B’s prospects deep dive 3: Grzelcyk, O’Gara, Lauzon & Arnesson

We’re back with four more B’s prospects- a defense-focused edition that looks at a pair of NCAA players, a major junior D and one unheralded Providence performer who is all but the forgotten man in Boston’s system.

Speaking of unheralded- the next post will take a look at BC junior Ryan Fitzgerald’s progress, plus Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork and Seth Griffith. This blog will continue to be forward thinking…(get it?)

Matt Grzelcyk, D

The Boston University senior has overcome injuries this season to post another fine offensive season from the blue line. He’s already matched his single season-best 10 goals from a year ago, but in 17 fewer games.

Grzelcyk had off-season knee surgery in May, which caused him to miss the beginning of the 2015-16 NCAA season with the Terriers. Unfortunately, after just a few contests back and an immediate contribution on the offensive ledger, he injured his other knee and was lost for several more weeks. However, he came back with a flourish early in the new calendar year and promptly scored his first career NCAA hat trick in the process.

Although he stands about 5-foot-10, Grzelcyk has huge heart and a high-end hockey IQ. He’s an outstanding 4-way compass skater with instant burst, rapid acceleration/top straight-line speed and the ability to move laterally and change direction quickly with smooth pivots and transitions. The 22-year-old Townie pushes the pace by using that pure speed and quickness to lead the rush and has improved his shot significantly from where he was when the B’s drafted him in the third round four years ago.

The two-year captain is more of a skater/puck-mover/distributor in the offensive end than he is a pure trigger man and finisher, but he has the vision and creativity to set the table and finish off plays as one who isn’t afraid to go into the high danger areas and expose himself to a big hit to get pucks to the net. After scoring six total goals in his first two years (57 games- lower minutes/60 than he played as a junior and senior) in the NCAA, Grzelcyk has potted a nifty 20 and counting in the last two seasons (65 games) with a little more to go before he closes out his college career.

Like Torey Krug, Grzelcyk will be forced to prove that he can develop into an NHL defenseman but he’s so dynamic in terms of his skating and ability to get back on pucks quickly in retrieval and then advance the play back up the ice. I avoid player comparisons in general, so I don’t want people to get the idea that Grzelcyk = Krug…they’re two pretty different players once you get past the physical similarities. Grzelcyk will probably beat the Boston veteran (sounds weird typing that, but Krug’s three full NHL seasons and 225 career games affords him that distinction) in a foot race, but Krug’s got a bigger shot and (this year aside) is more of a scoring threat when he uncorks his drives from the blue line and out near the circles. He’s snakebit, but Krug didn’t score 26 goals in his first two NHL campaigns by accident. Both D are good at carrying the puck out of their own end and getting it up the ice with the quick first pass to beat the forechecking pressure or rushing it themselves through the neutral zone and negate any attempt to trap them into surrendering possession. Those are key attributes for the modern NHL rearguard.

Unfortunately, because of Grzelcyk’s size, coaches have to use him in favorable matchups and as Claude Julien has often mentioned when discussing Krug over the past several seasons, the smaller defender has to outwit and play a savvy positional game. Mitigating physical 1-on-1 matchups is the key to not getting overpowered when covering down in your own end, so the more Grzelcyk can help the B’s move the puck out of their own end and maintain possession in the offensive zone, the lest actual defending he’ll have to do.

Factor in the natural leadership and character and he’s the right kind of person and player to bring along and one day put into the NHL lineup. But first things first- he’s trying to get his Terriers back to the national championship after falling short in 2015.

Current assessment: The Bruins are no doubt looking forward to getting this player into their pro system when his college season ends in the next month or so. They took him much earlier than he was projected to go in 2012 and he’s steadily progressed in his development in the Hockey East. He has had two major surgeries, however- his 2013-14 campaign ended early due to shoulder surgery and then he had the aforementioned knee procedure about a year ago. That’s something for the B’s to keep an eye on, but it should not stand in the way of them signing Grzelcyk. Given his dream of playing for Boston and his connection to the team with his father’s position on the TD Garden bull gang, it is difficult to envision a scenario where he would attempt to not sign and become a free agent on August 1. He’ll likely need time in the AHL first but could gradually work into a role in Boston within the next season or two.

Rob O’Gara, D

Brandon Carlo has gotten a lot of attention as a top prospect in the Bruins organization for his size, skating and shutdown potential, but O’Gara is a few years older and plays a more refined game with a similar style and physical package.

O’Gara, who like Grzelcyk, is finishing up his NCAA hockey career after four strong years. The Yale Bulldog was named the ECAC’s best defensive defenseman last season after also putting up career offensive numbers as a junior. The production is down this year, but the Long Island native who turns 23 in July is not the kind of player who should be judged by statistics and offensive output. His three goals and 11 points in 27 games this season are well off his six goal & 21-point effort from a year ago (33 games), but more par for the course in terms of how he’s performed at Yale since arriving for the 2012-13 campaign.

Size and skating are the two main pillars for O’Gara: at 6-foot-4 and about 220 pounds, he’s big and strong, yet mobile enough to thrive in the modern professional hockey circuit. Ever since the B’s drafted him out of Milton Academy at the end of the 2011 draft’s fifth round, O’Gara has impressed with his fluid footwork and smooth, powerful skating stride. Even at his first Bruins development camp (he turned 18 the day he reported to Wilmington), he stood out with his poise and ability to move well and defend his own net. He was an extremely raw young player when drafted, but in the nearly five years since, has developed into one of the more poised and dependable shutdown defenders in the entire NCAA.

O’Gara leads his peers with a quiet tenacity manifested in the near-universal respect he garners from teammates, coaches and scouts. He’s not a rah-rah, in-your-face, fiery leader, but sets the right example and inspires others to follow him through consistency and his natural humility. In his first year of prep school with the Milton Mustangs, he often times had to cover for his higher-risk D partner Pat McNally, but did so with the skill and poise of a polished and seasoned player at that level. Since leading the Mustangs to a prep championship in 2011 (Milton lost the 2016 NEPSIHA/Elite 8 title yesterday to the Gunnery), O’Gara was a member of Yale’s first (and only) NCAA title-winning squad in 2013, his freshman season. He has a proven track record of being part of a winning formula, which is one of the things that attracted the Bruins to him in the first place.

Even as a shutdown prospect, O’Gara is an underrated passer and puck mover. He moves confidently up the ice with his head up, looking to hit forwards in stride to force defenses back on their heels. When the play is coming at him, he keeps the puck in front of him and uses his smarts to angle the carrier away from his net and out to more oblique angles to cut down on quality scoring chances. He’s not an overly physical defender but will make contact and use his natural strength to win board battles. He uses his long reach to make effective poke checks in the open ice. Like any young ‘D’ he has to guard sometimes against running around and trying to do too much, but when O’Gara keeps things safe and simple, he’s difficult to beat 1-on-1.

Current assessment: Like Grzelcyk, O’Gara has been carefully cultivated and developed in the Bruins organization, so the expectation here is that he will sign once he plays his last game for Yale. Whether that means he makes the jump to pro hockey right away or finishes out his semester in New Haven as Cornell’s Brian Ferlin did in the spring of 2014 after signing his entry-level contract with the B’s remains to be seen, however. He’s been patient in terms of his development and a long but steadily upwards developmental curve, and the team has exhibited the same kind of patience as well. It’s probably too much to expect him to jump right to Boston straight out of college, but stranger things have happened. If he goes to Providence to finish out the regular season, he’ll likely benefit from the chance to get his feet wet and experience the faster pace and higher skill level of the AHL before he begins his first full pro season in 2016-17. Regardless, O’Gara appears on track for bigger and better things, and consistently is underrated and overlooked when in fact the organization is solidly and firmly in his corner as a solution player going forward.

Jeremy Lauzon, D

The third of three defensemen drafted out of ten selections in 2015 might provide the best payoff of the trio in pro hockey when all is said and done.

Though not a truly exceptional player in any key area or specific hockey skill, Lauzon nevertheless is above average and more than capable at just about everything. He’s got good (Lauzon is about 6-1, 195 pounds) if not great (6-4, 220+ pounds or more is what is considered ideal in the modern NHL for D) size, and skates well though doesn’t provide dynamic speed and quickness. He’s a deft passer and effective goal scorer from the blue line, and has the ruggedness and smarts to neutralize opposition rushes and prevent players from getting to the front of his net.

Lauzon is putting up the best offensive numbers of his major junior career with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in his third season with them. He’s off his goals pace from a year ago (eight vs the 15 he netted in 2015) but with 44 points in 41 contests, Lauzon has already exceeded his 36 points set last season. He’s had to deal with some nagging lower body injuries that have limited his effectiveness in the new year after injuring himself after returning from Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship training camp in December. As one of the final cuts, Lauzon opened a lot of eyes around the CHL this year after being the 52nd overall selection by Boston last June.

Lauzon is a smart player who often does the little things in terms of maintaining his gaps, keeping the proper stick positioning and forcing opponents into committing early. He likes to go for hits in the open ice and will take every opportunity to finish his checks along the boards and remind guys in the other sweaters that he’s there. Though not a feared fighter, he’s willing to drop the gloves to defend teammates and plays a naturally rugged and aggressive defensive style that will translate well in Boston.

