster since the B’s drafted him late in 2009, but he’s in the mix because of his sheer toughness and ability to make the odd offensive play. Randell’s feet are an issue and he’ll have to be waived to get sent down, so the B’s might carry him as an extra forward to spot play when facing the more rugged teams (which admittedly are decreasing rapidly in number). Brian Ferlin scored a nice backhand goal off a turnover against Detroit and impressed in a small sample size call up a year ago, but like Blidh, he can go down without waivers, so the B’s would rather have him playing a lot than the limited time he’ll get on the bottom line. He’ll be among the first to be recalled if injuries hit. Seth Griffith’s sprained MCL suffered in a preseason game essentially means he’ll rehab the injury but likely go down to start the year and work his way into shape and consideration to be brought up when that time comes.

Left Wings

Locks: Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Zac Rinaldo

AHL-bound: Frank Vatrano

Brad Marchand led the team in scoring a year ago and he’s going nowhere- will keep riding shotgun with Bergeron to consistent effect over the past several seasons. Boston’s big-ticket free agent Matt Beleskey hasn’t set the world on fire in his first couple of preseason outings, but he’s done and said the right things. Working with Krejci and Pastrnak means that he’ll have plenty of chances to find the back of the net, but expectations need to be tempered- the B’s need him to stay healthy more than anything else right now. Local boy makes good in the case of Jimmy Hayes, who has used his enormous 6-foot-6 frame to good effect and done pretty well skating with Spooner. He’s going to grunt it out in the trenches, but he looks like an ideal fit in Boston’s top-9, playing over on the left side after being a right wing in Florida. Zac Rinaldo was acquired with a third-round pick, so even the most ardent critics will have to grudgingly admit that he’s here to stay for now at least, and we’ll see how much of a role he’ll have on the team going forward. If the B’s opt to use Kelly on the left wing of the fourth line, then Rinaldo will have to move around. Thus far, he’s drawn more penalties than he’s taken and played his patented physical style.  Frank Vatrano, along with liney Czarnik, has been a revelation, but he’s not ready to take on a full-time NHL role. He’s better off playing a lot of minutes in all situations and building his confidence by unleashing that killer shot down in the AHL for now, but watch for him to get some looks if he’s productive and keeps playing hard in all zones.

Defense

Locks: Zdeno Chara (inj.), Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Zach Trotman, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, Matt Irwin, Kevan Miller *Dennis Seidenberg (inj.)– 8-week timetable for return (mid-to-late November)

On the bubble: Linus Arnesson

AHL-bound: Tommy Cross, Chris Casto

The Bruins are hoping Zdeno Chara is ready to begin the season after taking a hit the other night in action against the NY Rangers and leaving the game in the first period. Torey Krug has stepped up in his absence, scoring the OT-winning goal against Detroit and playing with the confidence and heart of a much bigger man. Adam McQuaid is safely entrenched on the Boston roster, and Zach Trotman is also a solid bet for now as a known entity, even if he does not possess the uptempo game and sexy upside that Colin Miller and Joe Morrow bring. Both offense-minded blueliners have impressed in the preseason and the injury situation means they will both likely make the cut. Matt Irwin and Kevan Miller bring veteran ability and know-how to the mix, and if Claude Julien was serious about carrying eight defenders to begin the year (he said that even before Chara got banged up) then these are your guys. Linus Arnesson has played very well- his ice time against Detroit was notable early for how much of the first 20 minutes was played on special teams and he did well in all situations. However, with more experienced options in play, the expected move is for him to go down to the AHL where he can develop and thrive in a top role. Experienced farmhands Tommy Cross and Chris Casto will help Arnesson form a nucleus of a relatively young but game defense corps in Providence.

