Friday Flashback: Bruins 2006 Draft

Here’s a comprehensive look at the 2006 Boston Bruins draft, which transformed the franchise in a single weekend of picks and one major trade. Other than 1979, there isn’t a more impactful single draft in team history, though 1980 was quite strong, along with 2014 more recently. Here you go- KL

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(Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins franchise was in disarray at the conclusion of the 2005-06 hockey season and faced a crucial crossroads leading up to the entry draft being in Vancouver that June.

A year that began with promise with the return of NHL hockey after a lockout cancelled the 2004-05 big league campaign descended into chaos and despair when a series of big-money free agent signings went bust (Alexei Zhamnov, Brian Leetch, Dave Scatchard) and franchise face Joe Thornton was traded to San Jose before December for the kind of return that ultimately sealed Mike O’Connell’s (Cohasset, Mass.) fate as Bruins GM. O’Connell’s departure opened the door for one-time Harvard hockey captain Peter Chiarelli’s ascension as the B’s new chief of management and operations, but as the assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators, the job of riding herd over Boston’s 2006 draft and early phases of free agency fell to O’Connell’s interim replacement, Jeff Gorton.

 Thanks to a win by the Columbus Blue Jackets on the final day of the 2005-06 regular season, the Bruins slid into the fifth overall draft position (not affected by the draft lottery, won by St. Louis).  Two points are what separated the B’s from Phil Kessel and someone else (Derick Brassard went one selection later at sixth overall). Kessel may no longer be with the Bruins, but his impact will likely be felt in the years to come, even if the jury is still out on the players received from Toronto and then Dallas last summer.

The B’s former chief amateur scout and current director of player personnel, Scott Bradley, called 2006 a “historic” draft year and critical moment for the rebuilding of the once proud franchise’s sagging fortunes. Little did Bradley know at the time that his words would prove to be prophetic, and that just five years later, the club would reverse direction from the road to ruin to Stanley Cup glory in the very city the draft occurred, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in an epic seven-game championship series.

Boston’s selections in the second and third rounds were instrumental in the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and run to the 2013 Stanley Cup final: Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, while No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask’s history is inextricably linked to the 2006 draft as well. Although Lucic was traded five years ago, Marchand has ascended to NHL superstardom, as has Rask, who could be in line to collect the second Vezina Trophy of his career after a shortened 2019-20 season. Marchand and Rask helped lead the B’s to within one win of the 2019 Stanley Cup championship, though they fell short at home to the St. Louis Blues.

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Boston’s 2006 draft is still making a direct and indirect impact on the team’s fortunes.

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Friday Flashback: Patrice Bergeron in 2003

Saw an article on brood IX of cicadas, who went dormant in 2003 and will soon be coming out from underground in Virginia and the Carolinas to live for several months this summer before their progeny will go back down for the long siesta. That got me thinking- in the 17 years those bugs have been in hibernation, Patrice Bergeron has built a Hall of Fame resume with the Boston Bruins. Here’s another archived piece- written in November of 2003- Bergeron’s rookie NHL season, after he made the B’s roster as an 18-year-old and quickly showed signs of the greatness that was to follow. In the time the cicadas went into the earth, he’s become a pretty damn fine hockey player- the nonpareil of Bruins draft picks until David Pastrnak came along in 2014.- KL

“The Boston Bruins select, from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, center Patrice Bergeron-Cleary.

Boston Bruins v Calgary Flames

With those words from the team’s amateur scouting director Scott Bradley, the B’s made a relatively innocuous pick at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in Nashville last June.

Little did anyone know, the Quebec City native, not even going to be 18 for another month, would soon be an immediate impact player from a draft class touted as one of the best in years. Little did anyone know, the quiet kid who was physically unimpressive and who carried a 28th-best ranking from NHL’s Central Scouting Service (CSS) among his North American peers was about to establish himself as the undisputed early steal of the entire  ’03 crop.

When the B’s passed on Zach Parise with the 16th overall pick, instead opting to send the selection to the San Jose Sharks and drop down five spots to 21, draft-savvy fans were incensed. Message boards  lit up with questions about the wisdom of passing on Parise, whose father J.P. was a former Bruin before the Minnesota North Stars grabbed him in the 1967 expansion draft. The younger Parise was coming off of an outstanding freshman season for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, and was highly-regarded for his tremendous character and tenacious skill game despite a lack of ideal size. It seemed that Parise would be the right prospect to pick up in the wake of the news that Jozef Stumpel had been dealt back to Los Angeles the night before, even though it looked like the Minnesota native would be a few years away from the NHL.

But the Bruins had other plans, and dealt the pick to San Jose, who promptly took another high scoring forward in Steve Bernier before New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and his top scout David Conte swooped in with a trade and grabbed Parise 17th. Four selections later, the Bruins took defensive defenseman Mark Stuart out of Colorado College, one of Parise’s U.S. NTDP teammates.

