Dominic Tiano: The Dollars and Sense of the Boston Bruins Offseason

Guest post by Dominic Tiano

The Boston Bruins season didn’t end as they or their fans had hoped it would when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Bruins in 5 games in the second round of the NHL Playoffs. Since then, we’ve heard President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney talk about “change”. We’ve heard Zdeno Chara speak about wanting to return for the 2020-2021 season. And of course, there are the few words spoken from both sides of the Torey Krug situation.

Depending on where you look (and it’s more about the rosters that different cap sites use) the Bruins have around $15.5 million in cap space to use this offseason. That’s around the 10th most in the league so, there is an opportunity for some movement there.

The Bruins were charged with a performance bonus overage of $1,928,445 in which they can take the cap hit entirely during the 2020-2021 season or split it over 2 seasons. For this conversation we have chosen the latter.

Below you will see our roster comprised of players under contract, restricted free agents and players that will require waivers to be sent to the AHL or other leagues. Some of you will certainly ask “where is Karson Kuhlman?” (much to the chagrin of my fellow Amigos, he is absent). Well Kuhlman does not require waivers, that is until he plays 11 more NHL games, so it is likely he will begin the season in Providence (or elsewhere depending on which leagues will be paying).

Our roster also doesn’t include Chara, Krug or Joakim Nordstrom, all unrestricted free agents. (We don’t believe Nordstrom will be offered a contract to return).

If both Chara and Krug return, it will almost certainly cost the Bruins over 50% of the cap space they have today. That will also mean that they would have to loan two bodies to other leagues to get down to the 23-man roster. That would leave the Bruins somewhere between $5 million and $8 million to sign RFA’s Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril, Matt Grzelcyk and Zach Senyshyn. That’s certainly do-able, but leaves little to no room to improve on the forward group.

If only Chara were to return, that may paint a rosier picture as they would have in the $14 million range to sign the RFA’s and fill that green square next to Charlie McAvoy as Chara’s days there should be over and to improve on the forward group.

It is imperative that the Bruins find a way to move out John Moore and his $2,750,00 cap hit as Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon have shown they are ready to play bigger roles on the backend. Not to mention that it may be time to see if Zboril can play, even in a bottom pairing role. In the end, the extra $2.75 million can only help in improving the squad overall.

Then there is Nick Ritchie and his $1,498,925 cap hit and what to do if he is not able to break the lineup next season or has not taken the necessary steps to do so. The obvious answer would be to loan him to another league and save $1,125,000 of his cap hit. (This is an increase from last season because of the increase to the minimum league salary to $750,000. (Minimum league salary plus $375,000 is the new cap relief). This would put the Ritchie cap hit at $373,925 while costing the team $2 million in real dollars – his salary for 2020-2021.

What might make more sense for the Bruins in terms of both real dollars and in cap hit is a buyout. But because the buyout window is not yet confirmed, the Bruins would have to make a premature decision on Ritchie.

Why might it make sense?

CapFriendly and its buyout calculator will explain. Because Ritchie is under 26 and only 1/3 of his remaining salary would have to be paid, the Bruins would only have to pay $666,667 in real money. Where it gets a little complicated is the cap hit, which would be spread out over two seasons. Next season, the Bruins would receive a credit of $167,742 and a cap hit of $333,333 in 2021-2022.

Effectively what this does is removes Ritchie’s cap hit for 2020-2021 and gives them a small credit to use towards the bonus overage incurred. In other words, $1,666,667 more cap flexibility next season for a cap hit of $333,333 in 2021-2022.

Then there is the situation surrounding Tuukka Rask. Others have called it a dilemma. There are conversations among fans and media about retirement. There are many that believe the Bruins should trade him.

Certainly, any team would welcome $7 million in cap space, but in this case the Bruins would have to find another goaltender capable of carrying the load as the number one goaltender, and what is that going to cost? And if you trade him, what are you bringing back in salary and how much are you going to spend on a replacement netminder? Until Rask and the Bruins come to a decision, this is just all moot right now.