Current assessment: Lauzon has work to do in terms of refinements and tweaks to his overall body of work, and unfortunately, as a 1997-born player, won’t be able to jump to the AHL next season. The good news for Lauzon is that after his camp showing in December, he’s just about a sure bet to skate for Team Canada at the 2017 WJC (along with fellow B’s prospects Zach Senyshyn and Jesse Gabrielle I would add) assuming he stays healthy and continues to progress. He’s currently tracking as a potential top-3 NHL defender one day, but will need time to develop in junior. Depending on how Boston’s blue line situation looks in 2017, we’ll have a good read on how much AHL time he might require before he’s ready to stake a serious claim to regular NHL work.

Linus Arnesson, D

Like O’Gara anyone looking at the 2013 second-round selection’s offensive numbers is likely going to think that the smart and poised Swedish defensive defenseman is headed for Bustville.

That’s not the case, though some of us were admittedly thinking that he might develop into more of a two-way threat when Boston drafted him.

The 60th overall pick that year is a lean 6-foot-1 who moves around the ice efficiently with a long, mechanically-sound stride and is known for his consistent and effective two-zone ability. The product of the Djurgardens club isn’t going to wow you on any particular night, as he tends to play a pretty vanilla style. He keeps his stick in passing lanes, makes quick decisions and essentially keeps it simple without taking needless risks. No one is going to mistake him as the next Erik Karlsson, but he’s a more impactful than his four assists in 43 games might attest.

Because Arnesson is a smart and engaged player, he’s picked up fairly quickly on Providence (and Boston’s) zone-oriented scheme after playing more of a man-to-man defense in Europe. It hasn’t been a perfectly smooth transition to date, but when you go back and watch the film, there aren’t many glaring mistakes or issues jumping out at you either. Think about it- how many times do you hear or read about Arnesson and his play in Providence this season? I would submit to you- not very often. And if ever the old adage that says you don’t notice a good defenseman if he’s doing his job properly holds true with anyone, it’s the case with Arnesson.

Current assessment: Because he’s not exciting, dynamic or carries a first-round draft pedigree, it’s easy to overlook or forget about Arnesson. Whether he can carve out a niche for himself in Boston as a solid, steady middle-pairing D who may get you about 10-15 points per season tops but who can likely be paired with a smaller, but more offensively-inclined (read: risk-taking) partner or just never does enough to stick in the Boston organization is something we’ll all have to find out. When Dennis Seidenberg was helping the Bruins win a Stanley Cup and get to the final series of second championship, a lot of people could see his utility. Arnesson is obviously not the same player that Seidenberg is, but he brings the kind of safe, but limited ceiling that every good club needs.

 

 

Bruins hammer Penguins in decisive home win

Are the Boston Bruins Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

Are they a good team with clear shortcomings on the defensive side that sometimes make them look worse than they are, or a mediocre team that is able to pound opponents so decisively on occasion so as to fool the optimists out there who support them?

The answer just might represent a little of both.

On Wednesday night, the B’s completed a three-game series sweep against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is a similar team in that it has been a perennial contender since the Sidney Crosby era revitalized the team’s fortunes, but this year has been a shadow of its former powerful self since squeaking into the playoffs at Boston’s expense last spring.

Like Boston, the Pens have a powerful 1-2 punch at center (though Evgeni Malkin was unable to return from injury to help his team at the TD Center last night), a leaky defense made up of game, but  often overmatched 4/5/6 types and a goaltender who can minimize the damage but can’t do it all himself in Marc-Andre Fleury.

As was the case in Dallas last Saturday, the B’s didn’t exactly dominate the contest, as the Penguins came at them early, hemming them in their zone. Tuukka Rask withstood a 13-shot opening period, not allowing any pucks by him, and David Pastrnak scored the third penalty shot goal of the season for Boston to make it a 1-0 contest.

Pastrnak (his eighth) and Penguins forward Tom Kuhnackl traded goals in the second period to set the stage for a critical third period with the B’s still smarting after getting zinged at home the other night against Columbus.

Jimmy Hayes, Landon Ferraro and Brad Marchand, who scored his team-leading 31st goal, tallied three goals on three shots in the final 10 minutes to push the score to 5-1 and give the Bruins a much-needed home victory.

Hayes finished off a brilliant rush by Ryan Spooner, who got the puck from Hayes after Adam McQuaid blocked a shot (after losing his helmet- no fear) and took off like a rocket up the ice, crossing with Matt Beleskey at the offensive blue line to gain extra space. He then approached the net from the left side and threaded a pass right to Hayes, who didn’t miss for his 13th marker.

Ferraro then broke away after slipping behind the defense and getting a home run pass from Dennis Seidenberg, beating Fleury with a top-shelf laser for just his fourth goal of the season. Ferraro also had an earlier fight with Scott Wilson and gave better than he got, showing off the kind of energy that has made him a capable bottom-line player since the B’s snatched him off the waiver wire from Detroit.

Marchand’s final tally was vintage No. 63, as he got the puck from Torey Krug, cut to the net and let a jumpy Fleury make the first move before going around the defender and sprawling goaltender to slip the puck in on the far side.

Rask, for his part, was magnificent in a 41-save effort- he gave up just the Kuhnackl goal, scored off the German forward’s skate after a fat rebound. This is the kind of game that the Bruins typically need from their one-time Vezina Trophy-winning netminder. The defense still gives up a good number of quality scoring chances, but when Rask is on top of his crease and in the zone, he’s as good as anyone else in the league. The problem is- when the B’s go up against clubs with better top-to-bottom roster depth, they have a tough time matching up against teams that have the speed and skill to employ an effective forecheck that disrupts Boston’s timing on the breakout and leads to defensive zone turnovers.

Pastrnak’s performance gives the team multiple reasons for optimism. For one thing, it’s been a tough slog for the 19-year-old, who burst onto the scene a little over a year ago when he was called up in January and then proceeded to become Boston’s brightest hope for the future. Beyond his obvious offensive talent, Pastrnak is an easy kid to get behind because he wears his love of hockey openly, with a wide, infectious smile that reminds everyone who watches him of how all of these pro players began their lifetime association with this sport. Pastrnak is also serious and hard-working. He’s not quite on the same level as Patrice Bergeron was at the same age, but he’s not that far off, either. Pastrnak made the NHL at 18 because he not only gave the Bruins something they desperately lacked, but also because the coaches saw his work ethic and desire to improve manifested at practice. Some people have to be taught by others how to work harder to maximize their natural gifts, but Pastrnak needed no such coaching, and was often the last player off the ice (and still is). Claude Julien and his veteran coaching staff saw that, and so even with the setbacks the second-year right wing has dealt with this season, they’re willing to stick with him and maintain the faith that he can become the regular scorer he’s shown the penchant for in flashes.

Where do we go from here?

The Loui Eriksson trade watch continues, and I’ve been intrigued by the polarized sides on Twitter and the Internet- the two camps that are clearly at odds with one another within the B’s fandom. I explained at length last week why the Bruins will trade Eriksson and try to leverage him into the assets that can allow GM Don Sweeney to more properly address the elephant in the room: the defense.

Although there seems to be a group of folks who believe Eriksson can and should be signed, I have yet to see any plausible explanation from that side on how it will work. Assuming his agent JP Barry wants to secure money and term from his client (and why wouldn’t he?), the Bruins would essentially be rolling the dice that the soon-to-be 31-year-old would be able to maintain his current level of contributions for another four years at least to make an extension worthwhile. While that’s not impossible, the odds are certainly not in favor of that. Eriksson has never been a dynamic skater, so if he loses a step over the next couple of years as many players on the wrong side of 30 tend to do, his production could essentially drop off a cliff. The B’s cannot afford to be shortsighted here- that thinking is what got them into salary cap jeopardy in the first place.

Loui is a fine man and teammate. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and in the scope of the here and now, he obviously makes the Bruins a better team than they will be without him. But fans demand that their teams be in the winning mix year after year, and extending Eriksson puts that philosophy in peril. Sure- he’s one of the team’s most versatile and dependable forwards, but one can also make the argument that there are young players in the system that can capably address what Eriksson brings to the club given a little time. They won’t cost upwards of 5.5-6 million dollars a year (at least not right away) and dealing Eriksson gives the Bruins the much-needed coin of the realm: assets in the form of picks and futures that every team covets to off-set the ever escalating salary structures needed to retain the top talent across the league.

Should the B’s prove me wrong and hold onto Eriksson, either extending him or keeping him for the playoffs, we’ll revisit the implications of that when the time comes. Even if he’s not moved at the deadline, they can still flip him to a team that wants his exclusive negotiating rights before the July 1 free-for-all for a middling pick, which is not ideal but better than nothing. If they commit the term and dollars to him, then I think it works in the short run, but could have profound consequences by the years 2018 or 2019. I guess for those who like to live in the now, that may not be such a bad thing.

What we’re figuring out here is that making trades and acquiring the kinds of essential players needed to assemble a winning mix in the modern NHL is easy to talk about, much harder to pull off. It isn’t like Boston is bereft of young defensemen in the organization, but nobody is truly ready to step in and make the kind of difference this team needs right now with a goalie in his prime along with multiple forwards whose window might be closing by the time the B’s home grown blue line talent can make an impact.