No one saw it coming, but in passing up a chance to draft Parise and Ryan Getzlaf, who had been taken 19th overall by Anaheim, the Bruins had their sights set on another forward whom they believed was going to be a real difference-maker, and who wasn’t very far away from the NHL at all.

Make no mistake: it wasn’t too difficult a choice to make between Stuart, who was more a victim of the deep draft despite being a top player for USA Hockey for several years, and Bergeron, who had only one single season of major junior hockey under his belt, after playing AAA Midget and Bantam the two previous years in his native Quebec. The rumor is that the B’s had Bergeron rated in the first round, and were tempted to take him at 21st overall, but they knew that Stuart would not lost until the middle of the second round where their next pick was. So, the Bruins rolled the dice and took Stuart first, hoping that Bergeron would still be there when they picked again in the middle of the second round thanks to the compensatory pick they received Bill Guerin signing with Dallas  the summer before.

Bergeron was there when Boston’s turn came, and it ended up being a relatively unheralded selection at 45th overall.

As for the rest of us in the media, the pick was met with a collective, “So what?” After all, Bergeron was anything but a household name among a group of prospects that 90% of NHL fans wouldn’t know from Adam. In other words, we made our way down into the bowels of the arena to the media interview section not expecting a great deal from this latest draft pick. Would he even speak English? How long would he last at his first professional training camp?

Bergeron, who mentioned that he would drop the hyphenated Cleary from his surname, met the press with little fanfare as he answered the standard line of questioning. He quickly put to the rest the notion that he would have problems fielding questions in English, even with a thick French accent.

Are you happy with where you went today? “Very happy. It was the first time where I had to wait and it didn’t matter.”

What kind of a player are you? “I’m a playmaker. I like to set up the goals, but I also like to score them.”

Is there anything about your game you’d like to improve? “Definitely my skating, and I want to get stronger, too.”

And so on. Bergeron answered our questions and then was whisked away to complete his in-processing with the team. After the Bruins selected Masi Marjamaki at the bottom of round two, we all met with Bradley to discuss the day’s action. It was there that we began to get an inkling of how pleased he was that they had gotten Bergeron.

Bradley used terms such as “special player,” “great vision,” and “tremendous skill” to describe him. He talked about Bergeron’s outstanding performance in the playoffs, and how he had become Bathurst  coach Real Paiement’s go-to guy on offense after beginning the season as the Titan’s third-line center. Bradley also said that while the Bruins liked Parise, there were about five other players rated just as high who were still on the board. Dropping five slots guaranteed that they’d still get one of those five, while gathering an extra two selections to further bolster their prospect depth in a very good draft. It was a trade they felt they had to make.

With the good fortune of being at the same hotel in Nashville as Bergeron was, we were able to connect for a later sit-down to capture more of his thoughts beyond the superficial post-selection media scrum.

Bergeron first apologized for his rough English skills. Nevertheless, he was surprisingly articulate for one so young. He talked about his love for hockey and the Quebec Nordiques growing up. He said that he had immense respect for Joe Sakic as a player and a person, but admitted that he admired Adam Foote for his tenacity and nastiness. He did not hesitate to comment on his dislike of the rival Montreal Canadiens. He was glad to be drafted to an Original Six team like the Bruins.

Bergeron also said that he realized that his skating needed work, and that because he had average height, he needed to get stronger if he was going to be able to make the eventual transition to pro hockey. To that end, he hired a personal trainer and power skating instructor immediately after his junior season ended, and had been working out ever since.

His favorite thing to do outside of hockey and training is watching movies, especially comedies. “Dumb and Dumber” is his all-time favorite, but he chuckled when he talked about the “crazy humor” of Will Ferrell’s streaking scene as Frank “the Tank” in National Lampoon’s “Old School.”

You couldn’t help but notice a quiet intensity, beyond his years. That’s not the same as thinking he would make the team and jump out to the early lead among rookie scorers, but I figured he might stick around for a few weeks and maybe even play in an exhibition game or two.

As it turns out, that projection was wildly off-base. And in a good way.

It is now November, and Bergeron hasn’t looked back since arriving to Bruins training camp and turning the place on its head. Martin Lapointe took the rookie under his wing from day 1, and has even opened his house up to Bergeron, where the rookie is spending his first year out of the province of Quebec away from his family and friends. From the moment he took the ice for his first rookie camp scrimmage until opening night, Bergeron has not looked out of place in the slightest.

The below-average skating? Not a problem. Bergeron may not be a blazing fast skater, but nor is he slow-footed or noticeably behind the play. He is in the middle of the action, and unless you’d read the scouting reports that he lacked acceleration and a quick initial burst, you’d never know that it was a shortcoming in his game.

