The Pasta Principle: Pastrnak primed for year 2

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

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

David Pastrnak is back in Boston, as he showed up this week for the annual pre-training camp captain’s practice sessions, which sees the gradual return to the ice of Bruins players.

Pastrnak’s arrival so soon (we’re still a little more than 2 weeks from the time the veteran players are required to report) is an indicator of the young forward’s seriousness, though it’s not all that surprising to those who know him. Last year, Torey Krug went out of his way to talk about how dedicated the NHL’s youngest player was (he didn’t turn 19 until May- a month after the B’s packed up and headed home), showing a maturity beyond his years.

Some people like to talk about how hard they work, but Pastrnak goes out and does it. When character guys like Krug notice that, then you know you’re doing something right.

I said in my 2016 Bruins season preview series that Pastrnak is the player Boston has been waiting for, and that’s more and more evident by the day. He’s arguably the most purely talented player on the roster, but his humility, enthusiasm and love for what he does provides the best possible example for everyone around him, from rookie to veteran alike.

He’s up to about 180 pounds, which will better help him to endure the rigors of the 82-game regular season schedule plus exhibition and potentially more in the playoffs (if the Bruins get in). That’s a good weight gain that gives him a good starting point going into camp. With his body type, he’ll likely lose more over the course of the season- every little bit will help him in the corners, along the walls and in front of the net.

I profiled Pastrnak a year ago in January, right after his outburst of 4 goals in a two-game stretch that secured his place with the big club for the duration of the 2014-15 hockey campaign. For a guy who was still trying to figure out the English thing, I thought he was extremely well spoken, and he reminded me of a young David Krejci, who despite a thick Czech accent and near-whisper when he spoke, said some of the more profound (by hockey dressing room standards) things of anyone on the roster circa 2008-10.

He talked to me about his love for the game and how sometimes, like a typical kid, he just didn’t feel like playing or practicing. Instead of forcing him go, his parents let him make his own decision. That approach seems to have worked out for him, and though still a teenager, he could moonlight as a hockey advice guru with quotes like this one:

“My mom told me that sometimes I didn’t want to go to practice so she (would) just leave me (at home). My parents were never like, ‘ you have to go practice’ they always asked me: ‘do I want to go practice?’ and I said yes or no, but if I said no, I stayed home. I think that’s an important thing too, because right now some parents are just pushing their children to play hockey all the time and that’s maybe how they stop liking it, you know?”

Growing up in the one-rink coal-mining town of Havirov, Pastrnak rode the city bus to practice and games, sometimes wearing his gear and carrying his skates and stick. As long as he could get to the rink on time, it didn’t matter to him how he got there.

Now, at 19, he’s on the verge of something special in Boston. Those cynics who want to waste their time cracking wise about the Bruins now being primed to trade him can chortle and giggle at their so-called cleverness all they want, but they miss the point entirely about what the management team is trying to do. Just as the club once cultivated and groomed a young teen named Patrice Bergeron to be a key contributor and leader, they are doing the same for Pastrnak. Unlike former Bruins Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin, Pastrnak has given the team myriad reasons to hold onto him and invest the millions going forward that it will take as he matures into a league star. The other two are stars as well, but for whatever reason, they either could not or would not embrace the ethos that right or wrong, the Bruins expected them to.

Pastrnak doesn’t have that problem.

He is a player everyone can get behind.

And that’s the memo.

***

You can read the complete profile of David Pastrnak in the February 2015 edition of New England Hockey Journal here:

http://digital.hockeyjournal.com/nxtbooks/seamans/nehj_201502/index.php?startid=10

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

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

Scouting dispatches: Twitter mailbag # 3

I’m back with a third edition of the Twitter hockey mailbag, where I solicit questions and followers hit me up on a variety of topics. This week’s mailbag has a little bit of everything, with some questions about the Bruins (mostly about prospects), some draft queries related to Auston Matthews and the process itself. Thanks as always to those who took the time to submit and if I didn’t get to a question you asked- apologies but keep trying.

 

Here’s the mailbag:

Since you focus on prospects, what is the organization doing wrong in prospect development and who is responsible?- Olsonic @BruinsScience

I won’t lie- wrestled with this question because of the way it is worded. Instead of trying to simply approach the question by answering what I think is “wrong” with the process, I’ll also attempt to point out some things I feel the team is doing right.

First of all, the Bruins are a long way from the old days when they would typically draft a player and then spend little to no time interacting with them as the majority of them returned to their junior clubs or played in the NCAA before they were ready to compete for a Boston job. There are some tough stories involving players like 1989 first-round draft pick Shayne Stevenson that would be hard to wrap your head around given the investment the B’s and all the other teams now (smartly) make in player development to help set the conditions for an eventual NHL payoff. Stevenson was a cautionary tale, but he was far from the only promising player to never reach his big league potential, and the Bruins are hardly the only NHL team to move on from a talented young player because something was just not there to justify the expense.

In getting to your question- prospect development is not a black and white issue. It depends on a lot of different factors, only some of which are- overall talent/ability, draft position, character/work ethic, maturity, and a big one I don’t think enough people put weight into- the drafting team’s roster opportunities. In a perfect world, every first-round pick would just show up to camp, plug right into his allotted position and go off to enjoy success, but the world we live in is far from perfect.

Without writing a book here, I get the consternation over departures of young core players like Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, but simply pointing to the team and trying to allocate responsibility to any one individual is an exercise in futility. Could the teams have done things differently to keep both players in the fold? Perhaps. Could the players have done more to instill confidence in their commitment to the team and/or expressed more of a desire to be in Boston over the long haul? Possibly. When you’re dealing with people and personalities, developing prospects becomes more art than science, so the best thing the Bruins can do is try and capture lessons learned from disappointments and successes alike.