Goaltender

Lock: Tuukka Rask

On the bubble: Jeremy Smith, Jonas Gustavsson

And then there were three…with both of Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre being optioned to Providence today, this leaves it between Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith to be Tuukka Rask’s backup. Gustavsson just returned to the team after dealing with a personal matter, so he hasn’t had much playing time outside of an 18-shot, 18-save half of work in Boston’s first preseason contest against the New Jersey Devils. Smith has been a little up and down, struggling to find his game against the Rangers, but digging in and making some key stops at crunch time to preserve a 4-3 shootout win after letting in some softies to fall behind 3-1. In Gustavsson (who is on a PTO and would still need to be signed if the B’s like what they see), the team gets an NHL-experienced backup who has proven he has the tools to be a capable starter should something happen to Rask (knock on wood, please). On the downside, ‘the Monster’ has had injury issues, so even if the B’s go with him this year, there is a chance he’ll end up on IR at some point, meaning the team has to go deeper into the bullpen. As for Smith, he’s a one-time second-round pick from 2007, so at one point, he was seen as an impressive pro prospect, but he has zero NHL experience, so the B’s are going right back where they were a year ago when they went with the unproven Niklas Svedberg, who could not win Julien’s confidence to spell Rask more than once in a blue moon. It would be one thing if Smith had completely shut everyone down thus far in exhibition play, but he hasn’t done that. He also hasn’t been as bad as some folks have shared with me online, either. At the same time, Gustavsson’s effort was in a very small sample size…but then again- you know he can stop pucks at the NHL level, at least. My guess: Gustavsson stays, Smith goes down to the AHL, and at that point, the B’s will probably need to either option McIntyre to the ECHL or figure out another AHL team for Smith- three goalies in Providence is not the kind of situation Boston wants.

B’s-Caps game notes: Pasta night at TD Garden

The Boston Bruins played their second preseason game of the exhibition schedule, getting both goals compliments of David Pastrnak in a 2-1 OT win against the visiting Washington Capitals.

We got our first game look at new Bruin Matt Beleskey, who skated on a line with Czech Davids- Krejci (with both helpers on the goals) and Pastrnak.

There wasn’t a great deal of flow to this one, and the game was scoreless in the first 40 minutes before getting some offense in the final frame. Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre combined to make 26 stops and secure the win, making the B’s 2-0 in exhibition play.

Here are some notes on the players who caught my attention:

Goaltenders

Malcolm Subban- Solid outing for the 21-year-old, as he stopped all 17 of the shots he faced in 29:43 of action. He seemed to be a little hopped up at first, but settled in nicely and made one memorable shorthanded stop on Jay Beagle, showcasing his natural blend of quickness and power. Subban has come a long way from when he first turned pro and was all over the place technique-wise. He still plays deep in his net, but when you’re as fluid and fast as he is, it isn’t as much of a glaring deficiency as some would have you believe. Even with the 100 percent save percentage- there are still plenty of things to work on, and there’s no better way to do that than down in the AHL as opposed to sitting at the end of the Boston bench.

Zane McIntyre- He was beaten on what appeared to be a screen by Nate Schmidt’s seeing eye shot during a Caps PP but other than that, the first year pro handled business, stopping 9 of 10 shots he faced. He’s a lot more together stylistically than he used to be, employing better economy of motion in his game and letting the puck hit him more than he did earlier in his junior and college careers. The NCAA’s top goalie has not looked out of place so far, but it’s pretty evident that he’s not ready to be an NHL backup and will benefit from the playing time and seasoning in the minors.

Defense-

Linus Arnesson- He looked very good in both rookie games and had another effective, unspectacular outing tonight. He’s a smooth skater who plays with a maturity and poise beyond his years when it comes to his own end. He understands positioning and can get the puck out quickly. I don’t see much in the way of an attacking defender who will put up a lot of points, but he can get up the ice well enough and will be able to evolve into an effective penalty killer because of his feet and defensive awareness. He is what he is, I think- just a solid defenseman who will give you a good effort and consistent, steady play. He doesn’t need to be rushed into the NHL lineup, nor should he be viewed as a real difference maker when he eventually arrives in Boston. Put simply- you win with guys like Arnesson, but fans should avoid making him into something he is not: a top-level two-way D.

Torey Krug- The Michigander was wearing an ‘A’ on his sweater and that will soon become a permanent accessory on his game attire. He’s skating with a lot of confidence and bringing that edge that is important for him even if he doesn’t possess ideal NHL size. With Krug it’s about smarts and effort- he’s getting better with his reads and making the right decisions under pressure, and nobody will outwork him for a puck, even if they might be able to win a physical battle. I could go on and on, but won’t- he’s going to keep improving and for those who haven’t figured it out yet- be a core contributor to Boston’s fortunes for a long time. He led all blue liners in ice time tonight with nearly 24 minutes and his regular season time will surely increase as he eases into that top-four role he’s earning each day with his work on and off the ice.

Kevan Miller- If people are looking for excuses to write off this free agent find and former captain at the University of Vermont, Miller isn’t giving much room there. He played his brand of physical hockey, keeping things simple and preventing the Caps from getting much going offensively with some hits and good breakups. The Californian is a no-frills, bottom-pairing kind of guy, but he’s tough and cheap. He’s back after missing the second half of the year with shoulder surgery.