We’ve seen how performance bonuses can affect the cap. Let’s turn our attention to Rask’s partner, Jaroslav Halak. The Bruins 1-B netminder is set to earn $1,750,000 in salary for next season with a $500,000 signing bonus for a cap hit of $2,250,000. Halak is scheduled to earn a performance bonus of $1,250,000 for playing in 10 games, a bonus he will surely attain barring a season ending injury early on. The Bruins should and probably will keep an eye on that as to not have a bonus overage for 2021-2022.

No one knows for sure whether Sweeney will turn to the free agent market or go the trade route, although he is talking to other teams. He could use both options and still infuse some youth from within, for instance, Trent Frederic centering the 4th line over Par Lindholm. Jack Studnicka also showed these playoffs that he’s about ready to make a push for a roster spot.

There is certainly room for maneuvering and this should prove to be Sweeney’s most active offseason since 2015.

TSP Podcast: Court Lalonde

 

We’re glad to present another original TSP podcast production with special guest Court Lalonde of Bruins Diehards. He does his own tremendous weekly podcast via BD, and he was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to join us.

Court and Kirk cover a lot of ground, from his father’s playing days in the NHL to Court’s own journey to Bruins fandom. He makes a case for Rick Middleton to the HHOF, then discusses the players he’s admired most over the years. The two close with projecting the B’s chances in the 2020 NHL Playoffs.

Enjoy the podcast- here’s the Soundcloud link below.

 

Bruins playoff roster quick hits: Forwards (Pt. 2)

Pastrnak

(Eyes on the prize: David Pastrnak is the present and future of the Boston Bruins franchise. Fans are truly fortunate to watch the electrifying trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak, and the healthy unit has something to prove.)

Back to close out the Boston Bruins 2020 NHL Playoff preview series with the back half of the B’s forwards listed alphabetically. We hope you have enjoyed the posts, and let us know if there is anything else you want to see. Stay tuned for some more thoughts and observations on the B’s roster from the Amigos- coming this weekend and early next week.

Sean Kuraly- Every year since the B’s broke their two-season playoff drought in 2017, the former Miami University captain has made postseason plays to earn him the “Clutch Kuraly” moniker, so 2020 should not be any different. Right now, he’s practicing on the third line at right wing, but he’s probably going to shift back down to the fourth line, where he has proven himself to be effective as a two-way forward with the size, speed and situational sense to make offensive plays at opportune moments. One of the assets acquired for Martin Jones in the summer of 2015, Kuraly is yet another example of the Bruins archetype of a mobile, versatile forward who elevates his game and production when pace of a contest picks up.

Kuraly

(Somehow, watching Sean Kuraly celebrate a big goal in the playoffs has become an annual spring tradition in Boston)

Karson Kuhlman- Another NCAA captain, Kuhlman won a championship as Frozen Four MVP for University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2018 and a year later, was nearly a part of an NHL championship. Like Kuraly, he’s clutch- his speed, pace/energy and intelligence all combine to make him a prime playoff performer, even if the Esko native doesn’t have a top-line skill set. The undrafted free agent is the quintessential Bruin, who interestingly enough, listed Boston as the one city in the USA he wanted to move to in an interview well before he signed with the B’s- it was meant to be. He emerged a year ago to earn a regular spot on the team’s playoff roster, and although it wasn’t all smooth sailing this past year, he provides options for Bruce Cassidy and the coaching staff as a sparkplug who can be an asset. Whether he’ll be able to break through the logjam up front with everyone currently healthy, rested and vying for a role on the established lines remains to be seen, but you know what you’ll get with Kuhlman.

Par Lindholm- Signed for depth and youthful NHL experience after splitting 2018-19 between Toronto and Winnipeg, Lindholm played 40 games for the B’s, posting a modest 3-3-6 stat line. He’s a capable player to round out the bottom of the roster and a solid plug-and-play option for the Boston coaches to use to exploit defensive matchups.

Brad_Marchand

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

Brad Marchand- Boston’s first 100-point scorer since Joe Thornton in 2003 had a chance to repeat the feat had he gone slightly more than a point-per-game over the final 11 before the pause, but will gladly exchange that lost opportunity for another shot at the Stanley Cup. We won’t sugarcoat it- he had some questionable plays against the Blues in the 2019 championship series, and that team’s supporters and everyone else rooting against the B’s had a field day with memes featuring a despondent Marchand as the visitors skated around the TD Garden ice with the Stanley Cup. 2020 is a new year and chance for Boston’s top left wing to get some redemption and erase the smug grins on the faces of his many detractors.