The Bruins spend considerable time and resources working with their prospects and trying to bring them along at a pace that will set them up for success when it eventually is time for them to be pros and make a run at an NHL career. Player coach Jay Pandolfo joined the team in a full-time capacity last season to mentor the youngsters and his own experiences having come up through the ranks at Burlington High and Boston University before winning several Stanley Cups. A respected defensive forward who spent most of his nearly 900-game NHL career with the New Jersey Devils means he has a broad base of experience and wisdom to impart. He was a second-round pick as an offensive player at the lower levels but had to reinvent himself as a defensive forward to keep younger, more skilled players at bay for years as he skated in the big show. I think he’ll continue to relate well to Boston’s prospects and provide a good example for them going forward.

In the end, no matter how good a team’s developmental program is or how much money they pump into it, not everyone is going to play in the NHL with the team that drafted them, and unfortunately, some high picks will fall off along the way. If we only ask what’s wrong with something while not making an effort to find out what’s right in any given situation, it’s a good bet that we’re missing out on a significant part of the equation.

 

How good is Austin Matthews [sic]? Better than Eichel?- RJ @mrshark444

I’d say an acronym that fits for Auston Matthews is PDG- Pretty (Darned) Good. He’s got the size, skating and offensive skills to be a threat on each and every shift. He’s still developing his 200-foot game, but there’s a reason he’s the early favorite to be the NHL draft’s top selection next June. He looked the part of a top NHL prospect at the USA WJC camp last month, and I can’t wait to see how he acquits himself in Switzerland’s top pro league this year.

As far as him being “better” than Eichel, that’s not something I’m interested in tackling right now. Those two will have a chance to settle that debate in the NHL eventually, and I’ll leave it to them to let their play do the talking when the time comes.

 

(Joe) Morrow, (Zach) Trotman, and (Colin) Miller- what areas do they need to work on to make the NHL roster, respectively?- Chuck Finley @cnjs5kpj

I would not be surprised to see all three on the Boston roster at some point this season, but the chance of the trio being in the lineup at the same time is less likely to happen in my view.

Morrow has the skating, passing and shot you look for in the more offense-minded defensemen, but the irony with him in his 15-game audition last year is that he looked more like a conservative, stay-at-home D playing more not to lose than opening it up and giving his team the chance to benefit from what he does best- pushing the pace and running the power play. Now, it’s certainly possible that Claude Julien and Doug Houda told Morrow to keep it simple, but I think that if he’s going to be a regular this year, he’ll have to show more flash in terms of using his speed to lead the rush and back defenses up. He needs to be more assertive in the offensive end, because the B’s have plenty better defense-minded players than Morrow- they don’t need another one.

Trotman needs to keep raising his execution level while playing situational hockey for the Bruins. He’s big and pretty fluid for his size, but he’s not all that physical nor projects as a consistent point producer, so he’ll have to be most effective at even strength to earn the coaches’ trust. That means he’s going to have to play a smart positional game, use his long reach and strength to keep attackers to the outside and cut down on the mental mistakes that have at times have been noticeable. I like his chances of grabbing a 5/6 role right out of camp the best of the three.

Miller is interesting- he’s a late bloomer; a latter-round pick who has superb skating chops and a big shot who is coming off a far more productive AHL season than the one Morrow, a former 1st-rounder, just had. He’s mature and talented enough to make the big club right away, but the B’s will have to balance how he performs at camp and preseason with the kind of role they want to give him. He’s not known as a particularly instinctive player, so while he has the wheels and howitzer, there’s much more to it than that, so he’ll have to demonstrate enough of a defensive awareness so that they keep him up rather than try to get him more seasoning in the minors.

How’s Peter Cehlarik coming along?– John C @JohnnyRiingo

Cehlarik had a better 2014-15 campaign than he did the year before, when he bounced around to several teams in different leagues and never settled in. I see him playing one more year in Sweden with Lulea and then signing and coming over to North America either at the end of this year or for the start of 2015-16 to play in Providence or possibly Boston.

On the positive side, I like the Slovak’s size, long arms and shot release and accuracy. He’s one of those players who can make an electrifying play with the puck on one shift and then score a mundane, take-out-the-garbage kind of goal a few minutes later. He’s got some dangle and creativity with the puck.

He’s not a plus skater, but he does have a long stride, so he tends to look like he’s gliding around sometimes. He’s not all that heavy on the puck and I know that different Bruins scouts have told me that they want to see a little more “want to” in his game at times.

The Bruins don’t have a lot of similar players to Cehlarik in their system, but I don’t know that he projects to be a high-end, top-six forward in the NHL, even if the tools are there. He’s an intriguing player, but I want to see how he adjusts to the North American game first.

How mad should I really be that the B’s gave away Dougie Hamilton?– Lundeaner @Deaner1000

The Bruins didn’t “give away” Hamilton, though I understand where you are going here.

If your point is to be mad because they didn’t get NHL players who are known commodities at this level and are ready to step in and perform right away, that’s a legitimate gripe. Whether salary cap dictated what direction the B’s went in when Don Sweeney made the decision to move him or something else, that Boston defense took a step backwards and there’s no sugarcoating that.

However- I’d just offer up that once upon a time (in 2002), people griped about the Bruins letting Bill Guerin “walk for nothing,” only a funny thing happened a year later- they used the compensation pick for him on Patrice Bergeron and the rest is history. They used the 45th pick on him in 2003 and this past June, one of the three picks they got from Calgary for Hamilton was No. 45- Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson– who reminds folks of a young Bergeron. Zachary Senyshyn and Jeremy Lauzon are two more players who could one day help turn the trade in Boston’s favor.

With the Hamilton trade there is no question the B’s accepted a lot of risk on the return from Calgary and it might end up on the negative ledger in the long run. I’m certainly not going to try and sell it as a win for Boston in September 2015, so if you want to be mad, I won’t try to stop you. But, if the scouts got it right with those three players, we might not be too concerned that Hamilton is out in Western Canada in about 3-5 years…that’s a big “if” though, and with jobs potentially on the line- the B’s must get something out of these three picks.

 

Any chance Noel Acciari and or The Planet’s kid play on the 4th Line this season? Can’t see Chris Kelly down there all year– Mark Clinton @mark_clinton

Is there a chance? Sure- there’s always a chance, but how much of one is the question, and I’m not sure Acciari will be at the top of the list of players to be called up to Boston in his first pro season, with a bit of a glut of more experienced wingers to choose from.