Joe Morrow- I liked his game tonight. Morrow is at his best when using his piston-like stride to vault up the ice and push the offensive pace from the back end. He’s got to do a better job of hitting the net with that big point drive of his, but you can see the way he can make tough passes with relative ease and Morrow brings the much needed mobility and puckhandling skills to the defense if he can make the big club and stick.

Forwards

David Pastrnak- Scored Boston’s regulation goal with a flourish after taking a Krejci pass and beating Philipp Grubauer with a nifty backhand. He followed that up by scoring the OT goal in 3-on-3 play just 12 seconds in, securing the win. He’s tracking to be a special player- he’s got that rare blend of natural talent plus the attitude, work ethic and charisma to be a franchise presence in Boston. We saw it in flashes last year as a rookie. This time around, as long as he can stay healthy, he’ll score with more regularity, but the big breakout is on the short horizon. It’s hard not to get caught up in the hype with this kid (and he is a kid- just turned 19 in May), but if you’ve been around him for just 30 seconds, you can see why the B’s treasure him (and why, in 2017- they’ll be opening up the checkbook- big time).

Anton Blidh- What is Claude Julien to do? This guy looks like the real deal for your bottom line right wing position, even with the veterans under contract. The Swedish sixth-rounder in 2013 brings a lot of speed, tenacity and relentless forechecking to the mix, even if he may lack the offensive toolbox to be a top-six forward at this level. He was grinding it out early, drawing penalties and attracting notice for his verve and finishing of checks when there wasn’t a lot of flow to this game. Because he can be sent down without being placed on waivers, chances are- Blidh (pronounced “bleed”) will begin the year in Providence. However, if he keeps playing like this, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the team as a 13th forward.

Austin Czarnik- Carried over his strong showing at the rookie tournament in Buffalo in this one. Little waterbug is so fast, skilled with the puck but shows off the little things away from the puck as well that should endear him to the Boston and Providence coaches. As a player who was skipped over in the draft because of his size, he’s going to have to put in twice the effort, but if the early signs are any indication, Czarnik will be an immediate impact performer for Butch Cassidy and might even play his well into an appearance or two with Boston sooner than anyone thinks. With the team so deep with centers, his time might have to be down the road, but plenty to like here.

Zach Senyshyn- He didn’t have any points tonight, but I continue to like with the big, eager winger brings to the table. With his long, loping stride- he’s rangy and gets up and down the ice so well that he can catch defenders flat-footed if they don’t watch their gaps with him. The Soo Greyhound just needs to keep things simple- take pucks to the net and do the things he’s known for and that got him 26 goals playing on the lower lines in the OHL. The more people who see him play, the less we hear about what a “reach” he was because you can’t teach his size or willingness.

Alex Khokhlachev- It was a mixed bag for him. I thought he looked pretty poor on Boston’s first power play opportunity but he seemed to relax as the game went on and showed his talent off in flashes. Again- flashes aren’t enough, here- he’s got to find ways to produce and pointing to the linemates is just making excuses at some point. If you want to beat out the guys ahead of you on the depth chart, you have to leave the coaches with little choice but to keep you- has he really done that in the two games thus far? Not enough to the degree needed, in my view.

David Krejci- If the B’s get this healthy version of their longtime top-2 center, then they’re on the right track this year. You figured he would come back hungry and motivated after last year essentially being a wash and he was on it tonight, with two primary assists on the only goals his team produced. Now, we’ve seen just 4 goals in two exhibition wins for the B’s, but in this one, you wanted to see some offense from the club’s top unit and they delivered. It’s pretty cool to think that when a young David Pastrnak was looking up at his room’s wall in Havirov and seeing a photo of Krejci pinned up there, he probably never imagined he would one day be getting the puck direct from his hockey hero. That one is just entering his prime and the other has a world of talent to take full advantage is an exciting thought for Boston fans.

Justin Hickman- Dropped the gloves in the second period against Tyler Lewington and scored the takedown after some punches exchanged, but that’s the toughness and presence that the former Seattle Thunderbirds captain was expected to bring. His skill is a work in progress, and he’ll likely not be a major factor down in Providence this season as he’ll gravitate towards the grunt work as he gets acclimated to that level, but he skates well enough and brings the kind of physicality that the B’s value. Watch for him to develop into a Providence fan fave pretty quickly, and he’ll score some nice goals down there, even if they don’t come in bunches.

Frank Vatrano- He came close to scoring in the first when the B’s were on the PP with that shot of his…ooh la la. What can you say? The kid’s release and heavy, accurate drive is just sublime. He’s getting quicker and will round out the rest of his game as he’s allowed to develop in the minors. B’s just might have a real homegrown diamond-in-the-rough here.