Although 32, Marchand can still fly and is the most skilled and creative forward on the Boston roster. With a pair of superstars on that line in Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, Marchand is lethal, and he’s lost none of the abrasiveness that has been his hallmark since the earliest days of minor hockey.

Of all the B’s forwards who can crack opposing defenses and goalies like an egg, Marchand is the one who could be the linchpin going forward. In seven games against the Blues, he scored just two goals and five points, while being held scoreless in three of those contests. He was capable of more, and we think we’ll see it this time around.

Joakim Nordstrom- The veteran defensive forward signed two years ago isn’t likely to get a contract extension, but he’s a solid plumber type who does his job without a lot of fanfare (or production). He’s a bottom-six guy, currently skating on the left side of the Phase III fourth line with Lindholm and Chris Wagner, but that lineup was missing Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase, so we’ll see Anders Bjork and Kuraly dropping down, which could impact Nordstrom’s role and ice time.

David_Pastrnak

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak- The B’s had a limited skate with the younger players on the roster Wednesday, but one veteran was with the black aces- a sight for sore eyes- No. 88, in his first practice action since the pause. One of those future Bruins taking notes on the leading scorer’s practice habits was Jack Studnicka.

“He’s (an unbelievable talent,” Studnicka said via remote call after the session. “Obviously his year kind of speaks for itself how he was able to contribute offensively on such a consistent basis.

“To see how he practices- he’s always moving full speed and finding ways to be creative and be better. It was definitely fun to share the ice with him.”

Pastrnak led the team in scoring with 95 points and became the first Bruins player to win the Henri “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the top goal scorer, an honor his 48 goals shared with future Hall of Famer Alexander Ovechkin. As an elite goal scorer, Pastrnak excels at finding space and quiet ice in the offensive zone and unleashes a shot with a hyper-quick release, deadly accuracy and a heaviness that belies his average size and frame.

In short, he’s a natural who has blossomed into one of the NHL’s true young super stars- and with his exuberance and genuine personality on and off the ice, Bruins fans are right to be salivating at the thought of what Pastrnak is going to do in the postseason.

Calgary Flames v Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – FEBRUARY 25: Nick Ritchie #21 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the first period of the game against the Calgary Flames at TD Garden on February 25, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Nick Ritchie- Like Kase, Ritchie was acquired at the trade deadline from the Anaheim Ducks, and the big power forward has much to prove after being selected 15 spots ahead of Pastrnak and 106 spots ahead of the player the B’s traded for him- Danton Heinen (Anders Bjork went 136 spots after Ritchie, for the record…okay, we’ll stop now).

Ritchie is another heavy, possession forward who, when he’s moving his feet, is tough to contain and is an asset in tightly-contested spaces typical of playoff games. He’s also got some nasty- when he gets fired up, he can hit and fight with the best of them. Like Kase, he’s going to benefit from a training camp to get himself adjusted better to his new team and coaching staff.  The younger Ritchie admittedly put himself in position to receive the questions and criticism with an inconsistent work ethic and intensity level, so we’ll see how it all plays out for him in Boston- with his tools, he could turn things around in a hurry. If he doesn’t, there are plenty of options the B’s have to put into the lineup.

He’s had a slow start to his NHL career relative to his high draft position, and his regular season numbers aren’t anything to write home about. But the reality is this- if Ritchie had delivered on the immense potential he had in junior off the bat, the Ducks never would have made him available for trade to Boston. There is no doubt the organization is taking on some risk here, but in moving a player they had multiple versions of in Heinen, they have added another potential horse with some real reward who is young enough to blossom  with a better pool of talent around him.

Zach Senyshyn- We’re tabling any reference to the 2015 draft here and will just say that while his chances of breaking through to establish a spot on this roster right now and play meaningful playoff action is remote, the former Soo Greyhound is getting closer to staking a legitimate claim. For now, he’ll join the other young black aces in Boston and benefit from the opportunity to be around the veterans and absorb the culture and atmosphere of NHL playoffs. The size and skating gives him a chance to play up or down in the lineup- it’s just a hardcore group ahead of him on the depth chart. Sometimes, we forget that he’s just 23- still time to see him bear some fruit, even if the clock is admittedly ticking.