Does he have the maturity to do it? I think so- he’s someone I have followed since his days as a Kent Lion and Acciari’s game lends itself to fourth line duty. By the same token, unless he’s so much better than everyone else vying for fourth line duty, I’m of the opinion that the chance to play more of a role in the AHL is probably more beneficial to Acciari at this stage of his development.

I guess we’ll find out. I wouldn’t have a problem with Acciari getting that chance, but without seeing how he looks in camp or performs at the AHL level, it’s not a hill I am going to die on either way.

 

How should the Bruins manage their goalie assets? Do B’s have any chance at getting a reasonable return, or is best bet to develop?- Greg Babbitt @babbitt_greg

The two are not mutually exclusive and it’s about doing what management feels is going to make the team better.

That’s why instead of keeping a more proven Martin Jones in the fold right after acquiring him from the Kings, they moved him for other assets while saving the money re-signing him would have counted against the cap. Part of that no doubt was to accommodate Jones’ desire to have a chance to start somewhere, which wasn’t going to happen this year in Boston barring an injury, but part of it was deciding to get a solid, closer-to-being-ready NHL prospect and a potential lottery pick next June for a guy who would have been sitting more than playing.

Throwing out the fact that they don’t currently have a proven NHL commodity to back up Tuukka Rask, they have three solid assets and I’m not sure trading one makes a whole lot of sense right now given how little depth they truly have if Rask gets injured. Daniel Vladar is not pro-ready, so beyond Jeremy Smith, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre, there isn’t a large safety net for contingencies. I still think they’ll bring a veteran with some level of NHL experience into the mix before camp- either through invitation or with a low-cost, take-the-minimum-while-you-can money so as not to throw their backup hopes behind a trio of guys who have less than one NHL game between them.

As for the reasonable return versus developing them question, I’ve never understood the segment of fans that immediately jumped up and assumed Subban would be traded when the B’s signed Rask to his big extension in 2013. When the Bruins acquired Rask in 2006, the B’s had Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen as their goalies entering the 06-07 season, and even when Thomas continued to perform at a high level as the starter (except for his injury-riddled 2009-10 season), Rask had to bide his time. Why wouldn’t the B’s employ a similar patient approach to Subban and/or McIntyre while their veteran continues to be the No. 1 in Boston?

It all comes down to protecting the club against catastrophe, and that’s what the team will be facing if it loses Rask for an extended period anytime soon. If you don’t think you can get the kind of return that justifies the investment you’ve made in a player, there is nothing wrong with holding onto him and seeing if he can deliver on the promise that prompted the team to draft him in the first place. At that point, he either wins a bigger job with the NHL squad or he increases his trade value, but there’s no set answer that applies universally.

I believe the Bruins have done it the right way, but I also thought Niklas Svedberg would succeed as the backup a year ago based on his AHL track record in Providence.

 

What are the most important attributes you look for in prospects? Personally think hockey sense & work ethic should trump all– Hash Marks @hash_marks

Thanks for the question- I enjoy getting ones like this.

Those are two important attributes for sure, but in the end, I’m of the belief that you can’t apply a cookie cutter-type approach when it comes to evaluating players, so I do my best to evaluate them on their own merits without introducing too much personal and preferential bias into the process up front.

Hockey sense and work ethic will likely result in a smart hockey player who is driven to succeed, but based on his position, would a lack of size and skating be enough for those areas to overcome those deficiencies? I’ve seen some players who possessed elite hockey sense never reach the NHL because they were smaller and couldn’t skate well enough- it happens and some guys have the misfortune to get drafted by NHL teams whose systems aren’t the right fits for their strengths and weaknesses.

I’m a big proponent of the “foxhole test” in terms of asking whether you’d want to go to war with a player to measure that individual’s character and mental toughness. Because of my military background and a few trips to the big sandbox, I often find that I have some pretty high standards in that regard, but there are always a few guys each and every year who answer the foxhole test question with a resounding yes in my mind. At the same time- you have to be able to skate and up and down a 200-foot sheet of ice and put a vulcanized rubber disk into a 4 x 6-foot cage past a highly athletic and (often times) tall guy with octopus-like arms and whose gear would make Sir Lancelot jealous. How hard someone works or ferocious their character may help them do that, but I’m not sure that “trumps” other attributes that might lend themselves to being a better scorer or defenseman. So- while I don’t disagree that hockey sense and work ethic are key components in the evaluation process, I’m not ready to definitively say that those attributes  are enough to take precedence over the other skills/tools in a vacuum.

It’s a balancing act, and every team and the scouts they employ do things differently than everyone else. How much of a difference varies, but it’s a big reason why drafting future NHLers tends to produce such varied results, especially in the later rounds when so many of these players hit their stride later and end up being better pros than a lot of guys taken ahead of them.

Throwback Thursday: Patrice Bergeron interview from 2003 NHL Draft

I will be posting a new summer cooler interview in the next 24 hours, but was rummaging through some old files and thought it might be fun to dig up this Q & A- the first extended interview Patrice Bergeron did with anyone outside the usual post-pick media scrum after becoming a Boston Bruins pick in Nashville 12+ years ago.
A couple of things:

  1. I totally lucked out in that we stayed at the same hotel and I ran into him in the hallway, otherwise it is an opportunity would have missed out on. But, in getting to spend time with Patrice, it began a name-basis relationship right off the bat at a time I will still relatively new to covering the NHL. I guess you could say I got in on the ground floor with Bergeron and it’s been a real treat to watch him grow.
  2. This should dispel the lingering myth with anyone that he couldn’t speak English very well when the Bruins drafted him. I transcribed every word of his answer off the tape recorder (yes- I was still using mini cassette tapes back then), and while he had a thick accent and his grammar wasn’t perfect, he communicated quite fine. It gets back to how serious and hard working he is…he studied hard in school and applied himself when playing major junior hockey in the Maritimes.
  3. Bergeron’s smarts and work ethic define the person and player he is. When you get right down to it, he’s the classic player who wasn’t a household name because of several concerns going in- mainly his average size and skating- but he was one of the few from that storied 2003 draft class who was an NHL player right away at 18 after going from midget AAA to the QMJHL the previous two seasons. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often and it isn’t an accident when it does.

