3 Amigos Podcast Ep. 11: Bruins NHL Draft recap with 2nd-rounder Jack Studnicka & Free Agency preview

3-amigos-gif

The 3 Amigos are back with our post- 2017 NHL Entry Draft wrap-up show featuring Boston’s 2nd-round selection (53rd overall) Jack Studnicka, center for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.

IMG_1906

Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Dominic Tiano worked with the Gennies to have Jack join us, and he talks about myriad topics, including his final U16 season (before being a 1st-round OHL draft pick) with Belle Tire under coach Kyle Krug, father of B’s D Torey.

Reed Duthie, Dom and myself not only interview Jack, but also break down all of Boston’s picks and discuss possible free agent targets as the annual open market derby begins Saturday, July 1.

We didn’t talk Noel Acciari’s 2-year contract extension announced yesterday, but Acciari has been a solid undrafted free agent addition, and he even showed an ability to generate some important offense down the stretch last season.

Here’s the audio- it clocks in at a little over 90 minutes. We know the audio isn’t the greatest but again- this is three guys doing this because we enjoy it- not because we’re the highest-tech operation. We appreciate your time and support in listening- we know there are plenty of other podcast options out there.

 

 

Dominic Tiano: What’s Next for Bruins (Pt. 10) Key offseason dates to watch

(Editor’s note- Dominic Tiano gets full credit for writing this in-depth piece on key dates linked to the 2017 NHL offseason. It’s a reminder of how plugged in he is to the business and operations side of hockey. If you ever have a question about the CBA or free agency rules or pretty much anything that deals with the nuts and bolts of the NHL’s infrastructure, then he’s the guy to follow and engage with on Twitter. @dominictiano  – KL)

Of course, some of you may think it’s early, but decision time is fast approaching. In less than two weeks, Don Sweeney, Scott Bradley and company will be busy at the week-long NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo N.Y. where they make key decisions on the future of your Boston Bruins. Plenty of time will be spent watching players do some off-ice testing and they will also be conducting plenty of player interviews. It’s when a scout sees his year long work (sometimes longer) come to the forefront.

It’s also less than two weeks away that NHL teams will have to make decisions on prior year’s draft picks if they have not already signed an NHL contract. You will see the term bona fide offer used a lot, so let me explain a bona fide offer if I may.

Continue reading

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

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

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

This is what we’ll focus on today.

Continue reading

Reed Duthie: Bruins are out…What’s next? (Part 2)

Editor’s note- Reed Duthie debuts at the Scouting Post with his thoughts on what could be on the horizon for the Boston Bruins personnel-wise. Reed is not only one of the 3 Amigos, but he is the accomplished play-by-play announcer for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. With the hockey season over, we hope to see more of Reed’s contributions here in the offseason as a longtime follower of the Bruins and astute analyst.

You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run. If this season was any indication, the Boston Bruins as a group are certainly finding their way, maybe not running just yet but certainly getting up to a brisk jog.

Although the end of season / early playoff injuries put the Bruins a hole they couldn’t recover from we learned a lot about this team in terms of heart and soul. The additions of traditional blue collar players like Noel Acciari & Sean Kuraly gave the Bruins an energy boost, while Charlie McAvoy made Bruins fans begin to dream in optimistic terms once again.

But after a hard fought loss where do the Bruins go from here?

Continue reading

Time to go- Bruins raise curtains on 93rd season with new faces, youth movement

New Englanders tend to be realistic (pessimistic?) by nature, so while the focus has been on the defense and the potential for gaping lanes that skill teams will find available to them, as the 2016-17 NHL season begins for the Boston Bruins tonight in Columbus, Ohio, there’s some excitement swirling around the big league debuts of four players in the lineup.

Injuries to Patrice Bergeron, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller have opened the door for a pair of forwards in Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen, and a defense duo of Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara to get their first taste of NHL action against the Blue Jackets. Bergeron is expected back in the lineup for the weekend action versus Toronto and rookie sensation Auston Matthews, who last night became the only player ever to score four goals in his first NHL game. McQuaid and Miller will be out a little (in the former’s case, a lot for the latter) longer, so we temper the eagerness with which we greet the young rookies with the belief that perhaps half of them have a realistic chance of staying on Boston’s roster for the duration of the season.

In Czarnik, the B’s have a fast and skilled little (emphasis needed) center who was snubbed in the NHL draft, but looks like a pretty savvy pickup after four years at Miami University, the last two of which he wore the captain’s ‘C’. He took a high hit from behind that targeted the head in the final preseason game by Philadelphia defenseman Radko Gudas (he got a six-game layoff from the NHL’s department of player safety) but cleared the concussion protocol in time to play in his first big league game. Czarnik is a classic little engine that could as a player who always had to overcome size bias to work harder than just about everyone else to hone his skills and three zone game. After a 61-point first year in the AHL, he’s made the initial cut to stick in Boston, and that’s the stuff NHL dreams are truly made of. Czarnik is an exciting buzzsaw of a forward- he zips in and out of lanes and can put the shake n’ bake on less-agile defenders. When the puck is on his stick, he brings a similar kind of playing style to that of Brad Marchand. Note- we’re not saying he is the next Marchand, but you can see it in the way he uses his speed, vision and hands to create and give opponents fits. He’s not the abrasive agitator Marchand is, but Czarnik is a big man trapped in a little man’s body who plays the game with heart and energy. Fans love an underdog, and when coupled with Czarnik’s electrifying offensive element, it’s not hard to understand why so many are jumping on the AC Train.