Matt Beleskey- Oof. He’ll get better, but it looked like he was trying a little too hard. He did win kudos early in going to Krejci’s defense in a scrum- he’s not afraid to stick his nose in and defend teammates even if he doesn’t have Milan Lucic’s size or toughness. Needs to go have fun, loosen up on the stick and cut down on the turnovers/forcing of the play. You see the chemistry that Krejci and Pastrnak already have- he’ll benefit from it too, if he just lets the play come to him a bit and doesn’t overthink it. This is why we have a preseason schedule…

Encouraging signs for B’s rookies in Buffalo

The Boston Bruins rookies went 1-0-1 at the 2015 prospects tournament hosted by the Buffalo Sabres, giving up a 2-0 lead to drop a 3-2 contest in OT against the host club after beating the New Jersey Devils in sudden death the night before.

Was able to catch a bit of both games (albeit limited viewing) so you’ll have to take the observations with a grain of salt, as I was not in attendance at either contest.

Overall, the B’s youngsters handled themselves pretty well- for a group that didn’t bring a lot to the table in terms of high draft pedigree, the feeling surrounding the Boston prospects is that they are a game bunch that doesn’t have a lot in the way of elite (at least through the NHL draft) pedigree, but has made some good picks in recent years and did a particularly nice job last spring at plucking some key free agents out of the NCAA, major junior and European pro ranks.

Here’s a quick look at some of the players that stood out- not going to give a recap of everyone mind you- just some players that caught my eye for various reasons:

Noel Acciari, C- The Johnston, R.I. native played so well that he earned his own post on the blog last night, but he stood out in both games in a good way, scoring a goal on the first night and nearly potting another one on a breakaway that Sabres goalie C.J. Motte barely got his left pad on. He doesn’t have top-six NHL forward upside, but Acciari has the right stuff to eventually develop into a bottom-line staple with his physicality, intelligence and grit.

Linus Arnesson, D- The Swede was featured in the camp preview last week and he showed off his trademark poise and smoothness, even getting a rare goal when he pinched in from the point and wired a pass home through a scree to give the B’s a 2-0 lead last night. He’s going to play in the NHL- it’s just a matter of when. Given Boston’s current situation on the NHL blue line, there is zero need- none- to rush him. Better to let Arnesson play prime minutes in the AHL first and if injuries create problems, don’t be surprised to see him in limited fashion, because he’ll earn a look. Come next year, he’ll be in the hunt for a more established position, but it might not be until 2017-18 that he’s most ready for regular NHL duty.

Anton Blidh, RW- Agitating Swede plays a North American-style game already and skates up and down the wing hard, forcing turnovers with a strong forecheck and finishing hits all over the ice. He didn’t translate his efforts into offense, but he’s not an overly skilled scoring prospect- just a smart, physical, opportunistic player who reminds me a bit of a young Vladimir Sobotka. He took a big hit from Jake McCabe in the second period of the Buffalo game that seemed to turn the tide of the contest.

Austin Czarnik, C- Was mildly surprised that the B’s landed the Miami University captain last spring after he finished an outstanding Red Hawks career at Oxford, but not because I didn’t think he could play but due to the fact that I thought other clubs would beat them out for his services. Although barely 5-7, Czarnik has jets on his skates and plays with that slippery waterbug elusiveness that is important for undersized guys in pro hockey. He’s a character player who grabbed attention with his energy, hustle and ability to make plays in both games. His forecheck was the difference on Frankie Vatrano’s OT winner against the Devils, and Czarnik also assisted on both Boston goals against the Sabres. He’s always going to have to fight to be given the credit he’s due, but players like Johnny Gaudreau have proven there is a place for small but talented and driven guys in the NHL- Czarnik could get there.

Jake DeBrusk, LW- The 14th overall pick in 2015’s spot here is not meant to be a slam on the kid, or to justify the opinions of those who were against the selection- he just appears not ready to seriously compete for an NHL job at this stage of his development. There is a lot to like about DeBrusk- you can see that he senses the offensive flow of a game and can get himself in position to generate scoring chances, but whereas Vatrano cashed in and brought a more polished approach to his game in the o-zone, DeBrusk seemed to be pressing. DeBrusk is not yet 19, and he’s done some nice things in the WHL- I’ll see how he develops this season and performs going forward, but this player is going to take time. If we were all being honest with ourselves on draft night, we knew that he would be a project player.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW- The 2015 fourth-rounder didn’t have a terrible showing, but I didn’t see much of the offensive ability advertised of him in his draft year. I did see some undisciplined stuff that he’s equally noted for, and if you like the Brad Marchand-type guys, Gabrielle carries promise. However, more was expected, and a good bounce back season in the WHL with Prince George (his third club since the start of 2014-15) is a solid place to start.