So, enjoy the Q & A and I’ll have a newer post up later on a player that New Englanders, Hockey East fans and Albertans will have an interest in, but is not a Bruins player/prospect.

***

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's

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

A household name he wasn’t, but heading into the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft in Nashville, Acadie-Bathurst Titan Patrice Bergeron had a feeling that he might have a very good day when all was said and done. Just 45 selections into an event that would see nearly 300 young men from across North America and Europe have their names called by NHL teams, Bergeron’s wait was over, taken by the Boston Bruins mid-way through the second round.

Bergeron, who doesn’t turn 18 until next month, describes himself as a hard-working playmaker who finds more joy in setting up his teammates for goals than scoring them himself. Although a bit slight at 6-feet-0 and 180 pounds, Bergeron has drawn raves from scouts for his soft hands, creativity and ability to affect the tempo of the game when he controls the puck. One knock on the Quebec City native’s game is that he must get faster, particularly in his acceleration, if he is going to realize his immense potential.

The young center already has an excellent grasp on the English language, despite not getting much of an opportunity to use it in his native Quebec. This should help reduce the effects of culture shock when he travels to Boston for his first professional training camp in the fall.

Although not widely known amongst draftniks, Bergeron impressed his coaches and scouts in the Quebec League playoffs, and appears to only be scratching the surface in terms of what he can become in the NHL someday. It will take a little time, but don’t be surprised if Bergeron arrives on the scene sooner than anticipated. He appears to have all the intangibles that you look for in a professional athlete, and his humble nature off the ice conceals a fierce competitor on it.

HockeyJournal.com sat down with Patrice Bergeron in the Millennium Maxwell House hotel in Nashville the day after the draft and talked shop with one of the newest Bruins in the system.

HockeyJournal.com: What was your overall impression of the Entry Draft and the atmosphere there? Was it everything you thought it would be?

Patrice Bergeron: It was a lot of fun to go there to Nashville and then to be pick in the second round by the Boston Bruins. I wasn’t too nervous, but still, you wait and you don’t know when you might get pick, so to hear my name in the second round was a great feeling for me.

HJ: You said in the initial interview after you were selected that you were from Quebec City. Are you from the city proper, or a suburb?

PB: I live in Sillery, Quebec. It is a town not too big, but outside Quebec City.

HJ: When did you start playing hockey?

PB: At the age of five, I was.

HJ: So that was probably around 1990. Did you like the Quebec Nordiques back then?

PB: Yeah, I did. I liked (Joe) Sakic. He was probably the one I liked the most. But, I liked Adam Foote too. He worked really so hard and was a leader.

HJ: What was the difference for you, or the hardest thing to adjust to in your first season of major junior as opposed to what you were used to in midget hockey before?

PB: Probably the execution of the play was the hardest thing. You have to pass quicker, shoot quicker and all that kind of stuff.

HJ: How about the physical play and the fighting? Was that a change for you?

PB: Probably more the fights was the only difference because yes, the guys are bigger, but I was used to it. The physical stuff doesn’t bother me at all. It’s part of the game.

HJ: One of the NHL scouts who saw you play quite a bit this season said that you are very creative, and although you may not be the fastest skater, you slow the game down because you move side-to-side well and are able to hold the puck so you can make that key pass at the right moment for a good scoring chance. Do you think that’s a pretty accurate assessment of you and your play, and how much of that creativity that you possess is something that you were born with and just do when you’re out on the ice?

PB: Yeah, I think that is right. I think that a lot of what I do is natural, but I always work and prove my place. But I think that the things to look and slow down the play is natural, but the other parts of the game have to come when you work hard. It’s like when you learn on the job and as you work more, you get more confident and better at your job. With me, it’s the same thing.

HJ: What kind of a relationship do you have with your head coach in Bathurst, Real Paiement?

PB: It’s a great relationship. He helped me with a lot of things this year on the ice, but outside in general life. He’s a really good coach and I have a really great relationship with him.

HJ: That relationship probably showed through in the playoffs, when as a rookie, you were given a lot of ice time even though it was your first taste of the postseason, and you responded by playing a big role in your team’s success. How important was that faith he showed in you for your overall confidence?

PB: It gives me confidence. At the beginning of the year, he told me I would be on the third line, and improve my play and get experience and get confidence. He gives me so much confidence that I take my place and I graduate on the top line and get some ice time in the end of the regular season and playoffs.

HJ: As far as your offense goes, you’ve said you’re more of a playmaker, a passer- but when you are looking to shoot, what are you most comfortable with doing, and what shot have you had the most success with in game situations?

PB: My wrist shot. You know, a shot without showing the goalie you’re going to take a shot.

HJ: This summer, you said you wanted to work on your skating, but what are some of the other things you want to improve on?

PB: My body and my physical strength. I got a physical trainer in Quebec City- his name is Raymond Veillette. He’s a very good guy- he has been training with Simon Gagne.

HJ: Simon Gagne is a very accomplished hockey player. Do you know him?

PB: It’s the first summer for me, but I’m not like his friend, but I do know him. I have a lot of respect for him because he work very hard and is a great NHL player even though some people say he couldn’t make it because he was small. I look at him and hope that I can be like that too, someday.

HJ: What are your expectations of your first professional training camp in September? Are you pretty excited about being able to put on that Bruins sweater and skate with guys like Joe Thornton, Glen Murray and the rest of the team?

PB: It’s a wonderful feeling for me. When you’re young, everybody dreams about it, but doesn’t think too much because it’s far and you don’t know what is going to happen. But now, I’m here, and I know it’s only the first step that I’m draft, there are a lot of things I have to do to move on. But to go to camp is going to be impressive. I just have to get as strong as I can in the summer, and work on my skating as much as I can. I won’t be able to be as good as I want in one summer- it takes some years to do that, but I think I will be improved and make a good impression in Boston. It is important to me that I just play my game, work hard and show them that I can play.