More was expected of Heinen and he entered training camp as a prohibitive favorite to win a spot with the big club, but he is also a feel-good story. Passed over in his first year of NHL draft eligibility in 2013, the British Columbia native hit a significant growth spurt and then opened eyes as captain of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles. The Bruins liked Heinen enough to snatch him in the 2014 draft’s fourth round despite his being an almost complete unknown in NHL draft pubs. The rumor at the time was that several other teams were hoping to steal Heinen later on, not the least of which was none other than the Montreal Canadiens. That story isn’t verified, but damn- it feels good to B’s fans to hear it. Heinen is a thinking fan’s hockey player- he’s not especially fast or dazzling in the way he handles the puck, but he goes to the right spots, moves it to the correct spaces and plays a quietly effective and productive three-zone game. He’s the quintessential Claude Julien-style forward because he’s both intelligent and efficient. If you’re expecting to be entertained by Heinen, you’ll probably wonder what the hype is about, but if you watch the wall work, the way he slices through layers of defenses and puts himself in position to make plays at both ends of the ice, you’ll gain an appreciation for him.

On the defensive side of things, Carlo is a favorite of those B’s fans who religiously follow the NHL draft and Boston’s prospect development system. Picked 37th overall in 2015, he looks like a brilliant pick in hindsight as his natural 6-foot-5-inch size, mobility and reach instantly jump out at you. Back in 1997, a young Hal Gill caught the eye of fans because he was 6-7, and was the biggest cat in the NHL before some guy named Zdeno Chara showed up on Long Island about a year later. The thing about Carlo is that while he’s not quite as tall as Gill, he’s a better skater and has long arms, therefore brings a similar reach. Fans are excited about Carlo because he’s big and fluid and does a real good job of keeping opposing forwards from walking straight to the net…a turnstile he is not. The jury is out on how much offensive hockey sense/creativity Carlo has, but he’s certainly not limited in terms of being able to handle the puck and join the rush. Having said all that, there will be natural growing pains as is with the case with any 19-year-old defenseman, but to the Coloradan’s credit, he impressed a year ago in his first NHL training camp and exhibition season and then carried that forward to make the Boston Bruins before age 20. He’s not a snarly, intimidating beast on the physical side, but he will rub guys out and is sure to be well-liked in the dressing room because he’s got an even-keeled personality.

Last but not least is O’Gara- a TSP personal favorite going back to 2010-11 when he left the Long Island Royals AAA midget program to win a prep championship with the Milton Academy Mustangs. The B’s drafted him with the final selection of the fifth round, and he was described by then-assistant GM Don Sweeney as a “big piece of clay” that required a great deal of molding and shaping. Five years later, the 23-year-old Yale grad might not be a finished product, but he’s close enough and tonight will earn a status no one can take away from him- NHL player. O’Gara is a good skater- it’s less about speed and stride with him than it is fluid and agile footwork, which allows him to pivot and change direction quickly and efficiently. He’s got size and reach…and he can make an effective outlet pass to aid in the transition game. Like Carlo, there are sure to be mistakes and mishaps, but O’Gara is smart and motivated- he’s a quick study and character guy who has been around long enough that he understands the system and is ready to prove himself. It might mean more of an apprenticeship in Providence when other players return, but for now, O’Gara has earned the opportunity and will begin on the second pairing with Torey Krug on the right side (ROG shoots left, so it speaks volumes about the level of trust he’s earned that the Boston coaching staff is fine with him playing his “off” side).

David Backes will skate on a line tonight with Marchand and David Pastrnak if nothing changes between now and puck drop, and with Bergeron out (albeit temporarily), maybe bringing in an experienced veteran center wasn’t such a bad idea after all. David Krejci has a great deal to prove, and with Heinen and Ryan Spooner flanking him, there’s no shortage of offensive creativity on that unit. Spooner’s speed is a welcome addition to the lessened pace of Krejci and Heinen, but the trio provide quite an intriguing matchup on paper. All three of them are or have been centers before, so that’s a line that gives Julien a lot of flexibility and versatility.

Czarnik will likely test his NHL mettle with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. Beleskey doesn’t have the high-end skill to put up big numbers (and he’d be on the top two lines in any event if that were the case) but he’s gritty and should develop some chemistry with Czarnik. Hayes is the wild card- the B’s desperately need a revival from him this season much like Reilly Smith had with Florida a year ago. It would be foolish to think that Hayes doesn’t want to make it work in Boston, but he’ll have to shrug off the external pressures and get down to the basics by just doing what he does best. He doesn’t have either of his linemates’ wheels, so it will be interesting to see if they have some set plays to leverage Hayes as a trailer into the zone with his soft hands and big shot.

Tim Schaller is back up with Boston with Bergeron out and may get a chance to skate with Noel Acciari and Dominic Moore, but the guess here is that Riley Nash will round out the fourth line. It’s not a nasty unit in terms of abundant physicality, but they’ll all grind it out and bring some veteran smarts to go with Acciari’s exuberance.

Defensively, the Bruins need their veterans- Chara, Krug and John-Michael Liles– to provide some glue for the younger guys- Carlo (Chara), O’Gara (Krug) and Colin Miller (Liles) as they shake out the butterflies and deal with the immense difference in speed, skill and pace from what they are used to. Chiller got enough action in last year, and Joe Morrow is also around to step in should anyone get hurt or falter, but this is an untested bunch and the biggest source of consternation with the 2016-17 Bruins.

Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin were the tandem in Boston’s net the last time the B’s went to the Stanley Cup final series in 2013, so there are no concerns with the talent or experience. They can’t carry a team on their backs, though- so everyone will have to row hard in the same direction. If the talent gap becomes too great, then Sweeney will have to act at some point.

That’s all going to have to wait for the time being, because this is what the B’s are going with to begin the new season.

As the Dropkick Murphys so aptly like to belt out- drop the puck…it’s time to go. (Thanks BruinsBabe176)

B’s rookies making hay in preseason

Carlo

Help coming in the form of Brandon Carlo? He’s ready for the NHL grind.(Kirk Luedeke photo)

The Boston Bruins iced a largely untested lineup Thursday against a more experienced and closer-to-opening-night roster in Columbus versus the Blue Jackets, and the kids skated away with a 2-1 regulation victory.

After carrying play for the first 40 minutes, the Baby B’s found themselves on their heels a bit- they did get goals from Matt Beleskey (1st period on a deflection of a Colin Miller point shot) and Seth Griffith (on a beautiful sauce pass from Jake DeBrusk) to make it 2-0 Boston in the third.  When Brandon Saad beat the D with his speed and Malcolm Subban with a bullet shot to make it 2-1, the home team put on a furious surge, but Subban proved up to the task and stopped everything else that came his way including a last-second Zach Werenski would-be equalizer.