Justin Hickman, RW- Big-bodied, rugged power forward was another free agent pickup by the B’s last year and his surgically-repaired shoulder seems to be holding up well- he fought defender Brady Austin at the beginning of the third period vs Buffalo, giving a good amount away in terms of size and reach. He’s got to improve his first couple of steps, but this is a player who earned the respect of several NHL clubs that were in on his services, and his straight-line game and ability to create space for his linemates will translate well in Providence.

Zane McIntyre, G- He got tagged with the loss, but the Buffalo Sabres badly outplayed the B’s in the final 30 minutes and if not for the 2010 sixth-round pick, this one would have ended in regulation with a loss. His transformation from that raw, unrefined high school goalie at his first Boston development camp to a poised, unflappable goaltender who is impressive with his positioning and economy of movement in the crease has been remarkable. This is why teams need to be patient with goalie prospects- the payoff may take some time, but in McIntyre’s case, he could very well end up being worth the wait.

Zach Senyshyn, RW- Boston’s third first-round selection showed off his impressive skating and ability to get the puck up the ice quickly on the wing. He used his big body to protect the puck and showed promising offensive potential in flashes. On the downside, there were times when he seemed unsure of himself and his inability to make a play in his own end to clear the zone resulted in Buffalo’s first goal of the night. There is a tremendous amount of potential with this player, who like his fellow first-rounders, needs time to develop and will likely take some leaps forward (and a few steps backwards along the way) with the Soo Greyhounds as his role expands. He looked like a first-round pick out there, and while it would have been great for him to have more of an impact in the scoring (he did assist on Zboril’s goal along with DeBrusk), he was solid overall.

Frank Vatrano, LW- Like Acciari, Vatrano got his own post the other night and led all B’s rooks with 3 goals- unleashing his NHL-caliber shot last night from the right circle to open the scoring. You can’t teach what this kid has- he instinctively finds the seams in defenses and gets into prime scoring position. Then, as it is much easier said than done, when you put the puck on his stick, he finishes plays. You have to think that Butch Cassidy will keep Vatrano and Czarnik together at least to start things out in Providence, as the two showed excellent chemistry together at this tourney.

Daniel Vladar, G- The more I watch him, the more I am coming around to Boston’s third-round choice. He is legitimately huge, but his fluidity and quickness for one so big is eye-opening. He’s one of those guys who when dialed in is so tough to beat, and he showed it against the Devils by shaking off a couple of early goals to make key saves down the stretch and get the game to overtime, where Vatrano finished it off. “Darth Vladar” is worth stashing and letting progress on a gradual timeline much like the Bruins did with McIntyre. Seeing 2008 third-rounder Mike Hutchinson’s success with Winnipeg also serves as an important teaching point as well. Kladno native looks like a keeper.

Jakub Zboril, D- The NHL tools are clearly there for Boston’s top pick, and he showed off his good wheels and ability to make things happen offensively, finding the back of the net against New Jersey as a power play expired. I don’t think he’s ready for prime time, but it should not take long before he’s knocking on the door for a job in Boston. His biggest challenge will be to play with consistent urgency back in the QMJHL this season and not take nights off. Several scouts from other teams were a little turned off at the way he carried himself during the interview process, but the B’s seemed to love his swagger, so the onus will be on him to reward Boston’s faith by moving forward this year.

 

 

NHL 2015 rookie camps preview/player watch list- Eastern Conference

With rookies reporting to their NHL clubs for the annual rite of passage before the veterans show up next week to begin the real work of building towards that opening night roster next month, it’s time to take a look at some of the kids who will be competing in prospect tournaments this weekend and may one day contribute to the fortunes of their NHL clubs. Some of them might be doing that as early as this season.

I’m breaking the preview up into 2 parts- each by conference, starting in the East. There is no particular method to my madness other than to focus on players I have more personal and professional familiarity with. That might mean that certain highly-touted rookies don’t get a mention- that will be by design. I can’t cover every single prospect and some that are not highlighted might come off as snubs to some readers- that is not my intent.

This blog attempts to give you my insights based on what I observe and know, not what someone else writes about or observes unless I cite that particular source. If there is a particular player you want to see covered, let me know and I’ll hit up NHL guys I know who will have the firsthand knowledge of those individuals. Unlike other analysts out there who try to cover every player, league and geographic region in hockey, I simply don’t do that.