HJ: What are some of the things you like to do when you’re not playing hockey?

PB: I like to listen to rap music, like Eminem and DMX.

HJ: You seem to have a pretty good relationship with your older brother, Guillaume. Do you beat him up now that you got a little size on him?

PB: (chuckling) No, I don’t beat him up or anything. Yeah, we’re very close. He is focus in his studies right now. He goes to college for business in Quebec City.

HJ: Have you seen any good movies recently?

PB: I saw “Old School” on VHS the other day.

HJ: What did you think? Was it good? Silly? Terrible?

PB: It’s good. You know, it’s crazy humor, but it was pretty funny. I like more comedies than anything else when I see movies.

HJ: Do you have any final thoughts on being a Bruin?

PB: Only that it’s a great feeling to be pick(ed) by the Bruins and I know that I can work very hard to prove to the fans that I’m a good player for the organization.

HJ: Sounds good, Patrice. Thanks for your time.

Bergeron: It’s okay. Thank you.

The Patrice Bergeron File

Height: 6’0 Weight: 180

Shoots: Right

Born: July 25, 1985 in Quebec City, PQ

Got first pair of skates at age: 5

Favorite Movie: Dumb and Dumber

Siblings: Brother, Guillaume (19)

Hobbies: Soccer, listening to music

Boston Bruins 2015-16 season preview: the Centers

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

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

In retrospect: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…well, not really. The 2014-15 NHL campaign was a rough one for the Boston Bruins’ men up the middle.

Patrice Bergeron led the club in scoring with 22 goals and 55 points- the lowest for a non-lockout season since 2009-10 when he and David Krejci both finished with 52 points. It was a step back for Bergeron from his 30 goals and 62 points in 2014, but Krejci’s season was downright miserable.

The 29-year-old missed 35 games and finished with just 7 goals and 31 points in the 47 contests he played after signing a lucrative contract extension that will pay him $43.5 million ($7.25M AAV) for the next six years starting in 2015. This is not to indict the team or player for that deal, but if the Bruins are going to take steps forward, then Krejci is going to have to put the last 12 months behind him and take his game back up to the level he’s capable of.

The good news for the team is that young pivot Ryan Spooner finally broke through after several years of teasing with flashes of his pure speed and offensive skill. He made the club out of camp, but after five games on a very short leash, he was returned to Providence where he battled injuries and up-and-down play until late January when he rounded into form and established himself as a consistent scoring presence. When Krejci went down for another extended absence in late February, Spooner returned to Boston and stayed there, finishing the year with 8 goals (his 1st in the NHL in spot duty the previous two seasons) and 18 points in 29 games (24 if you throw out the first five where he barely played).

Gone is third-liner Carl Soderberg (traded to Colorado for the 2016 pick Boston sent to the Avs for Max Talbot) and fourth line staple Gregory Campbell. Soderberg flashed his big-time ability in spots, but whereas he thrived in his third-line role, he was ineffective when asked to center one of the team’s top-two lines when Krejci was out. Campbell was a good soldier whose declining production and being on the wrong side of 30 made him a free agent departure to Columbus.

Overall, Boston’s 22nd-ranked offense (all the way down from third in 2014) was reflected in the team’s low scoring totals by their centers and the club’s non-playoff finish. Bergeron was steady and dependable, especially when it comes to the other things like faceoffs and defensive zone play, but the lack of production from Krejci and Soderberg, due in part to a dropoff on the wings, all contributed to a down year.

The view from here: Patrice Bergeron, as veteran forward Chris Kelly has often said, is Boston’s “Mr. Everything”- he’s arguably the true face of the franchise. He also turned 30 in July, a remarkable turn of events considering it seems like only yesterday that he was a fresh-faced 18-year-old rookie who made the veteran-laden 2003-04 Bruins out of camp after being the 45th overall selection in Nashville (with a compensation pick the B’s got for losing Bill Guerin to free agency). Since then, Bergeron has won a Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, both a men’s World and World Jr. championship and added three Frank Selke Trophies as the NHL’s top defensive forward. If you looked up “winning” in the Urban Dictionary, you’ll not find Charlie Sheen but Bergeron’s mug looking back at you.

He’s the team’s active points leader with 206 goals and 550 career points in 740 games, all with Boston. He currently sits 12th on the franchise’s all-time scoring list and is just 26 points from moving past Milt Schmidt. Assuming he stays healthy and posts another typical offensive year for him, he could move all the way up to eighth past Terry O’Reilly (606 points). Think of where Bergeron would be  on the scoring ledger had he not lost an entire 82-game season to the 04-05 lockout, another 72 games to the near career-ending hit from behind he took from Flyers defenseman Randy Jones (who?) and then another lockout-shortened half season in 2013.

What makes Bergeron so good is that he’s a complete player. Sure- he doesn’t have the open-ice speed, and to be honest- the Bruins are lucky he wasn’t quicker than he is now at age 17, or else there’s not much of a chance he would have been available for them to draft. Bergeron seriousness and dedication- evident from the very first time I sat down with him for an extended interview at our hotel in Nashville the day after the ’03 draft- is why he not only made the NHL just a few months after turning 18, and ahead of many of the more-heralded 44 picks in front of him, but is a big reason he’s thrived.

Any hopes the B’s have of getting back to being a playoff caliber club starts with him.

Krejci begins the year as the second-ranked active scorer with 409 points in 551 games. When healthy and on top of his game, he’s a cerebral centerman who compensates for his average size and speed with high-end playmaking skills like vision, soft hands and offensive creativity. The Czech product who was a steal at the 64th overall selection in 2004 is quiet off the ice but fiercely driven and competitive as evidenced by his 29 goals and 77 career playoff points, good for ninth all-time for the Bruins (and 11 more than Bergeron has in the postseason).

