Final buzzer: Bruins lay smackdown on Sens

Where to begin?

The modern NHL is different from the league I grew up with. In some ways it is better and others not so much. But tonight, when the Boston Bruins took on the Ottawa Senators in the second of a home-and-home series (Sens prevailed 3-1 on home ice Sunday), the home team set the tone for Friday’s Winter Classic against an even bigger rival.

The old NHL I grew up with- the one with the Prince of Wales and Campbell Conferences and the Adams, “Black and Blue” Norris Divisions and all the others- gave the league a character and toughness that simply doesn’t exist any more to a large extent. There were no Ottawa Senators in the old days of the Adams Division, but tonight’s Boston opponent might as well have been wearing the blue and white of the old Quebec Nordiques…or the green, white and (later) blue of the Hartford Whalers…because as the game wound down, the fireworks began in a manner reminiscent of some memorable fracas at the Boston Garden.

If you take nothing else with you tonight, remember this- these two teams don’t like each other. That’s how it should be. And that’s how it all went down in Boston’s decisive, grind-your-face-into-the-ice victory in a 7-3 final score punctuated by local kid Jimmy Hayes’ hat trick with just .02 ticks left on the clock.

The three-goal game for Hayes, done in front of the hometown fans, was undoubtedly a dream come true moment for the Dorchester native, who grew up skating in nearby rinks pretending to score goals for the Bruins. It’s been an at-times frustrating season undoubtedly for the former BC star, who came home in a late June trade. All at once, it had to be a thrill, but also brought enormous pressure to perform, too. It is therefore no small irony tonight that when skating on Boston’s bottom line, he brought the hats raining down at the TD Garden to put an exclamation point on a win the Bruins had to have.

Hayes got the first goal of the contest at 8:01 of the opening frame when a Kevan Miller drive into the end boards took a fortuitous bounce out in front of the net and the right winger punched it in. Longtime Boston nemesis (but oh how B’s fans would’ve loved this guy if he wore the Black and Gold) Chris Neil scored the equalizer at 12:31, converting a second rebound after the Bruins got caught running around in their own end. Patrice Bergeron restored the lead with the first of four Boston power play goals on the night when he took a Torey Krug pass and made a nifty little deke to put the puck past Craig Anderson, hero of the Sunday game for a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.

The final score does not accurately reflect how close this one was, as the B’s clung to a 3-2 lead that looked anything but safe going into the final stanza. Fans no doubt recalled the collapse Saturday night against the Bruins and when Matt Beleskey tallied a power play goal to put Boston up 3-1 only to see Mika Zibanejad score a late second period goal (his second in as many games after getting the game-winner Sunday night against the B’s) to cut the lead to one, you’d forgive the good folks for not being as optimistic going into the third.

The rollercoaster game continued into the last 20 minutes, as Bergeron got his second power play goal of the night (Boston’s third of the game) at 2:38 when Krug faked a big windup for a shot then sent a slap past to Bergeron, who was occupying his customary “bumper” position between the two circles. He deftly redirected the puck into the net before Anderson could track and reset. Seth Griffith, recalled as David Krejci was officially put on IR today, registered the second assist on the play, his first NHL point of the season in his first big league game this year.

However, less than two minutes later, Mike Hoffman reduced the deficit to just one goal again when he threw the puck towards the middle of the ice from the left side. It hit Dennis Seidenberg’s skate and caromed into the net to make it 4-3 with about 15:30 remaining in the game.

That set the stage for a wild finish, as Boston scored three goals in the final 4:11, with two Hayes tallies sandwiched with one Beleskey strike to put the Sens away for good.

After the B’s made it 6-3 on Beleskey’s second of the night, a chippy night got even more spirited. In the final minutes, Ottawa coach Dave Cameron sent Neil, Max McCormick and Mark Borowiecki (who tangled earlier in the game with Zdeno Chara and was promptly rag-dolled for his efforts) on the ice perhaps to send a message to Boston for their next contest in a few weeks. McCormick and Landon Ferraro dropped the gloves in a spirited but nasty bout that began with McCormick firing some vicious punches into Ferraro before the Boston center scored a punch and take down.

Things blew up at 19:33 when action around theBoston net that began with a David Dziurzynski hit on Miller on the end boards flared into a near line brawl. Zac Rinaldo  squared off and pounded Dziurzynski, while a hesitant Adam McQuaid battled Neil (and appeared to get an eye gouge in the process). The referees- Frederick L’Ecuyer and Kyle Rehman, wanting no more shenanigans, then issued 10-minute misconduct penalties to Miller, Beleskey, and Zack Smith. But with Boston on the power play after Neil took an extra penalty in his donnybrook with McQuaid, Hayes finished off the hat trick with a bullet into the net on a feed from Max Talbot (who played his finest game since being acquired from Colorado at last year’s trade deadline.)

As we have seen in the past, games like this one brings teams together. The fans in Boston certainly loved it, and more important- it allowed the Bruins to enter the three-day buildup to the 2016 Winter Classic on a high note, without the negativity of a four-game losing streak. Better yet, Montreal lost to the upstart Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers tonight, spoiling the debut of goaltender Ben Scrivens.

For Boston to go from a nasty game and key moral victory to now facing their bitterest rival of all- this is the stuff that used to make the NHL what it was.

I’m not saying the new NHL is bad, but for one night at least, we were all reminded of the toughness, emotion…the pure electricity that a game like this one generates. Those nights- which once came with far more regularity- are a product of a by-gone era, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t give us something to get excited about.

UP

Patrice Bergeron- He scored two very important power play goals at critical times in this game and got the game-winnerr, once again providing the leadership by example he has been known for throughout his entire Boston career. At this point, his excellence has just come to be expected, but the humility and character with which he carries himself only adds to his body of work. With 14 goals in 36 games, he might just establish a career best in that category at age 30, and he’s certainly cruising for a fourth Selke Trophy and could garner Hart Trophy consideration as league MVP as well. Regardless of what happens, Bergeron is the heart and soul of this team and continues to raise the bar as he climbs the ladder of franchise historical feats.

Jimmy Hayes- It hasn’t been the easiest of years, but he hung in there and had the best night of his NHL career in front of a fired up crowd. The former prep star at Nobles isn’t ever going to be a bruising, in-your-face power winger the way B’s fans wish a 6-5, 215 pounder should be, but as long as he’s working hard and finding ways to contribute, he’ll be value added to a team that is counting on him to provide secondary scoring, especially with Krejci now out for an undetermined length of time. Hayes wants to be here, and this game will do wonders for his confidence. Perhaps he’ll quit gripping the stick tight and take the chances as they come…he’s probably finding out that playing for your hometown team comes with a whole different set of expectations and pressures, but on this night, he was the man of the hour.

Matt Beleskey- His first two-goal game as a Bruin came in what is a typical contest that plays to the former Belleville Bull’s strengths. He was a force on the forecheck all night and both of his goals showed off his excellent shot. Pucks hadn’t been going in for him over the first half of the year, but he was working hard and generating chances. Playing the law of averages, you knew things were bound to change at some point.

Ryan Spooner- This was a big boy game for the center who moved up to the second line with Beleskey and Loui Eriksson with Krejci out. He set the tone early with solid defensive play in his own end and an underrated blind pass to Beleskey that sprang a breakout and key scoring chance. He assisted on Bergeron’s goal, then later set up Beleskey’s second tally with some superb work along the wall to shake a defender and get the puck to his linemate. Spooner does not get enough credit for his genuine desire to improve and be a part of his team’s success. Tonight, he sent a key message to Claude Julien and the Boston coaching staff- he wants to be a top-two line center in this league and against his hometown team, he looked like one in his season-best 17:02 (in regulation games) of ice time.