The alleged lack of strength? Not a problem. Bergeron has freely given and taken hits, not playing a physical style, but not shying away from contact either. The money paid to Raymond Veilleux, who also trains Simon Gagne, has been worth it. Bergeron does not look out of place, and can more than hold his own down low and in the corners.

Bergeron may or may not keep up his scoring pace that saw him tally three goals and eight points in his first ten games before going scoreless in his last two, but for the NHL’s youngest player and a guy who wasn’t even on many pre-draft radars in June, he’s been the early surprise of the 2003 draft.

As for Boston, it looks like they hit one out of the park. Bergeron’s early success has galvanized the team, and has fans starting to get more interested in Bruins hockey because so many of the new faces on the club are young and not the old retreads the team was known for bringing in over the past several seasons.

No. 37 doesn’t look out of place at all. If anything, it looks like the team has done wonders for its future, and Bergeron is at the center of it all.

 

For perspective on how far he’s come since 2003, here’s the classic Patrice Bergeron rookie year Massachusetts license plates commercial with Andrew Raycroft compliments of NESN…”Great plates! I want them too.”

Reed Duthie: Off the top of the head- Oskar Steen

Reed Duthie is back with another deep-dive on a European Bruins prospect- this time, Oskar Steen, who just completed his first North American pro season. The Off the top of the head and Then & Now prospect series are exclusive to The Scouting Post and we hope you are enjoying the analysis of B’s futures. -KL

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In the 6th round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft the Boston Bruins used the 165th overall selection on an exciting talent from Karlstad, Sweden who had seen a breakout year jumping from Farjestad BK U20 in the SuperElit to Farjestad BK senior side in the SHL.

Immediately upon his selection Oskar Steen became one of the most intriguing prospects in the Bruins system.

As a 17-year old in the 2015-16 season, Steen was outstanding in the U20 circuit, collecting 8 goals & 24 assists for 32 points in 33 games finishing 2nd on his team, behind only August Gunnarsson who was playing his 19-year old season. Steen earned a callup to Farjestad BK in the SHL for a 17-game run where the diminutive but offensively gifted 17-year old would register 6 assists and even appear in five SHL playoff games.

Beginning the 2016-17 season, Steen clearly showed the brass for Farjestad BK and the Bruins that they had something special, recording 11 points in just 8 games at the U20 level before spending the rest of the season in the senior ranks, skating in 47 games for Farjestad BK and another 4 for legendary Swedish side MoDo in Allsvenskan (where he played with future Bruins draft pick Victor Berglund) and appeared in all 7 playoff games for Farjestad BK. Steen would spend he 2017-18 devleoping in the SHL recording 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points in 45 games for Farjestad BK and appeared in another 5 playoff games for the club but was able to strut his stuff at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships recording 4 points across 7 games playing a key role as a #2 center in Sweden’s silver medal performance.

It was the 2018-19 season that would see Steen kick his game into another gear, leading Farjestad BK in points by a forward with 37 and finishing 2nd on the team to Joakim Nygard in goals with 17 across 46 games following it up with 7 points in 14 playoff games. That run was enough for the Bruins to transition the centerman to North America for the shortened 19-20 season but Steen would show signs of the type of player he can be, finishing his AHL rookie campaign with Providence scoring 7 goals and 16 assists for 23 point, good for 8th on a fairly loaded Providence roster, while showing his durability playing in 60 games (only Ryan Fitzgerald & Josiah Didier played in more, 61 each).

Assets:

Hockey IQ – An incredibly intelligent player, Steen has the ability to read the play well ahead of the pace and react quickly because of it. His advanced mind for the game has allowed him to successfully transition from the junior level to the senior level in his home country of Sweden and then transition again to the AHL all while still being an effective contributor in multiple facets.

Versatility – From using his tremendous intelligence for the game and from his developmental time with Farjestad BK, Steen has developed a very well-rounded game. A contributor for all 200-feet of the ice, Steen is a danger with and without the puck and can play in both power-play and short-handed situations and excel in any situation on the ice.

Speed – Excellent skater with quick acceleration, though his stride will begin somewhat short Steen quickly accelerates and lengthens his stride relying on his low center of gravity and powerful legs to drive him to full speed (think Sami Kapanen).

Vision/Distribution – Though not afraid to shoot the puck, as evidenced by his 17-goal outburst in his final SHL season, Steen is at his best with the puck on his stick locating his teammates with pinpoint passes to free them into open ice and scoring opportunities. Many of Steen’s scoring opportunities have come from defenders overplaying the pass and allowing him to use an ever-improving shot and release to find the back of the net.