After the game, Boston head coach Claude Julien was effusive in his praise of multiple young players, with most of his positive waves going to defenseman Brandon Carlo and DeBrusk. We’re less than a week from the start of the 2016-17 regular season, and you have to think that Julien was encouraged by what he saw last night on the road. Sure- veterans with bigger-ticket contracts will still likely benefit from the economic reality and make the team ahead of young, lower-cost guys who can go down to Providence without being exposed on waivers, but one of the more important purposes of these exhibition games is to give the coaches a sense of who they would want in the lineup should a veteran get injured, underperform or find himself headed out of Boston in a trade or transaction. The B’s win over Columbus likely earned some respect, even if it may not have been enough to solidify NHL roster spots for a few of the standouts.

Even though many observers tend to seek an egalitarian viewpoint when it comes to deciding who makes it and who goes down, not to mention a natural, shall we call it- an “implicit bias” to want to see shiny new toys up with the NHL club, the league’s salary cap system often makes that a tough balancing act. It is easy to blame coaches like Julien for wanting to ice “binkies” (read: safe, experienced but low-upside veterans)- in lieu of accepting risk with younger, more skilled guys who are also more prone to making mistakes and potentially costing the team points.

The truth is- it isn’t that simple, and management/ownership gets a vote, too. Right or wrong- it doesn’t make sense to spend millions of dollars on one-way contracts in the minors and while you can criticize the wisdom of signing players like Riley Nash and Dominic Moore, there is no shortage of fans and media types who would have blasted the team for putting too much stock in young, untested players. NHL teams have always hedged against putting too much trust in the youth movement, it’s just that the modern era of cost certainty makes some of those moves look bad in hindsight. At the same time, just because a rookie plays well in the preseason does not mean he’s ready for primetime (Cameron Mann, anyone?). And so- it does become a balancing act in terms of deciding whether the value lies in having a young player with the NHL team in a smaller role but benefiting from being at the highest level and immersed in that big league culture on and off the ice, or whether he’s better off playing more minutes in expanded situations in the AHL. Because entry-level contracts are two-way deals, it makes more economic sense in many instances for management and coaches to send the player down for more seasoning at the ‘AAA’ equivalent level.

Having said that, here are many of the Boston rookies (or at least those still with the team as of today) and where we think they stand as the team will make its final cuts in the coming days and ice a lineup next week that will undoubtedly look different from the one that will take the ice in Game 82. Whether the B’s will be looking forward to the postseason at that point or we’re headed back to the drawing board for another disappointing offseason is the great hockey adventure that will unfold over the next six months.

The locks (or who we think will see action in Boston at some point in 2016-17, even if they don’t make the NHL roster out of camp)

Noel Acciari, C- This versatile forward played 19 NHL games with the B’s to close out 2015-16 and is already a trusted agent with the coaching staff. His challenge is to make the opening night roster with the additions of other similar, but more experienced NHLers having been brought in during the summer months. We think he can do it, but going back down to Providence for a spell might help refine this more defensive, grinding center’s offensive skills. He hits hard, but clean and has been a revelation after being one of multiple free agent signings in the spring of 2015.

Brandon Carlo, D- The B’s are lean on right-shooting defenders, so while the soon-to-be 20-year-old is pretty green and raw yet, with his size, reach and mobility- he just might have done enough to grab a roster spot out of the gate. Even if the 2015 second-rounder (acquired with the first of two draft picks for Johnny Boychuk) doesn’t earn his way into the top-six defensive rotation on opening night, we expect that he’s close and should get an opportunity to see playing time when inevitable injuries or other situations occur. He shouldn’t be seen as a dominant two-way D/savior kind of player, but he’s still developing and could eventually become a solid NHL No. 3 who already has advanced shutdown type potential.

Austin Czarnik, F- What else can we say about the little buzzsaw who keeps opening eyes around the organization? Czarnik might be just 5-9 (barely…and that’s in skates), but he’s a speed demon who has the creativity and puck skills to be an offensive threat while is smart and defensively aware enough to thrive in Julien’s system. The biggest question with Czarnik is whether he’ll make it as a center or be employed at wing, where he’s been practicing, but the Bruins love versatile guys who can play anywhere. He was called up late last season but didn’t make his NHL debut. This year, he’s going to get into the historical ledger at some point, even if his role is yet to be determined.

Danton Heinen, F- The first-year pro has been a nom du jour in Boston hockey circles for a while now, as he put up two very good NCAA seasons with Denver University before signing last April. He’s not flashy or dynamic the way Czarnik is…Heinen doesn’t have the seek-and-destroy (without headhunting) mentality of Acciari or Beleskey, either…but he’s fast enough to make plays at both ends and strong enough to excel in the wall work and net-front power needed for the modern NHL. Just when you start to say to yourself “what does this guy do?” he’ll make a sweet dish or bury a quick strike to the back of the net. Julien loves guys like Heinen, and the organization has been highly impressed with Heinen’s mature and refined game for some time now. With Frank Vatrano in recovery from foot surgery, opportunities are there for players like Heinen to take advantage of.

On the cusp (don’t count them out, but likely headed to Providence to begin the season)

Jake DeBrusk, LW- It’s no secret that we’ve been bullish on DeBrusk since before the 2015 draft and perhaps Bruins fans are starting to see flashes of why after he suffered through an agonizing injury last year that left stat watchers ignorantly ranting about him on Twitter and the Internets. Part of why DeBrusk has caught flack in some circles of Boston fandom is something completely foolish that he can’t control- the old covetous attitude of wanting different players taken at the 14th spot instead of him. That’s life and sports- and to be honest- there is an honest argument to be made for several guys whom Boston could have had, but didn’t, Unfortunately, that kind of what-if stuff is counter productive, so have it, but you won’t see it here at TSP. Instead- DeBrusk continues to show off a high-end creativity and offensive skill that saw him net 41 goals in his draft year. Last night’s pass to Griffith for the game-winner was subtle and perfect- he protected the puck from the defender who was hooking and obstructing him to no avail. DeBrusk pulled away and then put it in the one spot his teammate could get to it and fire the shot home. That was a hockey player’s move and DeBrusk is a hockey player. He’s got some rounding out to do in his game and should get a chance to do that in the AHL rather than being forced into the NHL’s bright lights right away.