Jack Studnicka- A year ago, the 2017 second-rounder was a black ace on Boston’s deep run, and he’s back for more as he appears to be on the verge of making the lineup as a full-time NHLer soon. The steal of a late second-round selection led the AHL in shorthanded goals and his own Providence club in scoring. He’s never put up eye-popping offensive numbers, but doesn’t have to because he’s a top three-zone forward in the mold of Bergeron. He’s Boston’s best prospect in our view, and the team will make room for him soon as he has done very well in his young pro career to date. There’s a lot to like with Studnicka, and the Bruins know that what they have is special- no need to rush to failure, but when the time comes, he’ll likely seamlessly slot right in and look like a seasoned veteran from the get-go.

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Chris Wagner- Another local and the 2019 Seventh Player Award winner for the B’s after signing as an unrestricted free agent the summer before is more of a depth piece on this deep forward group, but he’s a proven grinder and NHL commodity who brings a junkyard dog mentality on every shift. Wagner may not be as talented as other forwards on the roster, but the coaches trust him to go out and grind, create space for himself, and use his nonstop motor and manic, relentless style to generate timely offense. We’ll admit it- we’ve always had a lot of time for Wagner going back to his days with the South Shore Kings, and while the advanced stats might not always break in his favor, he brings that positive x-factor to the Boston lineup and gives the team every ounce of his talent. He’s a worthy successor to the storied “lunch pail gang” legacy that the Bruins hang their (hard) hats on.

 

Dominic Tiano: How the new NHL CBA affects the Bruins

Dominic Tiano is back with a helpful quick guide to the NHL’s recent extension of the CBA and how it impacts the Boston Bruins (specifically) and league writ large.- KL

The National Hockey League and the Players Association have agreed to a new six-year Collective Bargaining Agreement – a re-negotiation of the remaining 2 years plus 4 additional years. In the end, we have six years of labor peace moving forward.

First of all, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Head Donald Fehr deserve an endless amount of credit for this accomplishment. They’ve taken their time, and while not everyone is happy, they’ve gone about this in the right way – something we can’t say about other professional sports leagues. The NHL has experience in work stoppages – for other reasons – and the experience to come out of them. And when they do, they come out stronger than ever. And there is nothing to suggest it won’t happen again.

So, what changes affect the Boston Bruins in the immediate future? Here are some thoughts on what that’ll look like:

Minimum Salary

Beginning with the 2021-2022 season, the minimum salary rises from $700,000 to $750,000 and again in 2023-2024 to $775,000. With Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon’s new contracts taking effect next season, it’ll not affect them. The only player this will have an affect on is Kyle Keyser, who will get an automatic raise from his $733,000 in his final year.

35+ Contracts

They are a thing of the past. Under the old CBA, any player that signs a contract at the age of 35 has their cap hit remain if they choose to retire for any reason. This affects Zdeno Chara right away as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent. However, you can not sign a 35+ player to a two-year deal with a lower salary in the second year to lower the cap hit as it must be ascending in year two or beyond. It also comes into play with Jaroslav Halak who’s deal is a 35+ next season. David Krejci will fall under that in 2021 and Patrice Bergeron a year later.

NTC/NMC Trades

Under the old CBA a team acquiring a player with a no trade or no movement clause had the option to extend those clauses after acquiring a player. That is now gone and the clauses will automatically follow the player to his new team, regardless if he waived his clause for the trade.

Arbitration

There have been some tweaks to the arbitration process. Teams still have the walk-away rights they held under the old CBA. But under the new agreement, if a team exercises their walk-away rights, the player can choose to sign a one-year deal with the team at the offer the team submitted under arbitration. The player has 4 days to make his decision. Bruins eligible for salary arbitration this offseason are Anders Bjork, Matt Grzelcyk, Brett Ritchie, Karson Kuhlman, Brendan Gaunce and Wiley Sherman. After the 2020-2021 season, it comes into play for Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, Anton Blidh and Brandon Carlo.

Conditional Draft Picks

While teams will still be able to trade conditional draft picks based on where they finish, conditional draft picks will be a thing of the past when it comes to players re-signing. In other words, you can no longer trade a conditional draft pick for a player on the condition he re-signs.