Weaknesses:

Size – Not as big of a hindrance as it once was but standing 5’9’’ & 187 lbs, Steen is certainly not the biggest bear in the forest. Steen is able to use his bowling ball-like frame effectively, though he won’t go out of his way for contact he won’t avoid it either, relying on his strong balance, low center of gravity and smarts to win battles. Against larger defenders Steen can be simply outsized but is crafty enough to be able to beat them one-on-one.

Organizational Depth – If Steen were a natural winger his path to the Boston Bruins would be much clearer, however as a center he finds himself in a logjam behind the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle & Sean Kuraly at the NHL level with fellow Providence teammates Jack Studnicka & Trent Frederic knocking on the door and 2019 1st Round Pick John Beecher a little further away.

Future:

A steal of a 6th round pick, Don Sweeney and the Bruins staff (*cough* P.J. Axelsson *cough*) must be commended for finding such a talent late in the draft and for having a hand in quickly developing him into a player who could knock at the door of an NHL spot as early as the 2020-21 season. Steen profiles as a player who could contribute in the middle-6, and brings the type of versatility the Bruins like with a serious offensive flair. With the depth at center in the organization, it would likely benefit both Steen and the Bruins to transition to the wing. A natural right-hand shot, Steen has the intelligence and versatility to excel on either wing and would very quickly cut down his time to an opportunity with the Bruins.

He is a player to keep an eye on, a versatile and skilled  forward with jam who could be another late-round, homegrown talent that could contribute in multiple faces of the game moving forward as the Bruins look to develop their next core of talent.

Oskar Steen with a nice shorty in his final Swedish season before signing with the B’s

 

Zach Senyshyn: Then & Now

We continue updating Boston Bruins prospects in two different series with Zach Senyshyn. We’re taking the longer, more detailed approach with the 15th overall selection from 2015, with some superb past content from Dominic Tiano who has been following him longer than most of us.-KL

Zach Senyshyn Then on Scouting Post:

July 18, 2015 (One of the very first posts of the blog)

Zachary Senyshyn, RW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-2, 195

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The 2015 NHL draft’s first true off-the-board pick has the natural skills to eventually justify the selection, even if the Bruins took an acknowledged risk with other more established players on the board. The good news: the Ottawa-area product is a fine skater who can beat defenders wide with his speed, takes pucks to the net and has the hands to find the back of the net with regularity. On the downside- scouts question his natural creativity and there is significant risk associated with him if he does not take the next anticipated step in the OHL with the departure of several key veterans he was playing behind. Although he isn’t an intimidating presence on the ice, Senyshyn is saying and doing all the right things and demonstrated his raw, but promising talent at development camp.

August 16, 2015

Zach Senyshyn scouting report:
Senyshyn plays a north/south game with very good size and still room to fill out. He has a very powerful skating stride with quick acceleration in his first few strides and top end speed. He has the ability to beat defenders with that speed one-on- one and the tenacity to drive to the net with the puck.

Senyshyn can throw a big hit but it’s not something he goes out looking for. He will battle along the boards for pucks and wins more of those battles than he loses. He possesses that same work ethic in his own zone. He plays the game in high gear from the drop of the puck to the final buzzer.

At times, Senyshyn has shown to make an excellent pass. His playmaking abilities weren’t really noticeable in his first year, but as he enters year two in the OHL, and playing with more talented players, it’ll be his time to shine.– Dominic Tiano

July 18, 2016: Bruins development camp roundup

Zach Senyshyn, RW

Plus: A year after tallying 26 goals on the bottom line and without much special teams time, the 15th selection in 2015 scored 45 goals to lead the Soo Greyhounds; he’s a big, explosive and skilled scoring presence on the right side. Minus: The goals are great, but the 19-year-old has work to do in his 200-foot game; he has a tendency to wait for the next scoring chance or let others go and get him the puck.

May 12, 2017- Another profile of Senyshyn from OHL analyst Dominic Tiano:

We all know Senyshyn is an elite-level skater who can beat defenders wide. He also possesses an NHL shot already. He’s willing to stand in front of the goal and take his licks and knock in rebounds. He plays smart with his stick seemingly always on the ice waiting for the pass. He has subtle little moves that allow for that extra 6-12 inches to get into a lane. Only time will tell how it translates to the NHL.

But for now, a year in the AHL is probably the best thing for him and the Bruins.

Zach Senyshyn now:

Three years into his pro career and after the above post was written, the time has mostly been spent in the AHL with the exception of 6 NHL games (1 empty-net goal, 3 points).  The projection on Senyshyn is just about in focus: He’s probably more of a third-line/middle-of-the-roster forward at the NHL level at best, which, in the context of his draft position, validates the concerns around the choice when it was made.