Max Talbot- I have long enjoyed covering him when he was on other teams, and he was an easy whipping boy for fans as his best years are behind him. Tonight, Talbot played like he did when he was in his prime with the Penguins and a major piece to their 2009 Stanley Cup championship squad. He’s limited, but no one will ever question his heart or effort. Tonight, he was the yin to Hayes’ yang and made that fourth line one effective unit. Credit where it is due, folks.

Tuukka Rask- He was victimized on the Hoffman goal, but Rask came up big numerous times to keep his team ahead before they gave him the offensive support to make it a laugher.He’s in the zone- Rask deserved a better fate Sunday, but he got his 14th win of the season by maintaining his focus, tracking the puck well, and making some controlled saves at crunch time. With Rask playing like this, the B’s are in every game.

Torey Krug- You could see how much the B’s missed Krug in the final period of the Buffalo loss and the entire Sunday Ottawa game just by the way he was motoring up and down the ice and pushing the pace. You could also tell how fired up he was to be back in the lineup. This was vintage Krug- making things happen with a pair of assists to reach the 100-point milestone in his young NHL career, while also playing a strong all-around game to help stabilize the defense. The team desperately needs him to keep up the two-way contributions going forward.

Zdeno Chara- Even at 38, he’s still an effective defenseman and tonight he showed it, playing with some snarl and a heaviness to his game that made it tough for Ottawa to get much going in the Boston end. He’s still making some dangerous passes, especially when on the power play, but he played a smart, focused game tonight. He imposed his will physically on Borowiecki, who wanted no part of Chara once the captain started slinging him around like a sack of potatoes. Chara could have punched him in the face when he had him down but didn’t. That not only showed respect for an opponent who probably didn’t deserve a whole lot given how Borowiecki took advantage of Hayes the other night after steamrolling Frank Vatrano, but also demonstrated restraint by not taking an extra penalty in a close game.

DOWN

Brad Marchand- There aren’t many downs to this game, but his low-bridge on Borowiecki could draw supplemental discipline. If the NHL suspends him for the Winter Classic (and they could given his past transgressions), that will put the Bruins behind the eight-ball for sure. On a night he was wearing the ‘A’ for the first time in his big league career, he also took an undisciplined slashing (it was more like spearing) penalty on Kyle Turris in front of the Boston net when the game was still 4-3. He’s been such a good player this season, but Marchand has to know where the edge is and not skate over it.

It’s onto Foxboro and the Winter Classic against the Montreal Canadiens. You can bet these Bruins will be ready to go.

 

 

Rask rolls as B’s whitewash moribund Penguins

Spooner3

Ryan Spooner is coming into his own as a solid middle-tier contributor in Boston with room for growth into more.  (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins got to .500 at home with a 3-0 victory over the sinking Pittsburgh Penguins at the TD Garden Wednesday in the first of a home-and-home series with the Steel City’s team.

The match featured several interesting subplots: new Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was behind the bench against the B’s for the first time since former Portland Winterhawks bench boss Mike Johnston was fired last week. Starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury is out of the lineup for a week or more with an upper body (concussion) injury, and the team is also without Kris Letang for a couple of weeks as well, prompting them to trade with Chicago for Trevor Daley, who was in the lineup last night. And of course, with Phil Kessel making his first return to Boston of the season after his offseason change of address, ‘the Thrill’ is always a topic of conversation, especially given that he’s not given his new team much bang for the buck as anticipated.

In short, even with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, this is simply not a very good Penguins team right now, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that they were blanked and never really mounted much of a serious challenge with Tuukka Rask dialed in and continuing his best stretch of the season.

The B’s got goals from Max Talbot (his first as a Bruin dating back to last season when he was acquired from Colorado at the deadline), Jimmy Hayes (his fifth of the season) and a late empty-netter from Ryan Spooner to seal it (his pass to Hayes gave him another multi-point effort).

Sullivan is an interesting hire for Pittsburgh. A Marshfield guy and BU star, he played one year for the Bruins in the late Pat Burns’ first (and Jack Adams Trophy-winning) season before finishing his playing career with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2002. Sullivan jumped straight to an AHL head coaching gig, landing the Providence Bruins job in 2002-03, and when the B’s fired Robbie Ftorek during the same season, Sullivan moved up to be an assistant under Mike O’Connell who then made him Boston’s head coach for the 2003-04 campaign.

Sullivan is most known for giving a relatively unknown 18-year-old kid a shot at the NHL right out of his first training camp. That kid’s name? Patrice Bergeron. Sullivan first year behind his home team’s bench was a Cinderella story, as the B’s compiled a 42-19-15 record, and was primed to do damage in the postseason after trading for a pair of skilled veterans in Sergei Gonchar and Michael Nylander to bolster a core group that included Joe Thornton, Glen Murray, Sergei Samsonov and rookie of the year Andrew Raycroft. Alas, the B’s crashed and burned in the first round, losing in seven games to the hated Montreal Canadiens (including a 2-0 home loss to close it out after the B’s blew a 3-1 series lead). The Habs just so happened to be coached that year by some guy named Claude Julien. Go figure.

A disastrous post-lockout 2005-06 season saw Sullivan scapegoated for a putrid (and that’s being charitable) lineup and 29-37-16 record. He was out and although spent time as an NHL assistant with the Lightning, Rangers and Canucks between 2007 and 2014, he did not darken the doorstep to an NHL bench until Pens GM Jim Rutherford (himself on the hotseat for the hot mess of a Pittsburgh lineup) brought him in to try and reverse the team’s skid. Sully’s a good guy- at one time believed to be one of the NHL’s young up-and-comers as a coach, much like Peter Laviolette was when Boston and O’Connell made a fatal mistake of choosing Ftorek over Laviolette and letting him take the NY Islanders head job in 2001. It hasn’t worked out for Sully the way it did with Lavy, but it’s nice to see him get another shot as a big league coach.

***

Ryan Spooner has been playing pretty well of late. He’s got as many points right now as Kessel does at the 30-game mark. That probably speaks more to the lousy year Kessel is having given expectations than it does Spooner’s success, but he’s on the same pace he had a year ago when he posted 8 goals and 18 points in 29 games. That’s a little skewed because those 29 goals included an early five-game stretch where he didn’t put up points and hardly played. Even so- Spooner has been criticized for his 5-on-5 play this year, but while there’s some validity to that, it glosses over the fact that he’s continuing to find ways to produce offense and make plays, which is what the Bruins have him on the roster for. Sometimes, there is a “death by overanalysis” where observers make the mistake of trying to force players to be like Bergeron, Jonathan Toews or insert any top two-way recognizable star here. Spooner isn’t Bergeron or Toews for that matter, but what he brings is valuable to the team. He’s a good kid- often misunderstood as someone who doesn’t try. Not true, but let’s face it- he’s not going to be a defensive stalwart or top minute-munching forward who is out in all key situations because there are better options. However, he has proven he belongs in the NHL, and for a team like Boston, a roster that doesn’t have an abundance of breakaway speed at the center position, he’s doing just fine on the third line, thank you.

Kessel continues to be an enigma. Five 30+ goal seasons (one of those in Boston) with the Maple Leafs seemed to be fait accompli that he would tear it up with the likes of Crosby and Malkin. Hasn’t happened. May not happen. But the Bruins did the right thing in trading Kessel, even if after the fact they don’t have a lot to show for it. That’s a legitimate gripe.