There isn’t much to add about the previous year’s performance other than to say that the Bruins must get more from him going forward or they’re going to be in trouble. His contract is paying him like a top-level producer, which he has shown he can be in the playoffs, but for a player who has never scored more than 23 goals or 73 points in an entire regular season, it was a generous increase, and for someone who will turn 30 in late April, the Bruins are counting on him taking his production to another level than what we have seen in his previous NHL seasons. Doable? Yes. Likely? That’s an entirely different debate.

Spooner is a speedy, skilled offensive forward who hit his stride after his second call-up late in the year, scoring his first NHL goal in sudden death against New Jersey and playing the best hockey of his young NHL career to finish out the season. At one time the youngest player in Peterborough Petes history to score 30 goals in a season, like Bergeron, he was the 45th overall pick (seven years after PB), slipping in the draft a bit due to a broken collarbone suffered right after the CHL Top Prospects Game in January 2010- dooming him to the “out of sight/out of mind” phenomenon that can occur in a player’s draft season. Although Spooner’s road to the NHL was more down than up, he earned a two-year contract extension and has the inside track to the third line center job when camp opens up in a few weeks. For a kid who appeared done and for whom trade rumors swirled in the first half of last season, he’s back to where the B’s thought he should be.

A player who enters camp with expectations of winning the fourth-line center job is Finnish veteran pro and newcomer Joonas Kemppainen. A member of the SM-Liiga’s championship team Karpat this past spring, Kemppainen has a big, 6-2, 200-pound frame and at age 27 is a mature two-way center who can do all of the little things you need. Although not especially fast, he has a powerful stride and uses his body well along the walls and in front of the net. He doesn’t have high-end puck skills, but he works hard in the trenches and gets his points off of opportunism and hard work. He was brought to development camp in July, but pulled a hamstring while working out at home before the trip, so fans unfortunately weren’t able to see him. He should be fine for camp, but this will be something to monitor and watch going forward.

Alexander Khokhlachev and Zack Phillips will also be vying for NHL jobs this season going into camp, but may have their hands full trying to make a splash with Boston. Koko is ready for NHL duty, but he may need to make a positional switch to the wing in order to do it. He’s not as fast as Spooner is, so splitting him out wide may be a better fit for his style of game and gives the Bruins more of a dynamic option scoring-wise- he’s not an ideal candidate for the duties and responsibilities of a fourth-line pivot, and he’d have to beat out one of the 1-3 centers to make it there, which, given his current body of work to date, is not likely.

Phillips, who was drafted 12 spots ahead of Koko in 2011 by the Wild (and Koko’s pick ended up being Minnesota’s 2nd-round selection- acquired in a trade that sent Chuck Kobasew out west early in 2009-10). He’s a talented offensive player who tallied 95 points in a Memorial Cup-winning campaign his draft year, but has struggled since to live up to the billing of being taken in the top-30. He performed well enough for Providence after being acquired even-up for Jared Knight at the deadline, tallying 11 points in 16 games, but has yet to show that he’s someone who will vie for regular NHL duty, at least as far as this season is concerned. At age 22 (he turns 23 in late Oct.), he has time, so it behooves the Bruins to take a wait-and-see approach.

Ryan Spooner enters his fourth professional season for the first time as an expected NHL roster player (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Ryan Spooner enters his fourth professional season for the first time as an expected NHL roster player (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

On the farm: If neither one of Koko or Phillips makes the Boston roster, they’ll be the 1-2 punch in Providence this year (though it stands to reason that Boston’s skilled Russian prospect might balk at another demotion- we shall see, and I’ll cover him in the forthcoming post on the B’s options on the wings as well).

There isn’t a whole lot else to speak of down in the AHL. Providence College captain Noel Acciari is a blue collar prospect as a versatile if not high-end offensive player who plays a rugged two-way game and hits everything in sight. He’s not an NHL option at this point, but has steadily developed at every other level and is a winner, having been a key part of the Friars’ first-ever NCAA title this past spring. He was a solid free agent pickup for the B’s.

Rugged WHL center Justin Hickman, a free agent signed last January after shutting it down for shoulder surgery, may be a diamond-in-the-rough at Providence this year. The former Seattle Thunderbirds captain didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, but he was starting to get there in his final major junior season until he went under the knife. He skates well for his size, plays a fearless game, and will stick up for teammates. He was still limited (no scrimmage) at development camp, but is expected to be cleared by the start of the season and could become a fan favorite in short order. Fellow WHLer Colby Cave may be another center option in Providence or could be switched to wing. He’s not as physical as Hickman but plays a smart, underrated offensive game as evidenced by the chemistry he showed at Swift Current last season with Jake DeBrusk. We’ll give him more coverage in the wingers section.

Diminutive little buzzsaw Austin Czarnik has the speed and style of game to turn heads in camp as well. Like Acciari, he captained his club- Miami University- and was a nice free agent get last spring. Although tiny by NHL standards (5-9, about 160 pounds), he’s a superb playmaking center with the quick feet and stick to back defenses up and cause problems for would-be checkers. Don’t know what I mean? Check out this highlight vid from the playoffs a few months back:

He’s going to do some good work in Providence and if he can be a forward version of Torey Krug and overcome the size bias, he has the versatility to play on the lower lines and at wing as well (though he’s best in the middle).

Look to the future: The B’s have some intriguing talent in the pipeline, even if there isn’t an elite center among a solid group of players.

Harvard University is eagerly awaiting Ryan Donato, Boston’s second-round selection in 2014 and the son of head coach (and former Bruin) Ted Donato. After starring for four years at Dexter Southfield in Brookline, Donato took his game last spring to the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, where he put up more than a point per game and silenced some of the critics and doubters. Although not blazing fast like his dad, he’s bigger and plays a more dangerous offensive game. He’s a long-term project with a sizable potential payoff.