Sean Kuraly, F- Czarnik’s Miami University (the Brotherhood!) teammate was acquired on June 30, 2015 in the deal that sent Martin Jones to San Jose. He’s a big guy who can skate quite well for his size and has underrated hands, but probably lacks the higher-end vision and hockey IQ to be a top-six NHL forward. Having said that, the Ohio native brings the kind of traits to the table that the Bruins value: he’s heavy on the puck, willing to grind and take hits needed to gain and maintain puck possession and will go to the greasy areas of the ice. He’s been impressive after a pretty lackluster senior year scoring-wise in which more was expected, but a member of the Bruins organization told TSP back when the team acquired him that they envisioned him as a 3rd or 4th-line checking winger, so in that regard- Kuraly is on target. Because he can go down to Providence without being put on waivers, he’ll likely need that chance to play and develop rather than be a spare part in Boston, but he could get a shot at the big time at some point.

Rob O’Gara, D- We agonized over putting the 23-year-old Yale product in the locks section, but in the end- the belief here is that he’s more valuable in the AHL soaking up big minutes in all situations and developing under Kevin Dean rather than sitting in the press box in Boston. Barring a rash of injuries, O’Gara needs to be playing a lot at this stage and he’ll get that chance in Providence moreso than if he slots into Boston, where the left side is pretty well established between Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, John-Michael Liles and even Christian Ehrhoff, who is in on a tryout but is a left-shooting D. O’Gara’s going to be a good one- he’s shown that time and time again in college, his brief AHL look last spring and in a few impressive spots here in the preseason. But, we don’t think his NHL time is quite now.

Malcolm Subban, G- Give him some credit- the first-round pick in 2012 showed some poise and moxie against Columbus in preserving the win he was handed when he came into the game after Anton Khudobin. Tuukka Rask and Khudobin are Boston’s 1-2 goalies this year, but Subban is showing the coaches that he’s got the stuff to come up and be a backup goalie if someone should get hurt. He’s such an athlete…but that’s also been the knock on him, as he tends to overcompensate for flaws in his technique through his athleticism. As he continues to gain experience and get better in dealing with in-game situations, Subban is looking more and more like he could one day start to fulfill the potential Boston saw enough of in him to grab him where they did. But, he’s also hit setbacks in each and every year of his pro hockey career, so this is huge season for him to stay healthy and be ready to go if Boston needs him.

Not likely

Brian Ferlin, RW- He’s a good guy and you feel for him given the concussion he suffered in April 2015 and its lingering effects. Unfortunately, Ferlin brings a certain lower-line appeal in a sea of players who have the same style and relatively low ceiling. He’s a big-bodied winger who has some untapped offensive tools (he was Kuraly’s USHL teammate with the Indiana Ice), but needs more time to work that out in the AHL- the B’s can’t really afford to keep him around based on the talent and experience levels of others fighting for the same position on the team.

Don’t forget about…

Seth Griffith, RW- He’s technically not a rookie, but he’s still in the mix and last night backed up what he’s been good at (at least in the AHL)- finding  the back of the net. We still can’t help but think he’s a ‘tweener, but he does have sweet hands and a good offensive mind. Ultimately, he’d have to be put on waivers to be sent down to the AHL, so that could mean the Bruins will keep him at the expense of someone else who doesn’t have to clear. Or- he could be included in some kind of trade package going forward. Either way, Griffith is still scrapping for a job and that’s a credit to him after he got injured a year ago and lost his shot at the NHL. He’s a superb player for Providence, but the jury is still very much out as to whether that excellence can translate to the highest level.

Boston Bruins exhibition season update

The Boston Bruins made their first series of cuts on Sunday and there weren’t many, if even any, surprises.

All of the team’s major junior-required players were sent back to their respective leagues: Jakub Zboril (QMJHL), Zach Senyshyn (OHL), Jeremy Lauzon (QMJHL) and Jesse Gabrielle (WHL) all made strides from their first NHL camp a year ago, but because of the CHL (Canadian Hockey League- the umbrella organization of all three major junior leagues) agreement with the NHL to return all players who don’t turn 20 by December 31 of the season back to their junior teams if they don’t make the big roster, it was wishful thinking in the extreme for anyone to believe that any one of those players had a real shot at breaking camp in Boston.

They’re good prospects, all four- but they aren’t ready to seriously compete for NHL jobs. You have to balance the optimism and desire to roll out the shiny new toys with the reality of the current roster makeup and understand that for every major junior kid you try to shoehorn into the lineup, someone else will likely have to be exposed to waivers to keep them on the NHL roster. When you consider the fact that not one of them showed a readiness to be top-end contributors out of the hopper, what is the point of even entertaining keeping them around? Better to return them to junior and let them dominate if that’s their mission. Whether we agree that the inability to put them in the AHL is an issue or not, it’s a moot point, because that’s the system we have, not the one we wish we had.

All of Zboril, Senyshyn, Lauzon and Gabrielle show impressive promise and at some point, their time will come to take their place on the Boston roster…or not. But that time is not now, and the B’s needed to put the emphasis where it belongs: on those who are realistic options to make the team and contribute to the 2016-17 pro hockey campaign.

A raft of players were sent down to Providence, whose AHL training camp opens this week. Peter Mueller, who was in Boston on a professional tryout (PTO) before being released on Sunday will give it a go with Providence in hopes of landing an AHL contract and possibly more. The eighth overall pick in 2006 is 28 and could help the B’s farm team, but any hopes of his being able to make an impact at the NHL level after concussions essentially halted his progression. He’s spent the last three seasons in Europe trying to work his back to the top rung of the hockey ladder, but the Cinderella comeback just wasn’t happening based on early returns with the B’s.