Tuukka Rask is on a roll, and it could not have come at a better time. For the Bruins to have a shot at the playoffs, he’s got to be in Vezina-caliber form, and since late November, he’s been right there. What’s impressive to me is the economy of motion in Rask’s game right now. He’s tracking pucks and not overexerting himself, but keeping his movements crisp and composed. What’s more- he’s back to having fun out there. Whatever seemed to be bothering him earlier in the season seems to have dissipated for now. I chalk it up to what Zac Rinaldo alluded to in the first episode of the Road to the Winter Classic last night when he said that players are just now “showing their true colors” and comfortable with each other. That chemistry that Rinaldo was talking about isn’t something that just happens, and when you take several significant players away from the mix and add new faces, especially younger ones who won’t be as confident or gregarious as veterans like Mark Recchi or Nathan Horton were when they arrived to the room, it takes longer. I’d like to think that Rask has gotten to know his new teammates and realizes that these guys are willing to work and scrap and play hard in front of him. I’d like to think that even though he knows deep down that this defense isn’t good enough to put the Bruins in real contention for the big prize, they’re a plucky bunch that won’t mail it in and will do their level best.

It might not be enough, but Rask is the big-ticket contract and player who is probably the biggest cog in a machine that can and should at least make the playoffs. As he goes, so go Boston’s postseason hopes. That might not be welcome news for some fans out there, but nobody plays in the NHL to lose, and as we saw in 2008, that bunch was the start of something special that culminated with a Stanley Cup three years later. With Rask getting his swagger back, his team will work their tails off in front of him and pay the price to set him up for success. That’s how this stuff works- everyone rowing hard in the same direction. The NHL is still about who has more talent and can put it together the most consistently, but Rask being in top form is a very good start. On the flip side, his excellence disguises flaws elsewhere on the roster, but GM Don Sweeney’s job is to assess and manage that. He’s going to have some tough decisions with asset management that he would not have faced if the B’s just imploded as they did at the beginning of the season. To Rask’s credit, he’s picked it up and is playing like an All-Star.

That’s all the Bruins can ask for right now.

***

Hey, hey, hey- how about that Jimmy Hayes? It’s just one game and one goal, but Hayes went hard to the net with his stick on the ice and was able to deflect an on-target Spooner pass in behind Jeff Zatkoff. That’s exactly what he needs to do, and it was nice to see him make that play as the scrutiny he’s faced of late ratcheted up.

Give credit to Max Talbot, too. That was a beauty of a short side snipe to get his first goal as a Bruin. I’ve always admired him from afar as I covered him with the Penguins and Flyers in the past and enjoyed his easy manner and clear leadership qualities. He would have been a fan favorite in Boston five years ago, so he came to the team too late, but he’s an underrated presence in the room.

Alex Khokhlachev played last night after being recalled and while it wasn’t a poor performance, it’s more of the same from him. Sure- he wasn’t playing with top liners, but he doesn’t have Landon Ferraro or Frank Vatrano’s speed to grab your eye, so given that he was drafted to provide much more in the way of offense, it’s hard to see where he fits in Boston right now. The team would have to sit someone else who has earned their spot on the top lines just to get Koko in there. That’s not how it looks, so giving a shake of the ol’ Magic 8-Ball, it looks like we’ll have to ask again later.

That’s about it- we’ll see how the Pens perform in front of their home crowd tomorrow night, but for now- the B’s are in a good spot and you can see the confidence growing with the younger guys with each shift.

 

 

Bruins to begin season without Talbot, Smith

Today, both Max Talbot and Jeremy Smith cleared waivers and were designated for assignment.

In Smith’s case, the B’s did as was suggested here previously and assigned him to the Iowa Wild, Minnesota’s Des Moines-based AHL affiliate.

There, Smith is competing with Wild prospect and former Harvard ( and Loomis-Chaffee Pelicans) goalie Steve Michalek, along with former 2006 first-round pick (Calgary) Leland Irving and University of Vermont netminder Brody Hoffman.

The assumption here is that the Wild plan to take advantage of Smith’s AHL experience, but goal crease is a little crowded.

In the meantime, the Bruins can recall Smith or option him back to Providence if they so desire- by assigning him to Iowa, they are not relinquishing his rights, but rather, moving him to a different club so as not to crowd the P-Bruins crease and keep the younger prospects in Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre closer to home.

As for Talbot, he was still with the big club, though he told reporters that he understands hockey is a business and would do what the team asks of him. For now, he’s acting like a consummate pro. The B’s have a month to reclaim him/bring him back up without exposing him on the waiver wire.

About two weeks ago, this blog predicted that Talbot was going to be a lock because of his veteran status, but he did not do enough to earn a spot at camp. This is a reminder of other NHL-experienced players who have come into camp but fallen short in exhibition play- former Capitals captain Chris Clark in 2011 comes to mind- and more recently, Ville Leino a year ago. Of course, neither player was under contract as Talbot is, and last year, Simon Gagne started the season after his successful PTO only to leave the team in a mutual parting of ways that included the passing of his father. Gagne retired officially from the NHL just days ago.

So, as things stand right now, here is your Boston Bruins club on the eve of the official start of the NHL’s 2015-16 regular season campaign, with the B’s set to take on the Winnipeg Jets at home on Thursday:

Forwards (13):

63 Brad Marchand- 37 Patrice Bergeron- 21 Loui Eriksson

39 Matt Beleskey- 46 David Krejci- 88 David Pastrnak

11 Jimmy Hayes- 51 Ryan Spooner- 14 Brett Connolly

23 Chris Kelly- 41 Joonas Kemppainen- 36 Zac Rinaldo

64 Tyler Randell

Defense (8):

47 Torey Krug- 54 Adam McQuaid

45 Joe Morrow- 86 Kevan Miller

52 Matt Irwin- 62 Zach Trotman

33 Zdeno Chara- 48 Colin Miller

Goaltenders (2):

40 Tuukka Rask

89 Jonas Gustavsson

(Is it me or do some of these numbers remind you of the Boston Celtics?)

 

Final Bruins exhibition game at Washington Capitals previews the 2015-16 NHL lineup

The Boston Bruins are in the nation’s capital tonight to take on the Washington Capitals and nemesis Braden Holtby (assumption on my part- have not seen confirmation he’s starting but given his history vs. the B’s, why not?) in what is the last of the team’s 7-game exhibition schedule. They are 4-2, having dropped their last two matches to Detroit and the NY Rangers after starting 4-0.

The “so what” to this is if I were a betting man (which I’m not, btw)- this is probably the closest thing to the opening night roster that we’ve seen as this is the final opportunity for Claude Julien and his staff to get a look at the guys they’ll put their hopes in at least to begin the year. With Zdeno Chara injured, it is as of yet unclear as to whether he will be back in time for opening night and if the team will carry eight defenders to begin the season.

Here’s the forward lineup (according to the Bruins Twitter):

Matt Beleskey — David Krejci — David Pastrnak
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron —Loui  Eriksson
Jimmy Hayes —Ryan Spooner — Brett Connolly
Chris Kelly —Joonas Kemppainen — Zac Rinaldo
Max Talbot — Tyler Randell

The defense pairings:

Torey Krug-Adam McQuaid
Matt Irwin-Kevan Miller
Colin Miller- Zach Trotman
Joe Morrow

Guessing that a rotation of Max Talbot and Zac Rinaldo will be how Julien plays it in the first 30 days or so, at least until injuries open up a regular spot for one of them or performance (lack thereof) forces a change. That likely means that Tyler Randell is odd man out and the team could try and slip him through waivers with the possibility that another team claims him after the years the B’s spent developing him. That will depend on how many defensemen the B’s decide to go with.

The video game set will sigh and groan that Matt Irwin is in the lineup over Joe Morrow, but he comes with the most NHL experience between the two if not the intriguing offensive skill set Morrow provides. You figured it was coming.

We’ll see how the squad fares at the Verizon Center tonight and get back to you.