Colin Miller has shown he can create offense, but he’s still got much to learn defensively. Rob O’Gara is having a down senior year at Yale but has size and mobility to become a bottom pairing staple after a little seasoning in the AHL. Matt Grzelcyk has the speed and offensive talent to be a two-way threat, but like Krug, will need some time to develop in the minors and will be a wild card in terms of what kind of role he can carve out for himself in Boston. Jakub Zboril, Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon were all drafted last June and are not realistic options to make a difference for at least another full season but likely two or three more years at the earliest.

That means Sweeney needs to add a key piece now or at least in the coming off season. You have to give to get, and Eriksson represents the kind of asset that can increase the GM’s options, not diminish them. Yes, fans may not be thrilled with the kind of return he brings back in a few days (assuming he’s dealt), but you have to play the long game here and realize that a trade made today could set up the even bigger haul tomorrow (or in about three or four months).

If we’ve learned anything about the recent wins over Dallas and Pittsburgh, it is this- the scores didn’t represent how close the games actually were. The B’s benefited from shaky goaltending play from their opponents, but in the playoffs, when every game’s intensity is ratcheted up a few notches and the better teams can make you pay for every mistake, this Boston club isn’t going anywhere far as currently constructed.

That means you have to live with the tough calls and some short-term disappointment in order to benefit from a potential sustained run of excellence. Ask Columbus fans how much fun it has been to cheer for a team that has always tended to fiddle around the margins rather than make bold decisions to build for the long term and you’re not going to like the answer. Teams like Edmonton and Columbus should serve as a reminder that picking at the bottom of the draft every year is no sure path to contention. The Bruins have the pieces to be a contender, but the team has to be smart about how they streamline the effort.

Making decisions based on emotion, loyalty and what someone did in the past versus what they will do is more of a recipe for failure than success. When it becomes time to come to grips with the fact that Bergeron, Krejci, Rask and Marchand can no longer do what Boston fans have enjoyed and come to expect for so long now, the team cannot afford to have multiple albatross contracts around the neck.

Digging out from that kind of hole could take years.

Bruins Prospects Update 12/15/15

In the AHL, Koko has been crisp since coming back from a hand injury that took him out of action for several weeks. He’s put some distance between him and Seth Griffith atop Providence’s scoring race, going at a point-per-game clip.

Defenseman Chris Casto is quietly having a career year. The former Minnesota high school and Minnesota-Duluth standout was at one time thought of to be a potential top-three round NHL draft pick but it never happened for him.  He had a largely uneventful first two seasons in the Bruins organization since signing as a free agent in spring 2013, but he might make the B’s re-think signing him to an extension at the rate he’s going. The team has a glut of similar type of players at the position- big, mobile, but ultimately limited and lower pairing guys- but Casto is opening some eyes in the early going.

Providence has been getting much better goaltending of late from both of Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre, which is good news for the Bruins and the offense, which doesn’t have to put up major production to have a chance at winning these days.

Multiple Boston prospects are at their respective countries’ World Jr. Championship evaluation camps: Jeremy Lauzon (Canada), Anders Bjork, Brandon Carlo, Ryan Donato (USA), Daniel Vladar, Jakub Zboril (Czech Republic) and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (Sweden) are all in the mix to earn spots at the annual prestigious under-20 hockey showcase. Watch for Zach Senyshyn and Jesse Gabrielle to be there for Team Canada a year from now.

AHL

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 17 Goals- 6 Assists- 14 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -2

With a goal and 4 points in his last three AHL games, Koko is keeping pace for his most productive year of three professional seasons with Providence.

Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 19 Goals- 8 Assists- 10 Points- 18 Penalty Min- 14 +/- -1

Three goals and five points in three games for Griffith gave Providence a nice boost in getting the team back on a winning track.

Austin Czarnik, C Providence Bruins

GP- 19  Goals- 5 Assists- 10 Points- 15 Penalty Min- 10 +/- 5

Heating up as a rookie pro who is figuring out that he’s at his best when pushing the offensive tempo of a game and playing his patented buzzsaw style.

Chris Casto, D Providence Bruins

GP- 22 Goals- 1 Assists- 10 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 16 +/- -5

Scored his first goal of the season; his next assist equals his entire output from 2014-15 (in 62 AHL games).

Tommy Cross, D Providence Bruins

GP- 18 Goals- 1 Assists- 9 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 29 +/- -5

Injured- did not play.

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 26 Goals- 7 Assists- 3 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -5

Colton Hargrove, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 18 Goals- 4 Assists- 3 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 23 +/- -2

He scored a big power play goal over the weekend in a win over Hartford.

Noel Acciari, C Providence Bruins

GP- 21 Goals- 3 Assists-3 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 7 +/- -1

Surgery not required, but still out after taking a shot that broke his jaw in several places. Will wear a full face shield upon his return, perhaps as early as this week.

Anton Blidh, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 24 Goals- 6 Assists- 0 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -2

Zack Phillips, C Providence Bruins

GP- 23 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -14

Has played better of late; posted a pair of assists last week.

Linus Arnesson, D Providence Bruins

GP- 18 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -1

Arnesson returned to action last week.

Malcolm Subban, G Providence Bruins

GP- 11 MIN- 788 GA- 35 GAA- 2.66 Spct- .899 W- 5 L-5 OTL 3 SO- 1

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 12 MIN- 718 GA- 34 GAA- 2.84 Spct- .889 W- 5 L- 4 OTL- 3

McIntyre still has much to learn as he adjusts to the speed and demands of pro hockey, but he’s been more consistent than Subban in the early going. Given his overall ability and work ethic, the former North Dakota star puck stopper is more than the sum of his parts.

Injured- Brian Ferlin (upper body)- 1 game played.

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 30 Goals- 18 Assists- 10 Points- 28 Penalty Min- 6 +/- -9

A three-assist performance in one game over the weekend has boosted him near the points-per-game level.

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 26 Goals- 5 Assists- 28 Points- 34 Penalty Min- 50 +/- 26

Named to Team Canada’s World Jr. Camp as an injury replacement for Jake Walman, Lauzon did not play any QMJHL games last week.

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 21 Goals- 3 Assists- 6 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 26 +/- 2

Zboril is with Team Czech Republic in preparation for the 2016 World Jr. Championship in Finland.

WHL

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 31 Goals- 17 Assists- 15 Points- 32 Penalty Min- 49 +/- 5

With a goal and five assists since the last update, Gabrielle continues to be a scoring force for his team while also bringing a gritty, physical game.

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

GP- 21 Goals- 9 Assists- 16 Points- 25 Penalty Min- 13 +/- -1

Rounding into form in the weeks since coming back from a serious groin injury that required surgery.

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 22 Goals- 2 Assists- 12 Points- 14 Penalty Min- 57 +/- -5

Carlo played two scoreless games before departing for Boston to attend Team USA WJC camp. He’s a lock to make the 2016 squad after playing well at the WJC last year.

 

NCAA

Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 15 Goals- 11 Assists- 10 Points- 21 Penalty Min- 33 +/- 17

No points in just one game (loss to Notre Dame) since the last update.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University Terriers (HEA)

GP- 18 Goals- 4 Assists- 10 Points- 14 Penalty Min- 10 +/- -2

JFK is now with Team Sweden preparing for the WJC after playing 2 scoreless games since the last update.

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA)

GP- 17 Goals- 5 Assists- 11 Points- 16 Penalty Min- 4 +/- 17

Posted a helper in the Fighting Irish’s win over Boston College last week. Now with Team USA in Boston for WJC camp.

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 16 Goals- 5 Assists- 6 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -3

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 10 Goals- 4 Assists- 5 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 10 +/- 6

Did not play; now at USA WJC camp.

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

GP- 14 Goals- 1 Assists- 8 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 6 +/- -6

Did not play.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University (NCHC)

GP- 16 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 17 +/- -5

Did not play

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

GP- 17 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 17 +/- -12

Did not play

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

GP-6 Goals 2 Assists- 3 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 12 +/- 2

Grzelcyk is still out with a lower body (knee injury).

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 10 Goals- 2 Assists- 2 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 6 +/- 5

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

GP- 12 Goals- 0 Assists- 4 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 16 +/- -4

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden)

GP- 21 Goals- 6 Assists- 4 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 0

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (Sweden)

GP- 25 Goals- 0 Assists- 2 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -1

Maxim Chudinov, D St Petersburg SKA (Russia)

GP- 37 Goals- 6 Assists- 8 Points- 14 Penalty Min- 75 +/- -7

USHL

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago (USHL)

GP- 13 MIN- 737 GA- 26 GAA- 2.12 Spct .925 SO- 2; 3-5-3

Vladar has left his team to participate in Team Czech Republic WJC camp.

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL)

GP- 25 Goals- 4 Assists- 5 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 6 +/- 0

University of Wisconsin recruit scored a goal last week, his first since mid-November.

Bruins prospects update 11/02/15

Zach Senyshyn (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Zach Senyshyn (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Bruins got some good production this week from prospects at all levels.

Zach Senyshyn picked up a hot stick after the scoring well had run dry for him the previous few weeks, while Frankie Vatrano continued his scoring ways to push his AHL-leading total to 10 goals in the young season. At that rate, we will see him make his NHL debut sooner rather than later. Alex Khokhlachev also tallied a couple of markers in Friday’s ‘Pink the Rink’ game to stay atop the team in scoring.