Not too far away from seeing duty in Boston is current Miami University captain and senior Sean Kuraly, who was acquired in late June along with San Jose’s first-round pick in 2016 for goaltender Martin Jones. Though he hasn’t been overly productive in his NCAA career to date, he has that kind of potential as he enters the new year coming off a 19-goal junior campaign. He’s a heavy player who uses his size and quickness to excel in puck possession and is at his best when creating space for his linemates and taking pucks straight to the net. Don’t be surprised to see the B’s explore bringing him straight to Boston in March or April when his season ends.

Ryan Fitzgerald is entering his junior year at Boston College and will face the team’s newest center prospect, Swedish two-way playmaker Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, who is a freshman at Boston University. The two are similar in that they can both score and play responsible defensive hockey. ‘JFK’ is a little bigger and has the better draft pedigree, but don’t count out the 2013 fourth-rounder who appears to be on the verge of breaking out with some big-time production at the Heights. I’m not sure how that will translate at the pro level, but Fitzgerald’s hockey sense and bloodlines will take him far.

2015 sixth-rounder Cameron Hughes has a lot of skill and grit if not the size- but he’s expected to play a bigger role at the University of Wisconisin this season and is definitely a player to watch as a value selection.

The verdict: Center is the strongest position in Boston currently, even if the position lacks the dynamic scoring and production other teams can boast.

In Krejci, Bergeron and Spooner- if all stay healthy and produce to their potential, you’re looking at a balanced attack that will at least put the wingers in position to finish off plays. This isn’t a sexy group by league-wide standards, but they don’t have to be. Bergeron’s leadership will continue to pay off in the room, while Krejci is the kind of guy motivated by the lost season a year ago. He took the team’s failure to make the playoffs personally, but talk is cheap- it will be interesting to see how he responds and if he can avoid the injury bug, a legitimate concern given his slight frame and the wear and tear on his body.

Kemppainen is the favorite for the bottom line coming out of camp but he’s not a lock. Should he struggle or Koko have a great outing, the coaching staff will be faced with some tough decisions. The standard play is usually to send the waiver-exempt players down and protect those who must be exposed, so we’ll see how things turn out. Chris Kelly has the versatility to play a fourth-line center role if the B’s want to use him there, but given his faceoff strengths, it makes sense to put him on the wing with Spooner on the third line until the youngster can earn more defensive zone faceoff trust from the coaches.

Ultimately, as long as the group stays healthy, the center position will be the least of Boston’s worries, but whether they can be good enough to make up for the rest of the team’s shortcomings remains to be seen.

I’ll be back with the preview on the wingers to include future options like Denver University’s LW Danton Heinen, who might be closer to the show than we realize.

Chris Kelly could be pressed into center duties if others fail (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Chris Kelly could be pressed into center duties if others fail (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The third Jake: Forsbacka-Karlsson

My desire to be clever with the Jack Nicholson tie-in to the previous post, plus the fact that center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson was not participating in the Canada-Czech Republic game means he deserves a post to himself.

JFK is donning the scarlet and white, but don't be surprised if he trades that for the black and gold soon enough.

JFK is donning the scarlet and white, but don’t be surprised if he trades that for the black and gold soon enough.

The Stockholm native who came to the U.S. two years ago was a smart pick by the Boston Bruins, who snatched him up with the 45th overall selection. Other guys the B’s have landed at that precise position have done alright for the team: there’s Ryan Spooner in 2010, Patrice Bergeron in 2003 and Henry “the Medicine Hat Machine” Kuster in 1996. Wait, what?…Okay, so two outta three ain’t bad. (Kuster was a member of another disastrous Bruins draft class which pre-dated 2007 by 11 years but was just as unproductive.)

‘JFK’ who is taking his game to Boston already- though he’ll be plying his trade on Comm. Ave vs. Causeway Street- is a slick, promising two-way pivot who has Bruins hockey written all over him. The Bruins like to break down draft prospects into the 5 S’s: Size, Skating, Shot, Sense and Spirit (read: character, work ethic, toughness, leadership- the key intangibles) so, I’ll give a swag on him- watched him live at Omaha last season and many times on film including a little online action at Bruins development and USA national eval camps, so here we go:

Size: His listed 6-1, 195 vitals are a tad generous, but he’s got long limbs and will have enough strength to hold his own. He doesn’t have the frame to pack on much more mass, and it probably would work against him in so doing. He just needs to work on his upper- and lower-body strength as best he can while maintaining a healthy playing weight.

Skating: He’s an average skater who has a long enough stride, but lacks suddenness in his first few steps and does not possess a top-end gear. He moves pretty well laterally, and has the ability to jitterbug through lanes with an easy agility that makes him a difficult mark to line up in the open ice. Let’s face it- he’s not going to be a burner, but neither is Bergeron. He just needs to improve his short-area burst as much as he can and he’ll be mobile enough to succeed at the next level.

Shot: He doesn’t shoot the puck enough, but the raw tools are there for him to find the back of the net more often than his 26 times in 110 career USHL games with the Lancers. He kind of reminds me of an early NHL Adam Oates in that he’s always looking to dish and hit that open man for a prime scoring chance rather than unleash it himself.  He’s got a pro-caliber release and is pretty accurate with it, so getting more pucks on net will be key for him. When it comes to passing and puck skills, he’s smooth and efficient, carrying the biscuit with confidence and able to feather touch-passes for tap-ins or zip sauce feeds through traffic for the one-timer. He’s at his best when keeping it simple instead of employing cute toe-drags or dangles that work at the lower levels. As the late and legendary American coach Herb Brooks once said- “You’re not talented enough to win on talent alone,” and that applies to JFK.

Sense: JFK’s bread and butter- he’s intelligent and creative. He is what you would call an instinctive 200-foot player in that he can read the play, sense where the puck is going and put himself in position to make plays both offensively and defensively. He’s got that knack for understanding where he is in terms of time and space and can seamlessly transition from defense to offense in a heartbeat. He’s smart and disciplined enough not to make low percentage plays and is unselfish with the puck.  If he had that explosive initial burst, you’d see JFK zooming off on more breakaways… He’s extremely adept in the face-off circle, using a quick stick and some savvy strategies to win the bulk of his draws. As he gets stronger, he’ll get even better. I don’t know that he’ll be a top scoring threat in the NHL, but he’ll be one of those dependable role guys who makes his bones more in the playoffs at crunch time as opposed to putting up big regular season numbers.