 

Rangers down Bruins in spirited contest, 3-2

Brett Connolly scored a pair of goals including one just 40 seconds into Wednesday’s contest, but the Boston Bruins dropped their second exhibition game in as many tries after starting the preseason 4-0.

As pointed out to me on Twitter by several B’s fans, the Rangers were icing a lineup much closer to their NHL roster than Boston was, so there is room for praise for the job the Boston squad did in keeping the lead until the last 3 minutes or so of the second period and then coming back to within one goal late in the final frame. In the end, however, it wasn’t enough.

The B’s lost in regulation, but the teams played a 5-minute 3-on-3 overtime session that failed to generate a score, despite the Rangers getting a power play after Alex Khokhlachev was assessed an obstruction foul.

Fans will need to get used to these kinds of games going forward this season- yes, the team was without many of its top players last night, but even with a full roster, the Bruins will be challenged to score goals on the regular basis. They will have to cash in on the opportunities they do create (and those given them by opponents) and outwork other clubs in order to make the playoffs.

Having said that- here are some notes on some of the players:

Brett Connolly- He accounted for all of the offense last night, and it was the best of the three preseason games we’ve seen from him. His second goal was batted baseball style out of midair and into the net, displaying some excellent hand-eye coordination. On the downside, he’s still turning the puck over and making some mistakes to nitpick, but you could see last night why he was a top draft pick five years ago. Connolly is more than capable of scoring 25 goals this year for Boston, but Claude Julien will stress attention to detail with him to mitigate some of the mistakes he makes with and without the puck.

Zach Trotman- Last pick in 2010 played a strong defensive game and assisted on Connolly’s second tally by denying a Rangers clearing attempt at the blue line and throwing the puck to the net. He may not be the most instinctive of defenders, but Trotman’s 6-4 height and 220-pound frame, along with his mobility allow him to make plays at both ends of the ice. Sometimes, you wonder about people’s expectations- it isn’t like Trotman was a first- or second-round selection and recognized talent to play a prominent role. He was a developmental project player from the get-go and has worked hard to put himself into the NHL picture in Boston- some of these same critics fall all over themselves to praise Koko who has yet to turn any of his flashy plays into production, yet Trotman came through with a statement game last night. It’s the internet and all, but my guess is that on opening night- No. 62 will be in the Boston lineup and No. 76 won’t.

Colin Miller- I think we’ve seen enough- the former Kings prospect is an NHL player, and the Bruins will benefit from his skating, puckhandling and big-time point shot. On one particular sequence in the second period, the puck was thrown to the net as he was cutting to the short side. It hit his skate, but even at speed, Miller was able to corral it with his stick and get a shot off. Henrik Lundqvist made a terrific save, but it was the kind of effortless-looking play that is much harder for most to pull off. Miller belongs on this team, end of story.

Joonas Kemppainen- The Finnish free agent has the look of a solid fourth-line center with his faceoff work and disciplined play in all 200 feet of the rink. He’s not a dynamic skater, but as a big guy, he doesn’t have to be. He uses his stick effectively to disrupt plays on the penalty kill and has been in the right position throughout the preseason. He’s not a player who will bring a lot of offensive production to the table, but his heavy game is well suited for the bottom line and with the right wingers, so long as that unit can chip in and play some quality minutes, the B’s are on the right track.

Jimmy Hayes- He was active and involved in the play all night. He’s not as skilled as younger brother Kevin, but he brings more tenacity and “want to” in my opinion. The team had him wearing the ‘A’ last night, and Hayes continued his solid if unspectacular play in the preseason, tallying a helper on Connolly’s first goal. He’s clearly enjoying being a Bruin, and he’s a valued addition on a team that is going to need every ounce of his talent and 6-6 frame to get some gritty, dirty goals on any given night.

Ryan Spooner- Boston’s third-line center showed off his ability to work the wall last night, at one point during a power play in the second period generating quality scoring chances from both sides of the ice. Koko just missed sending him in alone on a breakaway during the 3-on-3 overtime session, and he might have ended it right there. Spooner is at his best when pushing the pace of the offense and backing defenses up with his speed. Unfortunately, he also made a poor decision late in the second period to make a cross-ice pass after gaining the offensive zone that was deflected away and resulted in a rush the other way that saw J.T. Miller put the Rangers up 2-1 with about 37 seconds remaining on the clock. Those are the kinds of plays that will get any player a stern talking to from the coaches- it was risky and ended up being costly. He did have an assist on Boston’s second goal of the night, however.

Alex Khokhlachev- At some point the energy, hustle and skill plays need to amount to points on the board and it’s just not there. It seems to me that there is an element of fans who want him on the team no matter what, and I can understand that- everyone has an opinion, and he’s undoubtedly more talented than a couple of the veterans who are likely to beat him out for a spot coming out of camp. But one wonders if Max Talbot was showing the same kind of energy, would people go out of their way to praise him as seems to be the case for Koko? For a guy who made it clear that he sees himself as an NHL player, he sure hasn’t been able to find away to produce, and that’s going to be the difference when he is optioned to Providence to start the year. The B’s can and will almost certainly bring him back up at some point (unless Don Sweeney trades him elsewhere- but the kind of value Koko will get at this stage is anyone’s guess), but enough of the grasping at straws- potential is just that- potential…until it is realized through tangible results. It would be one thing if he was scoring a point or three each night he went out there, but he’s not doing that. In the end, it doesn’t matter what any of us on the outside think- Boston management and coaches have the power to decide, and in Koko’s case- it’s pretty simple: where’s the beef? There is no denying the skill, but the team rightfully expects more from him.

Adam McQuaid- The most memorable play of the night from him came on Miller’s late second period goal when he backed up too much in the Boston zone, giving the Ranger forward the time and space to rip a wicked shot into the net, taking the lead. You love McQuaid’s character and toughness, but his mobility and decision-making at times will result in plays like this one. During the course of the season he’s going to make some plays and give some up- if not for the AAV on his contract extension, few would have any issue with his presence. It’s the nature of the beast in this modern cap world.

Jonas Gustavsson- Playing in just his second contest since coming to camp on a PTO, it was a good news/bad news kind of game for the veteran. He was victimized on the first goal, which came on a screen and deflected in off of Trotman’s skate. But he was beaten cleanly on a shot by Miller to break a 1-1 tie, and in the third period, was unable to get across the crease when Rick Nash’s attempted pass was blocked by Matt Irwin. Nash, doing what top goal scorers like him do, grabbed the puck as it bounced back to him and popped it into the yawning open side as Gustavsson was caught by the shortside post. Neither Gustavsson nor Smith have been outstanding in exhibition play, but they have been serviceable. Gustavsson held the fort later in the game and in the OT when the Rangers were on a 4-on-3 man advantage, so flip a coin between the two for Boston’s backup spot. It’s close, and with Smith under contract, he just might get the nod.

Zac Rinaldo- Continues to play his high motor game and drive opponents crazy with his hitting and stickwork. He took a goalie interference penalty and then was reminded of that with a hard, borderline vicious hit from Dylan McIlrath that he bounced back from. With his speed, he creates scoring chances, ringing a shot off the post at one point in the final period, but the production has not and never will be there. Rinaldo is there to bring energy, agitate, draw penalties and get opponents off their game without hurting his own team in the process. There is a segment of Boston fandom that will simply not reconcile that role with his past transgressions nor the price Boston paid to acquire him, but that’s fine- as is the case with McQuaid- he’s here like it or not.

Tyler Randell- Drove to the net and worked the corners effectively. When McIrath tried to go after Rinaldo during a scrum in front of the Rangers net, Randell intercepted the New York defender and the two dropped the gloves. Both players got some shots in, and it looked like a draw, but given what Randell gave way to in terms of height and reach, the bout further enhanced his reputation as a nasty forward who can fight it out with the heavyweights.