Free Agent Interviews

Under the old CBA, teams were allowed to negotiate with pending unrestricted free agents five days prior to free agency on July 1st. Remember Matt Beleskey and David Backes? Maybe the NHL has done the Bruins a favor by eliminating that period? It will certainly make free agent frenzy more of a frenzy when there are no pre-negotiations and it’s a free for all at noon on July 1st. This year, free agency will begin 7 days after the cup is awarded.

10% Salary Deferred

Players agreed to defer 10% of their salaries and signing bonuses to the 2023 to 2026 seasons and most of the questions I receive are centered around how it affects the cap. The short and easy answer is it doesn’t. By deferring 10% a year, the contract total remains the same, and hence, the AAV or cap hit remain the same. The only thing that is affected is the player’s share of hockey related revenues. So, no, the teams do not get a 10% break on the cap.

Front Loaded Deals

Ever since the salary cap came into effect, the NHL has tried closing a loophole exploited by general managers, and that is front loading deals – paying more in the first part of the deal and adding years at the end of the deal at a lower salary to lower the cap hit. The NHL has taken steps to reduce that and in the new CBA take it a step further. Under the old CBA, salaries could not drop more then 50% from it’s highest year to it’s lowest year. That is now at 35%. The Bruins typically stay away from such deals however, Brad Marchand’s contract would not be allowed under the new CBA. Marchand’s highest salary was $8 million (in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019) and his lowest is $4 million in 2024-2025. That is allowable with the 50% drop, but under the new CBA, the lowest salary would rise to $5.2 million. No big deal right now as those contracts will be grandfathered, but you have David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Carlo, and Bergeron (among others) coming due under this CBA, so some creative bookkeeping lies ahead for Don Sweeney and Evan Gold. Not to mention it has thrown another wrinkle into possible negotiations with unrestricted defenceman Torey Krug.

One thing of interest here is that because of the uncertainty surrounding revenue and recovery because of the COVID-19 pandemic is that player agents and players may be looking towards backloading deals instead of front loading. With a cap on escrow now, it will greatly affect agents/players thinking here.

European Waivers

Under the previous agreement, players who had played in just one game in Europe would require waivers to sign and play in the NHL once the season starts. That has changed and now the player is exempt from waivers as long as a) he signs before December 15th and b) the team still owns his rights. The Bruins have several players that fall into this including Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Alexander Khokhlachev and more.

I must confess, I am not a lawyer but I have studied the CBA extensively over the years. The new legal document is not yet complete and may take months before all the legal language is completed and the actual CBA becomes available. All information comes from the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the NHL and NHLPA and is my interpretation.

Red Line Report 2014 flashback: Nick Ritchie

Six years after being a top-10 pick by the Anaheim Ducks, the Boston Bruins acquired Nick Ritchie at the trade deadline.

With hockey on hold, we thought it was a good time to go back and look at what independent scouting service Red Line Report had to say about Ritchie in his draft season (2013-14). Every month/issue of Red Line features an in-depth profile scouting report/hybrid background article, and this appeared in the Mar. 2014 issue. It includes grades on his hockey attributes and interviews with him and his Peterborough Petes head coach, Jody Hull.

Ritchie Profile RLR

Some highlights:

Big, bruising and intimidating winger…

The premier power forward in this draft and one of the toughest fighters in the OHL…

“I think he’s going to be a prototypical power forward along the lines of a Milan Lucic. Ritchie does a lot of things people may not know about. I don’t think it’s well known just how tough he is, and when you add his skill and offensive ability, he’s someone who can do it all.”- Hull

The profile also touches on Ritchie’s areas of improvement such as consistency and conditioning. These are the things that have dogged him in his pro career to date, and why the B’s were able to pry him out of Anaheim (albeit for a very good young player in Danton Heinen). Bottom line- if Ritchie was a Lucic (the Bruins version), there’s no way the Ducks would’ve traded him.

For more on the Red Line Report, the website is www.redlinereport.com and the service will publish its annual NHL Draft Guide in June, even with the postponement of the draft and uncertainty surrounding it.

As an interesting aside, the Ducks drafted Ritchie 10th overall in 2014, the B’s got Heinen 116th, so that’s an interesting spread between two completely different players and pedigrees.