Thanks for reading- watch for the Western Conference watch list later this weekend.

Boston Bruins

Austin Czarnik, F- Small but speedy and offensively gifted forward was a nice free agent get for Boston last spring after captaining Miami University the previous two seasons and earning Hobey Baker finalist honors as a junior. The Michigander is not going to break on through to the NHL right away, but he could be an instant impact player offensively for Providence in the AHL.

Justin Hickman, F- Rugged power center was another undrafted pickup a year ago in January after shoulder surgery forced him out of his overage WHL campaign as captain of the Seattle Thunderbirds. He had a quietly solid development camp in July, but was not cleared to participate in the scrimmage to further protect that shoulder. A Boston team source expressed optimism that Hickman will surprise at his first Boston NHL camp (he previously attended Winnipeg Jets training camp) and with his heavy game and underrated scoring potential, watch for him to be another Providence youngster who is in line for an immediate role.

Eric Neiley, F- This Pennsylvania native and Dartmouth College product may have just average size and skating ability, but he once put up 40 points in just 10 games (due to injury) as a senior prep player at Phillips-Exeter. He’s a dangerous and creative player with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. If he can do enough to impress, there might be an NHL contract in the offing down the line.

Frank Vatrano, F- The former Boston Jr. Bruins standout missed out on some D1 hockey while working a transfer to UMass, but the wait was worth it as he fired home 18 goals in his only full season with the Minutemen before turning pro. Although short in stature and of stocky build, he worked hard to come to camp with a leaner frame. The end result: he’s quicker, more agile and still has a lethal stick, especially between the hash marks. He’s got 20-goal NHL upside in time if he can stay driven and develop his all-around game.

Linus Arnesson, D- The Swede came over late last season to finish out the year with Providence of the AHL, where he was solid if unspectacular. He’s got fine size and mobility, but isn’t going to wow you in any particular aspect of his game. He’s more of a defensively savvy blue liner who can move the puck out of trouble and does well in puck retrieval, but don’t expect him to join the rush much or put up many points. You win with guys like him, but he’ll benefit from time in the AHL before he’s ready for full-time NHL duty.

Zane McIntyre, G- McIntyre has won top goalie awards at every level from high school (Frank Brimsek- Minnesota), junior (USHL) and the NCAA (Mike Richter). Now, he is entering the pro ranks and it will be interesting to see what the Bruins will do with him in his first year. To maximize his playing time, the ECHL might be the best fit for him, but an excellent camp and exhibition season will make it tough on the brain trust. Depending on what happens with Jonas Gustavsson and his PTO, there probably isn’t enough net for all three of Malcolm Subban, Jeremy Smith and McIntyre, so this rookie tourney will be key to the 23-year-old making a good first impression.

(Good UND-produced video and segment on McIntyre at the 7:00 mark.)

Buffalo Sabres

Jack Eichel, F- The excitement is palpable, as the 2015 Hobey Baker winner and second overall pick left BU after just one year to turn pro. Unless something unforeseen occurs, Eichel is expected to play the season in Buffalo and will energize the town and team with his superb speed, hands and all-around game. Eichel is both skilled and mature enough to earn new coach Dan Bylsma’s trust, and although the vast majority of Sabres Nation was hoping for Connor McDavid, if there ever was a year to have the second pick in a draft, 2015 was it.

Justin Bailey, F- I’ve been tracking with interest this Buffalo native’s since his draft year (2013) when he impressed with his pure potential even if he was (and still is) a raw, developing prospect. The son of a former NFL player, Bailey was raised by his mother, Karen, who infused old school values into his upbringing. Bailey also benefited from being around members of the Sabres like Matthew Barnaby and Daniel Briere, who got to know the family and helped stoke his passion for hockey at a young age. Like Boston’s Ryan Donato, Bailey is living the dream of being a prospect for the team he grew up cheering for and having a personal connection to. With his 6-3 frame, and NHL-caliber tools, he has the makings of an eventual NHL power forward.

Carolina Hurricanes

Noah Hanifin, D- Carolina fans unfortunately will have to wait a little longer on Hanifin, who is not participating in the team’s annual venture to the Traverse City, Mich. Rookie tournament due to injury. Like Eichel, Hanifin left the Hockey East after just one season but several NHL scouts tell me they think he can play in the big show right away. We’ll see if he can put his nagging injury behind him in time to have a strong camp and preseason, but everything about Hanifin to date in his young career indicates he will do just that.