Mat Barzal (Islanders), Kyle Connor (Jets), Brock Boeser (Canucks), Travis Konecny (Flyers) and Anthony Beauvilier (Islanders)- all forwards drafted after the 15th selection, have established themselves as impact players, each with at least 121 NHL points (Barzal leads the pack with 207, while Connor is close behind with 201). There is no denying five years after the draft that the Bruins did not get the best value out of that pick. Like fellow 1st-rounder Jakub Zboril, Senyshyn has been a victim of others’ success more than the has been a subpar performer. And there is no denying the fact that a lot of people have taken great pains to point that out from day one.

Even with the potential surrounding the Senyshyn pick at the time, it was a given that he would be a project who would take time to justify the selection. However, the slower, more deliberate NHL timeline we predicted on this blog at the time of the selection ended up being optimistic.

Although he popped offensively in junior with 45 and 42 goals, his staple tool-  offense at the pro level has been slow in materializing. He’s had to learn how to be a more complete player to succeed in the Providence system, which adopts many of the same set plays and player responsibilities as the parent Bruins club. While we can say that his game has improved and he’s taken positive strides in terms of his pro habits that the AHL experiences have taught him, it’s not a stretch to say that more was and is expected.

Senyshyn is 23, and in a four-game NHL recall in late October/early November, he started to show why the B’s were high enough on him to invest ahead of the others. He showed some jump and was impacting shifts with his speed and an energetic style that despite limited even strength minutes, was making a difference and starting to move the needle. Then, he suffered an injury that ended the promising stretch just as things were getting started.

Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald reported on the lower body injury in a detailed piece back in December, when Senyshyn was returned to Providence five weeks after leaving the NHL lineup.

Here is Bruce Cassidy, quoted from the Conroy Herald piece with key analysis on the player’s Boston stint bolded for emphasis: “He did his job. He’s one of those guys who hasn’t earned his way yet so we haven’t used him on the power play or penalty kill, it’s all even-strength minutes, so you can get lost some nights in that role. We’ve seen that with Brett (Ritchie) a little bit, getting that motor turned on when you’ve got to sit for extended periods. And that’s where I thought (Senyshyn) did a decent job for us when he didn’t play. As a young guy, sometimes the mind wanders. I thought he went out and stayed true to his game and got on pucks, protected them in the O-zone. I thought he influenced the play well for us. It’s too bad when he got hurt. He was starting to gain a little bit of confidence and we were starting to see what we had. So he has to start over a little bit. Hopefully he picks up where he left off, whether it’s here or Providence and gains a little bit of confidence knowing that there is a role for him in this league.”

Cassidy, like most successful coaches at any level, focuses on the details- the little things. And going back to his junior years, we had scouts tell us that while Senyshyn had the tools to thrive in the NHL, his overall game and commitment to those habits and attributes that most successful NHLers have weren’t quite there. When it doesn’t come naturally to a player, then there is a window of time extended to figure it out. Not everyone can be Patrice Bergeron and play like a seasoned veteran at age 18, but any organization only has so much patience with the process before others pass you on the depth chart, and potential is either reached or left unfulfilled.

There’s no guarantee that had Senyshyn not gotten hurt that he would have been able to keep a spot on the Boston roster, but in missing the time he did, he needed to get back down to the AHL to get his conditioning and timing back on track, and there would be no other NHL opportunities after that.

Outlook:

At TSP, we can only guess that the positive, albeit baby steps towards earning a regular NHL shift might have done enough to convince management to hold on and give him more time. When you read between the lines of Cassidy’s comments back in December, he’s essentially saying that Senyshyn is young, but figuring it out and is trending in the right direction. That’s a good sign, and it likely means that with a qualifying offer in hand and another year under NHL contract, the third of three first-round picks will get another opportunity to prove he can play here.

That doesn’t change the fact that the projections here were overly rosy about him in the early going, but we won’t apologize for being high on a player who scored 114 goals in 195 junior games. Even though he was projected to go in the second round that year, we won’t fault the scouts who pushed for him in Sunrise, because sometimes you make gut calls based on passion for a player that pans out in a big way- like Bergeron and more recently, David Pastrnak. And sometimes, the player you believe in doesn’t deliver like you hoped. No one scout, no one team- no matter who they are- ever has a perfect track record. Every team can continue to learn as an organization in developing a sustained productive process from the decisions that don’t work out, just as much as the validation received from successful picks. Learning organizations might stumble, but they rarely fall.

Finally, the silver lining to the slow development, modest production and injury setbacks is that Senyshyn is still in the mix to establish himself as a player and could yet develop into a capable middle-of-the-roster forward. That’s not going to erase the criticism surrounding his selection, but even if the selection ends up being a bloop single to shallow right field, it is preferable to striking out swinging. With his growing confidence and a willingness to work, he has a chance to get on base.

Although it is cliche to say, the jury is still out on Senyshyn, but fire up some Europe if you can- it’s the final countdown.

For more on Senyshyn with analysis from Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network,check out this recent podcast. He starts talking about him at the 1:18:50 mark of the audio.