Tommy Cross- I have to give the former BC captain and 2x NCAA champion credit. He played hard and smart last night. He’s a longshot given the players the B’s have on the roster, but his character has never, ever been a question mark. Last night, he played with effort, pace and got some good shots on net from the point. He’s an NHL-capable defender in a reduced role, but the question for him is opportunity- can he get it in Boston?

Brian Ferlin- Good player, but what on earth was he thinking in OT when he went to the bench for a chance with the Rangers in possession of the puck at center ice? That resulted in a 3-on-1 but somehow, the B’s survived it and transitioned back the other way, with Koko just missing sending Spooner in on a breakaway. But, Brian- yikes!

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 blank Devils in first preseason game of 2015-16

Hockey is back!

Just a couple of days after the NHL opened up main training camps around the league, the exhibition games started, with the Boston Bruins taking on the New Jersey Devils in a home game at Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence R.I. Sunday evening.

The Black and Gold got a pair of power play goals from free agent addition Matt Irwin on defense, as he and fellow blue liner Colin Miller made strong cases for themselves in the first real glimpse fans got of them. Goaltenders Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith split the game down the middle and combined to pitch the shutout, with Gustavsson making 18 saves and keeping the Devils from taking advantage of a quicker start.

It was just one preseason game, but Boston’s biggest area of concern going into the season is on defense- and the performances of Irwin and Miller might be bringing that picture into focus more.

And here are the player notes (not quite covering everyone):

Boston Bruins

Goaltenders

Jonas Gustavsson- The Monster did not let anything by him on his watch, though he did knock the puck into his own net after Adam Henrique gloved down a drive inside the crease. Referee Chris Rooney was on hand to waive the goal off, however. The veteran Swedish netminder did a good job of staying square to the shooter and tracking the puck during his 30 minutes of action last night. As is the case with him on occasion, he got overly aggressive and came out of his net, nearly getting caught for what would have been an open net goal during one sequence in the second period, but his defense bailed him out. This was the kind of performance Gustavsson was looking for as a player in camp on a PTO- he has NHL experience and the ability/mentality to be the right kind of backup for Tuukka Rask.

Jeremy Smith- Came in halfway through the second period and picked up where Gustavsson left off, doing a nice job of smothering rebounds and using his glove to good effect. People forget, but Smith was once a second-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2007, so he entered the pro ranks with some promise that he appears to be on the verge of putting together in terms of reaching the NHL. He came into the B’s organization a year ago with hopes of providing a veteran presence in the AHL while Malcolm Subban took on a bigger role for Providence, but “Smitty” played so well that he ended up with a lot more starts than originally planned. He could win the backup job coming out of camp in a few weeks, but he would still represent risk for Boston given his lack of NHL experience.

Defense

Matt Irwin- The former UMass rearguard from British Columbia could not have asked for a better first look in a Boston uniform. Though not a speedster, he moves well laterally and has some impressive offensive instincts. The first goal he scored happened in the second period when he slipped in from the point, took a perfect pass from Ryan Spooner, and put a shot past former Union goalie Keith Kinkaid. His second goal was a point blast after his D partner Miller put a pass right into his wheelhouse, and Irwin didn’t miss. He had eight shots on goal and could have had at least a hat trick if not 4 goals- that’s how involved he was in the play. Don Sweeney talked about how Irwin impressed the team with his power play work on the San Jose Sharks, so credit the pro scouts who recommended him- he did not look out of place. Granted- it’s just one preseason game, but Irwin looks like a player.

Colin Miller- When the B’s traded Milan Lucic to the Kings, Miller was the one piece coming back (not counting Martin Jones– Marty, we hardly knew ye!) that could pay immediate dividends and based on last night, we’ll be seeing Miller in Boston. The first thing that jumps out at you is his skating- he can really scoot, and is capable of pushing the pace when he has the puck. In the offensive zone, he shows a lot of poise and handles the puck with confidence, using his vision and offensive IQ to make the right passes and find open space. He and Irwin were highly effective on the power play all night, as the B’s not only tallied twice, but did a pretty good job of maintaining possession and generating scoring chances, even the ones that didn’t go in. Miller even made a highlight hip check that would have made old school and Hall of Fame B’s defenseman Leo “Billy Boy” Boivin proud.

Miller is still learning the defensive aspect of the game, but Miller brings something the B’s are in desperate need of- speed/mobility and puck skills from the blue line to go with a big, powerful shot. He no doubt impressed Claude Julien, Doug Houda and the Boston coaches last night. He’s a right shot, which makes him even more appealing when it comes to balancing the defense pairs and available talent. Miller delivered the goods last night as advertised with assists on both Irwin goals.

Zach Trotman- It was a solid night for Trotman, who showed off his NHL experience with an effective game in his own end, not allowing much to get by him and using his size/mobility combo to keep the Devils away from the front of his net. It was more of a case of what you see is what you get from Trotman, and while he was not impactful to the degree that Irwin and Miller were, he didn’t hurt himself last night. Being a right shot helps, and he’s been projected as Zdeno Chara’s opening night defense partner. We’ll see how that goes, but for now he’s still tracking.

Jakub Zboril- You can certainly see the skill and potential on display with Boston’s top draft choice in 2015, but he’ll go back to the QMJHL this season with plenty to work on. The first thing that catches your eye is the skating- he powers into top speed with an impressive first few steps and generates enough momentum that he can beat opponents with his glide in open ice before churning up more speed to gain the opposition blue line. He wants the puck and handles it with confidence. I thought there were a few times when he got to running around as a result of missed opportunities to make the simple play, but he’ll get there.

Brandon Carlo- I saw some people singling him out for a strong performance last night, and honestly didn’t really see it. It’s not to say he played poorly- he didn’t, but again- I guess I don’t get the urge to go out of the way to heap praise on a solid player with promise, but who isn’t in any position to win an NHL job this season. This is not a knock on him at all as Carlo’s size and mobility are very good- he has NHL tools and he played a pretty mistake-free game. An old saw says that if you don’t really notice a defenseman then it means he did his job pretty well. He’s got a real active stick, controls his gaps well and is not afraid to throw his body around. He’s looking like a very good value at 37th overall, but no need to rush him- the payoff will come in due time.

Tommy Cross- It was a gritty, energetic performance from the Connecticut native and former high second-round pick of the Bruins in 2007. The Boston College captain has one of the best characters and personalities of anyone, but he hasn’t lived up to his draft position. Even if he makes the NHL (which is a tall order at this stage of his development), it’s hard to envision him doing it as more than a bottom pairing guy , and with the surplus of similar type defenders ahead of him in the pecking order, it’s hard to see it happening for him in Boston. That said, he made good reads, was involved all night and even got into several scraps, including one fight at the end with Seth Helgeson. If his goal was to send a message to the B’s brass that he’s still here and willing to work for it, he certainly succeeded.

Forwards

Ryan Spooner- It was a good game for the projected third-line pivot to begin the season. His primary assist on the winning goal was vintage Spooner- he took the puck over at the right half-wall and used his puck skill and shifty elusiveness to create space for himself while his teammates helped collapse the Devils PK in front of the net. Then, spotting Irwin leaking in from the blue line, got the puck cleanly to him through traffic so he could make a play on it and put the B’s in front. That’s what Boston most needs from Spooner, and he had his speed game going all night, working well with Jimmy Hayes. He solidified his case as a roster regular last night with his overall play, especially with the man advantage.