Brett Pesce, D- Former UNH standout and 2013 third-rounder is a rangy defender from New York who didn’t quite elevate his offense as expected, but was a solid contributor to the Wildcats in his three seasons at Durham. He’s a hard-nosed defender with size and underrated puck-moving skills who doesn’t give up real estate willingly and will likely become an effective shutdown presence in the NHL after some minor league apprenticing.

Sergey Tolchinsky, F- Speedy little Russian waterbug was passed over in the 2013 NHL entry draft despite putting up a fine season at Sault Ste. Marie with the Greyhounds, only to earn a free agent contact. He’s so skilled and dangerous, reminding of another little Russian named Sergei- Samsonov- who should have been a bigger NHL star than he was, but never really fully recovered his magical hands after wrist surgery. Filthy move at this summer’s development camp…

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

Sonny Milano, F- The Long Island product switched NCAA commitments from Notre Dame to Boston College, then jumped to the OHL with Plymouth last summer. After a solid first campaign there, he’s shown that his offensive ability is among the best in his peer group, but his overall game still might give his coaches fits at times. He’s a dynamic scorer, but must be more careful not to turn the puck over and guard against taking bad penalties.

Mike Paliotta, D- Chicago’s third-round selection in 2011 went on to captain the University of Vermont, which pulled an upset in the Hockey East quarterfinals last March over favored BC. Sent to the Buckeye State as part of the Brandon Saad trade this summer, Paliotta is a smart defender who isn’t all that flashy but makes good decisions with and away from the puck. He’ll boost the transition game after some time in the minors.

Detroit Red Wings

Dylan Larkin, F- The Wings’ top pick in 2014 left the Wolverines to turn pro and could very well be skating for the big club in October. Skilled and creative, Larkin can do a bit of everything as a plus-skater who is defensively responsible. Given how active and difficult he is to contain on the rush, he has the makings of a perennial All-Star and local that the Motown fans will really get behind.

Florida Panthers

Mike Matheson, D- When it comes to defensemen who are absolute naturals at moving the puck up the ice, Matheson is right up there with the best. The former Boston College star is a tremendous skater who generates top speed but also masters his edges for effortless lateral glide and shiftiness to avoid the forecheck. He can make the crisp outlet and loves to join the rush. He’s not a finished product by any means, but has improved his overall defensive play coming out of college. He was not a major point producer, but does those things for the transition game that the top teams use to great effect.

Colin Stevens, G- After backstopping Union to the 2014 NCAA championship this season was a step back for the New Yorker and former Boston Jr. Bruin. He signed with Florida last spring and with his live, athletic 6-2 frame, he’ll have time to grow into his body and develop at the minor league level. He’s a winner who can steal games for his team and will be a fine netminder in the AHL soon.

Montreal Canadiens

Nikita Scherbak, F- The Habs got excellent value with the big Russian horse out in Saskatoon (since traded to Everett) of the WHL last year. He’s added solid mass to his 6-2 frame, topping out at around 200 pounds entering the season but he’s a very good skater and talented forward who competes hard and brings with him many North American attributes. Like the Bruins with David Pastrnak in 2014, the Canadiens somehow ended up with a promising power forward who should not have been available to them that late in the opening round. Bruins fans will soon know this kid’s name and not in a good way.

New Jersey Devils

Pavel Zacha, F- The stats this last season with Sarnia weren’t much to write home about, but the Devils wasted no time in jumping on the uber-skilled Czech who will likely mature into a more productive player at the highest level. One NHL scout based in Ontario told me that he just oozed talent and potential every time he saw him but for some reason, it wasn’t clicking for him. The Devils desperately need a marketable, exciting young star and they appear to have it in Zacha. He seems to have the tools and right stuff to make the jump to the NHL right away.

New York Islanders

Mathew Barzal, F- I’ll admit it was a surprise to stand there in Sunrise and watch the Bruins make three consecutive picks at 13, 14 and 15 and not once call the undersized but electric Seattle forward’s name. When peeling back the onion a bit with team sources and those outside Boston familiar with him, we’ll chalk it up to concerns about some of the injuries he’s dealt with in the WHL and questions about the kind of fit. However, given how quickly the Isles traded (twice I would add) into the first round to grab Barzal at 16, this is going to be someone Bruins fans who follow the draft and prospects closer than the rank and file do, lament for years to come if he develops into a Claude Giroux-type star in Brooklyn.

Michael Dal Colle, F- He was a treat to watch in leading the Oshawa Generals to the 2015 Memorial Cup championship this season. The playmaking winger is so smart and productive- he’s got a great release and stealthily attacks defenses, getting into prime scoring areas or setting the table with effortless ease. He’s a major part of a dangerous group of forwards that will be coming up to take advantage of the presence of John Tavares in his prime (Speaking of Tavares, didn’t he used to skate for the Gennies? Sho ’nuff he did).