Zach Senyshyn’s 1st NHL goal vs Minnesota to close out the 2019 regular season

Senyshyn- 2 goals in a 2018 preseason game vs Washington (plus a nice breakaway goal at 1:50 by Jakub Lauko– speed!) 1st at 2:03 vs Ilya Samsonov and the second (a fluky bounce) at 2:40, but he threw the puck at the net off the rush- good things happen.

Thoughts on the 2011 Bruins Game 7 Zoom reunion

 

Bruins zoom2

It may or may not have gone exactly the way the Boston Bruins public and media relations staff drew it up, but last night’s 2011 Stanley Cup team reunion on Zoom broadcast with Game 7 on NESN was high entertainment for those who got a chance to see it, even if the humor was narrowly focused on the B’s fanbase.

I mean, take 20 players, some still in the NHL as players and coaching staff, others out of the NHL but still involved in the game, and a few more retired and out of hockey, add wine, beer or other more potent libations of choice, quarantine during a global pandemic and then have them re-live one of the greatest games of their lives via virtual conferencing technology. What could possibly go wrong, right?

Right.

From a fan perspective, the event was gold, and it is one more example of the modern information age opening the door for the public getting to see a side of hockey players and the culture that they are rarely able…or authorized to. It was unfiltered, uncensored and unbelievable- just 20 guys watching what was for most of them, the finest moment of their careers, distilled to one decisive, crystalline 60-minute victory on the road to cap an improbable comeback of a dream season.

Championship teams win because when they go to battle on ice, they fight for each other. The NHL’s playoffs- more than two months of grueling, grinding, grappling to climb the summit and raise the Stanley Cup overhead in the middle of June- is a war of attrition that requires such excellence in performance but also unmatched, singular dedication to each and every one involved in reaching that goal. A lesser team would not have survived a pair of 0-2 holes in two of four playoff series that year. A dysfunctional group would have crumbled under the pressure of a 0-0 Game 7 against the toughest out of a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that posed a bad matchup for the B’s. In 2011, the Bruins dared us all to believe in them, and then they delivered.

Last night, fans got a firsthand look at why that team was special.

Milan Lucic held court for much of it, reminding us about why he was such a fan favorite in his Bruins days. Yes, his NHL career after being traded away in the summer of 2015 has gone the wrong way, but in 2011, he was at the height of prominence, winning another hockey championship in his home city of Vancouver, just as he did in 2007 as a member of the Memorial Cup-winning Giants of the WHL.

It was good to see Tim Thomas back with his teammates again. His Bruins tenure didn’t end well, and the open wounds on both sides of that departure had been allowed to fester in the intervening years. That is, until a few months back, when Thomas came back home, reluctantly told his story, and the vast majority of those who had felt rejected by his aloofness and distance, embraced him once more. His Vezina Trophy regular season and subsequent Conn Smythe spring of 2011 remains to this day arguably the greatest display of sustained excellence in goaltending the NHL has ever seen, and he deserves to celebrated, not criticized.

Current core Bruins Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask– comprising nearly a quarter of the roster that took home the championship nine years ago are still here. That in itself is a testament to their greatness to this franchise and that legacy will endure in Boston long after the last one of them plays his final game wearing a spoked-B. Many championship teams are all but scattered and gone just a few years later, but for these five to continue to represent this organization and produce the way they have nearly a decade later is proof of that 2011 team’s worthiness as champions.

We’ll stop there. After all, there were so many moments in the broadcast, so many myriad individual examples of why these players were able to accomplish what so many are unable to, but to do so would spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet. And hopefully, if you missed it, there will be other opportunities for it to be seen and enjoyed going forward. Sure, the language and some of the comments were not for a general audience, but what the players showed us was real and typical of how great teams achieve that greatness- out of pure love and respect for one another, and how such an experience bonds them together for life.

For so many Bruins fans, 2011 marked the end of 39 long years of frustration- of multiple Boston hockey clubs coming oh-so-close to a championship but ultimately falling short. Even after the win in 2011, Boston has returned to the close-but-no-cigar reality of 2013 and 2019. That’s why this team, a group of players known for its cohesiveness even before the playoffs began nine years ago, was the perfect salve for so much disappointment. They were the fourth of Boston’s major sports teams to win a championship after the New England Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, but for those who bleed Black and Gold, it was about saving the best for last.

For one night in April of 2020, with everything going on around the country and world, with the current NHL season hanging in the balance so trivial in the wake of the larger loss of life to a hideous virus, getting the band back together (minus a few- Nathan Horton and Tomas Kaberle who left early for a business-related call to duty), was exactly what the fans needed.

Reunions remind us of who we are, and that ultimately, we move on from groups and events and go on with our lives. Here’s to those who get it, and understand the power that such an event has against the backdrop of the hurting and uncertainty/disruption in their lives that so many are going through these days. Gratitude that they made it happen and we could see what that experience meant for the men who lived it.