Forwards Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Peter Cehlarik, Colton Hargrove and Justin Hickman were returned to Providence, along with defenders Linus Arnesson and Matt Grzelcyk plus goaltenders Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar. Veteran minor league defensemen Chris Casto, Tommy Cross and Alex Grant (all under contract to the Bruins) were placed on waivers and cleared for assignment to Providence. Players on AHL deals: Mark Naclerio, AJ White (forwards); Josh Atkinson, Chris Breen, Alex Roach (defensemen) and goaltender Matt Ginn will attend the P-Bruins camp this week.

Truth in lending here: we keep seeing raves about Blidh’s play and the Scouting Post (TSP) simply can’t get excited about this guy. He’s an agitating, energetic player but we just don’t see the skill/smarts needed to offset his average size at the highest level. Blidh’s moxie is appealing, but he looks like another solid AHL guy but not someone who is going to do much more than contribute in limited fashion if he ever makes the NHL. Unlike Vladimir Sobotka, who actually has some hands and creativity to go with his physical, agitating style, Blidh is an undersized mucker who isn’t going to do much offensively. Those types are a dime-a-dozen, so again- why get excited about a player like this? If he makes it, great- but we wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

TSP is higher on Cehlarik- he does have the size and offensive game to eventually work his way into the NHL mix. His skating has gotten better than when he was first drafted and there’s some upside here, he just needs more time to adjust to the North American pro game and it made little sense to do discovery learning in Boston when he can see a bigger role in Providence.

Grzelcyk showed some impressive flashes that we’ve long known him capable of bringing as an offense-minded defender and power play guy, but like Torey Krug four years ago- he needs to be in Providence where he can play a lot and develop properly under Kevin Dean, the Providence 1st-year head coach after being Butch Cassidy’s assistant for several seasons.

Hargrove and Hickman are both big, rugged power forward bookends who don’t bring much sizzle or flash, but play that heavy, grinding style with the ability to put pucks in the net. Neither is ready for primetime, but watch for both to have expanded roles in Providence this season and work their way towards seeing time in Boston, much like Tyler Randell had to do.

We’ve said it before, but Arnesson is not the droid we’re looking for. He’s a good guy with a solid skating and defensive mindset, but he’s not progressed much from when the B’s took him at the end of round 2 in 2013, and he’s just another guy at this point in a system that has more than enough of those. Talent-wise, he could play on the B’s right now, but he’s not going to make much of an impact. The clock is ticking, but other than being a pedestrian, bottom-pair kind of defensive D-man, it’s hard to project Arnesson as much of an impact player in Boston.

McIntyre showed promising signs of rebounding from a tough finish to the 2016 season. He’s got work to do in refining his technique, but we’re confident he’ll take strides forward this season in the AHL.

The AHL cuts mean that both of Brandon Carlo and Jake DeBrusk are still on the Boston roster, along with fellow rookie pros Danton Heinen, Rob O’Gara and Sean Kuraly. Put these players in the dark horse category for earning NHL spots out of the gate, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that one or two could make the cut. Heinen seems to be the most mature/refined of the bunch and the B’s took a hit at wing when Frank Vatrano was lost for three months after foot surgery last week.

By virtue of being late-’96 born players, both of Carlo and DeBrusk can play in Providence this season. DeBrusk is a personal favorite- he can score in a variety of ways and is a good kid. I don’t think he makes the final cut in Boston, but wouldn’t completely count him out, either. He scored the decisive goal against Philadelphia via shootout on a wicked laser beam, and he’s done what the B’s have asked of him since being the 14th overall pick in 2015. Now- admittedly, guys like Kyle Connor and Colin White are players you can make an obvious case for over DeBrusk at that spot, but that’s spilled milk at this point- the former Swift Current and Red Deer (WHL) standout has shown himself to have first-round talent and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts as a rookie pro. If he can make a rapid adjustment, 20-25 goals in the AHL is not an unreasonable projection.

Carlo is another guy who could possibly earn an NHL roster spot right away, and if he does that, more power to him. Even if he plays a reduced role from what he would in Providence, Carlo has the size, mobility and drive to make an impact this year. By virtue of being in Boston and practicing with the team he’ll develop, but it is up to the coaches and management to decide what scenario is most beneficial for him.

Everybody likes Danton…and that makes sense. Heinen is a versatile, mature and polished winger who signed with Boston after two years at Denver University (friendly reminder that you heard that here first, folks). TSP has said this repeatedly- he’s not someone who will dazzle you with his skill and ability- you have to be a student of the game to appreciate what Heinen brings in spades. The board work, the subtle passing touch and right spaces he moves the puck to under pressure, the ability to get in position for a quick shot or deflection to find the back of the net. He’s been everything as advertised, and yet we still see folks taking that “entertain me” approach with him and questioning what all the hype was about- well, if you buy into the hype, that’s your problem. Much of what I have seen from Heinen is right on par with what he did in the NCAA after the B’s took him in the fourth round two years ago. He’s making this team, folks- that’s the story and we’re sticking to it.

O’Gara and Kuraly are longer shots. Both have played well, but by virtue of being able to go down to Providence without being exposed to waivers, they’ll likely begin the season on the farm. O’Gara is the sure, steady, shutdown guy we’ve come to take for granted. If O’Gara somehow sticks in Boston, it won’t be that much of a surprise, but given the current makeup of the defense, he’d really have to knock at least one if not more veterans out of the mix- that’s a tall order for a rookie. Kuraly is impressing with his size and skating, but I still don’t see a great deal in the way of puck skills or hockey sense to be a top-six NHL forward. He probably tops out as a lower-end third line guy at the top level, but could be an effective fourth-liner.

Pro prospects Noel Acciari, Austin Czarnik and Seth Griffith are still in the mix as well, and offseason free agent Tim Schaller has battled injuries, but will be given an opportunity to make the final Boston roster. All, save for Czarnik, have NHL experience.