Malcolm Subban returned from lower body injury to post a 1-1 record, winning his first start. Zane McIntyre played well against the Hartford Wolf Pack on Halloween night, but fell in overtime on a goal by Brian Gibbons in a 2-1 contest.

Jakub Zboril got two goals over the weekend, his first scores of the season after a tough start dogged with some criticism of his attitude. This will be something to watch going forward, but the talented Czech appears to be finding his offensive groove. Jeremy Lauzon cooled off a bit (if you call four assists in three games cooling off, that is) from his blistering start, but is still playing a ton of minutes for RN’s high-powered team.

Jake DeBrusk keeps motoring along with a four-point week (1g, 3 a) to push his point total to 20 in 13 games. Jesse Gabrielle was held off the score sheet after being named WHL Player of the Week seven days ago.

In college, Ryan Donato scored his first NCAA in a Harvard win over Dartmouth, as the Crimson went 2-0 to open the ECAC season. Danton Heinen had a brilliant 3-point (2 goals) night against Boston College on Friday, but lost the war, as a late third period goal sent DU down in defeat.

AHL

Frank Vatrano, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 10 Goals- 10 Assists- 2 Points- 12 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -1

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 10  Goals- 4 Assists- 9 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 5

Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 5 Goals- 2 Assists- 3 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -1

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 10 Goals- 5 Assists- 0 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -4

Tommy Cross, D Providence Bruins

GP- 7 Goals- 0 Assists- 7 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -1

Anton Blidh, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 10 Goals- 3 Assists- 0 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -1

Colton Hargrove, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 7 Goals- 1 Assists- 1 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 6 +/- -2

Malcolm Subban, G Providence Bruins

GP- 2  MIN- 119 GA- 8 GAA- 4.02 Spct- ..871 W- 1 L-1

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 6 MIN- 362 GA- 20 GAA- 3.31 Spct– .882 W- 2 L- 2 OTL- 2

Providence center Austin Czarnik is still out of the lineup since taking a hard hit in the fourth game of the season.

 

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 15 Goals- 9 Assists- 3 Points- 12 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -6

Senyshyn scored three goals in three games last week.

 

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 15 Goals- 3 Assists- 21 Points- 24 Penalty Min- 28 +/- +18

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 10 Goals- 2 Assists- 3 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 16 +/- 0

Zboril got off the scoring schneid- his first of the season came in a loss to Rouyn-Noranda (Lauzon tallied an assist in his club’s win), a low bullet-fast wrist shot from out near the point.

 

WHL

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

GP- 13 Goals- 6 Assists- 14 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 13 +/- -3

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 13 Goals- 10 Assists- 2 Points- 12 Penalty Min- 23 +/- 3

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 11 Goals- 1 Assists- 7 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 32 +/- -3

Carlo is injured and did not play this past week.

 

NCAA

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University Terriers (HEA)

GP- 6 Goals- 1 Assists- 5 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -2

One NHL scout from a Western Conference team at the BU-Merrimack game on Friday texted me to say that JFK was “the best player on the ice”, passing on that the Bruins scouts really might have outdone themselves with the picks the team got from Calgary- Zach Senyshyn, JFK and Jeremy Lauzon.

Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 6 Goals- 3 Assists- 3 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 10 +/- 6

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 6 Goals- 3 Assists- 2 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 2

Heinen scored a pair of impressive goals against BC before his team dropped a Saturday contest to BU.

Ryan Donato, LW/C Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 2 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3  Penalty Min- 2 +/- 2

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

GP- 8 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -3

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

GP- 2 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 0

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA)

GP- 6 Goals- 1 Assists- 4 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 6

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

GP- 7 Goals- 1 Assists- 1 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 11 +/- -7

After going without a goal in the 2014-15 season (24 assists) in 36 games, Benning has already tallied once and should be one of the Huskies’ top players as a junior.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University (NCHC)

GP- 8 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 10 +/- -5

Brutal offensive start for the Redhawks captain, who was acquired last June for Martin Jones. Far more was expected of the senior and 2011 Sharks pick, but there is time for him to get his season on track, but for someone who was expected to build on his 19 goals from a year ago, that’s going to be a tough proposition.

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden)

GP- 12 Goals- 3 Assists- 3 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -1

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (Sweden)

GP- 14 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -2

Maxim Chudninov, D St Petersburg SKA (Russia)

GP- 24 Goals- 5 Assists- 4 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 71 +/- -5

 

USHL

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL)

GP- 10 Goals- 2 Assists- 3 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -2

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago (USHL)

GP- 7 MIN- 404 GA- 16 GAA- 2.38 Spct .908 SO- 1;  1-4-1

 

 

5 minutes in the box with: Rob O’Gara

Rob O'Gara looks on during an on-ice session at the 2014 Boston Bruins development camp (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Rob O’Gara looks on during an on-ice session at the 2014 Boston Bruins development camp (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Yale Bulldogs defenseman Rob O’Gara is prepared for his final NCAA season and what awaits him afterwards as he will likely begin his pro hockey career after he plays his final game in the blue and white next spring.

The senior is an alternate captain and is coming off of his finest collegiate season to date, not only earning top defensive defenseman honors in the ECAC for 2014-15, but also posting the best offensive numbers of his career- 6 goals, 21 points in 33 games, tied for second on Yale in scoring and leading all Bulldogs backliners.

O’Gara, who led the Milton Mustangs of the ISL to the 2011 New England Prep Championship, was the final selection of the fifth round, taken by the Boston Bruins just 10 days after they won the Stanley Cup. He was also the second defenseman drafted after Dougie Hamilton went ninth overall, but ever since the team took a chance on the raw but game prep standout, O’Gara has demonstrated that the B’s scouts knew what they were doing by continuing to develop his game while gradually adding strength and mass to his 6-foot-4 frame. A lean 190 pounds when the Bruins drafted him, the Long Island native is now tipping the scales at a little over 220 pounds.

The Scouting Post had a chance to touch base with O’Gara on a Friday morning- he has no classes as a senior on Fridays- and had a chance to get up to date on how his offseason went, what he’s most looking forward to this season and what eventually might lie in store for a defenseman who has all the NHL tools plus the maturity to play in the big show right away.

Rob O’Gara scouting report then (Red Line Report- June 2011 draft guide): 73rd- ranked skater by Red Line, drafted 151st overall by Boston. “Has really grown on us this season as his play steadily improved, and we believe his developmental curve is headed straight upward. Great size and is a strong and physical defender. Had to play a conservative game given his high-risk defence partner (Pat McNally), but we see puck movement skills and a heavy shot that indicate some untapped offensive upside. A heady defender who does a great job of keeping the play in front of him and challenging opponents. Uses size to advantage and engages physically in the corners. Good stickhandler and confident with the puck. Has a missile from the point and usually gets it on net. Very good skater for his size, but needs to remember to keep his feet moving defensively, particularly down low in 1-on-1 coverage.” Projection: Physical #5 d-man and strong penalty killer. Style compares to: Shaone Morrisonn.

Rob O’Gara scouting report now (Kirk Luedeke, Red Line Report exclusive to the Scouting Post): Superb blend of size (6-4, 220), skating and smarts. Very good skater; possesses speed in the open ice, smooth acceleration and fluid footwork in his transitions and pivots. Moves well laterally and can stay with a jitterbugging forward trying to create a skating lane for himself. Tremendous reach and defensive instincts; recognizes and reads plays as they develop and keeps the play in front of him. Can make the crisp and effective first pass; underrated puck mover who doesn’t jump out at you with dynamic speed coming out of his own end, but has enough quickness to carry it himself or make the on-target feed to kickstart his team’s transition game. Smart, industrious player…not an intimidating crusher, but uses his size effectively to finish checks and pin opponents agains the boards during puck battles. Needs to play within himself- will sometimes get out of position trying to do too much. Effective in puck retrieval. Character player who has gotten better every season since the B’s drafted him and has won championships at both the prep and NCAA levels. Will have to work his way up, but could be a rock solid No 3-4 at the NHL level one day who can play in all situations and play top minutes against the opposition’s most skilled lines.

O’Gara Q & A 10/09/2015:

The Scouting Post: Senior year at Yale- how is this one different from the previous years given the experience you have and the expectations you are putting on yourself and the team going into the 2015-16 season?

Rob O’Gara: Every time someone says this is your last this, or your last that- we finished minicamp on Wednesday and someone said ‘Hey- you made it through your last minicamp,’ and that’s the last thing we seniors want to hear because you never want this time to end. But, the first practice is tomorrow and the excitement and the fact that there are eight of us in our senior class and we’ve done it before- obviously our goal is to win the national championship again- everyone is firing on all cylinders and it’s a very exciting time. To have the senior knowledge and experience of our senior class, I think this is the most exciting part of our team as a whole because everyone knows what it takes and everyone’s working to achieve that same goal and I think we just spread that same mindset throughout the team and it’s going to be pretty helpful moving forward.

TSP: You are the ECAC’s best defensive defenseman- you obviously derive a lot of pride from that honor. Talk about what about your game that was instrumental to you receiving that recognition and what is it that you do well and how that has come together for you?