Alex Khokhlachev- He raised some eyebrows this weekend with his comments about wanting more of a chance to play in Boston. While his sentiments understandable, he didn’t exactly help his case last night. While his supporters and the folks whose answer to any attempt at meaningful debate when it comes to Koko these days seems to be “SKILL!” are no doubt pointing to the flashes of ability he showed last night. I thought that he looked mighty good at not accomplishing a whole heck of a lot against New Jersey, however. Koko is a very good offensive talent…but he’s not as elite as some make him out to be in my mind at least, and he’s got room for improvement…at the tender age of 22. If he (or his agent) is trying to force Boston’s hands for a better situation where he doesn’t have as many impediments to playing center and getting to the NHL is therefore easier, you can get where he’s coming from, but it isn’t like the B’s have buried him. He should be willing to stick it out and continue to work. An injury here or there and he’ll get his chance. But if you’re pointing to last night as proof positive that he’s earned that chance right now, don’t really see it. He’s shown his offensive skill in flashes, but this is a results-oriented business and he didn’t get them last night.

Jimmy Hayes- It was a nice first game for Hayes who went up and down the wing as advertised and helped on Irwin’s second goal by setting up in front of Scott Wedgewood as the point shot came in. He’s not a snarly, physical presence, but Hayes uses his big frame effectively. Spooner nearly hit him with a nifty behind the back pass on a third-period rush that if, on target, likely would have found the back of the net. The Dorchester native certainly looked the part of a Boston Bruin last night.

Brett Connolly- If Hayes played well on Spooner’s left wing, then Connolly did not have a very good showing over on the right. He did not show much in the way of the skating and speed that he’s known to possess and seemed to have a hard time handling the puck cleanly or getting to open spaces. Let’s face it- when you’re the sixth overall pick, and a team gave up two second-round picks for you, a lot more is expected. We can chalk it up to rust and it being the first action of the new season, but Connolly did not send any kind of message that he’s ready to supplant David Pastrnak or Loui Eriksson on the top-two lines. Where’s the beef?

Jake DeBrusk- Boston’s first forward choice showed some good things last night, but he’s clearly not ready for prime time and will go back to Swift Current soon. On the plus side, he’s active in the offensive end and instinctively reacts as the play develops by getting to the right spots on the ice to make something happen. He also played with some jam, as on one third period play, he fired a shot that Wedgewood made a good save on, then went right to Devils defender Eric Gelinas behind the net and got in his face after Gelinas gave him a little tap, with the two engaging in a quick scrum/wrestling match that the refs broke up before it escalated. I liked the feistiness from DeBrusk, because that’s not really his game. He’s a polarizing player because like Connolly, much is expected of him offensively, so he’ll have to translate the flashes of talent into production here soon.

Joonas Kemppainen- At 27, he had the look and feel of a mature, poised pro forward last night. He didn’t make any real eye-opening plays, but did the little things well like protecting the puck, going to the net and supporting his defense when the play went the other way. He’s not going to wow you, but the B’s could do much worse than entrusting a fourth-line spot to him. We’re still getting the book on him, but Kemppainen has the tools at least to compete- we’ll see where the rest of the exhibition season takes him.

Brandon DeFazio- I thought the free agent depth pickup played a real solid game- he was noticeable and played with energy and jam, showing a willingness to do the dirty work and stick up for teammates. Clearly acquired to be one of Providence’s veteran leaders this year, the former Clarkson Golden Knight who got two NHL games in last year with the Vancouver Canucks did not look out of place as a gritty grinder. He looked like he wanted to kill Tuomo Ruutu near the end of the game, which was good- Ruutu took out Seth Griffith with a knee-on-knee hit in the second period and Boston’s prospect did not return, a fact that was not lost on the Bruins. The refs kept DeFazio from engaging Ruutu, but he showed the willingness to battle- I liked what I saw.

Seth Griffith- Tough night for him, as he began the game playing with Koko and the two did combine to generate a couple of nice scoring chances early. Unfortunately, while on the power play in the second period, he took a knee-on-knee hit from Ruutu and that was the end of his night- hopefully, he did not suffer a serious injury on the play, but we’ll soon find out.

Max Talbot- The veteran did his thing, though it is pretty clear that he’ll make his bones on the bottom line and the team won’t get much in the way of offense from him. On the wrong side of 30, he’s lost a step, which means he has to work that much harder to generate scoring opportunities, but he’s still a feisty, savvy defensive player who understands his role and will be a good example for the younger players around him.

Zac Rinaldo- Well, what can you say about the most polarizing of all the new additions in the offseason? He had one memorable play when he took a Ben Sexton pass and blew by Devils defender Reece Scarlett before cranking a shot off the post. Had it gone in, it would have been a highlight reel goal, but even so, it demonstrated that even if Rinaldo lacks the pure skill and hockey sense to be a productive player, he can still put opponents on their heels. When on his game, he plays with energy, hustle and forces opponents to play with their heads on a swivel. That’s a good thing…so long as he does not cross the line. He drew several penalties which is what the Bruins were looking for. When he’s putting his club shorthanded with stupid, undisciplined plays, however- that’s when he’ll get in trouble.

Devils notes

It was the second loss to the Bruins in a week for New Jersey, who appears to be in for another tough season under new head coach John Hynes. Like Boston, they don’t have a great deal of high-end talent, so they have to out-work their opponents and depend on great goaltending from Cory Schneider to steal games for them. I thought both of Kinkaid and Wedgewood played well tonight- they made some stops that kept the score close and their team in the game.

Pavel Zacha was the sixth overall pick in last June’s draft and showed flashes of why that was the case even if he’s still pretty raw yet and didn’t have anything to show for it. He’s got size and skating but used his vision and anticipation nicely on a few plays where he got in behind the defense. With a little more patience, he might have been able to turn those flashes into goals. The Devils sure look like they got a player with him, and while there are sure to be ups and downs, he’s going to make that pick pay off for them.

I was also impressed with forward John Quenneville last night. The Brandon Wheat Kings star had some jump in his play and demonstrated a nice blend of creativity and skill. He was on Boston’s list in 2014, and had Pastrnak not been there, they might have gone with Quenneville at 25. He went to them with the final pick of the first round, 30th overall.

Damon Severson will build on a solid rookie year that saw him get off to a hot start offensively before injuries took a toll. He is mobile, smart and involved in the offensive flow. He was a real power play threat with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and will continue to see time with the man advantage in the NHL.

Scouting Dispatches: Twitter mailbag #4

Frank Vatrano, UMass Minutemen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Frank Vatrano, UMass Minutemen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Boston Bruins training camp is in full swing after the rookies had their day in Buffalo over the weekend, going 1-0-1 in 2 exhibition games against the Devils and Sabres. Frank Vatrano certainly turned heads with his performance, but now, all eyes are on the B’s veterans who are back and looking to build on last year’s disappointing non-playoff finish.

With that in mind, let’s get to your questions. As always- thanks for sending them along. I try to answer one per person, so if I didn’t get one because you sent multiple entries, try again next time.

If you had to pick one dark horse that’d surprise all and force his way onto roster (now or later in year), who would it be?– Jason Silva @JasonSilva67

Honestly, I’m not sure there are many “dark horses” who are in line for a big opportunity this year unless the bottom falls out of things injury-wise.

We’re getting a closer look at the three first-round picks from 2015 and they all look like they need to go back to junior.

Based purely on the rookie camp, my dark horse is Frank Vatrano– the former UMass standout scored three goals in two games including the OT-winner against the New Jersey rookies when he helped to force a turnover deep in the Devils’ end, then cut right to the net where linemate Austin Czarnik found him with a shot he tipped home. If the B’s suffered an unusual rash of injuries or just wanted a shakeup up front for game or two, Vantrano would be an interesting player up front because of his hands and energy. I cannot say enough how impressive he’s been over the last couple of seasons after playing just one NCAA game in 2013-14.