Looks like Acciari dodged a bullet/leg injury in the preseason and is back in action- the B’s are trying him on the wing after he played fourth-line center in the final 19 games of 2015-16. He’s a heavy-on-the-puck hitter ideally suited for a grinding role, and I have to think Claude Julien is looking for excuses to keep him on the NHL roster after what he showed last spring. Czarnik is a little engine that could-type guy- small, but tremendously fast and skilled. He’s making noise in camp after being a top performer in Providence as a rookie last season. He’s a little buzzsaw of offensive playmaking ability (with an underappreciated goal scorer’s knack) and the smarts to be a capable three-zone player in time. The B’s would have to make room for him this season, but Czarnik is earning it the old fashioned way- by working hard in offseason and practice and then going out and performing. Lack of size is the only knock on the former Miami University captain.

Griffith is still hanging around, and good on him. TSP’s position on him is that he’s headed into dreaded ‘tweener territory- an effective AHL scorer who lacks that extra something that translates to the NHL level. Without size and speed, he’s hard-pressed to excel in a bottom-six checking role in Boston.

Schaller, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent on 1 July, was a top defensive forward for Providence College before turning pro with the Buffalo Sabres. He’s split his career between the AHL and NHL, but given that he would have to be exposed to waivers to be sent down, watch for him to be given every opportunity to make the Bruins roster. This gives him an inside edge on Kuraly, who can be optioned down to Providence without being subject to waivers.

Finally- the B’s also brought in veteran defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on a PTO. He’s no longer the player he was for Vancouver in 2010-11 when he was one of the most sought-after free agents, and to be completely honest- isn’t likely to return to his zenith as a top-2 NHL defender- so even if Don Sweeney were to sign him, he represents a marginal upgrade at best. The problem isn’t Boston’s back-four- it’s the top-two/three. Ehrhoff is more fool’s gold- he’s a name guy from five years ago who simply hasn’t performed to the level of expectations after elevating himself over a two-season period with a top Canucks team. He’s probably better than Joe Morrow, who has shown he has the tools but might lack the toolbox to be an effective NHL defender (and we were big on Morrow’s potential coming out of the 2011 draft and after the B’s acquired him two years later), but saying that is more akin to putting lipstick on a pig at this point. At 34, he’s not getting any younger, but with almost 800 NHL games under his belt he’s got experience and can play both the left and right sides even though he’s a left shot.

The Bruins are already being projected to miss the playoffs for a third straight season. Barring any significant change to the top of the defense, that’s not a prediction to taking major umbrage to, but the team is showing signs of developing talent to contribute down the road. That isn’t going to help the 2016-17 B’s roster all that much, but with a savvy move or two, not to mention key NCAA prospects like Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and possibly even Anders Bjork on the horizon- there is reason for optimism.

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series: the Centers

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The NHL season is around the corner, and for the second consecutive season, the Scouting Post blog is back to provide the season preview and deeper look at the Boston Bruins from a position-by-position perspective. The team will soon break training camp on the 2016-17 NHL season at a brand-spanking new practice facility- the Warrior Ice Arena- in Brighton, and although the World Cup of Hockey is up first, there is no shortage of subplots and storylines swirling around this Bruins club.

Given the optimism surrounding the team at forward, we’ll start with the centers. Now, some might take issue with beginning the series from what is Boston’s greatest area of strength, but I started with the goaltenders last year, so there is a method to the madness.

Unlike last year, I am including an audio component to each post, so that allows me to write less and talk a little more, which will save me from carpal tunnel, but will also go a little easier on your eyes. So, without any more foreplay- here we go.

The Bruins are strong at the center position up and down the roster. They don’t have any flashy, dynamic types, but in Patrice Bergeron, have the best two-way pivot in the game, despite what Selke Trophy voters last year would have you believe. David Krejci is the ole reliable playmaking center, but with offseason hip surgery casting his season in doubt, there are some concerns about his durability, especially as he is entering the new year on the wrong side of 30. The B’s big-money free agency ticket item from the summer, David Backes, will be previewed both as a center and a right wing- but we’ve yet to determine where the B’s will slot him, and that promises to be one of the more intriguing storylines as the team breaks camp. Ryan Spooner currently holds down the third center spot, and the fourth line pivot is wide open. Noel Acciari finished the final 19 games of the schedule after recovering from a shattered jaw in his rookie pro season, while fellow Providence College product Tim Schaller was brought in to provide competition in the offseason. The B’s also recently announced the signing of Dominic Moore to a one-year deal, and former 2006 eighth overall pick Peter Mueller, who is trying to make an NHL comeback after concussions and injuries derailed a promising start.

The B’s also have some interesting potential in the system. Whether you’re talking the tiny but ultra-skilled and feisty Austin Czarnik or the slick, cerebral 200-foot pivot in Boston University sophomore Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, the B’s have a couple of options that might not be as far off on the horizon as one might think. Neither is likely to have a great impact this year (though Czarnik is in the AHL and is a dark horse to make some noise and see some NHL action after his excellent rookie pro season), but both Czarnik and JFK are mature players who are likely to work their way into the mix sooner rather than later. The latter player has already drawn comparisons by people in the Bruins organization (as well as some outside the club) to Bergeron, which is a high bar to set for the Swede.

In addition to Czarnik, Colby Cave is an effective two-way center who had a scoring role as captain of the Swift Current Broncos (where he lined up with B’s 2015 1st-rounder Jake DeBrusk) and showed some flashes of ability as a rookie in 2015-16. Sean Kuraly was a center in college, but is expected to shift to wing in the pros, now that he’s expected to start out in the AHL at Providence.