ROG: I think I will always be a solid stay-at-home sort of guy- I can play a bunch of minutes against top lines. I think that’s where it starts- freshman year, playing with (San Jose Sharks prospect) Gus Young– underrated- and to be put into those roles right away and being able to have that experience and not really mixing in the offensive side of the game yet. And then being able to say over the summer (after that first year)- I need to work on this, I need to work on that- gaining that offensive side of the game and getting more comfortable joining plays or being on the power play and I think where my game has kind of come since then and that’s been the biggest part of the rounding at what I had before and continuing to get better on both sides of the puck. And it’s always going to be getting bigger, faster, stronger- it’s been like that since I was 15 but I would say it’s the rounding out of the game and the confidence that comes with knowing that I’m putting in the work, I know that I’ve done this before and I’ve played the highest level of game there could be in college hockey and I know I can do it. Having that mentality when the puck drops is a huge tool to me be able to just relax and play my game.

TSP: Coach Keith Allain and the Yale coaching staff have obviously developed you during your time in New Haven but talk about what the Bruins development camps and the experiences you’ve had with your fellow Boston prospects have done for you. You’ve been to five camps since you were drafted and you’ve seen some guys who were there with you at those camps go on to be successful in the NHL if not with Boston (Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, David Pastrnak) then with other teams (Josh Jooris– Calgary). Can you talk about what those experiences have done for your development?

ROG: Sure. Like you said- seeing guys like Torey Krug, who was my roommate in my second summer there and seeing the success he’s had and him coming back to talk to us at camp (this last July) about what he had to do to get to that level of becoming a top-4 defenseman at the NHL level those weeks- however short they are compared to a college season or summer at home- they’re so instrumental in showing what you need to do, where you have to be. Obviously there’s a step between the prospects and the pros but you see guys that are close  like Torey the first couple years and Pastrnak a year ago, the guys who were right there and were able to translate that to the max level. Just being able to see where they were at and put that into your own repertoire is the biggest thing and then of course being around the coaches and staff and getting their feedback, it such a valuable week that you really have to take advantage of every year.

TSP: Bruins fans got a little glimpse of (strength and conditioning coach) John Whitesides in the Behind the B shows over the past three years. Has he been kind of the consistent presence in terms of how he approaches it with the physical/conditioning aspects, the testing and the fitness standards he demands in the five camps with him?

ROG: Oh yeah. He is definitely the model of consistency. We joke- Ryan Fitzgerald, Ryan Donato– those guys and others like to say- every camp we come back to, it’s the same routine. He’s not going to change- it’s the same philosophy and it works. You certainly can’t argue with  that and we all know what to expect coming in- there aren’t any surprises. That’s what we say about development camp- it’s for the guys who end up going to rookie camp or end up going to main camp- having the test right in front of them, you gotta be strong, you gotta be in the best shape, and I don’t foresee that ever changing because it’s so big in the game of hockey.

TSP: Probably not lost on you in terms of the start of rookie camp here in September was the public knowledge of the three first-rounders and their failed fitness test. It’s tough without context- people might not understand how challenging that first day test/shuttle run is in terms of the distance back and forth and how maybe the weather and turf conditions might contribute to them coming up short. When you found out about it, were you surprised at all or was it more of an understanding because you had seen that more than a few times before yourself?

ROG: I think you can make excuses about anything, but having said that- you see responses on Twitter for example, and looking at that because that’s how I found out. I feel bad for those guys because that becoming public in the media and especially those guys in the spotlight like that, but it’s 25 yards out and 25 yards back (for 300 total yards), so it’s a ton of stops. On turf its much harder- when I heard that, I was a little bit surprised because it’s a lot easier to be honest, to do that on the track or where we run it outside the rink there.  And we only two at development camp and it’s not easy at two compared to the three iterations they ran at main camp, and if you’re not focusing on it, it’s tough to run that third even if you’re comfortable with the two. But it’s tough on them, but it’s a wakeup call and I’m no stranger to wakeup calls throughout my last five, six years in terms of getting in shape and learning what I have to do moving forward. It’s just a matter of taking that and applying it and making sure it doesn’t happen again. I know those guys- not super well- but they love the game- that’s what I got from them in the week I was around them first and foremost and I know it’s a lesson they’ll all take to heart.

***

We also talked about the Yale-Harvard rivalry and O’Gara’s own growing individual rivalry with Harvard star and 2015 Hobey Baker finalist Jimmy Vesey. Both appear on the covers of the New York and New England Hockey Journal magazines and are the most visible faces of their respective teams.

O’Gara also made it clear that though he would be eligible (like Vesey) to decline to sign with Boston and become a free agent on 1 August, 2016, he does not anticipate that happening. He is grateful for the faith the B’s showed in him by drafting him and the patience they’ve showed in developing him gradually and assisting with his growth. My own supposition is that given the potential struggles this Bruins team could have on defense, O’Gara realizes that there is opportunity in Boston even with a glut of numerous young and talented defenders on paper. And, even though O’Gara maintains he’s expecting to turn pro and join the Bruins organization sometime in April if all goes well for Yale, we’ll just have to see what happens between now and then.

In the meantime, O’Gara is solidly inside the top-10 (in my view) of Boston’s prospects depth chart as an all-around defenseman who will probably help the team sooner rather than later. He doesn’t project as a super star, but with his size, hockey sense, work ethic and winning pedigree, he could push for a top-4 NHL job one day.

Rob O'Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (photo courtesy Rob O'Gara)

Rob O’Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (photo courtesy Rob O’Gara)

How will Bruins D affect forward production and Jack Becker postscript

I want to thank you, loyal readers, for the largest volume of traffic to the blog over the last two days since the Scouting Post started up in mid-July. I guess that means that you’re either starting to make this a regular destination in your daily internet travels or you’re just desperate for something, anything to get ready for the new NHL season. I thank all of the other sites like Stanley Cup of Chowder and several hockey writers and colleagues who have linked to my pieces as well- much appreciated!

***

In trying to get the wingers piece up yesterday morning to beat a work deadline, I realized when a friend of mine on another Bruins forum brought up a point about the Boston defense that I missed out on a prime chance to briefly touch on some of the vulnerabilities the B’s wingers and collective forwards face as a group in the 2015-16 season, so let me hit on that now.

Roger T. wrote: But I do think a good part of that will depend on the D … ie how reliable they are defensively, whether they’ll be effective at containing speed, how often they can get to the puck first, how effective they’ll be at transitioning out of their zone (into capable offense) … and how well the B’s play overall team-defense 5 on 5.

This is a fundamental point that sometimes gets lost in the sauce and gets back to the second and third order effects that exist on hockey teams in the middle of the pack or in the bottom half of the league. It’s what separates the upper tier clubs from the mediocre ones. Allow me to explain:

It used to be that the ability of an individual to defend held primacy in the way that NHL teams viewed their players on the back line, and so having big guys with the long reach who could physically impose their will along the walls and out in front of their net was the accepted norm.   Bobby Orr revolutionized the concept of the two-way threat who could control the flow of a game on offense and defense. His supernova achievements paved the way for the speed merchants of the 80’s like Paul Coffey and Phil Housley, who were more offensive catalysts and less counted on to help keep pucks out of the net. Scott Niedermayer may have been the best blending of the speed/offense with the positional savvy and discipline to shut down the best opposition (once his game matured). Team speed on defense, which didn’t used to be an essential ingredient because offenses tended to move in straight lines, dump the puck at the blue line and go get it and establish possession with speed and energy up front, is now overcome with the more restrictive rules on obstruction which has encouraged teams to employ their mobility and skill at all positions to gain the offensive zone and maintain possession throughout.

Having a mobile, puck-carrying *unit* on defense is essential to success these days because what it really comes down to in the modern NHL is this: the less able a team defense is able to begin the transition game and beat the opposing F1 and F2 with either their feet or accurate outlet passes, the harder it is for the forwards to back the opposition D up and create lanes in the offensive end that ultimately lead to quality scoring chances. We saw it last year more than any of us wanted to- Boston opponents standing them up at the blue line and forcing the B’s to surrender possession with the dump and chase or having to cycle back into the NZ and attempt re-entry…when that happens and defenses are able to be set up and largely static and prepared for the zone entry, it leads to lower percentage scoring chances from the outside or worse- turnovers at the offensive blue line that a fast and skilled opponent can exploit the other way.

When the defense lacks foot speed and the puck handling/passing to retrieve and immediately transition the play back the other way so, as Torey Krug told me in his interview here, they’re not having to play defense anymore, then more is required of the forwards who often have to fight back against the grain of the play to support the D or worse, receive the puck in the neutral zone without enough forward momentum to beat the next layer of defense, either surrendering possession or unable to gain a clean offensive zone entry. A defense that can’t beat the forechecking pressure to the puck either loses possession in their own end, or can’t make a clean pass to either the D partner or supporting forward, meaning that the other guy now has to make a play under pressure and before you know it, your team is running around in their own end and the play breaks down.

Just as defensemen who aren’t having to play a lot of defense because their team has the puck in the offensive zone more is a good thing for them, forwards who spend more time in their own end because their D can’t move it out and develop the transition and attack with speed is not a good thing. You need an awfully long stick to score a goal when you’re stuck in your own end for long periods of a given shift.