It’s tough to see a versatile, consistent Swiss Army Knife-type player like Heinen go, but Ritchie fits the Bruins mold and he was showing off some of the better parts of his game/package when everything came to a screeching halt.

We’ll see what the future holds for Ritchie, but he makes sense as a reclamation project-type who is signed beyond this season, is young enough to get his NHL career going into a higher gear and represents the kind of physical attributes the Bruins organization places a premium on. He’ll need to prove that he can put in the work and avoid the conditioning pitfalls that this extended work stoppage poses for him.

But overall- again- if Ritchie had been exactly the player envisioned to be worth a top pick, he would’ve been untouchable in Anaheim. That was not the case, so the Bruins now get a chance to see if they can make him into a more impactful NHLer than he’s shown thus far.

And of course, he can do this:

 

Ask the Amigos: Quarantine Podcast 2020

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Dom, Reed and Kirk got together for a 3 Amigos reunion, making sure to practice social distancing in the process.

We’ve got more than 2 hours of (mostly) hockey talk, breaking down questions that readers submitted. A lot of it centers around uncertainty around David Krejci and Torey Krug going forward, Jack Studnicka’s promising early returns, and a look at how expansion might impact the NHL and Boston Bruins in 2021.

We recorded the audio before news of the Jack Ahcan signing broke, so we don’t have anything on the newest free agent signing for the B’s, but you can check out the quick-hitter we posted on him here yesterday on the blog.

So, let’s go- here’s the audio file. We’ve also posted it over at SoundCloud so that you can listen on the go…

SoundCloud download:

NHL 2015 rookie camps/player watch list- Western Conference

Back with part 2 of the rookie camp player watch list, going out West. As mentioned before- these are players I’m familiar with- either through scouting them or interviewing them in their respective draft years. I don’t claim to have a monopoly of knowledge, but share these observations a time when they are getting a chance to compete with and among their peers- before the veterans show up and camps formally begin next week.

Anaheim Ducks

Brandon Montour, D- Former UMass defender left after just one season but has live wheels and impressive puck moving ability. He was drafted in 2014 as a third-year draft eligible out of Waterloo of the USHL and may have been that league’s best d-man in 2013-14. He’s 21 and ready to handle the physical demands and rigors of pro hockey after just one season in the Hockey East.

Nick Ritchie, F- Massive power forward has bigger upside than his older brother Brett after being drafted out of the Peterborough Petes of the OHL in 2014. Tremendous core strength means he generates power few can match when he decides to drive the net and works up the speed to take the puck straight in. Gets some real torque on his shot and hides his release point well. Effort level and intensity comes and goes- if the light ever comes on for him he could be a force. People said the same things about Ryan Getzlaf back in 2003, after all.

Arizona Coyotes

Nick Merkley, F- What a gamer! Although undersized and lacking a top gear, he’s an elite passer and finds ways to generate offense as evidenced by his great WHL playoff and Memorial Cup run last spring. He was a steal for the Desert Dogs with the final pick of the opening round, a player who was projected to go anywhere from the around the top-15-20 picks but slid down to 30. To get Dylan Strome and Merkley in the same round and with Max Domi ready to take his game to the big show, Arizona is building some serious firepower up front.

Calgary Flames

Rasmus Andersson, D- Talented Swede was Calgary’s top selection (after trading three picks to Boston for Dougie Hamilton) in the second round, just after the B’s opted for Jeremy Lauzon, and he’s an interesting prospect. A superb power play presence and puck mover, he uses his vision and soft hands to distribute with the added time and space. His skating- especially the transitions and lateral movement- is an area that needs improvement, but he was a productive player in his first OHL season.

Jon Gillies, G- A Scouting Post favorite, he went out on top at Providence College, playing a huge role in his school’s first ever NCAA title last April and will likely spend the year with the Stockton Heat of the AHL. With his huge frame, he doesn’t allow much daylight in the net and he’s a competitive battler. Scouts have knocked him for not being an elite athlete, but when you look at his numbers- they don’t lie.

Chicago Blackhawks

Graham Knott, F- Excellent physical tools are brought into question when it comes to the hockey sense and overall competitiveness. If he develops a little more “want to”, Knott certainly has the talent to be an NHL regular and Chicago will have done it again by landing a quality forward without a top-round selection, but several NHL scouts questioned his ability to process and decisions at times when he was with Niagara of the OHL this past season.