The B’s stirred up some dust when they drafted U.S National (U18) Team center Trent Frederic with the 29th overall pick. Interestingly enough, management (to include the departed former chief scout Keith Gretzky to Edmonton to be Peter Chiarelli’s newest assistant GM) likened the St. Louis native and University of Wisconsin-bound power forward to none other than his childhood idol Backes, who gave up the captaincy of the Blues to sign with Boston a week after the 2016 draft. In Frederic, the B’s get a big slab of beef at the center position for down the road, and if you believe his various coaches who rave about his intelligence and work ethic, there’s more than meets the eye here- he could be a late-bloomer, though don’t expect all that much in terms of production. The B’s also added huge Finn Joona Koppanen (6-5), but he’s more of a defensive clampdown specialist, so even if he makes the NHL, it’s not going to be as a scorer.

A project who will be worth the wait in terms of ceiling and offensive potential is Harvard sophomore and 2014 2nd-rounder Ryan DonatoWatch for the South Shore (Scituate) product to make some noise- this kid is the real deal, and we think he’s going to break out in Cambridge now that Jimmy Vesey has moved on to Broadway. TSP has been a huge fan of Donato’s ever since watching him first dominate the New England prep circuit in 2012-13 and then raise the bar in his draft season. He’s as intelligent and skilled as they come, and knocks on his skating aren’t fair given that he’s bigger than his dad (he gets his size from his mother’s side of the family and a former NFL linebacker uncle), but the hockey sense and hands are elite. Wisconsin junior Cameron Hughes and rising freshman Jack Becker (6th and 7th picks in 2015) are also in the mix as potential payoffs, but will require time and patience, and even then- neither might not ever make it as viable pros.

Outlook: The Bruins have ability and depth up the middle. Bergeron and Krejci (when fully healthy) give the B’s as good a 1-2 punch as any team in the league, but how Backes will fit into that dynamic as the potential third-line center (or whether he moves up and plays a top-two line RW role) remains to be seen. We also have to see how Krejci fares at camp; now that he’s been ruled out of the WCOH for Team Czech Republic, he has some extra time to heal, but if he’s not ready to go, then it’s a no-brainer: Backes moves up to the second line behind Bergeron. Spooner is the source of quiet debate- he appears to be the odd-man out here, as he’s not an ideal fourth-line center if Backes is 3C, and he is one of Boston’s few real trade chips given his youth, skill level and cap-friendly deal (though he’s up for a new pact in 2017). Dominic Moore is a 36-year-old veteran who could mean that Acciari goes back to Providence for more seasoning, and of course- the B’s added Mueller to a PTO, though that is no sure bet that he will even sign or play center for them. Schaller is a wild card for the fourth line as well, but if he’s going to make the Boston roster, he’ll probably need to do it on the wing somewhere.

All in all- center will be the absolute least of Boston’s worries this season, as the team has talent, experience and a roster to weather injuries and unexpected setbacks.

Now, listen to the pod for more (and working on getting these exported to SoundCloud for those who want to do download and listen later- bear with me- it’s coming):

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka "JFK"

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

 

 

 

B’s add C Dominic Moore to mix on 1-yr, $900k deal

As alluded here the other day, the B’s made good on the rumor that they were looking to add a veteran forward, announcing Tuesday that former Harvard standout Dominic Moore signed a one-year pact that will pay him $1M in 2016-17. He reportedly gets a bonus of $100,000 if he plays north of 42 games, so that deal adds to his announced base salary of $900k. TSP didn’t list him in our option players rundown, but we thought about it- Moore is just one of those players that in hindsight is the kind of guy that appeals to the Bruins and what they like to do.

On the bright side- Moore is an experienced center who is one of the better faceoff men in the league, even if his offense is a far cry from what it used to be (and with a career-high of 41 points- Moore was always known as a bottom-six, defensive forward). He’s a good guy and leader who will be a trusted veteran for the coaches and someone to mentor a few of the younger players.

On the down side, Moore is 36 and if no other moves are made to the roster, represents more of the same old, same old (pun intended) where the progression of younger players on the Boston roster is blocked by a low-upside but established NHL old salt. While you can make the argument that rookie Noel Acciari lacks the kind of higher-end potential to argue against Moore taking his spot on Boston’s 4th line, there are other players who represent an upgrade in skill at the position who now are effectively relegated to Providence (Austin Czarnik comes to mind) with the arrival of Moore in Boston.

It would probably be a bad assumption to say that the arrival of Moore and a possible trade of forward assets to acquire help at the defense position are mutually exclusive, but according to the Boston Herald’s Steve Conroy (via Twitter), B’s GM Don Sweeney said yesterday that “he’ll continue to look for D help but nothing imminent. Believes current group can improve & youngsters can challenge.”

Moore has gone through a lot in his 765 NHL games, including the loss of his wife (and former Harvard soccer star), Katie, to cancer. If you can’t get behind his potential to help the Bruins, even the most clinically detached of fans can recognize that the guy has overcome a lot to get to where he is in his pro hockey career, and sometimes- those intangibles are worth more than meets the eye. HNIC and NHL video on him here (you might want a tissue handy):

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=548835

ESPN E:60 feature on Moore and leaving the NHL for a year to be with his wife:

Don’t believe everything you read, and there are worse players to bring in than Moore. He provides some experienced depth, but if you were a fan who didn’t appreciate the additions of Simon Gagne and Max Talbot to the Boston roster in recent seasons, then there’s likely nothing else that can be said here that will alter your feelings on Moore right now.

But regardless of how you feel about the move from a hockey perspective, it shouldn’t be difficult to get behind the man. Somewhere, Katie Moore is pulling on a Bruins jersey and getting ready to cheer him on for one more season.

 

 

 

Oil change- Benning to Edmonton & other musings

Today’s news made official what had been rumored for a while now- that former Bruins prospect defender Matt Benning has signed an Entry-Level Contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

Benning inked a deal with the team his dad, Brian, played for (albeit very briefly) and with the GM who drafted him in 2012- Peter Chiarelli.

The younger Benning, nephew of former B’s assistant GM now Vancouver head manager Jim Benning, was a solid if unspectacular player who showed some promise as a lower-end defender with some untapped potential.

Matt Benning doesn’t have much in the way of size, but like Noel Acciari, he hits hard and clean, separating opponents from the puck but not taking himself out of plays or hurting his team with undisciplined, selfish antics. Benning is a good puck distributor; not blessed with a killer shot, it was nonetheless pretty heavy, and he showed progression in his offensive game. Where Benning really established his value was with his smart, effective positional play.