It’s not just speed when it comes to defensemen, either. It’s the transitions- the footwork- the pivots and directional changes that are so important in today’s NHL skill set for that position. That’s why a player like Rob O’Gara is one the Bruins are so high on. He’s not blasting up and down the ice with his 6-4 frame, but when opposing forwards are coming at him with speed and attempting to shake-n-bake at the blue line, he’s got the agility and quickness to stay with them and then either uses his reach to knock the puck off the stick or can lock on and ride that forward into the wall away from his net until he gets support on the puck. When opponents dump the puck in, watch him use his long, fluid stride to get back quickly and then make the smooth pivot with it to either wheel it out himself or spot the high percentage breakout play ahead of the forecheck. Speed’s great, but your defensemen must be able to change direction rapidly and then put the puck on the sticks of their skill players with on-target feeds that don’t require a player to break stride. Those are the hallmarks of a top-quality hockey team at any level.

It’s kind of like that old definition of pornography- you don’t have to define it to know what it is. You take for granted sometimes that a team defense can quickly move the puck out of its own end and transition to offense…until you watch a team that struggles to do it consistently. It ends up becoming a vicious cycle. And that, as Forrest Gump liked to tell us, is all I have to say about that.

***

I missed out on a chance to mention Minnesota forward Jack Becker in the two previews I did on Boston’s futures up front. I covered the seventh-rounder in a blog post a few weeks back, but the bottom line with him is- long-term project with a nice potential payoff.

Becker has size and plays a physical straight-ahead game, getting a lot of his points by going right to the net and crashing the crease. He fought through a bout of mononucleosis, which is never a good thing, especially in one’s draft year. However, around March and April, he put together his best stretch of hockey all season with Mahtomedi High in Minnesota, finishing the year with 22 goals and 47 points in just 23 games. The numbers themselves must be put in context of public high school competition, but when you factor in the mono and effect it had on him physically, he really heated up at the finish.

The Bruins will have to wait a while on this kid- he’ll skate in the USHL with Sioux Falls and then is off to University of Wisconsin in 2016, but if he continues to develop, they could have a nice hybrid power forward on their hands eventually. As a seventh rounder, it’s a long shot, but if you’re going to draft someone that late, taking a chance on someone with some emerging upside is never a bad deal.

Boston Bruins 2015-16 season preview: Defensemen

Zdeno Chara returns for his tenth season as the captain of the Boston Bruins (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Zdeno Chara returns for his tenth season as the captain of the Boston Bruins (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

In retrospect: It was a rough ride for the Boston D party in 2014-15, as former GM Peter Chiarelli traded glue guy Johnny Boychuk on the eve of the new season, a move that went on to have significant second- and third-order effects on a roster ravaged by injuries to  Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller. Adding to the struggles was the lackluster performance of Dennis Seidenberg, who returned from a major knee injury suffered in 2013-14, but was not the effective, shutdown presence for Boston he had been previously.

The Bruins allowed 30 more goals last season than the year before, and the lack of collective team foot speed often found them susceptible to being beaten off the rush and often collapsing into their own end while struggling to generate a transition to offense the other way. Torey Krug was a bright spot for the club, finishing second on the blue line in scoring with 12 goals and 39 points. The team’s offensive leader, Dougie Hamilton, was traded to Calgary on the day of the 2015 NHL draft in a rapidly developing (and shocking) move that sent the 22-year-old out West and left a sizable hole on the Boston depth chart that the team has yet to fill.

Younger guys like Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow showed promise in flashes, but ultimately, the disappointing non-playoff 96-point finish was reflected in a defense that lost a major on- and off-ice contributor in Boychuk and never really got a healthy Chara going for the duration, as he returned to action after missing nearly two months at well less than 100 percent.

The view from here: Chara remains the face of the franchise on the blue line, though he is past his prime at age 38 and is coming off his lowest production (8 goals, 20 points in 63 games) since the 2001-02 campaign, his first as an Ottawa Senator. He faces the prospect of playing the rest of his NHL career on a wonky knee, which essentially makes him day-to-day for life, and means that the B’s must be prepared to lose him to injury at any time.

Chara is the consummate pro and veteran, but his injury complicates the often armchair GM discussion of the team simply trading him. Even at his age and declining offensive numbers, Chara is more valuable to the Bruins than he is to other teams that might be in the position to trade for his $7 million salary (he’s signed for two more seasons- at $5M and $4M respectively before becoming an unrestricted free agent again in 2018), simply because with Hamilton out in Boston, the B’s don’t have any other legitimate player to thrust into the top role today. The onus is now on Claude Julien the Boston coaching staff to better manage Chara’s ice time and game situations to get the most of his experience and 6-9 frame with the lengthy reach. His best days are clearly behind him, but it’s not quite so simple to sit back and talk about trading Chara for cap relief and a younger talent- you’d not only need a willing buyer to give up a roster player worthy of the move, but Boston’s captain would have to waive his no-trade to go. It’s not unthinkable to consider it, but the likelihood of it happening is slim- the Bruins need Chara this year more than ever.

The team can only hope Seidenberg can rebound from as brutal a year as he’s had in his career. His struggles underscored the fact that literally days after signing his four year, $4M per extension with the B’s he suffered his knee injury and the very real possibility exists that at age 34, he’ll never get back to the player who was so instrumental in one Stanley Cup championship and a second trip to the finals in three seasons. The German has given a lot to the Bruins, but his contract, only in its second year, looms like an albatross around the team’s collective neck if he is unable to round back into form. The analytics from last season do not paint a pretty picture, however, and things may get worse before they improve.

Krug is preparing for an expanded role given Hamilton’s departure, and the B’s could greatly benefit from him taking his offensive production to the next level to help offset the loss of their former 2011 top choice’s numbers, especially on the power play. At 24, the diminutive Michigander has the heart of a lion and is embracing the challenges that await him with increased minutes at even strength, but like Chara, the team will have to manage the matchups when he’s defending against the NHL’s bigger, powerful forwards and live with the higher-risk style Krug employs when carrying the puck on his own. Krug has enough talent, hockey sense and an off-the-charts work ethic/character to compensate for his undersized frame, and the belief here is that he’s going to make it work.

The team raised eyebrows when it re-upped Adam McQuaid, the club’s resident baggage-smasher at 6-5, 210 pounds. Another quality person and teammate, McQuaid has overcome a lack of foot speed with a tenacious, pay-for-every-inch-of-real-estate approach that has served him well. When it comes to toughness, no one on the current roster can bring it better than the former Sudbury Wolf can, but he’s a pretty one-dimensional shutdown defender. One of the biggest issues with McQuaid is in his struggles to stay healthy and play a complete 82-game schedule over the course of his career. Since breaking into the NHL full-time in 2010-11, he’s never played more than 72 games, and appeared in just 93 contests over the last two seasons. If how honest, dedicated and hard-working a player was all you needed, McQuaid would be worth every cent of the 4-year, $11 million contract he signed this offseason. As it stands, the Bruins can only hope he can reverse past trends and become a durable presence. Even if he does, the debate will rage on as to how wise an investment it is for a rock-solid third-pairing defenseman.

Veteran Kevan Miller played 41 games last year before being lost to season-ending shoulder surgery. He’s a similar player to McQuaid, but at a substantially less cap hit of around $800k. A gritty, character undrafted free agent who worked his way to the NHL after captaining the University of Vermont Catamounts, Miller’s mobility and experience stand him in good stead heading into the new season, but there isn’t much in the way of offense from him.

The B’s signed free agent Matt Irwin to add to the mix from the San Jose Sharks. The 27-year-old played about 17 minutes (you’ll hear the sheltered minutes argument with both he and Krug) with the bulk of his 8 goals and 19 points coming at even strength last season. He doesn’t bring a lot of pure foot speed with him to Boston, but he’s not a substandard skater either. Irwin has NHL experience and has shown promise as a two-way contributor- he’s third on the blueline behind Krug and Chara in scoring from last season.

This leaves a trio of younger defenders with the two-way potential that Boston desperately needs, two of whom spent some time with the big club a year ago in Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow. Trotman is bigger than Morrow, but does not have the former 2011 first-round pick’s speed or puck skills. Both can hammer the puck from the point and move it effectively, but of the two, Morrow is more of the offensive threat and special teams presence, whereas Trotman is a little safer and more polished defensively. Both will battle it out for a sixth position in the regular rotation if you believe that Miller or Irwin could end up being the seventh defender. Trotman was the last pick of the 2010 draft out of Lake Superior State, and Morrow’s been a disappointment as a pro after leaving the Portland Winterhawks. He was traded to Dallas from Pittsburgh and just a few months later, flipped over to the Bruins in the Tyler Seguin trade. Given what we’ve seen from Loui Eriksson, Morrow (and Jimmy Hayes to be fair) is the last best hope the team has in getting a long-term return on that deal.

As for Colin Miller, the AHL’s reigning champ in the hardest shot and faster skater competition at the 2015 All-Star Game doesn’t have NHL experience, but he has the offensive skill set to see time and even win himself a full-time role with Boston this year. This is a huge camp for him, but at 23, it won’t be the end of the world if he’s not on Boston’s opening night roster, but given that he was part of the Milan Lucic deal, if he earns a spot, the B’s will gladly take it.