Colorado Avalanche

Conner Bleackley, F- I liked the Red Deer Rebels captain as an option for the B’s in the 2014 draft’s first round, but Colorado grabbed him earlier (not that it would have mattered, as David Pastrnak was Boston’s guy all along). Scuttlebutt with scouts I spoke to at the 2015 NHL draft is that Bleackley was not ready to go for his first pro camp and his play suffered last season. This is a key opportunity for him to put a better foot forward and justify the team’s faith in him- he’s a leader so don’t count him out on that score.

Dallas Stars

Jason Dickinson, F- The player chosen by Dallas with the pick Jim Nill got from Boston in the 2013 trade deadline deal for Jaromir Jagr, Dickinson hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers in the OHL, but has been pretty consistent as a scorer over the past year. Knocks on him entering his NHL draft was a lack of intensity and a tendency to go long stretches at Guelph without doing much and then scoring in bunches. Felt he was a reach at the end of the 1st round, but there’s no doubt he has the skating and tools to justify that pick going forward.

Cole Ully, F- Undersized and underweight at 18, Ully has always had the speed and “want to” coming out of the rugged WHL with the Kamloops Blazers. He’s the anti-Dickinson if you will- a kid who has the skating and shot if not the more ideal pro size but has a non-stop motor and a knack for finding the net in key situations. He’s gotten stronger and added more mass to his light frame, but he’s always going to be challenged in the rougher areas of the ice, where his compete and grit will give him a chance to win puck battles. Speaking of battles, he’s not afraid to drop the gloves to defend teammates- he’s willing to earn respect the hard way.

Edmonton Oilers

Leon Draisaitl, F- In hindsight, Draisaitl wasn’t ready for prime time when he began the 2014-15 NHL season in Edmonton, but the experience has made him a much better player and he was in beast mode during the WHL playoffs with Kelowna. He’s the sturm to McDavid’s drang, and these two are going to give the Oilers a wicked 1-2 punch up the middle for years to come, giving the rest of the league much turmoil and emotional heartache to face as they mature into stars.

Connor McDavid, F- What more can you say about McDavid that has not been mentioned already? I’ll just share an observation of him from Sunrise on draft weekend. The day after going 1st overall, he was back in the building doing some kind of promotional events, and I happened to be walking into the BB&T Center with him. He eschewed the attention and almost seemed embarrassed by it. A few minutes later- he was quietly by himself taking a breather from what he knows will be the bright lights and attention that will follow him for the duration of a long NHL career. I thought that touch of humility- not coming off like he is bigger than the game or his team- was a good sign that the NHL’s next big thing deserves the spotlight, even if he doesn’t really want it.

Los Angeles Kings

Valentin Zykov, F- The rich get a little richer with this plum of a forward that Red Line projected in the first round in 2013 (26th), but slid down to the Kings at the 37th selection. He’s got a thick, pro-style build and can really skate and shoot the puck. He’s expected to be a big-time contributor to the AHL’s Ontario Reign. He missed the WJC last year due to injury, but is on a mission to prove himself and don’t be surprised if he sees some NHL action at some point this season- legitimate top-six scoring potential as a left wing in my view after splitting the year between Baie-Comeau and Gatineau of the QMJHL.

Minnesota Wild

Mike Reilly, D- The former Columbus prospect out of Shattuck St. Mary’s in 2011 declined to sign with the Blue Jackets and inked a deal with his home team Wild, where he makes his pro debut this season and might do enough to earn an NHL job coming out of camp. Although not blessed with a lot of size, he’s a premier puck mover with his mobility and vision as his 36 helpers in 39 games with the Golden Gophers attest.

Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr had this to say about Reilly in the always excellent Russo’s Rants blog by Minneapolis Star Tribue Wild beat writer Mike Russo:

He’s highly competitive,” Flahr said of Reilly. “His bread and butter is going to be his offense, but he needs to learn to take care of his own end, and I thought he did that, especially later in the game. Early I thought he was pressing a bit trying to do too much, which is totally normal in these things.”

Flahr said when Reilly began to settle down his play influenced the game.