Realistically speaking, though- we’re probably not going to get a David Pastrnak-like breakthrough this year. Free agent Joonas Kemppainen was signed last spring on the heels of his Finnish league championship run. He’ll turn 28 this year and so I wouldn’t really call him a surprise- the B’s brought him on board I believe with every intention of getting him some time with the big club as a natural center who plays a strong three-zone game. If he makes the roster out of camp, it will be more by design than overachieving on his part.

David Pastrnak, Emil Johansson and Zane McIntyre take a break during 2014 Bruins development camp (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak, Emil Johansson and Zane McIntyre take a break during 2014 Bruins development camp (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Where do Pasta, Hayes and Connolly play?- Matt Kalin @katomck1981

David Pastrnak is firmly entrenched on David Krejci’s right side for now, and I think the Bruins will try to capitalize on the potential those two have together, not just as fellow Czech Republic natives but because they both bring elite creativity and offensive vision to the mix and Pastrnak’s speed and tenacity is a perfect match for what Krejci brings when on top of his game. Matt Beleskey on that left side filling the spot vacated by Milan Lucic is a good call- he’s not as big as Lucic, but will bring the physicality to help address the loss of time and space ML17 used to bring.

I’ve seen that Jimmy Hayes (normally a RW) is over on the left side flanking Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly in early B’s camp sessions, and I think that is an intriguing trio for sure. I thought that perhaps the B’s would move Loui Eriksson over to the left side on third line to allow one of Connolly and Hayes to move up to the second line behind Pastrnak (if you slot the Krejci line at the top, that is). However, it looks like Claude Julien and Co. want to keep Eriksson with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and Eriksson (a left shot) playing on his off-wing.

What’s interesting to me about a Hayes-Spooner-Connolly third line is that this has the potential to be a model example of the new trend towards NHL clubs icing more of a top-9 attack, with three balanced and skilled scoring lines to aggressively attack opposing defenses as opposed to the older top-six/bottom-six design. Connolly was drafted 5 years ago to be a scoring wing, while Hayes is coming off a career-best 19 goals for Florida. Spooner was taken in the same draft as Connolly, and believe me- it wasn’t to be a grinder. If the B’s can figure out how to get enough ice for all three forward units, that third line could give other teams fits, allowing a clamp-down line of Chris Kelly and Max Talbot (and Joonas Kemppainen?) to grind it out and spell the top-9 forwards.

Jared Knight – any NHL upside at all at this point ? Thanks- @pprohaska

If Knight makes the NHL, it will be as a bottom-six, grinding forward in all likelihood.

It’s been a tough road for him over the past three seasons, so the team did him a big favor by getting him out of there and providing a change of scenery. I thought he played with more confidence in the AHL when he went out West, and so I would not rule him out of eventually earning an NHL job. The issue with him is- will he ever justify his draft position as the 32nd overall selection? That might be a bridge too far, as he’s a rugged, hard-working winger but does not appear to have the natural scoring ability to be an NHL-caliber top two line guy.

The deal appeared to be one of those “my bust for your bust” things- where neither Knight nor Zack Phillips, who was quite the hot shot going into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, sneaking into the late first round, got off on the right foot and things seemed to compound for them. Phillips is more skilled than Knight is, but his lack of pure foot speed works against him. I expect Phillips to be a key cog in Providence’s machine this year, and who knows? If he’s productive enough, he might get a brief look at some point. Realistically, though, like Knight- Phillips is an unenviable position right now as a high draft pick who still needs to prove he can play at the AHL level before we even start talking about the NHL.

I’ve known Knight since the B’s drafted him and he’s a quality person with a great attitude. If anyone can reinvent himself to be that gritty lower-line forward who skates up and down the wing and chips in some modest offense while playing a strong 200-foot game, it is him. I wish him the best.

What do you think about (Joonas) Kemppainen and his potential fit on the team?– davrion @davrion

I think the signing made sense from a pragmatic standpoint- the B’s have an opening for a bottom-line center and the 27-year-old Finn has spent nearly a decade in the pro hockey circuit there, meaning that instead of taking an NHL-inexperienced skill player who is probably ill-suited to play the fourth-line center role as Alexander Khokhlachev is, they’re hedging their bets with an older, more mature player who is more refined and has the intelligence, size and pro hockey experience to come right in and not look too out of place.

I don’t know how effective Kemppainen will be…the B’s have had mixed results when they have brought over older European forwards in the past, but I don’t buy the Carl Soderberg comparisons I’ve seen cropping up on the internet, either. Soderberg was talented, and a lot more was expected of him offensively, but he ultimately played too passive a game and his personality was not a great fit in the room. Kemppainen is quiet and perhaps shy, but I’m told by people who know him that he’ll earn respect because he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him. Plus, having Tuukka Rask around will help him adjust to North America and the B’s dressing room culture.

I like the move- it’s a no-risk attempt to infuse a winner who possesses the size and two-way game (and perhaps some underrated offensive ability) on the checking unit without taking a square peg and forcing it into a round hole. This is not an indictment of Koko, but if people are honest with themselves, they know that expecting him to thrive on the fourth line when he’s a player who is at his best in scoring role (just don’t ask me who he’s going to beat out to provide that in Boston as of today) is a tall order. You don’t call an electrician if your toilet needs fixing…the same principle applies here, so Kemppainen seems like a much better fit at least to start the year. Whether he has the ability to keep the job, however…we’ll find out soon enough.

Could you see Ryan Spooner having a 2008-09 Krejci-esque year (70 points) in his third line role w/ good line mates & PP time?– ETD51 @ETD51

I try not to set expectations on players today based on what others did in the past.

Spooner is to be lauded for seizing the opportunity presented him at the end of last year to establish himself as one of the few bright spots on the 2014-15 Boston Bruins.

Having said that, even though the two players’ (David Krejci and Spooner) numbers are similar at the same age and experience level, unless something happens to move Spooner up to the top two lines for a big chunk of the 2015-16 season, that 70 points is going to happen for him on the third line.

He’s a talented player and if he gets 50 points on that third unit, it will be a big win. Scoring is so down around the league- Jamie Benn won the NHL’s points title last year with 87- so thinking that a third-line player on any team, let alone one that struggled mightily to generate consistent offense a year ago is going to hit 70 points in this current environment (unless there is a major swing of the pendulum that is) isn’t very realistic.

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Do you see Subban being traded or will he be the backup goalie all year?- Chris @FribbleLover

How about…neither?

I think the B’s would certainly entertain any offers they get for Malcolm Subban, but they aren’t just going to deal him for the sake of doing so.

I’m also not sure Subban wins the backup job in Boston this year after as yet not having established himself as an AHL starter.  I’m not a believer in young (and he’s not even 22 yet) goalies sitting and watching games as a backup during a critical development period in their careers, and I just don’t think the Bruins are going to put Subban in that situation when he could be starting and honing his technique/building confidence at the lower levels.

As for trading Subban, I’ve said this before- the value they would receive for him right now is not likely to justify the effort. Hold onto him and see how he performs in this important third season since he turned pro. If a team comes along and wants to give the B’s a good return for him, they’d be silly not to consider it, but while I’m sure more than a few teams would be happy to take him off of Boston’s hands for a song, that’s what I believe they want to give up. That doesn’t help Boston. Remember- the B’s once hoodwinked Toronto in getting Tuukka Rask even-Steven for Andrew Raycroft. How did that work out for the team that gave up an at-the-time unproven goalie talent for an established commodity?

Patience, young Grasshopper. Resist the urge to play fantasy hockey GM questing for shiny new toy returns and leave Subban where he is for now. The B’s used a top-30 pick on him for a reason.

I would like to know the upside/possibilities of Brandon Carlo?- Anthony Amico @anthonyamico

Carlo looks like the prototypical modern NHL defender: big at 6-foot-5, mobile, physical with a long reach and an ability to make a strong first pass.