A Dennis Seidenberg rebound could be an important factor in a Boston return to the playoffs (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

A Dennis Seidenberg rebound could be an important factor in a Boston return to the playoffs (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

On the farm: Boston’s first pick in 2013, Linus Arnesson, will be playing in his first complete AHL season. The late second-rounder has good size and mobility, but he’s more of a no-frills, solid defensive presence than he is a player who will push the pace, join the rush and contribute consistent offense for his team. If he’s in the Boston lineup next year, then something has likely gone terribly wrong in terms of injuries and/or performance. Arnesson is steady and consistent, but he’s not going to wow you in any one facet of his game. Every good team needs players like him to win with, but he’s not going to be a savior.

Chris Breen is back for a second year in Boston’s system and at 6-7, 224 he certainly provides the size and reach for a defensive-minded defender.  He has some limited NHL experience and doesn’t move his feet all that well, but will be another key contributor in Providence and can help in a pinch.

Gone is David Warsofsky, but fellow New Englander Tommy Cross is back for another tour of duty in Boston’s system with Providence. If only that’s all it took to be an NHL regular… Cross is the very last piece remaining from that disastrous draft year and he’s ticketed for the AHL once again, where he could see an injury recall at some point as a reward for his hard work, but in all reality, the one-time Boston College captain will be fortunate to ever establish himself as a bottom-pairing player at the NHL level.

Chris Casto is underrated, and as a free agent signing out of University of Minnesota-Duluth back in 2013, he looked as if he might have the size and wheels to develop into a solid NHL defender, but it just hasn’t happened for him in the AHL. Nobody ever talks about him, but he’s a fluid skater with a big shot, who has at times struggled with processing the game and pace. He’s got one more year on his ELC to raise his profile in the organization.

A look to the future: The B’s drafted three defensemen in the first two rounds this past June, all of whom bring much needed skating and size to the mix. Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon are the ones the team hopes will be more complete two-way defenders who can help kickstart the attack, whereas Brandon Carlo is a huge (6-5) and mobile rearguard who is a better shutdown guy than offensive producer. All three look like players, but won’t likely help out in the short term (though with all three being products of major junior- they’ll at least be at training camp and one could pull a surprise- it’s happened before).

One player who has a shorter wait to making an impact in Boston as early as next spring is Yale senior Rob O’Gara. The fifth-rounder in 2011 has patiently and steadily progressed in the system, winning championships at both the prep (2011) and NCAA (2013) while developing his two-way game. At 6-4, he has a rangy stride and fluid footwork and pivots. He started out being a top shutdown defender, even earning that honor this season in the ECAC. He also improved his offensive production in his junior year, leading the Bulldogs’ blue line in scoring. He’s a smart, industrious 22-year-old who is expected to sign at the conclusion of Yale’s season and who knows? He might even get a quick look in Boston depending on how the defense is situated by then. If not, watch for him to help Providence down the stretch if he’s not still in school finishing up his course work.

Matt Grzelcyk is another prospect worth watching this year. The BU senior and captain is on the shelf for a while after May knee surgery, but he’s expected to be a major contributor to the Terriers’ fortunes again after posting career bests in all offensive categories a year ago. He’s undersized but brings excellent speed, vision and skill to the mix. Watch for him and O’Gara to push one another as complementary players to one another going forward. At the very least- they’ll be helping Providence in the AHL until they can push for time in Boston.

On the longer track, collegians Matt Benning and Wiley Sherman still have time in the NCAA to hone their respective games (Sherman is still a major project just entering his sophomore year at Harvard) while Swedish defender Emil Johansson will spend another season at least in HV71 before he might come over.

The wild card: Cody Franson, D. We know that Franson and Don Sweeney have both admitted that the two sides have talked contract, with Franson reportedly holding out for value and longer term than Boston is willing to give. With about $4M in available cap space, Sweeney wants to preserve as much flexibility, and as we get closer to September, Franson may have to come off plan A in favor of incentives and a chance to prove himself this season for a bigger payday next July. On the upside- Franson is an experienced NHL veteran who will help offensively and especially on the power play with his booming point shot and ability to distribute the puck. One thoughtful Twitter follower I engaged in a debate today over Franson pointed out that in Nashville after the winter trade, Franson was on the ice for just 9 even strength goals against and that he accounted for 56% of shots attempted from the blue line- good for the lead among all Predators defensemen. On the downside, he’s not a swift skater for a club in major need of getting faster and his hockey IQ at times lends itself to him running around and making bad turnovers in his own end. There is no doubt he’d make the Bruins defense better than it is today, but how much and at what cost is a question Don Sweeney has to answer. One shoe dropped today with Christian Ehrhoff agreeing with the Los Angeles Kings to a team-friendly 1-year pact at $1.5 million. If Franson’s price tag is expected to go down as he gets closer to the start of NHL camps, then other teams are likely to start sniffing around. Something’s gotta give here.

The wild card pt 2: Maxim Chudinov, D SKA St Petersburg. The KHL champ is getting ready for another year in Russia after the Bruins made him the 195th overall pick in 2010 as an undersized but speedy and feisty offensive player. Truth in lending- I don’t think Chudinov adds much more than what the Bruins already have in Krug, though he’s faster on his skates (but in my view lacks Krug’s leadership and heart). If the Bruins want to add him to the mix, that’s a call they’ll have to make and information is out there (h/t Dominic Tiano) via Chudinov’s agent that the 25-year-old is willing to give the NHL a shot. I guess we’ll see, and you can never have too much depth, but it’s hard to imagine that he’d want to sign and play in Providence, so it would have to be a similar situation to Carl Soderberg a few years back.

Adam McQuaid was extended four years in June (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Adam McQuaid was extended four years in June (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The verdict: I have to call it like I see it and this defense as a whole doesn’t scare many (except for perhaps some Bruins fans).

Team speed, which was the biggest need in the offseason, was addressed in the draft, but those kids won’t help this year unless the B’s luck out with another David Pastrnak-type situation. They’ll get faster with Morrow or Miller added to the mix, but the team will still have their hands full trying to generate an attack through the neutral zone or standing up opponents who can push the pace of a game.

The time has come to actively manage Chara’s role and put some constraints on what is asked of him. He’s got a lot of tread on the tire, and it’s time for others to step up and take some of the pressure off. I don’t know how much longer that troublesome knee and his huge frame will hold up. Forget trading him for now- Boston needs him and if things change (especially if he decides he’d like a change of scenery) then that can be revisited. In all reality, unless Chara wants out, it’s hard to imagine the Bruins trading their captain and getting anywhere near close to the value that would make such a move worth it.

Krug is the one player who appears primed for an important role this season. It’s a chance for him to answer questions about his ability to play upwards of 21 minutes or more a night, against top opponents and continue to carry the offensive mail for this team. Mistakes are bound to happen, but how much Julien trusts him going forward will be something to watch. Krug loves playing with McQuaid…will the two stay together or will the team break them up and try something else?

Whether the team adds Franson or goes with 1 or more of the youngsters in Trotman, Morrow and Miller- the Boston defense is not going to be much of a threat offensively, so they’ll have to take care of things in their own end. Without the requisite speed and ability to contain speed to the outside, that’s going to be a challenge.

It’s a game and gritty group- but there are a lot of if’s heading into the new season. That means the goaltending and the forwards are going to have to pick up the slack.

Catching up with Malcolm Subban and Rob O’Gara

Not much in the way of original content on the blog today, but a couple of Bruins prospects in Malcolm Subban and Rob O’Gara have some updates out in other media outlets.

This first link is from a telephone interview Subban did for the Jeff Blair Show. He talks a little about his training regimen, things he enjoys away from hockey, how important the upcoming season is for him and his relationship with older brother P.K. . It’s not an especially hard-hitting line of questioning, but it does shine a light on a player I feel is still very much at or near the top of the B’s prospect depth chart.

http://www.sportsnet.ca/590/jeff-blair-show/malcolm-subban-controlling-what-he-can-for-2015-16-season/

Via the Ivy on Vine site, Rob O’Gara checks in with some first hand insights on his journey to Yale from Milton Academy and some personal observations to questions that don’t typically come up as standard interview fare.

O’Gara is back in New Haven for his senior season and will likely sign with the Bruins as soon as he plays his final NCAA game. Whether he goes straight to the NHL for a taste off the bat or goes to Providence of the AHL is still anyone’s guess as this point- a lot of it will depend on how things look for the big club by April timeframe, so it will have to play out. He’s got excellent size and skating, and his offensive game is coming along after being recognized as the ECAC’s top defensive/shutdown player.

He’s a kid I’ve known since his junior year at Milton and has an abundance of character. He’s a defenseman version of Zane McIntyre in that the Bruins drafted him later on and have cultivated him/watched him grow and develop over the past 4+ years. He’s a hybrid modern defender for the NHL- someone with the size, reach, mobility and smarts to clamp down and defend his part of the ice effectively, but who can handle the puck, make the crisp outlets and chip in with offense at the other end of the ice, too. He’s what scouts talk about when they use the ubiquitous term “upside.”

Here’s the link to the profile and have a great Thursday!

Men’s Ice Hockey: Rob O’Gara, Yale ’16

Rob O'Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (photo courtesy Rob O'Gara)

Rob O’Gara in 2013 after Yale won the NCAA championship (photo courtesy Rob O’Gara)

Scouting Dispatches: Twitter mailbag #2

Happy Saturday, folks. Just watched Canada win their eighth consecutive Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tourney championship- congratulations to the Under-18 team for continuing to run the table with a dominating 7-3 gold medal-winning triumph over Sweden (it wasn’t even that close, folks). They’re truly the best draft eligible talent every year and Canada can send their best players because they don’t have to compete with the major junior/CHL playoffs in April when the Under-18 Championships are held. More on that later…I’ll post some thoughts and notes on some key standouts, as six out of Red Line Report’s top-15 for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (as of June)  were on Team Canada, with Sweden boasting two more to round out the top-20.