“He made a lot of things happen for the back-end, and generated a lot of chances because of his mobility, and ability to get up ice and make plays,” Flahr said.

 

Nashville Predators

Juuse Saros, G- Little goalie that could is a rarity in this day and age- a sub-6-footer between the pipes vying for NHL time among the freakishly athletic redwoods that are in vogue. Gritty little competitor just stops the puck and has some Tim Thomas (on the ice) compete in his game. He gets his pads down fast and brings a never-say-die mentality to every scoring chance. I was a big fan in his draft year and believe he’ll reach the NHL despite the lack of size. I love this guy and if they don’t already, Preds fans will too.

 

St. Louis Blues 

Robby Fabbri, F- Boy, the Blues got themselves some terrific value with Fabbri a year ago at 21, when scouting lists like Red Line had him ranked in the top-10. He was part of Canada’s WJC gold medal-winning team, but missed the medal games due to a high ankle sprain after making an impact during the round robin portion. He’s a tremendous competitor who doesn’t seem bothered by his diminutive size, although some point to the injuries he’s had as indicators of what lies ahead as he moves into the more rugged pro ranks. Me? I love heart-and-soul guys who go out and get it done- he’s one of those types and more.

Tommy Vannelli, D- 20-year-old Minnesotan who left his home state to play in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers is a truly gorgeous skater who can rev it up in his own end and push the offensive pace whenever he leads the rush. He’s always been rangy and aggressive- grabbing the puck and going with it- scoring a respectable 35 points in 44 games, a chunk lost to injury. He’s a talented player who only appears to be scratching the surface of his potential but will be given time to continue to grow and develop and won’t be rushed.

San Jose Sharks

Pat McNally, D- Former Vancouver pick in 2010 was a defense partner for fellow New Yorkers and Boston prospect Rob O’Gara at Milton Academy in 2010-11, and his riverboat gambler ways are what drew me to O’Gara in the first place- as he often found himself covering for McNally. When moving forward McNally has always been a threat, charging up the ice and in prep- he used his wheels and feared shot to score a lot of goals. His all-around game, however, has been more of a work in progress and he remains a project with some upside. We’ll see if the Sharks can harness his potential going forward, as this swashbuckler won’t get away with doing some of the things he did at lower levels now that he’s a pro.

Timo Meier, F- Boston was reportedly about to draft its first Swiss player in team history with Meier, whose heavy style and scoring chops would have been a fine fit. The Sharks beat them to the punch, grabbing the QMJHL standout inside the top-10 and Meier will probably become a reliable and dependable scorer for them in time.

Vancouver Canucks

Jake Virtanen, F- When Jim Benning left Boston to take the reins as Vancouver GM a year ago, it wasn’t a big surprise that he used his first draft choice on the big and skilled forward who has a natural knack for scoring goals. He took a step back in 2015 with Calgary of the WHL after being the sixth overall selection- only tallying 21 goals and barely registering a point-per-game. With more expected, watch for the 19-year-old to rebound this year with his speed and shot.

Winnipeg Jets

Nikolaj Ehlers, F- Wow, what a player! This top-10 selection in 2014 is an absolute stud who is going to make the rising Jets even faster and more dangerous offensively than they already are, which is saying a hell of a lot. You don’t want to overuse the word “special” to describe too many prospects but that’s what this Great Dane is. Turn him loose and as Mr. T used to say- pity the poor fool who lets Ehlers get a step on him…goodbye!

Nic Petan, F- The “Rainmaker” was a steal in the 2013’s second round and was such a consistent scorer for the Portland Winterhawks, registering 300 regular season points in the last three WHL seasons with playoff years of 28, 28, and 28 points in just 59 total games. Although smallish, he’s explosive and such a deft stickhandler and creative presence that he’s always a threat on each and every shift. The guy just knows how to find the back of the net, as evidenced by his 2015 WJC performance for Team Canada. Be afraid, goalies- be very afraid…

Eric Comrie, G- This stud goalie prospect fell a bit in 2013 because he suffered a serious injury, but he put together a great follow-on campaign with the Tri-City Americans in 2013-14, then looked pretty strong in a handful of AHL games when his junior season ended last spring. With his fluid athleticism and near-flawless technique, he’ll be pushing for quality NHL starts before too long.