As Lucic, so appropriately reminded us all at reunion’s end last night as he raised his wineglass: “This is a family we’ll have for the rest of our lives. So, I love you guys. Cheers.”

Bruins zoom

ADDENDUM:

Here is the recently-posted Zoom video on YouTube “Locker Room Time Machine”

Here is the link to Eric Russo’s NHL.com piece with the highlights in cased you missed it and can’t find a version online.

 

 

 

Dominic Tiano: A Look Back at the Man They Call ‘Studs’

 

Jack Studnicka of the Oshawa Generals. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

(Photo credit: Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Guest post by Dominic Tiano:

As most of you know, my priority is the Ontario Hockey League and the NHL Draft because that’s where my eyes are mostly focused. And when my fellow Amigos suggested that I compare what I said back in 2017 about Jack Studnicka to where he is now, I couldn’t resist even though I could have been way off the mark.

So, lets go back to March 5, 2017 when I first wrote this:

I don’t believe Studnicka is an offense first player, which I see tagged to him plenty. He puts as much attention to detail on the defensive side as he does on the offense. He plays in all situations and takes key faceoffs for the Generals. He’s quietly become the Generals’ top face off man at 53%. It’s his extremely high compete level that makes him pay attention at both ends.

Studnicka has good size – although adding bulk will be key for him. He is an excellent skater who has an explosive first step and decent top end speed who can change direction with ease. He possesses very good vision with high quality playmaking skills with an ability to set up his teammates. His shot is underrated in my opinion. His release is deceptive and accurate and he puts every shot on goal with a purpose.

Studnicka can be elusive in the offensive zone. He can break away from coverage almost undetected and put himself into scoring positions. He has very good puck skills and strong possession skills. Although he needs to add some muscle, he will not shy away from the hard areas. Once he gets stronger, it will become an area where he wins more often than he loses because of it – and his work ethic.

If anything has changed in three years its that he has improved even on the skills he was already good at. Yes, he was deemed as just an offensive player in many circles back then, but not to these eyes. What has impressed me most is that he continues to put the work in, even in areas he excels at. And that continued work defensively has only made him stronger in that area. He was one of the best penalty killers in the AHL and while he took care of his own zone, he was a threat to score while down a man each and every time.

While he was already a “polished” skater in the faceoff circle, that wasn’t enough for Captain Jack. Much like Patrice Bergeron – he has similar traits to the Bruins Alternate Captain – he continues to work at it to become even better. For Studnicka, like Bergeron, good is just never good enough.

All that hard work has paid off for Studnicka as he quickly moved up to the top of the Bruins prospect rankings, something I am sure even Jack didn’t think would happen this quickly.

If there is one area that I would have liked to see accelerated in this process, it’s adding bulk to his frame. While every part of his game – the IQ, vision, skating, 200-foot game, faceoff success, offense, penalty killing – are NHL ready, adding some extra bulk to his frame this offseason will prepare him for the long grind of the NHL season.

With the extra long offseason for Studnicka, the opportunity is there to put in the work. What we do know 100%, is that he will put in that work.

Best and Worst Bruins Draft Picks 1-30; 1963-2019

Thornton

I recently posted this to the Bruins sub-Reddit- and thought it deserved a place on my blog.

Took a swing at the Boston Bruins historical draft choices, analyzing the team’s selections since the NHL implemented a rudimentary draft system 56 years ago. Bear in mind that in the pre-1969 years, the draft was different- starting in 1963 thru 1978 it was called the amateur draft before changing to the NHL Entry Draft in 1979 when the teams were allowed to draft 18-year-olds. With fewer teams in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, selections outside of 10-20 were 2nd round or later, but for purpose of exercise, I’m going to look at picks 1-30 and call it like I see it.

I’m bucking convention by starting out with 1st overall and work up to 30- in a lot of cases, the early selections for the B’s have not been kind, but in full context- most of the time the team was picking 3-7, it came in the days before the current draft system. And because the B’s had made the playoffs from 1968-97, unless they owned bad teams’ 1st rounders, they rarely got a chance to pick inside the top-10 during that time frame.

1- Best: Joe Thornton, 1997: 1st ballot HHOFer- nuf ced; Trading him opened the door for Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to join the B’s in 2006, but he’s been everything Jumbo Joe was projected to be as a teen titan with the Soo Greyhounds in 1997. He just turned 40 in July, which, given the shaggy, golden-locked kid who showed up in Boston 22 years ago at not quite 18, seems impossible to square with the grizzled graybeard who has been with the San Jose Sharks for nearly a decade and a half.