I’m back with another “Ask Kirk” Twitter mailbag. Every 2 weeks or so, I hit up the followers on Twitter to see what they have, so thanks to those who submitted questions. I don’t get to them all, but if your question didn’t get answered, keep plugging away. The first edition of this we did got some pretty good traffic and insights/debate, so if you don’t agree, feel free to comment or hit me up on Twitter.

Keep checking back on the blog this weekend as well, as I will be posting a “point/counterpoint” feature on Bruins first-round draft pick Zach Senyshyn with my friend and guest columnist- Dominic Tiano– one of the most knowledgeable OHL evaluators around.My RLR colleague Mark Staudinger will also be in to provide some detailed analysis on a pair of Bruins prospects he just watched at Team Canada’s WJC summer evaluation camp in Calgary- the Two Jakes- Jakub Zboril and Jake DeBrusk.

So- onto the mailbag. We’ll do this again around the beginning of September, so keep the questions coming. You can also submit them here via the comments feature if you’re not on Twitter.

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Don Sweeney wants B’s D to be more systemically mobile to create faster up-ice transition. Can Claude Julien & current D roster make that happen? BB Bruin @waltorr4

Thanks Walt- Overall team speed on defense is still an issue, as Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and even Torey Krug don’t bring much in the way of open-ice speed and mobility. You do have a couple of real good skaters in the mix to earn jobs with Joe Morrow and Colin Miller, but neither are all that proven at this point. Zach Trotman is mobile for such a big man, but that’s all relative- he’s not going to put defenses on their heels in the neutral zone with his speed- it’s not there either. Matt Irwin has NHL experience and provides nice depth, but he doesn’t have rockets on his skates and I see him as more of a depth guy than someone who is going to be a major contributor this season.

That’s why the clamoring for Cody Franson in some circles seems to be counterintuitive at this point, because Franson is more of the same in terms of being a clunky skater who will take away from the back line’s quickness, even if he is a veteran at this level. I don’t see him as a great fit at this point, but the Bruins are still in the mix for him, so we’ll see how that goes.

I think that if the Bruins are going to succeed in making a faster transition, they’ll rely on the favored Julien method of quick D-D passes in the defensive zone followed by a longer breakout pass to try to hit the quicker forwards in the neutral zone with speed.

Having said that Krug is not a pure burner with a top skating gear, but he is the team’s best rearguard in terms of his quickness, agility and ability to handle the puck through traffic. He gets the puck out quickly using his vision and stickhandling to shake forechecking pressure and carry the puck out on his own. He’s exhibit A for how skating isn’t everything to a fine transition game, but there isn’t enough speed right now on the other pairings. That could change with a trade or if both Miller and Morrow find a way to stick this season.

The D is going to struggle to generate a speed rush in my view, though- that will have to come more from the faster forwards like Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak and so on.

What are chances of midseason Chara trade? Michael Dunn @mikedunnfamily

I’m thinking dealing Chara falls somewhere between slim and none…with the caveat that if he asked out, Sweeney would probably accommodate that request. However, while I could be wrong, even with his declining play, I just don’t see the team trading him, Mike.

In my view- Chara is worth more to the Bruins than he is to other teams at this stage of his career. Sure- a contender would love to add him to the mix, but whatever they would offer to Boston is not going to make the B’s a better club today. And, of course- there’s that thing called a no-trade clause that complicates things. Yes, the Bruins could likely get Chara to waive it for the right destination, but limited landing spots mean that you’re getting less in return.

Unless he wants out, I see him finishing his career in Boston.

What do you see for Joe Morrow this season? Will he get an extended look in Boston, or another year in Providence? Brian briand_82

This is an important season for Morrow.

He was drafted in the first round four years ago because he could really skate and move the puck…the Bruins desperately need to add more of that element to their back end, especially with Dougie Hamilton now in Calgary.

Morrow will be 23 before January, and he’s physically ready to take the next step to playing NHL minutes in my view. With his puck skills, cannon shot and quick feet, he’d be an asset given what the team currently has, but the experience is working against him.

In his limited stint with Boston last season, I got the impression he was playing it overly conservative and safe, either on orders from the coaching staff or on his own initiative because he didn’t want to get stapled to the bench. While he performed okay in that role, that’s not really what the Bruins need from him. My advice would be to open it up, play to his strengths and give the team more of what they currently lack, as they don’t really need another solid shutdown type, but more of a defender who will jump up into the play with his wheels and be a consistent threat with the man advantage.

He has the tools to do it, but I don’t know if he’ll have a long enough leash or will even beat out new acquisition Colin Miller at camp. Miller’s production has been significantly higher in the AHL than Morrow’s has, but the latter put up better numbers in junior and was a top-30 pick. This will be an interesting camp battle for sure.

What do you think of Yale’s chances this year!! Can D win championships ? Bob Rittmeyer @bobrittmeyer

I’m not the best person to ask, but the Bulldogs are contenders every year it seems, and they manage to get into the NCAA championship mix despite not having much scoring, which puts tremendous pressure on the defense and goaltending.

I’ve always been impressed with Rob O’Gara’s size, skating and character, and he took a major step forward offensively last season- they’ll need him to keep that up. I also feel that Frank DiChiara should be some NHL club’s property at this point, and this could be a breakout year for him with a possible big free agency payoff if he decides to turn pro in the spring. He’s always been an opportunistic scorer and he has a pro build and power game already. Ryan Hitchcock is another underrated forward who can do just about everything- I was surprised nobody drafted him in 2014 or 2015, but scouts tell me his size scares them off.

Do they have enough horses to go all the way? I’ve always had time for Chicago prospect John Hayden, and Yale is a balanced group. They’re not favorites, but as they showed in 2013, once they get in, they’ll have a chance to knock off some of the more celebrated teams.

What would be the Best, most realistic, 7 DMen for the Bruins? Willy @willysteam

Well, barring any trades, signings or surprises- Chara, Seidenberg, Krug and McQuaid are all locks given their contracts and veteran status with the team. That leaves three open spots between Trotman, Irwin, Colin and Kevan Miller and Morrow. Tommy Cross and Christopher Breen are still hanging around as well, but I don’t envision any scenario where either player makes the team out of training camp.

Trotman is on a one-way deal this season and he played 27 NHL games last season after having an up-and-down (mostly down) year in Providence. Trotman played better in limited situations in Boston, including getting his first NHL goal, the late winner against the Red Wings in front of friends and family (he’s from Indiana but went to HS in Novi, Michigan). He’s one of the strongest men on the team, and he can move the puck pretty effectively even if he won’t ever put up big offensive numbers. I think he’s got the inside track for the fifth spot and only a horrendous performance or trade will derail him from starting the year in Boston.

For the sixth and last regular position in the three-pairing rotation, I like Colin Miller’s chances of winning that one. He scored 19 goals in the AHL last year, can really skate, and has outproduced Morrow in the pros to date. He’s also a right shot, which helps balance the blue line, while Morrow is another left-side shooter. Now, if it isn’t Miller, I think Morrow wins that job because he’s a toolsy D that Julien and the coaches are familiar with after 15 NHL games last year. Flip a coin- neither is subject to waivers at this point of their careers, so they can be recalled and sent down without fear of being poached by another team.

That leaves Kevan Miller and Irwin (maybe Morrow or Colin Miller) to fight it out for the seventh and resident press box denizen position, waiting for an opportunity to open up. Miller’s toughness and NHL experience means he’s probably the first to go in and if the team faces a more physical contest, he’d likely dress as a 7th D when needed, with Irwin becoming Providence’s top defender and veteran leader, first on the recall list if the blue line gets into trouble.

How do you think UMass-Lowell is going to do this year? A solid veteran team returns Gary Whittick @bigwhitt1956

I alluded to it above, but  projecting NCAA winners is not really what I’m best at. I’m not a college hockey analyst the same way others are, so you’re probably better off asking someone like Mike McMahon, Andy Merritt or one of the many other college hockey scribes out there who have far more collective knowledge than I do about the Riverhawks’ chances in 2016. I tend to focus on individual prospects and in the process get a feel for how their teams perform overall. Because Lowell has not been a landing spot for NHL prospects of late, I haven’t followed them as closely as others.

Having said that- the good news is that they’re a solid club. The bad news is- they play in the Hockey East and I don’t see a Connor Hellebuyck-like presence in net for them to help keep up with the conference powers, even with a seasoned, balanced squad. I mean no disrespect to Kevin Boyle, who is a solid stopper and will get some attention next spring come free agency time, but I look at the roster and it looks like a solid top third team again.

I like what Norm Bazin is doing there and had time for incoming freshman Ryan Dmowski– a former prep standout at the Gunnery who put up some nice numbers in the USHL last year despite not getting drafted. He doesn’t have the greatest speed, but he’s got a nose for the net and finds ways to finish off plays down around the blue paint. Keep an eye on him.

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Well, that about does it- thanks again for the questions and thanks for supporting the Scouting Post!