I’m not sure that I buy into the over-the-moon excitement I’ve seen about him in some circles on the Internet, however.

Don’t misread that remark into believing I’m not high on the kid, but some fans have let the hype machine get out of control already, with some penciling him into the NHL lineup and I think we have to slow the roll on him. Given the other veteran and other pro defenders vying for spots, it would take a jaw-dropping camp and exhibition performance from the 18-year-old Colorado native to leapfrog some of the guys ahead of him on the depth chart. I fully expect he’ll be back in the WHL this year, but as a late ’96 birthdate, he’ll be eligible to play in Providence for the 2016-17 hockey season, at least.

As for Carlo’s upside, he has a big shot from the point, but I wonder about the vision and offensive creativity that is needed to emerge as a true-blue, top two-way threat at the NHL level. Instead, I see Carlo as more of a solid middle pair defenseman who can shut down opposition offenses because he moves well and uses his stick and physical strength to keep forwards to the outside. He’s also on the snarly side and will be his team’s captain this year at Tri-City, so there is a lot to like about the kid.

Just temper the expectations and don’t be in such a rush to see him in Boston- all in due time.

Brandon Carlo- "shiny new toy?" (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Brandon Carlo- “shiny new toy?” (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Seth Griffith faces logjam at RW

Last season, the Boston Bruins got some surprising production from 2012 draft choice Seth Griffith, a former prolific goal scorer in the OHL with the London Knights before turning pro for the 2013-14 hockey season.

Griffith, who was passed over in his initial year of NHL eligibility in 2011, overcomes a lack of size and dynamic skating ability with elite offensive hockey sense and a great set of hands. Fans will no doubt remember this beauty he scored last November against Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils.

The finish is vintage Griffith, but the highlight also shows the lack of open ice foot speed and the difficulty he had in gaining separation once he blocked the shot and chased the puck into the neutral zone. Granted, the now-retired Bryce Salvador took a good angle in recovery, but Griffith would have gone in alone on Schneider if he was a faster skater. Instead, and what makes the goal all the more remarkable, is that he fought off Salvador and Marek Zidlicky to put the shot between his legs and under Schneider’s left pad for one of the prettiest goals of last season.

Griffith has made a career of memorable goals, as he uses his keen offensive instincts, quick release and lacrosse background to pinball off of opponents and make scoring plays that other forwards aren’t capable of creating themselves. However, in the NHL, he won’t be faced with many opportunities like that one, where it all seemed to come together for him for a magical scoring chance. Ultimately, Griffith is going to have his hands full winning a job on one of Boston’s top-three scoring lines as we enter the 2015-16 NHL campaign.

Let’s take a closer look:

Your top spot is pretty well filled with David Pastrnak expected to build on a surprising and successful rookie season, one that saw him score 10 goals and 27 points in 46 games to finish out the second half of the year in Boston. Pastrnak will be given every opportunity to skate on that RW1 spot for Boston next season and if he stays healthy and all plays out the way the B’s expect, the 19-year-old will take another step forward in his development as the franchise’s next face up front.

Loui Eriksson and Brett Connolly are solid bets for second- and third-line duty in Boston.

Eriksson is coming off his best offensive season (22 goals) since 2011-12, when he tallied 26 goals and 71 points. He turned 30 in July, but he’s anything but past his prime. Eriksson has been a popular target of criticism in Boston since the trade that sent Tyler Seguin to Big D, and that’s understandable given that the 2010 second overall selection scored as many points (84) in his first full season with the Stars in 2014, as Eriksson has done in two seasons with Boston. Eriksson dealt with two concussions in 2013-14, but he re-emerged last season with some of his patented ability to make consistent plays on offense. It’s not enough for many Boston fans to accept that Seguin has tallied 74 goals and 159 points for Dallas since the trade- nearly a 2-to-1 advantage over Eriksson, but the veteran Swede often gets the short shrift in Boston for what he does well, which is a creative, opportunistic approach to scoring. His 22 goals was second only to Brad Marchand on the team last year (which is also an indictment of Boston’s popgun offense) and his 47 points trailed only Patrice Bergeron (ditto).

GM Don Sweeney is in a tough spot with Eriksson- the unrestricted free agent-to-be will likely fetch a decent trade return as the season progresses, but timing is everything- pull the trigger on a trade too soon and you’re sending the message that the year is over. Wait too long, and you could end up like Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres with Chris Stewart last winter. Eriksson reportedly has a 14-team trade list, so any transaction Sweeney makes short of just riding it out and likely parting ways with him next summer is already constrained with only limited destinations.

Connolly is the big wildcard for the Bruins entering the new year. I won’t go into as much detail, because I plan to dedicate a future and comprehensive blog post to him, but let’s just say that the B’s did not expend a pair of second-round draft choices on a player they expect to remain a third-line presence for them. The sixth overall selection in 2010 (just four spots behind Seguin for those keeping score at home) has yet to justify the faith Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning scouting staff had in him just five years ago, but the B’s signed him to a one-year “show me” deal valued at a little over $1 million.  If that pure skating and sniping ability that manifested itself (in albeit a more limited sample size given the time he missed with a hip injury) during his WHL days with the Prince George Cougars starts translating in the NHL, the B’s could have two exciting right wingers in Pastrnak and Connolly. It’s an intriguing possibility, but not something you can take to the bank.

To complicate matters (for Griffith), the B’s acquired the Boston-born-and-bred Jimmy Hayes on July 1, subsequently signing the 19-goal scorer with Florida a year ago to a three-year extension. They did not do that to stick the 6-foot-5 former Toronto second-rounder in 2008 on the fourth line, so it will be interesting to see what the team’s plans are for Hayes and in all likelihood- Eriksson. Something’s gotta give, and best guess is that the club will do some mixing and matching up front to start the season and see how the makeup looks before acting.

Also on the Boston depth chart’s right side power winger Brian Ferlin, who is more of a natural fit for fourth line duty given his size, skating and modest (projected at the NHL level) ability to chip in offense.

Someone, anyone, might earn some more playing time in Boston with a switch over to the left side, which enters the season with Matt Beleskey and Brad Marchand clearly entrenched on the top two lines, but only veterans Chris Kelly, Zac Rinaldo and Max Talbot as the other NHL-established players over there. Griffith has better offensive chops than both of them put together, but he’s nowhere near the defensive player and veteran dressing room presence. Based on Claude Julien’s body of work to date, unless injuries eat into Boston’s depth, does anyone realistically see Griffith beating those players out for a job out of camp?

That leads us back to the gist of the post. With six goals and 10 goals in 30 NHL games last year, the potential is clearly there given his scoring upside. Working against Griffith is the fact that he does not possess the ideal traits that Cam Neely and Sweeney have said they want to employ in Boston- to be a bigger, faster, harder to play against club. That’s what the guys ahead of Griffith on the current roster projections possess in terms of natural tools, so the 22-year-old has his work cut out for him this year.

Sweeney once told me during a break in the action at the annual Flood-Marr prep tourney at Noble & Greenough School a few years ago that he admired Griffith’s “dog on a bone” mentality when it comes to scoring. He was referring to the fact that although Boston’s fifth-round choice does not have the natural size/strength to win a lot of board battles, nor the pure explosion and separation gear to put defenses on their heels, he nonetheless brings a tenacity and inner fire to out-hustle opponents and find ways to get the puck in the net. In two pro seasons split between Providence of the AHL and Boston, Griffith has scored 32 goals in 108 minor league games. That’s something you don’t just give up on.

At the same time, Griffith is going to want a chance to play in the NHL sooner rather than later. That might just make him an attractive trade chip to include in a larger package at some point to help shore up Boston’s team where it is needed most: on defense.

We shall see.