Worst: Barry Gibbs, 1966: Journeyman defenseman. He at least played in the NHL to the tune of 796 career games, most of them not with the Bruins. However, Gibbs leads the No. 1 overall bust hit parade not because of what he did, but because of the player who was selected right behind him at No. 2 in ’66 by the NY Rangers. Wait for it…Brad Park. Can you imagine Bobby Orr and Brad Park together on the Boston blue line? It actually happened for a handful of games right before Orr left for the Windy City, but had they been able to play together in their primes, we’re talking at least 2 more Stanley Cups in that era. Yikes. (H/T to Reddit user Timeless_Watch for pointing this out- I moved Kluzak down to HM)

HM: Gord Kluzak, 1982: Oh what could have been? What if…B’s had drafted Brian Bellows or Scott Stevens there instead of Kluzak? Kluzak had knee injuries in junior hockey days and then got blown up in his 2nd NHL season- without the technology to repair knees that we have today, it doomed him to being day-to-day for the rest of his career and an early retirement. He should have been a long-tenured NHL defenseman, but it didn’t happen for him, and unfortunately, he’s more of a footnote in Bruins lore, which is unfortunate.

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After coming up short, what’s next?

Five days after the Game 7 loss at home to the St. Louis Blues, fans and pundits alike are left wondering, what’s next for Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins organization?

First of all, it’s tough to reconcile what was such an inspired season for the B’s with how it all ended. On the one hand, if most were asked before the season started if they would be over the moon to see their team make it all the way to within one game of a Stanley Cup championship, the answer would be an emphatic affirmative. On the other hand, the way it all ended in a manner eerily reminiscent to what the Bruins did to the home Vancouver Canucks eight years ago has left many to vent their frustration and disappointment on the Boston radio airwaves and social media platforms.

Most fanbases would kill for a chance just to get to the Stanley Cup Final and give it a valiant run. But Boston is not most fanbases- with the number of championships the city has boasted since 2001, anything less than another duckboat parade was likely to be seen by many as an abject loss, no matter what went right along the way. To focus on the Bruins’ collective and individual failures to capture a seventh Stanley Cup championship in franchise history is a natural by-product of the way we are conditioned in the modern age. Sure, to those fair-minded folks out there, it can be disheartening to hear some of the more acerbic takes calling out as failures such stalwart performers such as Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, but that’s the way the game is played. When you battle through injuries and triumph in the deciding game, you become immortal legends of Bruins sports lore. When you come up short, you failed.

We don’t have to like it, and we can always argue the various factors and mitigating circumstances, but in the end- those who point to the ultimate inability to win two games in a row all series long, leading to a defeat for the third out of four games at TD Garden, are not wrong.  Winners win, losers lose, and at the end of the day, the Bruins weren’t able to leverage home ice advantage into a championship. This is something that will stay with the players, coaches and front office for a long, long time.

So, what now?

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Bruins in their 3rd Stanley Cup Final since 2011

The Boston Bruins are back to playing for Lord Stanley’s glittering prize- they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 for the first NHL championship parade in Boston since 1972, came up short in 2013 against the Chicago Blackhawks and now join the Windy City team as the only the second team this decade to reach the SCF three times.

How did we get here?

Tampa Bay and Washington both flamed out in the first round, opening the door for the B’s (or as old Blue Eyes used to croon “Luck be a lady tonight…”) to handily defeat Columbus and Carolina after battling it out with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a second consecutive 1st-round seven-game barn-burner of a series. Out West, wagons like Calgary and 2018 SCF runner-up Vegas were knocked out in the first round as well. Not a bad draw when all is said and done, but no matter who you have to play- winning a championship is never easy.

Now, onto some thoughts on the players:

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B’s 2019 trade deadline thoughts as final stretch begins

Okay, so it wasn’t a headline-grabbing trade deadline,  but the B’s have gone 1-0-0-1 with 3 out of 4 points since acquiring veteran forwards Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson in separate trades last week and on Monday’s annual NHL trade deadline.

We’re  all still waiting on Don Sweeney’s “signature” trade- he’s made some relatively minor deals in his tenure as GM since succeeding Peter Chiarelli in spring 2015, but as of yet, we haven’t seen a major franchise-altering transaction under his watch. And that’s okay- as of right now at least- because it’s hard to argue that the Bruins haven’t at least improved since Sweeney sent scoring prospect Ryan Donato and a 5th pick to Minnesota for the Weymouth native and former San Jose 1st-rounder in 2010.

The biggest challenge facing Sweeney and Co. is the specter of the NHL’s top club in Tampa Bay (who summarily dismissed the B’s from the postseason a year ago) and an improving Toronto Maple Leafs franchise who will be an even tougher out (after taking Boston to seven games in the first round last year). It’s entirely possible that some of the consternation about what the team did at the deadline you might see out there from media and fans alike has to do with how potent the Atlantic Division is and that the perception is that Boston didn’t do enough. That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes and no one ever said winning a championship is easy.

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