So, while he wasn’t a higher-end prospect who spent a lot of time at the top of Boston’s prospect depth chart for defense, he has a shot at developing into a solid role player at the NHL level given his smarts and bloodlines.

Now, how & why did this happen? To put it simply- Benning took the Blake Wheeler option.

The NHL’s CBA stipulates that a non-major junior player’s rights are held for four years after the team drafts him. That doesn’t include NCAA eligibility, so if a player is drafted in 2012, plays a year of junior hockey before going to school, he can either play all four years in college, which extends his team’s hold on him, or if he turns pro at anytime after that four-year mark, the team must sign him within 30 days of his formal relinquishment of any remaining college eligibility or he becomes a free agent.

So, like Wheeler, Benning came out of school after three years and left NCAA time on the table, but because he spent a full year in the USHL (winning a championship with the Dubuque Fighting Saints- a team Chiarelli had part ownership in at the time and still might to this day), was able to leverage free agency to go wherever he felt was the best fit for him. It’s not about loyalty- it’s about using the tools at one’s own disposal to choose a preferred destination, which is not something every player is able to benefit from.

According to veteran ProJo hockey writer Mark Divver, who had talks with a Bruins source, the B’s wanted Benning to return for his senior year and would have signed him next spring, but to the kid’s credit, he probably looked around, saw all the younger defensemen in the system, and realized that cracking the Boston roster would be a tough sell. Now, some will ask why the Bruins couldn’t just trade him for something, but this isn’t Jimmy Vesey we’re talking about here, so there’s little chance any team would offer so much as a seventh-round pick for a guy who may or may not sign there a month after he notifies the NHL that he’s leaving school (which is what Benning did), when they could just wait Boston out and make their pitch for Benning like anyone else. Given his history with Chiarelli, it isn’t all that surprising that he ended up in Edmonton, though.

TSP had time for Benning- he was lost in the sauce a bit here, but was a solid player for a sixth-round pick and it wouldn’t surprise to see him establish himself in the NHL as a role guy at some point. Or not. Even with expansion looming, breaking into the top hockey circuit is a tough racket- here’s to wishing Benning the best. He leveraged his options as the CBA allows and Boston has plenty of other players to focus on.

You can’t sign ’em all. Here’s to Benning finding his way out West- he’ll attract some attention at camp next month.

***

A veteran NHL scout texted yours truly the other day to lament the fact that his team didn’t draft Charlie McAvoy when they had the chance. “We (effed) up…” is how the note began and went downhill from there. In a nutshell- his team had McAvoy in their sights and passed him up for someone else. Now, there’s a little second-guessing going on. Happens all the time, especially once the post-draft euphoria wears off and the real scrutiny begins.

McAvoy is generating a lot of buzz and rightfully so- having a brilliant WJC evaluation camp will do that for you when so many NHL guys are watching. But- let’s pump the brakes here and remember that player stocks fluctuate. The 14th overall pick in last June’s draft has a mountain of expectations heading into his sophomore season at BU- he needs t build on his outstanding second half and take his play to the next level, while staying healthy. His presence at the 2017 WJC in Canada this winter will be a big test, too- the kid has broad shoulders, so the prediction here is that he’ll continue to build excitement among the fans who take the time to follow prospects much like Dougie Hamilton did after being drafted 9th overall in 2011.

But as for my NHL scout friend and his team’s buyer’s remorse- that stuff happens when your pick has an “ehhh” development camp, but the message was only half serious. It was more like- Boston landed a nice player at 14 than anything else. We can sit around and get excited about analysis and discussion, but the real rubber will meet the road in the coming season when McAvoy gets a chance to prove himself.

***

Being told by a solid (non-Bruins) source that he believes that Boston is quietly working on a trade for a defenseman, but no details are forthcoming. If you haven’t already, you can read my post about the Boston D- the elephant in the room for thoughts on possible targets.

Wouldn’t be surprised to see them bring in another veteran forward as well. Some will question that, and it’s the nature of the beast- especially since it could block a younger (yet unproven) player from a roster spot in October, but teams hedge their bets and look to build depth (to stave off the injury bug) and foster training camp competition.

Watch for the B’s to extend a training camp invite to an experienced, and as-of-yet signed player. Can’t tell you who that might be, but some name-recognition guys still out there (who might appeal to Boston-  by no means a comprehensive list and in no particular order) are: Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Santorelli, Shawn Horcoff, Alex Tanguay, David Jones, Tyler Kennedy, Patrik Elias (he’s already 40 but hard to imagine him playing for anyone else after spending all of his 1,240 NHL games and 1,025 points with the Devils), Dainius ZubrusMike Richards. Did I really type that name? Well, he is only 31, but yeah- slim pickings for sure.

I know, I know- there are some of you who will look at that list and immediately want to comment that none of them are needed. I get it- save yourself the trouble by not shooting the messenger, please- I’m just passing on what I’m being told. If we see another veteran forward brought in, don’t say you weren’t warned, and we’ll analyze who that someone is if/when it happens.

***

What Bruins player are you most intrigued with entering the season?

For me, it’s rookie Danton Heinen, who was a surprise fourth-round pick out of the BCHL in 2014, but went on to post two very good offensive seasons at Denver University before signing with Boston last April.

He’s a winger, but played center in junior, so he’s played all three forwards in the last three seasons going back to 2013-14. The Bruins and coach Claude Julien do love their versatile guys, don’t they?

But what stands out about Heinen is his smarts and offensive creativity. He’s not this explosive, dynamic presence who grabs the spotlight and demands your attention when he’s on the ice, but when you watch him closely, he’s always around the puck and tends to own the walls when a possession battle is up for grabs. Heinen has a deft passing touch and he’s no slouch with the puck on his stick when it’s time to pull the trigger, either.

Watch for him to make the big club out of camp, and he wouldn’t be a bad option to try out on that third line right out of the hopper.