Spirit: He’s a nice kid who speaks flawless English and is also a good teammate. He isn’t shy about naming Bergeron as the player he most tries to emulate and being around PB37 (when he eventually turns pro) will be great for JFK. He’s not a particularly gritty, fiery or tough to play against kind of guy, though. If you’re looking for urgency or someone who can really push the pace of a game the way a revved up Bergeron can (go back and watch Game 7 vs. Toronto in 2013 if you don’t know what I’m talking about), you’ll be disappointed with Forsbacka-Karlsson. He’s competitive, but not fiery…he skates hard, he’s just not coming at opponents in relentless fashion or putting defenses on their heels. He’s consistent and steady in his approach, and that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Outlook: This is a solid prospect- the kind of player you eventually win with, but he’s not flashy and isn’t going to come in and win a bunch of scoring titles. Fans should be patient with him, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him earn a big enough role as a freshman under David Quinn at BU this season because of his ability to play a disciplined game and excel on the PK. I see him as an ideal third-line center one day who might do some damage against other third-line units and lower defense pairings, but he’s going to take a while to develop and get himself in that kind of position to contribute.

Ask not what this prospect can do for you…ask what you can do to be patient and watch him grow.

Watch this Guy: Jeremy Lauzon

For obvious reasons, Jakub Zboril and Brandon Carlo are getting the most attention as the No. 1 and 2 defensemen drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2015. However, Jeremy Lauzon of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, chosen by the B’s with the second of two second-round picks acquired from Calgary in the Dougie Hamilton trade, could be the one player who goes on to have the best NHL career of the three.

Lauzon was probably more under the radar than he should have been going into the draft, as he was the goals leader among all Quebec Major Junior Hockey League defensemen with 15 (he had a 12% shooting percentage as a 17-year-old, which should improve over the next two major junior seasons). This reminds a bit of Patrice Bergeron in 2003, who posted a solid season and was ranked 28th among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, yet generated quizzical looks and in some circles- yawns- when the Bruins snapped him up at 45th overall. The rest, as they say, is history.

As a Red Line Report scout and editor, I admit that I do tend to have blinders on when it comes to certain areas, as aside from a few online viewings, I was not all that familiar with Lauzon for much of the season. However, as we got into March and April, I noticed that Kyle Woodlief and our Quebec/Maritimes area scout started talking about the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder more and more. By the time I read Lauzon’s scouting report in our 2015 NHL Draft Guide published in early June, I was sold on Lauzon as a Boston Bruins type of player. I even posted this on a private message board I contribute to way back on June 21- a little under a week before the draft:

“RLR sleeper who will likely go lower than his #59 ranking in the draft guide. Very good skater with excellent footwork, scored the most goals of any draft eligible defender in the ‘Q’ and plays with a rugged edge- tough to play against and will fight to defend teammates. Fits the bill of being the kind of player the Bruins say they want to add to the mix. Would be a perfect prospect for them if he shot right as opposed to left, but you can’t always get what you want.”

As for that last sentence, it’s a very minor quibble, and who knows? By the time Lauzon is ready to compete for a job in Boston, the cup might runneth over in right-shot defenders and his left-side drive could be a welcome addition.

Here’s what I like about the kid: He’s tough to play against. Too often, fans get dazzled by pure talent and skill, or fixate on production. Not that those things aren’t important- they most certainly are. But the rare player is the one who brings the skill and the passion/propensity to give their all and be a difficult opponent. This is what has made Bergeron (and no- I’m not just comparing them because they both were drafted out of the ‘Q’) so valuable to the franchise in his 12 years with the B’s, and let’s face it- had he been a great skater in 2003, they wouldn’t have had a prayer at drafting him in the middle of the second round because he would have been a household name in that deep class that will produce multiple Hall of Famers.

With a PPG ratio of 0.6 and accounting for 16 percent of his team’s total offense last season, that’s a solid jumping off point for a player who is expected to get better offensively over the next couple of years as he continues to mature and gains a more prominent role on the Huskies. Lauzon was anything but a household name, but even my colleagues at Red Line didn’t think he would go to the B’s as early in the draft as he did:

“When conversation turns to all the great QMJHL d-men this year, this guy never even garners a mention. Why?”

That snippet accompanied Lauzon’s listing as RLR’s 4th-most underrated player entering the draft, so if RLR and the Bruins are right, the value looks pretty solid. He can skate, shoot, pass and score. He can defend. He’s a rugged player not afraid to take the body and fight if need be, though that’s not something he excels at. In short- he’s precisely the kind of player Boston fans value, so remember the name and keep track of him. In about three years, you might be glad you did.

So, why might Lauzon be the best between Zboril (13th overall) and Carlo (37th overall)? Like Zboril, Lauzon brings similar size and a mix of offense and defense. He’s more of a consistent competitor in my view, despite some reports of Boston’s top choice being “ultracompetitive” (I wouldn’t go that far based on what I saw in film study). Carlo is a massive rearguard who excels in a shutdown role, but I don’t know that he has the offensive skill/sense to be much of a consistent points producer. That leaves Lauzon as the best combination of the three- not as talented as Zboril or as big/defensively savvy as Carlo, but solid across the board and a gritty, hard-to-play against -d-man.

Here’s a good video profile done by John Moore of Sports by Moore back in October…you can get a sense of Lauzon’s fluid footwork/mobility, poise with the puck and check out the solid but clean hit he puts on a kid, dropping him near center ice. As Lauzon adds mass and gains strength, he’ll be able to impose himself more physically as he progresses up the ladder.

Right now, Lauzon is seen as more of an afterthought by most because he wasn’t as known a commodity or one of the draft’s sexiest names going in. However, to get a player of Lauzon’s skill set and potential at 52 speaks to the quality and depth of the 2015 class overall.