 New York Rangers

Brady Skjei, D- A major offensive threat he is not, but the big and fluid Minnesotan is going to be one of those dependable minute-munching 3-4 d-men who skate in the NHL for years. Coming out of the NTDP there was thought that he might develop more of a scoring punch, but the lack of that element should not sell him short as a premiere defensive player and character leader type who can move the puck and will be someone his coaches trust to send out and protect a lead late in the game. Those players are valuable, even if they don’t always get the respect they deserve.

Ottawa Senators

Matt O’Connor, G- Even with the breakthrough of Andrew “the Hamburglar” Hammond this past winter in Canada’s capital, the Sens went out and signed the best free agent goaltender available on the market. O’Connor’s misfortune in the third period of the NCAA title game loss to Providence aside, he’s got the size, athletic ability and maturity to rebound from BU coming up just short and develop into a solid pro. He doesn’t give shooters much net, and is a competitive gamer.

Philadelphia Flyers

Ivan Provorov, D- The Flyers got their man by standing pat and letting the Russian come to them last June. An interesting story as a kid who left Russia a few years ago and played minor hockey in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before jumping to the USHL and then north to the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, Provorov was seen as the best defenseman available in the 2015 draft, ranked by some ahead of Hanifin. With his mobility, smarts and puck skills, he’s a prime candidate to shine in his first pro camp and make a tough decision on the Flyers brass to keep him or return him to junior- he’s poised, mature and polished for one so young.

Travis Konecny, F- Along with Barzal, the Ottawa 67’s captain was one that Bruins fans who follow the draft were hoping the team might jump on with one of three first-round picks. Although undersized and didn’t get off to a great start last season, the Flyers made a move to go and get him. If he gets his development back on track to where it was entering 2014-15, Philly fans will have a lot to cheer about with his speed, offensive upside and energy.

Travis Sanheim, D- Another WHL standout defender who rode the wave a year ago of a superb performance in the Under-18 championship tournament to a top-20 selection in 2014. The Calgary Hitman has all of the key tools NHL clubs want in a defender including a fearsome point drive. He parlayed his success into a spot on Canada’s gold medal WJC squad last winter and along with Provorov and Samuel Morin, might turn the defense position from an area of concern in Philly to one of strength if all three pan out as expected.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Daniel Sprong, F- Arguably one of the 2015 draft’s most pure talents on offense, Sprong’s 200-foot game was lacking and a big reason he fell into the second round. However, put a kid like him on the Penguins and you have the potential for it not to matter a whit because of how dangerous he is when the puck’s on his stick. I didn’t think he was a good fit for what Boston is doing, but he makes total sense in the Steel City. They don’t come much more flashy and slick than this Netherlands product.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tony DeAngelo, D- The tremendously skilled yet undersized offensive defenseman has gotten into trouble for his mouth in the past, but his 25 goals and 89 points in just 55 OHL games speak for themselves. The Philly-area native is a sublime skater with the vision and elite hockey IQ to push the offensive pace. Tampa rolled the dice a bit by grabbing him 20th overall a year ago, but he’s on the verge of paying that decision back in spades.

Adam Erne, F- 2013 second-rounder and Connecticut native was injured when his Quebec Remparts needed him most last spring, but when healthy, Erne has the offensive talent and big body to excel in puck possession. He plays a rugged style but needs to cut down on undisciplined penalties. When at his best, he’s dropping his shoulder and driving hard to the net- he’s a load to contain and is built for the modern NHL. Erne is the kind of player that will make an already difficult team to play against that much tougher.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Mitch Marner, F- This skilled and gritty gamer had a monster season in the OHL with the London Knights, leading the new-look Leafs front office to go with him fourth overall. There is a lot of pressure on him to get the Blue and White back on the road to respectability, but he didn’t average 2 points per game by accident. He plays with the kind of intelligence and all-around savvy that should see him thrive in that organization and embrace the enormous expectations that come with a player of his draft pedigree and background. He’s got some physical maturing ahead, but there’s a lot to like about him- winner.

Washington Capitals

Madison Bowey, D- The latest graduate from the Kelowna defenseman factory out in the WHL, Bowey has it all- size, skating, skill, shot and sense. He’s a poised puck mover who plays the game with some jam and has enough confidence to keep things simple. In hindsight, given how much Bowey’s development has taken off since the 2013 NHL draft, it’s hard to figure how the Caps got him in the second round.